Berlin’s most famous film festival (George Clooney is here, did you hear?) is not merely a competition for the best cinematography, script, or performance. Like many other cultural events, politics are at play. For after all, the arts and the judging public are anything but impartial.
The festival of the golden bear invites the local to become a voyeur and thereby, to recall the headlines, the paroles, the debates, the sagas of the last year – to make meaning of images and thus to make sense of things, or, at least, to just make some sense. In the spirit of the critical viewer and in celebration of themes close to Berlin migration politics, I give you this rave of timely films and the three local contexts that make them and this Berlinale so special.
1. Economic migration, so-called Armutszuwanderung, has captured local and national news as of late. Berlin districts struggle to cope with what they perceive to be an impending crisis of immigrants (read Roma) from Eastern Europe. Here is a film for that:
The Forest is like the Mountains (Pâdurea e ca muntele, vezi?) (Romania, Forum) is a documentary by the German Christiane Schmidt and the Belgian Didier Guillain into the everyday life of a Roma village near the Sfântu Gheorghe district in Romania. Yes, there are tears from a young girl with the admission that “The Roma [have] never had any money”. This, however, is not the film’s baseline. Schlepping materials from the forest basin to the open pastures, pushing horses, playing among the thicket, enjoying the intimacy and stability of family: these elements enrich the plot to something beyond tenuous living conditions. Delivering any image, any experience, of life on the other side of a hyperbolic and vilified form of “Roma migration” may help to replace fear and political posturing with understanding. Tickets
2. With all the talk of economic crisis – the disparaging criticism of countries like Greece and Spain for not having managed their households – it must be difficult for the scores of young Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, and Italian (etc.) immigrants coming to Berlin for an underpaid job. Here are some films for that:
At Home (Sto Spiti) (Greece, Germany, Forum) follows Nadja, a Georgian housekeeper for an upper class Greek family, through a serious illness and the economic crisis that leaves her without a job in a country different from her home. As the catalog describes, Nadja’s suggested “misery is not apparent in the images”. This recalls the nearly invisible damage, which unruly socioeconomic change has inflicted, since the days the “cr….” word first appeared in print. For countless numbers of workers abroad, from Georgia to Greece, from Madrid to Berlin, the compelling yet un-dramatized portrayal of insecurity elsewhere will resonate with many. Tickets
ärtico (Spain, Generation 14 plus) seems like one of many of Spain’s answers to the statistics plastered in the media: numbers telling of the young, disillusioned, and unemployed (often Spanish). Directed by Gabriel Velázquez, this is a tale of a family struggling to keep all sides intact amid an economic slump that becomes something of its own expectant monster. Youth, accidental parenthood, angst – all moving into a space of nothing and nowhere to go, in a way that is captivating in its promise of the ordinary. Stills of emptiness and boredom wait for the impending drama that will end it, I would predict. Tickets
4. Berlin, in particular, has been both actor and stage for the asylum-seeker debate sweeping Germany, i.e. the Hellersdorf neo-Nazi debacle and unorthodox refugee responses to unpopular policies. “Asylum” could thus be the buzzword of Berlin’s 2013, a word that is both polemical and lacking in biography. Here’s a film for that:
Macondo (Austria, Competition) sketches the (inter)personal dilemmas of life in a refugee camp on the fringes of Vienna, where 3000 asylum-seekers live closely together, 11-year old Ramasan from Chechnya among them. The reasons for flight are largely unknown to the young boy, other than the narrative of a father fallen to the Russians. Ramasan guards his family’s honor in the patriarch’s stead, a visitor arriving to challenge the stability of the narrative and the boy’s belief. According to the critics, director Sudabeh Mortezai paints a Muslim childhood under strain, while telling a cliche-free story of flight, waiting, and doubt that might humanize a highly politicized debate. Tickets
– By Kelly Miller
Unless otherwise noted, the selected stills are © Berlinale.