Locarno in Los Angeles delivers challenging cinematic offerings

A young man with his eyes closed listening to headphones
A scene from the short film “First Time”
(Locarno in L.A.)

Back in person for its fifth edition, Locarno in Los Angeles welcomes the city’s more adventurous cinema lovers to the March 17-20 festival at 2220 Arts + Archives.

Selections include highlights from the 2021 program of the flagship festival in Switzerland, characterized for its boundary-pushing sensibilities divorced from Hollywood’s assembly-line film production. Several of this year’s films are also co-presented with SEEFest (South East European Film Festival).

Two tiles in the catalog that certainly fit the bill of unconventional cinematic expression but have also received general releases stateside are Mamoru Hosoda’s animated triumph “Belle” (March 20, 8 p.m.), his digital age take on “Beauty and the Beast,” and Abel Ferrara’s “Zeroes and Ones” (March 18, 8 p.m.), a bleak and mystifying political thriller starring Ethan Hawke.


The collection of international productions at Locarno in Los Angeles turn commercial narrative expectations on their head, and often bypass structured plots for more experimental concepts. In general, the festival’s picks are even more formally audacious than the art house faire that reaches the United States week after week.

From the dozen titles in the program, the five below only represent a sample of the wide-ranging, uncompromising visions available for Angelenos to witness this weekend.

First Time [The Time for All but Sunset – Violet]

Outside of a train car in Germany, landscapes and scenes of everyday life flash by, coated in the soft light of the late afternoon sun. Inside, framed in a static shot, two young men sit across each other in silence for a nearly one-hour ride while stealing glances almost as if waiting for the right moment to make a move. This is not “Before Sunrise,” but a musically driven exercise in possibility, on what could happen but might not. Director Nicolas Schmidt opens this 50-minute short film with a montage of vintage Coca-Cola commercials centering adolescent romance. Once the focus is on the potential lovers, a cacophony of voices and the twilight hues coming through the window enrapture us. March 18, 6 p.m.

The Sacred Spirit

Invested in our shared obsession with the uncanny — whether it’s having contact with extraterrestrials, proving conspiracy theories of the new-world-order type, or using a medium to speak with souls beyond the grave — Spanish writer-director Chema García Ibarra’s latest effort is a brilliant examination on the subject. A young girl, a twin, has disappeared leaving behind a desperate mother. At the same time, José Manuel (a fittingly measured Nacho Fernández), the uncle of the missing child, has assumed leadership of a ufology group with a small but devoted membership after the founder dies. With a dryly comedic tone in the deadpan interactions of the ensemble cast, this offbeat gem ponders the ways we seek answers to our existential concerns. March 19, 8 p.m.

Five glowing pyramids and a car in a ravine
A scene from the movie “The Sacred Spirit.”
(Locarno in L.A.)


Serbian filmmaker Marko Grba Singh returns to the now abandoned apartment of his formative years to craft this contemplative nonfiction essay about the things that no longer are and more significantly about the moments his grandfather, a man keen on recording it all, froze in time. Communicating with the viewer via text on screen over modern footage of the property, Singh speaks of a recurrent dream that points to the late 1990s, when war forced him and his family to move to Romania. Interspersing the present with home videos, which captured both playful moments with the clan’s dog as well the terror of nearby bombings, the director renders an ode to the intersection between personal and historical memory. March 20, 11 a.m.


Wet Sand

When a lonely man commits suicide in a small seaside town of the Caucasus nation of Georgia, a local café owner, Amnon (Gia Agumava), takes it upon himself to contact the deceased’s estranged granddaughter Moe (Bebe Sesitashvili) to arrange a funeral. It takes her outsider’s eye to see through the inhabitants’ unspoken feuds, not only regarding the collective disdain for her relative, but also of a secret romantic affair. Elene Naveriani’s sorrowful drama finds its emotional anchor in Agumava’s understatedly potent performance as a man grieving in the shadows. She harnesses its seemingly idyllic location, with breezy days and the soothing sound of waves crashing, for a humanistic statement on acceptance and identity, a still difficult topic within the traditionally religious Georgian society. March 20, 1 p.m.

From the Planet of the Humans

Constructed as a peculiar fable from veritable stories of migration, Giovanni Cioni’s fascinating look at a border crossing between Italy and France, specifically in the town of Ventimiglia, sees parallels between those who tried to escape Mussolini’s fascist regime during World War II and today’s refugees from Africa and the Middle East using the same trails. Lyrical in its aesthetic, with dreamlike imagery, mostly of water and vistas, and voiceover narration — sometimes by the filmmaker and other times by a choir of talking frogs — it’s an utterly original work. The story, which finds its villain in the infamous surgeon Serge Voronoff, sees history as part truth and part perpetuated artifice we have collectively believed, though often reality turns out even more unbelievable. March 19, 1 p.m.

Locarno in L.A.

When: March 17-20

Where: 2220 Arts + Archives, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles