Overwhelming Digital Sensations | Jury Report of the 74th Berlinale

As a child, I loved going to the beach to swim in the sea. My favorite moment during such beach visits was braving the sea. I experienced pleasure when the waves became rougher, plunging you into different directions. Even though swimming through these crashing waves always became enjoyable, there were also regular moments when the waves were too huge. This made it harder to enjoy the moment, and I had to use all my strength to get out of the waves as quickly as possible. A first visit to Berlin can be compared to the sensation of being hit repeatedly by sea waves while swimming.

The waves keep bouncing against you – some rougher than others – as you try to stay upright. Staying upright while the waves of emotions, experiences, acquaintances, and sounds come at you is a challenge in itself. Berlin, however, is not just any city. If there is a city with a backpack full of intriguing and terrible history lessons, it can be called Berlin. A visit to Berlin is movingly beautiful, but contains an underlying melancholy that takes many tourists and city dwellers in tidal waves of sensations. The films screened at this year’s Berlinale all provided similar extraordinary experiences.

A good example is the German experimental documentary film What Did You Dream Last Night, Parajanov?. The film explores the boundaries of interactive documentaries and film essays, and is directed by German-Iranian cinematographer and filmmaker Faraz Fesharaki. He was born in Iran in 1986, but lives and works in Berlin. For ten years, the filmmaker recorded conversations he had with his family via video calls. The film therefore features the filmmaker himself and his parents: Hasan Fesharaki and Mitra Kai. In addition, Fara Fesharaki and Rahi Sinaki are also featured in the film.

In its short running time of 82 minutes, the film manages to depict snapshots of conversations between the filmmaker and his family. These snapshots are like memories: full of noise and incomplete. What Did You Dream Last Night, Parajanov? is not only a humorous look at the filmmaker’s family life, but also a sincere self-reflection on Fesharaki’s dreams. The director manages to enhance this effect and make it more personal by giving the film an interactive edge. Viewers are put into the shoes of the filmmaker and his interlocutors.

Overwhelming Digital Sensations | Jury Report of the 74th Berlinale
Source: Berlinale, MUBI, Berlinale 2024, © DFFB, DEU 2024 | Forum and Faraz Fesharaki.

For the audience, it feels like being involved in the conversations and stories shared by the family members. Fesharaki gives the audience an indirect invitation to participate in these conversations. It is sometimes a bit unclear from which perspective something is being told, but this is not a major problem. What Did You Dream Last Night, Parajanov? is a poetic film that pushes the limits of what is possible with the experimental form of biographical documentaries and essay films.

What Did You Dream Last Night, Parajanov? is an extraordinary film that responds recognizable to the awkwardness of digital conversations. Thus, we are shown digital conversations in which both the picture and sound are of low quality. The filmmaker’s interlocutors (and family members) are frequently only half in, or entirely out of, focus. The sound is loud, and the picture quality is grainy. Life sounds can be heard in the background, and sometimes people can be seen sneaking around corners to be included in the conversation.

Overwhelming Digital Sensations | Jury Report of the 74th Berlinale
Source: Berlinale, Cineuropa, Berlinale 2024, © DFFB, DEU 2024 | Forum and Faraz Fesharaki.

The documentary manages to depict how digital conversations take place between family members. The film is impressive to watch from behind a laptop because it heightens the feeling that you are involved in the conversations. The filmmaker and his family members throw themselves open. They talk not only about everyday life, but also about international issues and problems they are concerned about. The filmmaker discusses the relationship between Iran and Iraq with one of his family members. The film questions whether it is man’s duty to listen to global news, especially when countries like Iran and Iraq are so close.

The filmmaker is in favor of this, but his cousin is not. According to his relative, you should only want to die for your own country, because in wars between other countries, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. The director thinks this is a ridiculous idea and argues that it is important to keep abreast of international news because wars affect everyone. The irritations and frustrations of discussing significant topics via online video calls are excellently portrayed during such conversations.

Overwhelming Digital Sensations | Jury Report of the 74th Berlinale
Source: Berlinale, The Movie Buff, Berlinale 2024, © DFFB, DEU 2024 | Forum and Faraz Fesharaki.

In this subtle way, the film grabs our attention and does not let go. Rahi Sinaki’s hypnotic and soothing film music supports the poignant nature of the film. It is not often that the repetitive nature of music can enhance a film, but Sinaki manages to pull this off. Sum-Sum Shen’s sound editing and editing are also among the film’s pluses. The director also worked as a cinematographer on What Did You Dream Last Night, Parajanov? Fesharaki has a strong eye for detail. He manages to switch perspectives, locations, or events at the right moments in the film.

What Did You Dream Last Night, Parajanov? shows both the creative, supportive and eccentric side and the loneliness of digital contact with family members. Faraz Fesharaki’s directorial vision may regularly be somewhat direct and dry, but he manages wonderfully to explore his consciousness as a filmmaker and human being. In his film, he shows the importance of wanting to be (and stay) connected to family and friends. At the same time, Fesharaki advocates the importance of giving up everything for the creative journey that is finding your place in this world as a filmmaker and creative.

What Did You Dream Last Night, Parajanov? is an inspiration for (young) aspiring film lovers and filmmakers to pick up their camera and simply start filming. In addition to being a poignant self-examination of the filmmaker’s family relationship, the documentary film is an inspiration for future filmmakers to start making audiovisual portraits of life events they find interesting. This jury report was originally written by Sebastiaan Khouw to be published on the FIPRESCI website. The jury report has been edited by Birgit Beumers.

Watch the official trailer for What Did You Dream Last Night, Parajanov? (2024) on YouTube. The trailer has English subtitles.

About SebKijk

SebKijk is a Dutch-language website on which freelance film journalist and reviewer Sebastiaan Khouw (Hey, that’s me!) shares his written articles and reviews. The (news) articles, viewing tips and reviews focus mainly on films and series. However, on an irregular basis I also write about other topics such as books, comics, games, art, and culture. Because of the increasing international (and English-speaking) visitors to my website, I created a category on my website where I post English-language articles and reviews. The English-language articles and reviews are less of a priority. The focus will remain on writing Dutch language articles and reviews, but I will also post English language articles and reviews irregularly.

Sebastiaan Khouw

Sebastiaan Khouw is het brein achter SebKijk. Als professioneel recensent en filmjournalist bespreekt hij verschillende vormen van entertainment, kunst en cultuur.

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