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If there is any single connection in the diverse offerings that forms the Adelaide Festival’s film season In Spaces Unsuspected, it is a theme of dislocation. This is not intended as a reductive comment: the season is diverse with films from Australia, Eastern and Western Europe, Japan, with a feature from Israel and Tunisia thrown in for good measure. The selection includes a couple of international premieres (Rolf de Heer’s The Quiet Room) as well as films that have already had at least limited releases, such as Tracy Moffat’s Bedevil. A variety of genres have been selected: features on both 35 and 16 mm, work shot directly onto video, a performance piece by Adelaide artist Stephen Housten, shorts both local and international, experimental work including a retrospective from the Brothers Quay as a prelude to their inaugural feature Institute Benjamenta, and a comprehensive selection of electronic art. Even a current release, Emir Kusturica’s extraordinary Underground, has been included, an indication that program director Cecelia Cmielewski has aimed for works which may sit somewhat uncomfortably together but consequently are required to enter into an intense dialogue with each other.

Eastern Europe’s tentative experiments with Western democracy form the most obvious examples of dislocation. It also reveals that this is not so much experienced through space, but history. The former Yugoslavia currently represents the bloodiest outcome of ancient wounds both real and imagined, but for that very reason it is the hardest to understand: it is the unimaginable brought to life. Our own media certainly prefers to represent the Balkans in ethnic terms (as if those concerned weren’t all Caucasian), therefore something naturally inevitable. History in this context is rarely mentioned.

But this is where the program’s thesis comes into play. It extends well beyond issues of representation into its role as historical process: time, memory and enigma. Gary Lane’s trilogy of shorts The Stream, The Lake and The Bridge expresses this perfectly. Each film uses striking visuals to set up a conundrum of protagonists caught between impossible choices. The first and the last draw on the Balkan experience: a bridge no longer connects but becomes a site of callous betrayal, a beautiful forest stream is where a woman is driven to murder those she loves just to survive. It is Lane’s centre-piece that recalls that such horrors are not the prerogative of the former Communist block. The Lake depicts Western democracy’s own historical aporia. A young Jewish woman who conducts tours of a concentration camp is horrifically attacked by a neo-Nazi. Her successful attempt to escape leaves him drowning in a lake. Should she save him? In depicting history as personal aporia, Lane succeeds in representing it not as linear inevitability but as a riddle, as profoundly disturbing as the oracles of the Ancients. History is not what we remember, it’s what we forget.

This is also central to I Was Hamlet, in part an extended interview with the German playwright Heiner Müller. It is impossible, he says, to speak truthfully about what was East Germany. He can’t condemn it—everyone else does—nor defend it. It represents the cause celebre of the moment, the ultimate criminal state, unique in that its secret files have been exposed for all to see. Its real function now, he argues, is not to reveal the truth but to overlay the memory of Nazi fascism, to disrupt the accuracy of an already imperfect memory of Germany’s recent past. That I Was Hamlet also uses a variety of digitally generated effects to build on Müller’s commentary is no accident. It recalls that ultimate essay-film—Chris Marker’s Sunless—which examines the role of cinema and, by implication that technology which will supersede the cinema, in filling in our historical aphasia. Like Marker’s project, In Spaces Unsuspected uses cinema to investigate these aphasic effects in a variety of situations: the women of Tunisia, the experience of contemporary Japan, the experiences of Australia’s migrant and indigenous peoples.

As Marker shows, it requires extremely sophisticated accounts to successfully apply concepts like aphasia, repression and foreclosure to history, let alone to connect the massive shifts of historical process to the intimacies of personal recollection. Accordingly, the program undertakes an exploration in interior worlds, mapping phantasmagoria as a mirror of more material forces. Included here are diverse films: Chantal Ackerman’s Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 60s in Brussels, and Rolf de Heer’s The Quiet Room. It includes a selection of electronic work curated by Kari Hanet under the rubric of New Territories, dedicated to notions of memory and identity. It also provides the perfect place to insert the Brothers Quay, whose films extend the Surrealist’s pre-occupation with the unconscious into their own uniquely visceral landscapes.

Such intersections of the personal and the political lead to two Adelaide produced shorts: Tony Kastanos’s In Search Of… and Patricia Balfour and Joya Steven’s Atavistic Traces. Traces renders this intersection in mythic terms—the newly dead gathering up the footsteps of their mortal lives—thereby rendering the familiar as strange as an analogy for the migrant experience. Liz Burke’s salute to Australian horse-racing, The Needy and the Greedy traverses similar terrain from a very different cultural perspective. And anyone familiar with the films of Ross Gibson and the videos of Geoff Weary and Mark Jackson will also understand how their own pre-occupations fit this theme.

Mark Hawker’s Zombietown returns us to the former Yugoslavia, specifically Belgrade. It demonstrates how resistance to history’s relentless tanks genuinely does occur in the least suspected places. In this case it is Belgrade’s youth adopting a post-punk culture centred on a quasi-legal radio station, an act of cultural defiance in the face of the inexplicable, and in a city that should by rights be browbeaten and haunted but is surprisingly dynamic.

The relationship between memory, record and technology which marks out the cinema’s unique powers has been given full throttle. Given its context within a festival dominated by live performance, this provides a particularly suitable emphasis.


In Spaces Unsuspected screens at the Mercury Cinema, Adelaide March 7-13 with session times of 5.30, 7.30 & 9.30pm plus Saturday March 9 at 2.00pm.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 26

© John McConchie; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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