Zubroffka Review: Abdullah

At the 2014 Zubroffka Film Festival four young Polish journalists were mentored by film critic and journalist Michael Pattison in a workshop that helped them to explore the role of modern film criticism and journalism. Every day, the journalists met filmmakers, distributors and journalists as they learned how to make themselves stand out from the crowd and negotiate the complexities of a film festival. The following review is one of the results of this workshop.

How do you tell a story of somebody whose almost every memory is connected to some surrealistic sceneries, fantastic creatures, or simply is hard to comprehend for a regular person? German filmmaker Jakob Besuch might have posed himself the same dilemma in making Abdullah (Dir. Jakob Besuch, Germany), a fascinating animated documentary short made of mostly surrealist sketches. The hand-drawn animation is very dynamic and suggestive, giving a vivid and sensitive sense being inside a schizophrenic person's mind. While Abdullah’s normal memories are drawn in blue, his distorted visions are drawn in red, and in a different style – they are more blurred, as if drawn in a big rush. It gives an effective contrast and shows how his illness affects his everyday life.

Abdullah himself is the one to guide us through his world of raging feelings and memories. He tells us a story of his life. One after another he shows us things that led him to his breaking point and caused his illness. The thing about his tale is, that it seems to be not really about him, or his mental problems, but more about society, family, things that each of us have to deal with every day. Since he was a kid Abdullah has had to face feelings of hate and rejection. He has never found his place and chose drugs as an alternative.

Two of his schizophrenic visions, both haunting him repeatedly, recall scenes out of Orwell’s 1984. These are the keys to understanding his present-day feelings. The first is him being surrounded by cameras. The second is a cinema in which Abdullah's face is projected at the screen and the outraged audience is expressing how much it despises and hates him. In his visions Abdullah sees himself as just a useless entity, helpless in front of a powerful society. His fear of being judged, of facing the world, is illustrated in such a way, that it is very convincing and heartbreaking. The film effectively illustrates how society and social pressure can be truly oppressive: often, the reason for an individual’s failures lie not in herself or himself, but in a lack of support from the environment.

Though at a certain point Abdullah’s disturbing scenes become depressing, there comes a moment at which the protagonist says everything changed in his life: the moment he began his second life. This suddent turn of fate gives a truly optimistic feeling as it is contrasted to Abdullah’s life literally hours before, and also comes from a very simple gesture. It is amazing how little it sometimes takes to change somebody’s life, and Besuch highlights this very important problem. People with mental disorders often are not responsible for their condition. They are victims of a harsh, cruel world. It is very easy to hurt somebody, but as Abdullah shows, sometimes it takes truly no effort to change somebody's life for the better.

By Maciej Giergiel

14 January 2015, by Cineuropa Shorts