Berlinale Diary: Part Five

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Finishing off strong and on a serious note. After ten days filled with a little over 30 films, I took a week to process before writing this final diary on Berlinale 2012. My last two days at the festival were much less packed yet maybe the most serious ones during this whole time spent in the comfy red seats with moving images. So instead of doing the quick rundown of all the films I watched during these final two days I choose to pick out three that each in their own way deserve a special mention.

Starting off with Davy Chou’s Le Sommeil D’Or (Golden Slumbers). Chou’s thoughtfully constructed documentary pays tribute to the Cambodian cinema of the 1960s and 1970s. A national cinema that started off considerably late and was destroyed just as it started flourishing. A little over 400 Cambodian productions drew crowds to the theaters of Phnom Penh during those golden years, but after Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime took over the country most of those involved in the film industry fell victim to the genocide and their cultural heritage either got burnt or was left to decay. Songs, memories of few survivors and about 30 films are the evidence that is left of this cinematic era. Davy Chou, grandson of Van Chann (one of the most influential producers of the time), retraces and captures the little that is left. Opening with a backwards sequence of driving alongside a Cambodian highway (admittedly a too-obvious metaphor), Chou positions his film in the present, taking a look at the lost past that has left its traces amongst the present time through folklore and karaoke yet remains an intangible cultural heritage to his own generation of Cambodians. His sensitive search for memories uncovers the light, the excitement and the ease of those years as well as the survivor’s painful experiences of their elimination. Finishing off his film with a montage of film excerpts screened on a brick wall, Chou’s film detains the delicate traces and memory of this otherwise lost Cambodian cinematic history.

Also on the quest to retrace a story – albeit here of the circumstances of two deaths at the German Polish Border in 1992 – is Philip Scheffner’s documentary Revision. According to statistics, about 15 000 people died at European borders between 1988 and 2009; Scheffner’s film is an investigative piece aiming to retrace the circumstances of two individuals who are part of this pool of numbers. Scheffner’s film gives a face to two statistical figures and revises a legally closed case cinematically. “Where does the story begin?” is the question that structures the film’s narrative, with varying answers depending on the interviewed protagonists. Scheffner starts his film off in a cornfield, where the bodies of Grigore Velcu and Eudache Calderar were discovered. LEgally speaking their deaths have been ruled hunting accidents; Scheffner’s film, however, unravels this fragile history and possible different versions to the case. The film comprises of multiple different fragments, the bereaved Roma families, that were never even informed of the fact that a trial was held, the farmers who discovered the bodies, the local police, a lawyer, the prosecutor, a journalist and the film team retracing the possible visibility of the night these two men lost their lives. The film is a puzzle that doesn’t give an ultimate answer or final picture but a disturbing multifaceted perspective on very contemporary European history.

Aesthetically the film is in no way inferior to its well-researched investigation. Revision is at place on multiple different levels of the film, as the interviewed are filmed once again while watching previously taped testimony. This way Scheffner not only gives his counterparts the possibility of revising and commenting previously memorized history but he also gives the audience a chance to witness a process of self-reflection that’s rarely addressed on screen. And ultimately that is also what this film is about; it is about reflection, remembrance and maybe reinstating a different kind of justice by giving two numbers their names and faces back.

Much less well-composed but just as important in its subject is Peter Ohlendorf’s Blut muss fließen – Undercover unter Nazis (Blood must flow – Undercover among Nazis); a film that follows investigative journalist Thomas Kuban, who has been researching the Neo-Nazi concert scene for the past ten years. Shocking are the shaky images, captured by the hidden camera, on screen; disturbing are the lyrics, performances and audiences of the concerts portrayed. And while the film shows the so-called right-rock scene in an alarming broadness the film does not accomplish to unravel the deeper structures beneath the surface, maybe that is due to the danger its protagonist is already putting himself in by filming the scene undercover, nonetheless questions about performers, bands and organizational structures in the background remain well hidden and undiscovered.

And on those really rather serious films I end my experience of Berlin International Film Festival 2012. All in all I would call this a successful one: thirty something films in ten days, some good, some bad and even a few brilliant ones, and after taking a little cinematic break I would gladly do another sixty hours in the dark.

Merle Fischer

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