Intellectual Space

in 54th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen

by Anjelika Artyukh

The Oberhausen International Short Film Festival is a laboratory where practice joins together with theory. It’s an intellectual space where analysis and creativity are indivisible. It’s a school of watching and a school of social critique.              

Many works of the 2008 festival appeared to explode visual language. They illustrated a growing tendency towards experimentation within international short filmmaking: forms are mixed, boundaries of genres are overstepped and risky subjects are treated from a personal perspective. They illustrated that borders were too tight for contemporary visual culture, no matter where one could find them — in documentary, animation, narrative film or new art. The modern visual language has been rested on the bounds of different practices.       

For example, a film by two Russian video-artists Gluklya & Tsaplya, Single Mother and Chorus, has transformed an installation into cinema. It breaks a traditional conception of narrative proposing a film-discourse. The screen is divided into two parts: one has a close-up of a single mother, another one has a chorus consisted of social stereotypes — an ideal mother, business-woman, Russian Orthodox, grandmother-pensioner and child of whom the single mother is talking about. The son refuses to participate in potty-training which will lead to his rejection from a kindergarten while the mother has to earn money. As in classical tragedy though influenced by contemporary talk shows and musicals the chorus comments on the mother’s complaints and responds to her dreams of meeting a wealthy man and desire to be socially accepted.            

The film not only provokes a discussion on motherhood in general and its situation in Russia in particular, but presents a conflict of educational concepts (each chorus’ member has his/her own position), conducts a sociological research on how to overcome passivity of the motherhood and provides an attempt to look at the mother as a prototypical subject of continual exploitation. It’s not a secret that conditions of post-Fordian capitalism which has been gradually forming in Russia and demanding from a woman flexible and effective functioning in society and economics, leads to a situation where a child becomes an obstacle in a woman’s self-fulfillment and at the same time manifests a triumph of bravery and labor. Interestingly enough, other films in the festival’s competition program such as Visitor in My Body (Vieras Ruumiissami) by Riikka Kuoppala and Six Years by Monique Moumblow also explore the theme of the motherhood.            

Societies install systems of control but sometime systems of control form societies. The language is the most powerful system of control, and the Israeli film Confession Coming Soon is illustrating how the language can be used as a tool of manipulation. The director Roee Rosen holds an experiment on her own son using logos: the boy doesn’t know English; he reads words written for him without understanding them and performs given orders without realization of their consequences. It becomes clear that the director reveals manipulation techniques at different levels including radical political ones. The boy twice tosses his hand in a Nazi salutation (because his new language is teaching him so) and acts like he has been brainwashed. The director literally jokes: “This is Pinocchio in reverse”. But implicitly she brings to a conclusion that the biggest terrorist bomb out of all possible is implanted in language itself and one has to find a way to its mechanisms.

Edited by Steven Yates