Forum & Forum Expanded

Dec 20, 2022
Offscreen Voices, Onscreen Bodies: The First Films of the 53rd Berlinale Forum

Concrete Valley by Antoine Bourges, Horse Opera by Moyra Davey, Poznámky z Eremocénu (Notes from Eremocene) by Viera Čákanyová

Image and sound are somehow off-kilter. The first eight films of the Forum programme explore the possibilities of the voiceover, dare to let text and image diverge or work with a deliberately restricted stock of images to allow their soundtracks to reverberate all the more.

Going to a New York club, dancing, being aware of your own movements and admiring those of the others, having meandering conversations under the influence of certain substances: a voice in Horse Opera, a film by Canadian artist Moyra Davey, gives an account of such pre-pandemic pleasures. Yet the film barely contains images of New York, but rather ones shot in the countryside: footage of a small farmstead, of bears, toads and birds, foxes and horses. The camera can hardly tear its gaze away from their bodies.

The gulf between image and voice that characterises Horse Opera also makes its presence felt in other films showing at the Forum. “The direct relationship between image and soundtrack, between body and voice is disturbed. Something is off balance”, is how Cristina Nord, head of the Forum section, describes this tendency. “While both voice and image are each highly concrete and show considerable joy for detail, they also strive to be apart.”

This discrepancy comes to the fore in many different ways across the programme. In the sci-fi essay film Poznámky z Eremocénu (Notes from Eremocene), director Viera Čákanyová conjures up a future in which the Earth has become so uninhabitable that humans will only be able to survive there as virtual beings, if at all. Shot on 8mm and 16mm film, the images are further processed via a special scanning procedure, coming up against a voiceover from an alter ego of the director that is equally informed by artificial intelligence. In This Is the End by Vincent Dieutre, we hear the voice of the director thinking out loud about his relationship to America, his years in New York and the affair he has recently rekindled, while the camera roams through the streets of Los Angeles in the grip of the pandemic. In Dearest Fiona, a work by artist Fiona Tan, a voice reads out letters written 30 years ago. They were written to the director by her father, an Australian whose family history also extends to China and Indonesia, after she moved to Amsterdam to study art. The images which accompany them come from an entirely different era. They are more than a century old, mostly black and white, sometimes hand-coloured, and take an almost ethnographical look at everyday life in the Netherlands, whether fishing and land reclamation, tulip farming and shipyard work, or dyke building and rural routines. When goods from the former colony of the Dutch East Indies are unloaded at the port, a possible point of connection comes into view.

Attempts to communicate across continents and all the accompanying contrasts and ruptures also play a role in Llamadas desde Moscú (Calls from Moscow). Director Luís Alejandro Yero watches four young people from Cuba hanging round in a pre-fab high-rise apartment in Moscow, using their smartphones to shoot short videos of themselves and get in touch with those back home. With the snow drifts and queerphobia outside, it is no wonder they barely leave the apartment. The fact that the country where they are living has embarked on a war of aggression also now prevents them from either returning to Cuba or heading to another country.

The contrast between what is heard and what is seen is particularly piercing in Ulises de la Orden’s El juicio (The Trial). The Argentinian director uses TV footage shot entirely within a courtroom in 1985. Two years after the end of the dictatorship, the members of the Argentinian military junta have been put on trial. Numerous witnesses talk of the torture they suffered. While the video images show the courtroom, the expressionless faces of the accused, judges or state prosecutors, the soundtrack provides a comprehensive impression of the sheer extent of state terror, whether in the detailed testimonies of the survivors or the patient act of listening to them.

Overview of the eight titles thus far confirmed at the Forum.

The full programme will be published in mid-January, with the usual comprehensive bonus material on the films of the Forum programme also to be found from that point onwards on the Arsenal website.

Press Office
December 20, 2022