Monday, March 2, 2020
Notes on La Deésesse des Mouches À Feu (Goddess of the Fireflies), by Anaȉs Barbeau Lavalette, Canada: 2020-BerlinFilmfestival VIII.-Generation14plus
Like Indian cinema, the “Cinéma Québecois” is another highly neglected film region which is given almost regularly space by this wonderful festival section.
At the beginning, I totally forgot that the film takes place in the 1990s, the time when I visited Quebec very frequently, connected to this francophone region through several friendships. Just this beautiful French-Canadian accent brings always back some memories. The 1990s was as well the time of some referendums for the Independence of Québec from the Canadian union. The turbulent history of Northern America´s only francophone province caused a lot of of insecurity especially among young people. Some of the friends I had were only a few years older than the protagonists in this film, just one generation away from these young people in the film.
The main character Cat, a teenage girl goes through a turbulent change. Her parents are going to divorce. And family, often in films and stories a place of protection is here in decay. She looks for protection and shelter in her circle of friends – and unfortunately in the excessive use of drugs. I am not sure at what place the film takes place, but I would suggest it is one of the smaller cities outside the big urban areas of Montréal or Québec City. The amazing breathtaking landscape appears relatively seldom in the images of this film, they seem to be faded out from the film and probably as well from the awareness of the young protagonists. Sometimes they resemble hamsters in the rat race. They try to free themselves as well from the expectations the mostly dysfunctional parents have in them. They try to replace the need for shelter or the need to leave this “rat race with drugs. But drugs consumes their young and wild life energy, and if not it turns into a destructive power and even more isolation from the world around them, this world they do no seem to see or want to deal with. In their actions, parties, music, sex and drugs, their bodies appear as force fields. Even though there are a few moments in which I had wished a bit less voyeurism – Lavalette finds often very intense images for that. Sometimes bodies are clamped at each other in lust, tenderness or ecstasy. There are a few moments of rough violence like in a beating scene between Cat and another girl.
The camera is mostly very close and sometimes it reveals a tangle of blurring shapes and colours, an interesting and non human cinematic perception. The film becomes a too fast rotating Laterna Magica always in danger to be overheated and always in danger to bust. In these moments we perceive the bodies of these young people rather as a spectacular cosmic event with all its chemical and physical reactions. The film often emphasizes the movement of the film between revealing the young peoples enormous power but also their fragility.
Cat is a bit like Ruth in François Delisle´s film (Ruth, 1994) who is also full of rough and untamed energy but who is at the same time frail.
The poetic title “Goddess of the Fireflies” seems to have something to do with a last desperate shining before the end, if a human life or another natural event. When the film has extended its cinematic energy, a deep melancholy is all what remains. The very popular song Voyage, Voyage by Desireless (which used to go on my nerves) is here covered in a very slow and very melancholic version, the pop song is almost altered into a requiem. No film, Rithy Panh´s apocalyptic masterpiece Irradiés included, at this year´s Berlinale left me with such an amount of exhaustion and sadness. Lavalette´s film is neither beautiful, not always very eloquent - but it makes up for this with an emotional power and an aching sincerity.
Sunday, March 1, 2020
And I will stroll the merry way
And jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear
Clean water for to quench my thirst (Sweet Thing, Van Morrison)
Considering the synopsis in the festival catalogue, I did not really expect that this film can make me happy.
The adolescent girl Billie (they named her after Billie Holiday) lives together with her little brother Nico and her alcohol addict father. The mother left them and lives with another man. Yes, it really sounds like a colportage and one of these social dramas about the poorest class. But very soon, one learns that the film is made by a man who is deeply in love with cinema, and this love is boundless. Billie, Nico and their friend Malik might live on the edge between poverty and total waywardness. But after a while, we learn that Rockwell´s film is at all a protected zone, filled with fairytale-like wonders. The film´s Black and White images, (except some dream,- or memory moments are coloured) shields these kids. Billie and Nico- by the way – are played by Rockwells own children Lana and Nico Rockwell.
Sometimes it is a bit like Hansel and Gretel until the new friend Malik (hard to believe this name is accidental) crossed their way and helps them to deal with their abandoning mother the mother´s lover who is abusing the kids and the mother likewise. The father is kind hearted but totally lost in his addiction. He finally goes to a hospital for a withdrawal treatment. The kids are now abandoned by their loved ones.
The film is filled with quotations from different film genres: horror, film noir, action, slapstick – and yes as well a bit of Italian Neorealism. Yes, and there is also a cinematic greeting to Terrence Malick´s Badlands. But like a shield, most of the violence in these genres are blocked like by a shield. And Rockwells play with quotations, cliches is more than refreshing and never tiring. Sweet Thing is not as much a film but like we dream a film for ourself composed of so many films we fell for. And this declaration of love for cinema is very virulent and I could not hesitate to fell for his film.
Despite the film deals with characters whose life is at the edges of society, the film never wallows itself in the kids misery. The director is here as well the adventurous but loving father who invites his children (and us) through a tour through the realm of cinema. I was not sure at the beginning, but after a while I was confident that I leave the film theatre much happier than I entered it. The only thing I was never sure about is – if this is a film or am I just dreaming.
Yes, it is a homage to cinema and Billie Holiday – but as well to one of the most beautiful songs of the 1960s, Sweet Thing by Van Morrison from his legendary album Astral Weeks, which I listen for more than 40 years.What a joy to hear this wonderful song at the first time in a film! When Billie/Lana Rockwell covers this song several times in this film, I am literally in heaven.
The film takes place around Christmas time and indeed it has quite a cluster of little gifts to offer and with a big lucky bag, the film is probably described in the best way. It is almost defiant how all this evil like racism, social injustice just rebounds from the protection shield against all evil the film finally is.
I attended the world premiere at the Urania in Berlin which was full packed and the screening was in the sense of another song by Van Morrison literally a “Healing Game.” Cinema as a collective and in this case joyful experience – that is during the Berlin Filmfestival only possible in this Generation-section. How else should we celebrate Sweet Thing by Alexandre Rockwell than with a song by Van Morrison or Billie Holiday.
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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.
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.
Thur, 27.Feb, 11.00 Cubix 8
Fri,28.Feb,11.00 CinemaxX 1, 11.00
Sat, 29.Feb, 10.00 Urania
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.
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