Forum & Forum Expanded
Jan 16, 2023
Thought Needs Images. On the 28 Films in the Berlinale Forum Main Programme
A teenage girl sits in a consultation room, the camera films her from behind, she remains anonymous. She tells the doctor how she got pregnant: her boyfriend told her that he would take care. Now she must make a difficult decision; her worry and uncertainty are evident in every single word she says. Her boyfriend is nowhere to be seen.
This scene is one of the first in Claire Simon’s impressive documentary Notre corps (Our Body). The French director looks around a gynaecological clinic in Paris with a gaze full of tenderness, collecting scenes of births and cancer diagnoses, consultations about endometriosis and hormone therapy. The film that emerges along the way starts off observational before becoming ever more personal, a film about what it means to live in a female body and a wonderful example of the power of documentary cinema. Notre corps bundles together experiences with which one usually feels left alone; it makes the structures visible where troubles are seen as individual; it reveals the extent to which the things we do not dare to talk about have a societal dimension and must be discussed.
Simon’s film is by no means the only documentary of such power in this year’s Berlinale Forum programme. Paris-based Iranian filmmaker Mehran Tamadon asks acquaintances of his, who served time in Iranian prisons, to reconstruct their experiences in an empty warehouse; Jaii keh khoda nist (Where God Is Not) allows him to take a profound look at the workings of a repressive regime. Argentinian director Ulises de la Orden chooses a different approach – the montage of original video footage – to arrive at a similar result; El juicio (The Trial) also bears shattering testimony to the methods of state terror. W Ukrainie (In Ukraine) by Tomasz Wolski and Piotr Pawlus takes the pulse of everyday life in a state of war. The two Polish directors deliberately avoid dramatisation and the pathos of urgency; their restraint is what makes the film’s impact all the more lasting.
The features showing at the 53rd Berlinale Forum can be loosely divided into two groups: films that pare down their narratives, avoid big dramatic shifts and give a key role to the composure of camerawork and montage on the one hand and those with a penchant for the absurd on the other. Melisa Liebenthal’s gentle comedy El rostro de la medusa (The Face of the Jellyfish) belongs to the latter group, whereby a young woman suffers a quite literal loss of face, leading her to ask herself many questions about identity, selfies and biometric procedures. The former includes the Japanese feature Subete no Yoru wo Omoidasu (Remembering Every Night) by Yui Kiyohara, which observes three women going about their daily business in a suburban town – a film like a summer’s day, bright, friendly and sometimes softly ruffled by the chill of a passing wind.
Last, but not least, essay films also give the Forum its specific, inimitable form: Viera Čákanyová considers the coming geological era in Poznámky z Eremocénu (Notes from Eremocene) and embraces the possibilities of digital scanning technology in the process. Vincent Dieutre travels to Los Angeles in This Is the End and allows himself to connect with the empty city, the historical nexus of concepts linked to it and a lover from the past, even as cultural critique remains very much present. Allensworth by James Benning also explores a place in California. Today’s empty landscape, endless skies, wooden barns and scattering of homes once formed the site of a centre of African-American emancipation at the start of the 20th century. The director traces this legacy in twelve lengthy shots, which are ordered according to the months of the year. Like in other essayistic works, the film reveals just how well cinema and reflection fit together: thought needs images, just as images need thought.
January 16, 2023