Iran’s ‘Critical Zone’ Tops Locarno; Radu Jude, Maryna Vroda Prized 

The hype is real: Ali Ahmadzadeh’s “Critical Zone” (“Mantagheye bohrani”) has picked up the top Golden Leopard at Locarno.

It has been a bumpy ride for the film, set in Tehran over the course of one lonely night and described by the fest as “a hymn to freedom and resistance.”

As reported by Variety, Iranian authorities have been pressuring Ahmadzadeh to pull it from the Swiss festival – arguing it was shot without permission – and with the director himself banned from leaving the country.

“Instead of actors, I worked with real people. In most situations, we had to hide the camera or find complicated tricks to work around the limitations. Making this film was a big rebellion. Showing it means an even bigger victory for us,” said Ahmadzadeh in a statement, with Locarno’s artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro calling for his release.

“It means a lot. Not only for Ali, but it inspires and empowers a lot of Iranian underground filmmakers, whose voices are censored. Normally, this would be a moment of happiness, but Ali is not here. And I think his only crime is making movies and creating art,” said producer Sina Ataeian Dena.

“I don’t want you to be happy. I want you to be angry that he is not here, that from left or right, freedom of expression is being attacked. Iranians gave up on Western politics a long time ago, but now, I am addressing Western civil society: People that are fighting in Iran? They share the same values with you. Be angry and do something revolutionary with your anger,” he said to a standing ovation.

“I hope this film will still be perceived as a work of art. As a work of art that has been produced under difficult, complex and endangering situations for the cast and crew. But it’s still an expression of the talent of an extremely unconventional filmmaker,” Nazzaro told Variety.

“I was fed up with the ‘official’ films from Iran, the ones where you have to read between the lines. What struck me [here] was the sheer audacity, the bold approach. It’s an extremely courageous film. The fact that you have to be in a car, that your existential space is constantly being reduced and you have to create an artificial one through the use of drugs… I just thought it was so interesting. Sometimes, you just have to make yourself heard.”

Ahmadzadeh’s win marked a day of triumph for Iranian cinema, with “Shayda” starring “Holy Spider” revelation Zar Amir Ebrahimi – directed by Noora Niasari and exec produced by Cate Blanchett – also chosen as Locarno’s closing film. Sadly, due to the strike, Blanchett couldn’t attend.

“The strike is a global phenomenon. We were impacted by not having Riz Ahmed, who sent a statement, we were impacted by not having Cate Blanchett. We had ‘Lousy Carter’ and David David Krumholtz, who obtained a waiver, we had Stellan Skarsgård, who came but did not accept the award. It has been different from talent to talent,” adds Nazzaro.  

“I love stars. We are always welcome to welcome them. I am a fan.”

Critics’ darling Radu Jude walked off with Special Jury Prize for “Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World,” while promising Ukrainian newcomer Maryna Vroda – already awarded for her short “Cross” in Cannes – was named best director for “Stepne.”

I really hope there will be more Ukrainian voices, more Ukrainian films and that we will not disappear. Please, don’t let us disappear,” Vroda said, also mentioning people who died during the conflict and yelling “Slava Ukraini!” together with Radu Jude. 

Finally, gender-neutral acting awards, introduced this year, went to Dimitra Vlagopoulou for “Animal” and Renée Soutendijk for Ena Sendijarević’s “Sweet Dreams.”

Sylvain George was awarded a special mention for his night stroll around Melilla, “Obscure Night – Goodbye Here, Anywhere,” where he accompanies Moroccan kids as they try to get to Europe, but first of all, to survive another day.

“The thing with most films today is that they are playing it too safe. We are trying to stick our neck out for films that are unconventional, but obviously, they need to be good,” observed Nazzaro. Also mentioning “The Invisible Fight” that ultimately went home empty-handed.

“Rainer Sarnet is not some crazy guy. This is an accomplished filmmaker. And the fact that we are only paying attention now? That’s not his fault. I feel we could have an entire festival made of Eastern European films. They are the ones that address the political issues of today.”

Dreaming Dying
Credit: Momo Film Co

In Locarno’s Cineasti del Presente (Filmmakers of the Present) competition, Nelson Yeo won with “Dreaming & Dying” – also picking up another trophy for best First Feature – while Katharina Huber’s directing for “A Good Place” impressed the jury. One of her actors, Clara Schwinning, won the best performance award alongside Isold Halldórudóttir and Stavros Zafeiris, acting in “Touched.”   

Éléonore Saintagnan’s delightful “Camping du Lac,” about a strange place by the lake no one can leave, not even a mythical monster, got a special jury prize.

“The idea of comedy addressing the theme of climate change may seem like an acrobatic feat, but the best jokes are often based on tragic facts. Given the current level of absurdity of the world, it would be only natural if we saw more and more funny films emerging,” she said.   

“For a long time, comedies were considered a minor and stupid genre. I think the opposite: Humor has to do with intelligence.”

“Excursion” by Una Gunjak and “Negu Hurbilak,” directed by the Negu Film Collective, were given special mentions.

 Apart from the strike, the festival also witnessed a protest staged by environmental activists.

“It was not an attack. It felt like people wanted to be heard. I didn’t want them to get hurt, to do something irrational in the heat of the moment. I went: ‘You want to talk and we want to hear.’ They were accompanied out and at the end of the film, they could hang out leaflets,” said Nazzaro, also opening up about a more serene moment: Welcoming Ken Loach in Locarno.

“He is a symbol of a world that’s no more. A world ruled by solidarity, by pacifism and mutual respect. You see this man and for his entire life he stood up for what he believes in. He always had the back of the forgotten ones. He is not giving up.”

“Ken was drinking a beer in one of the bars around the Piazza, with Paul [Laverty] and his wife. And there you had ‘The Old Oak’ again. In Locarno!”

“This has been a thrilling edition, reasserting the centrality of the Locarno Film Festival and its ability to explore contemporary cinema in every shape and size, capturing the hearts and minds of our generous, curious and passionate public, who crowded into the Piazza Grande and theaters in great numbers,” said Nazzaro.

The 77th Locarno Film Festival will take place from Aug. 7-17, 2024.

This year’s winners:


Golden Leopard for Best Film

“Critical Zone,” (Ali Ahmadzadeh, Iran, Germany)

Special Jury Prize

“Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World,” (Radu Jude, Romania, Luxembourg, France, Croatia)

Best Director

Maryna Vroda (“Stepne,” Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Slovakia)

Best Actress

Dimitra Vlagopoulou (“Animal,” Greece/Austria/Romania/Cyprus/Bulgaria) 

Best Actor

Renée Soutendijk (“Sweet Dreams,” Netherlands, Sweden, Indonesia, Réunion)

Special Mention

“Nuit obscure – Au revoir ici, n’importe où,” (Sylvain George, France, Switzerland)


Best Film

“Dreaming & Dying,” (Nelson Yeo, Singapore, Indonesia)

Best Emerging Director

Katharina Huber (“Ein Schöner Ort,” Germany)

Special Jury Prize CINÉ+

“Camping Du Lac,” (Éléonore Saintagnan, Belgium, France)

Best Actress

Clara Schwinning (“Ein Schöner Ort,” Germany) 

Best Actor

Isold Halldórudóttir, Stavros Zafeiris, (“Touched,” Germany) 

Special Mentions

“Excursion,” (Una Gunjak, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, France, Norway, Qatar)

“Negu Hurbilak,” (Colectivo Negu, Spain)


Swatch First Feature Award

“Dreaming & Dying,” (Nelson Yeo, Singapore, Indonesia)


Concorso Corti d’autore 

Best Auteur Short Film

“The Passing,” (Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, U.S)

Special Mention

“Been There,” (Corina Schwingruber Ilić, Switzerland) 

Concorso internazionale 

Best International Short Film

“A Study of Empathy,” (Hilke Rönnfeldt, Denmark, Germany)

Pardino d’argento SRG SSR for the International Competition

“Du Bist So Wunderbar,” (Leandro Goddinho, Paulo Menezes, Germany, Brazil)

Best Director

Eric K. Boulianne (“Faire Un Enfant,” Canada) 

Medien Patent Verwaltung AG Award

“The Guard,” (Amirhossein Shojaei, Iran) 

Special Mention

“The Lovers,” (Carolina Sandvik, Sweden)

Concorso nazionale 

Best Swiss Short Film

“Letzte Nacht,” (Lea Bloch, Switzerland)

Pardino d’argento Swiss Life for the National Competition

“Night Shift,” (Kayije Kagame, Hugo Radi, Switzerland
Best Swiss Newcomer Award

“Letzte Nacht,” (Lea Bloch, Switzerland) 


Pardo Verde Ricola

“Guardians of the Formula,” (Dragan Bjelogrlić, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, North Macedonia)

Special Mentions

“Procida,” (Procida Film Atelier, Italy)

“Valley Pride,” (Lukas Marxt, Austria, Germany) 


Ecumenical Jury Award

“Patagonia,” (Simone Bozzelli, Italy) 

Special Mention

“Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World,” (Radu Jude, Romania, Luxembourg, France, Croatia) 


“Stepne,” (Maryna Vroda, Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Slovakia) 

European Cinemas Label Award

“Yannick,” (Quentin Dupieux, France)


Concorso internazionale

“Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World,” (Radu Jude, Romania, Luxembourg, France, Croatia)

“Sweet Dreams,” (Ena Sendijarević, Netherlands, Sweden, Indonesia, Réunion) 

“Critical Zone,” (Ali Ahmadzadeh, Iran, Germany) 

Environment is Quality of Life Prize

“Nuit obscure – Au revoir ici, n’importe où,” (Sylvain George, France, Switzerland) 

Special Mention

“Stepne,” (Maryna Vroda, Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Slovakia)

Cineasti del Presente Award

“Camping Du Lac,” (Éléonore Saintagnan, Belgium, France) 

Special Mention

“On the Go,” (María Gisèle RoyoJulia de Castro, Spain)

Pardi di domani

“Z.O.,” (Loris G. Nese, Italy)

“Canard,” (Elie Chapuis, Switzerland, Belgium)

“Intelligence,” (Jeanne Frenkel, Cosme Castro, France)

Special Mention

“A Study Of Empathy,” (Hilke Rönnfeldt, Denmark, Germany)

Open Doors Shorts

Environment is quality of life Prize

“Rimana Wasi: Hogar de Historias,” (Ximena Málaga Sabogal, Piotr Turlej, Peru) 

Special Mention

“Plástico,” (Vero Kompalic, Venezuela)


Grand Prix

“Monogamia,” (Ohad Milstein, Israel)

Premio Zonta Club Locarno

“Les Soeurs Pathan,” (Eléonore Boissinot, France)

Marco Zucchi Award

“Les Premiers Jours,” (Stéphane Breton, France)

Residency Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur @ Villa Sträuli

Mohamadreza Mayghani, (Filmmakers Academy participant, Iran)

Credit: Andrii Lysetskyi

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