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Bucharest
May 15, 2021
EDITORIAL

Varied family dramas

Just like in other countries of the world, a strong opposition to homosexual relations exists in Romania too. But since “political correctness” has generated a new hypocrisy, not homosexuality itself but the “marriage” between same-sex persons is now being fought. The attempt thus made is to mark a distinction between the sexual orientation of individuals and the forms of social legitimisation. However, this intensifies a break between eroticism and cohabitation, a break long denounced as specifically “bourgeois” and now reappearing in a world dominated much more than before by the ideal of “marriage for love.” To avoid the issue, the wide concept of “family” is more recently invoked, as if homosexuality was a serious danger to it. The hypocrisy is that precisely the limitations that some want are placing sexual “minorities” in a frustrating marginality. If the use of the “family” flag can assure a tactical victory, strategically it risks being counterproductive precisely for its promoters. And that is because the institution of the family is really in crisis, albeit for entirely different reasons. Its invoking will lead, sooner or later, to the more careful discussion of its micro-social pathologies, which are far from being exceptions. Especially in Romania’s case, where the statistics are worrisome from many standpoints. Domestic violence, premature and unwanted pregnancies among underage girls or emigrating parents are just some of them.

To get a closer look on the real crisis, let’s use a privileged magnifying glass – the film. A festival such as TIFF, with films from many corners of the world, made with extremely varied approaches, offers the opportunity to update the phenomenology of the family in crisis. What happens when a traditional religious family excludes its homosexual son or brother? This is what Tomer and Barak Heymann’s Israeli documentary – ‘Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?’ – explores. It’s not just a problem of the ostracised one constrained to leave the kibbutz of his childhood for exile in London, but also the problem of those left behind, burdened by their decisive role in such a separation. When the son gets AIDS, the conflictual relations gradually turn into attempts of rapprochement. Some of the family members’ fear of contamination aside, this unhoped-for change of attitude will lead to the return of the “prodigal son” to Israel. Because he too is their son or brother and they cannot watch him die in loneliness and illness while they continue to stay frozen in final rejection. Both the father’s patriotic and warrior cult and the mother’s fervent religiosity had represented, for many years, a serious obstacle to a possible reconciliation, but the illness generated a breach in this wall of hostility. A breach even from the standpoint of the one who fell ill, since he ends up looking differently at his old family, even though he had grown accustomed, for a long time, with his autonomy. And from the others’ standpoint, his statute as homosexual becomes secondary to that of ailing man, and the latter secondary to that of relative. An illness thus became a chance for a partially torn-apart family.

Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie’s Canadian film – ‘Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves’ – talks to us about how tragic the conflicts between generations and family conformism can be. A small group of left-wing youngsters choose the path of anti-capitalist violence, but the seeds of revolt germinated while they were still part of their families, which they leave at one point with contempt and resentment. Their intolerance, which will become murderous, was born in the toxic environment of failed family relations. The sons want to destroy a society they associate with the stale and reprovable one that their parents perpetuate. And the imperatives of the “revolutionary struggle” will complete this break, in the name of an ideal higher than “reactionary” filial sentiments.

‘Playground,’ signed by Poland’s Bartosz Kowalski, talks about a different type of violence (photo). Gratuitous violence devoid of any ideological scope, born however also out of family resentment. Two children, on the threshold of adolescence, commit an “absurd” crime, kidnapping and murdering a little baby. A “playful” murder also caused by perverted family relations. One of them is the “servant” of his wheelchair-bound father, whom he helps daily but whom he also unashamedly torments, taking advantage of his vulnerability. The other one is humiliated by the authority of his elder brother and is exasperated by the little baby with whom he has to share the room. Their comradeship intensifies their resentful violence, intoxicated by their uncensored hatred for their own families.

Francois Ozon’s ‘Frantz’ talks about family drama in an entirely different tonality. At the end of the First World War, a Frenchman comes to lay flowers at the grave of a German. Getting in touch with the dead man’s bereaved fiancée and then with his parents, the young Frenchman introduces himself as his good friend. In fact, he was the one who killed him during the war and he is now torn apart by an acute crisis of conscience. Eventually, he will confess to the girl, but she decides to keep lying to the parents whose burden of grieving had been eased by the appearance of the “friend.” And the girl will subsequently pay him a surprise visit in France, already ready for a new marriage, although her paradoxical love will remain unreciprocated. What is extremely tragic in this film is the “widow’s” hope to heal her pain alongside the remorseful killer of her fiancée – an ambiguous way of atoning for the absurdity of war. She will continue to lie because otherwise the “truth” remains unbearable.

‘Filthy,’ signed by Slovakia’s Tereza Nvotova, deals with the short-sightedness of parents who, caught up with other “burdens,” can even fatally ignore children’s dramas that have a destabilising potential. In this case, the girl’s suicide attempt only leads to a traumatic admission to a psychiatric hospital, as if it was only an odd crisis of adolescence. In fact, its origin was the fact that she was raped, in her own home, by a teacher offering private lessons. And the mother’s relative “indifference” stemmed from her focusing her care on her handicapped son, to the detriment of a daughter privileged by her own “normality.” Such a context will block the confidence of the girl, who tragically shuts herself in, and only a desperate confession made to a friend will help her avoid another electroshock cure.

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