One can say a lot about the second film in the Matrix trilogy, that hit the world during the early days of this year’s Cannes festival. As part of the the official program (but out of competition) The Matrix Reloaded got an art quality stamp added to its already kids-cool image. At first glance it can look as if the festival was way out of its ordinary path when it welcomed the money loaded film on the red carpet. Well, it wasn’t.
Because this year’s Cannes festival provided us with several films that deal with the question “What is reality?” In the Matrix films the main message and force of the story is that our lives are in fact a computer program. This program is designed to make us lie still in our nests and produce energy for the machines that are the world’s farmers. This a very intriguing thought for all of us who want to get away from our daily routines, because the main characters Neo, Trinity and Morpheus only fight for freeing us all from the program. And their fights are arguably the best action scenes ever to hit the big screen. But even though The Matrix Reloaded is filled with philosophy from the east and the west, it is not the film that callenges you the most regarding the question what reality is. In the section Un certain regard you’ll find several films that deal with this question in the matter of “what is reality in film”? And that is even more challenging to the brain than comprehending The Matrix. It seems that we have come to see films that cooperate with the values of those to be noted elsewhere on this site as the third generation of filmgoers. The first films documented the reality. The second often had a hard time explaining to the audience what isn’t real but fiction, a story if you like. Now we have come to a time when films easily state that we know that you know this is not reality, so let’s use it and play with it. (Parallel to the movie I saw festivalgoers wearing t-shirts stating “This is not a film”, as if we didn’t know…)
The opening film of Un certain regard, En jouant dans la compagnie des hommes tells the story of a rich son putting the family business in danger in order to impress his even richer father. The film deals with the father son relationship in a subtle and fine manner, but what brings the film an extra light of interest is that we are guided in and out of the story by seeing the actors rehearse it. Yes, they are even rehearsing it as a play. Sometimes we even see the stage where the play is shown. So the film’s reality breaks up. The filmmaker asks you: do you see a film or do you see the filmed reality of a play or do you see how a play develops into a filmed reality.
For me the most successful way of dealing with what is reality in film was the film Dogville. Lars von Trier made this starfilled film in an abandoned warehouse in the Swedish countryside, pretending that he was filming outside in an old 1930s American village. With chalkmarks representing walls, doors, trees or even a dog, this film could easily be a bad pantomime. That it wasn’t, at least for me, was simply because Lars von Trier is saying to the audience: “I know you know film is not reality, so why bother pretending, let‘s focus on the story”. And the actors are really put to serious tests as they almost have nothing to support their play, not even a bluescreen like in The Matrix Reloaded. As a matter of fact in The Matrix Reloaded they built magnificent sets to support both us and the actors. Lars von Trier didn’t bother. Believe in my story or be gone. I stayed.
One can say a lot of things about the second film in the Matrix trilogy, that hit the world during the early days of this years Cannes festival. I personally enjoyed it. But it did not twist my mind. I left that to Lars von Trier.
© FIPRESCI 2003