Can films from all over the world have a lot in common? Between a Rock and a Hard Place By Ruth Pombo

in 55th Berlinale

by Ruth Pombo

Some might say that sections at film festivals like the extensive Panorama, in its 20th edition inside the Berlinale programme, is the most valuable option for getting to know the state of filmmaking around the world. This is what occurred to me repeatedly, screening after screening, up to 34 feature films and 18 documentaries, while I was frantically trying to find out if any conclusion on this was possible.

Way ahead of the ones of the official section, the films offered by Panorama are free to be as different as possible from each other. From a conventional and commercial documentary on a pop star’s life and career, George Michael, A Different Story, to the bizarre and personal artistic world that Jeff Feuerzeig portrays beautifully in The Devil and Daniel Johnston. The Argentine Anahi Berneri constructs for his hero in A Year Without Love (Un año sin amor) a sad and isolated Buenos Aires experience of life, love and sex, marked by HIV-positive. All this is far from the film full of the sounds of trombones and colour paint falling from everywhere that a confused boxer gets to discover when visiting the remote Russian town of Mars directed by Anna Melikian. Very different in spirit was Mariscos Beach (Crustacés et coquillages), the latest funny and energetic musical comedy from French directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, responsible for the previous Jeanne and the Perfect Guy (Jeanne et le garçon formidable).

But the way that things are, cinema that has been produced all around the world can not be constricted to any sort of specific reality. “Is this going to be the case for Panorama this year?”, I kept asking myself while running from room to room, just getting to savour a pretzel or to pause for a quick espresso on my way to the next film to be seen. No time for more! The snow gently falls outside the cinema theatres of the Potsdamer Platz area, but some more minutes to sit in a café and just watch it covering the streets are not available. And reaching conclusions from such a dense film festival programme is difficult. Nothing to do with the homosexual connection between most of the features in this section of the Berlinale. It seems to be based, mostly, in the way that every filmmaker has chosen to develop a cinematic structure and in the different sorts of ways of producing films that exist today.

I wasn’t emotionally moved by any of the films presented in Panorama this year. Some of them almost provoked it, but didn’t finally succeed. This was the case for Yes by Orlando’s director Sally Potter, a beautiful and stylistic essay on love and passion being the key to the possible understanding between different cultures. Such an objective elevates its cultural and social references so high that it ends up being a bit confusing. What Jean-Luc Godard has done lately with conceptual construction is maybe not as easy to develop for any other auteur. The same as in Massacre: the violence that emanates and surrounds all the testimonies, taken from the military forces of Lebanon, exists only thanks to their words and faces. The solid statement that its directors have acquired by just using close-ups leaves the audience, however, confused.

In different terms it is what happens with the sophisticated production design for the biopic of singer Bobby Darin that actor, writer, director and producer Kevin Spacey has created for Beyond the Sea. It perpetrates the same sort of confusion, combined with a complex narrative structure as in the German Willenbrock (by Andreas Dresen). All these are good examples of how strongly sophistication can damage simple powerful and beautiful stories.

On the other side, the result of producing films in countries that hardly have a cinematographic background at all gets to a similar point. The coproduction system based in Europe, that is almost the only way for these films to exist, sometimes ruins the best values in them, their specific identity. Fortunately, as in Saratan (directed by Ernest Abdyshaparov), a Kyrgyzstan everyday story on the ordinary lives of its post-Soviet habitants, can lead us towards a good film but doesn’t erase the obvious Western topics included in its vision of things. Apart from the irony that comes with them. It is not the same for Plastic Flowers (Hua Kai, by Liu Bingjian), a Chinese failure in setting up a bittersweet tale of jealousy and misunderstandings between friends at work. It tries to look like any film made in the First World as the producer and director admitted when presenting it, but all this ruins the sweet poetry that their characters possess.

Cinema should not be just related to the screening room. Voilà the answer to my thoughts: an allegory that fits this tendency of enclosing cinema behind powerful conceptual parameters, those that provoke the same confusing result, both coming from artistic decisions or from the way that the production tends to rule all the rest. Cinema has always to be a reflection of life, invented or based on true facts. Forgetting this means that a beautiful obsessional love story like the one in Idiot Love (Amor idiota) by Ventura Pons, a regular Catalan participant at the Berlinale, gets lost in a complicated deconstruction of film sequences. Life and films are not exactly the same. But they must not be that much apart from each other.