The topic of war was not absent from TIFF 2017. Francois Ozon’s ‘Frantz’, which deals with the difficult-to-heal wounds of the First World War, was not the only film tackling the absurdity of confrontation. While in this film the tradition of nationalism and militarism is what torments conscience, backed by parents whose sons then end up being the expiating victims of their irresponsibility, the films of Jean-Pierre Melville – to whom a revealing retrospective was dedicated at this edition – put the accents differently. In ‘Leon Morin, Priest’ (1961), the war is only in the backdrop, and the worst threat for the female protagonist is rape at the hands of a “liberating” American. The drama is religious and erotic, war being an opportunity for unpredictable solidarities. ‘The Army of Shadows’ (1969), consecrated to the French Resistance during the Second World War, starts and ends with the members of the resistance executing traitors, one of the most embarrassing and difficult to morally manage tasks. ‘The Silence of the Sea’ (1949) is more convergent with Ozon’s film, because it deals with the tragic topic of pacifism during wartime. A Francophile German officer finally choose “suicide” on the Eastern front, in order not to be a participant in the destruction of the Franco-German cultural convergence, whose staunch fan he was. In ‘Frost’, Lithuania’s Sharunas Bartas talks about a still actual conflict – the protagonist travels through Ukraine all the way to the frontline, as in a transition from the publicity of death to its reality, which is at the same time a gradual descent to his own grave.
But wars are of many kinds. Such as the Israeli-Palestinian one. Some chose, eventually, the most uncomfortable pacifism, such as the protagonists of the ‘Disturbing the Peace’ documentary signed by Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young. Former Israeli soldiers and former Palestinian terrorists join a pacifist association, both being looked upon as traitors by their fellow nationals. While such a radical renunciation is therapeutic individually, at the level of civic action the overture is only partially convincing, seeming to be utopia rather than a viable solution. At any rate, the abrupt renunciation of violence is preferable to a burdened memory. Palestinian Raed Andoni’s ‘Ghost Hunting’, consecrated to the traumas endured by those who go through Israeli prisons, maintains the ambiguity of a psychodrama that is not necessarily healing.
Another type of conflict is the one in Mexico, where executioners are both the gangs of drug dealers and the law enforcement officers who act abusively with the same lack of respect for the lives of their fellow man. Generalised impunity stokes daily butchery, like a diabolic and always bloodthirsty sacrificial cult. The political war between a reactionary government and clandestine communists is the significant backdrop of Pablo Larrain’s biopic ‘Neruda.’ The film presents the flight to exile, at the end of the 1940s, of the known Chilean poet and Nobel prize winner who was probably assassinated immediately after Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état more than two decades after the events portrayed in the film.
In the ‘Tarzan Testicles’ documentary, Alexandru Solomon goes to Sukhumi to investigate a strange research institute created during the 1920s in the USSR, and runs up against the traces of war – a frozen one now – in separatist Abkhazia. Today the Institute is barely scraping by, given the generalised poverty, but the traces of conflict – many bombed-out public buildings still lying in ruins can be seen in the backdrop – pale before the hecatomb of monkeys that accompanied the Institute’s almost century-long history. Monkeys were the guinea pigs for the strangest experiments, such as fertilisation with human sperm, in the hope of producing an intermediary species – possibly slaves for the Soviet empire. Humans’ war on other species is no way more legitimate than humanity’s wars, despite the arguments invoked, each more philanthropic than the next. The USSR’s collapse and the war with the Georgians at least seriously reduced the Institute’s activity, and implicitly the number of monkeys tortured.
Photo credit: Marius Maris