The Locarno Film Festival is small but ambitious and focuses more on innovative films and open-air screenings than big stars. The German-language films are in the spotlight this year.
Just one more hour until tonight's movie starts and the sky above Locarno looks ominous. The expression on the face of Swiss director Christoph Schaub also darkens. His new film "Nachtlärm" (Night Noise) is premiering in the Piazza Grande, the main square in the historical city center of Locarno. A downpour would be inopportune.
"The beauty of the Piazza Grande is that the audience is not only made up of people in the film industry, like at other festivals," says Schaub. "After all, you make a film for the ordinary moviegoers."
Road movie with a crying baby
His film "Nachtlärm" is perfect for an open-air cinema event, since it is set on the freeways of Switzerland. It is a film about Livia and Marco, young parents of a baby who cries a lot and is only quiet when driven 130 kilometers per hour on the highways around Zurich. As the exhausted parents take a brief break at a rest stop, a couple of gangsters steal their car, along with their sleeping child. A fast-paced road movie follows that is based on the contrast between the two pairs.
The two academic parents who want to save their ailing relationship with their newborn child are on the one side, while two petty criminals who set off Bonny-and-Clyde style, only to be derailed by a screaming baby, are on the other.
The gangster pair, Swiss actor Carol Schuler and the Austrian Georg Friedrich, steal the show and are more convincing than their German counterparts, Sebastian Blomberg and Alexandra Maria Lara. The film deliberately included actors from all three countries to target the broader German-speaking market.
Standard German is spoken consistently during the whole film, though that seems a bit unrealistic in the mouths of the sluggish Swiss police officers. In any case, the film has gone over well in Locarno and, in spite of the flood-like downpour, a hundred committed film fans watch the movie from under their umbrellas.
New look at the German past
The German-Australian-British coproduction "Lore" has more luck with the weather, but the themes of the film are much heavier. The parents of 14-year-old Lore are high-ranking Nazis and at the end of World War Two they are arrested by the Allies.
Lore and her four younger siblings make their way with great difficulty through war-ravaged Germany towards their grandmother in Hamburg. A man comes to help her - a young Jew, who has just been freed from a concentration camp. Lore, an ardent admirer of Hitler, sees all that mattered in her life now put to the test.
The director, Cate Shortland, comes from Australia and brings a fresh perspective to the National Socialist period. Her protagonist, Lore, is on the cusp of adulthood and is from a family of criminals - a perspective that is rarely shown in cinemas.
The film was shot in German. "I could not have imagined anything else on this topic," explained the director, who does not speak German and often did not understand a single word of the dialogue on the set.
Shortland ultimately produced a film that does not reveal the deep emotions of her protagonist, yet nevertheless illuminates the horrors of Nazism in great detail.
Between fiction and reality
The Austrian production "The Shine of Day" is in competition at the Locarno Film Festival. It stands out among the German films as a distinctive combination between a documentary and feature film. A theater actor meets a circus performer. Directing duo Tizzi Covi and Rainer Frimmel gave the two a number of dramatic techniques, but the rest was improvised by the exceptional protagonists
Philip Hochmair, the character of actor, is crazy about games and languages - both in "real life" and in his role. He lives for art, and for him, life without art is stale.
The circus performer, Walter Saabel, had a difficult childhood and a precarious existence in the circus. He confronts the high-flying actor with the difficulties of everyday life. In their conversations, they quickly come to the essential issues: What is the price of freedom and how much art tolerates life?
Film lovers' festival
The story, say the two directors, didn't actually arise until the cutting process - similar to their last film, "La Pivellina," which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Oscars. They managed to create a skilful play on identity and a radical new film experiment with its very own kind of pull. The movie is practically one big dialogue, but still manages to hold the viewer.
It's for good reason that the Locarno Film Festival has a reputation for embracing all things new, even more so than other European festivals. And it can count on an audience to put up with a lot for quality movies - even a big storm.