By Monica Delgado

This online edition of the Visions du Reél festival has a competition for shorts and medium-length films that allows access to some works, which, although they are made under a very different influence from each other, gives a glimpse of the political touch of this edition, understood as a critical approach to various contemporary facts of reality. It is not only a festival of “cinema of the real”, but one that houses the conflictive and decisive spirit of these times, of the effects and climates of the pandemic, of periods of discursive and aesthetic disputes. From this perspective, I stop at three shorts seen in various sections.

Land That Rises and Descends, the Finnish filmmaker Moona Pennanen proposes a fable based on a primordial idea: the archipelago as a figure of totality, but also as an allegory of a world that seems stopped in time, although confronting the possibility of the ephemeral . The poetics of confrontation between past and future is not necessarily made from memories or historical events but from the very density of the landscape. The sea as an initiatory space, but also as the outline or capital border that defines the finite nature of the territory (and of the earth as element). The sea as a founding stage, to which we can return at any time, either as a threat or as a promise of a new beginning.

Somewhere in Land That Rises and Descends (Finland, 2021) the phrase “the sea will be land and the land was once sea” appears, and that somehow defines what the filmmaker expressed through the images of the archipelago of Kvarken, northern Finland. There are scenes of searching for people in a forest or some Lenten holiday, in the typical carnival, with masks and costumes, and there is also a voice-over, which goes through various parts of the film, which recounts childhood memories about a world spiritual and fantastic that is not in sight. However, the descriptions of the landscape, of shores, of spaces in constant “dispute” between land and sea, between swamps and small islands that emerge or are hidden under the waters, from textures better valued by the celluloid record, is that we go identifying the concept in this proposal by Pennanen. The ungraspable, unstable and momentary as a mark of a territory, which never looks permanent and whose characteristic seems to have marked its inhabitants.

The voice-over of the only entity from Land That Rises and Descends, who appears outside the field, sharing his perception of the world through these images, allows us to generate these links with a mythical imaginary, of constant struggle between good and evil, where the ritual is necessary as a communal act, but also as an accompaniment to an environment of brief certainties. The music that appears precisely in some images of the sea, the fields and the swamps, achieves dreamlike atmospheres, and affirms that in this world in limbo, between a here and there, could be a recurring metaphor to expand the idea of a dubious environment, in its matter and thought.

The idea of the intranet as a limited and coded communication construct seems to be at the core of How to Order Online (France, 2020), short in the Opening Scenes section, by French visual artist Julie Ramage. In its nine minutes, the director expands a universe that she has been exploring for some years, through videos and installations, and that revolves around her investigation within the Poissy prison.

In this new work, she returns to this field to extend an experimental program in which she participated years ago as part of an artistic investigation, where inmates and students from the Paris-Diderot University participated. Although this proposal was born as part of a sound experimentation (with the support of the Bétonsalon Center d’Art et de recherche and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris), what we see in this short is the extension towards the performative and the same cinematographic staging.

Julie Ramage, Ph.D. in History and Semiology of Text and Image, gathers a group of inmates and observes them in a dining room from close-up details of their hands and crafts. They reflect on the ways they have devised to be able to communicate with the outside world or with other inmates in adjoining cells. “Spending a lot of time in cells stimulates inmates’ communication,” says one of the characters at the beginning of the film. Then comes the title of the short, which works as a subtle irony, and raises the way in which these characters will launch the possibility of going abroad in this way. These codes that are assembled from scraps of cloth, plastic bags and paper are producing a rhythm and meaning that is also translated into a soundtrack composed as part of the experiment, from these data or keys. In this way, this intranet, of noises, blows, scraps and movements, materializes through this sound composition, which allows us to leave the surreptitious space and transfer it to a new, more tangible code, but where the logics of the information have not yet are revealed.

One of the characters indicates that this handicraft work, of establishing a spider web from these scraps, is almost having a “4G” technology inside the prison. The short shows this process and these testimonies, which become matter for electronic compositions that help perpetuate these codes and transfer them to another language, just as coded as the original one. However, beyond this sophistication of this prison experience, what Ramages registers is the need for freedom, which emerges through these practices, even more so in contexts where excessive criminalization is a daily routine, and criminal policies every day, more rigid.

In Superficies, by the Colombian-Argentine filmmaker Cristina Motta, the meaning of the word clandestine is the trigger for a reflection on the relationship of unconscious “complicity” that could be established between the spaces (or elements) that have served to hide the bodies of the disappeared over decades in Latin America. Through the monologue of a voice-over, the filmmaker establishes a cartography between the water and the stones that have served as the setting for a systematic policy of disappearances and crimes against humanity.

At some point, the voice indicates that it is “It is more difficult to find what is lost in the water” as a reference to the mechanisms of disappearance applied by the Argentine dictatorship in the seventies, and that it is analogous to the search for bodies under rubble in Medellín, product of the internal war and political violence experienced in the eighties. Villa Epecuén, a town that was swallowed by a lagoon and of which only rubble remains, is part of the spaces that Cristina Motta registers as territories that function as vivid metaphors for this attempt to hide memory and their bodies. The buried memory, hidden, waiting for some indication that will bring it afloat. While this town, which looks devastated, may reflect the possibility that nature itself is responsible for doing justice to the rottenness of men.

From an intimate tone, in Superficies, Motta is composing this elegy on the permanence in time and space of the figure of the disappeared, on the slowness of the justice processes, the need for goodbyes and funeral rites and, on everything, the search for relatives as an unfair way of life. The searches also as flags of resistance, like the Villa Epecuén that, demolished by the water and the weather, appears anyway against everything.

Land That Rises and Descends
Direction: Moona Pennanen
Production: Ida Karoskoski
Finland, 21 min, 2021

How to Order Online
Direction and production: Julie Ramage
Director of Photography: Christophe Ramage
Music: Didier Sallustro
Editing: Christophe Ramage
France, 2020, 9 min

Direction / script / editing: Cristina Motta
Cinematography: Nadina Marquisio
Music: Alejandra Tokatlian
Sound design: Lucho Corti
Production: Gallito Films
Argentina, Colombia, 10 min, 2020