Spiritual Voices By Andrei Plakhov

in 60th Cannes Film Festival

by Andrei Plakhov

Regulars of the Cannes Film Festival still remember its 50th anniversary in 1997 with the predomination of violent themes and dark colors in the competition program (the remarkable leader of this trend was Michael Haneke’s Funny Games). Ten years later, Cannes’ 60th edition turned out to be as serious in subject, as turbulent in tone.

Physical and psychological violence is suffered in The Edge of Heaven by Fatih Akin, Secret Sunshine by Lee Chang-Dong, Silent Light by Carlos Reygadas, The Banishment by Andrei Zviagintsev as well as in the prize-winner of both the Palm d’Or and FIPRESCI prize 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days by Cristian Mungiu. The Grand Prix winner The Mourning Forest by Naomi Kawase depicts a cult of death and unbearable losses.

Killers and exterminators populate American competition films — even if in Paranoid Park (by Gus Van Sant) death comes as a result of young lust for life. Family crisis and criminal abortion provoke even more cruelty into the portrait of a modern society predominated with kidnapping, sexploitation, extreme perversions. Prisons, asylums and retirement homes appear to be the most popular locations of current arthouse cinema. Import Export by Ulrich Seidl exposes another painful conflict in the modern world, confronting rich and poor countries.

While social and moral regulations seem to be broken in the age of globalization, the man/woman in danger tries to escape in religious rituals. It happens in the Israeli film Tehilim by Raphael Nadjari, in the Mexican Silent Light and in the Korean Secret Sunshine. Frustrated characters rooted in very different cultures take the same road where they hope to meet God, to touch the mystery of the universe and to accept the world even if it far from being perfect. Some of them fail but their attempts are not useless and some are able to witness and create miracles.

What is important for each artistic concept: most of the films influence the audience not through shocking and depressing experiences (like it was ten years ago: remember your impression of Funny Games!). Just the opposite: deaths and sufferings lead to us rediscovering human values and the beauty of nature. That’s why the competition program gives such a high level of cinematography and leaves unanswered the question as to why a special prize for the best cinematography does not exist in Cannes.

One of the most sophisticated films has been made by Alexander Sokurov. Alexandra, a personal reflection of the Chechnyan war conflict, is full of visual beauty and always connected with ‘spiritual voices’ (the title of a Socurov documentary shot on the border of Afghanistan ).

Ten years after the triumph of “new violence” (like the Tarantino, Coen Brothers and Haneke interpretations) world cinema looks healthier – not less troubled but more human and spiritual. The victory of the Romanian film (not of the Coen Brothers) is significant in this context and signalizes the return of moral issues which were banished at the turn of the millennium.