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BERLINALE 2024 Forum

Review: The Human Hibernation

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- BERLINALE 2024: Spanish media artist Anna Cornudella Castro imagines human nature anew in her visually arresting debut film

Review: The Human Hibernation

With her debut feature, Spanish artist and ESCAC graduate Anna Cornudella Castro imagines a different kind of natural order. The Human Hibernation [+see also:
interview: Anna Cornudella
film profile
]
reconfigures the ecosystem as we know it by placing humans in a lower tier: imagining them as creatures who have to hibernate during the year’s coldest months. By stripping humanity of its omnipotence in this strangely poetic way, Cornudella Castro and her co-writer Lluís Sellarès suggest a profound alternative to Anthropocene logic. The Human Hibernation, which was part of this year’s Berlinale Forum strand, is an example of what non-human cinema can be, when it acknowledges its anthropogenic limitations.

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Nighttime lingers in a long, contemplative take in the film’s opening scene. It’s winter, frosty and silent, and not the right time for humans to be awake. Yet, Erin rises in search of his sister, but the freezing temperatures show him no mercy. When spring finally comes, it’s Carla’s turn to search for her brother, without a clue as to what his loss might mean. Aided by cinematographer Arthur Pol Camprubí and editor Marc Roca Vives, The Human Hibernation joins Carla in a prolonged, meditative exploration of a world that can easily be dreamt up. In fact, the film does a lot to map out complex human-animal geographies as shared spaces of cohabitation: in a room, in a field of grass, in a frame. Cows, chickens, goats and even racoons slide in and out of visibility, remaining radically disentangled from the anthropocentric logic of agrarian labour and pet relations.

Before making this film, Cornudella Castro worked in theatre, film and video art, and her approach is informed by science and cinema alike. As a result, she approaches a documentary aesthetic through a script that’s openly fictional, to make an ecofeminist point about how fictitious our present social reality is. In this double entendre between reality and fiction, humans remain the mediating factor. When the actors (Clara Muck Dietrich, Demetrius Hollimon, Jane Hubbell, Brian Stevens and Neil O’Neil, as vaguely outlined characters) speak, their speech is formal and stylised, but the content speaks of grief and spiritual transformations.

Cornudella Castro strikes this fine balance almost by magic: humans, animals and plants all exist together, with the camera tending to all of them with equal dignity and respect. In other words, no shot is reserved only for humans, no long take is exclusively granted to animals, and all creatures are given space and care without the extra layers of zoomorphism or anthropomorphism often associated with slow and experimental fiction. What comes to the forefront is the question of society, its systems and how sustainable they can be, and whether we’re able to spot similarities between our own imperfect reality as inhabitants of this world and that utopian, filmic one. What can we learn from this particular way of imagining a utopian order?

The Human Hibernation is a Spanish production by Barcelona-based Japonica Films and Batiak Films in Madrid.

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