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Berlinale Shorts explores the fine line between fiction and reality


- BERLINALE 2023: As the 20 films that make up the 2023 edition of the German gathering’s shorts-focused strand prepare to unspool, Cineuropa casts an eye over the European offerings

Berlinale Shorts explores the fine line between fiction and reality
A Kind of Testament by Stephen Vuillemin

This year’s edition of Berlinale Shorts has been described as “fiction against a real-life backdrop”. But this is more than films merely reflecting real-world concerns. A large majority of the shorts that make up the 2023 competition play with the tropes of both fiction and documentary, stretching definitions, questioning notions of reality and turning conventions on their head. It showcases filmmakers trying to find new means of expression in a world in which the boundaries surrounding the “truth” are consistently blurred.

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Daydreaming So Vividly About Our Spanish Holidays by Christian Avilés (Spain) is ostensibly a fiction title about “balconing” – a phenomenon in which a number of teenagers (usually very drunk, British ones) have died after attempting to jump from balconies into hotel pools on various Balearic Islands. But rather than head down the route of staid realism – all social-realist lager louts and doomed debauchery – Avilés goes in a much more remarkable direction. The film turns a trip dedicated to hedonism into something that is almost a religious pilgrimage, with everything given a surreal tinge. Telling us more about British mentality than countless Ibiza Uncovered documentaries ever could, it’s a brilliant film.

Also striking is Stephen Vuillemin’s animation A Kind of Testament (France), in which a woman finds out that a stranger has been making animations based on her Facebook photos. It’s a vaguely sinister piece – with an air of nihilism associated with the adult rotoscope animations of the 1970s – which examines death, regret and the fear of being forgotten.

Three French films feature different takes on contemporary life. Sleepless Nights (Donatienne Berthereau) follows a woman as the 2022 French election comes to a tense conclusion. The film is a powerful examination of the clash between social and political engagement, and the desire to escape into one’s own world, which comes with a powerful central performance. More gentle is Les Chenilles (Michelle Keserwany, Noel Keserwany), in which two female waitresses working and living in France form a bond. It’s an ode to female empowerment and friendship that is delicate yet powerful. Anaïs-Tohé Commaret’s 8 sees a group of young people reflect on achieving their desires. Infused with dreamlike moments, the film is a constantly surprising rumination on modern-day culture.

Anthony Ing’s brilliant documentary essay Jill, Uncredited (UK) explores the life of a background artiste through archive footage of the appearances she has made, while in The Veiled City, Natalie Cubides-Brady cleverly turns archive footage of a smog-filled London into a cautionary sci-fi tale. Filmmaker Morgane Frund also plays with the documentary form in Bear, in which, after discovering some unsettling footage amongst the scenes shot by a wildlife documentarian, she explores voyeurism and misogyny in a profoundly moving way.

Nadia Parfan’s It’s a Date (Ukraine) is a sharp shock of a movie, its single-take energy reflecting a country plunged into war, as is Back (Netherlands), in which Yazan Rabee struggles with the trauma of escaping his Syrian homeland. Terra Mater – Mother Land by Kantarama Gahigiri (Rwanda/Switzerland) is a surrealistic and angry riposte against colonisation and appropriation, while more meditative – but no less striking – is A Woman in Makueni by Daria Belova and Valeri Aluskina (Germany), in which a man tries to see his imprisoned wife.

Three more animations round off the European fare: Eeva by Morten Tšinakov and Lucija Mrzljak (Croatia/Estonia), a wonderfully conceived piece of work that follows in the tradition of Eastern European Animation; The Waiting by Volker Schlecht (Germany), a stunningly animated work in which the disappearance of frogs from their natural habitat is re-imagined as a crime-drama; and the pulse-pounding and ominous experimental piece Happy Doom by Billy Roisz (Austria).

The full list of films screening as part of Berlinale Shorts 2023 is as follows:

8 - Anaïs-Tohé Commaret (France)
A Kind of Testament - Stephen Vuillemin (France)
A Woman in Makueni - Daria Belova, Valeri Aluskina (Germany)
All Tomorrow’s Parties - Zhang Dalei (China)
Back - Yazan Rabee (Netherlands)
The Beads - Rafaela Camelo, Emanuel Lavor (Brazil)
Bear - Morgane Frund (Switzerland)
Les Chenilles - Michelle Keserwany, Noel Keserwany (France)
Daughter and Son - Cheng Yu (China)
Daydreaming So Vividly About Our Spanish Holidays - Christian Avilés (Spain)
Dipped in Black - Matthew Thorne, Derik Lynch (Australia)
- Morten Tšinakov, Lucija Mrzljak (Croatia/Estonia)
From Fish to Moon - Kevin Contento (USA)
Happy Doom - Billy Roisz (Austria)
It’s a Date - Nadia Parfan (Ukraine)
Jill, Uncredited - Anthony Ing (UK)
Sleepless Nights - Donatienne Berthereau (France)
Terra Mater – Mother Land - Kantarama Gahigiri (Rwanda/Switzerland)
The Veiled City - Natalie Cubides-Brady (UK)
The Waiting - Volker Schlecht (Germany)

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