Locarno kicked off its latest edition on Wednesday evening with the international festival premiere of David Leitch’s latest action-comedy Bullet Train and a surprise video call from Brad Pitt to celebrate the event’s 75th anniversary.
The packed opening night celebration in Locarno’s famed Piazza Grande square was a return to form for the festival after a full cancellation in 2020 and a slimmed-down version last year.
Bullet Train received hearty applause and cheers from festivalgoers as the screening was introduced with a surprise video call from the movie’s star Brad Pitt.
“Congratulations to the whole festival crew on your 75th anniversary. It’s a fantastic achievement and what an honor it is for us to be a part of this festival with our movie Bullet Train,” he said.
Pitt stars as an experienced assassin whose first day back at work is complicated by a series of other professional killers with a similar mission. Sandra Bullock, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, and Michael Shannon also star.
Ahead of the Bullet Train screening, co-star Taylor-Johnson was presented with the festival’s Davide Campari Excellence Award.
In a lengthy acceptance speech, Taylor-Johnson thanked his many collaborators and co-stars and discussed how he has cultivated his career outside of traditional ideas of stardom.
He said: “I genuinely don’t follow my career outside my world view. I’m in my own little bubble with my wife and daughters. In fact, sometimes people ask me what I do, and I say I’m a dad and I do acting on the side, part-time.”
The opening night also saw the launch of the festival’s new Postcards from the Future series featuring a collection of short films made by eleven Swiss and international filmmakers. The opening short by Ukrainian filmmaker Natalka Vorozhbyt centered on the reality of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Wednesday evening’s opening was preceded by a minor ruckus after there were calls from a group of Israeli filmmakers for Piazza Grande title My Neighbor, Adolf by Leon Prudovsky to be dropped from the line-up due to concerns over what they called “racist” and “explicitly political” conditions attached to its funding from Israel’s Rabinovich Foundation.
Locarno artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro rejected the demands and said the film would screen as planned on the Piazza Grande on August 4.
“When we selected Leon Prudovsky’s My Neighbor Adolf in April we chose a film that convinced us with his tremendous artistic qualities. A depiction of the complex human experience, expressed by the touching performances of David Hayman and Udo Kier,” he said in a statement provided to Deadline.
“Freedom of expression and the artistic freedom have been the guiding principles of the Locarno Film Festival for 75 years. We are convinced that all artistic works need independence and dialogue and should be produced always without constraints. Director Leon Prudovsky confirmed that he was not suffering from any pressure when making his film,” it continued.
According to the group of Israeli filmmakers and artists calling for the boycott, the Rabinovich Foundation contractually obliges producers to agree that their films don’t include any statement or message that denies the “existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
The dark comedy stars David Hayman as a Holocaust survivor living in Colombia in the 1960s. And when a mysterious old German man moves in next door he begins to suspect his new neighbor is Adolf Hitler.
Other films set to screen at the lakeside event include Laurie Anderson’s Home of the Brave; Anna Gutto’s Paradise Highway, starring Juliette Binoche as a truck driver who traffics a young girl; and post-Bataclan terror attack drama You Will Not Have My Hate by German director Kilian Riedhof.
A host of top names will also pass through the Piazza across the next week, including Daisy Edgar Jones, Jason Blum, and Matt Dillon who are all set to receive honors.
The Locarno Film Festival runs from August 3-13.