A Look at 'The End'

in 38th Molodist International Film Festival

by Thomas Taborsky

In some cases, the indication as to why a movie has been chosen as a festival’s opening film is quite clear: at the occasion of the Viennale ’04, Agnès Jaoui’s Look at Me / Comme une image began with  the question “Can we start?”, evocatively asked in the darkness before the first scene faded in.            

This simple concept, inspired by a clever usage — as scarce as it is deliberate – has expanded to incorporate the ‘The End’ caption as a witty way of closing not only a film, but also a festival. Thus, Rumba by Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel, a whimsical, universal play on tradition, was a great choice for a final film of 2008’s Molodist Kyiv International Film Festival. Its definitive closure did send the audiences home with a laugh from the heart, but also added a touch of sad inevitability to the evening and to the festival with its ‘Fin’ (…and see you next year)…                

Out of the thirteen feature-length films in the festival’s competition, only Rumba has chosen to end in such a resolute manner. Is this because the filmmakers want to firmly claim their particular place and time?  A ‘here’ and ‘now’ that goes on forever, with no ‘End’ in sight? Or because they perceive their stories just as another episode, standing in for the entire (un-)social world and inseparable from its larger entity by a formal insert? Or because they reject all narrative association to smooth similes and fairy tales? Or in ‘The End’ they see a suspicious claim to finality, considered unacceptable by directors keen on generating a discussion with their films? Or maybe the extensive end credits have in a way liberated storytellers from having to take their plots to the final signpost not to be circumvented? Signposts, whose finality is increasingly considered unsound by today’s filmmaking, and visited only in nostalgic moods?                

These are some of the questions to be pondered about in relation to the thirteen competition films and also to the general apprehension of contemporary cinema towards the definitive closure of ‘The End’. But, on the other hand, could any of these films be envisioned with a closing overlay?                

What would such a change bring to the finale of the noirish, black-humoured The Investigator (A Nyomozó)? For, when the crime is solved, Edit (Judit Rezes), the girlfriend-of-sorts of assistant mortician-turned snoop Malkav (Zsolt Anger), enjoys him putting make-up on her face the way he skilfully applies it to the dead to the point when she is almost sprayed with some embalmment lotion…Too morbid a scene if the Hungarian ‘Vége’ (end) were to be superimposed…

Or what about Marion Laine’s A Simple Heart (Un Coeur Simple), where the film ends with the main character, the chambermaid Felicité (Sandrine Bonnaire) dying, being taken away into the white light by the beating wings of the parrot – the last bit of love in here painful life? A ‘Fin’ here would have had a destructive melodramatic effect on what had been a film trying to keep a certain distance in order to avoid being soaked with emotion.              

Closing Versailles with those three letters would have meant a safe and even happy ending in this cut, an absurd choice for director Pierre Schöller. Years after abandoning her child because she could not afford to support it but bound by her vow to return as soon as she could, a mother (Judith Chemla) finally holds her son in her arms. There is no easy past, present or future to this moment and ending it with the simple ‘fin’ would have spoiled the drama of it all.              

One more film to be considered is A Hero’s Welcome (Nacht vor Augen), a German production about David (Hanno Kofler), a young man trained to fight in Afghanistan and unable to cope with having killed an innocent child. He only notices he needs help after having spent enough time to teach his little half-brother lessons in hatred. When David returns ‘for real’ from psychiatric care, the kid – still looking up to him – is proud of his own little achievements, inspired by the new ways of behaviour, and some might see a hint of disgust in David’s face turning away. ‘Ende’ is inappropriate here, since it is unable to contain the process of proliferation of aggression, which has tragically affected the next generation.   

On the basis of just four examples, it becomes evident that the international art cinema has moved far and beyond the era of ‘The End’, with commercial genre films following suit. The question of exactly when and why it happened, and what has changed since because of this, are intriguing. And yet this closing word – except for remaining a symbol of certain escapism in mainstream cinema and therefore successfully being used as an alienating self-reflective device in art films – still seems able to deliver quite sweetly.  

Edited by Christina Stojanova