Margarita Jimeno

SLEEK Culture

The film shedding light on the existential struggles of Berlin’s art scene

As her new film premieres at Cinequest Festival, New York-based director Margarita Jimeno talks improvisation, art world troubles and the blurred line between reality and fiction.

Benoit Loiseau 18 March, 2019 SLEEK Magazine


In recent years, Berlin has increasingly entered mainstream consciousness as the ultimate artist’s mecca, a fantasy sold under the guise of cheap rents of subcultural capital. Of course, this simplistic narrative too often ignores the German capital’s rich-yet-complicated cultural past. But it also speaks to the international art world’s tendency to consume cities as if they were interchangeable destinations.

Premiering last week at Cinequest Festival,Grind Reset Shine sheds some light on the realities of the 21st-century art world — in Berlin and beyond. Set primarily in the German capital and directed by Margarita Jimeno, this docufiction combines profound reflections on art, spirituality, capitalism and everything in between.

“There is a lack of connection to places, as humans in the world,” the Colombian-born, New York-based filmmaker told SLEEK over lunch, during a fleeting visit to Berlin. “There is this question about, how to connect to something else beyond our cities, our bubbles?”

The 92-minute film, which was in the making for six years, traces the story of two very distinct characters: Peter Bjorn, an internationally-acclaimed Danish artist whose artistic career crumbles upon moving to Berlin from New York, and Alicia, a rebellious Polish nun who struggles to find her place within her convent. A twisted coming-of-age story of sorts, which finds its resolution in a narrative of rejection, rather than achievement.

The film opens at a boho New York dinner party where Peter, the lead character, announces that he will be moving to Berlin (“because every artist does that,” says Jimeno of her plotline). The news sparks debate among his glamorous audience – made up of real art world personalities including artist and actor Bobbi Salvör Menuez (then known as India), photographer Olimpia Dior and artist Rick Klauber, playing fictional versions of themselves. Amid lavish interiors filled with sumptuous art works (the scene was shot at the house of leading scholar Francesco Pellizzi), the group questions whether Berlin is indeed the right destination for their artist friend, or whether he might be better off in New York or Mexico City – a rather frivolous take on the urban experience, prevalent in the art world.

“It’s a complicated subject,” comments Jimeno, who spent years navigating the international art scene to make this film. “It’s a globalised tribe, it has managed to capitalise on globalisation in a positive way,” she argues. “There are factors that are beyond the artist’s control; like, who gets to decide who the big players are.”

Once arrived in Berlin, Peter’s plans quickly collapse. After his first show in the German capital receives poor reviews, his gallerist refuses to pay him and his lover deserts him, pushing the artist into an existential crisis which leads him to find refuge in the Carpathian Mountains, across the Polish border.

Playing Peter is Jens Louis Valeur-Jaques, a Danish dancer and performer with virtually no acting experience. “I wanted people who were able to improvise,” explains Jimeno, who is best known as a documentary filmmaker.

Improvisation in narrative film is nothing new, of course. American director Terrence Malick famously eschews his scripts as he walks on set, allowing his crew to experiment. Meanwhile, Lars Von Trier and fellow Danish filmmakers penned the now-infamous Dogme 95, a manifesto which places actors’ performance front and centre. But in the case of Jimeno, her interest in improvisation is one which originated from documentary filmmaking, and materialised into a hybrid docu-fiction film — like a sign of our post-truth times.

“My early works at art school were fiction, and more surrealistic,” remembers Jimeno, who moved to New York from her native Bogotá to study at the School of Visual Arts in the early 2000s. After graduating, she accidentally fell into documentary filmmaking with gigs as assistant editor, including on Michael Moore’s Farhenheit 9/11. Since then, and after being mentored by Kirsten Johnson, she has directed a number of acclaimed films, including Gogol Bordello Non-Stop – for which she followed the famed gypsy-punk band for nearly five years – and more recently, the Emmy-nominated series Working in the Theatre. “With this film, I had a scriptment,” says Jimeno, “a combination of film and treatment. Some people call it an outline.”

In addition to a core group of actors, Grind Reset Shine features a number of art world figures playing their own roles, introducing a blurred distinction between reality and fiction. One of the most poignant scenes of the film is the intervention of Philippe Hernández, a once up-and-coming French artist, now turned bar owner, who recounts his failure at sustaining an artistic career. “It’s a very personal story,” explains Jimeno of the scene. “It took him a long time to trust me, he was very hurt.”

The latter part of the film is set in the Polish mountains, where Peter finds refuge at a convent, and develops an obsession for pipe organs (the score is played by English organist James McVinnie, in collaboration with the Szczawnica Chamber Choir) as well as an ambiguous relationship with a young nun named Eva. While radically different in their experiences and views of the world, both characters are bound together by a profound fear of rejection and a near-celestial sense of curiosity.

“They are parallel lives,“ Jimeno says of her protagonists. “One of the things they have in common is their search for meaning,” she continues.

With Grind Reset Shine, Jimeno provides an offbeat filmic response to Sarah Thornton’s 2008 bestselling book Seven Days in the Art World – a timely, observational study of the artistic community’s profound ills. And yes, the improvised nature of the acting may fall flat at times, but it also endows the film with an authenticity that has become far too rare in contemporary cinema. Most importantly, it is a film that cleverly navigates the ambiguous relationship between ambition and failure, hope and angst. Like a mise en abyme, it tells its own story: one of an unusual work on an existential journey through an increasingly defunct art world.

Stills are courtesy of Hoptza Films US
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