Summer Academy

A shout in the dark

Venue Ex-Rex
Venue Ex-Rex
© Festival del film Locarno


The men speak Italian, and they often come to press screenings. A middle-aged cabal of European film critics and/or journalists, they make their presence known at most – though not quite all – showings in the Kursaal by shouting a two-syllable word or phrase in that moment of darkness between the leopardgraphic and the film in question’s first moments. (They were absent entirely for Ape and especially enthusiastic before Bachelorette.) One brave soul, on his lonesome and missing his cue by shouting before the leopard walked across the screen rather than after, goes it alone at The Girl from Nowhere.

As a monolingual American with an unfortunate (read: inexcusable) lack of knowledge and ability regarding foreign tongues, these men both puzzle and intrigue me. Is it an inside joke? How many of them are there? What do the other Italian-speaking members of the audience make of this strange habit? Rather than find out the actual truth (what would the fun in that be?), I decide to ask others who are similarly in the dark what they think of it.

Ari Gunnar Þorsteinsson, a fellow Critics Academy member, claims that they “sit in the back of the theater to undermine Oliviere Père.” A more complex and potentially informed opinion comes courtesy of Indiewire’s Eric Kohn. Eric is only semi-familiar with the ritual, having not encountered it especially often at the press screenings he’s attended, but he thinks he may have it figured out: “The story is that, thirty years ago at Cannes, someone was looking for their friend in the Debussy Theater as the lights were going down. Since he couldn’t find him, he shouted “Raul!” and everybody else joined in. From then on, it became this tradition—but you can only do it in that one theater.”

Excited to put this theory to the test, I eagerly await as the lights go down before Leviathan. This is it, I think to myself, deciding that, if Eric is right, I may just uninvitedly join in next time. And then it happens: they shout something else. Guagliò? Pardo? It’s unclear to me and will likely remain so for the remainder of my time here.

Walking out of the theater after this, the best film of the festival thus far, I approach an enigmatic figure known only as Celluloid Liberation Front and ask him to impart his wisdom. A native Italian speaker, he shrugs the whole affair off and says the phrase translates to something along the lines of “Come on, guys!” in Neapolitan, though he tends not to hear the men clearly enough to be sure. Then he makes a joke about England and disappears into the night. I decide to leave it at that and enjoy the ambiguity, too invested in Locarno’s last mystery to risk uncovering a demystifying truth.

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