Berlin Critics’ Week 2023

Dominik Graf’s Melting Ink (2023)

The ceiling-to-floors windows of the vast room in the Akademie der Künste where the opening conference for this year’s Berlin Critics’ Week took place on Wednesday night look out onto the Brandenburg Gate. Out on the square in front of the gate, a crowd had gathered to mourn the victims of the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria and to express solidarity with the survivors. Strains of lament drifted up to the conference room, and it would have been more than a little strange if a couple of the evening’s speakers didn’t mention the commemoration below. The theme of the 2023 edition of the festival, after all, is Cinema of Care.

The subtitle of the conference: Who looks after film culture? Following opening remarks from the organizers emphasizing the challenges film cultural workers face in balancing their working and private lives, Isabell Lorey, professor of queer studies at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, called for the dissolution of patriarchal structures, and Elke Marhöfer spoke about her film, Soils_Habit_Plants. When the panel took to the stage, moderator Devika Girish opened with a question that rephrased the motif running throughout the evening: Do you care about cinema?

The first to take a shot at an answer—and let’s face it, the main draw of the evening—was Claire Denis. She’s wary of the word “care” because, perhaps especially in France, it has become something of a brand, a term robbed of both its spontaneity and sincerity. Fellow panelist, filmmaker, and curator Abby Sun added that the concept had become commodified and even assigned a certain legal value. Duty of care, for example, is an imposition of legal obligation.

Denis agreed that artists should be under no such obligation, and when Sun observed that care is the opposite of harm, Denis leapt on the idea enthusiastically—and then refined it. What she admires, for example, in the films of Yasujiro Ozu is that “there is harm, and there is care, but there is no judgment.”

Berlin Critics’ Week evenings are intentionally long, deep dives into topics related to the year’s overall theme. Screenings of one or two shorts and a feature are followed by debates that can spill out into the chilly air after it’s time to close the doors of the Hackesche Höfe Kino.

Through February 23, the Critics’ Week will screen short films by Raúl Ruiz and Sharon Lockhart and features from Masao Adachi, Shinji Higuchi, and Dominik Graf, whose Melting Ink is “a cinematic bricolage of the German twentieth century that’s as dismissive of the boundaries between essay film and documentary as it is of those between past and present,” writes Pat Brown at Slant. “Somehow both staid and restless, reiterating settled history and opening new questions, Melting Ink is a film that one can imagine being equally at home at an arthouse cinema and as afternoon programming on German public television.”

Features in this year’s online magazine include Christoph Huber’s survey of movies either set on Mars or tracking voyages to the Red Planet, a correspondence with curator and writer Andréa Picard, and Roger Koza’s assessment of the state of Latin American cinema’s role throughout the festival circuit. Guest editor Patrick Holzapfel writes that his aim is “to create echo chambers reflecting on this year’s festival motto as well as on individual programs. Topics like sleeping, sexuality, mindfulness, nature, marginalization, and materiality appear in different contexts and are looked at from different perspectives. I’ve encouraged writing that is as free and open as possible.”

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