Berlinale Summer Special 2021: Reviews Part 1

By Sascha Krieger

Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse (Competition / Germany / Director: Maria Speth)

Dieter Bachmann is a retiring teacher somewhere in the west of Germany. His class consists of a diverse mix of students with a broad variety of heritage, refugees, migrants, children and grandchildren of migrants. Everyone has a story to tell and Bachmann wants to hear them all. He gently coaxes and draws them out, encourages the pre- and early teens to reflect on their place in the world, prejudice, expectations, learned roles. He encourages community, helping each other, learning from each other. That doesn’t always work but his empowerment project, not entirely devoid of not completely modern teaching methods, has effect. In more than three and a half not at all long hours, director Maria Speth observes this collectiv learning process that always includes the teacher. Bachmann is the catalyst, the engine but he isn’t the main act. That can be found in his class, the young eople grasping for themselves, battling with each other, opening up to the reality of diversity. Surprising changes, perspectives and views come up, we witness learning, understanding, realising and accepting – not just with teacher and student but also within ourselves. And we see a miniature of society, an often denied one, multi-cultural, diverse, struggling and thriving, under pressure and willing to grow. A society with many problems the film acknowledges and never naively brushes away. An alternative, a way it could be, also a way education should and so often doen’t happen. This film is a lesson in the best sense, a lesson in, yes, of all things, life and living. Together, as it should be.

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Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse (Image: © Madonnen Film)

Le monde après nous (Panorama / France / Director: Louda Ben Salah-Cazanas)

Labidi is a talented but struggling writer. He meets a woman, falls in love and wants everything at once. He persuades her to move together , goes to extremes to mae it work financially, neglecting his career, his family, himself. The handheld camera moves gently across and around the anxious faces, the drab interiors, the nocturnal outside world. Everything seems on the edge of breaking, the narration is rhythmic and fragmented, the soundtrack sketchy and undecided, the editing nervous. Everything is about to begin but never does. Scenes succeed each other without connection, the narrative fabric is disjointed, a cold feverish atmosphere lies heavily on the hopeless couple. Then, a series of happy ending, daylight enters the world until night falls again on the final scene as everything is put into question again. What have we seen?  A writer’s fantasy, a feaver dream or a possible reality? The film is as homeless, as floating between worlds as its half-migrant protagonist. A modern nouvelle-vague-like study of a much less clearcut world, the film struggles at times to overcome its artistic navel gazing but it breathes reality in the lost glances, the searching faces, the anchorless narration. An atmosperically dense debut that manages to engage the viewer with its subjects, sceptically but lovingly as well.

Esquí (Forum / Argentina, Brazil / Director: Manque La Banca)

Esquí takes us to Bariloche, a popular ski resort in sothern Argentina. Ancient home to several native peoples, it is a region of contradictions, of violent history and repression, of social conflict, of tourism and poverty, the glamorous world sports, the the unglamorous backyerds, of stunning natural beauty and the ravaging effects of civilisation. The film is a mosaic, a strenuously connected web of different narratives, esthetics, visual styles, carefully building and deconstructing them, mixing and replacing them. It feautures immigrants who brought skiing to the region, natives, voices of visitors and political commentary. Less a collage than a constant questioning of itself, a deconstructive relexion of the delusional as well as educational power of story-telling, it quotes sports film, horror movie, documentary, nature observation, political television, never giving any of them the sole power of truth. Hard edits and perspective shifts, stop and go and slow-motion, extreme zooms and a horror-stylae soundtrack create an uncertain atmosphere where everything is on shaky ground, where behind the anecdotal success story is a history of murder and genocide. The truth is a multi-layered labyrinth of secrets, of suppressed lived, of hiddes momsters. they appear, the ghosts leave the ancient stories and inhabit the mountains, taken over by other, scarier monsters. The film is a wild ride through a reality as fractured as the mountains – and  as the complex fabric of narrative and visual methods it employs itself. Mesmerizing, unsettling, fascinating and disturbing. An unlikely gem.

La Mif (Generation 14plus / Switzerland / Director: Fred Baillif)

La Mif, a deserving winner of this year’s Generation section main jury award, takes the viewer to a Swiss children’s and youth home. In episodes, closely connected, it highlights several girls living there as well as Lora, the home’s director. Some scenes are repeated, the narration is non-linear as the film follows, develops its own, non-chronological logic. The handheld camera and the natural, unaffected acting – the actors were instrumental in creating their own roles – help give the film a slightly framgmented and documentary feel. It is as if we’re dropping in on the everyday and the extraordinary, the joyful and the painful, the banal and the uspeakable. In this community, they are interconnected, a constant state of emergency is its normal. The glimpses into the system of which this home is a part, are not encouraging, the order fragile, the „family“ of the title and the final, longest episode, a half-real construct, an illusion, a lie and at the same time the strongest protection the girls have. As they struggle, the staff does, too, with each other, themselves, the rules. In the end, the casual, calm matter-of-factness Lora embodies doesn’t work. She breaks the rules, the film does, offering a delusional alternative. But an alternative nonetheless. In the filnal frame, the group has diminished. they’re waiting. For life or whatever is in store. Together.

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