Berlin 2005 : the Talent Press
Tuesday, February 15th 2005
Screening Life (Liu Jiayin: OXHIDE)
Found in Translation
Still Far From Paradise (PARADISE NOW - Competition)
Exposing Documentaries: Inside ERUV
Bringing Fantasies Alive
Conscious and Cool (Raya Martin, Edwin, and the New SEA Cinema)
Liu Jiayin: OXHIDE
young Chinese director in her first feature filmed 23 scenes in 23 steady
shots about her own and her family's everyday life. The result is a funny,
natural, fresh and very human movie. A fictional documentary with the
strong personal involvement of the author - that could be the short definition
of this extremely valuable movie.
The camera shows a small part of the place where the action
takes place in each scene, and it is never moved, with the focus never
readjusted. We can't see the person who is in the centre of the action
and they often move out of focus. This method gives us the feeling that
nothing is organized, that the family is living its ordinary life, and
that the camera was placed in their flat in secret. The acting of these
people is more natural and convincing than the performance of many professional
The film shows us three central problems. The most important one is the
question of money, as the family lives with difficulty from the income
of a shop where they sell their handmade leather bags. The stubborn father
doesn't want to offer discounts, and he often argues with the mother
who is worried about the bills and the rent. All these discussions seem
dramatic because we feel that it is the family's everyday existence that's
in question. The second problem is the daughter (and director's) height,
because in the father's opinion she is not tall enough. At the end of
the film he says he is really disappointed by the kid because she doesn't
grow. The third problem is the most amusing: the father's belly is too
large, and this is a regular topic between mother and daughter. In a
very funny scene, they even try to stretch the pants of the father.
Is this closer to fiction or to documentary? The dramaturgical
structure of the scenes, as every one has some kind of punch line at
the end, suggests that this is a fiction film. But the way of filming,
the natural acting and the whole atmosphere convinces us that this is
the real life of a real family - this is one of the most authentic ways
to present reality in fiction.
The personal involvement of the director makes this piece
even more valuable: we see a very honest presentation of her life. If
we agree that in art the artist always shows something of himself, then
we have another argument to consider this movie as a work of art.
Found in Translation
need water" says the soft voice of the princess. And the prince
runs to the other end of the world to win her heart by bringing it. Do
you remember fairytales like that?
Today, of course, the princesses get their own water. Probably
non-carbonated and with low natrium level to keep the skin fresh. And
the prince ... well, even if he's forced to bring the water from the
other end of the world, he'll call DHL to get it.
The animation GENE-RATIO by Estonian director Mait Laas
brings us back to something romantic and pure. It is cut into six pieces
to bring together five short stories called LOST AND FOUND which opened
the Berlin Forum. The animated sequences frame four short features and
one documentary, all from different countries and in different languages.
The main element in Laas' animation is liquid - from water running into
a bathtub to milk bursting out mother-bee's six nipples and winding up
in a kitten's milk-bowl. All those liquids symbolize the circle of life.
In this case the metaphor is the little matchstick-men running for the
water that the soft-voiced woman asked for. Laas tries to demonstrate
how the energy of one generation passes on to the next, and shows magic
and chemistry between men and women.
His animation is in different techniques, mainly in puppet,
drawn and live animation. (By the way, to get ten seconds of live animation
the crew had to work for the whole day and move the actor shot by shot
like a puppet). So it's a complicated and abstract story that can be
interpreted in very many ways. But because it's cut to six pieces, the
viewer may have some initial trouble in following his story.
The keyword to LOST AND FOUND is movement. All the countries
involved in the project - Bulgaria, Serbia-Montenegro, Bosnia, Hungary,
Estonia and Romania - are in the area of Europe that changes very quickly.
And this production proves in that process much can be lost and found.
The idea of LOST AND FOUND was to bring together six filmmakers.
However, their goal was not to make six shorts, but one full-length story
containing six parts, said the man behind this project, Nikolaj Nikitin,
during the discussion at the Berlinale Talent Campus. Though the concept
might seem utopian, I must admit that they managed to do it - all the
parts complete each other, are almost equally strong, and reflect the
film potential in Eastern and Central Europe.
There is a conflict between traditional values and the
modern world, there is a middle-aged lady releasing the fears of her
past by hijacking a tram, there is an incest story by a mother's deathbed,
and even a pet turkey. The weakest link of the project is unfortunately
the only documentary part, about two Bosnian girls separated by a religious
and ethnic chasm. It fell out of the picture because of its one-dimensional
lack of subtlety.
The fragile democracy, rapid changes and a confused identity
between east and west have created a mellow soil for a very intriguing
culture. All the six parts of LOST AND FOUND are a little romantic and
tell us weird post-Soviet fairy-tales. But, despite any flaws, the team
achieved their goal. The parts work together as a full-length film, and
are also strong enough to be shown seperately. And when we have more
films like that then maybe some day at least some of us will understand
that Balkans and Baltics are not the same thing.
Still Far From Paradise
PARADISE NOW - Competition
the tag team of two young Palestinian men, Said and Khaled, director
Hani Abu-Assad brings an intensely gripping tale of suicide bombing to
But he is a sensitive filmmaker. He does not torment his
viewers with terrible scenes of destruction, or any act that wantonly
displays the results of terrorism. Rather, he chooses to treat the issue
at stake with robust sensitivity, without failing to lay bare the grim
realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. This is the beauty in
PARADISE NOW, which is in competition at the festival.
The last 24 hours of the two childhood friends, played
by actors Kais Nashif and Ali Suliman, who are recruited for "a
major operation" in Tel Aviv, brings to the fore many of the contentious
issues in the age-old Middle Eastern conflict. But all the issues raised
are from the Palestinian perspective, hinging on the historical, moral,
legal and the spiritual.
Yet, germane as they are, they present no one way out for
the arguments for and against armed resistance. And recognising that
the lead characters are poor mechanics whose worldview is affected by
the limitations of their social and intellectual exposure, the film carefully
makes it difficult to trust their postulations.
We see the seeming deception that goes into recruiting
a suicide bomber and the emotional trauma that goes with it. We see confused
recruits struggling with the justification of armed resistance, and we
see the glaring difference between an Israeli and a Palestinian city.
But the operation does not go according to plan and the
two friends are forced to reconsider their stances after a woman comes
into the picture. She provides the voice of reason about the futility
of armed resistance.
Surprisingly, it is at the point of operation in Israel that Khaled,
all along the more enthusiastic of the two, backs down. Said, who had
earlier refrained from detonating a bomb inside a bus because a baby
girl was inside, is left to go the whole hog. His new target has more
soldiers on board.
A good script that patches the rough edges of a very volatile
issue and the director's rich cinematography make PARADISE NOW truly
Abu-Assad has not told a new story, but he has conveyed his perspective
on the issue in a deeper and thought-provoking way.
Unfortunately, he does not see any immediate hope in sight.
In using Abu's daughter as the major moderate voice in the film - considering
that she was born in the West (France) and raised in Morocco - isn't
the director risking being seen as gaining inspiration from abroad, especially
when one notes that he is based in Holland?
Exposing Documentaries: Inside ERUV
- THE WIRE, is the second and last film to win the PLANET Documentary
Award, which will be discontinued from next year. For the Award, young
filmmakers from the world submitted treatments for expose projects, in
order to gain complete funding. The winner for 2005, Kai Wiesinger, is
a German film actor turned director. ERUV is his first documentary.
Perhaps something important has been lost in translation,
but expose means a certain thing, and a film like ERUV doesn't usually
fall within that definition. Nevertheless: the film "exposes" the Orthodox
Jewish practice of the Eruv, a wire boundary within a town, that transforms
the enclosed area into a private domain for the purposes of Talmud law.
This allows Jews to "carry" within that area on the Shabbat, as opposed
to just within their houses. The filmmakers interviewed orthodox Jews
in the area of Teaneck (New Jersey), a classic white-collar middle-American
suburb. It also talks to some of the residents opposed to the Eruv because
of its effects on the secular flavour of the community.
Unfortunately, this film doesn't get far enough beyond
description of the Eruv. An expose could have focussed on the controversy
of setting a precedent for religious interference in state matters on
a social level. It could have exposed the seamier underside of political
lobbying on a local level. It could have focussed on the conflict created
within the Teaneck community. In the post-film discussion with director
and producer, both admitted having to alter their original objective.
They ideally wanted a "discussion", involving the interested parties,
of the conflicting points of view on the Eruv in Teaneck. However the
reticence of most opponents of the Eruv to express their views on screen,
meant that the documentary could not present a balanced view.
Some fault also lies with the editor for choices of structure
that fail to involve the audience and keep them engaged. The audience
is relegated to a passive position, and this quickly becomes boring.
This film fails most because it is hard to care one way
or another about the subject; the involved parties are living in what
is a highly privileged situation, in a affluent middleclass haven, and
one can't help feeling that there are more pressing issues at hand than
the existence of a fairly innocuous wire attached to the telegraph lines.
The filmmakers probably should have made a decision whether to focus
exclusively on the origin and nature of this highly specific religious
practice, or to tie this to the more interesting, and universal, story
about xenophobia in conservative communities. There are allusions to
this, particularly an interview with a concerned Christian living within
an increasingly orthodox Jewish community.
To the filmmakers' credit, they seemed very willing to
examine the audience reactions to the film, and clearly are open to the
idea of re-editing the story. While a more robust exchange of ideas between
audience and filmmakers would have been excellent, it is still encouraging
to see first-time documentaries receiving serious consideration by the
Bringing Fantasies Alive
appears magically to satisfy a wish, a wish we may not even have recognized
as our own: the wish for the world re-created in its own image." -Stanley
The main focus of the 2005 Berlinale Talent Campus is production
design in film. Playing a crucial intermediary role in the whole production
cycle, production design means the creation of film space. The workshop "Eternal
Triangle", on February 14, combined three departments which shape the
way a film "looks": production design, cinematography and costume design.
Three acclaimed experts in these fields came together to discuss their
craft, the nature of their collaborative work and their experiences,
and provided insights into the synergy they create.
One of the guests was Swedish art director and production
designer Anna Asp, who has worked with Sweden's most honoured director,
Ingmar Bergman. After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm,
she collaborated with several prominent directors, including Bille August
and Andrei Tarkovsky. Her reputation was sealed with Bergman's FANNY
AND ALEXANDER in 1983, for which she won an Oscar for her work in that
epic of imagination and memory. She built the interior set of this "family
drama, soap opera" - which is set in a flat - in the studio, on a theatre
"In Sweden we don't call it production design, but scenography," says
Asp. "I got the Oscar not for the production design, but just set design.
They don't have an Oscar for production design."
Explaining the responsibility of a production designer,
she says, "from the beginning to the end, you must have an idea of colour,
locations and light - and also try to give the drama a colour. That's
what I aim for."
Are film directors dictators or is there give and take? "The
younger the directors are, the more they think they must know and try
to control everything, believing that their idea is best. As you get
older, you are much more open to discussion."
Among the most challenging sets she created was "the second
half of SACRIFICE, where we constructed the house twice," she says. "The
house we built had to be burnt down at the end of the film. The first
burning down was very bad, but we had the opportunity to build again.
It was a kind of miracle that we did it in three days. The second time
it burnt beautifully, and it could not be better."
She is now looking forward to working on Liv Ullman's
film adaptation of Ibsen's play THE DOLLS HOUSE - if they find the money.
Conscious and Cool
Raya Martin, Edwin, and the New SEA Cinema
Asian Cinema has become a hot buzz word in international film circles,
with many critics and programmers fawning over the works of emerging
directors like Apichatpong Weerasethakul (BLISSFULLY YOURS, TROPICAL
MALADY) and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (MON RAK TRANSISTOR, LAST LIFE IN THE
UNIVERSE) in Thailand, and James Lee (THE BEAUTIFUL WASHING MACHINE)
and Ho Yuhang (SANCTUARY) in Malaysia. But the Southeast Asian cinematic
landscape extends much further than these admittedly great works, with
a host of fascinating and dynamic young filmmakers. The Berlinale Talent
Campus plays host to two of these very gifted young men - Raya Martin
from the Philippines, and Edwin (no last name) from Indonesia.
At 20 years old, Raya Martin is a precocious young film
major from the University of the Philippines . Having been awarded the
Ishmael Bernal Award for Young Cinema at the 2004 CineManila International
Film Festival for his atmospheric short BAKASYON (THE VACATION), Raya
is now currently halfway through the shoot of his student thesis film,
an ambitious film set during the 1890's Spanish occupation of the Philippines
. Shot half in 35mm b/w and half in vibrant color digital video, the
working title of the film is MAICLING PELICIOLA NANG YSANG INDIO NACIONAL
(O: ANG MAHABANG CALONGCOTAN NANG MANGA KATAGULAGAN) which translates:
A SHORT FILM ABOUT AN INDIO NACIONAL (OR: THE PROLONGED SORROW OF THE
TAGALOGS), and stars seasoned theater group Barasoain Kalinagan. The
film takes place in three parts each centered around a different theme
- Birth, War, and Death, and featuring a young Filipino man (the same?
different? we don't know) at different stages of development, as a 10-12
year old church bell ringer (an anomaly at the time, as the Church was
run by the Spanish oppressors), a 16-17 year old aspiring member of the
revolutionary group Katipunan, and a 20-year old stage actor.
DAJANG SOEMBI: THE WOMAN WHO IS MARRIED TO A DOG, a 7-minute
b/w 16mm short by Edwin, was featured recently in the TV5 Tiger Cub Competition
of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. DAJANG SOEMBI is about
the often-overlooked first part of a well-known Indonesian folklore.
The short, which according to Edwin is the first true Indonesian Silent
Film, tells the tale of a woman who was married to a lying dog, played
by experimental filmmaker and cinematographer Faozan Rizal, and their
child who uses brutally violent means to correct the situation - murdering
the dog and handing its (or his) heart to his horrified mother. Though
old folklore and a tale of brutality, the story also serves as a metaphor
for Indonesia today - with the son representing youth; the dog, old guard;
and the lady, the motherland, Indonesia. "The youth today want change" and
they have gotten it, Edwin tells me, but they were unprepared and have
gone about it in the wrong way, and the country is no better for it.
While SEA as a region appears ready to explode onto the
world map, intelligent and conscious young filmmakers like Raya Martin
and Edwin, prove that the attention is well-deserved, and make sure that
it does not go to waste.
© FIPRESCI / Berlinale Talent Campus 2005