Berlinale 2009: Between Magic and Accident

BERLINALE 2009 Between Magic and Accident
Berlinale

The Berlinale Talent Campus #7 hosted an informational panel discussion on that elusive array of forces (popularly dubbed fate, chance, or destiny) that exert decisive influence in movies. Convened under the title “Fatal attractions—On Chance and Accidents in Cinema,” the panel, moderated by Dorothee Wenner, included Indian producer Sunil Doshi, Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, founder and CEO of Africa Movie Academy Awards, Albanian actress Arta Dobroshi, and French filmmaker Raphaël Nadjari.

Blind chance, sliding doors, sudden thunderstorms or recently-returned, long-lost relatives often mark the difference between coincidence and fate. The recipe for different genres  dictates different degrees of chance; similarly, regional particularities in the experience of uncontrollable non-human forces inform a director’s choices, providing him with the framework for his narrative. For instance, a short clip from Bollywood’s 1971 classic Pakeeza showed how ‘chance’, in the form of a rampant horde of elephants, intervenes to help dissolve a marriage that was not supposed to happen.

In a country where cinema-going almost has the importance of a religious ritual, filmic storytelling obeys strict rules of composition: following an almost linear development (beginning-middle-conclusion), the narrative ends in poetic justice.  Of necessity, good triumphs over evil, and no artifice is spared to secure that end. A by-product of the many challenges he is subjected to, the hero stands as a protector of morality and values; his unequivocal success, lavishly embroidered in color and spectacle, delights the audiences of this the cheapest form of entertainment in India. Such is the power of the expectations of the audience (aligned with the oral tradition) that the ending is written before anything else, Sunil Doshi informs us.

African cinema is no stranger to happy endings either. Struggling to emerge from the auspices of “outer forces,” i.e. external financing, African cinema is in the process of finding its own voice. In the words of its representative, the African Academy of Motion Picture encourages (young) African filmmakers to  aspire to exalted values. The depiction of good and evil, and the interaction with the supernatural/the divine forms a meaningful part of this process, with tradition and modernity balancing each other out. The need for a “feel-good” factor at the end of the movie remains the one constant in this transition.

For Raphael Nadjari, chance is instrumental: through improvisations with actors, no rehearsals, he lets his actors/chance develop the topic. As such, by bringing in testimonies from their lives, the actors share the process of film-making with the director, resulting in “truer scenes,” which encourage the more intensive attention from the audience. This “wild dialectical process”, fueled by the actors’ courage, puts the question of chance itself, rather than the finished product, the ‘film’, in the spotlight.

The short scene from “Le Silence de Lorna,” starring Arta Dobroshi, told of a woman who takes destiny in her own hands. Married to a drug-addict, she tries to divorce him by going to the police with self-inflicted injuries. A stranger perhaps even to herself, she is transformed, humanized by taking the reins of destiny in her (self-abused) hands. Eerily enough, her turmoil remains hidden inside, behind her silence; the momentous enslavement of destiny is as such deeply human.

The ensuing Q&A session threw the ball in the audience’s court, for a brief discussion of the freedom of the scriptwriters to insert any and all elements of fate or accident. Nadjari spoke in favor of deus ex machina, a subject which many filmmakers regard as taboo. To complement his view, he referred to the “philosophical” distinction between “destiny as essence” and “destiny as experience,” leaving the matter open for further exploration. Lastly, although the panelists seemed to defend a universal storytelling, and consequently a universal/all-encompassing idea of the ‘hand of destiny’, the question remains whether there is a clear rift between East and West on the question of destiny, i.e. that the latter tradition depicts the evasion of fate, whereas the former highlights its controlling power.

By Alina Floroiu (2009, Romania)

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