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BERLINALE 2024 Panorama

Recensione: Baldiga – Unlocked Heart

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- BERLINALE 2024: Markus Stein presenta un ritratto approfondito dell'artista tedesco gay Jürgen Baldiga, noto per aver documentato la vita a Berlino Ovest durante gli anni dell'AIDS

Recensione: Baldiga – Unlocked Heart

Questo articolo è disponibile in inglese.

Today, the western part of Berlin is still a haven for gay clubs — storied venues who can draw their history back to West Berlin’s vibrant queer subculture. The ‘70s and ‘80s brought unspeakable tragedy in the form of the AIDS crisis, where the community was decimated just like that of San Francisco. This era in Berlin is documented very personally through work of a West German artist and photographer named Jürgen Baldiga, who described himself in his diaries as a “gay personality” near the end of his short life. Now, Berlin-based filmmaker Markus Stein draws from the artist’s extensive personal archives to direct Baldiga – Unlocked Heart, which enjoyed its premiere at the 74th Berlinale.

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Baldiga is the filmmaker’s second feature-length documentary chronicling the lives of gay men in Germany during the end of the 20th century. Written by Ringo Rösener and also depending heavily on the editing work of Brigitte Maria Schmidle, Stein’s film marks the second recent documentary on Baldiga after Jasco Viefhues’ 2019 film Rescue the Fire.

Born in 1959 in Essen, Baldiga moved to Berlin while in his early twenties and worked as a cook and sex worker while also pursuing creative endeavours. According to his diaries, Baldiga was most interested in documenting those at the margins of society. However, although he never stopped expressing himself through art, he struggled physically and emotionally after contracting HIV from one of his partners in his mid-twenties. From then on, he started feverishly photographing himself and his life to “stop time — or better, to capture life”, as he wrote.

This led to his massive personal archive of photos and videos, alongside a large collection of diaries, both of which Stein draws from en masse. The film takes on the voice and perspective of Baldiga by reading out excerpts from his diaries, which he frequently wrote in the third person, and is accompanied by a subtle electronic score by Manuela Schininà and Eike Hosenfeld. The second half of the film dives heavily into Baldiga coping with AIDS, with deeply emotional pieces of writing from his diaries spoken in conjunction with intimate photos of Baldiga, his friends, and his lovers. As a public figure, he sought to destigmatise AIDS while also facing newfound frustrations of his own, coming from a life filled with endless sex and partying without concern. His life with AIDS is further contextualised through interviews with German men who lived through the AIDS crisis and medical professionals commenting on the severity of the virus.

Stein smoothly combines archival footage and photos, interviews, spoken diary excerpts, and historical reenactments to create a rich portrait of the artist’s life in Berlin with a focus on his life with AIDS and how it influenced his work and his creative foci. Broken into seven titled parts, the film otherwise does not include any text, letting each interviewee and each photo or video speak for itself. Baldiga also acts as a generous retrospective of the lesser-known artist’s work, which ranges from highly explicit and staged photographs of himself to candid portraits of friends. Mostly in black and white, photos are often collaged together in different patterns in the frame, demonstrating an astounding collection of photography before Baldiga took his own life in 1993.

Baldiga – Unlocked Heart is a production of Germany’s Hoferichter & Jacobs with international sales by Germany’s Autentic.

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