in 34th Torino Film Festival

by Yael Shuv

Five of the 15 films in the main competition at the 34 th Torino Film Festival culminated in a killing. Two more – Before the Streets(Avant les rues) by ChloéLeriche and Jesusby Fernando Guzzoni – included a killing as major plot motivation. Watching these films in the condensed frame of the festivalmade me ponder on this overly exploited narrative device.

As described in the festival program, Christineby Antonio Campos (starring the wonderful Rebecca Hall who won the best actress award) tells the story of “an American TV news reporter from the Seventies who was crushed by the media’s sensationalism and by the conflict between public image and intimate desperation”. The film ends with her shooting and killing herself in front of the cameras during a live broadcast. While watching the film I forgot it opened with a declaration that it was based on a true story, and felt that the suicide was a cheap, sensationalistic, plot strategy that somewhat blemished a good film. But then I was reminded that this was the actual story of the real Christine Chubbuck, and realized that the killing in the end was the main reason and justification for the telling of the story. A similar moral question was raised in Kate Plays Christine, a documentary by Robert Greene about the same events, also presented in the festival. In that film we find that at the time, the suicide of the clinically depressed reporterat a small TV station in Florida did not contribute to any sort of discussion about TV or feminism. The new films just might do so now.

The violent killings at the end of three other filmswere also presented as acts of desperation, andproposed statements that had to do with class struggles. The Chinese film The Donor(Juan Zeng Zhe) by QiwuZang, which won the best film award, tells of a poor auto mechanic who agrees to sell his kidney to the ailing sister of his rich (and very sympathetic) cousin, who only got in touch with him for that purpose. However, when the kidney doesn’t take and the cousin offers to pay big bucksfor his son’s kidney, the mechanic, desperate to stop the process and save his son, opts for the only way available to him and strangles the sick woman to death. It is quite a poignant ending for a very low keyfilmin which desperation is the main motivation, both for the poor and the rich.

The Argentinian satire A Decent Woman(Los Decentes), that won the Special Jury Award,is very different in tone, but offers a somewhat similar, though more binary, view of class struggle. Lukas ValentaRinner uses the character of a cleaning lady as an intermediary between two gated communities – a wealthy, smug, bourgeois community and a bunch of nudists who express their freedom and explore their sexuality. The subdued Belen (the excellent IrideMockert) starts redefining herself through her secret visits to the subversive compound across the electric fence,as she sheds her submissive demeanor and finds a new freedom. This eventually leads to an anarchic mass killing of the bourgeois, very much in the vain of Lindsay Anderson’s seminal film If….(1968), only this time the killersare killed by the hired guards at the gated community.

William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth, a stark adaptation of Nikolai Leskov classic novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, transfers the story from Russia to northern England in 19th century. Here, too,a powerless woman leads a story about oppression and class struggle, with a touch of basic yet fiery feminism. Katherine (the impressive Florence Pugh in her first lead role) is forced into an arranged marriage to a rich older man, who ignores her altogether after the traumatic wedding night. Finding a lover among the servants, sheis motivated to kill the men who oppressed her – her husband and father in law. But as she gets on the route of murder, she can’t seem to get off She ends up killing a child and transferring the blame to her lover, who originally provided her with the will to free herself, thus turning into the cold blooded lady of the title, and losing her soul for the sake of that freedom.

The Italian contender I FiglidellaNotteby Andrea De Sica reached a very similar conclusion, only this time it is the rich and privileged boy who kills the oppressed girl, and then puts the blame on his only friend. The film – about a boy sent to a secluded boarding school in the snowy mountains and finding a path in the forest to a brothel where he falls for a nymph and fantasizes about saving her despite her will – clearly aspires, with only partial success, to be experienced as a modern version of a Grimm Brothers fairytale. The sudden violence that erupts out of the boy’s frustration when he realizes the damsel doesn’t want him to be her knight is extreme and hints to a deep aberration in the kid which we weren’t aware of before. Thus it is not clear what the filmmaker wants to tell us about the boy and his world. The killing seems superfluous – a narrative device used for shock value.

Paris Prestige (Les derniersParisiens) by Mohamed “Hamè” Bourokba andEkouéLabitey, the film we chose as the FIPRESCI award winner, also incorporated a sudden attack coming out of anger and frustration close to the end of the film. Thankfully, the violent attack doesn’t end in death, but leads to a beautiful scene of reconciliation between two brothers. But the story doesn’t end there and the struggle goes on, just as life doesn’t usually end at dramatic plot points.