The Faces and Facets of Hate By Jan Olszewski

in 19th Stockholm Film Festival

by Jan Olszewski

Hate was the subject of several films in Stockholm, all seen and resolved differently. In the Romanian film Hooked (Pescuit sportiv) by Adrian Sitaru, the lover neglects his fiancée endlessly postponing their marriage. So she marries someone else. It is most certainly a reason for hate. But we soon find out, forgiveness finds its way immediately. In the American film Frozen River by Courtney Hunt, a white lady living in the Northern parts of the state of New York, has been abandoned by her husband. One day the lady spots her husband’s car parked in the vicinity of a hut which a newly arrived girl has rented recently. Are they having an affair? The lady demands an immediate meeting and finds out that Lila is an Indian girl, living across the Canadian border, in a Mohawk reservation. Before all the details can be cleared up, we can see how the fury against the stranger grows. Is this self-defense or simply hatred?

It is bad enough when hate has an individual dimension but it is much worse when collective passions are at stake. In the film Johnny Mad Dog, the French director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire shows us a group of crazy teen-age rebels waging a Civil War in their country in Africa after a revolution has been declared. The unbelievable and pointless cruelty of the scenes shown here are strongly connected with the way African countries won their independence half a century ago. It was in most cases done thanks to a group of black politicians, who were fighting the colonial powers. They finally succeeded, and took power. But the general rule was they were almost always members of the same ethnographic group. Tribe solidarity was the only thing they could count on. But if after 30 or 50 years something went wrong in the country, they were simply declared criminals. Not because of being ineffective politicians, simply because of being foreigners.

We also had, during the festival, the possibility of seeing the same subject from two different viewpoints. They were about the British-Irish conflict. Strangely enough, the longest war in Europe, which lasted for 750 years, was almost completely ignored as it went on. Now, since it is over, it has gained more and more interest from filmmakers.

The first one, Hunger by Steve McQueen, a very simple story, almost a documentary, is quite precisely attached to one episode of this war: the hunger strike in the Maze prison in Belfast, 1981. The prisoners locked in the jail are treated very badly, any kind of resistance is broken by force, so the leader of the IRA prisoners makes up his mind to go on a hunger strike with his men. The whole action went on for 66 days, was planned very carefully; several people died, but it was a success. Probably the most important change was, the people in jail got another status: instead of being treated as terrorists or criminals, they got the rights of political prisoners.

The second film on the subject, In Bruges, is almost certainly a work of fiction, written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Three persons stand in the middle of the story: the boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his two hit men Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson). Are they IRA militants? Obviously not. But there are some hints they used to be in previous times. Harry sends his men to kill somebody: a Catholic priest. The attempt works out not exactly as at it had been planned. The priest dies, but so does a young boy who is accidentally present at the place of the shooting. Harry gets furious, and orders his men to go to Bruges in Belgium, where they must stay and wait further instructions. So, then, who is Harry? A simple gangster or a former IRA activist? The first answer seems improbable; a gangster would never make so much fuss about a murdered boy. Harry obviously keeps a high moral standard regarding matters of life and death. The only trouble is that his morals seem to change according to political circumstances. He was probably a man of power, accepted by his countrymen, and still feels responsible for them. In many matters of argument, he possibly used to decide who is guilty and who is not, who should be punished and who deserves forgiveness. He lost his power but never gave it up. He seems to be convinced some people from the past deserve to be punished even now: a crooked politician perhaps, or a priest who betrayed a common case. The war is over of course, but some cases should be pursued to the end. Harry is a perfectionist. Apart from that, he has some friends and was always very loyal to them. Till now, that is.

What is the meaning of this film? The answer seems to be: you cannot wage war for 750 years and then stop it for a year or two, or even ten years. There will be too many people used to fighting and killing, too many addicts — and people who do not know how to live in peace. Disarmament is not enough. If we expect the great operation to work out, we should change people on the inside who are used to fighting for many years. Change their morals, their feelings, perhaps even their memories. Otherwise, the killing will go on and on, as long as people like Harry, Ray or Ken exist.

So, then, what should be done? Ray, the man who shot the boy, seems to have the right idea. What is needed here, he says, is a sacrifice. The person who deserves punishment should give up his case, so the long chain of guilt and punishment would be broken. After the shootout at the end of the film, Ray is carried to an ambulance and makes a statement: “If I am going to get off safe and sound, I promise I shall find the parents of the boy I shot. I’ll knock at their door and declare: Here I am the assassin of your son. You may do to me anything you wish.” One might wonder whether this kind of turning point really ever happened.