Reflecting Diversity: German Shorts Presented at the Locarno Film Festival


PARADISO XXXI (Palestine/ Germany, 2022), in Competition Pardi di domani: Concorso Corti d’autore © Kamal Aljafari


Known for its intriguing curatorial choices, Locarno Film Festival does not make an exception at the time of preparing the selection of its Pardi di Domani short film section – as the title suggests, it looks into the future[1] while the program segment itself is described in the festival website as “a territory for expressive experimentation and innovative formal poetry”. The International competition within this wider program scouts for emerging filmmakers from around the world in order to present curious discoveries not only in terms of artistic qualities but also in line with that the works presented happen to be symptomatic of our contemporaneity. In this regard, the three German productions and co-productions that premiered within the prestigious Concorso internazionale last August – Paradiso, XXXI, 108 (Palestine/ Germany, dir. Kamal Aljafari), Mother Prays All Day Long (Germany, dir. Hoda Taheri), and Lake of Fire (Germany, dir. NEOZOON) – perfectly match the program concept, since all of them are direct or indirect reflections of nowadays Germany, its social structure, the multicultural values it defends and its overall socially engaged attitude. Created by a Palestinian and an Iranian artist respectively, as well as by an artistic duo that does not specify their nationality, they provide a realistic portrait of German society today and hint at the dynamic notion of identity in general.


At first sight, the three films could be hardly interrelated in terms of content, however, what they definitely have in common is the manifestation of an alternative point of view.

In his found footage piece Paradiso, XXXI, 108, literally quoting Jorge Luis Borges’s short essay of the same name, Berlin-based Palestinian filmmaker Kamal Aljafari who tends to interweave fiction, non-fiction, and contemporary art, creates a visual symphony out of Israeli military propaganda images from the 60s and 70s. The film’s visual aspect solely might provoke associations with a video game due to its ludic montage which leaves the propagandistic pathos aside and lets us watch scenes of men playing with guns, as simple as that. However, combined with music – Handel’s “Sarabande” throughout almost the entire duration and “Silent Night” as a sound background for a sequence showing soldiers in bed – the film opens a wide space for interpretation. Contrary to what an inertial mind could expect from a Palestinian artist dealing with Israeli military footage, the film is rather frisky than politically critical. And actually, referring to Borges’ philosophic miniature on the loss of memory about God’s physical features, so that they could be freely rediscovered in each mortal human, Paradiso, XXXI, 108 brings the spectator’s perception to a different level in which the military perpetrators could be seen as fellow creatures, affected by their current circumstances. In any case, the visual choreography of power – a remnant from the original design of the proponent footage – here takes the shape of a virtuoso dance of sound and image which relegates the political context to the background.


LAKE OF FIRE (Neozoon, 2022) in Competition Pardi di domani: Concorso Corti d’autore © Neozoon


Constructed by “ready-made” material too but of a different nature, Lake of Fire by the hyper-productive female duo collective Neozoon is a treatise on the fear of death and the ways people fight with it. It is cut out of crowd-generated footage that intervenes with selected thematic images from mankind‘s cultural history (mostly medieval Christianity). In a series of video excerpts, ecstatic preaching gurus proclaim the idea of victory over death while next to them we get to see further ecstatic humans who demolish trees with bare hands or with the help of monstrous machines. Documentary footage of exorcist rituals and burning forests pops up next to internet speeches on the horrors of hell and demons – hell on earth actually occurs at the time of destroying nature. With the rhythm and plasticity of a music video, achieved not without the mighty role of the score, Lake of Fire deftly expresses a global environmental concern through an unusual point of view by denouncing “the fatal consequences of anthropocentric religions for planet earth”, as described by the artists themselves.


MADAR TAMAME ROOZ DOA MIKHANAD (Special Mention, Locarno Pardi di Domani, 2022) © Hoda Taheri


Hoda Taheri’s Mother Prays All Day Long is probably the boldest example among the three discussed pieces in terms of taking an unusual stance, moreover concerning crucial existential subjects such as ethnic and sexual identities, relationships, motherhood. Being an Iranian refugee artist and filmmaker based in Berlin, Taheri bravely uses the opportunity to make an openly erotic film in her second home Germany which is furthermore an autobiographical docu-fiction: the “actors” in the film are her co-writer Magdalena Jacob of German descent, Taheri herself and their real mothers, all of them investing their actual personalities on screen. The opening and closing scenes feature vaginas in close-ups and both young women hang out naked for most of the film duration while discussing between themselves and separately with their mothers life issues: illegal abortion in Iran and marriage for papers in Germany, a pregnancy from a previous relationship and obscure plans about the future. The German and Iranian realities get opposed to each other via a skype talk but they don’t necessarily clash in the girls’ perceptions or close environment. What might eventually obstruct their togetherness are not social prejudices or tensions within their families (both mothers seem to be liberal and understanding) but rather the decisions on the further steps they should take. In this regard, Mother Prays All Day Long subtly implies that life dilemmas are not easy even if the outer world is supportive, as the responsibility has yet to be borne.


Original, versatile, and cosmopolitan, the three German shorts showcased in Locarno Film Festival’s 75th edition seems to backscatter above all Berlin’s colorful art scene and thus prove once again the city’s celebrated openness to shelter diverse creative perspectives.





[1] The literal translation of “pardi di domani” from Italian is “leopards of tomorrow”

see also We believe in short film