The crushing reality of systematic poverty, child rape, dysfunctional families, murder, the devastation of war, mental illness, the death penalty, and slavery are only some of the main themes of this year’s Competition section. This emphasis supposedly “reflects and relates to the world in which we are living: its selection allows viewers to understand their place in it more fully and to recognize and respect the place of others.” Certainly, all of the aforementioned topics are problems throughout our society and world. Yet, perhaps it is time to start examining whether they are the only things we should be highlighting through our films.
Out of all of the many films I screened at the festival, only three were comedies. Of those, one of them (DELETE HISTORY) ended up being just as depressing as the dramas due to its bleak, disenfranchised outlook on society. The other two (SUNE—BEST MAN, H IS FOR HAPPINESS), were children’s films. SUNE—BEST MAN was a ridiculous story full of hijinks about the eponymous Sune (Elis Gerdt) whose future self goes back to try and warn him of a terrible choice he is going to make. This failed attempt to help himself leads to Sune becoming completely indecisive which results in the unhappiness of everyone. Meanwhile, his family is potentially falling apart as his father shows his miserly side and his mother’s childhood crush emerges on horseback like a hero in a romance novel. The stakes are never very high, but it was nice to see a film where characters have to learn to resolve their problems and come together stronger in the end. H IS FOR HAPPINESS follows a young girl who tries to bring her family back together with her energy and positivity following the death of her infant sister. Candice Phee (Daisy Axon) seems a little odd to everyone what with her extreme exuberance and positivity in the face of challenging events. Still, she fights on with the hope that if she tries just a little bit harder, then everyone will find a way back to their better selves. Despite having a rather sad and dramatic story H IS FOR HAPPINESS was like a salve, showing that just because life can be cruel and unfair, it is possible to overcome the struggles and find positives in our lives. After watching these two children’s films (amongst a large number of extremely depressing children’s films), I began to wonder why is it that a heartwarming and positive outcome is so rare in film festivals these days?
There is little hope to be found at the Berlinale anymore. If an alien were to sit down and watch Berlinale films in the hopes of understanding human culture, he might just draw the conclusion that we are simply a group of miserable and destructive mammals with no real positive qualities beyond our capability to endure never-ending hardships.
In a time where more people are anxious and depressed than ever before (and this was true prior to the global pandemic), maybe we need to start thinking about how the constant barrage of negative media impacts our mental health. Where have all the well-written, happy romances and light-hearted comedies gone? Is there some rule that good cinema can only be deeply tragic without even a kernel of hope? Can not a comedy, romance, or adventure movie also be well written with good direction and beautiful cinematography? And if these films are still being made, then why are they not being promoted on the festival circuit?
Obviously not every film or topic can be written with a positive spin, but is the world really so divested from goodness and hope that 99% of films at festivals have to leave audiences absolutely devastated? Maybe, as Rogers and Hammerstein composed in their multifaceted SOUTH PACIFIC, I am only a cock-eyed optimist, or maybe there is more than one way to cook and egg.