The short film section is one of my favourite categories at the Berlinale since it’s like going into a Tapas bar, ordering several things to eat, being surprised at what you get, and that just whets your appetite.
Some films are humorous and clever like the Turkish film Annem Sinema Ögreniyor (My Mother learns Cinema) by Nesimi Yetik. Yetik’s idea was quite simple: a man and his elderly mother are sitting at a table and he attempts to teacher her the names of all the greatest film directors until she is the expert. This film won the DAAD Short Film award and in my opinion should be bought and distributed to theatres everywhere. I would rather watch this three-minute short than all those stupid advertisements. Other clever and funny short films included Nichon No Katachi:Shaza Namikibashi by Junji Kojima Kentaro Kobayashi. The Japanese tradition, Shazai, is about different ways to apologize to someone Japanese-style. The film is very serious which makes it even more funny.
The French film Decroche (Pick-up) by Manuel Schapira) was equally funny and won a Silver Bear Jury Prize. A girl never leaves her apartment complex, but converses with various people on the street by means of a phone booth. It is similar to last year’s French short film where two people flirt on the subway by editing words in the books that they are supposedly reading. The French have proven very creative in their communication strategies. The other French film in the program deals with an older man taking guitar lessons. He falls for the roommate of his young student teacher, but succeeds in learning a song with her name in it.
Some of the films dealt with history such as a black-and-white animated film Jegyzökönyv –Mansfeld Peter Emlekere (Court Record in Memoriam Peter Mansfeld) by a Romanian director. The political execution story of the 18-year-old was powerful and bleak. It had that very harsh depressing Eastern European style, but still I was impressed because each film was hand drawn, which must have been time consuming. Another historical film The Stalin that was Played By Me by Dutch Daya Cahen gave a surprising view of a well-known historical figure. This young photographer actually meets the grandson of Stalin and can film him and his family. She originally thought that a man who resembled Stalin would hate having that identity. She was fascinated to find quite the opposite; the man lost his own personal identity in a way and had assumed that of Stalin. So, according to this film, Stalin is still living somewhere in Russia like Elvis in Memphis. The most memorable historical film for me as an American was The Night Before Christmas by Sam Bassett (USA). He made a time capsule of his grandmother reciting this famous Christmas poem on her southern estate. This was very funny and each verse was like a small, intimate painting of American culture.
There were several films on the changing future. In Lo que trae la lluvia (Along Came the Rain) by Chilean director Alejandro Fernandez Almendrasm an old couple perform their daily rituals on the farm. Life is grueling and hard but satisfying. Once the daughter and her son come through the door, the rain begins and their lifestyle changes. They all watch T.V., eat junk food and do nothing. Mei by Arvin Chen (USA/Taiwan/China) shows the life at a Chinese footstall owned by a father and daughter. A boy in love with the daughter begins work there. He noticinesthat the girl longs to immigrate to America. She has learned English but will not leave her father since the mother ran away. The boy makes the supreme sacrifice for love and offers to take care of her father if she leaves.
Some of these short film just show how complications of life. In Gecko by Therese von Eltz, a small boy finds a gecko and offers it first to his mother and then to the man who is leaving them behind. He tries to heal the family in the only he can. Rendez-Vous by Polish director Marcin Janos Krawczyk, a sensitive and wonderful film, a young couple date like anyone else, despite mental handicaps. They go to a restaurant, and discuss their future plans and their feelings for each other. My favorite film in this genre was Rotten Apple by Ralitza Petrova (UK ). This took place in a dilapidated old farm house in the middle of nowhere where a child knows that his mother has abandoned him and his father. The child attempts to make sense out of life from pigs, a dead bug and a new girl friend. When the new girl friend also leaves, the boy instinctively knows that he and his father must pull together to form a new kind of family. This film was beautifully filmed and the director seemed to be a typical artistic type who would call her crew in the middle of the night to discuss all her ideas. This film won the PRIX UIP Berlin prize.
The only German short film was on called Bus by Jens Schillmöller. The idea came from visualizing future work. A group of unemployed individuals board a bus and travel in search for work. They earn quite a bit of money charging people for car repairs, garden clean ups, etc., until they pick up a hitchhiker and lose all their earnings. While watching Scummy Man by British film maker Paul Fraser, the style reminded me of another film at the film festival and sure enough Paul Fraser has done six films with Shane Meadows who has a kids’ film called This is England (see page). This is an offbeat, but fast-paced, story of three misfits: a taxi driver, a loser and a drug addict who collide like a slam dance from the punk generation. Desperation and loneliness show how dysfunctional their lives are in reality. Another wild trip into fantasy was The Tale of the Girl Who Swallowed Bees by Paul McDermott (Australia). This was a beautiful film made for someone who suffers from depression. The director used painting and poetry to show how a girl attempting suicide by swallowing bees, becomes inhabited by a beehive and then later achieves honey enlightenment. The film that won the Golden bear for short films was RAAK/Contact by Hanro Smitsman (the Netherlands). This was one of the more complicated short films in the program. It was based on a true story about a boy who throws a large rock from a bridge, destroying the car and passengers below. The film shows three points of view and gives a little emotional history behind each character. The boy has a lot of anger in him since his father left him and his mother; other kids pick on him. Then there is the driver of the vehicle who yells at the kid not to scratch his car but is also a loser in the eyes of his peers. The abandoned mother gets into the car with this loser to be driven to the hair dresser. She witnesses her son drop the stone from the bridge. The director said he wanted to get inside the story to understand what happened.