Destiny and Believing Epitomized

in 58th Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival

by Vesna Peric-Momcilovic

If we would search for a leitmotif in 58th Mannheim-Heidelberg Festival’s official competition selection we could discover both fate and faith as prominent motives in film stories. Characters in some of the films feel trapped in the destiny imposed on them, with ambiguous feelings of having and not having faith to transcend it and break free. Consequently, faith and fate play an important role also in this year’s Critic’s PrizewinnerAnimal Heart (Coeur animal) directed by Suisse newcomer SéverineCornamusaz. The fate, the destiny, is something almost tangible that hovers over the main character, Paul, an introvert and distant forty-something farmer in an isolated farm in the Alps. Paul is a brutal, bestial creature, who invokes famous literary character Mr. Rochesterof Charlotte Brontë’sJane Eyre; he lacks love and compassion, driven mostly by instincts rather than empathy and, what is most striking, treats his own delicate wife the same as he treats cows and sheep at his farm. It’s obvious the couple keep this routine for years, milking cows and sheep, having almost no communication but pure, mechanical sex pleasing only, Paul. In a way, it seems the woman is condemned to this prison with no way out. Although a compelling yet threatening mountain landscape, punctuated by strong visual imagery (cinematography by Carlo Varini), extreme long shots of Alps, cliffs and clouds, could suggest freedom; rather they function as a trap for both man and the woman. Panning shots and bird’s eye view angles do not represent oneiric and dreamlike qualities but on the contrary, the nightmarish feeling of suffocating claustrophobia. No escape. Once in the past, probably in his early childhood, the damage was done;Paul is depraved of compassion. Fortunately, destiny has its own mysterious ways, so one, let’scallit ‘a Heaven sent’ character, a Spaniard, a season worker, serves as catalyst (not the manage a trois character though!) to unlock the family duo-drama. The woman finds strength to cope with her fate, having faith to escape this traumatizing life, and having faith to start from scratch, to reset and to restore her life. It’s fascinating how both the director and male actor Olivier Rabourdinmanage to gradually turn our sympathy for the trapped woman into our sympathy for this stone-like, rough male character, Paul. It’s him who needs healing, not the woman whose health condition is aggravated. It’s him; the poor, desolate, tragic manthe anti-hero, who wins our empathy, and eventually our own faith. He’s ready to repent; she’s almost ready to forgive, to embrace him again. The film’s narrative worksthrough binary oppositions: male versus female archetypes, exterior vs. interior spaces, brutal vs. sensitive, animal vs. human, transgression vs. forgiveness. The couple aremeant for each other and their transcendence, their mutual rite de passage, is only possible via faith and through believing in each other.

A few other films in58th Mannheim-Heidelberg Festival’s main competition furtherelaborate this thematic arc of fate/faith. Argentinian Golden Gun (Caño dorado) directed by Eduardo Pinto, narrates two decisive days of a main character, young Panceta (Lautaro Delgado), who illegally acquiresa weapon, living a stigmatized life in a Buenos Aires’ slum with his mother. Together with an attractive though underage girl, he starts his transcendental journey to the river, trying to break free form the binding greyness of everyday life. The river and the emblematic use of the colour red (the boat, the boy’s cap and the girl’s costume) accentuate sub consciousness; eternity, womb, the inner journey of the main character, searching for a utopian El Dorado. Two levels of destiny crash into oneanother – first one, a daily horoscope read in a newspaper, some sort of hero’s daily mantra, and second – the universal fate of his family roots, fate in terms of naturalism. Here again, faith keeps the characters alive and striving for a better life – not faith in the sense of catholic religion, but rather auniversal faith.

Destiny and believing also play a huge part in this year’s Running in Traffic by Scottish directorDale Corlett, a film thatexploits male/female archetypes again. Here we have Joe (Bryan Larkin), the male, the fragile one, and Kayla (Anna Kerth), the woman, the healer. Here both the death of Joe´s father and the death of Kayla´s unborn baby epitomize brutal destiny andleavethe characters trapped in a feeling of loss. The female is almost like a mythical healer and two stories and dramas intersectin an almost Jungian notion of synchronicity; events coincide not caused by one another, not in a causal chain, but by being related to each other by a certain meaning and purpose. Joe and Kayla don’tjust simply run into one another, she believes that everything in the world is connected. Her faith heals both her and people around her. All of the three aforementioned movies – Animal Heart, Golden Gun, and Running in Traffic – besides narrating protagonists’ most dramatic moments in terms of destiny and faith, are in a way open ended, suggesting that human freedom derives from decision to transcend the boundaries of context we are born in.

Edited by Tara Judah