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Hope Travelling in the Contemporary Apocalypse

Cinema is looking at love: the love of brothers lost in the jungle of San Paolo, the love of a father and son in the post-atomic world, and the love of a teacher and his students in multi-ethnic France. And it looks at the real life of a Ugandan nurse who discovers and makes others discover the most ignored truth of all: ‘You are worth more than your illness’.  

Last update: 2018-04-05 14:14:45

"What are you looking for?”, they once asked Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road, a cult novel for more than a generation of idealists and dancing fanatics. “God”, he replied. “I want God to show me His face”. Who knows if Walter Salles, the director who for years has been trying to make a film of the book – it appears that he has finally managed to do this – will adopt Kerouac’s urgency. This is difficult but not impossible for this eclectic Brazilian author who has been able to go from Central do Brasil, a very fine and painful film on education, to the travels of the young Che Guevara, and on to reach the heart of reality with a quasi-documentary such as Linha de passe. Presented at the last Cannes film festival, it puts together a road – that followed by four brothers through the jungle of San Paolo – and a search for their father. This is a connection that was already experimented with in the 1960s and is not new to the cinema of Salles, one that connotes the journey as sentimental education in life: an internal movement more than an exterior one, a request for identity that is identified with a pathway whose stages are real meetings. Towards the South It seems a paradox but the second film that is catalysing the expectations of the winter screens, after On the Road, has a title that is almost the same. I am referring to The Road by the Australian director John Hillcoat who has just finished shooting in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Oregon. This film is taken from the very fine novel by Cormac McCarthy which won the Pulitzer prize: it is an apocalyptic and disarmed account of a journey to the South which, through various spectral landscapes, draws near to the root of hope. Even before it appeared, this film already had an interesting history. The film rights were bought by the producer Aronofsky as soon as the Coen brothers had finished making the cinematographic version of the previous novel by the author, No Country for Old Men – the film that marked the encounter between the writer and the most prophetic directors of our time. The cinematographic transposition of another novel by McCarthy, Wild Horses, has already been attempted with uncertain results by one of the cult actors of the Coen brothers, Billy Bob Thornton. The man who drags his child through the desolation of a grey world where, on the day after a mysterious apocalypse, light and warmth are only a gigantic question point in the heart, will have in the film the face of Viggo Mortensen, Aragorn of Lord of the Rings. A great choice indeed, that of the hero of Middle Earth, to address the most urgent and neglected question: what remains that is human in a world that is no longer human? A journey of hope, to see the effect of a real presence, a heart, amidst an apocalypse, has also been carried out by a young Italian, Emmanuel Exitu. That is not his real name but in that reference to the writer Giovanni Testori, which the Bolognese director has wanted to wear as a new identity, hope enters the picture. Very different from little hopes – explained the Lombard author – which do not help us to live. Exitu went to Kampala to meet Rose Busingye, a nurses who, with the help of AVSI volunteers, cares for two thousand AIDS victims and two thousand and fifty orphans. The result is a surprising short work, Greater-Defeating Aids, which received a prize at Cannes from Spike Lee, the chairman of the jury of the competition promoted by the online TV Babelgum. What is special in this documentary is the luminous face of Rose, the joy that infects the HIV positive women who entrust themselves to her with moving abandon, the profundity of the six words that change the life of one of them, Vicky: ‘You are worth more than your illness’. What is extraordinary in this documentary is that it never imposes itself on reality but observes reality at its point of flight, when life triumphs over death; there is a certainty there transpires from every frame. This is a positive option by which when things that are questioned then answer. At School If the problem of educating the heart and the gaze to the hope that another world is possible, then it is not always necessary to travel. Whether one is dealing with war or security, love or terrorism, in the end one always returns to those benches, where perhaps things could have taken a different shape from the outset. Cinema, finally, has realised that the emergency is also, indeed above all else, a matter of education. Although the American films that speak about young people and schools, even the best, always take refuge in an embarrassing sentimentality of good intentions, Europe is greater in its daring. Freedom Writers, which was produced in 2007 by Danny De Vito and directed by Richard LaGravenese, is based on a true story and on the umpteenth successful book on an American school where the contradictions of the world are concentrated. It has only just arrived in Italy, in DVD and by satellite. It tells the story of a young teacher and her first posting at a secondary school in Los Angeles, after the racial disturbances of the 1990s. The pupils come from poor families, they live in dilapidated neighbourhoods, and they are resigned to violence. And the adults pretend that they do not see things as they are. The will power of the teacher, her passion, writing as an instrument by which to discover the self, all these manage to make a breach in a situation which has no exit. Not truly a masterpiece – with hope drawning immediately in the rhetoric of an already announced happy ending – but in days such as these when even the news that ‘the Texan teachers of Harrold may go armed to school’, with the aim of ‘preventing shoot outs and of protecting the teaching staff and the pupils were there to bean attack’, appears normal, it is better than nothing at all. Meanwhile Europe is waking up. Amongst the unpresentable Italian films on schools, where the boys and girls are always rather cunning and the teachers are frustrated, we have announced for the autumn the exception O’ Professore, the TV-movie shot by Maurizio Zaccaro with Sergio Castellitto in the desolate streets of Scampia, in Naples. Freely adapted from the book Gli ultimi della classe by Paola Tavella, it tells the story of the so-called ‘street teachers’, those people who, armed only with patience, go to look for their boys and girls in their homes, literally drag them out of the street, and then take them to school. They are not missionaries but teachers: above all they are men. And one should follow their example on the road more than in enclosed classrooms. Like Miloud, the protagonist of the film Pa-ra-da, presented at Venice by Marco Pontecorvo, the son of the more famous Gillo. Miloud is a clown who in Romania finds abandoned children who sniff glue and varnish and sleep in the sewers. He takes them with him, teaches them a trade, and ventures a promise: happiness is possible. Forced optimism, utopia? The French have also tried and it is interesting that the film documentary Entre les murs by Laurent Cantet, which won the last Cannes film festival, has already been bought for the United States market by Sony which has acknowledged ‘the universality of the subject’ of this hybrid and low-cost product. This film is also based on a book that has sold millions of copies. The author, François Bégaudeau, a teacher at a high school, on the screen is a teacher who finds himself in Paris in a multiethnic class of the banlieues, with the not easy task of looking for a language that brings together the twenty very young pupils (all of whom are non-professional actors who were chosen by the director after tests that lasted months). They are Chinese, Algerian, Moroccan; and François teaches French. Thus the attention shifts from the rules of democra¬cy and the rules of grammar. One is always dealing with order. The drama, however, ends with the discovery that rules are not enough to underpin an order that embraces human diversity in the true sense. And in the end, in this very secular microcosm, uncertain between tolerance and rigour, everyone loses: teachers and students. A defeat sealed on the last day of school by a desperate little girl who says to her teacher: “Monsieur, I think I have learnt nothing”. A j’accuse that begins in quiet voice, in the narrow space of the class room, Entre les murs, and becomes a cry that goes out into the streets in a world that has lost the ability to pose questions and offer answers. In whatever latitude we live, it is our cry.

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