Sofia Exarchou’s Locarno Prize Winner ‘Animal’ Takes Top Award, Acting Honors at Thessaloniki Film Festival

Sofia Exarchou’s “Animal” won the Golden Alexander at the 64th Thessaloniki Film Festival on Sunday, marking the first time in 30 years that a Greek film took home the top honors at the country’s longest-running film event.

Exarchou’s sophomore feature, which premiered at the Locarno Film Festival, was praised by Variety’s Jessica Kiang as “a poignant portrait of life amid the sequins and the seediness of a Greek resort.” The film follows a group of entertainers at an all-inclusive island resort preparing for the busy tourist season who are forced to wrestle with the dark reality that the show must go on as the sultry Mediterranean nights turn violent.

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Lead actor Dimitra Vlagopoulou, who won the acting award at the prestigious Swiss fest for what Kiang called a “riveting” performance, also shared the award for best actress in Thessaloniki. The awards were handed out by a jury comprised of producer Diana Elbaum, former Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick, and filmmaker and producer Elina Psykou.

The Silver Alexander Award for best director went to Joanna Arnow for “The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed,” an indie darling that premiered in the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight strand and was heralded as a “hilarious and clever debut” by Variety’s Catherine Bray.

Praised by Bray as an “extremely funny new talent,” Arnow — who also wrote, edited and starred in the film — shared acting honors with Vlagopoulou for her performance as a glum, 30-something New Yorker navigating a dead-end corporate job, a quarrelsome family and a string of listless BDSM relationships.

The award for best actor went to Kostas Koronaios for his lead role in director Stergios Paschos’ “The Last Taxi Driver,” in which the actor plays a frustrated, middle-aged taxi driver caught up in a dangerous obsession.

Best screenplay honors went to Belgian filmmaker Zeno Graton for “The Lost Boys,” which follows a teenager about to be released from a youth detention center who starts to question his desire for freedom when a new detainee arrives in his facility. The film premiered this year in the Generation section of the Berlin Film Festival.

The Meet the Neighbors+ competition, which showcases the first and second features by directors from the wider region of Southeastern Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, gave its top prize to Marie Amachoukeli’s “Ama Gloria,” a heartfelt drama about the special bond between a French girl and her nanny, an immigrant from Cape Verde. Variety’s Kiang described the film, which opened the Critics’ Week section of the Cannes Film Festival, as “a debut made dazzling by an astonishingly intricate performance from its six-year-old star.”

Spanish director Diego Llorente won the Silver Alexander in Meet the Neighbors+ for “Notes on a Summer,” a Rotterdam premiere that tells the story of a sensual summer of love for a young woman who runs into an old flame on vacation while her boyfriend is back in Madrid.

The section’s prize for best actor was shared by Richard Langdon, the star of Czech filmmaker Matěj Chlupáček’s period drama “We Have Never Been Modern,” and Soma Sándor, for Katalin Moldovai’s Hungarian drama “Without Air.” Mouna Hawa won the award for best actress for her performance in Amjad Al Rasheed’s “Inshallah a Boy,” a Cannes premiere that is Jordan’s submission for the best international feature film Oscar race. The Meet the Neighbors+ award for artistic achievement went to Greek filmmaker Eva Nathena’s “Murderess.”

In the Film Forward competition section showcasing innovative filmmaking, the Golden Alexander was awarded to “Samsara,” by Lois Patiño, while the Silver Alexander was shared by Raven Jackson’s “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” and “The Human Surge 3,” by Eduardo Williams.

The Thessaloniki Film Festival runs Nov. 2 – 12.

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