Saturday, February 16, 2019
Notes on Beol-sae (House of Hummingbird) by Kim Bo-ra, Republic Korea: 2018, Berlin Filmfestival2019 VIII.-Generation14plus
Beol-sae looks at the first sight like a modern shomingeki-film and at the same time like a Korean feminist pendant to Hou Hsiao Hsien´s autobiographical masterpiece of modern Asian cinema Tong Nien wang shi (A Time to live and a Time to die). Premiered and awarded last year at the festival of Pusan/Korea Beol-sae was one of the highlights I have seen this year at the generation-section of the Berlin film festival which surprised me me in the last years with an impressive diversity of cinematic forms.
In her first long feature, Kim Bo-ra introduces herself as a unique stylist for the future of cinema.
The film takes place during some months in Seoul in the year 1994. Its narration evolves around the young teenage girl Eunhee. Consequently, the narration is built of every day episodes, at first seemingly incidental later they seemed like intensified by themselves more and more in an almost uncanny way. Eunhee, her friends, brother, sister and parents are common people we know from so much films by Ozu or Naruse. The (living) space, in this case closed rooms plays an important role: kitchen, living room, bed room, the class room of the school or the hospital where Eunhee has to admit herself during the middle of the film. The narration is fragmented through these small every day situations, quarrels with parents, friends or the brother, the first kiss.
The best example for this very unorthodox narrative style is a kind of love story
As the film proceeds, Eunhee develops feelings for the teacher of the calligraphy school. At first an optional narrative sub story like a hint, later in retrospect it appears as one of the crucial moments in this film.
The film is about the history of the intimate life and social environment of Eunhee but punctuated with four drastic events. First of all, her uncle, an alcoholic passes away, a tragedy which affects the family but which won´t be recorded in any history book. Later there is a hint to the football championship in the USA and the death of a leader in North Korea. These are signs of history where the film is embedded. Another tragic event, the collapse of a big bridge causes many lives, including a person close to Eunhee. This is the moment when global history directly affects the private sphere of the protagonists. The episodic narration turns into a huge gravitation field
Kim Bo-ra´s film is an exquisite meditation about the relationship between history and human identities and it shows a maturity of an old master which one can´t usually expect in a first long feature film.
In the last 30 years and especially in Asian cinema, some directors cultivated long shots without any cut and very close to André Bazin´s use of the term . Two different names come to my mind. First of all, the Taiwanese Hou Hsiao Hsien. His extreme long shots appear to me as real time blocs among the film. Another Taiwanese, Tsai Ming-liang uses long shots in a more artificial way. In his sequences time appears as expanded like the set is much to near an event horizon of a Black hole. Kim Bo-ra works here with another variation more close to Hou Hsiao Hsien but with a totally different accent. In some of her long shots, when even the camera is unmoved (or hardly moved) the movement of the protagonists sometimes pauses in almost frozen gestures. The cinematic movement is suspended for a while. These moments also suspend the narration for a moment. They suspend the cinematic illusion of space, time and movement and what we call world as it appears on the screen.
In other moments, actions of violence: Eunhee is beaten by her brother, the father shows sign of outrage in his aggressive behavior. There is a moment when Eunhee is alone in her room, totally enraged. Her movements appear nearly like an explosion in this mostly quiet film. It seems she rebels against the restrictions forced on her by the very specific Korean society of the 1990s, by all representatives of authority (teacher, parents, the elder brother) but also by the limitations of the frame of the screen which appears as the visualization of all restrictions of this world she is exposed to.
Even though this film is about young people, even though this film is focusing on urban every day life, there is a current underneath which evokes in me this undefinable taste of transientness. When the film ends it leaves on me the impression of a memory like sculptured for the eternity while we whom this memory is shared with are confronted with the own mortality.
In 138 minutes a whole human life is sensible. When the film is over , I felt this exhausting euphoria between admiration and being heartbroken, between being happy to have seen such a great film but with the eyes full of tears. I felt such a thing this year only with two other films, Driveways by Andrew Ahn and Bulbul can sing by Rima Das.
Like these films, Beol-sae does not just leaves the impression of a film I just saw. It is a film I lived with, breathed with and dwelt in for a while.
Beol-sae won the Grand Prix of the Jury of Generation 14plus, Bulbul can sing, my other darling from this festival by Rima Das won a special mention.
17.February, 16.00, Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
Friday, February 15, 2019
Notes on a short gem called Rang Mahal (Palace of Colours by Prantik Basu, India: 2018, Berlin Filmfestival2019 VII.-Berlinale-shorts
Maybe films which are dealing with the genesis or the formation of the world and with the origin of mankind have always to do with the history of cinema.
Rang Mahal begins with a mountain landscape. We see the matter as old as the birth of our planet. An over voice narrator recites the genesis of the world how it is passed on by the tribe Santal from their mythology. The Santal belong to the natives of the Indian sub continent. It is about the creation of all matter, the beginning of life and finally the origin of men. The film reveals at the beginning natural landscape which is later modified by human civilization. Sometimes, we recognize in the midst of this wild and breathtaking beautiful landscape small paths made by men. Sometimes a few paintings are showed.
As the images show what is, the matter, the text based on a myth which is always an interpretation of the world. It is fascinating how text and images have its own life independent from each other but they finally appear as two possibilities to understand the world. In it´s balance of text and image, Rang Mahal is a close relative of these seemingly very different films like Marguerite Duras´Les Mains Negatives (The negative hands) or Terrence Malick´s Voyage of Time – A Life´s Journey. All these films move between two different poles of cinema, the first one is the ability of cinema to reveal the material world, the second pole is to evoke something or which stimulates our imagination.
As the film proceeds more and more signs of civilization appear, a man working with the soil or a cyclist. The natural landscape turns partly into a landscape cultivated by men. A roof of these houses is based on the structure of a fish skeleton. Power poles are visible in this seemingly almost untouched landscape. In some moments this film has something of a lost dream. The relationship between mankind and nature seems still intact. A world is conceivable where mankind lives in accordance with nature instead of exploiting it.
First of all, this is a very rigorous film about the diversity of cinema between reproducing images of the world and the storytelling, between realism and poetry. The idea of cinema actually began ages ago before our common era when humans began to form what we call civilization and communities. The old cave paintings are probably the origin of cinema.
In all it´s wisdom, in all it´s artistic decisions, Rang Mahal still gives space for this primary, and yes - for my sake - even naive joy in seeing images and to be absorbed by stories. And images are what this film offers quite a lot: Children, animals the incredible landscapes, the beautiful paintings of houses and rooms. In more than one aspect it is a film which reminds us why we love cinematic images.
Than, sentences from this over-voice recitation like, “After all, we all are part of the creator´s dream”, or, “We all are part of cosmic history”.
Rang Mahal is not only an invitation to see very exquisite images from an endangered culture, it is as well a crystal clear film about the Seeing itself.
Even though Prantik Basu cultivates a kind of formal strictness, it is a film you can watch and breathe freely. That it is free of any dogmatism is evident in this implicitness the film presents a peaceful co-existence of the things which are what they are and the things which are evoked through imagination.
The glory of cinema – it can also be found in this short and beautiful gem Rang Mahal by Prantik Basu.
(The film is part of the program Berlinale-shorts V (The show must go on)
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Notes on Outsaiyed Elkhortoum (Khartoum Offside) by Marwa Zein, Sudan/Norway/Denmark: 2019-Berlin Filmfestival VI. -Forum
The filmmaker visits her native country, Sudan, a country where she has actually never lived. Born in Saudi Arabia and later grown up in Egypt. Sudan is for her something like the unknown home country. Consequently the film is a cinematic travelogue. It consists of interviews with different women and observations but it is also a personal reflection how her life had been if she had grown up in this very country. First of all, she appears as a stranger in her native country.
Most of the women she meets, are enthusiastic about football. One of them dreams about building up a national ladies football team. As Sudan is a member of the Fifa, it is officially still not allowed for women to play football. Each training unit, each game is a fight against this stupid restriction. Marwa Zein is very close to her protagonists, their dreams their and their resistance against a patriarchal culture. Her images are actually images which are officially oppressed. Sometimes films are not only revealing a diversity, they themselves contribute to it.
She accompanies these women during training, some matches and moments when women are mostly among women. She records their enthusiasm and their ability to form companionship under very oppressive conditions. While ladies football is becoming more and more established in other countries, in Sudan it is still a sub culture. The resistance against this restriction caused by religion, state and male dominated culture is not yet an open battle but the idea of a change is imaginable.
Sometimes cinema has this ability to offer images from other cultures which are totally ignored or totally oppressed. In other words – cinema can often offer images hidden in an oppressed diversity.
In my now a bit disillusioned, once very romantic idea about film festivals as a place of cinematic and cultural diversity as its most important meaning, the film reminds me a bit what I was looking for all these years in film festivals.
Between watching these women playing football, talking to each other or expressing their dreams and hopes, there is a moment when the film reminds us that there is still a long way to these women's freedom and self determination. Once we see a hole in the wall of a house. Sunlight breaks through this hole and and changes the light into a shining golden shade. The light finds its way through a tiny hole and it is a good metaphor for this film. It is an abstract poetic moment in this mostly sober but compassionate film. As a survey, the film comes to rather sober conclusions. The women are still isolated not only by their country´s restriction but as well by the indifference of the Fifa which even appears as more distorted than it is already. But Marwa Zein creates literally space for this women, an imagined albeit small zone of freedom and self determination where they can unfold themselves. The seedling for change is small and frail, but it still begins to grow.
14.February, 11.00 Cinestar 8
15. February, 22.00, Cinemaxx 4
17. February, 20.00 silent green
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Kinder is the graduation film of young filmmaker Nina Wesemann who sudied at the film school in Munich (HFF München).
First of all the appearance of such a film on a big festival proves again the courage of this very special children-, and youth section.
I remember during the Q&A after the screening yesterday, a small kid asked “what is this film about”. That caused quite a laughter but in its innocence it was quite close to the centre of this remarkable piece of film. The more I think about this film, the more I respect it. It is far beyond a clever graduation film of a clever student but a challenging experiment with children and film. Kinder is not one of these projects which are just confirming already ensured theories of cinema but a wild, wise and sometimes innocent beauty. And sometimes the film has the brave spirit of the first film pioneers. With this documentary, I feel like having experienced a journey through the history of documentary cinema from the Brothers Lumière to everything what is possible today. The whole film is like a precious unpolished jewel and it offers both the enthusiasm of the film pioneers and the wisdom of more than 120 years of cinema.
The film revolves around three different groups of children, all from different parts of Berlin. They might not know about each other but the film connects them to a mosaic of a childhood in Berlin.
What strikes me most is the articulation of Nina Wesemann in her cinematic point of view. And again I have to stress the wonderful explanation of the German word “Einstellung” by Wim Wenders which goes far beyond its English equivalence “shot”. “Einstellung” includes as well an attitude for or about something.
A child on a play ground, totally absorbed by its play. If the beauty of this fleeting moment is caused just by a strong confidence of the filmmaker in that what happens in front of the camera or is it caused by her crucial “Einstellung”, her decision as a filmmaker?
Sometimes, as soon as the children get aware of the presence of filmmaker and camera, they begin to “perform”. That reminds me in some famous moment in Robert J. Flaherty´s Nanook of the North.
An equivalence in Wesemann´s film I see in the moment when a boy eats a very hot pepperoni where it is not always easy to distinguish what is his authentic physical reaction and what his “performance”.
Sometimes the cinematic point of view is from a grown up at children, sometimes I imagine Nina Wesemann using her camera like a time traveler looking for her own childhood. In other moments her point of view seems as absorbed by the events in front of the camera like a child playing in the sand.
The poetry of cinema - no matter if fiction or documentary - has to do with a fine sense for how and when to create and how and when to just let things happen.
Like photography film is an art created with the assistance of a mighty apparatus and cinematic poetry is sometimes a very fine adjustment between human and machine.
Sometimes cinema absorbs us and sometimes we have a slight idea of the presence of this machine.
Sometimes we see children who are filmed, sometimes we see the children we once were. These moments evoke in me the old photographs in my family albums from my childhood and I myself am absorbed in the things I see on the screen and the memories they evoke in me. Between these moments of absorption there is the slight awareness that this film is created, composed and structured. In Kinder, we see a lot of sequences shot from driving local trains, busses or trams. These sidewards movements flatten the image to its original two dimensions. Like in these many train scenes in the history of cinema it appears to me as an analogy of a film strip which moves through a projector. The poetry of cinema is often this movement between the illusion of depth and the awareness of the technique which enables this illusion.
These children play often question and answer-games. There is a moment when they articulate in a playful way questions about the origin of the universe and life. Some other children are visiting a historical museum in Berlin. All these fragmental seemingly accidental episodes sum up at the end to a film which articulate very wise questions about the world but also about film.
Kinder by Nina Wesemann is an exciting discovery from the more experimental side of this wonderful Berlinale-Generation which makes me hopeful for the future of this often endangered child of the late 19. Century called cinema.
14.February, 11.30, Cinemaxx 1
17. February,12.30, Filmtheater am Friedrichshain
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Driveways is as well a film about cleaning out. In its literally meaning it is about cleaning out the house of a deceased person but it is also about cleaning out the troubled soul for facing the future or for coming to terms with the own life.
The film is also about the crossing of different path of life. One path is very close to its end, the other is halfway on this path, another just begins.
Kathy, an Asian-American woman (Hong Chau) and her 8 years old son Cody are on a road trip to the house of her elder sister who just passed away. The sisters lost contact for many years.The house has to be cleaned out for selling it. When they arrive, electricity is switched off and the house is full packed with things, most of them look like junk. It is one of these heartbreaking moments everyone experiences in life. Things, souvenirs etc. loose the meaning when its owner is no more, they are disconnected from a soul who has gone. What we learn about the story of Cody and Cathy, we learn only through small hints. We encounter them here and now. Kathy is a troubled woman, troubled by her difficult relationship with the deceased sister and probably by men. Once she phones with a man, a boyfriend or even Cody´s father – we do not know for sure. Cody is a sensitive but frightened boy. For mother and son, the future is a catalogue of questions, how to make a living for her and the child, where to live, to sell the inherited house or not. Cody encounters the old neighbour Del, a military veteran played by the wonderful Brian Dennehy who is still warm in my memory after his performance in Terrence Malick´s Knight of Cups. Their gradual approach belongs to the wonders of this film. Del still mourns the loss of his wife who passed away years ago and he develops very soon a friendship with the young boy. All those protagonists exist in the Here and Now but there is as well the almost phantasmal presence of their history and their identity as human beings whose complexity and lifetime appears as far beyond the 88 film minutes.
With other friends, Del plays bingo in a club for war veterans. Some of his pals show already signs of dementia. Soon Del has to leave his home because his daughter, a judge will take him to her house to take care of him. At the same time Cody and his mother are close to the decision to keep the house instead of selling it. The one has to leave his home, others are just close to find one.
Even though the film is also telling about abandoned houses, Driveways is a film I felt at home with just after the first minutes. Sometimes it looks like a Road Movie made by Ozu. Even though structured in every day episodes with a seeming lightness, there is a quite melancholic undertone of caducity. Andrew Ahn accomplishes a glimpse of eternity in a very subtle way and with heart warming compassion.
Driveways is at the same time a film about farewell. Two currents are crossing each other. A life path which is very close to its end and another one which just begins.
Life and Death are present and sometimes in the same shot. In house of the deceased aunt, the boy finds a corpse of a cat. When Cody says that he likes to visit Del in the faraway Seattle, the old man answers that it is a very long way there is the notion of Del´s death in the near future.
The porch is a transition between the public part of a house and the more private rooms. A lot of scenes take place on such a porch. It is near the end when on Del´s porch an incredible beautiful and moving scene will take place. Del tells about his late wife about his regrets in his long life. It is not just a very tender moment, the whole film becomes in such moments tenderness and compassion itself.
When Cody and Del are sitting in front of the door, we see them from behind and we follow their glances into the environment, the settlement surrounded by trees. It is a contemplative enchanting shot. We do not only see but we see also people who are looking at something like to an invisible screen. As they are framed it emphasizes also cinema as a fragment of what we call world. Driveways, this little miracle of Independent cinema celebrates life and cinema at the same time.
13.February, 10.00 Haus der Kulturen der Welt
17.February, 10.00 Cinemaxx 3
Monday, February 11, 2019
Notes on Une Colonie (A Colony) by Geneviève Dulude De Celles, Canada: 2018, Berlin Filmfestival III.-Generationkplus
The film takes place in a rural region of Quebec near a Native American reservation. At first it seems to be about an ordinary family among many others. The film is structured in single every day moments, family dinner, school, games and walks through the forest nearby. To reach the school it takes a long drive by bus. Ordinary moments happen at the first sight very incidental but soon they evolve from that through some repetitions to a compelling rhythm. The drama behind the ordinary, the unique behind the common unfolds at first subtly but with rising intensity. Sometimes the glory and beauty of cinema does not seem only the result of the intentions of the filmmakers but as well their curiosity and their discoveries of this piece of the world they want to tell about.There is a family in this small settlement, the father is rarely seen, the mother is a professional dancer. They have two very different daughters, Mylia, the adolescent shy and very introverted one and Camille, a small and very lively kid. At first the film seems to be built of situations of every day life. Later in school when Mylia´s teacher gives lessons about the history of the conquering of America, her class mate Jim, a Native feels insulted and it is one of the small cracks in this seemingly prosy life. How the film varies and sometimes repeat these every day situations forms soon a strange poetry. Banal moments become significant, prose turns into poetry.
Mylia is an outsider, a shy loner. Not yet outgrown of her childhood she has already lost this special imagination, this sense for magic her little sister still has. Camille still talks to animals, her whole environment is a magic place while for Mylia the world consists of a lot of questions and doubts.
The drama in this film seems never forced. It rises up directly from this episodic structure. At the end the parents will get divorced. The children has to move again and it is especially hard for Mylia who just recently changed school already once. At the end a letter from her to the young Native Jim is recited, a hint to the beginning of a love story. How this “love story” will develop we do not know but just the hint to an option leaves us with hope. It is not a Happy End but an end with a promising option.
The art of making films with and about children and adolescents is a matter of perception. Mylia is very shy and her attempt to find her way in life is faltering and very careful. The camera in Une Colonie does not just reveal images of this very cautious and lonely girl, it literally adapts her careful faltering and her shyness. It is not a film about a shy girl but in total accordance with this girl and her glimpses of the world around her.
Later as the film proceeds and the more it moves towards its end we get an idea that this incidental and seemingly accidental episodic structure manifests itself as a very special aesthetic attitude.
Dulude-De Celles strictly refuses to be smarter as her protagonists accomplishes a breathtaking closeness to them. After all the cinematic point of view in Une Colonie is not illustrating but discovering the human and geographical landscape in this very region of Quebec.
At the end when the film already begins to become a memory when the credits are accompanied by a sad folk blues song I feel the whole enrichment of this cinematic experience. Une Colonie is exactly in its refusal of forcing the drama and especially in it´s restraint a very moving, a very emotional film experience.
I still have the sound of the incredible beautiful French-Canadian accent in my ears. The glimpses, these seemingly prosaic moments varied every day moments are concentrated in my memory to a long and beautiful song. In another kind like this wonderful Bulbul can sing by Rima Das, Une Colonie by Geneviève Dulude De Celles is another example of a film which celebrates the glory and the endless diversity of cinema.
12.February, 13.15, Cinemaxx 3
13.February, 14.30, Cubix 7
Sunday, February 10, 2019
Notes on By the Name of Tania, by Bénédicte Liénard and Mary Jiménez, Belgium/Netherland: 2019-Berlin Filmfestival 2019 II.- Generation14plus
How to present the dark side of the world in images and are there images which not only reflect these dark sides but also form a kind of resistance? These are questions as old as the history of documentary cinema. By the Name of Tania tells about one of these girls in Peru who leave their native villages for a better life. But they are allured by fantastic rumours like for example that there are rich men who will dust the girls they prefer with gold dust. But the girls end up in forced prostitution, they are beaten up, raped and their dream of freedom ends up in slavery. At the first sight such a synopsis sounds very suspicious like social porn camouflaged as a social report.. But from the first moments on , the film goes a very different way. It is a very complex film essay which moves permanently between fiction and documentary and reminds me often in the experimental films by Trinh T. Min-ha or in the films Marguerite Duras, especially in the use of over voice narration..
The film is focused on Tania. The name is fictive but gives an idea of identity. As she has a name, she is nevertheless an example of the faceless crowd of young woman or minor girls who are exploited.
The first images present landscapes. At first a young woman is lying on a bed. The room is red lighted. The contour of the body, the room and the colours are slightly disintegrated into a blur. The other landscapes are the geographical ones of the Amazon, sometimes in its natural glory, sometimes destroyed and disgraced by copious gold digging and big slums.
The film does not move always in a chronological order. Tania´s over voice comments are sometimes referring to moments we see but sometimes her voice is literally taken out of time. Once we see her looking from a terrace down to a city. The terrace appears as a frame in the film frame. It is a seldom quiet, almost contemplative moment. This little rest period seems to be necessary for both, the protagonist and the spectator to deal with the horrible events the film tells about..
Sometimes when Tania is in front of the camera, almost like in a conventional interview situation, we see the natural or urban landscape in the background which looks strangely flat while Tania´s physical appearance is almost emphasized like a three dimensional figure.
What the film finally offers, is a kind of protected zone like I suggested in a different kind in my text on Anamika Bandopadhyay´s The Third Breast. All the horrible experiences of Tania are only revealed in her commentaries. The filmmakers refusal to redouble the suffering of their protagonist in not illustrating it, might be the most important artistic decision.
Once we see Tania waiting in a police station before and during her testimony. The impact of this film is split into two aspects: the first is the awareness that Tania is only one example of this exploitation and slavery of young women, the second one is the idea of hope in distinguishing Tania always as a subject. A reason more to create a special even artificial space for her. The dynamic of documentary and fiction appears as the key to understand the film.
I do not really know how Tania´s comments are filtered from a lot of research interviews with these victims of slavery, forced prostitution of often girls of minor age. The elements of performance and documentary interviews are often difficult to distinguish. The film tries to accomplish both, compassion but as well discretion.
There are often moments when the contours of bodies and things tends to be dispersed into colours and surface, a kind of reduction of the film image to its natural flatness, an disembodiment of the physical world. The illusion of the perception of bodies is for a moment suspended. One can read it is a sad link to a moment when Tania comments: “It is not my body anymore.”
By the Name of Tania is also a film about destroyed landscapes, the human and the geographical ones
It is this cinematic tactfulness for closeness and distance, for compassion and discretion which will stay with me. It is again another variation of “caméra stylo” and in its emotional impact it recalls films by Marguerite Duras like Les Mains Négatives and her two Aurelia Steiner -films.
12.February, 20.15, Cubix 8
14.February, 13.00 Zoo Palast 2
17.February, 16.00 Cinemaxx 3