Emerging from the pandemic, filmmakers experimented with form and narrative to pose deeper questions about our past, present and future.
The decision to hold this year’s Berlin International Film Festival as a physical event was heralded as a return to normal. But as the Berlinale strived to recreate its past glories, the films in this year’s Forum sidebar celebrated how the pandemic has created a spike in creative thinking.
Now in its 52nd year, The Forum is known for presenting films that revolutionise and reshape our vision of cinema. Perhaps the best example of this was Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s Jet Lag; a deeply personal film of fractured identities and shifting temporalities. Neatly capturing the puzzling process of trying to figure out who you really are, Xinyuan’s journey begins in Austria as she embarks on a journey back to China in the midst of the pandemic. The film also focuses on an earlier trip to Myanmar to find out what happened to her great-grandfather, who fled China in the 1940s and never returned. Xinyuan depicts reality like a dream; leaping back and forth through time, combining videos captured on her smartphone with old DV CAM footage and zoom conversations with her cousin about the recent coup in Myanmar. These fragmentary trails beautifully coalesce into a discursive meditation on familial love and our desire for meaningful connections.
Exploring the interplay between history and place, Jerónimo Rodríguez’s The Veteran also begins with the search for a missing person. The film follows Julio and Gabriel, two directors trying to make a film about an American priest who moved to Chile after dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The pair are neither seen nor heard throughout the film, instead their discussions are recounted via a third-person voiceover played over static shots of the places they discuss. The film’s digressive style brings to mind the novels of Roberto Bolaño, whose semi-autobiographical stories often revolved around imagined artists and the inescapable violence of modern life in Latin America. As the film progresses it becomes clear that the pair have serious artistic differences. Gabriel wants to make a conventional biopic about the priest, while Julio wants to explore how his story speaks to a broader political narrative and the recent protests in Chile. Unable to agree on an approach the pair eventually decide to part ways, leaving the graffitied streets of Santiago to finish their story.
Films made during the pandemic typically share certain characteristics: small crews, minuscule casts and limited locations. Tyler Taormina’s sophomore feature Happer’s Comet contains all of these, yet feels like nothing we’ve seen before. Presumably named after the eccentric billionaire and amateur astrologer in Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero, Taormina’s follow-up to Ham on Rye was shot over multiple nights in his hometown. Eschewing anything close to a conventional narrative we observe as teenagers creep out of their bedroom windows to go rollerblading and moments of spontaneous surrealism like a mechanic who gets the urge to do push-ups while listening to Johnnie Frierson “Have You Been Good To Yourself”.