Outstanding individuals and their enemies; family as a source of love and suffering; an ordinary person flowing with the wind of history or bravely following his or her own path, this year's program of the "Stories of Cinema" section includes 10 films that show the forging of ‘self’ in various historical and cultural contexts.
Expressive, often eccentric feature films, made between 1961 and 2006, prove that cinema is an ideal medium to tell about individuality and identity and their relation to the society.
Although cinema is a strictly collaborative art, we often perceive it through the filter of individual geniuses who give the directed films an individual touch. This tension, between an extraordinary character and the environment in which he or she happens to live, is the subject of many films in the section.
The iconic "Yellow Submarine" by George Dunning from 1968, one of the most famous films starring The Beatles, is an exceptional item of this section. Old Fred, the captain of the merry boat, takes a select group of friends from Liverpool for a surreal cruise on the seas and lands possible to conjure up only by the wildest imagination.
Although the core of the film is a joint expedition confronting bizarre dangers, Dunning's film is also a tribute to subjective experience. A riot of bright colors pulsing to the beat of The Beatles' hits makes it, in effect, a narcotic trip, which at the end of the 1960s was more than welcome by the audience testing LSD. 50 years later, watched narcotic-free, "The Yellow Submarine" still surprises with unconventional humor and an experimental drawing line.
The Exiles by Kent MacKenzie and "The Time to Live and the Time to Die" by Hou Hsiao-hsun take us elsewhere; they are both moving, partly autobiographical, stories about people who were uprooted and who had to build their lives afresh. "The Exiles" (1961), the pearl of American independent cinema, mixes fiction with a documentary in an innovative way, to portray a group of native Americans who refused to live on in reservations. Instead, at night they wander from one bar to another in the run-down district of Bunker Hill in Los Angeles, trying to quiet down their despair and loneliness. Experiencing a constant sense of strangeness, the Indians find a safe haven in their own community.
A similar perspective, of a family that moved from China to Taiwan, is taken by one of the most outstanding Asian filmmakers in "The Time to Live and the Time to Die" from 1985; Hou has refined his minimalist style, so sensitive to minor changes in light. The protagonist of the film is a man who recalls the times of his youth, whose biography is similar to the biography of the director himself. "Self" in Hou's films is veiled behind a discreet, elegant form, but gives his films a very personal touch.
"Orlando" (1992) by Sally Potter and "Queen Margot" (1994) by Patrice Chéreau are astonishing visions of the emergence of subjectivity in the context of historical and religious turmoil. Suffice it to say, the title hero (and heroine!) Orlando achieves sweet self-knowledge, waking up in ever new centuries, only after several hundred years. "Queen Margot", in turn, the bloody image of the religious war in 16th-century France, is dominated by the element of desire.
The sister of the king of France, Margot (Isabelle Adjani), although tied by the vows of political marriage with the Huguenot Henry Bourbon, fancies casual sex. Her romance with a handsome Henry's subordinate is an opportunity for a momentary escape from the toxic family. Similarly, he main character of "Turkish Delight" (1973) by Paul Verhoeven is defined, to a large extent, through erotic relationships. A sexually insatiate sculptor, played by Rutger Hauer, begins an intense and slightly mad love affair with a woman he accidentally met. The untamed energy of "Turkish Delight" made Verhoeven famous in his homeland, the Netherlands, and determined the assortment of themes around which the European and American films of the director would revolve.
Another interpretation of the relationship of "self" with the environment can be found in two comedies which show distracted characters lacking a clear purpose in their lives. "When I am Dead and Pale" by Živojin Pavlović and "Playing the Victim" by Kirill Serebrennikov are satires on Yugoslavia in the 1960s and the new Russia of the first decade of the 21st century, respectively. The seasonal worker, Jimmy Barka, from the Pavlović film, first runs away with the money stolen from the workers at a frenetic pace, and then, after several performances with folk bands, begins to see himself as a new Serbian idol vocalist of rustic entertainment.
As "When I Am Dead and Pale" is one of the most important films of the Yugoslav Black Wave, we can doubt whether Jimmy would reach this elusive goal. In this case, however, it is the road that counts: the protagonist seems to be like an undefined sponge absorbing the ideas he hears, and he sails through life smoothly, trying to take advantage of opportunities at every step. Valya in the Serebrennikov’s film also seems to have a fluid, unformed identity, which reflects the nature of his work: the boy earns on the side playing the victims during police reconstructions of crimes ...
In Bernard Bertolucci's "The Conformist" (1970), there is a barrier between an individual and the society, which makes the main character put on one mask after another and engage in a cynical struggle to survive. Dilemmas and the past of the fascist played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, are depicted by Bertolucci in visually phenomenal scenes, inspired by Italian art and architecture of the 1930s and 1940s.
The style of "Marianne and Juliane" (1981) by Margarethe von Trotta, is much more crude and direct; it tells the real story of two sisters, who differ radically in their understanding of the essence of a revolutionary act. The favorite actress of von Trotta, Barbara Sukowa, plays Marianne, who puts subversive ideals above the interests and comforts of an individual, and is absorbed in the activities of a leftist terrorist organization.
Her sister Juliane tries to change the world as an editor of a feminist magazine and co-organizer of peaceful manifestations. The values of the sisters will be put to a test, undermining the self-sufficiency of both models of social activism. The program of this year's Stories of Cinema shows, thus, that an individual cannot exist without a society affecting it, while the society (and cinema) without strong individuals would be much less exciting formations.