The Forum: Multilingual New Cinema By Salome Kikaleishvili
“Life, as it is!” — these words were exclaimed a century ago by those first movie-goers and critics who had been watching a new miracle created by the Lumière Brothers — the photography put into motion. However, for me, these words are something I would use to characterize the films presented at the 57th Berlin International Film Festival at the International Forum of New Cinema, in a very laconic and specific manner. I was given the opportunity to be an observer. Furthermore, while I was watching the first cinematographic steps of mainly young, new directors, I kept my eye on a new reality ? new cinema presented at the Forum.
To tell you the truth, I thought I was in a laboratory, where new movies are created and produced and at the same time, thousands of experiments and tests are conducted on them. Almost every film was the process of searching for both new forms of expression and the content, where thematic, stylistic, or even genre sides of those films were against all the ‘canons’; and that is why the energy of those films could be especially felt — the energy of freedom and joy. Most of the films of the Forum are film-experiments, film-essays, which are on the invisible border between documentary and artistic stylistics, aren’t they?
However, in spite of the fact that the films include different themes and film-narrating manners, all these movies from various countries have something in common as well, something that turns them all into the rings of an endless chain and this is reality, the reality of every country and every nation; together with the events, political cataclysms and human stories linked to it.
I would like to add that my interest in this program of the Berlin International Festival was doubled for a few reasons. The first and (I think) main reason was that I am from a country (Georgia) the cinematograph of which has come quite a long way. However, because of the recent years’ political changes and cataclysms in my country, it seems like its cinematograph had ceased to exist for a long time, had fallen asleep. That is why Georgian cinematography used to be one of the most painful and urgent subjects in Georgian reality for a long time. Has the cinematograph died, or it continued to exist? The fact is obvious — the situation in Georgia became relatively stable in recent years, or at least, I can say that an international film festival and some student festivals are now held in Tbilisi. For me, the most important out of these two is the latter one, which is the Student Film Festival. Maybe it is true that the festival is not really remarkable for its impressive program but there you are able to see what is going on in the cinema today and what it can expect tomorrow.
I cannot say that this year’s program of the Forum was powerful. Nonetheless, to be honest, this is not the main thing. The most important thing for me was to see what and how young directors around the world are making films, how they search for the new ways of expression, how they find a new language for the form and the content — their own language.
Among 42 works from 30 countries, there were, of course, the ones, which were weak and powerful, interesting and uninteresting, deep and superficial. Some were honest stories — All Blossoms Again (Tout Refleurit) by Aurélien Gerbault and equal-to-a-confession Chrigu by Jan Gassmann and Christian Ziörjen; others dealt with the problem of total Americanization such as Elvis Pelvis by Kevin Aduaka; human and environment concerns — Madonnen by Maria Speth and Hounds (Jagdhunde) by Ann-Kristin Reyels); new and old, or the struggle between blind traditions and civilization — Faro, Goddess of Water (Faro, la reine des eaux) by Salif Traoré. In short, everything that the films of my (own) special interest could feature. It is impossible to focus on every film with due attention because that would be beyond my powers and your nerves as well. For that reason I should better talk about my favorite films in short, films which stayed in my memory at the 57th Berlin International Film Festival’s program — the Forum.
The Most Autobiographical Film
Chrigu is a documentary film by Jan Gassmann and Christian Ziörjen. It is a film about life and death, a film during which you begin to think that you are watching a confession of some person who is a total stranger to you but you are spying on them. It’s if the material, once shot by someone, was incidentally discovered by you today and here it is… This is a story, a confession of a young guy, who finds out one day that he has cancer and this is when the story-telling in the film begins. More precisely, this is not a story-telling but rather reading the cards of life lying on a table, when no one knows which card comes up next.
An episode when Christian (who is co-director of the film and a great part of the material was shot by him) visits a hospital in order to be examined or to receive treatment, old video footage shot during his journey showing every change in the life of the sick boy was organically combining together. As the film went on, both the main character’s state of health, and the story too, was slowly becoming tenser. However, the director managed to walk on the razor’s edge so that he neither created a movie full of sentimental notes nor of pathetic drama. On the contrary, he plainly and simply told us the story of a man, the story about a short road between life and death. “Stop shooting, I think its time for the show to end, isn’t it?” — so says the main character for the last time and it is only in the last sequences of the film when you realize what you witnessed some time ago.
This laconically created movie is one that I will probably never forget and will always remember it as the most real, autobiographical documentary movie about the road, the short road to death.
To tell you the truth, watching the election campaign in Campaign (Senkyo) by Japanese director Kazuhiro Soda is a great pleasure. Still, you might wonder, what is interesting in watching a two-hour story about some guy called Kazuhiko Yamauchi trying to collect votes in order to win the elections and become a mayor of some city? Nevertheless, it is not the main thing that the movie is about, but the main thing is how you create and deliver it to the moviegoer.
In the mornings, Kazuhiko walks in the streets of the small city with a megaphone in his hand, appealing to the people. In spite of the fact that people are not very interested in the person talking through the megaphone, Kazuhiko honestly follows all the advices of the leader of his party. In the evenings, he gathers together with his spouse and friends (where, as it seems, he enjoys authority) and talks about such things as his achievements and unsuccessful public appearances of that day. He also visits his party’s office to hear the latest news or to plan a new action. He talks to the people on the street and listens to their problems… In short, at first sight nothing interesting is happening and the action, as such, does not exist in the film at all. However, those brilliant dialogues, so to say, moments captured behind the scenes (When Kazuhiko is taught how to shake people’s hands, how to make them remember himself, why is a white glove necessary for an action) added astonishing humor and lightness to the film. It was interesting to watch those political methods and tricks as well as the main character’s relations with his wife, friends, and heads. It is interesting, and to some extent we can freely call it an experiment, to shoot an impromptu movie without any script. Simply, it was necessary to be in the right place at the right time only; and the director undoubtedly managed to do that well. This was a complete, compact and naturalistic work which was full of humor, sarcasm (of political peripeteia), and sincerity.
For me personally, this movie was an indisputable favorite from the very beginning. Young German director Ann-Kristin Reyels’ film is based on the relationship polygon. Everything here will remind you of the Rubik’s cube, which you either solve or get stuck in the middle; where every corner, or a character, could be both decoded and interpreted in many ways.
Soon after his parents divorce, Lars moves to his father’s living in a village in the back of beyond, where he witnesses a small secret of his family — the close relationship of his father and his aunt. The tense relationship of his parents was already something hard for Lars to overcome, and now, a new surprise adds to this. At Christmas, his mother accompanied by a stranger — Robert, visits their home in the village. However, Robert does not look like her boyfriend but rather, her servant, who sings, dances and quickly repairs all spoiled things in the house. In short, he is a necessary man for any family. And for Lars’ mother too, he is the main marionette in her certain game, where she only needs to mask herself even more and to hide her true face, emotions and feelings as deep as she can. Everyone here lives a lie, where unspoken words remain unspoken forever, and the hypocrisy becomes an inherent part of the family. Everyone has their own mask — Lars’ aunt, a dull and foolish creature, who gets involved in a relationship with her brother-in-law; Lars’ father; Lars’ mother, who was unable to make her relationship with her husband completely clear and for that reason, tries to hide behind Robert’s back. The father of Lars’ only friend — Marie, who behaves selfishly because he could not get used to the idea that his daughter becomes older and with his ignorance, he causes even more problems for his daughter, who already has a physical defect — she is dumb. The only characters who are pure and real in the film are Lars and Marie. Both of them are estranged people, one of them by the family and the other because of her physical defect. Maybe that is why they quickly find a common language and the only shelter too — in the middle of the forest, near a frozen lake, where they play on a wooden swing, grasping their childhood they try to forget everything. They talk to each other using their hands and this is enough for them. Do you really need any words or heroic deeds to express your true feelings? Nevertheless, to defend the girl, who is often teased by boys from the neighborhood, Lars shows his courage time and again.
The environment in the film is covered with snow and a tiny layer of ice, just like the relationships among the characters of the movie. However, winter and snow are something temporary, something that will eventually end, and the ice will slowly melt, like the body of the frozen rat dropped in the kitchen by Lars; the frozen rat dug out from the lake; slowly and drop by drop it will melt — a symbol of this dirty, hypocritical world. An iceberg between the parents standing face to face for some seconds will also melt, and you will see a close-up of the mother’s hand grabbing her husband’s jumper… And that is when you realize, that Lars has fallen into the water from the broken swing or perhaps, from his childhood (!) He is a victim of this global melting, a scapegoat that his parents needed as a sacrifice.
This very realistic film, that won the FIPRESCI Prize here, reminded me of the last year’s winner — Detlev Buck’s Tough Enough (Knallhart). To tell you the truth, these two films have many things in common: teenagers and parents, environment and human, society and youth — both of the films are based upon these themes; and if Tough Enough depresses you with the violence coming out from the screen, Hounds dialogues is full of humor, on the contrary, ease your perception. Cool-hearted, indifferent parents, the kids left alone and frozen relations… Is it what our reality is really like? The reality which we create.
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