How can art reflect your observation

The lead desert

Julia Faisst

Melanie Liebheit and Gereon Wetzel's documentary “The Art of Conversation” skillfully plays with the viewer's desire to spy on secret and not so secret trials. On the one hand, the film deals with highly topical political issues that reflect changing world orders: mass surveillance, data theft, cyber war, ecoterrorism. On the other hand, we observe four Munich law students who are preparing for the "World Championships in Law", the legendary Jessup Moot Court. Based on a fictional case that is similar to the Snowden case, the four slip into the role of lawyers, to fight the legal battle of two fictional states against other teams.
It quickly becomes clear that not only your arguments have to be firm and solid, but also the way in which you present your arguments. The directors make it clear from the start that the top-class judges' bench is (also) a stage, and the representatives of the law (also) actors. At the heart of her documentary is the preparations for the event, just like a casting show. The title of Gereon Wetzel's retrospective, as part of which the film was shown on February 5, 2019 in the Eichstätter Filmtheater, says it all: “Observation | Process". “The art of contradiction” takes the process on the topic and the viewer on a voyage of observation. We follow the law students in their research on international law, observe them at nightly meetings in sober seminar rooms, where they work on the most dignified posture possible with the help of coaches, we witness their tension. Always on the lookout for a well-made argument, the students are sometimes excited, sometimes cool — and appear consistently authentic.
We observe how much art there is in arguing convincingly rhetorically, how young people perfect their appearance in order to become more and more confident in their negotiations. The Jessup Moot Court offers the perfect crash course: how to become an expert in international law in six months; but also: how do I become an expert on confident appearance. With the help of cell phone cameras, the students observe themselves and thus also deal with the role of those who are being filmed. Liebheit and Wetzel's documentary does not only adopt the trick of film in film. Further filmic means of surveillance are used. We are confronted with pixelated bird's-eye views that resemble footage from surveillance cameras; Lines are tapped visually and acoustically. The subject of the film is also: the film as a medium. How can it be used for surveillance? Is it violating privacy? Are we ready to trade security for freedom?
Just as the film intersects preparation and case, it is even more than that, namely a case study on the ethics of justice. How can one interpret the law? How SHOULD we interpret it? Can war and violence be clearly defined at all? Does international law have to be adapted to the new realities? Right, the film suggests, is always a question of interpretation. Speech and counter-speech necessarily compete. The "art of contradiction", that is, the art with which an opposing attitude is made clear, is of course a question of ability. But it is also the creative creation with the means of language in confrontation with the world.
To what extent fact and fiction mix in the film documentation, or the fiction seems to overtake fact, is a question that critics have been working on for some time. There seems to be a consensus that the creative implementation of reality, as carried out by the documentation, corresponds to the audience's desire for authenticity and facticity, i.e. factuality. Liebheit and Wetzel also skilfully play with this very own aesthetic of the documentary, in which the fiction must appear authentic in order to pass through as fact, while the fact is aestheticized in order to develop argumentative power.
That the negotiation of the fine degree between fact and fiction is one of the main concerns of the film, its ending suggests. Here the students meet with Asaf Lubin, the author of the fictional case. Lubin quotes from a novel by John le Carré, a former employee of the British secret service, but above all the author of espionage bestsellers. So he uses a fictional work to appeal to the budding international lawyer to reconsider legal gray areas, even to redefine legal boundaries. Then he thanks you for bringing a fictional case to life so successfully. In this way, the film once again emphasizes the fictionality on which it is based.