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Susan Chales de Beaulieu
by Becky Tan

Documentary filmmaker Susan Chales de Beaulieu attended the Berlinale as a member of the film industry (Fachbesucher). Contrary to journalists, she had a different access to film showings and personalities, as well as a different-colored ID.

Having just wrapped up a 111-minute documentary about the 61-year-old Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, a co-production with arte, being published as a DVD in April in the film edition from Suhrkamp publishing, she was happy to relax a full ten days at the Berlinale, longer than ever, a rare treat for this busy filmmaker, but relaxation was rare.

She received invitations to social events for film makers, a chance to meet friends, producers and like-minded people and network over breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night parties. She noted the sophisticated way to exchange business cards. Networking is serious business and much of it is subtle, rather than in your face. She says, “It’s often more important to ‘talk about the rose’ and then deduct what connects us professionally without being too direct.”

Naturally, after paying Euro 100 for accreditation, all movie tickets were free, but she still had to stand in line at the Berlinale Service Center next to the Berlinale Palast at Potsdamer Platz for tickets not available from colleagues. After three days, she became acclimated to the rhythm and the rules and managed to be there by 7:30, since often tickets were gone by 9:30, not an easy task after midnight discussions with colleagues. She said, “Next time I’ll make an even more precise schedule; after all it’s all about taking advantage to see unique films.”

She was most interested in small films, rather than big names up for competition, as they will find their way to cinema anyway. She says, “A good film isn’t necessarily the one with the biggest budget (and promotion). It’s the one with a vision. Once the idea is strong you feel it, even if there is little money involved! For me a film must have a liberating tone, even if told in a conventional way.” She saw forceful films on human dilemmas and dignity from subtle, visionary, political film makers, who often melt documentary and fictional ways of working.

She says, “Just entertainment is too little. There must be more; there must be a deeper engagement speaking to us; this is the task of art. Here film is like a good painting, like good music, theatre or literature: It must attract you, it must trouble you – you must be drawn to study it, to find out why it questions you! It must be intellectually vibrating and can be fun and voluptuous at the same time! It must bring you further than where you already stand. The challenge is to create an emancipation-al piece of work, a study of freedom! This is not easy to do but a true challenge. Also I believe that film critics have a responsibility to treat film less like another piece of entertainment but more like a unique chance to bring us further, to deeply enriching us, beyond stereotypes. Film critics should dare to be critical, to develop the intriguing reflections of why something is “good” or “weak,” to teach us to see, to teach us to be ambitious, not just set themselves up as advertisers or PR managers for a film. My favourite American critic is Jonathan Rosenbaum who wrote for the Chicago Reader until 2008, he and also Ray Carney – both are essential and daring.”

Some of Susan’s recommendations are:

Revolución (Mexico). Ten Mexican directors, e.g., Carlos Reygadas, Patricia Riggen and Fernando Eimbcke, each made a short film about their country’s revolution which began 100 years ago and how the revolution influenced the country as it stands today. Susan: “Ten small, refined and venturous masterpieces about Mexican myths, society and the individual.” All ten were in Berlin to discuss their work in a panel entitled “Revolución: Mexican Filmmakers Joining Forces” at the Talent Campus for prospective new directors.

Moloch Tropical (France/Haiti) by Raoul Peck. The director creates a Shakespearian drama situated in Haiti (where he was born in 1953) telling a universal story: that of people in power! Severe, angry, and – for the first time maybe to that extent - mixed with a sense for absurdities and humor, Peck describes a power-mad president, who, even weakened, can’t give it up, can’t accept loss of control, so dear to him his fantasies of his own virility. (Peck’s interest was also to study the behaviour of the followers, men and women “often behaving as children, unable to think for themselves, totally depending on what the man in power says”).

Orly (Germany/France) by Angela Schanelec. Four couples wearing microphones walk around this Paris airport and make us listen to their conversations, banal or essential, four among those of thousands of other travellers. Susan says, “It seems like a documentary but is not because they do have text and are actors. The airport is a place somewhere between no-more and not-yet of longings and new perspectives on what they are leaving behind. Strong in its simplicity.”

Eine Flexible Frau (The Drifter) (Germany). Susan says, “Mira Partecke is a strong actress who plays a 40-year-old woman who tries to adapt to harsh economical times and business rules: She loses her job as an architect because her company goes bankrupt! Bravely she tries to be flexible, working at a call center or as a guide for an Asian Investment company – her attempts are sadly ridiculous: She just can’t fit into the always good-humoured attitude that is asked of her – she’s simply too mature, too little of a robot and has too much of a personality. Her son judges her as a loser… and so do her surroundings. This film gives a critical view of today’s contemporary society, a film sensitively made by a woman, Tatjana Turanskyj.”