317: Berlinale II

Archival Spaces 317

Berlinale II

Uploaded 17 March 2023

Because of the closing of two major venues around the Potsdamerplatz, the Festival’s previous geographic center, this year’s Berlinale was a challenge, just in terms of getting from one theatre to the next, since they were spread out all over town, from the Kurfurstendam in the West to the Alexanderplatz in the East, to an inhospitable concert venue with folding chairs in the extreme southeast. Happily, Berlin’s public transport system is more than excellent; a $40 weekly pass gives you unlimited travel, day and night. Apart from the Competition, I focused on the Berlinale’s Generation program, a K — 12 series that has almost never let me down in terms of presenting complex narratives a world away from Disney’s crap; these films take children seriously without talking down to them.

Ha’Mishlahat (Delegation, Asaf Saban)
Darvazeye Royaha (Dream’s Gate, Negin Ahmadi)

Ha’Mishlahat (Delegation, Asaf Saban) follows a group of Israeli teenagers who take a class trip in their senior year to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps. In some ways, it is weirdly reminiscent of a teen comedy – the popular 1970s Israeli Lemon Popsicle series is referenced – with petty jealousies and losing one’s virginity on the agenda, but also deftly expresses the confusion, embarrassment, shock, helplessness, and speechlessness of students confronted with the physical extermination of their grand-parents generation. An actual grandfather of one of the students, himself a survivor, is along to narrate his experience, but he too is overcome with emotion, unable to communicate. A young woman, e.g. steals a victim’s shoe from an exhibit at Sobibor, then photographs it surreptitiously in a modern Polish shoe store display, but is also wracked with guilt for the theft. Left behind at a rest stop on the way to Auschwitz, a young man is picked up by a Polish farmer who takes him to his village, where he is asked in front of the mayor and townspeople to bless a burnt-out synagogue; he, too, is speechless. Finally, a Polish girl from Cracow admits she has never been to Auschwitz, which is 45 miles from her home, a perfect symbol of the gulf between Poles and Jews, even today.         

Darvazeye Royaha (Dream’s Gate, Negin Ahmadi) is a personal documentary, shot on an iPhone and 8mmm video by a young Iranian-Kurdish woman who travels to the Syrian war zone to portray women her own age who have joined the “Women’s Protection Unit of the YPJ” (Kurdish Army) to fight against the Turkish Army and ISIS. All the women express the desire for freedom and to escape subjugation, often from their own fathers and brothers who have joined ISIS, and through the film, we see their heavy losses of life. When they are not fighting, they return to being children, playing video games, dreaming of marriage and families. The filmmaker herself oscillates between hope and despair, unable to see any kind of viable future for herself in a world where women are treated as less than dirt.

And the King Said, What a Fantastic Machine (Axel Danielson, Maximilian Van Aertryck)

And the King Said, What a Fantastic Machine (Axel Danielson, Maximilian Van Aertryck) is a Sewdish documentary that begins with the first photographic image by Joseph Niépce (1839) and ends with the tidal wave of images on YouTube, using archival footage, amateur videos, live-streaming material, and private images to not only explain the evolution of photographic images on our everyday reality but also how young people can evaluate their veracity and protect themselves from misinformation. There are images that take your breath away, but one wonders though whether the breakneck speed of the montage may not mitigate against any rational understanding of what is being shown.

Mimi (Mira Forney)

Made for much smaller children, the Slovakian film Mimi (Mira Forney) visualized the story of Romy, a very young girl whose canary “Mimi” has escaped, so she embarks alone on a search of the woods behind her apartment building. She takes the new canary her mother has bought her in a cage with her in the hopes of luring Mimi, and almost loses it to a ferocious dog. Along the way, she meets real hikers and campers, but also mythological figures, and even the ghost of a WWII German soldier. Through the confrontation with various characters, Romy and the children in the audience learn to cope with loss and the diversity of human motivations. Seemingly a bit long at 83 minutes for small children, the kids stayed with it, helped by the fact that a German speaker orally translated the English subtitles.

Le proprietà dei metalli (The Property of Metals, Antonio Bignini)

For slightly older children, Le proprietà dei metalli (The Property of Metals, Antonio Bignini), tells of a ten-year-old boy in a remote and poor village who seemingly has the psychokinetic gift to bend metals. He remains unselfconscious about his ability until a scientist from the city comes to observe and experiment with him, eventually taking him to a university for a controlled experiment, where he is unable to perform. Nevertheless, in its sensitive portrait of the boy the film communicates to children both the value of science and its limitations, the fact that some phenomena cannot be explained.

Reality (Tina Satter)

Finally, I have to mention a remarkable film I saw in the Panorama section, Reality (Tina Satter). Soon available on HBO, this fictional film, presented in real-time, visualizes the original arrest and interrogation by the FBI of Reality Winner, the young former NSA translator who in 2018 was sentenced to the longest prison term ever imposed for leaking a government document, five years; She had given to the internet website The Intercept a single internal report, detailing Russian involvement in the 2016 election of Donald Trump, hardly a national security issue. Taken verbatim from the interrogation transcript of the FBI, conducted in an empty room of Reality’s rented home, the film demonstrates the way the FBI interrogators brow-beat, cajole, and pacify the young woman who slowly realizes her dream of a government career rapidly dissipating. It features an amazing performance by Sydney Sweeney. In the aftermath of the first interrogation, Trump’s weaponized Justice Department and Fox News turn a basically naïve young woman into a monster, a vicious, anti-American traitor who deserves to die, even as U.S. Senators use the leaked report to investigate Russian culpability in Trump’s election. For director Satter, she is a feminist martyr.

The first photograph by Joseph Niépce (1839)

Published by Jan-Christopher Horak

Jan-Christopher Horak is former Director of UCLA Film & Television Archive and Professor, Critical Studies, former Director, Archives & Collections, Universal Studios; Director, Munich Filmmuseum; Senior Curator, George Eastman House; Professor, University of Rochester; Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen, Munich; University of Salzburg. PhD. Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, Germany. M.S. Boston University. Publications include: The L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema (2015), Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design (2014), Making Images Move: Photographers and Avant-Garde Cinema (1997), Lovers of Cinema. The First American Film Avant-Garde 1919-1945 (1995), The Dream Merchants: Making and Selling Films in Hollywood's Golden Age (1989). Over 250 articles and reviews in English, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Swedish, Japanese, Hebrew publications. He is the recipient of the Katherine Kovacs Singer Essay Award (2007), and the SCMS Best Edited Collection Award (2017).

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