Dissident Iran Drama ‘Critical Zone,’ Ken Loach’s ‘The Old Oak’ Take Top Prizes at Locarno Film Festival

Dissident Iran Drama ‘Critical Zone,’ Ken Loach’s ‘The Old Oak’ Take Top Prizes at Locarno Film Festival

Critical Zone, an Iranian drama shot in secret by dissident director Ali Ahmadzadeh, has won the Golden Leopard honor for best film at the 2023 Locarno Film Festival.

Ahmadzadeh, who has been banned from leaving Iran, was unable to attend the awards ceremony, held at the Swiss city Saturday night. The Iranian government pressured the director to pull the film from competition. Through its story of a man and his dog, who navigate Tehran’s underworld, selling drugs and talking to troubled souls, Critical Zone depicts a nation rebelling against an oppressive regime in any way it can. Produced by Germany’s Counter Intuitive Film, Critical Zone is being sold worldwide by Luxbox.

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Another proudly political filmmaker, British legend Ken Loach, won the audience award, the UBS Prix du Public, at Locarno’s 76th annual festival for his latest (and perhaps last) feature film: The Old Oak. The drama, which premiered in Cannes, centers on a working-class English pub whose regulars welcome a group of Syrian refugees.

Romanian art-house favorite Radu Jude won the Special Jury Prize in Locarno for his latest, laconic effort, Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World. Ukrainian filmmaker Maryna Vroda took the best director prize for her feature debut, Stepne.

The gender-neutral acting awards, introduced at Lorcano this year, went to Dimitra Vlagopoulou for Animal from Greek filmmaker Sofia Exarchou, and to Renée Soutendijk for Ena Sendijarević’s Sweet Dreams.

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

A full list of 2023 Locarno award winners follows.

Concorso Internazionale

Pardo d’oro, Grand Prize of the Festival of the City of Locarno to the best film

Mantagheye Bohrani (Critical Zone), director Ali Ahmadzadeh, Iran/Germany

Special Jury Prize of the Cities of Ascona and Losone

Nu Aștepta Prea Mult de la Sfârșitul Lumii (Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World), director Radu Jude, Romania/Luxembourg/France

Croatia Pardo for Best Direction of the City and Region of Locarno

Maryna Vroda for Stepne, director Ukraine/Germany/Poland/Slovakia

Pardo for Best Performance

Dimitra Vlagopoulou for Animal

Pardo for Best Performance

Renée Soutendijk for Sweet Dreams

Special Mention

Nuit Obscure – Au Revoir Ici, N’importe Où, director Sylvain George, France/Switzerland

Concorso Cineasti del Presente

Pardo d’oro Concorso Cineasti del presente for best film

Hao Jiu Bu Jian (Dreaming & Dying), director Nelson Yeo, Singapore/Indonesia

Best Emerging Director Award of the City and Region of Locarno

Katharina Huber for Ein Schöner Ort, director Germany

Special Jury Prize CINÉ+

Camping du Lac, director Éléonore Saintagnan, Belgium/France

Pardo for Best Performance

Clara Schwinning for Ein Schöner Ort

Pardo for Best Performance

Isold Halldórudóttir and Stavros Zafeiris for Touched

Special Mentions

Ekskurzija (Excursion), director Una Gunjak, Bosnia-Herzegovina/Croatia/Serbia/France/Norway/Qatar

Negu Hurbilak, director Colectivo Negu, Spain

First Feature

Swatch First Feature Award for Hao Jiu Bu Jian (Dreaming & Dying), director Nelson Yeo, Singapore/Indonesia

Concorso Corti d’Autore

Pardino d’oro Swiss Life for the Best Auteur Short Film

The Passing, director Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, USA

Special Mention and Short Film candidate of the Locarno Film Festival for the European Film Awards

Been There, director Corina Schwingruber Ilić, Switzerland

Concorso Internazionale, Pardi di Domani

Pardino d’oro SRG SSR for the Best International Short Film

En Undersøgelse Af Empati (A Study of Empathy), director Hilke Rönnfeldt, Denmark/Germany

Pardino d’argento SRG SSR for the International Competition

Du Bist So Wunderbar, director Leandro Goddinho, Paulo Menezes, Germany/Brazil

Pardi di domani Best Direction Award – BONALUMI Engineering

Eric K. Boulianne for Faire Un Enfant, director Canada

Medien Patent Verwaltung AG Award

Negahban (The Guard), director Amirhossein Shojaei, Iran

Special Mention

The Lovers, director Carolina Sandvik, Sweden

Concorso Nazionale, Pardi di Domani

Pardino d’oro Swiss Life for the Best Swiss Short Film

Letzte Nacht, director Lea Bloch, Switzerland

Pardino d’argento Swiss Life for the National Competition

Night Shift, director Kayije Kagame, Hugo Radi, Switzerland

Best Swiss Newcomer Award

Letzte Nacht, director Lea Bloch, Switzerland

Pardo Verde Ricola

Čuvari Formule (Guardians of the Formula), director Dragan Bjelogrlić, Serbia/Slovenia/Montenegro/ North Macedonia

Special Mentions

Procida, film made by the participants of Procida Film Atelier, Italy

Valley Pride, director Lukas Marxt, Austria/Germany

Independent Jury Awards

UBS Prix du Public

The Old Oak, director Ken Loach, U.K./France/Belgium

Variety Piazza Grande Award

Guardians of the Formula, director Dragan Bjelogrlić, Serbia/Slovenia/Montenegro/North Macedonia

Ecumenical Jury Award

Patagonia, director Simone Bozzelli, Italy

Special Mention

Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World, director Radu Jude, Romania/Luxembourg/France/Croatia


Stepne, director Maryna Vroda Ukraine/Germany/Poland/Slovakia

European Cinemas Label Award

Yannick, director Quentin Dupieux, France

Critics’ Week Aawards

Grand Prix

Monogamia, director Ohad Milstein, Israel

Premio Zonta Club Locarno

Les Soeurs Pathan, director Eléonore Boissinot, France

Marco Zucchi Award

Les Premiers Jours, director Stéphane Breton, France