By Monica Delgado
Some days have passed since the 71st edition of the Berlinale and some films remain as an echo. One of those is The Inheritance by the American Ephraim Asili, which we were able to see in the Forum section. This documentary materializes the idea of ubuntu throughout its footage, a concept that refers to an order of community justice, protected by the traditions and thoughts of African people in their resistance to slavery and colonization.
From the beginning, Asili cites La Chinoise by Jean-Luc Godard, but from the context of a militancy that starts from an African-American thought and memory. Its evocation can only be understood as a subtle irony: in this Ubuntu house there are no spaces for Maoist terrorism. Rather, there is an approach that seeks to do justice to black history and poetics in the US, based on the story of a grandson who inherits his grandmother’s “trunk of memories”, nothing more than poetry, philosophy, and sociology books, as well as vinyls of black expressions in that country. According to what this heritage proposes, the fight against racism and exclusion is accompanied by these reflections and knowledge of generations of Afro-American and African activists from the political environment or from all the quarries of the arts: Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Kwame Nkrumah, Calvin Hernton, Julius K. Nyerere, Stokely Carmichael, Malcom X, Sonia Sánchez or Ursula Rucker. And in parallel, the film makes visible some revolutionary actions of activists such as those of the MOVE collective and its leader John Africa, in the eighties, whose house in Philadelphia was bombed by the police with a balance of eleven people.
Throughout The Inheritance, Asili proposes through his characters, his discussions and his militancy practices through an ethic of coexistence and political conviction. Ubuntu as a premise that allows a solidary interaction between equals who have experienced situations of institutionalized inequality and racism, which is strengthened by the knowledge obtained in shared learning, from the knowledge of different generations and experiences. The militancy for black liberation understood, first as acceptance and appreciation within a community, and second, as a conjunction of politics and life (from poetry, music, philosophy).
Asili mentioned in an interview that he called The Inheritance a “political science fiction”, insofar as it is an utopian vision where he explores models of coexistence in the near future. The sets, the dialogues, the texture and color of the 16 mm or the rhythm of the scenes are referring to the construction of an idyllic fable, of the aspiration to a type of community in constant dialectic. The final sequences, of a climax with the verses of Ursula Rucker or with a space ready for a new beginning, manage to lead us to disenchantment, or to the idea that without poetry, creation and freedom, the struggles are not so vital or permanent.
In the Forum section one could find the film What will be the summer of Argentine filmmaker Ignacio Ceroi, which is established as a sentimental cartography based on a trip to France. The director appeals to a device to break the frontiers of documentary and add some elements of fiction, which at the same time achieves a mixed profile of “found footage” fused with travel diary or self-referential story.
Upon arriving in Toulouse to meet his girlfriend, the filmmaker (or his character) buys a second-hand camera, which contains various material from a stranger, apparently a former owner. He finds clues and finds a certain Charles, who lives in Montpelier and who has recorded Sunday scenes of walks in the fields with his dogs, but also of his work-related visit to Cameroon, in the midst of a political crisis. But this recovery and re-purposing of the material of Charles, the stranger, which we are gradually discovering, is accompanied by voice-over narrations by the filmmaker, who through emails was able to contact him and obtain intimate, philosophical and poetic descriptions of everything that was recorded.
The narration can be perceived as too “rational” or structured “, since although it is an epistolary writing that the voice-over reads, an imposition is perceived, as if something does not fit between this idea that we have of this Charles, and his way of composing the world through words. There is a slight clash between the sensitivity of what we see – a type of almost retired middle class man, who finds tranquility in these family gatherings and village walks, or who travels to Africa in a frontal verification of the differences due to colonization-with the fragmented existential being that appears through the voice of the filmmaker-narrator-editor-observer, who somehow also interprets what we see of Charles.
What will be of the summer is a film that finds in this fictional device of “found footage” a very creative resource, but whose look of Charles becomes diluted, towards the end, with that of the filmmaker himself, in his location as a foreigner in a new territory. However, the conceptual proposal on how the ability to fictionalize finally arises, to take various elements and assemble an immersive portrait film. That seems to me to be the most important achievement of the film – as an idea, but somewhat premeditated in its execution.
In Jack’s Ride by Portuguese director Susana Nobre we follow the protagonist Joaquim Veríssimo through various streets of Lisbon in search of stamps and signatures that give an account of his former jobs to request a retirement. Scenes of interviews with social workers, some former employers in warehouses or factories, give an account of the precariousness and instability that the character has experienced throughout his life, a life he now survivesthrough an economic crisis as a taxi driver.
Nobre uses a 70’s celluloid look for the film’s climates, which refer to comedies of social criticism a la Aki Kaurismaki -to the extent that people look somewhat ghostly and dispassionate while some situations become ironic, absurd or at least laughable-. Through this follow-up to Joaquin, we know that he was also a taxi driver in New York at a troubled time in the city (and here the figure of a mythical taxi driver like Travis Bickle appears), but also an immigrant who had to do a thousand things to get ahead.
The film stands out for its hybrid concept, for the notion of capturing a representation game, which is revealed when Nobre detaches Joaquin from his capacity as a witness to show him as an actor, inside a car while the rear projection and the crew appear to show the mechanics of fiction. Jack’s journey as a metaphor for the flow of memory, but also as a fluid way of experiencing the experiences, of a taxi with a carefree driver, consoled by nostalgia, in a strange world with sporadic travellers.
Tzarevna Scaling, by Russian photographer Uldus Bakhtiozina, is a film where art direction is the protagonist. Beyond the pomposity of the story, which refers to a folkloric imaginary of a tsarist Russia, of queens, subjects and fairy godmothers, there is a visual treatment that borders on horror vacui, not only from high fashion wardrobes but also in decorations and rhetorical dialogues. The anti-Prêt-à-porter tied to an idea of ??elites. Something new?
A woman who works in a food truck receives an order from a strange old woman, whose initial contact will take her to a very different world of luxury and palaces. Already within this fantastic climate, the protagonist receives the announcement that she must enter, along with other women, a kind of contest to find the Tzarevna (the daughter of the Tsar), receive classes and learn how to better opt for that royal title. Beyond the fabled atmosphere, a kind of Alice-entering-Wonderland, a somewhat far-fetched political component to confront a current Russia of tsarist backwardness peeks out. Visually, the filmmaker and artist is committed to giving everything in the figurative plane, but it seems that the film rejoices only in that, in the use of some bizarre resources in the montage, in the insertion of the musical and choreographic, in costumes that govern everything.
In Tzarevna Scaling, seen in the Forum section, there is a lot of echo to similar fantastic universes like those of the artist Matthew Barney and his Cremaster, or in the folklorist composition of some Parajanov films (like those theatrical mannerisms of The Color of Pomegranates) or even some bombastic Soviet films from the 1960’s. What is proposed here by Bakhtiozina is too empty, and only works in a decorative and aesthetically striking layer.