The ninth PornFilmFestival Berlin opened yesterday to hordes of sex-positive international cinegeeks, and “Happy PornFilmFestival!” was the salutation echoing through the halls of Moviemento. The mix of familiar and exciting is something that many a Berliner (and beyond) looks forward to every year.
A quick recap for those who don’t know: the PornFilmFestival Berlin is a festival of films that are not necessarily all pornographic, but that tackle topics of sexuality in film in a variety of thoughtful and engaging forms, from documentaries about geriatric sex and pedophilia (last year) to features that range from absurdist sex comedies to topical portrayals of sex work as labour and yes, an oeuvre of hardcore pornography that covers an extremely broad spectrum of genders, sexualities and flavors of sexual expression. Year after year, I’ve come to count on that from the PornFilmFestival and year after year, they deliver.
This year I have the pleasure of being on the feature film jury, something I’m truly excited about, along with two talented filmmakers – Swedish filmmaker Joanna Rytel (whose short “Once Upon a Time There Was an Unfaithful Mommy” screens on Oct 23 at 17:30 or Oct 24 at 13:15) and German filmmaker Ulrike Zimmermann (whose documentary Vulva 3.0 screens on Oct 26 at 15:00).
So, what of the films so far? I started off my Moviemento residence this year by going back in time for Nymphoniac Vol. II, Lars von Trier’s exploration of female sexuality in a bourgeois context (which embarrassingly closes a chapter of my life that started back in February, when Vol. I was released). Some see it as a shockingly misogynistic take on female sexual agency, others see it as a grim and brutally honest portrayal of the limitations society puts on female sexuality or – perhaps the most uplifting reading of the film I’ve heard – Von Trier’s admittance of sentimentality: it’s a fucking love story. Regardless, it (along with Abdellatif Kechiche’s lesbian love drama Blue Is the Warmest Color) marks a shift in the use of explicit sex in “mainstream” film – what kind of portrayal this is and whom it services are topics discussed on Friday at “Art House Goes Art Porn” (15:15).
I followed that up with SM Rechter, the true story of a Belgian judge who, in order to help his wife overcome depression, assists her as coming out as an S&M submissive in the early 1990s. When colleagues get wind of what he’s doing, his life is destroyed. Motives for such nefarious actions logically have as much to do with politics as they do with morality, which the film manages to get across, although it could have been stronger. While the film itself doesn’t take any risks cinematically, its conventionality may be the best way for it to serve as a reminder that “liberal” Europe isn’t as far along as it seems.
I passed up the excellent opening film R100, as I'd seen it before. But the festival is off to a roaring start with that one.
Ending the night, I caught a short film block. Short films are given as mixed programmes, sometimes with only length and a loose-theme tying them together – which in the case of my last screenings yesterday was “gay”. And even length is a loose descriptor. It’s mostly problematic when you’re accustomed to a series of three-to-five minute videos and then, BAM!, you’re hit with the 18-minute director’s (un)cut. It’s a jolt to the senses. And that was the case with crowd favorite My Girls, too. The montage of male-to-male breastfeeding killed, but could have been cut down for a more effective impact. Nonetheless, it’s worth catching. Nothing like Oedipal fixations with gender switches to close with.
On a side note to the shorts, festival curator Manuela Kay did the moderation this evening and with one of the sharpest senses of humour there (not to disparage the others), I would check out a block of films just based on her doing the Q&As. I jokingly recommend they put moderators' names in the programme next year.