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Reading Advice

In the face of hatred: weak thoughts, strong hearts, unsteady spirits

Last update: 2018-04-10 10:51:35

After seeing The Crusades of Ridley Scott you take at least one truth home with you. It appears at the end in the form of a caption: 'a thousand years later, peace is still elusive'. This is banal, but such is the case. The world is not going well. From history on a large scale to small events, we have to make a great effort to understand what should be done, to buttress collapsing situations or to prevent tragedies: human cases and sad stories from Africa to France, from Italy to Serbia, from America to Belgium, and on to Israel. When we are not faced with war, and war between brothers as in the former Yugoslavia described by Kusturica or in Rwanda, we have before us acute poverty, violence, a tolerance that is impossible between those who are different: the illegal immigrants of the film by the Italian Giordana, the immigrants in the Parisian banlieu in the eyes of the North African Kechiche, the women described by Gitai, nomads in no man's land, from Jordan to Iraq and from Syria to Israel.The cinema of this season records the drama and responds as it can: little or badly in these times of ours. It gropes around under the banner of doing good in a facile way, risks politically correct solutions, and holds aloft cheap forms of relativism. But not always, fortunately enough. Such is the case with the tele-pedagogic lesson of Giordana who returns to us, people of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s of La meglio gioventù, to discover that the streets, the factories of the north, and even Italian homes are full of immigrants, about 5% of the population. And the director is so surprised as to feel the need to adopt a more innocent expression (or supposed to be such) than his usual one. Thus as the protagonist of Quando sei nato non puoi più nasconderti, he chooses a twelve year old son of a small Lombard manufacturer, he has him fall from a sailing boat during a trip in the Mediterranean and then picked up by a boat full of illegal immigrants. 'It is not a film that presents a thesis on the multiethnic question', says Giordana defensively, 'I want to understand the arguments of individuals'. But the world saved by children is to come. For the moment there is a laboratory city, Brescia, integration compelled by the market and two young Rumanians he is an exploiter and she is the exploited whom nobody can give a home to. The film La schivata presents a very different melody. The director, Abdellatif Bechiche, who is of North African origins, describes the multiracial outskirts of Paris. A Frenchman would emphasise the decay, the marginalistion, and the racial hatred. The key chosen by Bechiche is absolutely original, like the streets of the district: clean, tidy and normal. What is dramatic is only that the destiny of the beautiful Lydia and the shy Krimo is summed up in the words of Marivaux. The lines from 'The Game of Chance and Love', written by a bourgeois of the eighteenth century, are mixed with the bad language of North African boys they speak dialogues that come from the stage and end up in the street. They shout in a strong and clear way words of love into the ears of the two teenagers. And to our ears as well. Love and heart, but ones of luxury, in the new film of Emir Kusturica, La vita è un miracolo ("Kad je zivot bio cudo"), as well. That of the Serbian director is a wild hope. He shrugs his shoulders at the politically correct and after being outlawed by good society because he did not take a stance at the time of the war he returns to reread those years in his own way. The year is 1992 and the building of the railway that should unite Bosnia and Serbia is interrupted by the conflict. With the train of peace, the private life of the engineer Luka is also overwhelmed by events: his wife is fleeing to Hungary, his son has enrolled and been made prisoner, and there is the beautiful Sabaha who should be his enemy. But she is blonde, has sweet eyes and says 'yes'The film, which has a tempestuous and wild rhythm finishes with a question: 'is it possible to fall in love with one's enemy, who basically is the same as you?' Kusturica, the rebel, frames the question in a provocative way, knowing full well that it will be considered banal. And yet it is a dizzy question. Another simple heart makes it his own, the Irishman Terry George, the director without arrogance of Hotel Rwanda. If it had been produced in Hollywood, this film would today be a box office hit. But made hurriedly in Great Britain, Italy and South Africa, it took home only a shower of nominations at the most important film festivals in the world, including an Oscar. That is to say: very many non-prizes for good will. The year is 1994: the feud between the Hutu and the Tutsi is becoming inflamed. Mr. Paul Rusesabagina, the director of a four star Belgian hotel in Kigali, takes in and saves 1,268 people. In the meanwhile he gives orders for lunch, negotiates with the rebels, and beseeches the UN soldiers to stay. Only at the end are the dead counted: 937,000 Tutsi massacred by the machetes of the Hutu, with the Canadian UN troops forced to look on without raising a finger. Indeed, they are reduced in number during the key moments of the massacre to 250 from 2,500. Paul is a Hutu and his wife is a Tutsi; for the army and for the rebels their children are 'bastards' to be murdered. The line with which the director-hero ends the film was neither to be taken for granted at the time, nor is it easy: 'there is always room with us'. It is certainly the case that a corner in the overcrowded rooms of the Hotel Rwanda is better than the whole of the 'Free Zone', the area of the soul of the confused film of Amos Gitai. Under the influence of enthusiasm to speak about spiritual places where contradictions are resolved and prejudice evaporates, the Israeli director runs the risk of forgetting that in his country and elsewhere there are real places where the drama is one of blood and flesh and the subjects are not at all a matter of literature. Three dreamers, the women of the film, an American, a Jew (Hanna Laslo, awarded the title of best actress at Cannes) and a Palestinian travel across the hot zones of the world in the search of identity. Whether they find it or not we do not find out: an absolutely boring politically correct sentimental education. Much better is The Crusades ("Kingdom of Heaven") of Ridley Scott, even though it is not exactly a film that was born to promote friendship between peoples. The problem is not so much that the ideological schema adopted by the director has the Christians always bad and ugly and the Muslims always strong and wise. One can understand that an American director in these times wants to be safe, above all if the film costs the fine sum of 150 million dollars, promotion excluded. The problem is another and goes to the heart of the weak thought of Scott. The plot takes place roundabout 1184: a magical period in the life of Jerusalem. Between the second and third crusades a fragile peace was upheld by the Christian Balduin, a wise king although a leper, and by his agreement with the charismatic Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria. Scott does not ask himself how this peace was born he already knows the answer. It is easy: if war comes from religion then peace is the agnostic virtue par excellence. Thus there is a hero, Balian, who has lost his faith, in which he is confirmed in his un(certainties) by being showed the corruption of the Templars, and he is led to apply a judgement that is to say the least relativistic to Jerusalem. It is somewhat striking to hear the hero say in the year one thousand (or even now, if you like): 'we are not here to defend stones, temples, mosques or even the Holy Sepulchre: none of these is worth war'. And it is even stranger to hear that 'at the base of every religion there is always and only the decision whether one should or should not be a good person. Everything else does not matter'. There is nothing new here, for heaven's sake: the usual old American dish, the myth of the self-made man extended to Europe, not least to sell the film in France as well. To Scott, who is pleasant, good at his job, and made the glorious Blade Runner, let us make a proposal for the announced sequel to The Crusades. Let us abolish history, culture, religions, and identities by decree. Let us make a 'new world' (the title of a film that Terrence Malick is making which is dedicated to Pocahontas, the heroine of syncretism). The pure and hard hero will marry a girl such as the Princess Sybilla, a Westerner but with a hairstyle that is Eastern, henné and a veil, just to confuse people's ideas. Let is take out the drama and see what effect it has, but what if cinema, like life, were to become a desert?

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