Our World and Microcosm

in 29th Stockholm International Film Festival

by Christos Skyllakos

Modern social reality seems to have defeated humans. It has crushed them in the corners of the social picture. To play their part and to be forgotten: to be weak and marginalized. Ghettoized. A world in decline. South Korea, Mexico, Japan, Lebanon. Russia, Turkey, Canada, Germany. Two steps forward, drama. Two steps backward, tragedy. These identical two front and two backward steps seem to be the only permissible for them.

In the 21st century, in order to be fair, we must draw new “maps” for life on earth. We have to draw billions of invisible and miserable microcosms into geography books. Maybe we got a cinema that could do the job. It’s a flexible tool for this. More honest. The forgotten people who in real life are on the margins of society, in the film frame, even if remain marginalized, at the same time are protagonists.

Modern cinema creates a typology of real-world events. It sees the global geopolitical situation through the smallest cell of every different country and society. The person, the individual. At his home, at his workplace, in his neighborhood. Far from the so-called historical. It looks like a dot. A dot, however, contains the general moral fears and guilts as well as its overruns and its transgressions of all oppressed mankind.

Indeed. When the projector lit up an unknown yet so familiar world comes to life. And we identify ourselves directly with its characters. We are moved by their physiognomy and follow them throughout their journey. We feel so close to them because they have something identical to us. We admire modern cinema that does not hide reality and screens people as people. It’s not optimistic for sure, but it’s honest about them (and the audience).

We have again (drawing this conclusion from a large sample of movies that we watched at the 29th Stockholm International Film Festival), a humane or else a humanitarian cinema. In critical language, we should define it as pure social cinema. A cinema that finds its references to the unseen reality as well as the progressive ideas of the artists. Aesthetically speaking, the references are -with a wide variety of narrative forms- to the essence of neo-realism.

What matters is whether the character of the film is a poor maid in an expensive hotel who follows the same routine every day without any contact with people. Or a film about a deaf girl in the forests of Turkey who is not allowed any form of freedom? A movie about a ten-year-old boy who struggles between the violence of his family and the dirty and violent streets of his poor city or a film about a family that creates values on the violent streets of a disintegrated society? This that have in common, and that matters after all, is that they all act trapped inside the society with no choices of escape. And we didn’t give a damn before we will see them in the movies. They were unseen. The modern camera however is there and looks at their faces taking pictures of them. In that way, the unseen subjects of society acquire an identity. The active action that they deny in real life, they gain it through art. This form of cinema gives people some lost dignity.

Only such art can exist. Those who think they can stylize and anesthetize life – as Walter Benjamin put it – will sooner or later fade away. We are not interested in excellence, in epics and romanticism. Independent auteurs are getting closer and closer to the depth of human emotions, human situations, and processes. Closer to the intentions, the expectations, the conflicts inside the soul of the men, wherever on earth. Filmmakers promote the active action of the individual, no matter how quickly or how successful will be. After all, the world has become a crushing microcosm for so many people. We cannot know what the outcome will be but we know what the situation is.

I want to distinguish Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters from Japan which I think is the best example of this syllogism:  For its masterful storytelling -completely avoiding stylism, moralism, and simplifications – of the modern life of poor people. For the complexity of the true and non-alienated human relationships, narrated through honest and tender filmmaking that confirms the director’s quality as a genuine auteur in the way that illustrates the dignity of its gorgeous and well-constructed characters, characters that give us back the right to feel and act like humans again.

Christos Skyllakos