Perhaps unsurprisingly, I do not remember the amount of times I have heard or read how immersive the cinema experience is. How we should love and cherish the theatres for their big screens, the comfortable seats, and for the complete darkness and surround sound that make us gaze rather than glance at the moving images. Us. The audience.
But sometimes there is a lot of audience (see photo above).
Imagine being at the Berlinale and you decide to go to Europe’s biggest show palace, the Friedrichstadt-Palast, to see a premiering film that you hardly know anything about. Those 1894 seats next to yours might all be filled and it could definitely influence your cinema experience.
I have had the unfortunate experience of being surrounded by an audience that seemed to misinterpret a beautiful film I was watching: A Teströl és Lélekröl (On Body and Soul). Naturally, everyone has a right to their own interpretation and experience of a film, yet I could not help but feel disconnected from this drama, which seemed so very touching, every time at least half the audience would burst with laughter. I could not help but to throw a glance here and there, rather than to continue my gaze. To hear later that this film won the Golden Bear award gave me a feeling of relief. Even more so, because the director shared in her speech that she knew this was a risky film to make: We couldn’t know if the audience would join us, because, this film is approachable only with a generous heart.
Fortunately, more often than not, I cannot wait to be part of the audience. Sometimes, especially since our group of students got the wonderful opportunity to use student accreditation badges, the wait can be long and very exciting.
Towards the end of the festival the wait got more and more rewarding as well. Maybe, partially, this was because the audience often seemed more understanding and respectful. This made me realize that the Audience Award is quite a strange thing. This film that I just barely got in, Karera ga Honki de Amu toki wa, became second. Not thanks to me, because of the incredibly insufficient requiring-a-pen way of voting for films. But because of the audience that seemed to feel so much for this touching yet also funny film about a little girl that is forced to live with her uncle and his (transgender) girlfriend. Would everyone have loved this film equally without the Japanese fan girls setting the mood from the very first moment the stars appeared on the red carpet? Would we all sympathize with the characters if just a few people started laughing at the wrong moments? Or if were not so damn comfortable as we are in the Zoo Palast?
Honestly, for me this sheds a whole different light on all reception studies. It makes every film so very situational. At least here the audience applauded loud and clearly. And again. And a third time… Until we were asked to leave because the next screening was about to start.
I guess we all have to go back next year with the hope that we can applaud some more.
Text and Photos by Rick Vrouwenvelder