The Dissolution of Seeing

The Berlinale Forum 2023
Poznámky z Eremocénu (Viera Čákanyová)

Poznámky z Eremocénu (© Viera Čákanyová)

In the digital world of the Eremocene, all that remains of humans are traces that must be laboriously converted back into analogue images - if a digital AI follows the impulse to understand seeing, a seeing beyond shapeless clouds of pixels. In the Eremocene, the age of solitude, film images have become a rarity - and their occasional appearance a stroke of luck. A celebration of cinema, even if it is only images of a naked man swimming in the sea. After the cinema, one looks with a certain nostalgia at the specimens of the unreasonable species working diligently on its disappearance.

Illuminating film from unusual perspectives is one of the themes of the Berlinale Forum, curated this year for the last time by Cristina Nord. As in Fiona Tan's "Dearest Fiona", which consistently separates image and sound space. The image space: a montage of Dutch archive material between 1899 and 1930, of work processes or of national holidays, which gain a powerful presence in their restored brilliance; the sound space: letters written by her Indonesian-born father between 1988 and 1990, with comments on Gorbačov, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the suppression of the demonstrations on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, fluidly interwoven with family messages and questions about his daughter's film studies in the distant Netherlands. The result today is a striking interweaving of public and private spheres, of outside and inside, of seeing and hearing: the secret of every film. And a commentary on colonialism that crosses all established patterns.

A second theme of the forum: discoveries. "The Bride" by Myriam U. Birara (Rwanda 2023) tells of the custom of abducting young women, raping them and then negotiating a marriage with their families, set a few years after the 1992 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Eva, who actually wants to study medicine, meets this fate. The man who abuses her and quite naturally believes he can legally possess her in the future remains a shadow, blurred, in the background. In his cousin, Eva finds a friend and ally who gives her strength to resist, even in the shared memory of death and survival only a short time before. Trenchant dialogue, powerful images and convincing actresses make this debut an event. And a distant story into an experience that comes close to us.

A third strand in the Forum's overall convincing profile are the long documentaries on contemporary history. Like "Gehen und Bleiben" (Going and Staying) by Volker Koepp about Uwe Johnson's literary beginnings in the GDR and the reflection of his experiences in "Jahrestage" (Anniversaries), his main work - all the way to the intersection of their vanishing point, the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops in Prague in August 1968, with Russia's attack on Ukraine at the end of filming, when, according to Koepp in the film's off-camera commentary, Putin expanded the war that had been going on since 2014 "to the whole country". Political, literary, local and personal history, tapped through interviews with people who were connected to Johnson, enter into a convincing connection in Koepp's film because it avoids common categories.

A final, significant dimension of the Forum is entitled "Fiktionsbescheinigung" (Fiction certificate). It brings together largely forgotten German films by ethnic minority directors, adding an important film-historical facet to it. Ten films belonged to this programme segment in 2023, including "Ordnung" (Order, 1980) by Sohrab Shahid Saless, who emigrated from Iran to Germany in 1974 and whose work is gradually being rediscovered. An almost abstract and at the same time politically uncomfortable film, it demonstrates the trauma of Nazi crimes that has not been dealt with in Gan average German citizen. "Aufstehen" (Get up) he shouts every Sunday morning in the streets of Frankfurt, and "Auschwitz" after his wife has admitted him to the psychiatric ward. Almost a joke. Only Herbert Achternbusch, to whom the film is dedicated, has brought banality and horror so close together.