Sunday, February 15, 2009

Berlinale: Experimental Films

Poster for Winter Ade film series at the Berlinale; photo by Val Phoenix
Today, the closing day of the festival, I attended a screening of John Cook's Langsamer Sommer, shot in the '70s in Vienna. Cook, a Canadian, put himself and his acquaintances at the heart of his film, then indulged in self-referencing and navel-gazing, as he agonised (on-camera) about finishing the film and about his relationship with his ex, "the beautiful Ilse". Christ, it was dull.

Cook is an unsympathetic character, seemingly unaware (or is he?) of his relentless self-pity and casual misogyny, while his "friends" Helmut and Michael have their own problems. By the end, when Cook declares the film finished, I could only breathe a sigh of relief. Was it fiction? Documentary? Fictionalised reality? Frankly, I didn't care.

Experimentalfilme, a programme of shorts encompassing work from the USSR, Hungary, DDR, BRD and Poland, screened as part of the Winter Ade series. This proved to be a mixed bag. Gerd Conradt's Ein-Blick, 12 hours of surveillance across the Wall from West Berlin into East Berlin, was revealing and witty, while Thomas Werner's Sanctus, Sanctus, shot during the 1988 May Day parade in East Berlin, offered a poignant glimpse of long-gone rituals.

The two shorts from the USSR, Lessorub and Schestokaja bolesn muschtshchin, were baffling. The first a series of group hijinks in the snow, the second a kind of socialist-realist-brutalist lesson.

Z mojekgo okna, by Jozef Robakowski, offered a glimpse through his Lodz apartment window, as the view changed from 1978-2000. What started as a collective square traversed by workers and the odd dog walker became a parking lot cluttered with the latest western imports. Progress, eh?

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