We’ve been lucky. For the second year in a row, in the midst of a seemingly unprecedented pandemic, the Ghent Film Festival could take place under relatively normal circumstances. And with it the Young Critics Workshop. Much has been said and written about the effects of the global health crisis, but defining these or looking at the films that were on offer solely through their lens is of little interest to us here at photogénie. However, whenever we go to the cinema, we bring the outside world in with us. It can hardly be a coincidence then, that just as the essays coming out of the 2020 edition showed a hankering for communality and physicality, 2021’s output is connected by a heightened sensitivity to the borders between the real and the artificial.
For Hanne Schelstraete, Annette (2021) is not Leos Carax’s first musical. Far from it. Music and performance, essential characteristics of the genre, have always played an integral part in his cinema. Through them, he examines the tension between the real and staged, calling into doubt that a clear distinction can even be made. Annette takes these themes that were already very much present in his earlier work, and puts them center stage.
Not only music, but sound in general is the bedrock of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria (2021). Elusive as it may be, it is the film’s soundscape that firmly roots the film in a “just that-ness” that does not seek to explain. What it does do, is question. For Luise Mörke, Apichatpong’s use of digital imagery for a crucial scene in a film that was otherwise shot on 35mm film, emphasizes Memoria’s lack of meaning in a traditional sense.
A similar tension between the digital and the analog is at play in the title cards that indicate the passing of time in Miguel Gomes and Maureen Fazendeiro’s The Tsugua Diaries (2021). In the film’s reversed chronology and isolated setting, Jack Seibert finds a complex juxtaposition between “the human time of daily tasks and the universal time of the world’s problems”. The time we spend with The Tsugua Diaries is time lived by its characters.
The experience of time has grown elastic for the main characters in Florian Zeller’s The Father (2020), Viggo Mortensen’s Falling (2020) and Gaspar Noé’s Vortex (2021). These three portrayals of the effects of dementia on one’s sense of identity all play an intricate game with time and space. Jovana Gjorgjiovska explores how the filmmakers translate their characters’ diffused identities into narrative.
Nazeeh Alghazawneh ties his personal experience with depression and its physical implications to questions of reality and shared perspective. He finds revelatory potential in a scene in Memoria that is ostensibly too simple to “work”. The mental anguish Tilda Swinton’s character experiences can be abated through transcribing what she hears in her head into reality, by sharing it with another human being.
All of these texts are grounded in shared experiences. The films discussed are films watched together, films talked about, not digitally and therefore spatially separate, but in a shared physical space. That they call into doubt our experience of reality is a testament to the power cinema derives from existing as both a mental and a physical space. Film criticism thrives when both these spaces are shared. Films watched together, films thought (about) together.