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  • Christian Hain

The Berlinale Trilogy – A Prequel: Forum Expanded, Expanded

Berlinale #67, 2017, Poster, ©Berlinale

(Berlin.) Last time we talked about art, we stopped short at the films of Forum Expanded. A restriction on telling about those before their official premiere, was the reason to forestall the publication of this article, I’ve written about a fortnight ago.

Forum Expanded exists for twelve years already, and the films are joined by an exhibition at Academy of Arts, of which you have read here (but which I wrote later, man this is confusing). Berlinale’s more filmy films are treated separately.

In total, Forum Expanded featured twenty-nine films. The press screening showed about a third, eleven. Seems not fair towards the other directors, does it? Once arrived at Berlin's Arsenal Cinema, my behind started aching in anticipation, but it should prove unjustified: If ever you get a chance to visit the Arsenal (smaller than the Emirates, though): Seats are among the most comfortable ever felt in a movie theatre! The same is true about the Multiplex around the corner that showed parts of the Berlinale programme. In nothing comparable to the torture instruments in the other main venue, the Berlinale Palace.

This will shock you but there are major differences between an art exhibition, even films in an art exhibition, and a traditional film screening. For once, it’s hard to take notes in the dark - did Ebert use a flashlight? And there is no candy unless you bring your own, no advertisements apart from the credits and the sponsoring government authorities. I set myself the task to write some words about each of the eleven films I’ve watched, this is the director’s cut of film critique. In true festival spirit, you could watch them all at Arsenal or Academy of Arts during Berlinale. You might also find one or two of these films, or filmmakers, in another context one day.

Forum Expanded offered a tour around the world, starting in Venice, a fake Venice built in a Qatarian (or Dubai?) resort. Rawane Nassif’s Sokun al Sulhufat (Turtles are Always at Home; so they say, Google translate will not confirm) is quite smart, about exotic dreams of unveiled, and décolletéd Italians two dimensionally glued to a window front. Insights to the insides reveal, behind, there’s nothing. It gets more and more unreal until a fish swims in the water reflections of the pseudo-Venetian skies.

A German filmmaker had something to say about Teheran. Daniel Kötter’s Hashtu Tehran is described as showing four different development areas, yet it looks all the same. What a history Persia has! What a culture! Five thousand years of poetry, architecture, science and carpets, from Zarathustra to Arabian Nights! And what has it come down to. The present is plain ugly. At least according to these images – there’s no spoken comment, and hardly any words at all beside the admirable skills of a property salesman. It all looks the same. Grey stone deserts like the worst Eastern European gipsy ghettos, concrete blocks for the rich at a lakeside – the most depressing, ugliest, lake you’ll ever see –, and in the middle of the desert for the less fortunate. If this is the truth, we should grant asylum to each and every Iranian only on grounds of the aesthetic ordeal he’s gone through. But wait. This is made by a Western filmmaker. Who has his own perspective, his own views.

On a side note, they advertise “Four-D” cinemas in Teheran, as frequently repeated among the selling points for that blind man’s Monte Carlo. You certainly need a fourth dimension to escape to when you live here.

American Sharon Lockhart’s Rudzienko follows inmates of a Polish asylum for troubled girls. All spoken words are Polish, and the translations given in long texts separating each chapter. That’s annoying. Subtitles do make sense.

It was not better for that guy in the first row who read it all aloud in a guttural voice, maybe his wife, or nurse, was illiterate. They were both in their eighties, seen from ten rows behind. Once I grumbled, “but won’t he shut up...”. Then asked myself if the others did not hear it. There was a lot loud breathing. Now call out, “Could you please stop it?” Or wait till lunch break, then approach them with a smile? In the break, I mistook another couple for them, and shoot them a most hateful glance. After the break, he continued with subtitles and credits.

But back to Lockhart. The dialogues are stereotypical, the stories sound that way. Maybe it’s authentic, but then it’s been heard too often, and nothing special. It’s just boring everyday drama, go buy a book with case studies of troubled teenagers instead. Or don’t, if you’re not a social worker in Batik shirt and Birkenstocks. The credits reveal, this has been financed by Gladstone and neugerriemschneider galleries, by Kadist and two more art foundations. That’s interesting. What the funking funk the artist needed thirteen researchers for? No, seriously!? And the pretentious ”thank yous” must include everybody from her grandpa’s kindergardener to her mother’s hairdresser - they almost outlast the film itself. Money does not equal quality in art, not even in art films.

During Peter Miller’s “film” Set, I had to close my eyes, all the time, and I’m not even epileptic. It shows rapidly changing images of sunsets like a slideshow breaking the speed limit. Too fast and not fast enough for the eye. The "film" equivalent to being shot with an automatic rifle. Maybe a non human's visual apparatus could appreciate it. We should ask Eija-Lisa Attila whose Studies on the Ecology of Drama features an overacting, middle-aged, Finnish woman and some students explaining about the differences in visual perception of the world, and the potential ensuing differences in world-construction between humans and other animals, from common swifts - who spend the first three years of their existence in the skies without once alighting, did you ever know?! - to butterflies, and bushes. It’s one of the better works here!

So is Bernd Lützeler’s self reflective Camera Threat dealing with the makings of a film, and making your star. Another German filmmaker doubles as an “exotic”: This is not Bollywood, but a pseudo documentary. Great.

Also nice: Haig Aivazian’s Not Every Day is Spring on the blind Armenian musician and composer Udi Hrant Kenulian (1901-1978). Istanbul's Gazi Park was built on a destroyed Armenian cemetery, quite interesting on the background of those protests against its destruction a while ago.

Usher, Poe, not the rapper. Maya Schweizer with A Tell Tale and a Marclay like mash up of many horror movies, old, French or English spoken. Liked that a lot.

Contrary to more horror by Fern Silva (Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder), apparently he wanted to insert something uncanny in everyday scenes. King Kong’s hand touches a wall.

Eliane Esther BotsBrick House has two African immigrants spending their days in a Dutch apartment, they would prefer to be back home. Or so it seems, as they only live in talking about the past.

Sometimes, it’s not even fair to say “film school”, as you’d expect this quality needed for a candidate to even enter a film school. Like entirely random images of bridges by Tomonari Nishikawa (Ten Mornings Ten Evenings And One Horizon). Apparently in Japan. The description in the documentation material sounds mathematical. Or neurotic.

Now, something about the differences between art films and a “normal” one. If you want to do art, with a camera, make it slow. A typical take should last for minutes and more. Slo-mo is indispensable. Cut away all traditional storylines. In TV docus, the speaker is the most annoying part - leave him out, and only show what you filmed. Then you are an artist. No less, nor more manipulative than the media, but definitely more fascinating. It works. It really does. At least by the magic of cinema. In a theatre context, viewers stay awake (or away). On the downside, most art films are too long. You get the idea after five minutes, yet have to endure another ten. Or forty-five. With a painting, a sculpture, or an installation, it’s different. Arty filmmakers don’t seem to know when and where to stop. Like bloggers.

Forum Expanded, Berlinale, sometime in February, and maybe in a cinema near you soon

World of Arts Magazine – contemporary art criticism



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