Being Lost in… Where Actually?

in 61st Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival

by Gyözö Mátyás

In the case of films dealing with actual problems of the contemporary age we often feel that they are in a way superficial, scratching only the surface. On the other hand there are films aspiring to tell something about eternal justice and values, and it often feels that they are abstract and lifeless. Perhaps the combination of the two approaches leads to artistic success, but it is very hard to figure out.

Mushrooming (Seenelkäik), a film from Estonia, directed by Toomas Hussar is one of those works which could express the fragile balance between up to date social-political survey and fine artistic expression. The makers of the movie have focused on the most contradictory themes of our current life (including politics, show business, and virtual reality) but they were able to set up the mise-en-scene in a sophisticated, vigorous and thought-provoking way.

One of the key merits of the film is the well-chosen basic metaphor.

People are going into the woods to collect mushrooms and all of a sudden they realize that they are lost. The most important factor here is that the primary level of the metaphor works: people of course can miss their way, if they don’t know the woods. But as it is getting dark and as the captive figures are getting more and more worried, in the audience’s mind all the cultural tropes of the basic metaphor are beginning to evoke from the Greek myths till Dante and Shakespeare. And during that process it becomes clear that this film is not only about some guys rambling in the woods but also about the labyrinthine nature of life, about mankind’s lost ways, about the darkness falling upon us, etc.

And here the question arises: is this ‘imprisonment’ of the heroes a kind of punishment for the misdeeds committed by them? (In Aadu Kägu’s case the set can faintly be comprehended like this, as we will see it later.) Or did their attitude, behavior, way of thinking trigger this fate? That is the point where we should remember who these ‘lost heroes’ really are: A politician (member of the parliament) with his wife and a rock star – people who live their life publicly, people who are exposed to the love of the public. They are constantly seeking popularity; for the sympathy of the voters, or for the devotion of the audience. Both the politician and the rock star are elements of the entertainment industry. Both of them are parts of the great show business, even with their breath-taking they are promoting the show; they keep its mechanism alive.

The rock star’s case seems simple, since he has almost become identical with his public image. He doesn’t have (or from the viewpoint of the show business) he shouldn’t have a personality of his own, he should only be a brand or a public icon; a spare part of the show business. (That is why it is such a shocking surprise even for himself that among extreme circumstances in the woods what kind of hidden features of his personality has become revealed.) Although he seems to know the very essence of this business: “The bigger shithead you are, the more people will admire you” – he says as an axiom regarding the nature of show business.

And that also stands for the politician; even if he reluctantly does so, he makes a great fool of himself for the sake of imaginative popularity. At the beginning of the film we can see Adu Kägu going into a TV studio to take part in a completely idiotic game dressed as a clown. But his press secretary knows very well the real nature of politics; he claims that it is only a circus, people are not interested in serious decision-making in parliament: “People want to see the human side of politicians” he says, understanding it so, that Aadu Kägu should play the political moron publicly. (Later it turns out that Aadu was only elected for the campaign of the party because he seemed so simple and harmless, apt to be manipulated.)

But Aadu is getting affected by the infotainment press with another case, though this time not out of his own will. He organized a pleasant family trip to Peru with his wife, but later asked the parliament for expense compensation. The tabloid press ferreted the case out and they called him a parasite on the front-page. And Aadu asks with a sincere naivety: “Why do they suddenly latch on to me? Everybody does this.” This complaint is the typical symptom of the political system, which is permeated with corruption so much that Aadu would consider his deed quite natural.

Nevertheless Aaadu doesn’t want to get on the front-page this way anymore. That’s why he refuses to call the Rescue Service from the woods. (A very subtle solution of the film is that our main heroes are incapable of getting out of the woods, even though equipped with the latest models of technological communication devices. Wilderness defeats civilization here.)

While our heroes are being kept hostages in the woods, they have to face the very representative of ordinary people. It is a big moment in the film. A politician is routinely referring to the people, to the voters’ demands, a rock star is permanently gibbering about his beloved audience, but in reality they almost know nothing about ordinary people’s lives. That is why it is a shocking experience for both of them, to have an encounter with a flesh and blood human being.

And from a different angle this encounter is a shining proof of the overwhelming success of media manipulation. For the “simplicissimus” living in the woods in a shack it is a revelation that he recognizes people from TV. For him only those things are real which are known from the box. “You are all from television” he says as some kind of an ultimate confirmation of the world order. For him, virtual-ity became reality. But on the other side he has his precarious kitchen theory about the mechanism of this world. “You are all one clique there on TV. You’ve agreed amongst yourselves.” For him this mediated world represents the sphere of power, wealth and influence, where conspiracy is permanently woven against ordinary people.

So the confrontation is unavoidable.

And from a totally different angle this world is being exposed in the witty finale as well.

Aadu almost unintentionally utters some sincere words and the press people are laughing at him. But when he gets back to his awkward role and foolish rhetoric and he says a lot of demagogic, stupid commonplaces – he earns applause from media men, because they are also part of the same corrupt entertaining business. They are most of all interested in sensation and not the least in truth.

Mushrooming is a really subtle and thought-provoking sour satire about the contradictions between reality and the virtual, truth and bogus, inner identity and media image and about the way we are going to get lost in life and in the jungle of the entertainment industry.

Edited by Steven Yates