This is my fourth time covering the Berlinale Shorts for Directors Notes. Each year I’ve always been struck by the diversity of films on offer – ranging from animation to video art to self-reflexive documentary forms – as well as the wide-ranging filmmaking perspectives the programme brings. Being able to express a self-contained idea in just under 30 minutes, they represent cinema in its purest, most unfiltered form. This year might be the best collection yet, featuring a dazzling array of shorts that seemingly exist in the porous border between dreams and reality, seamlessly moving between different modes of filmmaking expression. Avoiding standard representations and simplistic three-act structures, the Berlinale Shorts show how the short format is unbound by financial expectations or narrative conventionality – allowing the viewer kaleidoscopic insight into the very best of international cinema. Here are our selections for ten films definitely worth putting on your radar.

// Animation & Video Art //

Eeva – Morten Tšinakov & Lucija Mrzljak

As animation is oftentimes a more gestural medium than live-action, with its creator able to draw every single inch of the screen towards their own vision, it suits itself perfectly towards wordlessness. Eeva from DN alum Lucija Mrzljak alongside Morten Tšinakov is filled with sound though – music, grunting, smashing – as a woman mourns her husband’s death in a fit of pure cathartic rage. Embracing absurdism at every turn, the use of colour – mixing blocky reds within an otherwise drab, bleak setting – expertly shows how grief can bleed through any setting, all the while building towards a suitably nihilistic conclusion.

The Waiting – Volker Schlecht

When watching Volker Schlecht’s The Waiting, I could already imagine people viewing it on a legacy media platform like The New Yorker or The Guardian. If I was in charge of handling documentaries, I’d buy it up myself. This is a fantastic film that explores a crime scene with seemingly no evidence. Hooking you from the start with its catchy premise – the sudden disappearance of thousands of frogs in Costa Rica – before launching into an investigation of the corrosive effects of globalisation, The Waiting shows how easily animation can enrich documentary investigations.

Happy Doom – Billy Roisz

With a masterful manipulation of colour, a heartbeat-like drum beat, and ever-spinning concentric circles, veteran video artist Billy Roisz provides a compelling exercise in abstraction. Born out of the Austrian artist’s experimentation with tube televisions, this short and sweet video installation is equally at home in a club or an immersive exhibition space.

A Kind of Testament – Stephen Vuillemin

Stephen Vuillemin’s French-produced, British-set animation invokes the spirit of Satoshi Kon, both in its melding of two different women and its body-horror tropes. A Kind of Testament is a beguiling and deeply creepy mystery film. Telling the story of a woman who finds thousands of animated videos of herself on the internet, it envelopes you down a deeply pleasurable, highly unexpected rabbit hole.

// Live Action //

8 – Anaïs-Tohé Commaret

8 moves to its own inner logic, providing a phantasmagorical, ambient exploration of the French banlieue that illuminates cinema’s true potential as an oneiric medium. Capturing both the alien nature of the asphalt labyrinth of its inhabitants as well as their desires to move outside of their current reality, the floating camera in 8 gorgeously slides between its protagonists, creating an ever-shifting experience that is hard to explain, yet undeniably beautiful to watch.

Daydreaming So Vividly About Our Spanish Holidays (La herida luminosa) – Christian Avilés

Christian Avilés zeroes in on the British state of mind with both generosity and precision, talking of our vitamin D proficiency (true) and our insatiable need for proper sun, sea and sand. Moving from a cloud-covered, eternally grey Liverpool to the bright-white-and-blue colours of Mallorca, this retro-looking, fiction-documentary hybrid is a simply magical experience. Don’t watch it on a grey day or you might accidentally find yourself on Skyscanner immediately afterwards.

Les Chenilles – Michelle & Noel Keserwany

Essayistic forms that are not quite fiction or documentary either seem to find their natural home in the Berlinale Shorts. For example, Les Chenilles (The Caterpillars) starts with the rather odd fact that the best temperature for silkworms is between a woman’s breasts. This opens up a rumination on the gendered expectations of female labour by drawing connections between the silk road, colonialism and the French-Lebanese connection, providing a touching portrait of female solidarity in the process.

Sleepless Nights (Schlaflose Nächte) – Donatienne Berthereau

The fourth French film on the list, Sleepless Nights is perhaps the most French of them all. Set against the backdrop of the French election – and the impending sense of anxiety brought by a potential Marine Le Pen presidency – this film both squares and complicates the relationship between the personal and the political, using the seeming breakdown of a relationship as a metonym for the nation as a whole. While a tad self-indulgent, this actually reflects the ennui of its central couple perfectly.

Bear (Ours) – Morgane Frund

An essay on the gendered nature of nature documentaries, Morgane Frund’s Bear is a dialogue between the male and female gaze that is remarkable in its generosity of vision. Focusing on a Swiss film student tasked with archiving a man’s collection of bear videos shot across the arctic climbs of Canada and Russia, she unwittingly uncovers his obsession with shooting unsuspecting women in the street. Instead of merely following his wishes, she challenges him. The result is far more open-minded than you might expect.

The Veiled City – Natalie Cubides-Brady

Whether it’s the quality of films, the whims of the Berlinale selection committee, or the UK’s focus on kitchen-sink realism, finding a British film in the competition is rare. Thankfully the curse is broken with The Veiled City, a science-fiction documentary hybrid from Natalie Cubides-Brady that looks at the 1952 Great Smog of London through the perspective of an advanced intelligence in 2198. Drawing connections between Winston Churchill’s shameful moment of inaction (previously depicted in The Crown) and today’s climate crisis, The Veiled City is a speculative letter that begs us to take urgent action.

You can find more unmissable films in our Best of Fest collections and read an interview with Berlinale Head of Shorts Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck here!

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