Locarno review: Kinderfilm (2023)

Locarno Film Festival
Pardi Di Domani International Competition

©Total Refusal

It is quite fashionable to talk how unrealistic and violent video-games are corrupting the children and the youth nowadays. Among the games, those from the GTA series are often highlighted as the worst offenders. But, can the “world” of GTA games be used as a canvas for some completely different stories to be told? Competing at Locarno’s Pardi di domani, the newest effort from the Austrian collective” Total Refusal”, Kinderfilm tries to give an answer to that question.

On their own website, Total Refusal define themselves as a “pseudo-Marxist media guerilla focused on the artistic intervention and appropriation of mainstream video-games.” They upcycle them in order to reveal the political apparatus beyond the glossy and hyper-real textures of the media, they explain further. One of the examples is their 2020 work How to Disappear?, based on the Destination Battlefield graphic environment that was turned to be the visual background for the philosophical discussion about how war-themed games deny even the possibility of desertion in their very algorithm.

For Kinderfilm, the trio of filmmakers from the collective – Adrian Jonas Haim, Robin Klengel and Michael Stumpf, use the GTA V environment to tell a story of the protagonist Edgar Thompson’s existential crisis that cannot be solved by driving around in his car and observing the places and the people in their silent interaction. This could not be further from the usual preconception of the GTA games that usually revolve around crime, violence and antisocial behaviour, but the games’ worlds are actually wide enough to offer the space for a variety of things, from aimlessness to contemplation. The only “scene” that remotely resembles the usual GTA shenanigans involves a (very mild) car chase and some traffic rules breaking.

Having their film set in a very defined “world” of a video-game, the filmmakers do not have many means on their disposal, so they arrange the screens to be filmed by playing the game, which are later edited into a coherent story. The dialogues are deliberately left aside or covered up by the Bernhard Zorzi’s sound design and Adrian Jonas Haim’s synth-infused score that create the general mood and atmosphere, while the filmmakers use the short textual cards to communicate with the audience. Indeed, a different outcome is possible and Kinderfilm is a prime example of such a claim.

©Total Refusal

Year: 2023
Runtime: 11’
Country: Austria
Language: No dialogue (textual cards in English)
Directed by: Adrian Jonas Haim, Robin Klengel, Michael Stumpf (Total Refusal)
Written by: Adrian Jonas Haim, Robin Klengel, Michael Stumpf (Total Refusal)
Cinematography by: Total Refusal
Editing by: Total Refusal
Music by: Adrian Jonas Haim
Sound design by: Bernhard Zorzi
Additional editing by: Jona Kleinlein
Produced by: Total Refusal
Co-production company: Forum Stadtpark Graz