Berlinale 2021: Reviews Part 3

By Sascha Krieger

Petite Maman (Competition / France / Director: Céline Sciamma)

When her grandmother dies, 8-year-old Nelly gets to empty her old house with her parents. After the sudden departure of her mother, nelly finds a new companion with whom she has more in common than she expects. Paintes in gentle, slightly fading autumn colours, Petite Maman embarks on a quiet journey of self-discovery and the exploration of what it means to be a family, treading the awkward line between finding one’s individual identity and forging the connection with others. While the dialogue often appears beyond the years of those who speak it, it as well as the crossing of lines between the real and the imagines, the past and the present (or is it the future?) feels entirely natural, being narrated in a loconic, naturalistic way, the camera a close, but somewhat detached observer, a neutral eye, not wondering about what it sees but accepting it as a journey of discovery, a first step towards growing up. A keen observer of childhood, director Céline Sciamma brings tenderness as well as a sceptical distance to her story and protagonists. What blooms in the struggling light of the aging year, is not spectacular but it spans all ages, all lives while never abandoning the personal, individual stories it tells. A fleeting glimps, a deeply moving miniature, a great film in the best sense.

Petite Maman (Image: © Lilies Films)

Rengeteg – mindenhol látlak (Competition / Hungary / Director: Bence Fliegauf)

A young woman recites a school presentation in which she blames her father for her mother’s death. Her audience is – as we find out when she’s done – her father. A man hires a killer for a guru he blames for killing his girlfriend, a pre-teen son clashes with his religiously fanatic mother, a couple quarrel about another woman. In seven miniatures, Bence Fliegauf plows through almost every imaginable battlefield of human intercourse and/or emotions. Mostly confined to claustrophobic, drab, colourless interiors – with a fews unstable cold night exteriors throen in – the hand-held camera is as restless as the people it is aimed at. Secrets are hidden and revealed and hidden again, communication fails again and again and again, confrontation replaces closeness, blame is given to avoid unterstanding. Yes, the picture Fliegauf shows of human nature is a bleak one, an indictment of a society where everyone for himself has badly backfired. But it is also a testament to continued attempts at finding connections, at bridging gaps, attempt that fail, fail again, fail better, to paraphrase Beckett. At the end, an old man steps into the light. Hope or another illusion? An intense, pulse-accelerationg, clear-eyed tour de force of a film.

Ras vkhedavt, rodesac cas vukurebt? (Competition / Germany, Georgia / Director: Alexandre Koberidze)

Two pairs of legs at a crossing. They bummp into each other, again, a third time. The voices attached to them agree on a date the next day. Thus starts a rather unusual love story as a curse prevents them from recognizing each other after this night. What unfolds is a poetic reflection on the impossibility of love, on the strangeness of human interaction, on the shamelessness of happiness in a cruel, violent world. Water, body parts, children playing football, groups of friends laughing together – the film is full of visual leitmotifs, accentuated by a ironic but effective score and a narrator, turning out to be the film maker who reveals himself in the end to be as clueless as the viewer. All narrative levels act inter- as well as independent of each other, they tell their own stories, insignificant, as the narrator calls them, and, of course, not at all so. The film meanders along as the river that flows through the town, it often hovers aimlessly as the football caught between two streams. Aimlessness is its goal but of course it needs a purpose, a structure. So there is a film crew in the film assisting it to find an arrival point. Which is just another start for the unshaped flow we call life. While the film could use more of the light touch it often exhibits and a little more of the narration and musical covering, following a somewhat too structurally constricted beginning, it mostly succeeds as a light-hearted though association-rich stream of reflection, of consciousness, of drifting along.

As I Want (Encounters / Egypt, France, Norway, Palestine / Director: Samaher Alqadi)

A pregnant body in black and white, rallies againt suppression and sexual assault againt womes, footage of rapes at puclic demonstrations, re-enactments from a restricted family life in Palestine, interactions with the family, voices of activists, interviews with people expressing sexist views in the street, candid recordings of sexual harassment: On the backdrop of the aftermath of the Egyptian Spring, director Samaher Alqadi constructs a mosaic of women’s oppression and resistance in a strongly patriarchal society. among the many harrowing, haunting but also empowering moments of the film one stands out: In it, Alqadi talks to pre-teen girls in a playground. And they repeat the long-learnd role patterns and stereotypes: of the female voice being shameful, the body being indecent, the woman having to submit to the man’s will. As I Want is an intense, feverish, passionate, angry pamphlet, an indictment of patriarchal rule and its consequences but also a fierceful celebration of female resistance. Resignation and hope going hand in hand, a struggle often defeated but never crushed, a struggle of which the director becomes a part, as angry, passionate and relentless as her film.

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