The Reincarnation of the Artist

in 61st International Short Film Festival Oberhausen

by Javier Estrada

At 61, the Oberhausen Film Festival is still a feud for the most challenging, emerging, young (and old) directors working on short duration. The International Competition showed a remarkable level, offering some outstanding films such as David Pantaleón’s irreverent but never harmful parody of Canary Island traditions, The Passion of Judas, and Reflection, a wonderful poem made in Super 8 by Japanese veteran Yamada Isao, among many others. But if there was a film that exemplified the open, intrepid spirit of the festival, this was The Last Mango Before the Monsoon, by young Mumbai director Payal Kapadia (which won the FIPRESCI award). In the film, a woman who left the countryside for the city longs for her past life and, most of all, her late husband’s presence. Both keep their emotional bond intact, regardless. Kapadia manages to show the indivisible line between life and death and eventual reincarnation in just a handful of shots where animation and real images interweave.

This year’s “Theme” was devoted to 3D film. The programme (comprised of 6 sessions) showed a great variety of approaches to the stereoscopic image, but the overall result was rather disappointing. There were too many examples of music videos and fantastic genre films that did not explode the possibilities of the medium. However, a bunch of old works raised the level of the programme. Above all of them was Impression en Haute Atmosphère (José Antonio Sistiaga), a gem filmed in 70mm, hand-painted frame by frame, that reaches absolute ecstasy when the images mix with the sound of the irrintzi (a traditional shout from the Basque country).

If the “Theme” was a slight flop, the “Profiles” were all excellent. Three of them were dedicated to relatively well-know filmmakers: two masters (Japanese Ito Takashi and British William Raban) and a love-or-hate director: the American Jennifer Reeder. The other two “Profiles” were devoted to the authentic revelations of the festival: Finnish Erkka Nissinen and Indian Vipin Vijay. The first provided the most enjoyable and hilarious moment of the festival: a programme of concise, absurd pieces that, aside from being funny, were extremely precise and lucid at identifying the contradictions and syndromes of the human being. On the other hand, Kerala-born filmmaker Vipin Vijay offered pure wisdom from a more transcendent perspective. Unmathabudham Jagath (1999-2000), his graduation work from the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, made in 35 mm black and white, has a poetic energy close to both Ritwik Ghatak and Mani Kaul. Taking later a completely different approach, Kshurasyadhara (2001) is a video essay about the communication between people and their gods; while Video Game (2005) configures as a road movie reflecting on the virtual and the concrete. Deeply focused on the roots of the different locations in which he films, visually captivating and luminous in his themes, Vijay’s cinema is constantly mutating. His works are made under independent codes and defy any categorisation. One could think that, the same as the male character in Payal Kapadia’s short, Vijay’s soul wanders between films, only to be reincarnated each time as a radically audacious artist.

Edited by Tara Judah