Provocative Brazilian Film ‘Rule 34’ Wins the Top Prize at Locarno Film Festival

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“Rule 34,” a challenging and sexually explicit film from Brazilian director Julia Murat, has emerged as the surprise winner of the Golden Leopard award at this year’s Locarno Film Festival — an edition where typically audacious and formally ambitious work dominated the program. Marking a strong ceremony for female filmmakers, the main competition jury at the Swiss festival also handed an impressive three awards — best director and a brace of acting prizes — to gritty coming-of-age drama “I Have Electric Dreams,” an auspicious debut feature from Costa Rican writer-director Valentina Maurel.

A character study of a young female law student pursuing a parallel calling in amateur online pornography — while defending female abuse victims in her day job — “Rule 34’s” title stems from the popular online meme that “if it exists, there’s a porn version of it.” Murat’s film wasn’t among the buzzier entries in this year’s competition, but its combination of complex sexual politics and frank, audience-implicating games of spectatorship evidently won over a jury that was never likely to take the safe route. Presided over by fearless European arthouse producer Michel Merkt (“Elle,” “Toni Erdmann”), it also included two filmmakers whose breakout features likewise tested the possibilities of sexuality and violence on screen: Alain Guiraudie (“Stranger by the Lake”) and Prano Bailey-Bond (“Censor”). Emmy-winning producer William Horberg (“The Queen’s Gambit”) and rising Italian filmmaker Laura Samani (“Small Bond”) rounded out the panel.

The jury’s other clear favorite was comparatively low-key: “I Have Electric Dreams” enters the anxious headspace of a 16-year-old girl caught between her parents in the wake of their divorce: Increasingly estranged from her mother, she sets out to live with her spiraling, mentally unstable father, with troubling consequences. It’s distinguished from other comparable plotted coming-of-agers by its intimate, unsentimental domestic observation and a pair of courageous performances, from young newcomer Daniela Marín Navarro and her onscreen dad Reinaldo Amien Gutiérrez, that won best actress and actor respectively. The Locarno prizes will come as a welcome windfall for both these demanding, small-scale projects from relatively unknown filmmakers, significantly boosting their global distribution prospects.

Thanks to the unusual trifecta of prizes for Maurel’s film — a close runner, one presumes, for the top prize — only one other title in the 17-film competition lineup floated the jury’s collective boat: Alessandro Comedin’s “Gigi La Legge,” a whimsical docufiction in which a rural Italian traffic officer is caught up in an inexplicable chain of local misfortunes, took the Special Jury Prize. That meant no prizes for the highest profile film in the lineup, Russian auteur Alexander Sokurov’s surreal deepfaked historical meditation “Fairytale,” while critical favorites like Helen Wittmann’s Claire Denis homage “Human Flowers of Flesh” and Abbas Fahdel’s three-hour Lebanon Revolution doc “Tales From the Purple House” also left the fest empty handed.

In the festival’s secondary Cineasti del Presenti competition, limited to first and second features, another female filmmaker came up trumps: Slovak director Tereza Nvotová took the top prize for “Nightsiren,” a reflection on rural misogyny that braids realism with indigenous mythology. Croatian writer-director-actor Juraj Lerotić was just behind, taking the section’s emerging director award for his autobiographical debut “Safe Place,” about a family riven by a suicide attempt — but then came out on top in the festival’s separately juried First Feature Competition.

Full list of winners below.

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION

Golden Leopard for Best Film: “Rule 34,” Julia Murat

Special Jury Prize: “Gigi La Legge,” Alessandro Comedin

Best Director: “I Have Electric Dreams,” Valentina Maurel

Best Actress: “I Have Electric Dreams,” Daniela Marín Navarro

Best Actor: “I Have Electric Dreams,” Reinaldo Amien Gutiérrez

CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE COMPETITION

Best Film: “Nightsiren,” Tereza Nvotová

Best Emerging Director: “Safe Place,” Juraj Lerotić

Special Jury Prize: “How is Katia?,” Christina Tynkevich

Best Actress: “How is Katia?,” Anastasia Karpenko

Best Actor: “Safe Place,” Goran Marković

Special Mention: “Sister, What Grows Where Land is Sick?,” Franciska Eliassen

FIRST FEATURE COMPETITION

Swatch First Feature Award: “Safe Place,” Juraj Lerotić

Special Mentions: “Love Dog,” Bianca Lucas; “De Noche Los Gatos Son Pardos,” Valentin Merz

PARDI DI DOMANI SHORT FILM COMPETITION

Best Auteur Short Film: “Big Bang,” Carlos Segundo

Best International Short Film: “Sovereign,” Wara

Runner-up: “Neighbor Abdi,” Douwe Dijkstra

Best Director: “Hardly Working,” Total Refusal

Medien Patent Verwaltung AG Award: “Mulika,” Maisha Maene

Special Mention: “Mother Prays All Day Long,” Hoda Taheri

Locarno Short Film Candidate for European Film Awards: “Neighbor Abdi,” Douwe Dijkstra

Best Swiss Short Film: “Euridice, Euridice,” Lora Mure-Ravaud

Runner-up: “Der Molchkongress,” Matthias Sahli, Immanuel Isser

Best Swiss Newcomer: “Heartbeat,” Michèle Flury

PARDO VERDE WWF AWARDS

Pardo Verde WWF Award: “Matter Out of Place,” Nikolaus Geyrhalter

Special Mentions: “Sermon to the Fish,” Hilal Baydarov; “It is Night in America,” Ana Vaz

INDEPENDENT JURY AWARDS

Ecumenical Jury Award: “Tales of the Purple House,” Abbas Fahdel

FIPRESCI Award: “Stone Turtle,” Ming Jin Woo

European Cinemas Label Award: “Tommy Guns,” Carlos Conceição

JUNIOR JURY AWARDS

Junior Jury Award: “Piaffe,” Ann Oren

Runner-up: “Tommy Guns,” Carlos Conceição

Second runner-up: “Serviam – Ich Will Dienen,” Ruth Mader

Environment Award: “Sermon to the Fish,” Hilal Baydarov

Cineasti del Presente Award: “Sister, What Grows Where Land is Sick?,” Franciska Eliassen

Special Mention: “Petites,” Julie Lerat-Gersant

Best International Short Film: “Hardly Working,” Total Refusal

Best Swiss Short Film: “Fairplay,” Zoel Aeschbacher

Special Mention: “Les Dieux du Supermarché,” Alberto Gonzalez Morales

Open Doors Short Award: “Techos Rotos,” Yanillys Pérez

CRITICS’ WEEK AWARDS

Grand Prix: “The Hamlet Syndrome,” Elwira Niewiera, Piotr Rosołowsk

Premio Zonta Club Locarno: “Ruthless Times – Songs of Care,” Susanna Helke

Marco Zucchi Award: “Fledglings,” Lidia Duda

 

Provocative Brazilian Film ‘Rule 34’ Wins the Top Prize at Locarno Film Festival

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