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October 23, 2021

The Cannes lesson (II)

While Ken Loach’s film has the classical structure of a tragedy, where the hero is defeated by an implacable (social) ‘destiny’, other film directors rely on exploring the dramatism of the consciousness. We could even rank the authors – film authors, novel authors, namely authors of creations involving the construction of the characters – in two categories: the moralists, those for whom the consciousness dilemmas are essential, respectively the behaviorists, who deem the consciousness as an impenetrable flight recorder, being disinterested by its mechanisms.

Two remarkable films of this Cannes edition are included in the first category. The first one is ‘The Unknown Girl’ (photo) by Dardenne brothers. As in Loach’s film, the background is a ‘social’ one: the neighborhood medical science, which often exceeds the purely professional framework, facing ‘patients’ with many other issues, hard to be ignored, especially for somebody not willing to turn his face from the countless dramas, smaller or bigger, existing around him. Compared to the countless “heroes of our days’, who are cynical and disappointed, or simply selfish and indifferent, such a care for people may seem strange and unrealistic. These are the silent ‘saints’ of our days, capable to provide concreteness to the abstract notion of ‘Good’. Are Dardenne brothers committing a sin related to the reality, by arranging it from the view of some moral ideals? Either we like it or not, such people more ‘human’ than others do exist, showing a more acute moral sensitivity and really being more altruistic. Like Jenny, the heroine of the film, a young doctor who feels guilty for not opening the door to a threatened woman – without knowing at that time who called her by the interphone.

Later, she struggles to find out the name of the woman who died shortly after she didn’t open the door – a young African woman. Jenny is the new Antigone, wishing to put a name on the young woman’s grave, a difficult task, since those who knew something were silent, each of them having something to hide – from unpaid fees to prostitution, from a family secret to jealousy. While in ‘Two Days, One Night’ the two film directors stopped on the importance of the face to face meeting, now there’s a face – caught by the video camera – but the name is missing. ‘The Name’ and ‘The Face’ are two fundamental spiritual notions, especially in the Christian tradition, which Dardenne brothers find in a contemporary specific context. The young woman was almost ‘nobody’: an immigrant, a black woman, a prostitute – somebody who wasn’t initially regretted even by her sister. Like in ‘Son of Saul’, were a prisoner from Auschwitz struggles to bury a boy’s body under the Jewish law, since otherwise he would have been incinerated, ‘adopting’ him even if he probably wasn’t his son, Jenny adopts a death woman although she didn’t know her at all. This moralistic humanism of Dardenne brothers gives a stake to their films which other films don’t have. Being the spoiled of the Cannes festival, rewarded almost every time since their first ‘Palme d’Or’ (1999), this time they didn’t receive any award. Instead of this, Cristian Mungiu was the rewarded one, since he learned their lesson: to pursue the effects of the social interactions in the consciousness’s folds. His film called ‘Graduation’ is a successful drawing of the ‘anatomy’ of this special resonance box – the consciousness with its thickets of ambiguity and with its sliding slopes. The corruption which Mungiu targets is the corruption of the soul, first of all.

In an almost similar register is also made ‘The Salesman’, the film of the Iranian Asghar Farhadi, rewarded at Cannes with ‘The Best Script’ award and the award for masculine interpretation (granted to the actor Shahab Hosseini). The drama itself – a sexual assault with unknown author, initially – is doubled by the preparation of a theater spectacle inspired by Arthur Miller’s play called ‘Death of Salesman’. Without resorting the police, the husband will find the guilty person, but the consciousness issue, to which the victim, his wife, is also associated, is given by his profile: an old man who actually came to a prostitute – the former tenant who was evicted from one day to another – and which being led by a combination of circumstances, is tempted to rape the unknown girl. The old man has heart problems – in the confrontation scene he is finally taken by an ambulance -, he is a family man, his wife has a deep affection for him, his daughter is going to marry – all these things impress the victim, and subsequently her husband will also be increasingly impressed. His wife event threats him that she will leave him if he will denounce the deed to the family.

Thus, even the idea of a punishment is under question, in the circumstances of a usual lack of interest toward an uncomfortable issue in terms of morality: the old people’s sexuality. ‘The Good’ and ‘The Evil’ are hard to be identified in such a context – here’s where the refined art of the film director is acting. If we are thrilled by the pain and the failure of the character in Miller’s play, we couldn’t resist to the drama lived by the old Iranian man, whose suicide we can guess in case he will be denounced. The two spouses finally abstained to turn into executioners.


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