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08 June 2018

Berlinale Forum 2018

Founded in 1971, the International Forum of New Cinema (or the Berlinale Forum) was invented as a collaboration between the Berlin Film Festival and the Friends of the German Film Archive, otherwise known as Arsenal, the Institute for Film and Video Art. Today, 48 years later, the screening room on the ground floor of the institute on Potsdamer Platz remains the festival’s official location.

Erika Gregor, the co-founder of the institute, once spoke of the Forum as the ideal programme for Arsenal’s cinema. It’s true: the programme this year includes an incredible spectrum of work. There are thesis film debuts like Our House by Yui Kiyohara, a student of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s, to unfinished works like Djamilia by Aminatou Echard, a documentarist and ethnomusicologist. There is relevant contemporary film, like Aufbruch, directed and performed by Ludwig Wüst; Mónica Lairana’s La cama; and Sandro Aguilar’s Mariphasa, alongside new works by Sang-soo Hong, Corneliu Porumboiu, Sergei Loznitsa, Guy Maddin, and Ruth Beckerman. There is even experimental animation (La casa lobo) and all manner of documentary and cross-genre film. There are 45 films in total, not counting those included in the Forum Expanded programme of screenings and installations.

Their regular collaboration with Arsenal both as a cinema and as an institute allows the festival to support ties with the city and with the cinema community. It’s interesting to note that Arsenal, like the British Film Institute, Picturehouse Cinemas (especially the regional theatre in Crouch End), and the Paris Cinémathèque gives Berliners the opportunity to become subscribers or co-owners, and in doing so turns into a club or even co-op of sorts.

The Forum’s autonomy, just like its status as a sub-festival taking place at a separate location – unlike multiplexes such as CinemaxX, Cinestar, and Cubix, Arsenal is a modest two-room cinema seating 236 and 75 people per hall – is underlined by the fact that for its principally non-concourse programme, several independent juries and prizes are organised.

Among them are the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Prize, the Caligari Film Prize, and the CICAE (International Confederation of Art Cinemas, of which Pioner is a member) Prize. In turn, it’s clear that its inclusion in the festival process, with its organizational and financial opportunities, allows Arsenal to show the best young cinema from around the world, according to the selection committee. However, this mutually beneficial collaboration has a downside: even in Berlin, where a decades-old community has formed around (and with the help of) Arsenal, the ten-day, 45-film programme seems endless. It would seem that the Forum’s curators share this understanding, as reflected by how they labelled the painstakingly filled out cover of the catalogue with NOT FIT.

It must be said that with a few certain exceptions, the programme is ideally crafted. Apart from the films previously mentioned as part of the festival’s categories (such as debut, genre, and documentary), several trends and patterns are also easily visible. The latter is more self-referential, which is to say referring to the principles of the programme’s composition, while the former bear witness to the state of the world that we live in today. However, it’s not always possible to draw a clear line between them without losing something precious and interstitial.

Fotbal infinit, L’empire de la perfection

Fotbal infinit

Corneliu Porumboiu’s Fotbal infinit and Julien Faraut’s L’empire de la perfection are two beautiful films and brilliant finds by the selection committee. Both works are miniatures and masterful jokes that are instantly clear to the audience, whether they are fans football or tennis; Romanian realism or Gallic paradox; absurd, comedy, or documentary film.

Porumboiu made his film about an acquaintance of his, a second-rate municipal official and provincial Don Quixote who dreams of changing the rules of football – or at least creating a new version of the sport. He divides the pitch into not two, but four parts, and to each of them assigns separate players, who are further limited from crossing particular lines. He claims that it will increase the dynamism and efficiency of the game. But when the question of offside comes up, Laurențiu Ginghină is distracted by visitors who have come for a zoning consultation. Porumboiu listens attentively, asks questions, disagrees respectfully, and goes to football games where the new rules are being tested. Audiences may laugh, but Porumboiu does not. Ginghină is no Khottabych, raining down footballs on his players with heartfelt warmth and moving the bar at the right moment. Fotbal infinit turns out to be a reluctant comedy, or more accurately, a story of Fourieristic fervour and bravery that does not fit into the image of total creativity (LINK: NEW YORK FILM ABOUT NEW YORKERS), which means that it is doomed to reside on the outskirts of the sporting industry and mainstream entertainment. The finale, in the same Fourierist spirit, is transgressive: instead of dull offices, animated jungles populate the screen as Ariel Ramirez’s painfully familiar composition plays.

L’empire de la perfection begins with a flashy quote by Jean-Luc Godard about how film lies, but sport doesn’t. Julien Faraut, who worked for fifteen years in the film archive of France’s National Institute of Sport, compiled a film of rare 16mm recordings originally destined for educational films.

L’empire de la perfection

Though at first glance simplistic, this tactic is principally different from the one used by Janus Metz in his more traditional sports drama “Borg vs McEnroe.” Onscreen, we see neither Roland Garros (though to be fair, the action in “Borg vs McEnroe” takes place at Wimbledon) nor Czech player Ivan Lendl’s final match; we only see John McEnroe, the legendary Big Mac himself. L’empire de la perfection avoids the usual eight-shot tennis repertoire, and instead turns the footage of the match into a metaphor for cinematic dialogue. Julien Faraut carefully resurrects the cinematic eye of Gil de Kermadec, a French tennis enthusiast and director who filmed McEnroe’s technique. Mathieu Amalric’s gentle voiceovers combine with schematic animations and a musical potpourri of a score to make this archival sports documentary for cinephiles the Der Tagesspiegel reader’s choice film. As he received the special prize from the readers’ jury, the director quipped, “Are you joking?!”

Unas preguntas, Waldheims Walzer

Archive finds are a story returned to the audience, whether large or small. If L’empire de la perfection was a small one, then the documentary works of Kristina Konrad (Unas preguntas) and Ruth Beckerman (Waldheims Walzer) bear witness to the history of countries and the people that inhabit them. Only recently finished, these films are comprised of materials filmed by the directors themselves (or with their direct participation) in Uruguay (1987-89) and Austria (1986), respectively. These films, as essayist and film critic Philipp Stadelmaier notes, re-enact the democratic process through film.

Film Democracies by Philipp Stadelmaier:

http://www.arsenal-berlin.de

Unas preguntas

Indeed, the subjects of both films (both countries’ ultra-reactionary pasts) along with the wide variety of material used in them (both personal and televised footage) and the way that the films give a voice to people of wide-ranging political convictions launch processes of direct (or at least only slightly mediated) democracy. In this sense, Konrad’s work is especially notable, a little more than four hours in length and yet completely communicating the atmosphere of the citizen-initiated referendum in confrontation with the will of Uruguay’s leadership. Beginning in 1986, when a law was enacted granting amnesty to the participants of the 1973-1985 military junta (primarily soldiers and policemen), Uruguaians worked for three years to hold a referendum on its repeal. Konrad, accompanied by a Spanish-speaking interviewer, filmed people on the streets of Montevideo speaking out both in favour and against revisiting the past. The moment of reconciliation that Julio Sanguinetti’s government saw in forgetting the recent past – for many Uruguaians who either lost their loved ones in jails or knew nothing of their fates, these events remained part of the present – turned out to be a painful one in practice. As a result, the amnesty law was the key to popular self-determination.

Unas preguntas trailer

https://vimeo.com/

The above would be enough to make Unas preguntas one of the main events of the Berlin Film Festival. But the film is really made into a humanist triumph by the editing, which preserved the sudden camera movements of the then-young director and camerawoman. The overwhelming feeling of direct popular will enraptures Konrad, and from time to time distracts her from the interview at hand. The sound keeps recording as her gaze drifts to the passing crowd. Konrad literally transmits the feeling of freedom and joy present in the sun-drenched air. This unbelievable human sensibility, which nevertheless does not interfere with her journalistic professionalism, puts Konrad in a league with one of the most important German directors of earlier generations, Peter Nestler. The latter, like Konrad, filmed a great deal in South America. A year after the military coup and Augusto Pinochet’s rise to power, Nestler filmed “Lördags Chile / Chile Film” for Swedish television (which would be pulled from the air right before broadcast), and would later return more than once to make films. His last Chilean film, “The Consequences of Oppression / Hur förtrycket slår,” was one of the most uncontrived and yet most impressive testimonies on the junta era, which left in its wake widows, orphans, and eyewitnesses.

Waldheims Walzer

The case of Kurt Waldheim, elected President of Austria in 1986, is in many ways unique. The former Nazi officer, who began a civil career after 1945 and for many years occupied the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations, made a gradual approach to the presidential election that he would eventually win. According to the official version, he served in the Wehrmacht until 1942, when he was demobilised. However, during his election campaign, details of his final service in Greece and Yugoslavia became clear, where he was a suspect in war crimes cases. Waldheims Walzer uses both television feeds and original footage to focus on the image of the candidate himself. Ruth Beckerman follows Waldheim’s hands and shadowy smile as he spoke before his electors at the podium. Even though he was accused of crimes against humanity, he nevertheless becomes President of Austria. The people voted against revisiting his past. The jury, including Cynthia Hill, Ulrike Oettinger, and Eric Schlosser awarded Waldeims Walzer with the Glashütte Original prize, the main cross-programme award at the Berlinale for documentaries.

Victory Day

Victory Day

Sergey Loznitsa’s new work, “Victory Day,” was also nominated for Glashütte Digital – Documentary Award: more homogenous in terms of source material, but no less polyphonic than Konrad’s film. The location is Treptower Park, where the Soviet memorial is located; the film’s title gives a hint as to the time. Shot last year, “Victory Day” takes a sober look at people who have come to pay their respects and honour the memories of those who gave their all in the war against Nazism. Loznitsa films many of the filters and clichés that already colour our interpretation of Victory Day with the same ease characteristic of great artists. The film begins and ends with Bulat Okudzhava songs, all playing out of frame. The poet and direct has an answer for today’s newfound military fervour: “We’ve settled our accounts with the war / Now take your coat, let’s go home.”

Loznitsa’s traditional methods – the search for a single truthful point of filming, the absence of commentary or interview, long shots filmed with different cameras – work just as well to overcome the boundaries between heterogeneous social groups, including between the film’s subjects and its audience. The director’s principled focus on people and their reaction unseen events reaches its peak in “Victory Day.”  Victory is a fundamental entity that belongs to the past and is set in stone. Today, this day is a non-event, which is especially underlined by the need for re-enactments like military parades and other paramilitary amusements. As it would happen, Victory Day is celebrated in Europe on 8 May, a day earlier, and the songs and conversations in Treptower Park can be heard over the noise of airplanes and military vehicles.

Hot on the heels of Kevin Jerome Everson’s Tonsler Park and Loznitsa’s The Event – or Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica’s Videogramme einer RevolutionUnas preguntas and Victory Day (and, partially, Waldheims Walzer as well) join the long tradition of documentaries about local crowds at historical breaking points. Regardless of all their differences, a common thread is evident in these distinctly non-propagandist films: the routineness and ill-definition of the (non-)event, its subsequent mediatisation, and its transformation into an Event.

Teatro de guerra

Argentinian theatrical director and performer Lola Arias offered worthy competition to Beckermann, Loznitsa, and especially Konrad’s films with her debut picture, Teatro de guerra, made with the help of documentarist Manuel Abramovich and not without nods to Brecht and especially Augusto Boal.

If the former are interest by artefacts and, in some cases, their subsequent mediatisation, then Arias and Abramovich give themselves a practically therapeutic task. The film’s working title, Veteranos, clearly reflects the essence: thirty years after the Falklands War, those who participated in the fighting on both sides meet in order to participate in an act of theatrical memory. Argentinian and British veterans – among them Lou Armour, a famous Marine sergeant who appeared in many documentary films – resemble old friends who only barely remember the circumstances of their last meeting. Arias and Abramovich gradually engage the mechanisms of returning their memories. Over the course of several months, the participants regularly meet and talk about their experience in the war, recalling the words of their fallen comrades, the course of military actions, and the tactics of battle. Bodily memory and the final attempt to hand their experiences over to young actors serves to help them live out their traumas.

Teatro de guerra

The film received two awards from independent juries: the Ecumenical Jury and the aforementioned CICAE. Teatro de guerra is a truly brave attempt to process a recent post-colonial conflict and its painful consequences. The remaining territorial claims and the question of residents’ self-determination – the descendants of the settlers who once forced out the native population – make the Falklands War more relevant than ever.

 La cama, Con el viento, Kaotični život Nade Kadić,Los débiles, La casa lobo

Ultimately, the Argentinian (and Latin-American in general) presence in the Forum programme is notable and widely varied. It includes La cama, an intimate physiological drama about old age and Mónica Lairana’s directorial debut, produced by the same individuals behind Teatro de guerra. It is Con el viento, an equally personal work by Catalonian director Meritxell Colell Aparicio, which tracks the extremely tight connection between Argentina and Spain. Mónica, who lives in Buenos Aires and practices contemporary dance, returns to her family home after a twenty-year absence in order to support her family after her father’s death and help her mother sell the house. With Spanish provinces, amateur actors, and sparse gestures invested with deep feelings, Aparicio’s debut thrills and immerses in the darkness of the cinema only to return audiences back to life and its precious little moments.

La cama

Con el viento, a co-production with Argentina, continues a series of notable films from Catalonia. Last festival year, the region presented Carla Simón’s Estiu 1993 (prize for best first feature at Berlinale 2017) and Laura Ferrés’ Los desheredados (winner of the Cannes Critics’ Week). This year, there was already a winner in Sundance’s short film category with Álvaro Gago’s Matria, with two other films shown in Rotterdam. In Berlin, Catalonian director Isabel Coixet held the international premiere of her new film. Winner of the Goya Prize and co-produced with the United Kingdom, The Bookshop is a screen adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s eponymous novel, for which Coixet received the Frankfurt Book Fair Prize. This is one of the few films which were chosen for Russian release.

Con el viento

No less notable are two Mexican films: Kaotični život Nade Kadić and Los débiles. Discussion of Marta Hernaiz’s Bosnian debut and one of the strongest films of the Forum will come later. As far as Raul Rico and Eduardo Giralt Brun’s genre sketch Los debiles is concerned, its main successes lie in its colourful characters and atmosphere. Revenge, which at first seems to be the driving force behind the plot and the film at large, quickly retreats into the background, leaving a mere feeling of necessity to get to the end and look past the limit, over the dusty horizon or ridge that divides a desert island from the rest of the earth. The slow and unwieldy Victor is a doomed neo-noir character. In total agreement with the genre, all of the magical helpers he meets on his way lead him to solve a mystery at the cost of his life. The film’s signature dark humour gives this ultimately simple story depth and scale.

The only fully animated film in the programme, the chthonic Chilean La casa lobo, which begins like a spooky parody of a fairy tale about the German population in southern Chile but turns into a claustrophobic journey around the home of a wolf, was awarded the Caligari Film Prize.

Notes on an Appearance, Classical period

Another trend, this time especially local but very distinct nonetheless, was New York films about New Yorkers. In the tradition of Woody Allen, Hal Hartley, Whit Stillman, and Noah Baumbach, a wave of unforced, charming, and talented film has appeared and is traveling among festivals and occasionally even making it to release – primarily American. Last year, Dustin Guy Defa’s long-awaited feature-length, Person to Person, became a small sensation, born from the director’s short film of the same name and presented at Sundance. Since then, the film has travelled to more than a dozen festivals, was nominated for a Golden Leopard at Locarno, and then shown in Moscow (as part of Amfest).

Person to Person

In London, the film was shown in 35mm, even having been originally shot in 16mm. The choice of medium is no accident. The preference of the New York intelligentsia for film (and specifically for 16mm) in the age of total Instagram looks like a double stylization. The grainy picture quality and synchronised sound is interpreted differently than it was twenty years ago, and works to consciously age the film. Moreover, the notorious 16mm look doesn’t just reference the traditions of independent film, be it American or anyone else’s, but also creates that very same effect of stylization. Film becomes one of the filters taken for granted that acts not just on the picture, but on the story as a whole, training cinematographers and audiences to see the world through the prism of patterns.

In his essay Instagram and the Fantasy of Mastery, Ricky D’Ambrose comes down on those independents who would use 16mm film, analogue video, or any other outdated medium exclusively to achieve an effect of stylization (or, in our own words, external appearance). The American critic and director distinguishes image and “look:” the latter, being applied on top, allows directors to give the image the look of a specific era – or, more accurately, references the standard stereotypes of an era.

Ricky D’Ambrose. Instagram and the Fantasy of Mastery:

https://www.thenation.com/

D’Ambrose’s own film, included in the Forum programme, was itself shot on 16mm film, although shown on digital projection. Notes on an Appearance is, before all else, in agreement with its own name: an elusive work. The city maps, boarding passes, receipts, and diary entries that mark the events don’t perform their traditional function as wayfinders. Instead, in this story about disappearance, they are false signals, and if they do give a direction, it is likely to be in the spirit of Georges Perec, the French writer, who enticed his readers into a thematic, linguistic, and literal game. At the same time, D’Ambrose, a director and video editor for the famous curatorial platform Mubi, is an ardent neo-classicist. Notes on an Appearance is an absolutely Bresson-esque film, which consists in large part of static shots and changing camera angles.

The other New Yorker in the programme, Classical Period, is a consciously authentic story about young yet dusty intellectuals. The second feature-length film by Ted Fendt, a cinephile who also built himself a reputation with his authoritative anthology about Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub for the Austrian Film Museum, is full of dialogues about Dante and Bach. Located, of course, somewhere between the Baroque and the Romantic, Fendt’s Classical Period makes audiences remember Straub’s most rigorous works, where technique became content, as well as the French comedians Jacques Tati and Luc Moullet, who made the line between seriousness and irony indistinguishable.

Classical Period

Both of these New York films in the Forum programme, unlike Guy Defa’s openly comedic work, are openly formalist and self-referential. As a rule, such prevents films from reaching wider audiences and simultaneously destines them for a small but thankful community dispersed between festival cities. However, there are exceptions: formalist and absurdist Julian Radlmaier, a German director from D’Ambrose and Fendt’s generation who works in the same cinematic tradition, was able to find common ground with independent distributors. His most recent work, “Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog” (2017), a genre story and piercing comedy on the border between Buñuel, Gaidai, and Marx, was presented at the Rotterdam Festival. As a result, the film went into limited release in Germany, Russia, and Ukraine, and got good reviews from both audiences and press. This year in Berlin, Radlmaier received the support of the Kompagnon-Fellowship for work on his new film Blutsauger.

Sang-soo Hong demonstrates a definite continuity with regard to New York film, whose new work, Grass, was also shown at Arsenal. For that matter, the continuity is not just with New York. Grass isn’t so much Woody Allen – though it is worth noting that Allen has a long way to go before he reaches Sang-soo’s levels of productivity, as Grass is the director’s fourth film in a year – as much as it is a joke in the vein of “Coffee and Cigarettes.”

Grass

The character of Min-hee Kim, the South Korean director’s favourite actress and winner of a Silver Bear at the previous year’s festival for another of his films, sits in a cafe whose owner prefers classical music and turns a blind eye to customers bringing shochu in with them, yet never appears in frame. Here we see many encounters play out, many of them awkward, and each of which could become (or already has become) a fabrication. Even having received an invitation to join a fun group, the writer Areum doesn’t immediately pull herself away from her laptop. One of the guests jokes that she’s writing down everything that they say. The curious writer, the elusive owner, and the time that passes slowly around them encompass the essence of Sang-soo Hong’s films, whose classical period began nearly twenty years ago, partially with the Forum screening of his debut at Delphi Filmpalast. With time, it seems that these films have existed forever.

More often than not, lists have a tendency to become excessive and lose their meaning. In the present case, it would be appropriate to return to the problem we put before us earlier of the Forum’s over-inflation and to the curatorial structure in general. This year, the programme, as it was called upon to highlight perspectives and horizons, was  largely assembled through a quota system, which primarily favours thematic films (for example: the army, Africa, feminism, schools…), followed by variety of genre. It covers film as a whole, but not films as individual objects of art among which there is a need to select a few outstanding examples. This time, this process remained outside of analysis of tendencies of curatorial patterns.

Tuzdan kaide

The talented, confused, and visually-arresting debut of young Turkish director Burak Çevik’s Tuzdan kaide is a sensitive, tactile piece of cinema, fascinated with water, streetlights, neon signs, and their reflections in cafe windows. This journey to the edge of Istanbul’s night opens with the realization of a pregnant woman in search of her sister, who is disappearing deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of merchants, workshops, and enclosed spaces. Burak Serin’s excellent camera work is the key to the film’s mysteries. The leading role in Tuzdan kaide, just as in Wong Kar-Wai’s films, is played by the camera and the effects of stylization and look (or vision, depending on the relationship to the author) that it creates. Something similar takes place in the Portuguese film Mariphasa, all the way to the accents placed on scenes parallel to the main plot: for example, a long sequence of sisters playing in the bath, or the destruction of cars with a bat. But unlike the visually and narratively darkened work of Sandro Aguilar, Tuzdan Kaide is less focused on itself.

Tuzdan kaide on Berlinale website:

https://www.berlinale.de

Aufbruch

Aufbruch

Ludwig Wüst’s aforementioned Aufbruch is a sparse, precise film about the meeting of two solitary people, both of whom have just lived through a betrayal. Their short trip together – first on a three-wheeled hybrid between a scooter and a car, then on a boat, and finally on foot – is, if beholden to anything, then to the logic of departure: from lived-in spaces, life itself, and finally from the film. Tragedy and farce beautifully equalise each other, and the only monologue is so pithy and the desperation great that one can only stare in disbelief: is this real life? Aufbruch is a film not just about departure, but about the departing – and in this respect, it follows in the footsteps of Yasujirô Ozu, a Japanese director who was capable of communicating the feeling of loss and desperation through quiet sadness. The more even-tempered the sadness, the greater the loss felt. Ludwig Wüst, actor and director, made one of the strongest and most self-sufficient films of those shown at the Forum.

Kaotični život Nade Kadić

Kaotični život Nade Kadić

Kaotični život Nade Kadić, the Bosnian debut of Mexican director Marta Hernaiz, is one of the programme’s biggest discoveries. Though it left without any prizes, it deserves a separate mention. This everyday portrait of Nada Kadic begins like a typical documentary about a single mother in Eastern Europe, raising a daughter on the autism spectrum. The girl cries the majority of the time, exhausting herself with relentlessly repeating movements. The gentleman callers who periodically appear in Nada and Hava’s apartment don’t particularly pity the child, and respond to any suggestion to get out of the city respond that it’s a great idea – so long as they leave the girl behind. “But with whom?” Nada asks, and when she meets yet another potential match, she describes the previous one in the same tones as Hava’s father. Nada works overtime to pay for her daughter’s nanny and doctors, and as a result, she falls into a situation where her earnings barely cover their costs, but welfare is out of the question because her income is too high. This goes on and on until Nada gathers her things and sets off to the countryside with her daughter to see Hava’s grandparents. Thus begins this Balkan road movie, simple and patient like Nada herself, whose chaotic life centres primarily around her relationship to her daughter: warm, devoted, and human. Formally strong, Marta Hernaiz’s film is full of love that defines the world, however difficult and everyday it might be. Kaotični život Nade Kadić is a bright, lively film, reminiscent of Denis Shabaev’s debut “Together” (2014) in the depth of its emotional charge. But Hernaiz’s premises are a little different: Nada and Hava are themselves a whole. Wherever they are, that’s home. Denis is a weekend parent, and his journey with his teenage daughter is nothing but a dialogue and an attempt to resurrect trust and closeness in childhood. The characters of “Together” set off for “Astrid Lindgrens Värld,” a theme park in the Swedish town of Vimmerby. Nada and Hava go to visit grandma and grandpa, and their path ends at weathered tombstones in an overgrown cemetery.

Marta Hernaiz is a student of Béla Tarr, so perhaps the influence of the Hungarian great explains the trusting attention and ability to listen to others that characterise her debut. Unlike the other Bosnian film, Drvo (by Portuguese director André Gil Mata), a formal exercise in Tarr’s spirit and style, Kaotični život Nade Kadić is a lively, talented, unaffected, and relaxed work.

Kaotični život Nade Kadić on Berlinale website:

https://www.berlinale.de

An Elephant Sitting Still

The Forum’s magnum opus was practically declared in advance to be the Chinese film An Elephant Sitting Still. It is simultaneously the debut and epitaph for Hu Bo, a writer and director who took his own life last autumn at the age of 29. The film lasts nearly four hours and is shot in black & white. Truly no other programme participant fulfils the formal criteria for cult status so exactly as An Elephant Sitting Still. Unlike any single other film in the programme, it undoubtedly has the magic of true talent. On the background of clear successes and undoubted failures of both major and minor figures, Hu Bo’s film looks like an anomaly, much like its titular elephant. Not ideal in terms of resolving plotlines, it nevertheless possesses a fairly rare cinematic genius.

An Elephant Sitting Still

The unhurried (but not pointedly slowed) rhythm allows it to avoid the common pitfalls of many films about teenagers and bullying, including those in the Forum programme. The precise musical counterpoint – only in Aufbruch was music used with equal exactness – which was absent in the version of the film shown at the festival hits where the defences are weak: An Elephant Sitting Still raves about death but is guided by a dream of life as it could possibly be. Trains and buses travel to Manzhouli, away from the city where Bu and Ling’s school sits in one of the most depressing neighbourhoods. There, in Manzhouli, an elephant lives. Whatever might happen around it, it always sits motionless. Bu, having accidentally caused the death of Shuai the bully who held the whole school in fear, needs to get there no matter what. A rebel without a cause and an unwilling dreamer, he runs from Shuai’s older brother. In his flight, he has no help or protection. Even his grandmother who always helped him in difficult moments has died. Long Steadicam shots; syncopated editing in time with the post-rock compositions of Chinese band Hua Lun; the despair and hope which fill the air in equal measure; the deadly but unexpected finale; and the unavoidable cry of the elephant in the dead of night: these are all An Elephant Sitting Still. Nevertheless, Hu Bo’s film, recognised by a special FIPRESCI prize, is not what it seems at first glance. One thing can be said with certainty: it is sadly not the most promising, but still the most free-spirited film of the Forum. It’s possible that it was in fact the target of the catalogue’s label: NOT FIT.

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