Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Berlin International Film Festival

Part II

This is the fifth installment of an ongoing series written for the blog by Peter Rorvik. Peter is the Director of the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, as well as Director of the Durban International Film Festival.

Winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize awarded in memory of the festival founder for a work of particular innovation, Tabu, by Portuguese director Miguel Gomes, is set in colonial Africa (Mozambique) around the 1950s/60s. After a teasing opening scenario in which an explorer meets his end amongst crocodiles in Africa, the film begins a slow unraveling of memory through an elderly Portuguese woman and then later, an old lover. Unafraid to test our comprehension, Gomes deploys a lot of freedom with the film structure, leaving the viewer with work to do, especially in the beginning parts. Slowly we piece together who was who back then and who they are now. Africa was adventurous for colonials, but somehow a safe adventure, as there was always home in Europe to fall back on. That’s if accidents didn’t befall you. Far from the restraints of mother Europe, adventures in Africa were liberating to these free-sprits, and too much freedom has its price. Plantation lifestyles, deliberately understated master/servant relations, deliciously counterpointed with a pop music band, provide the context for this intertwining complex of narratives. An illicit love affair sparks events which run out of control, and the adventure becomes more of a nightmare. Using voice-over narration partially interspersed with written rather than spoken dialogue, and gorgeously shot in 16mm black and white, the filmic style is marvelously evocative of the era. It makes one think of Karen Blixen but there is far greater authenticity about this film than Out of Africa and other depictions of life in colonial Africa. Uneven and uncertain at times, it becomes clear that the director is setting us up for a seemingly absurd African adventure, but the redeeming irony is that it is all absolutely plausible in Africa. Laden with cinematic experiment, Tabu is an auteur film that works by leaving you thinking both about its characters and the telling of its story.

So many good films, so much choice in Berlin, and then there is the EFM component too. A major gathering point for industry heavyweights, the European Film Market (EFM) is an international trade fair for film and audiovisual content, and a lot of business gets done here. In busy restaurants and hotels meals are accompanied by paperwork and signatures. Nearly 8,000 participants from 100 countries attended the EFM this year, including 1,700 buyers looking at latest films that were officially selected for the Berlinale, alongside work-in-progress projects still in production and back catalogue off-loads. Besides the official festival screenings there were an additional 1,138 EFM screenings, which gives one some understanding of the size and scope of the overall Berlinale operation. 2012 also marked the 10th edition of Talent Campus, where 350 young filmmakers from around the world come together for workshops, seminars and networking events in what has proven to be a vibrant incubator servicing the industry.

Now that Berlin is over, let’s look forward to the next big springtime festival: Cannes!