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Berlin 2005

Magic Asian Moments
By Helmut Merker

The curtain closed on the 55. Berlinale. Again Asian movies turned out to be the most inventive and innovative.

Hidden Blade.
Mountain Patrol.
Monglolian Ping Pong.
Oxhide
"The Wayward Cloud",
"The Hidden Glade",
"Mountain Patrol",
"Mongolian Ping Pong",
"Oxhide"

To end with the endings: Nobody who sees the last shot of The Wayward Cloud (Tian bian zi duo yun ), directed by Tsai Ming-liang, will ever forget this irritating mixture of shock and pop music, voyeurism and violence, pornography and tenderness, sex and death, Eros and Thanatos.

Under a cherry tree: a Samurai turns into a bourgeois, he puts down his sword, considers taking up a new profession as salesman and makes a proposal to his beloved: The Hidden Blade (Kakushi ken oni no tsume ), directed by Yoji Yamada.

On the battleground of illegal hunters and animal rightists: the hero's corpse is being prepared for the funeral, he lost his life so that the antelopes can live, a struggle of mythic dimensions about the survival of nature as such: Mountain Patrol (Kekexili) directed by Lu Chuan.

A young boy from the countryside and his first day at school in town: at the beginning he found a mystic object of the third kind, then he is attracted by a strange sound, finally he enters a hall, and his face reflects his delight at the discovery of the national sport, table tennis: Mongolian Ping Pong (Lü cao di) directed by Ning Hao.

From down to dusk: an empty room, a man goes to bed, close-up of his face, he is falling asleep. While cinema is truth 24 times per second, as Jean-Luc Godard stated, this movie shows us the truth about the everyday life in China in 23 takes in 110 minutes: Oxhide (Niu pi) directed by Liu Jiayin.

The view from an earth hole into the sky: the end of the world, but the girlfriend discovers a new one: World's End/Girl Friend (Sekai no owari) directed by Kazama Shiori.

Idyll or death, an average day or the end of the world — each time the ominous "End" of a movie simultaneously means a miracle, that is the prospect of a new beginning . 

The Wayward Cloud and Oxhide — two films with a FIPRESCI award also indicate the wide range of a festival: one film (in competition) with high production values and a director who has become famous, acknowledged and prized in Berlin, Cannes and Venice; and one film (in the Forum section) with almost no budget and a director who is also the writer, producer, camerawoman, editor and actress.

The Killing Game

The third movie with a FIPRESCI award (in the Panorama section) was Massacre (Massaker), directed by Monika Borgmann, Lokman Slim and Hermann Theissen. While each feature film also is a document about its actors, surroundings and places, each documentary tries to find an artistic and aesthetic expression of reality, as unbearable as this reality may be. In the last scene one of the 'actors' in the massacre describes the act of killing in as much detail as possible. He killed with a machete and with a certain intuition for his victim: to be killed by a gunshot is fast, direct and without any self consciousness; to be slaughtered by a knife means a long cruel inevitable phase of agony: the victim is aware of losing his life and being doomed to death. It is not abstract, but quite a concrete experience of pain and blood, of noticing the loss of skin, members, and intestines.

Massacre.

That is what it is all about: murder, killing, death — in the view of soldiers who became perpetrators, killers, murderers. Many movies at the Berlin Film Festival dealt with mass murder and genocide, in Rwanda and Uganda, Yugoslavia, and Chechnya. No other work confronts its audience with such an inevitable claustrophobic experience as Massacre. Forced by the conditions of its production, the directors found their specific style. For security reasons the protagonists do not show their faces nor do they appear in public places. Therefore they are in narrow rooms, the outside world existing only through voices and sounds. They express themselves only by their language — the language of their bodies and their voices. The rooms are like cells. The camera shows twisted chests, arm muscles, fingers who repeat the movements of shooting, stabbing, strangling. No pictures of the crimes, but oppressive talking about them.

Massacre is a study of six perpetrators. "At first you kill reluctantly, the second and third time it is already easier. By the forth time, you begin to enjoy it", one of them recalls. Unconsciously they kill as if in competition; everyone wants to be the strongest, the greatest avenger. For some moments the talking is transformed into a kind of therapy. No attempt is made to visually reconstruct the events, but rather to link the disposition of the killers with their political environment. Through the montage of their stories a unique version comes into existence: the massacre from the angle of the perpetrators, illuminating the phenomenon of collective violence. Cruelties comparable to those of the Nazi concentration camps, and a filming method comparable to that of Shoa by Claude Lanzman, whose motto is "To live, not to remember".

This horror cannot have a human face. All moral and ethical rules are swept away. The historical situation covers two nights and three days, from 16 to 18 September 1982, in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila near Beirut. A precise plan, a mechanical solution. Militiamen tortured their victims, raped girls, sliced pregnant women, mutilated corpses. The exact number of the dead and disappeared is still not known. Most of the perpetrators were members of a Christian militia group in Lebanon with ties to Israel. Israeli soldiers fired illumination rockets over the camps during the nights of the massacre. The Defence minister then was Ariel Sharon. In 1991, the Lebanese Parliament passed an amnesty for all crimes during the "civil war". This is a taboo topic today. Crime and no punishment. One of the soldier killers stated: "It suddenly came to the point, where I am ready to speak, but this will be the last time."

Helmut Merker
© FIPRESCI 2005

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