Even Udo Kier, who came from the desert city of Palm Springs, thinks it’s too hot in Locarno that evening. The communicative Rhinelander in a green suit, which harmonises with his famous lizard eyes, uses the gala for the 75th anniversary of the Ticino film festival to address the audience on the 8,000 yellow plastic chairs on the Piazza Grande.
Although it is supposed to be about his new film “My Neighbor Adolf” by Leon Prudovsky, Kier first praises the artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro for the fact that his fellow actor Matt Damon is honored with the “Locarno Lifetime Achievement Award” – is there It’s Matt Dillon receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award.
This forgivable little lapse fits Dillon’s appearance, which is extremely quiet and modest for a star of his caliber and is all the more memorable for that.
Matt Dillon is overwhelmed by the sight of the crowded, euphoric audience on the piazza at night after almost three years of the pandemic. The guest of honor, dressed in black, wants to know whether directors are present: He is happy about offers and has no plans to retire. At 58, the New Yorker feels too young to be honored for his life’s work, but on the other hand he’s been in the film business for quite a while. The “rebel with a pure soul”, as Festival Magazine calls him, was discovered in the schoolyard at the age of fourteen.
He directed his first film, Over The Edge, in Colorado, directed by Jonathan Kaplan. Dillon cemented his fame as a mysterious outsider and at the same time dark-eyed, black-haired heartthrob with distinctive features from 1983 with Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic works “The Outsiders” and “Rumble Fish” based on the novels by the author E.S. Hinton. Dillon, aka Rusty James, tries to save his mentally unstable older brother (Mickey Rourke) in the black-and-white film with the colorfully lit fighting fish of the title.
In vain, of course, which fits with the brittle, dark, often criminal characters that Matt Dillon prefers: “It’s true, there are some dark characters in my films. But I don’t know if they lean towards me or I lean towards them. I’m always looking for opportunities to do something different – it’s not always easy in a business that likes to play it safe.”
That’s why he only wants to work with risk-taking directors like Gus Van Sant or Lars von Trier, he explains over coffee in the Hotel Belvedere, whose view of the motionless Lake Maggiore in the blazing August sun lives up to its name: “I’m only as good as the director. If the director believes in the film, then so do the actors.”
Dillon first came to Locarno in 1995 to present Gus Van Sant’s sarcastic firework To Die For, in which he stars alongside Nicole Kidman, who, as an over-the-top television weatherman, has three teenagers kill her on-screen husband. The New Yorker has a soft spot for European (film) culture: Among other things, he stood in for the Romanian director Christian Mungiu on the jury of the Venice Film Festival in 2020, he opened an art exhibition in Berlin, and last autumn he was guest of honor at the Viennale .
He also very much enjoys his stay in Locarno, which is adorned all over with the black and yellow fur pattern of the “Pardo”, the leopard that has been won in various competitions: “I love this festival and think it is very important: in Locarno they love it film and honor it in many ways. Where else is there such a giant screen as on the Piazza Grande? You don’t forget a film you saw there.”
It was the restlessness of youth and the freedom of mature years that accounted for Matt Dillon’s continued success, says the justification for the Locarno prize. In fact, his penchant for new approaches and creative surprises seems to be keeping Matt Dillon young. Full of enthusiasm, he talks about his documentary “El Gran Fellove” about the Cuban composer and singer Francisco Fellove Valdés. In Mexico, he initially thought he was a cable carrier.
15 years of work have gone into the film, which according to its creator is “universal and human”, which premiered at the festival in San Sebastian in 2020, but has yet to be released in international cinemas. He proceeded according to the principle “emotion first, information second”, explains Dillon, who was concerned with the feeling, the “sentimiento” of the 1940s – is this also the reason for his affinity with the film noir of the time? “Of course I have a connection to film noir,” he admits: “I was very young when I saw Lana Turner in ‘If the Postman Rings Twice’ and Robert Mitchum in ‘The Postman Rings Twice’ in a movie theater on 96th Street and the corner of Broadway ‘Thunder Road’.”
Dillon’s first directorial work “City of Ghosts” from 2002, which was shown as part of the homage in Locarno, is clearly influenced by film noir – a relic in 35 millimeter format that he kept in the closet. The film was mainly shot in Cambodia, a mixture of tropical thriller and father-son tragedy with impressive amateur actors and actresses.
Because Matt Dillon believes in the creative power of improvisation and chance, whether in Cuban music, in Beethoven or as the title hero in Lars von Trier’s malicious shocker “The House That Jack Built” from 2018: “His request came as a surprise. I admire his films but never thought we would work together.
Despite the subject, it wasn’t dark at all, but very entertaining, he has a lot of humor. And there was a freedom in shooting that I’ve never experienced before. Von Trier encouraged us to take the risk of failure and that was new to my professional brain.”
But one thing bothers the son of Irish immigrants, who could have dreamed of becoming a writer because he is so drawn to storytelling: the claim that he ’embodies’ roles.
The otherwise charming interlocutor gets a bit energetic: “I didn’t become an actor to portray something, like a boy says: Mom, I want to sing! It’s not about exposing myself, it’s about curiosity. It is the desire to reflect the essence of man. My generation circled around actors like Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and James Dean. Because they worked from within, that is what makes them modern.”
The surprise-loving free spirit Matt Dillon fits perfectly into this large series.