The Real Fiction

in 44th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Einar Staalesen

We should adjust our notions.

What we call reality is unreal.

Increasingly more often, documentary films make use of the modes of expressions typical of fiction films.

While some of the recent fiction films appear to be sober reflections of generalities. The films more often deal with people than with events. They often depict villages and remote, small communities. The plot is undramatic. If there is filthiness, it is below the surface. You will rarely hear any music except for the music which is actually being played in the picture. The suspense is in the silence and slowness.

Some of the minimalist fiction films we watched in Thessaloniki made an impact.

For example “Il Dono” (The Gift), winner of the “Silver Alexander”.

It is so quiet. After a few minutes, a couple of hens cackle. After three minutes, a cock crows. While the picture shows an old farmer who occupies himself with small tasks and moves slowly in and out of the only building there is on his small farm. Then he prepares some food and eats it while looking at a rather worn-out photo of a naked, straddling woman and a man approaching her precious parts with his tongue. The photo must have been removed from a porn magazine. Years ago.

Then he goes on with his small tasks. When his dog dies, some boys from the village help him bury it. One of the boys forgets his cell phone when he leaves. The farmer is startled when the phone rings.

About 20 minutes into the film, he is in the village and gets a good, old-fashioned shave. When he is about to leave, the village’s mentally retarded but physically capable young woman enters the barber’s shop. The barber draws the curtains and locks the door.

This state of affairs is described with provocatively fine gestures.

The Italian production “Il Dono” marks the feature film debut of the 35-year-old Milanese Michelangelo Frammartino.

In the Argentine production “Ana y los otros” (Ana and the others), which received the direction award in Thessaloniki, the camera follows a young woman who returns to the town of her childhood. She meets with friends, goes to a party with her friends, talks about old days with her friends and gradually becomes rather purposeful in her attempts at meeting Mariano as well. Because now she realises that she maybe has been a little in love with him all this time. Without really understanding it. She finds his house, knocks on the door, the door opens, she enters, then the door closes and the camera is left outside. After some long seconds with a picture of the closed door, the story ends.

You can’t make it any smaller. The main jury at the festival, led by the Georgian-French Otar Iosseliani, concluded that the direction was great. The film is directed by 30-year-old Celina Murga. “Ana and the others” is the first feature film she has directed on her own.

The Austrian film “Struggle” by Ruth Mader feels documentary for long stretches. People from Poland come to Austria to work as strawberry pickers. When the season is over, some of them slip away and remain in the country to make a living from black labour. They have their own remote gathering places. There the employers arrive in their Mercedeses to buy cheap labour. The presentation is undramatic. It seems authentic. Polish Alexandra Justa plays the leading part with fine expressions. Brilliant.

Ruth Mader’s film feels less arranged than “Dear Jesus”, the new documentary from fellow Austrian Ulrich Seidl. Seidl places the camera in front of people who have come to church to pray. This enables us to be there when they tell the Lord about their situation at home and pray for help to cope with life. Things are really too bad.

It is appalling. And you can hardly believe it. It is documentary!

Over the last couple of years I have seen so many of the almost real fictions that I start believing they make up a trend. I guess these films are a reaction to decades of noisy film expressions that have reached such numbers that they no longer make an impact on us.