Monday, June 24, 2013

Jagten (The Hunt)

Does a misunderstanding or misconception ever correct itself? In stories, misconceptions often place themselves at the center, sometimes spinning the entire tale around. Mostly, in the end, people speak up, and miraculously the fog lifts.
Not so in the crisp and stony reality from Thomas Vinterberg. In his movie, he marks out how it is not enough to be acquitted from a court trial, and certainly not enough to have done nothing wrong. Long after being cleared, doubts persist and hunt the accused - may be in reality or may be in his own mind.
Lucas, a nursery teacher at the center of this drama, is wrongfully accused of sexual conduct in front of a child. A child who is his best friend's daughter and who he is very fond of. The small town discounts the many years in which it has know Lucas to be a charming, lovable person in face of a child's thoughtless accusation. The paranoia of parents at the thought of sending their child to a potential predator everyday spirals out of control. Suddenly, all parents begin to see signs of molestation in their own children. The children work themselves up in a hysteria where they begin to remember an evening in Lucas' basement alone with him. 
The image remarks how immaterial it is that the basement does not exist. There are moments when, as a viewer I began to wonder if indeed it lies hidden elsewhere, even when I had been privy to the wrongfulness of the accusation from the very beginning. Mass perception has a way of becoming reality. Aided by the insecurity people have for their children, and in the unshakable (but really quite questionable) faith that children are always honest and innocent, this perception becomes wildly accepted, even by the band of brothers Lucas has grown up with.
This remarkable hold on rumor and the hazard it poses - this is what makes The hunt the best film I have watched this year. Mads Mikkelsen's performance and the mood-landscape is a treat on top. Even though this film goes against the severe principles of Dogme, somehow the use of editing and cinematography adds to the stark reality and therefore appears to follow the Dogme in spirit.

Monday, June 10, 2013

And so they are ever returning to us, the dead

Sebald's characters live in memories and the past - this is perhaps the least kept secret about his books. Their dead keep returning to them, the possibilities of their own deaths continue to haunt them - until they can bear it no more and often embrace that death which has been following them.
In Emigrants, which I am now re-reading after a few years, four stories follow four people who escape (or are forced to leave) the places where they were born. The places where (in a now archaic worldview) they were supposed to spend their lives. In the face of evil which reaches these places in the form of racism, nationalism or other forms of vile hatred, they abandon their fate and chose different paths. For some it is merely a different country, for others it is a completely different life. However, they continue to be haunted by the memory of their past. It is as if they should have stayed back and faced the consequences of being born in a place. In a bizarre link between fate and birthplace, these people believe that the persecution their birthplace offered will pursue them no matter where they go.
So these emigrants spend restless hours climbing mountains, or walking the countryside, or catching butterflies - either whiling away time in wait for that destiny they escaped or trying to listlessly walk away from this persistent destiny.
I have, so far, read only two sections. The first one, on Dr. Henry Selwyn struck me as a little odd. What strikes me in Dr. Selwyn's story is that his homesickness is not something he has carried around him since his emigration. It is in the later stages of his life, as estrangement with his wife grows is when he begins to think about home. This is uncharacteristic of Sebald's tragic heroes, who, displaced at a very early stage, seem to carry the burden of exile throughout their lives. In Dr. Selwyn's case, homesickness seems more a romanticism of past in the face of an unhappy present. In Dr. Selwyn's life are enclosed many possibilities - the possibility of a happy country life in Lithuania, the possibility of persecution in the holocaust, the perils of an immigrant's life in America, a happy life with his wife in England. Dr. Selwyn has escaped all these possibilities, to end with the most banal of all maladies - an unhappy marriage. Perhaps he is tormented by the banality of his misery, and yearns for a more dramatic tragedy (of being buried under snow like his friend, or living the holocaust). May be this is what lies behind his melancholy - not the memory of home, but what home seemed poised to bring when he left it. Is Sebald trying to say that even those who completely avoided the holocaust are victims of it because all other miseries look embarassingly small in comparison?