May 2011, arsenal cinema

40th Forum


The Forum of the Berlinale, now in its 40th year, brings together films that sensitively respond to the mood of the times and in a variety of ways artistically deal with existential issues. Rarely in feature and documentary films has one encountered so many people in irresolvable conflicts, faced with vitally important decisions and confronted with abysses, as in the cinematic harvest of the past months.

In this context, filmmakers also make use of the possibilities of genre cinema, which they interpret according to their own rules. The French feature film INDIGÈNE D'EURASIE by Lithuanian director Sharunas Bartas, for example, tells of a gangster on an odyssey through Europe to save his skin. The chase across a continent full of contradictions turns into a gloomy vision of the future. Dominik Graf's IM ANGESICHT DES VERBRECHENS is also about the Russian underworld, but situated in the middle of West Berlin. Conceived as a TV series, the eight-hour, monumental movie is in fact a daring epic on the themes of duty and guilt, on the difficulties of an individual to stand one's ground in a world that mainly defines a person according to his descent. The main protagonist of Thomas Arslan's new feature film, IM SCHATTEN, can't jump over his shadow, either. A thief released from prison prepares his last coup and has to stand up against a thoroughly corrupt policeman. Arslan's respectful interpretation of an often-told story is convincing due to its idiosyncratic style and love of details.

Angela Schanelec's ORLY is set in the departure hall of the old Parisian airport – a place of transition, farewells and new beginnings, of hopes and the either-or moments of repose. With this film, the director succeeds in staging an intimate chamber play in a truly bustling location.

With a good sense of subtle humor, Tatjana Turanskyj's feature film debut, EINE FLEXIBLE FRAU, portrays a woman in her early forties who loses her job as an architect, but is not willing to subject herself to the pressure of the "Hartz IV society". She offends and provokes conflicts with friends, on her temp job, at the employment agency, and with her adolescent son – and thus becomes a tragic heroine.

The young protagonist of WINTER'S BONE also acts heroically, taking care of her younger siblings and her mother suffering from dementia in a self-sacrificial way. When she's threatened to lose everything she owns, she dares to confront a society from which she expects neither sympathy nor help. The second feature film of American director Debra Granik is an existentialist masterpiece dealing with a milieu in which poverty and violence threaten to suffocate all human emotions.

The documentaries of this year's Forum also cover a wide range of cinematic styles and topics. The Swiss contribution AISHEEN [STILL ALIVE IN GAZA] by Nicolas Wadimoff draws an unvarnished picture of life in a sealed-off country and comes upon surprising and touching images that are derived from a patient gaze. In THE OATH, American director Laura Poitras portrays a former al-Qaeda fighter, who feels guilty because his cousin is imprisoned in Guantanamo. And the Canadian Jean-François Caissy, in LA BELLE VISITE, observes the life of a former motel converted into a nursing home – from a place of transition to an ultimate destination.

This year, four debuts come from Korea and Taiwan, of which one of the most entertaining contributions must be mentioned here: In AU REVOIR TAIPEI, director Arvin Chen entangles a young man in a gangster story full of hair-raising turns and absurd situation comedy.