Berlinale Reading

On Film / The Daily — Feb 19, 2020
Les trois-quarts de la vie (1971), directed by the filmmaking collective Groupe Medvedkine Sochaux

You don’t have to be in Berlin to take part in the celebrations for what amounts to a double anniversary for the Berlinale. It’s not just the seventieth edition of one of the world’s largest film festivals that will be opening tomorrow but also the fiftieth rollout of one of its most vital sections, the Forum. In 1970, Michael Verhoeven’s O.K., a reenactment of a war crime committed by American soldiers during the Vietnam War, split the jury so severely that the competition was called off. Festival organizers then invited programmers Erika and Ulrich Gregor to create “a parallel event on an equal footing” with the Berlinale that could take on the sort of titles the festival didn’t know how to handle.


These were described as “difficult, dangerous films,” recalls Ulrich Gregor in a roundtable discussion that opens the magazine that the Forum makes freely accessible online each year. Along with the Gregors, critic Bert Rebhandl talks with Christoph Terhechte, who ran the Forum from 2002 to 2018; Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, who oversees Forum Expanded, a program of moving-image work incorporating elements of visual art, theater, and media; Birgit Kohler of the Arsenal, the archive, distributor, and year-round theater that organizes the Forum; and Cristina Nord, whose appointment last fall as the new head of the Forum was met with enthusiastic approval from all corners. “We’re now at a point where the Forum has to re-examine the story of its success, as success can easily gallop off again,” says Nord. “Back in 1971, representatives of the Third Cinema were still very much appearing, expressing radical criticism of the status quo from the perspectives of countries on the periphery of the hegemonic West. This sort of criticism is only seen seldom today, for example, in the work of Lav Diaz or Wang Bing. The zeitgeist is no longer so keyed into this stance of radical criticism.”

Besides a fresh slate of new discoveries, Nord and her team will present the complete program of the Forum’s first edition—hence the focus in the magazine on 1971 and the impact of films of the era on cinema today. “The archaeology of the Soviet revolutionary cinema of Vertov and Medvedkin as well as the (self-)criticism of the (anti-)bourgeois cinema of Jean Renoir, Luis Buñuel, or Luchino Visconti provided the framework at a time in which the militant, anti-capitalist and anti-colonial image politics of a Sarah Maldoror, a William Klein or a Med Hondo, or the materialistic mythopoeia of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet or Nagisa Oshima were first coalescing into the sort of image that points beyond art and resists its containment and false autonomy,” writes Anselm Franke.

1971 was “a turning point,” writes B. Ruby Rich, adding that “with impeccable post-68 timing, it marks the definitive beginning of 1970s film culture, a golden age of cinematic invention and political activism.” This naturally leads to the question: “Where, then, are the films that the crises of 2020 demand?” The magazine also features Nicole Brenez on the film collectives of the early 1970s and Diedrich Diederichsen on Dušan Makavejev (WR: Mysteries of the Organism), who was on the Berlinale jury in 1970 and was, as Ulrich Gregor remembers, “a driving force behind all the turbulence.”

This year’s Berlinale will be the first for the new leadership team, executive director Mariette Rissenbeek and artistic director Carlo Chatrian. Carrying on the tradition begun when he was overseeing the Locarno Film Festival, Chatrian has been blogging. Recent entries focus on King Vidor, the subject of this year’s thirty-five-film retrospective, and films that have screened in past editions of the festival that have since “grabbed me,” from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) to Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) and Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998). As for highlights from a lineup of hundreds of films slated to premiere between tomorrow and March 1, we can turn now Jordan Cronk’s preview for Film Comment and to lists of anticipated titles from Carmen Gray (AnOther), Nicholas Laskin (Playlist), and the staffs at IndieWire and Screen.

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