Berlinale 2012


Colosseum Berlin

It is cold in Berlin, it snows, yet, I am excited! It’s Berlinale time, another round of the Berlin film festival. A week standing in lines for tickets, displacing myself from one cinema to another, trying to grab a bite in between films. After last year’s extensive coverage, I still managed to submerge myself a bit despite being in town only for a couple of days. My main theatres this year were, surprisingly, the Colosseum at Schönhauser Allee, one of my favourite spots, a bit off the crowded Potsdamer Platz, and the classic Delphi at Zoologischer Garten for the Forum programme.

And in short, here are the movies that I managed to see this year:

The 62nd Berlinale opened for me with The Last Friday (Al Juma Al Akheira), a detailed contemplation of the life of a former middle class car seller and expat worker in the Gulf from Jordan who now struggles to get along while trying to reconnect with his former life. In long beautiful takes of carefully constructed images an increasingly divided society emerges that is faced with communication problems, between men and women, father and son. It is fascinating to see the isolation of the characters, each following their own dreams. While change is happening throughout the Middle East, director Yahya Alabdallah focuses on the very personal situation of change. After the film, Yahya recalls that the long shots he used to describe the lives of his characters are based on his own experience as a kid when he was used to sit in the back of the room as a spectator of the family life, boring himself to death. His movie, yet, is anything else than boring!

Then, The Woman in the Septic Tank (Ang Babae sa Septic Tank) by Marlon Rivera from the Philippines, describes a group of young film makers planning a film that takes advantage of Western and film festival clichés of depicting poverty to reach fame and win Golden Bears, Oscars or Palms. The movie manages to change our perspective on how to film a delicate issue as poverty revealing the stereotypes involved and results in actually not making a film about poverty at all, but really much more an entertaining view on a group of young artists doing a film with a stellar performance by Filipino movie star Eugene Domingo. There is much more to tell from the countries around the globe than always reducing them to poverty, misery or drug trafficking. Wonderful by the way how the movie plays with the different genres of drama, documentary and musical!

Kuma, by Umut Dag, my last Sunday film, manages to tell a story of the forced marriage of a young girl with an older and married man without the baggage of political discussion, but centered around the nucleus of the familiy. While some elements of the story are a bit stretched and some a bit obvious, Umut creates a warm portrait of the life in a traditional Turkish family living in Vienna.

Meteora (Metéora), the Greek competition entry by Spiros Stathoulopoulos, tells the love story between a monk and a nun. And that’s it. The film lives through the use of some beautiful imaginative animation and the strength of its images, the mere landscape that surrounds the monasteries. Just for the one sublime moment of bells filling the huge space of the Friedrichstadtpalast theatre, the movie was worth watching.

Sister (L’Enfant d’en haut) by director Ursula Meier was my favourite movie this year. It is the story of the young boy Simon who has to take care of his sister Louise (without telling too much of the plot here) in a ski resort in the French Swiss Alps. A social drama that step by step digs deeper into the dark reality of a life alongside the winter joys in the mountains.  Well scripted, two strong actors, and snow (although it never snows during the film) there is not much more you need from a movie.

I wasn’t sure if I would manage to see Spain (Spanien), on Tuesday afternoon, and I was a couple of minutes late, but I am happy I did run to catch it. Carefully constructed characters, all in search for something better, a better life, the words to speak to keep love, yet all of them fail. But director Anja Salomonowitz, with a background in making documentaries, fills the characters with humor and compassion, on the backdrop of carefully researched social realities such as human smuggling, immigration politics in Austria and addiction to gambling.

Finally Living/Building (Habiter/Construir), a documentary by Clémence Ancelin who visited the construction site of a road through the Chad and simply recorded the different people that live and work around the street, French engineers, workers, Nomads, villagers. Without own commentary, her images speak through a strong sense for detail and an eye for the articles of daily use. A life in the desert, entschleunigt, away from a rapid changes of our day-to-days.

In many ways, the Berlinale this year was about shifting and new perspectives. A different take on filming festival movies, on forced marriage, on telling a story about living in a ski resort, not from the slopes but from the apartments in the valley. And finally, as in Living/Building, not showing any perspective at all, without comments, only people talking about themselves leaving the spectator to form an opinion.

I can’t tell if the official bear winners deserved to win, I only saw two in the competition, but I am happy to see the wonderful snow film (the lack of which I mentioned last year) Sister having received an award. Although I could have imagined 12-year-old Simon played by Kacey Mottet Klein winning a bear.

So, this was my all too short but still very rich Berlinale experience this year. Which movies did you see? And which should I definitely not miss should they come to the theatres, or netflix at some point?

Oh, and one final thing: the first time in years I didn’t buy the Berlinale bag! It was just too bad and cheap, in design, material and form. But this deserves another post!

Delphi Berlin

Borders. Who crosses them? How do you pass them? How long does it take? How much does it cost? Do you have to walk, drive, swim, fly? Can you cross a border? Where is the line, exactly? What is in between? What was the last line I crossed? How long did I stay in between: One foot on one side, the other on the new terrain.

Borders are fascinating. I remember myself standing on one side of a border, I don’t recall if I was looking over the strait of Gibraltar, or just observing the next meter through the poles marking the border, to Spain, actually Britain, or the United States of America, simply being amazed by the pure physical fact of looking into another country, another world, another life. At some point, someone came and said: Here is the line. And here I am, staring across the Rhine, to France.

You can develop a relationship with a border (like in Luis Humberto Chrosthwaite wonderful short story, in Instrucciones para cruzar la frontera). Border: female or male? In German, she is female. Die Grenze. I like that. She invites you, she becomes distant, you adore her, you hate her, you get to know all her wrinkles, you grow old.

What happens, if she suddenly leaves you? From one day to another. What happens to the lines on the maps?

Doesn’t the border continue to live in your head?

I love these images by Josef Schulz. He photographs abandoned border stations in Europe. Poetic, lonely, and fragile.

Thanks to Ronny at Kraftfuttermischwerk for discovering them!

Paradise Ahead


Does paradise exist on earth?

(Graffiti on the border fence, Tijuana-side, 1999)

I am very excited to join the course Issues in International Creative Nonfiction: Immigration at the University of Iowa starting this Monday! It’s an international distance-learning course, part of their International Writing Program.

Some of the books we are going to read are Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea, What is the What by Dave Eggers, Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, and Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. More on the program here. I am looking forward to working with Stephanie Elizondo Griest and my good friend Mariana Martinez!

Here are a couple of thoughts to start off with:

I am a migrant. Yet, with my G4 diplomatic visa, an eight-cubic-meter box containing my life thus far, my arrival to a new country, this time the US, previously to Mexico, to Morocco, (how do you call migrating back to your own country after many years?), looked quite different from the millions of immigrants arriving, far too often, just barely with their lives.

From the individual to the general, some numbers: an estimated 214 million international migrants worldwide. Migrants: the 5th most populous state. Migrants and remittances: an economy of US$ 440 billion, bigger than Belgium, Sweden, Portugal.

Immigration depends on the point of view. From your point of view, I am an immigrant. From mine, I emigrated. This tells me something very important about migration. It is about understanding: you, myself, your culture, my culture, and the culture we form together. Border cultures in Tijuana, Tangiers (the Interzone!). The melting and separating of nationalities in cities with a stream of international workers, New York, Washington, Berlin (Berlin could classify for border culture as well, some would even argue still).

In Germany, immigrants were considered guests, the so-called guest workers, in the expectation that they would return once they’ve done the job. Suddenly, policy makers were surprised when they didn’t. Turks, Italians, Greeks, they all build a new home in the country they came to work in. Maybe they thought of going back, some do, but what about their kids, their kid’s kids? Considering immigrants as guests excluded them. It also started to challenge the concept of nationalities: one passport, two passports, three passports? (Great column by the Economist)

I only have one passport (a very good one when it comes to visas, not like a Colombian, or a Pakistani). But what is my identity? German (I might even precise south-western German) grown, shaped in Tijuana, Mexico, then Berlin, Morocco, Washington (which, I must say, is not = US, especially in a workplace that is predominantly Latin). Why do I enjoy Japanese and Korean movies? Why do I read more Latin American than German literature? Why do I listen to German electronic music?

How does this all fit together?

And finally, in which language do I write? I don’t know. Each language sounds different. I start in one, and end in another. The same poem sounds different in German than in English than in Spanish. Words migrate, have to migrate.

Hopefully, I’ll be posting some of what I’ll be writing on this blog.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, on immigration, on the texts to come, on whatever related. Definitely look out for some posts and thoughts, images, on immigration, borders and related issues.



scheint durch die Lamellen des Fensters,
die kalte Luft im Gesicht,
weiches Blau.

Die Nacht ist schon wieder weit weg,
unwirklich, in ihrer Wiederholbarkeit.

Kurze Texte hin und her,
Freitag Abend,
vielleicht, eine Chance,
oder die nächstbeste,

dann, verworfene Pläne,
billige Musik zu laut,
Bier wird zu billigem Tequila
Reißleine, good-bye.

Und jetzt,
Restgeruch verflogen,
neuer Versuch,
eine neue Nacht.

shines through the slat blinds,
cold air in my face,
mellow blue.

The night’s far away again,
unreal, in its repetitiveness.

Short messages, back and forth,
Friday night,
maybe, a chance
or the next-best one.

Then, plans dismissed,
cheap music to loud,
beer turning to cheap tequila
ripcord, good-bye.

And now,
with the last smell evaporated,
next try,
a new night.

I came across this really nice feature to create your own, classic mixtape at one of my favourite blogs Das Kraftfuttermischwerk. The great thing about Everyone’s Mixtape is that it draws on YouTube, Soundcloud and Vimeo!

So, here’s my very special 2011 melodies mixtape for you. As you’ll hear, 2011 was a lot about textures, rare sounds, a lot of feeling, some folk, and a lot of remembering the 80’s, the 90’s, shoegaze and Twin Peaks, but also some amazing electronic songs.

There was one song that really blew my mind and make me shiver: Gang Gang Dance Glas Jar. A song like this happens only about once every 5 years. Despite its 11 minutes it had to be on the list, and the cassette had to start with it.

Enjoy, this is for you!

(Note: You have to click on the image, as it can’t be embedded as part of the post. I really have to do my own wordpress hosting.)

The playlist:

Gang Gang Dance – Glas Jar
Zomby – Natalia’s Song
John Maus – Quantum Leap
PJ Harvey – The Glorious Land
Wild Beasts – Reach a Bit Further
Still Corners – I Wrote In Blood
Zodiacs – Faraway Friend
Twin Sisters – Kimmi In A Ricefield
Lana Del Rey – Video Games
Clams Casino – Motivation
Ada – Faith
Robag Wruhme – Wupp Dek
The Field – Is This Power

Any song I missed?