Understanding the world with Berlinale Shorts 2021
- This year’s Berlinale Shorts show us – pandemic aside – there are still plenty of things going on in the world that need confronting as well as a raft of talented directors creating diverse films
Due to the very nature of their production, short films can react with a creditable immediacy to current events. Yet – with a couple of notable exceptions – the 20 films that make up the selection of Berlinale Shorts 2021 don’t directly deal with the pandemic or the isolation of the past year. Indeed, the shorts that will be vying for the Golden Bear – going under the subtitle of “Tell Me About Yourself So That I Can Understand the World” – remind us that, despite the preoccupations of 2020, the world still continues to face many other issues which humanity is constantly struggling to make sense of. With a diverse range of genres, approaches – involving directors from cinema, theatre and fine-art backgrounds – and established talents and new voices, the 2021 iteration is a fascinating snapshot of both the state of the world and cinema on the cutting edge.
One eagerly anticipated film will be Diogo Costa Amarante’s A Present Light, which sees the Portuguese director return to the competition after nabbing the Golden Bear for his 2016 film Small Town. More narratively straightforward than his previous effect (though also with a certain dreamlike charm), A Present Light is an affecting account of a heartbroken man who – after suffering an accident – meets the vivacious Diana. It’s a delicate study of loneliness and sadness that – despite the subject matter and Costa Amarante’s exploration of dark streets and shadows – still offers a glimmer of hope and a promise of renewal. Also returning to Berlin will be artist-filmmakers Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, who won the Audi Short Film Award in 2019 for their effort RISE. Their latest work, One Hundred Steps, blends documentary and fiction. In two stately homes – one in Ireland and one in France – the rooms are redolent of cultures from across the world as people sing, dance and create. But how these diverse cultures have arrived at these places speaks of a past of colonialism and oppression. Strange Object (Miranda Pennell, UK) also deals with colonialism as pictures of the past remind us how history is written by the victors and narratives are shaped by the powerful.
French film school Le Fresnoy will make a good showing at the 2021 Berlinale with three films in the selection. The Men Who Wait (Truong Minh Quý, France/Singapore) sees an older man hang around the forest looking for sex. When he finds a willing partner – a man of a similar age to him – the two reflect on the secrets and lies that make up their lives, all the while not knowing that they are being watched. It’s an unashamed and uncompromising exploration of sexuality that is suffused with an air of sadness alongside the shock of the new and hints of the voyeuristic. One Thousand and One Attempts to Be an Ocean (Wang Yuyan, France) is a kaleidoscopic and hypnotic experimental work that veers from the playful to the serious, while the fiction-documentary hybrid A Love Song in Spanish (Ana Elena Tejera, France/Panama) is a powerful and evocative exploration of dictatorships, both societal and personal.
Olga Lucovnicova’s My Uncle Tudor (Belgium/Portugal/Hungary) is an amazingly raw and personal documentary, in which the director confronts a relative who caused her great harm in the past, as the banal tranquillity of the present day and old age clashes with the traumatic memories of previous years. It’s an often disturbing piece of work, but offers some hope of catharsis and healing. The banal and the terrible are also juxtaposed in the emotional documentary Your Street (Güzin Kar, Switzerland) in which the mundanity of everyday life on a suburban street is contrasted with the life of the person it is named after.
Ulu Braun’s Glittering Barbieblood (Germany) is a brilliant reflection of the reality of the capitalist system and the disillusion felt by some pursing alternative lifestyles, which utilises a realist aesthetic to create a telling and pointed tale. With an elliptical narrative and a strong sense of the surreal, it’s a compelling film.
Animation is also on offer with the likes of Nicolas Keppens’ Easter Eggs (Belgium/France/Netherlands), a dark story of teenage friendship that comes across like Beavis and Butthead as directed by the Dardenne Brothers, as well Sasha Svirsky’s Vadim on a Walk (Russia), which is a chaotic and absurd response to the pandemic.
Here is the full selection of Berlinale Shorts 2021:
A Love Song in Spanish – Ana Elena Tejera (France/Panama)
A Present Light – Diogo Costa Amarante (Portugal)
Blastogenesis X – Conrad Veit, Charlotte Maria Kätzl (Germany)
Day Is Done – Zhang Dalei (China)
Easter Eggs – Nicolas Keppens (Belgium/France/Netherlands)
Glittering Barbieblood – Ulu Braun (Germany)
International Dawn Chorus Day – John Greyson (Canada)
More Happiness – Livia Huang (USA)
Motorcyclist’s Happiness Won’t Fit Into His Suit – Gabriel Herrera (Mexico)
My Uncle Tudor – Olga Lucovnicova (Belgium/Portugal/Hungary)
One Hundred Steps – Bárbara Wagner, Benjamin de Burca (France/Germany)
One Thousand and One Attempts to Be an Ocean – Wang Yuyan (France)
Rehearsal – Michael Omonua (Nigeria)
Strange Object – Miranda Pennell (UK)
The Men Who Wait – Truong Minh Quý (France/Singapore)
Vadim on a Walk – Sasha Svirsky (Russia)
Window – Edgar Jorge Baralt (USA)
Young Hearts – Émilie Vandenameele (France)
Your Street – Güzin Kar (Switzerland)
Zonder Meer – Meltse Van Coillie (Belgium)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.