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Private Tears In Public Places

Private Tears In Public Places

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I am attending Festival del Film Locarno, for the first time, as part of its Critics Academy. Arriving here the day before the festival’s official opening, I was introduced to the city by watching Chinatown (1974) in the Piazza Grande. As I have written elsewhere, this was a delight indeed. Not only was it a treat to watch an old favourite on a screen whose sheer size gives new energy to a film that is already visually beautiful, but hearing Jack Nicholson’s voice echo through the Piazza Grande also drew attention to the fact that I was sharing the movie with thousands of others. It was a welcome reminder of the magic that pervades and defines cinema not just as an art but also as a communal experience.

In my application to the Critics Academy, I wrote that while writing is a solitary profession, cinema-going is social. As a critic, you attend press screenings as well as public screenings, meeting with colleagues with whom you compare opinions and exchange recommendations. But somewhere along the way, between let’s say the fourth and fifth film of the day, you also need to write about your experiences. And writing, as I have noted, is a solitary practice. The balance between a private and a public space can be the greatest challenge for a critic.

I was thankful, then, for those brief but inspiring few minutes in which I was able to create a mental draft of the piece you are reading, as I walked alone from the Auditorium FEVI to my accommodation following the international premiere of Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12. I was thankful too for being able to digest and accept the emotions that were still running through me from the film. As someone whose instinctive means of expression is the written word, the social setting of a cinema auditorium can be embarrassing. Personally, I often find it easier to voice disappointment in a film than to admit I might have actually sort of, kind of loved it.

So know this: between 3.45pm and 4pm on Sunday 11 August, I walked back to my accommodation under the blazing Switzerland sun in tears of joy. The reason? I had just sat through the year’s most moving film, as well as a rapturous standing ovation from the paying public. Locarno, I love you.

Michael Pattison

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