It's worth asking the question, given how little information is available about Leila Albayaty's debut feature: what exactly is this? A loosely fictionalized documentary, a based-on-truth fiction, a poetic reverie on real characters and events? Whatever it is, Berlin Telegram is an endearing, moody exploration of the director's worldview.

      Ms. Albayaty is a French artist/singer/songwriter of mixed Iraqi/French heritage, and she takes the lead as Leila, a Brussels-based singer who abandons her past life to move to Berlin after breaking up with her lover. Ostensibly a film about self-reinvention, Berlin Telegram follows her acclimatization to the German capital as she hangs around with fellow expats and musicians from all over, meets old friends like sound collagist Tarek or taxi driver Éric (all more or less playing themselves) and starts a new musical band while still licking her sentimental wounds.

     What saves Berlin Telegram from becoming an unusual vanity project is not only Ms Albayaty's unselfconscious, lovely presence, but also her gift to assemble and juxtapose images in order to create a mood; her slender narrative is a mere thread on which she hangs a series of seemingly improvised performances and random atmospheric shots of Berlin, as well as her seductive performances of songs whether by herself or others (a cover of Sonny Bono's "Bang Bang" being a good example. The inability to define easily what exactly this is ends up being one of the charms of Berlin Telegram, suggesting that, regardless of whether the film is fiction or therapy, Ms. Albayaty is now firmly in control of her voice.

Leila Albayaty, Hana al Bayaty, Éric Menard, Cristoforo Spotto, Alain Rylant, Maryam Najd, Sebastian Blomberg, Ivan Imperial.
     Director, Ms. Albayaty; screenplay, Ms. Albayaty, Marylise Dumont; cinematography, Christophe Bouckaert, Michel Balagué (colour); editor, Anne-Laure Guégan; producers, Julien Sigalas, Martin Hagemann, Pierre Walfisz (Stempel, Zero Fiction and Trompe le Monde), Belgium/Germany, 2012, 80 minutes.
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2012 advance screener, Lisbon, April 11th 2012.


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