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Look for what we can't see

Exile and poverty hung like a shadow over the Cinéma du Réel short film festival.


People who exchange eyes, and people who view their surroundings, are often linked to the quality we call "cinematic". The openly cinematic in blikket confirmed in two cinematic films: Carol (Haynes, 2015), flowing in long sequences as elegant, wordless eye exchanges between repressed emotions and Saul's son (Nemes, 2015), who faces us face to face with one of Holocaust victims and his struggle to preserve the socket while watching what is going on around him.
Saul in the latter film, a prisoner who works in a concentration camp in Auschwitz, has to use his eyes to orient himself in the death machinery, but he really does not want to see him. "It would have been much easier if you hadn't understood," he says to a fellow prisoner, staring down into his food bowl. Saul has chosen to concentrate on death rather than life. Death is apparently the only thing left to save. His body, eyes and mind are completely aligned with it – for example, engulfed in how to bury a boy who has been strangled by the Nazis, a boy he believes is his son. Saul tries to blind himself to – or make a personal, almost absurd opposition to – what happens in life, and the film glues us to his denial face.
Saul's son shows how there is also a strong cinematic potential in the opposite of the field of view. Movies can also find a glimpse of what lies around, that which avoids the field of vision – a glance for absence, a glance for what we cannot see or choose not to see. A glance for blind zones, and even – as with Saul's son – a look for death.

The Benevolent DictatorAbsence and silence. During this year's French documentary film Cinéma du Réel, which took place in Paris from 18-27. March, reminded the international short film program of just this.
At the beginning of al hafar (Cherri, 2015), a meditative film about cemeteries in the Arab Sharjah desert, says a text poster: “Sometimes the most horrible place is the place where there is nothing. Where nothing has happened yet. " In the picture that follows, we see a human being with a lantern walking through a great darkness. We hear the sound of his footsteps as if we were close to him, but visually he is only a small point in a dark infinity (we know that darkness exceeds the picture frame), only lit up by his own light source.
Exotic exotic (Litvintseva, 2015) also reflects on the absence of something in one place: Over neatly composed images of a copy (in real size) of the Kremlin (now in the form of a Turkish hotel) the director reflects on his own and his mother's exile from Russia, and over how parts of an ideological edifice have been buried and restored as a copy. Some of the director's reflections, similar to the opening text quoted in al hafar, resonates in The coffee is convincing (Brandi, 2016), an observation of two immigrant children's encounters with racism in Italy.

The desperate and humiliated voice of a woman who constantly calls new people to postpone loan repayments.                               

Here a teacher tells that word omerta – which denotes the silence between two people while holding back something you want to say – is the opposite of Eros (beauty). The teacher justifies the contradiction by claiming that nothing happens in this silence. The film follows this thought in its contemplative, almost restrained visuality: Is it perhaps a prejudiced silence (disguised as hateful words) that characterizes the Italian children's encounter with the immigrants?

Hint before demonstration. Most of the movies in the program suggested instead of demonstrating. It can also be said about the lyrical montage in High ground! (Vaz, 2016), an imperialism-critical travel letter in the spirit of Peter Kubelkas Our trip to Africa (1966), and the city symphonic tone in Scales in the Spectrum of Space (Silva, 2015). It could also be seen in two films that themed poverty in two very different ways: fora gives life (Travel and Guerra, 2015) and Hello dear (Arbid, 2015).
In the latter, one of the program's best films, we hear the despairing and humiliated voice of a woman who is constantly calling new people to postpone loan repayments. While listening to the conversations, we drive around a peaceful Beirut. The film opens in a parking lot with freshly washed, empty cars, takes us through a sunny urban landscape and ends on the highway, late at night, in a kind of empty space lit up by advertising lights and cars driving past.

hello cherieThe Dictator. I fora gives life we hear a message from a television set: "Behind every dictator there is always love." This propagandistic phrase gets a less naive and more complicated expression in The Benevolent Dictator (Braunstein, Hasenöhrl and Lichtblau, 2016). Exile and poverty hung like a shadow over the entire short film program, and here we meet an Austrian-English colonial master in Malawi in Southeast Africa. In a country where 80 percent are illiterate, a benevolent dictator is preferable to a democracy, the man suggests. He anchors the situation in how the English retained the imperialist power and status quo by preventing education. The filmmakers let the colonial master get the narrator's perspective, but never show us the man while he is talking. They rather do his social world to the visual protagonist of the film. The pictures show us crowds in thin streets – and clear, tentatively clarifying pictures of the man's large property and many belongings (including his servants and bodyguards). While we hear the man say that he gives the workers the minimum wage, and that he keeps a close eye on their debt to him, we see one of them taking a short break from work. The worker is leaning against a dusty car, a small cola bottle is lying on the hood, and he is doubting the last remnant of a cigarette. He inhales the nicotine as if that's the last thing he's going to do. The man is dignified in the middle of the picture.

In Dance With God. Admittedly, the most notable film in the program was a sensitive portrait of a blind textile worker and his wife (a couple who, like Saul, have lost their son): the Iranian In Dance With God (Mirzae, 2015). The film's unassuming and altruistic images are completely concentrated on the blind man's body, which constantly surprises in its spontaneous liveliness and peculiar interaction with the surroundings. Whether he sings love songs, makes sarcastic jokes, dances around a campfire or does strength training on the potato field, Hooshang Mirzae finds portraits that feel self-grown and forced in his vibrant poetry.
The power of the film lies not only in the images and in the people who are filmed, but in the editing that spontaneously dances and sings with the blind. The film's energy lies in many ways in what we do not see, for the portrait seems to capture the man's contact with himself and his own situation, his blind embrace of life. Here the film is reminiscent of the poetic-ethnographic documentary of Les Blank.
Cinema films are good at showing us that exchanges of views between people are cinematic. But short films, in their sometimes rich scarcity, often show us that even the gaze of the blind in our experience – the gaze of the void that surrounds the living places, the gaze of that which does not appear in what is created – is extremely cinematic.
Teaches film studies at NTNU Email

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