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BERLINALE 2024 Panorama

Review: I’m Not Everything I Want to Be

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- BERLINALE 2024: Photographer Libuše Jarcovjáková, dubbed the “Nan Goldin of Soviet Prague”, is the focus of Czech director Klára Tasovská’s first solo documentary feature

Review: I’m Not Everything I Want to Be

The “Nan Goldin of Soviet Prague” was what The New York Times called Czech photographer Libuše Jarcovjáková when her works were shown at the prestigious Les Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles in 2019. Indeed, this is one fitting comparison to give a taste of Jarcovjáková’s idiosyncratic style and preferred subject matter – work, sex, freedom, depression and introspection – but when considered within the context of Soviet times, it barely scratches the surface. Filmmaker Klára Tasovská was originally commissioned by Czech television to make a documentary portrait of the artist, but the end result, I’m Not Everything I Want to Be, premiering in the Berlinale Panorama, is much more of a cinematic wonder than a TV film.

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For her solo directorial feature debut, Tasovská actually takes a step back. I’m Not Everything I Want to Be is as personal to Libuše Jarcovjáková as her photographs are: a slideshow of them makes up the film’s 90-minute running time, while the artist narrates her own diary entries taking us through life in Prague, Tokyo and Berlin between 1970 and 1989. Seriality is what characterises Jarcovjáková’s work in the way she’d take consecutive photos to then develop and keep (instead of discarding all but one, deemed “the best”), which makes a photo-essay film the most logical choice. But there is much more than simply assembling a timeline that makes the film a worthy portrait; it brings out the cinematic qualities of the photographs themselves and their ability to document a life through its ambivalences.

Between wanting to belong and never quite belonging, the photographs show Jarcovjáková at home, working in a printing factory, in clubs, in a hospital bed, with a male lover, with a female lover and after her abortion, as well as snapshots of life in Czechoslovakia, Japan and West Germany as she experienced them, both lonely and miraculous. I’m Not Everything I Want to Be returns to dualities and dilemmas again and again, but always remains faithful to the painful realisation that, for Jarcovjáková, being who she is (a non-conforming artist) was already a dilemma.

The film embodies its conviction through its form, too, by presenting a dynamic way of editing the slideshow to mark the “slow” and “fast-paced” periods in the life of the artist. Static images feel fully animated, not only because they’re lined up one after the other in quick succession, but also thanks to the sound effects accompanying them: there’s ambient noise and foley to match a shot of, say, a house party, people talking or a chugging printing press. Oliver Torr, Prokop Korb (badfocus) and Adam Matej create a contemporary soundscape of minimalist tracks and dance music that eschews any nostalgia that might be looming over such a film.

Indeed, forgoing nostalgia is yet another way to honour the intimate and direct effect of seeing life documented so unapologetically. Jarcovjáková, in fact, speaks in the present tense and in short sentences, sometimes beginning with, “Here, I…”: an adverb to both take you out of the narration by referring to a photograph and bind you to an ever-unfolding now. To streamline a narrative that lives and breathes, Tasovská collaborated with editor Alexander Kashcheev on a screenplay, of sorts. However, the movie remains Libuše’s through and through, like a responsible and honest portrait should be.

I’m Not Everything I Want to Be cannot (and doesn’t want to) be a filmic exhibition, even if it showcases a big part of Jarcovjáková’s work and archive. More importantly, by placing her photographs in such a timeline and letting them occupy the same space in a continuous stream, the documentary draws attention to how Libuše manages to overcome the limits of framing – be it in a photograph or in a film – and to propose a complete portrait of herself as a woman, as an artist and as a dilemma that by no means needs to be solved.

I’m Not Everything I Want to Be was produced by Prague-based Somatic Films, in co-production with nutprodukcia (Slovakia) and Austria’s Mischief Films. Square Eyes handles its international sales.

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