Within this year’s Panorama Dokumente section at Berlin, Patric Chiha’s If It Were Love stands as one of the festival’s more esoteric, and in many ways radical, documentaries. It’s also deceptively simple, ostensibly telling the story of over a dozen young dancers as they bounce from theater to theater performing Gisele Vienne’s Crowd, a modernist piece about life in the ’90s Berlin underground scene. As the film blurs the line between the dancers’ lives on and off the stage — thereby invigorating its mixture of performance sequences and gorgeously composed interviews — Chiha keeps his focus squarely on the bodies at play. Each performer finds their on-stage lives bleeding into their off-stage existences, and vice versa, which gives this otherwise impressionist documentary a shocking sense of emotional depth and humanity. Its dance sequences are often hypnotic, while occasional voiceover gives the film least a small sense of narrative momentum. Mainly, though, Chiha’s film is a tone piece that observes bodies and movement driven by primal emotion. At nearly 90 minutes, If It Were Love does take some time to get used to, particularly as its enveloping use of sound and its focus on dance and performance might be better suited to a gallery or stage setting. But if one is able to give themselves over to the film’s almost surreal portrayal of bodies intertwined in dance, it offers a rapturous experience.
Published as part of Berlin International Film Festival 2020 | Dispatch 3.