Short Films Coming Forward

in 25th Stockholm International Film Festival

by Dieter Wieczorek

In the Open Zone section of Stockholm’s international film festival, one film marked the transgression of a simple reality-illusion cinema. In Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s film The Owners (Ukkili kamshat), symbolic, surreal and hyper-realistic sets are mixed, culminating in a metaphor of the total helplessness of individuals in territories out-of-order-and-right. Situated in Kazakhstan, the work indicates the anticipated global danger of chaos and anarchic despotism. Here two brothers and one sister try to get back to their property, a small house on the countryside, but from the beginning they are systematically attacked and degraded by a moronic family clan in collaboration with an indifferent and apathetic police.

The scenes of violence are framed by absurd dance and playful musical actions, which transform the aggressors from winners to just marionettes of a world without options, where absurdity by far overwhelms personal destinies. The dance appears as a metaphor of the dance with the death. Yerzhanov creates an impressive tableau of insisting, morbid violence against which there is no objection or help. Even short moments of apparent harmony and solidarity are quickly conquered by the creeping escalation of property annexation. A grinning smile at a gravestone, a faceless talking head as degraded representation of the administration, and caretakers that offer nothing but euthanasia, before they make their way waving and swinging are just some of the suggestive visual markers of this post-society, in which the disenfranchised and the powerful share the same joyless life and death. Yerzhanov uses the form of the grotesque to show the dance of banality.

A brilliant study of social and psychical dispositions of today’s Iran is offered in Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s  Tales (Ghesse-ha), a work realized with much difficulties over 8 years. To create her feature film, the director used the technique of consistent short films, which are related to each other by hinge-points. She mainly treats conflicts of workers confronted with a disengaged administration and the ongoing suppression of women in a society marked by overcoming rituals and mental restrictions. Overwhelming rhetoric replaces real communication as taboos undermine the chance of a real understanding.

Bani-Etemad’s complex panorama is pointing out key moments of insisting micro-power. Her work can be considered as an important contribution about actual Iranian cultural specificities. The short films set-up allows her to involve the spectators in quite different scenarios accentuating the heterogeneous character of a society marked by communication barriers, which start as early as in the relationship between parent and childr. The reduced means are sensible in her film, but the limitation on interiors seems adequate for representing of a closed society, as the handheld camera creates a subjective and participatory position.

Dietrich Brüggemann follows in the German contribution Stations of the Cross (Kreuzweg) wherein a nuclear family in the provinces are magnetized by an extreme Christian religious dogma. Interdictions and rules are affecting every detail of their daily life where dance is sinful and each form of non-canonized music is taken as demonic. In this sinful life the bodies of the youngster are loaded up with feelings of extreme guilt, which leads the young daughter to a self-sacrifice death as the only way out of her moral conflict. And this death, cause of such consequences, gives Brüggemann’s film a quite ambivalent. The film is clearly structured in segments, each of them titled and related to the tale of woe of Jesus. His film wins intensity by his insisting on the continuing suffocating discourses of the dominant mother. Evidently Brüggemann’s film is an important contribution to the actual debate about religious fanaticism and the genesis of a mortal religiosity.

A compatible analytical capacity is offered in July Jung’s film A Girl at my Door (Dohee-ya), presented in the international competition. Here, the continuation of patriarchal structures, and at the same time the suppression of homosexuality, in South Korea today are the background of this film featuring her two remarkable female characters. One is a teenager, an orphan and beaten by her stepfather, who is starting to take revenge with sublime intelligence and efficacy. The girl with the spirit of an adult has learned to anticipate the weaknesses of her aggressors to take defence. The other woman of equal complexity is a younger lesbian police officer who tries to beat her depressions and sleeplessness with alcohol.

Although also weakened and disoriented by a disharmonious relationship, she is the only one who starts to rebel against unspoken rules and manifest injustice of the local powers. Between the two women, both victims of a patriarchy system, a nearly tender relationship grows up, which may have a fatal impact on the officer’s position. At the same time, the youngster develops a nearly demonic intelligence and can even turn against her only protector. Jung creates a complex, psychological set of interactions between the two outsiders. She crystalizes without simplifying the evocation of evil and the inescapable consequences of a society based on injustice.

In the well-selected competition short film program, a masterpiece of short film art was presented; a work that condenses a fatal situation in just one short sequence. Abounaddara is the collective name of a Syrian group of filmmakers that prefer to stay anonymous. In their film Of God and Dogs, a young man confesses in front of the camera his murdering of an innocent, an act he realized fearing for his own life, surrounded by fanatics. In just one shot the psychical self-destruction as consequence of his act became painfully evidence.

Set in the ambivalent space between handicap and health, the Canadian short Take Me (Prends-moi) by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette and André Turpin shows a male nurse, who during his tasks witnesses an act of intimacy and sex between a couple who are both partly paralysed. They ask him to help bring the man’s body in its right position. Emotionally overstrained the caregiver looks for council by his supervisor, but he has to understand that this event is only the first step in accepting a world based on other rules.

In Listen, the filmmakers Rungano Nyoni and Hamy Ramezan point out the inadequate behaviour of humanitarian institutions working outside their own culture. There’s a beaten woman, fearing for her life and that of her son, who asks for help to get protection from her husband, but the female translator is boycotting her statements and at the same time her own son is informing his father by phone about her plans to escape. The executives, irritated by her emotion outbursts, react with verbal aggression and act just as the dominant power without understanding the situation.

Likewise highlighting communication problems in Iran, Ali Asgari follows in The Baby (Bacheh) an unmarried woman, who hasn’t had the courage to inform her parents about the existence of her child. Now facing their visit she is looking helpless for a place to stay. Administrative rules and barriers transform her recherché to a nightmare of degradation. Reminding of Bani-Etemad’s Tales, the suppression and degradation of women appears painfully clear. The close-ups intensify the impression of narrowness and missing ways out.

Stockholm International Film Festival’s short film section clearly shows an interest on actual social, psychical and moral conflicts without escaping into a cinema of illusions. Once again the short film resists against easy going entertainment.

Edited by Glenn Dunks