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No Place Like Home: Notes on Panorama Screening #2, Sweet Home Barbarism

N'Etre

 

The Panorama screenings, as the name suggests, tend to be all about broadening horizons. So it might seem a bit contradictory at first to program a Panorama program on the theme of ‘Home’. While the idea of broadening horizons conjures up a sense of reckless abandon in the face of the unknown, Home reminds you of a safe place from your childhood, a place where warmth and snugness rule, and where the greatest adventures are found in old books. But after watching the videos from the screening, it becomes clear how inseparably these two sentiments are linked. We take the roots of our childhood with us wherever we go, after all, and an artist trying to define or grasp a sense of what is ‘home’ to him will have to dig so deep that the journey is an even more dangerous one than those outside yourself.

After a bizarre mix-up of Mary Poppins and The Exorcist called Clean Your Room, courtesy of People Like Us, the screening shows three slow, meditative reflections on childhood and identity. Appropriately enough, all three tackle the subjects in a very unique, personal way. Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller’s Meteor shows a dreamlike collection of grainy science-fiction clips, with a slow, poetic voice-over. The effect reminded me a bit of the films of Terrence Malick, if he would have been more into astronomy.

Katrin Olafsdottir’s Ofaeddur Ungi (which Google Translate tells me means Unborn Young) has a similarly dreamy feeling, but instead of old film clips, Olafsdottir uses surreal 8-mm scenes. Most memorable, perhaps, is the image of a woman covered in oil who is smoking a cigarette. There is a large focus on houses, and the same actors keep returning, which creates a sense of family memories. Think Bergmans’ Wild Strawberries by way of a Sigur Rós video.

Olfa Ben Ali’s N’Être completes this informal trilogy. Although this film also uses associative, memory-like voiceover, it is visually the most unique of the three. Instead of shaky clips, we get stark, fixed-camera takes of the outsides of French apartment complexes, all framed perfectly symmetrical. The only people we see are tiny figures standing on their balconies. Over these images, we hear several women talk about national identity, religion, and memories. Despite the visual focusing mainly on concrete, the feel of the movie is very human, and it offers a beautiful insight in what’s going on behind the exterior.

After these three, we find Hypercrisis, a look inside a Soviet retreat for artists. Inside the most depressingly ugly building I have ever seen, several men and women are sitting around in white coats, apparently doing nothing but eating and cleaning. The only color comes from the sweater of a man who is taking a walk, struggling with writer’s block. The film is almost unbearably slow, which gives us an interesting insight into the soul-crushing ennui of these characters. I’m not sure yet whether it’s the most depressing or the funniest of the entire program.

Next we have Jessie Mott and Steve Reinke’s bizarre animation Blood and Cinnamon. Their characters, all imaginary animals painted in watercolors, talk about pregnancy and parenthood with a distressing matter-of-factness. It creates an atmosphere of almost brutal vulnerability, and although I found it creepy as hell, I was surprised how touched I was at the end of it. This combination of violence and affection is also present in the closing piece of the screening, Piotr Sulkowski’s Rozmowa. In it, he shows us the first conversation between two convicted inmates who have been slowly been building a relationship over mail for the past seven or so years. The conversation is incredibly tender, but Sulkowski doesn’t shy away from the fact that both these people have killed in the past. It’s a fascinating insight into just how broad the human condition really is.

The interesting thing about the idea of ‘Home’ is that it can only be defined by distance. We realize where we came from only when we’ve gone away, something that’s true both in space and in time. Our idea of a home might be nothing more than a cherished memory, and even though we always feel it flowing inside us, trying to define is like catching a flame. Olfa Ben Ali probably described it best in her video: “Childhood is like the air in a bubble of strawberry flavored bubble gum.”