How to Disappear seen through the eyes of Alejo Franzetti, member of the preselection team of Berlinale Shorts:
They would prefer not to
Every strategist knows: unity means strength. We learn it in school, when the sports teacher takes some wooden sticks and, putting them together, demonstrates how difficult it is to break them. Unity: strength. Activists make blockades. Political parties make alliances. Soldiers make war.
In “How to Disappear”, the equation is exactly reversed: unity means weakness. Because the enemy is actually our ally, the only way to neutralise the murderous violence of war is to desert; divide, and you will conquer peace.
We are in the age of drones, where bombings in faraway places are undertaken by joystick. Hence, Michael Stumpf, Leonhard Müllner and Robin Klengel decided to intervene in the system of (digital) war from within, by rebelling in a video game.
Situated at the intersection of imagination and reality, the video game – that rebel child of cinema – seems to offer a world of freedom where players can choose what to do. But, as the voiceover warns us in this film, “war cannot be played. By definition, a game is played voluntarily. And for most of its participants, there’s nothing voluntary about war in the real world.”
Pacifism is a battle to win in every field. In this case, the filmmakers stormed “Battlefield”, a first-person-shooter game, to disarm and decode it. If first-person-shooter games borrow the point-of-view shot from cinema, then perhaps only a film can be the place to consider and defeat its limitations, to “push the limits” of the game.
In a real digital détournement, the soldiers in this film execute absurd performances. In contrast to the soldiers in the game, they don’t kill. They jump into an abyss, they hide behind a bush, they camouflage themselves with a rock, they (seem to) dance. They run and run and run away and want to escape, abandoning themselves to the vast melancholy of the silent desert. But desertion isn’t possible in this game: if a soldier deserts (i.e. if he runs beyond the accepted perimeter) he is killed by a kind of divine power; soldiers who desert are shot, but players can never see who fires the bullet. And, like war in our own crazy world, the game always begins again. The means justify the (absence of the) end.
Inaugurating digital pacifism, “How to Disappear” is a humorous and intelligent ode to deserters. We may think that, like in that old short story, sometimes undertaking rebellion, as a way to freedom, is just an easy step. It is enough to prefer not to.
Alejo Franzetti is an Argentinean director based in Berlin. He is both a member of the selection committees of Berlinale Shorts and Kurzfilmfestival Hamburg.