Berlinale Forum Highlights
Best of World Cinema
The International Forum of New Cinema – or Forum – is the most daring section of the Berlinale programme. Avant-garde, experimental, essays, lengthy observations, political reportages and yet-to-be-discovered cinematographers: in the Forum everything new or unconventional comes together and finds an audience known for its enthusiasm and discerning cinematic eye.
For its 40th anniversary the Forum is avoiding displays of nostalgia and concentrating on what counts in its programme: the films. The crisis that shook the world two years ago has now arrived in film – from conception to completion, a film can take pretty long to make.
Looking at the finished programme, it’s clear that death is very present as a topic. In Haze, Turkish director Tayfun Pirselimoglu alludes to a criminal plot surrounding a contract killing, in whose shadow he situates a laconic drama about life and death on the periphery of Istanbul.
The documentary works in this year’s Forum cover a broad spectrum of filmic forms and subjects. The Swiss contribution Aisheen [Still Alive in Gaza] by Nicolas Wadimoff paints an unadorned picture of life in a place sealed off from the outside. Aisheen is not explicitly political, it has a far subtler approach, that functions through the viewer. This film doesn’t confront, it depends on calm observations made in the Gaza Strip. In Sunny Land, Aljoscha Weskott and Marietta Kesting are also concerned with looking beyond a deceptive surface. Their documentary film essay travels back in time to South Africa under Apartheid, to the “Sun City” entertainment complex, which emerges as a global metaphor. A new generation is making an effort to revive African cinema. Despite the difficult infrastructure, there are still producers looking for talents – in the case of Congo in Four Acts, documentary film talents, who show Kinshasa from different perspectives.
There is again a strong focus on Asia this year. A total of four directorial debuts from Korea and Taiwan offers enjoyable takes on a generation about to take over the reins for the future, for better or worse. In I’m in Trouble!, So Sang-min is equally interested in the peculiarities of men in love, pushing an unsuccessful poet from one faux pas to the next. The Taiwanese entry You yi tian (One Day) produced by Hou Hsiao-Hsien is rather a dreamy, almost theoretical film with a small touch of Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Paltadacho Munis is about religion and power. Fan shan explores an area not yet explored by Chinese cinema: the region on the border to Burma, home to a people who held human sacrifices until merely a few decades ago – they would go and look for a their sacrifice in the neighbouring village. Against the background of these real ghost stories, the whole daily life of the current young generation living between TV, landmines and old traditions is portrayed in the form of a puzzle.
Aisheen (Still Alive In Gaza)
Switzerland, Qatar, 2010, 86 min, Arabic
Director: Nicolas Wadimoff
A situation report from the Gaza Strip in February 2009, just one month after the end of Israel’s military offensive. Destruction everywhere. The bombs did not even spare the theme park. The ghost train is out of order. But hasn’t Gaza itself become a ghost town? Yes and no. Amid ruins, grief and despair, there are people who refuse to give up. Calmly and unspectacularly, without analysis or agitation, this film shows what it means to rebuild one’s life and daily common existence in a destroyed region that is cut off by an ongoing blockade. It transmits diverse impressions and voices from Gaza: children who have lost their relatives and young people who do not feel like taking a compulsory vacation, clowns who despite the nearby rocket fire still manage to make children laugh, and the politically-committed Darg Team rappers whose music is polarizing. It not only shows places such as the border crossing into Egypt, the hospital, the UN Food Distribution Center, the smugglers’ tunnels and the refugee camps, but also the beach and the zoo. That’s where the skeleton of a whale is being reconstructed. A beautiful image, despite everything.
Screenings on 16, 17, 18, 19 February, more info here.
Mali, 1978, 90 min, Bambara
Director: Souleymane Cissé
A young engineer has a managing position at a factory in Bamako. He skilfully solves urgent problems and his new methods meet with the approval of the work force. But his efforts to have the workers involved in decision-making processes incur the disfavor of the owner of the company, who has him murdered without further ado. With the engineer Balla Traoré Souleymane Cissé created a symbolic figure for an entire generation of critical intellectuals who showed a great deal of commitment in trying to establish a fair society in post-colonial Africa.
Screenings on 14 and 15 February, more info here.
Hungary, Germany, 2010, 111 min, Hungarian, Romanian, English
Director: Szabolcs Hajdu
“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.” One could be tempted to think that Mona Paparu, who has to tell her story to the child protective services to get back custody of her young daughter, has been given advice by the impatient Gryphon from “Alice in Wonderland”. Her depiction of the happenings of the past three years wrenches the viewer into an adventure where love, crime, clairvoyance, resurrection of the dead, women-trafficking and a literary S/M brothel have no small part to play. Hajdu wraps this story of a single East European mother, who ends up working as a prostitute in Liverpool, in bright colors. With wonderfully kitsch special effects, slow and dreamy tracking shots and a hypnotizing soundtrack, he brings cinema back to where it was once at home – back to the fun fair where a story is allowed to be imaginative and captivating, not bound by the constraints of authenticity, as is Mona Paparu. Leaving mother and daughter to live happily ever after in our uniformly furnished world, which at times makes us all want to dream away. Sometimes even at the movies.
Screenings on 17, 18, 19, 20 February, more info here.
Congo In Four Acts
Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, 2010, 72 min, French, English
Director: Dieudo Hamadi, Divita Wa Lusala, Patrick Ken Kalala, Kiripi Katembo Siku
As the “Heart of Darkness”, Congo remains to this day a huge space onto which the rest of the world can project certain ideas. With this film, young Congolese directors react to these projections by offering an inside view. Their cameras delve into different microcosms. The film begins with the absurd everyday life of a maternity ward. Many mothers cannot leave the hospital after giving birth because they cannot pay the bill. Right from the start of their new life, these women and their babies are trapped in the clutches of poverty and bureaucracy. A journey through the breathtaking labyrinth of Kinshasa’s transformed infrastructure follows. The life of a young female journalist, whose father – a government opponent – was murdered, is portrayed. Grace Ngyke continues the fight for freedom of speech in the changed, but no less complicated, present. The film ends in one of the many haunting mining towns to which Congo owes its immense wealth. A woman and children, who can barely walk, work like Sisyphus and break stones. With Congo in Four Acts, the filmmakers have successfully completed their experiment to win back a space onto which others project ideas and turned it into a screen.
Screenings on 18, 19 and 21 February, more info here.
El vuelco del cangrejo (Crab Trap)
Colombia, France, 2009, 96 min, Spanish
Director: Oscar Ruíz Navia
We do not learn much about the young white traveler called Daniel, who turns up one day in the almost inaccessible village of La Barra on the Columbian Pacific coast. In his bags, he only has a photo of a woman and an envelope with money that he does not want to spend. Because there is no boat to travel further he ends up staying longer than planned in La Barra, taking advantage of the hospitality offered him by Cerebro, the head of the Afro-Columbian village community. Lucia, a small girl with a crab trap that gives the film its title, becomes Daniel’s constant companion. She persistently reminds him of the possibility to buy food from her mother and promises in return to help him get hold of a boat.
In his semi-documentary feature debut, Oscar
Ruíz Navia films the encounter between Western civilization and the inhabitants of an isolated village on the edge of the rainforest, using non-professional actors from La Barra. A parable in calm, clear pictures about the “right” relationship between give and take, about the power of money, about modernity and tradition, strangeness and attachment.
Screenings on 14, 15 and 17 February, more info here.
Fan shan (Crossing the Mountain)
People’s Republic of China, 2010, 98 min, Wa
Director: Yang Rui
A brigade of soldiers treks through the jungle. They do not seem to notice the man who is lying on the ground at all. A young man with a blindfold plays blind man’s bluff, but he does not find the girl that he’s looking for. Villagers discuss a police investigation into an explosion; a Russian hand-grenade has been found. A sign warns of landmines. An old woman remembers her lover’s violent death. A domestic pig is implored to yield enough meat. A man saws his television in two.
“Crossing the Mountain” does not tell a conventional story; the film emerges like a picture puzzle. The protagonists are young, but they live with the ghosts of the past. Morbid stories of head-hunters, human sacrifice, wild animals. Skulls are found between rocks. The Chinese director Yang Rui spent three years with the Wa people in south-western China, on the border with Burma. With her second film she has created a kind of ethnographic fiction film. There is a sinister atmosphere in the lush colors of nature; the images and sounds are of painful intensity. A tropical malady lingers over life like an impending storm.
Screenings on 18, 19, 20 and 21 February, more info here.
Kawa no soko kara konnichi wa (Sawako Decides)
Japan, 2009, 112 min, Japanese
Director: Ishii Yuya
Sawako has been living in Tokyo for five years and is now on to her fifth job and fifth boyfriend. Rather than happy she is resigned to her fate, devoid of all dreams and hopes; a complex of symptoms which even her colonic irrigation therapy does nothing to improve. When her father falls seriously ill in her hometown, her boyfriend Kenichi, who relies on her as a substitute mother for his little daughter Kayako, decides that the three of them should move to the country and take over the father’s clam business. But in her hometown Sawako has a reputation as an ungrateful daughter who ran away from home. So she and her patchwork family are not exactly welcomed with open arms.
The film portrays this reencounter as a twist of fate in which issues of social background and gender roles come into play in some genuinely funny situations. The gentle Sawako doesn’t seem to stand a chance against the gossip and this rough and crude environment, with its verbal abuse and heavy beer consumption. But is it really impossible to get the better of one’s social class and conditioning? Sawako sees her opportunity and seizes it. The only loser is he who allows himself to be turned into one. But here the fragile bloom of hope in the end turns into a gigantic melon.
Screenings on 14, 15, 16 and 17 February, more info here.
Kyoto Uzumasa monogatari (Kyoto Story)
Japan, 2010, 90 min, Japanese
Director: Yamada Yoji, Abe Tsutomu
Higashide Kyoko is a university librarian. She also helps her parents with their drycleaning company. She is involved with a childhood friend from the neighborhood, Yanase Kota. He is the son of the local tofu maker and has begun a moderately successful career as a stand-up comedian. A visiting lecturer from Tokyo falls head-over-heels in love with Kyoko and asks her to go abroad with him to Beijing, where he has to spend the next few years for his research. But Kyoko cannot decide.
Yamada Yoji and his co-director Abe Tsutomu have set their story in Uzumasa, one of the oldest parts of Kyoto. This is where the famous film studios, in which Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” and Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu monogatari” came about, are located. There is a shopping street that links the university and the studios. Yamada has involved the business owners and the students in his film project. They play themselves, as soon becomes clear in interviews. “Kyoto Story” tells a love story, which questions the perpetuation of traditions. But most of all, the film is a declaration of love to this city.
Screenings on 19 and 20 February, more info here.
Na-neun gon-kyeong-e cheo-haet-da! (I’m in Trouble!)
Republic of Korea (South Korea), 2009, 98 min, Korean
Director: So Sang-min
It’s rare for Sun-Woo to say anything other than “I’m sorry”. After messing up the rendezvous with his girlfriend and making the usual promises that it won°òt happen again, he still ends up at the next drinking session anyway.
It’s as if you can find them all over the world, those 30-year olds or roundabout, who are simply unwilling to grow up, the young wanna-be poet Sun-woo from Seoul being a prime example. He refuses to take any sort of responsibility, lives for the moment and has proved himself incapable of forming relationships. As Sun-woo drifts through the streets and bars of the Korean capital, he reminds us somewhat of the layabouts of the Nouvelle Vague; his refusal to conform seems like act of defiance against a society that puts its young people under constant pressure to succeed. He also goes in search of new types of relationships, but his own romantic ideas of love always stand in his way. Although So Sang-min views his drifting hero in a consciously laconic manner, you can still feel that he has sympathy for him. “I’m in Trouble!” is a comedy with tragic undertones about someone who refuses to bow to efficiency, the calmness of the shots working like an antidote to the hectic nature of the Korean capital.
Screenings on 14, 15 and 16 February, more info here.
Paltadacho Munis (The Man Beyond the Bridge)
India, 2009, 96 min, Konkani
Director: Laxmikant Shetgaonkar
A mountain forest in the southern Indian state of Goa. A group of workers farm a largely inaccessible, sheltered piece of woodland. Their supervisor Vinayak leads a lonely life there, mourning his wife, who he lost following an accident. When a confused, ragged, outcast woman turns up one night in front of his hut, he scares her away. Yet when she turns up a second time, Vinayak feels sympathy for her. He begins to look after the woman, somewhat crudely to begin with at least. A gentle friendship slowly develops between the two of them. Ignoring the talk of the people in the nearby village, he eventually lets her move into the house with him. When she becomes pregnant, it is Vinayak himself who now runs the risk of being cast out. A political leader from the village uses the scandal to advance his own power politics, directing the fury of the villagers on to the couple.
Laxmikant Shetgaonkar’s first feature is told in his native tongue of Konkani, a language otherwise hardly used in Indian cinema. Shetgaonkar’s silent story touches on the essential questions relating to the ruling laws of community, power and abuse. The image of a rickety rope bridge, which connects the village to the forest and the protection it offers, ends up becoming a great metaphor.
Screenings on 17, 18, 20 and 21 February, more info here.
Turkey, Greece, 2010, 109 min, Turkish
Director: Tayfun Pirselimoglu
A young man who packages pirated DVDs for shady characters comes across a revolver next to which lies a picture of a woman. This discovery leads him to a couple that lives in the same grim area as him on the edge of Istanbul and is in a state of crisis. She is a seamstress, he is a butcher. There emerges a peculiar configuration of three people, who all find their despair hard to bear – all on their own.
Lost souls. Lost in space. The protagonists seem lost in the bleak urban landscape of desolate arterial roads, rubble and distant high-rises. They also seem lost in their everyday lives, which are defined by speechlessness and imminent unemployment. Grayness and drabness. Although there is a minimal plot around a contract murder, “Pus” is mainly a study of the state of total alienation, loneliness, emptiness and hopelessness. None of the three manages to find an expression for these feelings; yet the film gives them a form and each image speaks about them. Slow, highly stylized and elliptically narrated, with spare dialogues and no psychology – a European auteur film from Turkey.
Screenings on 18, 19, 20 and 21 February, more info here.
Germany, South Africa, 2010, 87 min, English, German, French
Director: Aljoscha Weskott, Marietta Kesting
There are countless Sun Cities in the world. Perhaps the most famous and certainly the most bizarre of these is Sun City in South Africa, a huge resort with a disco, casino and swimming pools two hours north of Johannesburg by car. It was built in the 80s, when the Apartheid system was attempting to prevent any sort of encounter between black and white. Except in Sun City, that is. Under the banner of supposed-ly apolitical entertainment, a tourism laboratory to carry out radical political experiments was set up here, a zone simultaneously real and unreal. It is to the film’s credit that it is able to make this recognizable. The film unearths the strangest archive footage in a clever and entertaining manner; one visitor to the resort recalls a Frank Sinatra show, while another, fictitious visitor named Hans comes across far more seriously than the utterly absurd German TV report on a Miss World competition held in a country gripped by civil war. The end of the war and the ANC’s historical election victory passed Sun City by, astonishingly leaving no trace. Sunny Land is the exact opposite of a respectful documentary about a dark place from South Africa’s past, working instead like a psychedelic drug in filmic form, expanding consciousness in the here and now.
Screenings on 16, 17 and 20 February, more info here.
You yi tian (One Day)
Taiwan, 2010, 93 min, Mandarin, Taiwanese
Director: Hou Chi-Jan
Singing lives with her mother on the Taiwanese island of Kinmen. In a constantly recurring dream she meets a man. She can neither recognize him, nor does she understand the words he shouts at her. Singing works on a ferry boat where she meets a young soldier who claims that he will be her boyfriend one day. Initially, she doesn’t believe him, but it turns out that he is right. “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” This quote by Edgar Allan Poe might well be the motto of Hou Chi-Jan°òs first feature film. On the narrative level, several dreams overlap and break up the story line as well as the chronology of the film until it appears as if not even the dreamers themselves can be sure at which dramatic stage of the story they are at a given moment. Hou Chi-Jan expertly manipulates narrative levels and genre elements. Dream and reality blend into one. “One Day” resembles a poem made of light, color, water and emotion, telling a melancholy love story in modern-day Taiwan.
Screenings on 15, 17, 18 and 19 February, more info here.