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From Unseen Corners. The 30 Films in the Main Programme of the 54th Forum

Gokogu no Neko (The Cats of Gokogu Shrine). © Laboratory X, Inc.
Gokogu no Neko (The Cats of Gokogu Shrine). © Laboratory X, Inc.

Under new section head Barbara Wurm, the Forum presents itself in typically daring fashion in relation to its pressing interest in the filigree and the fragmentary. Yet the programme also shows a clear openness towards larger-scale forms of cinema that might at first glance seem familiar. Malaysian debut film Oasis of Now, which crafts a portrait of an apartment block inhabited by migrant workers in precise, tender images and turns Vietnamese nail artist Ta Thi Diu into a taciturn star, alongside Holy Week by Andrei Cohn, a study of the psychology of violence that makes outstandingly intelligent use of depth of field and conveys a great deal about anti-Semitism. One end of the spectrum between auteur and genre cinema is marked by US indie gem The Wrong Movie by Keren Cytter, in which hanging out and chilling gives way to tragedy, while the other is occupied by South Korean horror thriller Pa-myo (Exhuma). Oldboy star Choi Min-sik plays a feng shui expert working side by side with a shaman with a talent for performance in order to push on the titular exhumation process, which throws up questions of class along the way in this playfully subversive take on the genre.

“Striking performances” is perhaps the best way of describing the wealth of amazing female characters found in the 2024 Forum programme. With its fluid sense of calm and well-placed ellipses, La piel en primavera (Skin in Spring), the striking feature debut by Yennifer Uribe Alzate, shows the stages in a woman’s metamorphosis via impressive corporeality with Alba Liliana Agudelo Posada a true discovery in the leading role. An equally strong, yet different take on physicality is on display in another female feature debut – Anna Cornudella’s The Human Hibernation, a meditative, brilliantly shot eco-sci-fi-film. Yet the Forum doesn’t just focus on first features: we are particularly happy to be able to present the world premiere of Shô Miyake’s fourth feature Yoake no subete (All the Long Nights), a study of people helping each other out in life that is as elegantly unadorned as it is light-footed: Mone Kamishiraishi (playing Misa Fujisawa, who is plagued by PMS) and Hokuto Matsumura (as office employee Takatoshi Yamazoe, who suffers from panic attacks) form a big-small dream team of contemporary Japanese cinema—following in the footsteps of Ozu in the art of restraint.

The feature debut by Narges Kalhor brims with pent-up energy and any number of creative ideas; Shahid sets new standards in the hybrid autobiographic post-migrant film and says as much about Germany as it does about Iran. The documentary Was hast du gestern geträumt, Parajanov? (What Did You Dream Last Night, Parajanov?), the first feature-length work by cinematographer Faraz Fesharaki (What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?, Berlinale Competition 2021) fits neatly alongside it, a diaspora study of his own family captured on video that finds the perfect balance between distance and connection. These two young German-Iranian voices seek to pin down the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous, one with tragicomic laconicism, the other via the élan of dance.

On the whole, German productions are well represented at the 2024 Forum. Alongside Romuald Karmakar’s Der unsichtbare Zoo (The Invisible Zoo), a monumental three-hour analysis of both an institution and the present era which was shot at Zurich Zoo, two further documentary works are showing that succeed in connecting exemplary ideas with bigger questions of everyday life in impressive fashion: Reproduktion (Reproduction) by Katherina Pethke and Ihre ergebenste Fräulein (Well Ordered Nature) by Eva C. Heldmann. In the context of the ensemble of buildings that make up the Hamburg art school and maternal hospital, Pethke explores the (im)possibility of reconciling career and motherhood with a blend of the objective and the personal that is always stringent and precise, examining the extent to which her own biography is mirrored in the respective maxims of the conservative 1950s, the revolutionary 1970s and neo-liberal present while also narrating how women broke open the art and architecture canon along the way. For its part, Heldmann’s free-floating essay brings the story of botanist and educationalist Catharina Helena Dörrien and her time in Orange-Nassau in the 18th century to light: as the film carefully leaves through folios and wanders through meadow flowers, nature philosophy and social policy converge.

“During the selection process”, comments section head Barbara Wurm, “it was fascinating to see how many films attempted to approach the big themes of the present – like poverty or gender inequality, war or post-war trauma, neo-liberalism or neo-authoritarianism – by simultaneously focusing on edification and enlightenment, reflection and empathy. Alongside a feature film discovery like Siddartha Jatla’s In the Belly of a Tiger, the second expressive Indian film in our line-up, which is just plain gripping, this also applies to three essayistic documentaries, As noites ainda cheiram á pôlvora (The Nights Still Smell of Gunpowder) by Inadelso Cossa, which received funding from the World Cinema FundResonance Spiral by Filipa César and Marinho de Pina, and L’homme-vertige (L’homme-vertige: Tales of a City) by artist Malaury Eloi Paisley from Guadeloupe. Current films examining post-colonialism are placing a focus on humanity instead of destruction and relationships instead of solitude.”

In addition to the titles already mentioned, the programme of 54th Forum also offers some further essayistic highlights that reflect on different media, in particular Il cassetto segreto (The Secret Drawer) by Sicilian director Costanza Quatriglio and Spuren von Bewegung vor dem Eis (Traces of Movement before the Ice) by René Frölke. Both are archive films ripe for discovery that revise our canons of text and image, with the former taking the more personal route, as the filmmaker carries out her research as a daughter, and the latter weighing up the precise degree of documentary proximity and distance in a more abstract fashion. Familiar faces and new auteurs with works that start out modest and end up expansive, such as Gokogu no Neko (The Cats of Gokogu Shrine) by Kazuhiro Soda and Henry Fonda for President by Alexander Horwath form important pillars of the selection, as do the films that delve into the bitter, sobering realities of the world: Oasis from Chile is an example of direct, activist-minded cinema and paints a democratic picture of slaughter, while Intercepted creates a piercingly intelligent montage of images of the state of destruction in Ukraine and intercepted voice recordings of Russian soldiers and their mothers and wives.

Last but not least, a film shot before the war that Russia has been openly conducting against Ukraine and democracy since 2022 that has only been completed during it: Redaktsiya (The Editorial Office) by Roman Bondarchuk is a self-critical engagement with corrupt and post-Soviet realities, droll, wild, free, impertinent, full of humour and love, just like cinema itself.

The 54th Forum is the last edition to take place at Kino Arsenal at Potsdamer Platz – before moving to the silent green Kulturquartier next year.

The films of Forum 2024

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