The Zurich Film Festival blows a breath of renewal

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The Zurich Film Festival blows a breath of renewal


It is the first big film festival in Switzerland to be held since the arrival of the virus. Hot prints.


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In the upset chessboard of the festival calendar, the fact that the one in Zurich takes place is a miracle. Since Thursday, the 16th edition of the ZFF (Zurich Film Festival), as it is commonly known, has been flying the flag along the Limmat and across the city. And even if the weather and the Covid darken the party – without an umbrella, impossible to survive, and without a mask, impossible to see a single film – the event, one of the biggest in Switzerland in terms of cinema, tries to bring a wind of renewal in the landscape. The renewal is the appointment at the head of the event of a pair formed of the former journalist Christian Jungen and the operational director Elke Mayer. The sense of the event and that of cinema are in any case undeniable assets in Jungen. Which has thought of its first festival without reducing the film gauge, but on the other hand with fewer stars in the credits, coronavirus requires.

Bling-Bling, are you there?

Which is not necessarily bad. In the past, Zurich has often been criticized for being too bling-bling, with celebrity charters to attract sponsors and selfie hunters. This year, they will have to be content, all things considered, with Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp perhaps, Ray Parker Jr., Til Schweiger or Maïwenn, even if we can still find her a little young for a “tribute”. For three days, however, we can see that the flashy aspect is not quite dead. You have to see these hordes of Zurichers in tuxedos and evening dresses congregate at the Kino Arena, one of the city’s complexes, to have their picture taken in front of the ZFF wall before crushing popcorn in a funfair atmosphere to discover an auteur film that they would probably never go to see in normal times. The phenomenon is less obvious at the Corso, the central place of the event, where people tread the green carpet (and not red, specific to Zurich) in front of accredited photographers: the rain reduces their visibility.

On the other hand, where the festival takes its bet, it is at the level of the films. There are 165 and all the ones we have seen are worth a visit for now. The oppressive and radical stiffness of the family tale of “Wildland”, the first film by Danish director Jeanette Nordahl, like the breathless bias in “One of These Days” by Bastian Günther, who films competitors in a demented competition where he is acts, on the model of “We finish horses well”, to keep his hands on a van as many hours and days as possible to reach the vehicle, have impressed. It is a cinema of exhaustion, of human emptiness, which is referred to us here in the face. There are others among those we have seen, but we will come back to them in due course.

Lots of choice

Admittedly, Jungen and the people who select with him were undoubtedly spoiled for choice this year, with all the major festivals having been canceled, resulting in the leftovers being able to shop in relative freedom – there is titles labeled Cannes 2020, like survivors of the Mostra. However, you have to know how to choose, and it is not given to everyone.

No virtual sessions

His other challenge was to bring professionals from French-speaking Switzerland back to the festival. It would be a lie to say that they are present in large numbers, but this desire is visible on paper, especially with selections more willingly French-speaking than usual. “We wanted to see the world through other people’s eyes, and we also wanted to have a physical festival,” Jungen reminded us in the preamble. So no streaming or virtual sessions, just a few conferences by Zoom with filmmakers who stayed at home, and video clips before most of the films screened without delegation. All of this is quite welcome.

More restrictive, Covid obliges, the obligation to reserve its place without choosing it, and sometimes the unpleasant surprise of discovering a complete meeting while there are still free seats. I almost fell victim to the screening of the Venetian Golden Lion, the magnificent “Nomadland” by Chloé Zhao, which was overwhelming, but the press service performed a miracle. Because there is also this year, and the Jungen touch is undoubtedly no stranger to it, an unprecedented sense of welcome. Even if the festival is large and short throughout the city, you never feel totally lost, as long as you adapt, for example to restaurants, most of whose kitchens close at 8 p.m. because of the pandemic. We can tell them that during festivals, people eat after the films, it does not always happen!

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