Berlinale Summer Special 2021: Reviews Part 2

By Sascha Krieger

Okul Tıraşı (Panorama / Turkey, Romania / Director: Ferit Karahan)

A boarding school deep in the Kurdish region of Turkey. The atmosphere is rough, the tone harsh, the authoritarianism relentless. When a boy gets sick his friend has a hard time getting help. Later the events leading to this point are unraveled, exposing a web of carelessness, a totalitarian education system, suppression, corruption and selfishness in which, in the end, the weakest will be the ones to blame. The camera is almost always on young Yusuf, his face, his bent body, the regid fear in all his demeanor. The images are as cold as the atmosphere, the winter puts an icy layer on the screen. The world we see is stifling, harsh, brutal in its inhumaneness.  What starts as a social drama narrows into a micro detective story where everyone’s guilty, even the victims. The mechanisms of a system intent of suduing everyone are seen at work in the almost absurd failure to deal with an emergency but also in smal background scenes, glimpses of despair, miniatures of hopelessness. The brief moment of cheeky playfulness recede as everyone and everything, including family, is seen to be part of the system. As the focus narrows on the school’s cold sickroom, the world vbecomes smaller and amaller. A prison with no access to the outside world, a self-suppicient system of breaking souls. That end with devastating look, resign, accusing, defeated.

Okul Tıraşı (Image: © Türksoy Gölebeyi / Asteros Film)

A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces (Forum / United States / Director: Shengze Zhu)

An elegy, a meditation, a calm poem reflecting on the absent, A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces opens with a series of CCTV footgae from the early days of the covid-19 pandemic in the city of Wuhan, where it all started. Empty streets, a slow return of people, piercing sirens, 8 minutes of the agony of emptimess. After this, still frames, panopramic views of the city from various angles, filmed before the pandemic. The shiny skyline contrasted with abandoned buildings, decrepit backstreets or idyllic waterside scenes, bridges, construction sides, the river. There is a distance to these images, a sense of watching from afar or from long ago. The present mixes with the past which imposes itself on the future. Four letters are inserted, letters to the departed, a partner, a grandma, a father, a brother. letters full of loss and of regret. Wishes for the past to return and to be remade. Yet it fades, becomes useless before our eyes. The views become blurred, foggy. In all this, the river flows and flows and carries everything with it. Not a word is spoken but the sound of the city, as divers and contradictory as its images, creeps it. A faceless soundscape between work and life, destruction and construction. In the most memorable moment, we see swimmer go against the current. They hardly get on, even move backwards, but they keep trying. „The river doesn’t forget“, it says in the final letter. It’s the present of the absent, in the pandemic and beyond.

Stop-Zemlia (Generation 14plus / Ukraine / Director: Kateryna Gornostai)

Masha and her friends are 16 and nearing the end of their school careers. Relationships with their families become more strained, love is a stormy sea to be navifgated in, the future uncharted territory, living in the present not widely accepted. At a slow, patient pace, the film gives its protagonists a lot of time to search for themselves and each other in a confusing and confused universe. The film’s realism is enhanced as well as conterbanlanced by interview scenes filmed considerably later, so it seems from the changed hairstyles, and enriched by short dream passages in which Masha imagines herself into chances that don’t arise. There is a repetition of class, sleepover, party and playground scenes, a lot of dancing as a wordless indicator or of changing relationship and dynamics. Time is non-linear, things don’t change and hardly noticeably do – in glances, half-hidden smiles, looks of understanding. The evelution is slow, unspectacular but it happens. Unlike in many coming of age films, growing up is not presented as a series of explosions. It is gradual, a long succession of tiny steps, natural and not really recognizable at the time. And it is collective as well as individual. In the almost documentary style of Stop-Zemlia, we can watch it unfold, an everyday process of breathtaking consequences. In which nothing happens and everything does. A worthy winner of this year’s Berlinale’s Glass Bear.

Wood and Water (Perspective German Cinema / Germany, France / Director: Jonas Bak)

Anke just retired from her job in a church office somewhere in the southwest of Germany. She looks forward to her holiday by the sea with her children. When her son who lives in Hong Kong cancels, she goes to visit him. As he’s away on a business trip she gets to explore this new world on her own. Jonas Bak’s debut features members of his own family, gelping to give it a casual, laconic tone, unpolished, quiet, unspectacular. The still camera eye takes a while until it settles on its protagonist, mirroring her search for a new place in the world. The scenes, short, loosely connected, feel like sketches, colliding somewhat with the rather out of place dialogue, light in tone but heavy in attempted meaning, rather clumsy in conveying her in-between position in life, her beginning search to carve out a new path for herself, which her ramblings, her random meetings, her desire to connect transport much better than the spoken words. Overall, the film feels somewhat unfinished, too carefully constructed for its floating narrative, too eager to prove its substance, too uncertain about any direction. A sketch itself that cannot hold the viewer’s attention for the entirety of its short 80 minutes, full of potential but not quite sure yet how to fulfill it.

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