Reality and Fiction Reconcile By Diaa Abulyazeed

in 54th Mannheim International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg

by Diaa Abulyazeed

Hardly willing to get involved in long discussions, Christian Barbe, Spanish director of I’m Authentic (Soy autentico), left the stage in Mannheim Stadthaus a few minutes after the press conference for his movie had started. Apparently not a big fan of criticism, Barbe seemed to prefer to let his movie speak for itself.

With a solo camera angle, narrow shot, in one fixed position, twenty different characters are interviewed about sexuality, night, and being “normal’.

Although not very well received by the audience in the 54th Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival, I’m Authentic could be considered an innovation on the artistic form of the feature-length film. All of the cast talk to the interviewer – sometimes directly into the camera — in real time with what seems to be a simple REAL interview.

Audience’s couldn’t see where the fiction lay. It was not before Barbe declared his use of professional actors with a pre-written script that the audience realised they were watching made-up stories rather then real documented ones. Normally, a cinema ticket is thought of as contract in which the audience knows that what they are about to watch is an imaginary story to be believed just during the screening (feature) or real story from real life (documentary).

But Barbe neglects this historical filmmaker-audience deal, he “tricks” his audience and challenges them too. What an uneasy, untraditional and creative audience relation is explored!

It’s quite possible that I’m Authentic would be received in a very different way if presented in another context. Perhaps an “experimental” label, or a special screening, could make audiences more tolerant towards the movie. At all points, Barbe succeeded in making his audience reconsider the difference between reality and imagination.

Croatian director, Tomislav Radic, whose film What Iva recorded on the 21st of October (Sto je Iva snimila) was specially screened during the festival, described the acting style in I’m Authentic as a very difficult one. Radic told me after the reception for his film that he had tried it with his students during a course on acting to camera in Croatia few years ago. In quite another way, Radic’s film had an amateur documentary shooting style, adopting the viewpoint of Iva — the protagonist — who is recording the incidents that happened during her 15th birthday in what looks like amateur work, yet requires a very high professionalism to keep the audience aware of what’s going on.

The ‘fiction-documentary style’ interference again showed up in Mannheim this year on two other films.

Pavee Lackeen: The Traveller Girl by Perry Ogden from Ireland, rebuilds the life of a gypsy family using real people to re-enact their daily life, mingled with the work of professional actors in a very harmonious, smooth style, reminding the audience of the work of Italian neorealism.

The same concept of rebuilding reality is found also In Ramin Bahrani’s Man Push Cart, a US-Iran co-production. Ahmad, a Pakistani immigrant who lives in USA selling coffee and donuts dreams of having back the glorious days when he used to be a singer who already had an album released. But his life is dramatically falling apart. Bahrani uses the real Ahmad to reproduce his own story to the camera.

Mixing reality with fiction, and bringing the gap between them closer and closer together, even to the point where it diminishes totally, was a prominent phenomenon at the 54th Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival, yet not the only one to be observed.