Saturday, February 29, 2020

Like a lost Paradise of Cinema - on Laila aur Sett Geet (The shepherdess and the seven songs) by Pushpendra Singh, India: 2020, BerlinFilmfestival VI.-Encounters

Pushpendra Singh is both, a modern stylist of young Indian cinema with a tendency to minimalism but his films have as well a certain opulence and this reminds us that cinema will be thought and made for the big screen or it is condemned to die.
Like Lajwanti, Laila aur Sett Geet is based on a folk tale, an adaption of the writer Vljaidan Detha. And like Lajwanti and his autobiographical inspired Ashwatthama, Singh´s new film invites us again to dive deep into a traditional culture. The female characters in Lajwanti and in his most recent film played by Sanghmitra Hitaishi or Navjot Randhawa as Laila are deeply rooted in their culture but in their pride, intelligence and independence they appear as well as modern and self-assured woman with a tendency to rebel. The character of Laila is based on a 14th Century mystic poetess from Kashmir called Lal Ded, an independent women loved and respected by Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir likewise for nearly 700 years.

Like I mentioned, in his restrained style Singh seems to be closer to filmmaker like Straub and Huillet, Mani Kaul or Hou Hsiao hsien. But in his celebration of the visible, perceivable world his films includes often moments of breathtaking beauty like for example in one of the most mesmerizing colour film ever made, Renoir´s The River and herewith an aura of a lost paradise of cinema.

The film is structured in 7 songs like in chapters, they paraphrase Laila´s inner change which is as well evident in her voiceover comments. At the beginning there is a wedding ceremony of a nomadic tribe called Bakarwal. Laila is supposed to be married with a shepherd whose community will move soon to another place .This community seems be protected by the trees they are surrounded by, but as well by the framed image of world on the mighty big screen. It has the fleeting beauty of a world which either will vanish soon or has already gone. When Laila´s Bakarwal-community moves to another forest, they face new problems. Authorities demand documents, proofs of identity and family relations which were never needed in this traditional community. It is a small hint to India´s present troubles. The rich and complex diversity of so much different cultures is threatened. A policeman, obsessed by the beauty of the quick-witted Laila tries to harass her. But Laila refuses to become a victim. If necessary, when she is threatened, she is able to strike back. Her voiceover monologues reveal her reflections and her search for a place in this world as an individual.
Pushpendra Singh does not just present this culture and this people alien to me, he reveals as well their reflections about themselves, the dynamics between belonging to a community and moments of objection. More important than the image we have of them is that we notice their own images about themselves. That is explicit especially in the female characters of Singhs films. To approach these people and their world we have to sing along with them.

A visual key in the film is the wonderful light of cinematographer Ranabir Das. The films seems to be made entirely in natural light or with traditional light sources like oil lamps. Our eyes see the world how it is revealed in this film with the eyes of the protagonists: the dark nights when nothing else is visible than the fire place and the hardly recognizable schemes of the people, the sunlight shining though the greenery of the forest, a dawn and a sky of slight violet tone, the beautiful diverse colours of dresses, blankets or interiors. There are often shots from the interiors of a house. One part of the image remains almost hidden in the half-light of the room and another part leads to the light which shines through the entrance.

I can´t forget the tenderness of Laila towards her sheep and the sounds she uses to communicate with them. From time to time one of these animals, a sheep or a goat is sacrificed. The killing of an animal is never revealed in this film, only suggested by the soundtrack. The beauty of this film does not seem wanted or constructed, it originates from our willingness to adopt what the film and its protagonists share with us. What seems so alien to me at the beginning, turns soon into a paradisiac vision of cinema.And despite Singh´s tendency to reduction, his cinematic approach of the world he reveals for us has indeed an intensity like a film by Terrence Malick.
We are what and how we see. And finally - to use a metaphor of this film - we feel like we have to get rid of our clothes like Laila, searching in the middle of Kashmir for a new definition of our place in the world.

In my euphoria, I like to call this film a celebration of cinema with all its glory in a world where both is endangered, our civilization and the cinema likewise. But there is also – like so often at this year´s Berlinale-edition- the longing to see the world again like a child with all the unbiasedness and the unresisted readiness to be enchanted.

The last shot (I do not want to reveal it for now), is one of these moments where all my passion and love for cinema seems to have an image in these dammed achingly beautiful last seconds. And I feel like a little child which points a finger at a glimpse of beauty to call attention. After last fade out into the darkness of the ending credits, I am not more than a crying child which has to be sung by A lullaby into sleep.
I can´t remember when was the last time one could see 4 excellent Indian films in four different sections at this film festival and especially the selection Laila aur Satt Geet the new masterpiece by Pushpendra Singh proofed that Indian cinema deserves a distinguished place in the International cinema.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sun, 1 March, 16.15 Cubix 6

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Notes on Huntsville Station, by Jamie Meltzer and Chris Fillippone, USA: 2020-BerlinFilmfestival V-BerlinaleShorts V

The film I saw on the screen is only 14 minutes long but the film I have in my memory seems to be longer somewhere between a Direct Cinema documentary and a film poem by Terrence Malick.

Inmates are just released from prison. Their prison sentence is finished. They are gathering at a bus station somewhere in Texas. A overweight man offers goods the men need now most urgently, new clothes, a phone call to the beloved ones and a bus ticket. Bus stations are like railway stations or airports in films always nowhere lands, places of transition. In this film the former inmates have just finished one big part of their life story (that we don´t know) and before they can continue with their life in the future (we never will know) they are stuck here for a short while. The former inmates are of different ages and from different ethnic groups and even if we do not know for what reason they were imprisoned - at this place of transition and in this film they are all equal to us and we can empathize with them like with other persons we see at this bus terminal.
Some of them will return to their loved ones (they might still have or have not), others will have to find their way of life with their new won freedom. The film and this special place - it creates a special mood of departure into a new chapter of life between the rush to finish the past and obviously unpleasant chapter and to begin a new one.
Since my early childhood I am attracted to these places and the first cinema of my life was one of these film theatres placed in German central railway stations, a reason I still consider these places of transition as very cinematic.

A middle aged Afro-American is reflecting loud about the 30 years of his life he has spent in prison. More to himself ( like one of these lost souls in the films by Terrence Malick) than to others. He can´t face the fact that 30 years of his life are irrecoverable lost. One feels sympathy with him even without knowing why he was imprisoned at all.
At the first sight, Huntsville Station appears as a very sober film rather in the great tradition of Direct Cinema. But what the film evokes in me is a whole ocean of human moods and hopes, longings and the strange euphoria of a departure to a new chapter of life. The whole place becomes cinema. There is moment one hears the beautiful sound of an American railway signal, a quite harmonica like sound.
The last shot reveals a blue sky with summer clouds.
Huntsville Station is a film about the lost souls of our time but at the same time a wonderful short cinematic poem. Even if it is seemingly entirely observed cinema, it has as well the beauty of one of these great folk songs America is famous for. In other words, the film is a high concentrated miniature of pure cinema. One takes farewell from the film like from the departing former inmates. Sometimes the ingenuity of cinema is very simple. And this 14 minutes long film will stay with me for a long time.
Rüdiger Tomczak

Screenings (Berlinale Shorts V.)
Thurs, 27. Feb, 16.30, Zoo Palast 3
Fri, 28. Feb, 21.30, Cubix 9
Sat, 29.Feb, Colosseum 1

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Notes on a cinematic miracle called Sthalpuran (Chronicle of Space) by Akshay Indikar, India: 2020-Berlin Filmfestival2020 IV.-Generationkplus

It feels good to see that the Generation section continues to pick up films from India, which is for sure one of the greatest and most underrated film nations in the world. Directors of Indian cinema out of Bollywood, if Independent cinema, the Parallel cinema or the films of the old masters, they all face a lot of problems. Multiplexes - and even worse - the disease of streaming channels endanger the diversity of of cinema in India like in no other country. Despite all these obstacles, I find each year some Indian films which would honour all the big Film festivals which neglected this country for decades. That includes not only the last great masters of Indian cinema like Aparna Sen but as well talented young filmmaker like Pushpendra Singh or Rima Das. Akshay Indikar´s second long feature Sthalpuran, which is bravely selected for the children section, is already for me one of the most exciting film discoveries of this year´s Berlinale.

It is at the first sight a “Coming of Age”-story but as well the most daring and exciting film I ever saw at the children film festival (Generation kplus).

At the beginning a thunderstorm and city traffic under heavy rain. Later we see the 8 years old protagonist Dighu looking out from a window of a train. The boy leaves with his mother and his elder sister the big city heading towards the countryside to the house of the grandparents in the coast region Konkan. He misses his father and the mother told him he is “missed” without any trace. The kids questions about his whereabouts of heir father are never really answered.
The film is structured by Dighu´s diary records, small and simple sentences which appear like chapter headings. And for now we have a classic initial situation for a “Coming of Age”-drama: change, loss and loneliness in facing one´s own growing up.

Indikar tells this story elliptically in the way of the great minimalists Yasujiro Ozu or Hou hsiao Hsien. The “drama” is hidden in every day rituals: school, doing home works, strolling around in this breathtaking landscape.
There is a sentence from Dighu while just warned by his sister not to hang behind on the way to school: “I like the road to school much more than the school.” The strange beauty of this film is here quite well described. And strolling around through this film composed of poetic every day observations is an encouragement to discover the film from the point of view of Dighu – or even the 8 years old child we once were.
Dighu´s perspective between dealing with loss and change and his dreamy strolling around through the landscape is a movement, the film converts with a nearly uncanny precision for the spectator. Despite – or probably even because – the fact the film takes place in a part of the world totally strange to me – it transfers me back in a far distant childhood. Each shot, each landscape, each action appears as a wonder.

The grandfather explains Dighu how a clock is working and how time is measured. A seemingly simple moment but with the poetry of an Ozu.
The “Coming of Age” element is imbedded in landscapes and every day situations. Sometimes there is only the weather. A mighty thunderstorm which darkens the sky and emphasized the fleetingness of human life but also the light which makes all things visible in the world but also on the big screen.
Sthalpuran is a film which moves between two extreme poles, a certain minimalism but often moments of almost psychedelic beauty.

There are a lot of long shots and the boy seems lost in the mighty landscape, the rice fields, the forest or the beach of the sea. These images have sometimes the power of the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. When we see Dighu walking on one of the roads or paths in one of the extreme long shots, the camera records with patience his way in long sequences. It seems literally as a piece of space time of a young human life. Sometimes concrete forms and shapes turn into abstract light and colour forms and the film turns into a Laterna Magica.

Sthalpuran is like my last year´s attraction of an Indian film, Bulbul can sing by Rima Das quite a cinematic journey. Indikar´s film is full of breathtaking formal ideas. The images sometimes move amazing landscape images which emphasize the illusion of spacial depth and sometimes, like in a school scene where the sight is literally blocked by a big blackboard, the film reveals the natural flatness of the cinematic image. Sthalpuran is on one hand a very sophisticated meditation about the possibilities of cinema (in this case I mean the mighty big screen) and on the other hand it evokes in me the amazement of a child which is just discovering the world around. And by the way – Sthalpuran is as well with Pushpendra Singh´s Ashwatthama and Anjan Dutta´s Dutta Vs. Dutta one of the autobiographical inspired masterpieces of the more recent Indian cinema.

Sthalpuran by young director Akshay Indikar is not only an exciting discovery of a new great talent of world cinema, it is also a beautiful and respectful gift for the 125th. Anniversary of cinema.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Thurs, 27.Feb, 10.00 Urania
Fri, 28.Feb, 11.00, Cubix 8
Sat, 29.Feb, 9.30 Filmtheater am Friedrichshain

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Notes on a gem called Ochite mi simi Rokjata sharena (Blue Eyes and colourful my dress) by Polina Gumiela, Bulgaria/Germany: 2020-Berlin Filmfestival2020 III.-Generationkplus

The opening titles are rolling over paintings about children. In one of them two children are walking and playing with a dog, in another one a child is looking up to the sky where birds are flying.
At the first sight this seems to be a radical restrained film. It seems the camera is reduced to its function to record, in this case a 3 year old baby girl named Zhana who is playing around on warm summer days. The environment is a Bulgarian housing estate which must have seen better times. Signs of decay are hard to ignore. For now it seems that the magic of the film is just caused by what happens in front of the camera. But soon we get aware that this seemingly sober artless documentary observation, this radical self-effacing is paradoxically the key to the film´s delicate poetry. And after a few moments it does not appear anymore just as an observing documentary of a playing child but it adapts the point of view of a kid, this specific fascination for the moment but as well the abrupt distraction when the kid discovers something else which absorbs its attention. Before we are really aware of it – the film changes our position as a spectator who is entertained by a funny and cute kid into the child we once were. It evokes memories of my own childhood. We sometimes literally are what we see on the screen.
And as the screen becomes almost like a mirror, we remember the little injuries we got while playing, the scratches on arms or knees or stings of mosquitoes and other insects. But we remember also the pleasure of walking barefoot on warm summer days or jumping into puddles. And we remember the feeling when we petted a cat or another animal. Time seemed to be an infinite universe.

As not many adults appear in Gumiela´s film, the proportions of the world around Zhana is explicit seen from a little kid´s point of view. Some of her friends who are a few years older and much bigger appear to her almost as giants. The housing estate with its playgrounds and back yards appear as an endless landscape where a lot is yet to discover. And the film which I thought was supposed to be a sober observing documentary appears to me now as a nearly dreamlike vision. It is like we travelled by a time machine to the very beginning of our life.
There is a moment when the child looks up into the sky and suddenly she pauses for a moment like she is absorbed be her own daydreaming. This is a moment which is hard to describe: the art of capturing the right moment at the right time, the opening of the film to the beauty of the world, the art of montage in discovering this very moment – or just and simple what we call “the magic of cinema”?

While we are diving in the point of view of a child, this very special perception of world, there is a moment like an awakening from a dream: The kids disappear through one of this many entrances of this housing estate. For a short while it is absolute quiet and there is nothing than the deserted back yard and the houses. It is a breathtaking Ozu-like moment and for the first time in this film we feel the fleetingness of time.
When this magical 55 film minutes are over, I think that Polina Gumiela´s Ochite Mi Sini, Rokjlata Sharena deals as well with one of the oldest dreams since the invention of cinema, to look for and sense the world with the freedom and innocence of a child. And the history of cinema is full packed with filmmakers who tried to explore the world while inspired by their own childhood memories.
I can´t believe that I was very close to overlook this little gem while making my festival schedule - and like so often a strange intuition lead me to the screening yesterday where the film had its world premiere. This gem of a documentary has quite a range between the modesty and the minimalism of an Yasujiro Ozu but in its consequence, it celebrates the glory of life as well like a film by Terrence Malick or Jean Renoir.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Thur, 27.Feb, 11.00 Cubix 8
Fri,28.Feb,11.00 CinemaxX 1, 11.00
Sat, 29.Feb, 10.00 Urania

Monday, February 24, 2020

Notes on Gumnaam Din (Missing Days), by Ekta Mittal, India: 2019-Berlin Filmfestival II.-Berlinale Shorts Part V

Someone is passing a photograph of a missed person to passers by. They are asked if they know this person or if they have seen him.
Who is missing this man, his wife, his children or the filmmaker?
The story of the film remains a hidden one, hidden between places and landscapes. The film has two opposed movements which both are representing cinematic poetry in its own right.The first one is that the film seems to dissolve itself in single moments or details: a child is playing, a young woman (probably the wife of the missed man), the shacks or small lanes of a village, a river landscape or a mighty thunderstorm. The other movement is the search for this missed man which begins with a search for the traces he left or could have left. That increases our attention for each detail which could be a trace and we do not perceive these single moments and details as accidental as we did before. Later they appear as tiny and fleeting traces of a disappeared life.

An old abandoned building, almost cleaned by any sign of the identities who dwelt here. Sometimes the concrete things, buildings, landscapes, people or things observed with a nearly ethnographic view disappear into abstract forms, a slightly surrealistic touch, like the film material´s chemistry is already in the process of decay. Only light and colours are visible. The headlamp of a jeep creates two strong cones of light which outshine anything else in this anyway dark images. Sometimes it is just fog which swallows the concrete shapes of people.
The woman (who is probably waiting for her husband to return) is visible behind a window. The glass is dirty and smeared and her concrete shape is slightly distorted. If the image is darkened by a thunderstorm, the image is almost monochrome. There is a moment when two lanterns seem to be the only sources of light in an impenetrable darkness. The light has a tendency to disappear in this film and with it all visible things like a fading memory.
Who is this missing man, a father, husband or a man far away from home lost on his way to find work?
Gumnaam Din celebrates the art of imagination. Its single images are traces itself. And the traces are sometimes small and appear as signs of the fleetingness of a human identity. A family photo which shows a time when the family was united and it seems as precious as it it is the only existing proof.
Ekta Mittal´s poetic film essay is not only a little gem but as well a questioning of habits of seeing, but as well the implicitness of our culture which is permanently flooded by images. Cinema as a visual art is more, an artificial memory which is almost as delicate as the human one, depending on a living body.
After this 28 minutes of Gumnaam Din, I am asking myself if the film I just saw is still the same which is saved in my memory, enriched by aspects the film did not show but has evoked in me. Like all good films, Gumnaam Din is as well a lesson of seeing. It is not only quite a luck to see such a film which will be hard to find as soon as the Berlin Film festival is over. I think if a film festival has any meaning to day than it needs these visual meditations about cinema more than ever.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Screenings (Berlinale Shorts V.)
Wed, 26. Feb, 16.30, CinemaX 3
Thurs, 27. Feb, 16.30, Zoo Palast 3
Fri, 28. Feb, 21.30, Cubix 9
Sat, 29.Feb, Colosseum 1

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Kaze no Denwa (Voices in the Wind) by Nobuhiro Suwa, Japan: 2020. Berlin Filmfestival 2020 1.-Generation14plus

The 16 years old girl Haru appears as the loneliest human being in the world, a lost soul. And at the beginning of the film, she might just feel like that about herself too.
In the Japanese disaster year 2011, her brother and her parents were killed by a Tsunami. Now she lives at her aunt´s place. The first scene takes place in a very small kitchen. The camera persists in a certain almost static position. It is morning and like so often in Japanese cinema, the opening of a film begins with an every day situation. Breakfast is prepared, Haru has to go to her high school. But from the first minute on, the film tells as well about the difficulty to find back one´s way into domestic life in the process of mourning. Suwass sequences are very long and extreme slow. The action, each movement is prolongated.The whole film is built with patient and precise observations.
When the aunt gets very sick, Haru is literally homeless for a while. As a runaway she makes a long journey and the film turns into a Road Movie. By hitchhiking, Haru is beginning a journey away from Hiroshima to Fukushima.

When I saw this long, slow and incredible sad film from the first row in a film theatre, I thought how important it is to see such films not only on the big screen but as well in a public place. As I thought this, the film becomes even more elegiac. Haru encounters several people who helped her moving forwards. Except a couple (the woman is high pregnant and they expect with joy the Newborn), all the other people Haru meets during her journey have to deal themselves with mourning, losses and the painful difficulty to find their way back into life: a man whose sister committed suicide and who lives with his senile mother: a man who lost his wife and children during a landslide and a Kurdish refugee family whose father is detained by the immigration office and probably sent back to his country. Haru learns to share her grief with others. If it does not ease her pain, it helps her to find the way back into life.
That is cinema, this big screen which deals with our fears, losses, mourning and hopes and yes - this is another hint why Japanese cinema especially in its two great epoch of the 1930s and 1950s is the most cultivated cinema culture in this world. So much of these films can tell about life and the world and at the same time they reflect the mystery of cinema.
Gently and smooth, the film accompanies Haru on her difficult journey. She is only one time in really danger when some drunken youngsters try to harass her.

Later she meets a young boy who tells her about a disconnected phone booth where “people can talk with their late family members. This phone booth refers to the literal translation of the film title. Now she goes with the boy who wants to talk with his father (who died during an accident) to this phone cell. After the boy it is Haru´s turn. It is a very long monologue, an imagined talk with her parents and brother. The whole screen becomes this phone booth during this long and intense sequence. This phone booth is real and has giving comfort to ten thousands of people who lost their beloved ones. This phone booth is both, a real thing on a real place in a datable time integrated in the film´s fiction – but it is also a metaphor for cinema. And like so often, a film can be the cinematic pendant to a requiem, the history of cinema is full of that, if in fictive films, documentaries or in autobiographic inspired films. That goes from Hiroshi Shimizu, Yasujiro Ozu to Terrence Malick, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Anjan Dutt, Rithy Panh, Patricio Guzman to mention just a few.
And it is one of the most essential elements of cinema where we can understand our personal grief as an important part of human civilization.
Films like Kaze no Denwa by Nobuhiro Suwa belong to a film festival because they remember us that cinema is one of the most important public places for what we call collective memories or collective consciousness which helps us to define or re-define our place in the world.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Sun, 23. Feb, 20.00 Urania
Wed, 26.Feb, 20.00 Cubix 8
Thur, 27.Feb, 16.00 Urania
Sun, 1.March, 20.00 Cubix 8