Short and Sinful

Translation of Kurz und sündig by Martin Eiermann

Short And Sinful

BERLINALE SHORTS: Night-time fishermen and adventure-seekers.

For the first time since 2002, the awards for the Berlinale Shorts are part of the main awards ceremony. Still, shorts remain something akin to the festival’s unruly children. Instead of presenting polished stories, the films engage in narrative experimentation. They rely on deep investigations of the protagonists’ characters instead of staging opulent scenes. They are dominated by the art of reduction. They resemble sketches rather than finished paintings.

2800 shorts were submitted to the festival, 25 were chosen for competition. Directors from 21 countries are vying for the Golden and the Silver Bear. If success required only a few creative ideas and a prominent name to go along with them, several shorts would stand a good chance to impress the jury.

Spike Jonze, director of movies like “Adaptation” and “Where the Wild Things Are”, is screening his short. In “Scenes From the Suburbs”, he expands a music video for the band Arcade Fire into a dystopian vision that portrays adolescent life in an increasingly militarized world. Friendships collapse, the purpose of life remains uncertain. Instead of opportunities, we see wire fences and guard dogs. But the film retains the aesthetic appeal of a music video. Jonze moves quickly from scene to scene, his dark vision is sustained by elusive threats.

Indeed, shorts are no place for optimism. In “Untying the Knot”, Berlinale juror Jafar Panahi – currently imprisoned in Iran – shows the devastating effects of politics on culture in his country. A carpet is to be sold to finance a girl’s dowry. But even a price that is much too low must be begged for. Without personal connections and bribes, nothing moves and nothing is achieved. It is almost impossible to retain one’s dignity.

The shorts “Paranmanjang” by Park Chan-wook and his brother Park Chan-kyong, and “Tomorrow Everything Will Be Alright” by Akram Zaatari can pass as experiments in film-making. The South Korean brothers shot their short solely on the iPhone. Its focus is the transition from life to death that keeps a night-time fisherman awake. Zaatari’s film shows the conversation of two distanced lovers on an old typewriter, it creates a sense of confusion and anachronism.

Another film re-introduces us to the unforgettable Ulrich Mühe. In “Fragen an meinen Vater”, his son Konrad lets his father – who died in 2007 – speak through his old roles. Without ever asking a question, the young filmmaker has condensed their relationship into eleven minutes. One can almost sense that Konrad is saying a final goodbye. An intelligent film, and one of this year’s outstanding submissions.

Another short, “Ashley/Amber”, seems like a relic from another time with a visual style that is reminiscent of the protest movements of the 1960s. In the beginning, a girl sits on a couch. She smiles uneasily and then commits an error of judgment that could be characterized as “I was young and I needed the money”. When she gives an anti-war speech at Harvard, her online porn persona attracts attention. Ashley is being shunned, and even the support of her fellow activists cannot resolve her inner tensions. American Rebecca R. Rojer shot the film in 16 mm. The viewer feels pulled back into the past – first Vietnam, now Iraq. And nothing seems to have changed.

An exception to the norm comes with the German-Rumanian co-production “Apele Tac”. It is 1986 on the border between Rumania and Serbia. Two men want to cross the Danube and make their way to Germany. When one of them refuses to leave his pregnant wife behind, a fight erupts. Anca Miruna Lazarescu avoids surprises and experimentation. She simply tells a story in good old fashion. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end.

-Nik Afanasjew