On February 15, the 3rd Woche der Kritik (Berlin Critics' Week) presented the world premiere of the first feature-length work by Alexandre Koberidze, a student at the German film and television school Berlin (dffb), whose highly original short films, among others Looking Back Is Grace (Der Fall, 2014) and Colophon (2015), have earned him recognition and mentions at festivals like Oberhausen. His new film Let the Summer Never Come Again bends notions of visuality and storytelling in a hyper-present re-interpretation of silent cinema. As is the custom of the Critics’ Week, we asked two guests to share their thoughts with the audience after the screening: Pip Chodorov and Ruth Anderwald. But to get the debate started, we invited them to a little exchange before the projection took place.
Pip Chodorov studied film semiotics and cognitive science. He has been working with film, in particular experimental film, on many different levels: as a filmmaker, teacher and distributor. Pip is the founder of Re:Voir Video, The Film Gallery and L’Abominable in Paris, also a moderator of the FrameWorks mailing list on experimental film culture. Ruth Anderwald is an artist and a curator. She has been collaborating with Loenard Grond since 1999, curating a series of events titled HASENHERZ with him since 2012. She has also been working on the artistic research project on-dizziness.com, exploring dizziness as an artistic resource and a potential for knowledge.
This research is the base for our discussion of Alexandre’s film. We invited the participants of our debate to start an exchange beforehand, as the starting point to a discussion should be as open as the film it draws its inspiration from.
DENNIS VETTER (Woche der Kritik): How could we describe “vertigo”?
Vertigo points to a physical reaction. States of vertigo are linked to movements, to a loss of orientation and destination. In the face of great depths and intense dynamics our perspectives become unclear. And such a lack of clarity might allow for new insights, become linked to restless, chaotic and erratic world views. Maybe its those world views that are the most inspiring? Not only individuals can lose their orientation in vertigo, but communities and whole societies as well: when there is an abundance of information, an overload of impressions, when the foundations of social order fall out of focus. Vertigo confuses us, it creates a condition of vulnerability but it also sparks forces of unexpected change.
Cinema and its dizzying, superhuman screens can create spaces of vertigo, spaces that have the power to sensually overwhelm us. Both in avant-garde and blockbuster cinema: our senses loose their coordinates when arrangements of movement, surround sound, and montages of contrasting realities take over the consciousness. Reality grows larger than life in such moments, natural time starts to stagger. Impressions from all corners of the world become immediate, circulating before and behind attentive eyes, amidst the darkness of a space that allows for a permanent rediscovery of the outside world. When cinema unbalances the real, it has already changed us. Vertigo describes a transformation.
This transformation, which thoughts does it spark in you? What relations to it can you discover in your memory, and in your experiences with Alexandre Koberidze’s new film Let the Summer Never Come Again?
PIP CHODOROV: My first reaction concerns the effect of flicker. I noticed several scenes in the movie making use of intense flickering light. And also oscillations in the story between what we expect and what we see, like a flickering of attention.
Of course all films (on film) flicker because of the shutter in the projector—the light is cut off while the film is transported from one frame to the next. The projector shows us only a sequence of still images: it is the brain that provides the illusion of smooth motion. On the screen nothing is ever moving. More precisely, the brain creates the illusion of motion when there is no light on the screen; in the same way, we live by day and dream by night when there is no light, the brain creating the images in the intervals between the days.
Even if this "movie" was shot and projected digitally, the scenes with flicker represent the cinematic apparatus and the paradox it poses: what is real and what is illusion. What do we see and how do we interpret it.
The first title card in the movie says that love has no end but that a story always does. The sense of paradox that this conjures has a strong parallel with the paradox of still and moving images: nothing ever moves but all we see is motion.
RUTH ANDERWALD: To begin with, I would like to come back to the German word “Taumel,“ that seems a thought-provoking term in relation to this film.
Taumel can be used in positive contexts: “Freudentaumel” means “dizzying joy”; it can express mixed emotions: “Im Taumel der Gefühle”—doing something inconsiderate under the influence of overwhelming emotions; or it can have a negative meaning: “eine taumelnde Wirtschaft,” a staggering economy.
The word Taumel describes mental and corporeal sensations of movement as well as a body in staggering motion, and it is used metaphorically. There is no literal definition of Taumel when it is translated into English, yet the word “dizziness” seems closest to its meanings.
The term “dizziness” can refer to experiences of vertigo, presyncope, disequilibrium, or non-specific feelings such as giddiness or light-headedness. It is associated with the sensation of spatial disorientation and lack of balance, further with instability of the mind and/or of the body.
Vertigo is a sensation of dizziness or abnormal motion resulting from a disorder of the sense of balance. It stems from the Latin “vertere”: to turn, to whirl around.
“Two days after the war started, I realised the war didn't start two days ago.”
This repeated quote from the film is what stuck with me most. It is a very clear and poetic describtion of how we experience slow and almost indeterminable transformation processes. Only when this transformative process has passed a certain limit, we can realise and accept its existence. Taumel and vertigo, too, are liminal phenomena. When starting to spin we are not yet dizzy, nervertheless, feelings of vertigo and dizziness are already developing.
Coming back to this film, both Taumel and vertigo create conditions of uncertainty. In the film we are exposed to changing and contradicting narrators: first, there is a flux of images that seem to be vacilliating between mise en scène and improvisation; a female voice telling a story of a young man; an autobiographical male narrator; intertitles leading our awareness to scenes that are peculiar (e.g. the man who forgot something) and seem of little relevance when it comes to (the main strings of narration) the story of the young man; finally there is an eclectic choice of music that appears to include a string of narration on its own.
All these paradoxes and conflicts create a feeling of uncertainty in the viewer, as it becomes unclear in the constant flux of images and stories, what will be of importance and how. This "flickering of attention" addresses the DNA of film itself. In film we never see an image for itself, but always in rememberance of the past and in expectation of the next. Not only making, but also watching a film like “Let the Summer Never Come Again,“ amounts to the constant shaping of a reality to come.
CHODOROV: One more idea comes to mind, about the image quality. I think it's important to talk about the choice of camera and the kind of communication this image conveys. A friend who works in HD, 2K and 4K told me yesterday that he is not interested in 4K because when you can't see the pixels anymore, the image disappears. I think this is an important idea in this time of technology. What is an image? A representation carries both form and content and they are equally important. This distancing from reality can add to the idea of dizziness. Here I just throw out the topic for discussion without going further.
I would also like to talk about the title of Alexandre’s film. In our previous texts we mentioned paradox and repetition and backward/forward movement in time and memory. The title is a plea to the future, or to a non-future—but to what authority? A command to stop time from moving, issued by a work of moving image. “The moving finger writes and having writ moves on.”
ALEXANDRE KOBERIDZE: A few days ago I woke up, I opened my laptop—on Georgian websites there were news about an old shopping mall which was burning all night and all morning. I started to watch a video: a lonely journalist was just standing in front of the burning building and filming. I had no sound of the video because there was some opera from last night running again on YouTube and it was a perfect soundtrack. After about 10 minutes I decided to try to hear the sound of the video—exactly in the moment I when I switched it on, some man was running nearby the camera and shouted towards it: “Is now the right time to make films?” I immediately switched the sound off again, maybe in fear of hearing some even larger questions. The video was 60 minutes long and was a rare example of an hour-long shot where it makes sense to have such a length and to be left without cuts. I know the place—I filmed there many times—also for my last film. I know how bad it is that it happened: so many people will stay without their only possibility to work, will be confronted with bank debts, there are families—throughout the video you see them, hopeless—whose entire possessions have burned. I turned the volume up again towards the end of the video: almost everyone is sure the building was burned by investors to build a modern shopping mall there. It was just 10 am by then, I hadn’t even brushed my teeth, but I already didn't know what to do with all these images I had seen and all the information. It was a hard beginning, but it was just the beginning of the day and I knew there would be more to come—more images, more information. While drinking coffee I watched a video showing the burning building shot with a drone camera. I had never seen pictures of Tbilisi like this—I felt dizzy, but it went away when I went out. I felt my encounter with these impressions was only a small story in a small town, not even worth telling to somebody I was to meet later that same day.
And how should someone ever react to me properly when I tell them that I have seen drone shots of a burning building in Tbilisi when the same morning this person might have watched a compilation of drone shots made by ISIS during their attacks?
And as this day went by the images were coming and going: images from Tbilisi, Ukraine or Syria during the news, images of commercials all over the city (the marketing people have lost control), images on screens and posters. As if these were not enough, I went to the cinema in the evening— but the pictures there were at least beautiful.
When I came home, I could not remember hardly anything – there was nothing to say about how bad I had felt in the morning, about the people around the burning shopping mall. I tried to feel the same again, but it didn’t work, I didn’t feel bad, I couldn’t—it was just too much. Pip wrote: “the brain creates the illusion of motion when there is no light on the screen.” I have a feeling that there is no moment without light left—it's just full.
And again, as Pip wrote: “we live by day and dream by night when there is no light, the brain creating the images in the intervals between the days.”
I think I don’t dream much, as it’s full of light during the day, the brain prefers to keep it dark during the night. It‘s a bit scary—dreams are important.