The full title of this documentary is Berlin Cinéma (titre provisoire) – Berlin Cinema (working title). A curious choice for a highly accomplished film which is anything but a rough-around-the-edges work in progress. But Berlin Cinema is – as its title clearly indicates – about Berlin, and also about the cinema, and perhaps with her tentative title the filmmaker wished to evoke the unfinished, ever-changing nature of both those enterprises.
While Gloor-Fadel’s camera explores the photogenic surfaces of Berlin, with its construction sites, monuments and subway stations, a collection of voices on the soundtrack speculate on the nature of the image, the difference between film and video, and the relationship between war, history, memory and the cinema. Two of these voices belong to none other than Wim Wenders and Jean-Luc Godard, and although the two men never meet during the film, the editing weaves their statements into a kind of dialogue. In some very interesting sequences, the filmmaker films Wenders shooting a fiction film, and then films him watching her footage and commenting on it. Wenders also has an interesting encounter with architect Jean Nouvel, who reminds that film is also an architectural space.
The film returns several times to the idea of the nothingness that creates meaning – a Zen-like principle that clearly refers to the technology of the moving image. In Gloor-Fadel’s hands, it also becomes a way of understanding the city of Berlin, and perhaps the idea of the city altogether. In the case of this city, which has seen so much destruction and reconstruction, the concept of “the space between” seems particularly suggestive. Late in the film, the words “Absence – Berlin – Cinema” appear. They could have served as an alternate title.
Admittedly, besides the beautiful cinematography and the philosophical musings, not much happens in the film, but it remains engrossing for its entire 106 minutes. Berlin Cinema (working title) is a rare contemporary example of documentary as essay, as meditation. It’s a film that makes you think, and makes you enjoy it.
Produced independently in 1997, the film had a slow start on the festival circuit (perhaps because of its link with Arte?), but an appearance in the “Real to Reel” documentary programme of the Toronto Film Festival seems to have helped jump-start a festival career, which will hopefully give audiences the chance to see it on the big screen, where it belongs.