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From the Forests of the Mayas to Cold Russia, the Request for a New Beginning Appears

Last update: 2018-04-10 10:37:12

He is the most politically incorrect man that America has ever known. He has been arrested for drunken driving. He attacked a policeman with anti-Semitic insults. He was elected the 'most sexy man in the world' by People Magazine. He once tried to kill himself. He drinks coca-cola. He is a Catholic of the pre-Second Vatican Council lineage. He won two Oscars with Braveheart. He wears snake-skin boots. He conquered the world with a film in Aramaic on Jesus. On school blackboards Mel Gison would be at the top of the list of the bad guys. And the worst thing is that he knows this: 'I feel a deep need to be forgiven', he says. This is a feeling that defines him, much more than the millions that he earned with the various episodes of Mad Max and other films. This is a feeling that also defines the characters that he creates. 'I saw a hole in a man', says Jaguar Paw, the leading character of Apocalytpo, 'it was as deep as a hunger that will never be satisfied'. Perhaps this is just one further example of fragility, but it is sufficient to open up the horizon of this genius, a reality that the world, albeit amidst many and at times justified controversies, has had to recognise since 1993 when he changed to being behind the camera. For this reason, and for many others as well, it is worthwhile listening to Mel Gibson, the autarchic Australian who lives in the United States of America. If he says that Apocalypto, the tile of a new film on the mysterious disappearance of the Maya Empire, tells 'a story which has many similarities with what we are living through today', we should believe him. And if he translates the word 'apocalypse' with 'new beginning', our ears prick up: he is speaking about us, about the 'revelation' that will throw new light on this millennium which is already so old. 'In a society that finishes', says Gibson, 'there is a spark of life, a hope'. The Good News We need a new beginning by now that is clear. And it is curious that the end and the beginning, death and rebirth, are identified in the most charismatic films of the moment with the birth of a child. Let us take the Children of Men which as a film is not up to much but derives from a significant idea. The powerful novel from which it comes, of the same title, by the English writer P.D. James (Mondadori, 1993), begins with the following words: 'Today, three minutes after midnight, the last human being born on the earth was killed in a fight'. In 2007 children have not been born for twenty years (be careful here we are!). A world made up of rules that have eliminated all references, dictators and murders, legalised drugs which help to meet ultimate questions and euthanasia kits for elderly people who still remember how we were: the consequences of a world which is coming to an end. This film by Alfonso Cuaròn up-dates the alarm sounded by the novel: Islamic fundamentalists with machine guns, immigrants in cages, bombs that explode in the heart of multi-ethnic London. These are images that we see every day on television, transported into the autumn of a grey city to describe the 'conscience fiction of the present'. The chief character has lost a son and the pain has separated him from his wife. Destiny offers him a new chance through a coloured immigrant who discovers that she is pregnant, and who knows who the father is? For this child, this 'little hope' wrapped up in dirty nappies, who is hungry and cries, the tired out teacher will give his life. In the novel by this authoress in her eighties, the final is more evocative, clearer. The mother asks the man to baptise the baby: 'the rite emerged from his memory of his childhood: it was necessary to pour water, utter some words. With his finger made wet by his own tears and marked by the blood of the mother, he made the sign of the cross on the forehead of the child'. The Ideal Dam Well enough, you will say, but this is about the West again. From the old, the very old West that is unable to tell us anything new, whether tales about a Maya child fleeing with its parents from an empire that is collapsing under the loss of meaning, or about the last man on earth, in a Europe where science has arrogated to itself the right to destroy life. But elsewhere? In the new empire, in the factory of the world, in the land that has as many souls as Europe and America together, multiplied by two? As a regards the apocalypse, what is happening with that giant of Asia, China? The situation is worse than the blackest night, to judge from films. An example of this comes from the film that won the Venice Film Festival. However much it may be hyper-capitalist, China, without proof to the contrary, is still communist. It is like Stalin's Russia, it is crazy about great building works that make it important in the eyes of the world. It has a whole host of workers who cost nothing. And it happily ignores the daily problems of millions of people who live there. At the centre of Still Life by Zhang-Ke is the colossal Dam of the Three Throats: 185 metres high, an intruder that is 436 kilometres long, and holds 22.15 milliard cubic metres of water. As the construction proceeds, a million people, fifteen towns, and a hundred and fifteen villages disappear. Amongst these villages there is Fenjie, where a miner goes to see his wife and daughter whom he has not seen for fifteen years. There is no point in saying that to redeem them he has to accept slavery. Meanwhile, however, the water advances dizzily and submerges the surrounding areas and eliminates the residual identities of a people that has been wiped out this is only one of the many metaphors of an apocalypse foreseen, an apocalypse which is anthropological before it is environmental. Amidst the grey of the mud and the water, the sheds and the sky, a child sings a son. Will poetry manage to defeat ideology? A New Beginning There is still a place between the West and Asia where you can go to find a route. And that route is Russia, where the 'new beginning' has yet to be seen even though the end of the empire by now goes back fifteen years. 'It is the laboratory of what will happen in the world' swears Pavel Lounguine, the director of The Island (Ostrov). He has counted the Orthodox monasteries that have reopened over the last ten years. 'There are five hundred of them', he says. A good sign. In 1990 his first film was made Taxi Blues. This film narrates the paranoia and the desperation connected with the end of a known world and the frightened waiting for another one. And he did this by borrowing the expressive face of a famous rock star, Pyotr Mamonov. In the meantime this musician withdrew in order to be a hermit and today he has returned to the cinema to narrate 'the need for God'. The plot of the film somewhat follows his own personal history a Russian sailor kills his superior during the Second World War and flees to an Orthodox monastery on an island of snow and ice. Here he converts and becomes a holy man who heals, a starec, a 'madman of God'. During the grey and very cold winter that envelops the inhospitable island there is a child, indeed there are two children. The first arrives carried by his mother and returns on his own legs. 'Why does God exist?' The second child is not yet born. The girl is on the island to ask for a blessing, a preventive forgiveness for the sin that she will commit. 'Do you want a blessing to kill?', shouts the monk, showing here his fist. 'Here it is, here is my blessing! Do you want to go to hell and take me there with you?' 'Nobody will want me as their baby', cries the frightened girl. 'Nobody will take you without a baby', he replies. 'It is already written. You will have a baby who will be your consolation. A golden baby'. The girl runs away upset: the monk takes a spade and begins to dig in the ground, in the ice. An unexpected smile full of light that in close up illuminates a face burnt by the cold. Here it is, the new beginning: what else could it be?

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