The New Exiles

in 19th Black Nights Film Festival, Tallinn

by Tristan Priimägi

“Fresh voices, eager to communicate their artistic vision for the first time.”

These were the approximate words used by one of the programmers to describe the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival debuts competition of 14.

It was interesting to see, in that respect, that the fresh voices were exploring a theme, that is not so uncommon in the time of contemporary urban isolation – exile.

Exile – either self-imposed or circumstantial – is perhaps a key phrase that characterises a large part of those films. In the days of modern exodus and masses of people shifting geographically from place to place (apparently it’s just the beginning), the notion of changing place, shifting your physical body and social existence to another space, seems to offer a promise of a better world, but the world in question can turn out to be anything  – nasty, unwelcoming, even delusional.

In the programme  we saw examples of social exile – Spain’s Food and Shelter (Techo y comida) criticising the same austerity measures as Miguel Gomez did in his Arabian Nights (As Mil e Uma Noites), showing the social and financial decline of a fledgling family – political exile with Israel’s A.K.A. Nadia’s title character escaping to London twice, in PLO-related political matters, and inner exile in Iran’s Two (Do), where a man supposedly returned from prison(?) has lost contact with the world, choosing mental incarceration in his own haunting past.

Out of all of these, however, the most interesting (and most characteristic) examples were the ones who chose a very well-used opposition, that of culture vs. civilisation, city vs. country, urban vs. rural.

In several cases – India’s Loev, French-Colombian film Anna, the Czech Road-Movie – flight to the country offers a mental refuge from the disillusionment of city life. Just as we might speculate that most film school students come from middle-class or well-off backgrounds in order to be able to afford the tuition fees, and are therefore unable to relate to working-class problems, it would seem safe to assume that most filmmakers come from urban background, and as they criticise the everyday city hustle, they tend to idealise the rural equanimity, a long-lost ideal of the world, where feelings were more pure and untainted. The magnanimous figure of a bon sauvage has never left our minds. We are still looking for him.

In Anna’s case, as well as in case of a Mongolian-German Don’t Look at Me this Way (Schau mich nicht so an) the authors are sort of exiles. Anna’s director Jacques Toulemonde Vidal is a Colombian Frenchman, having moved from his native Colombia at an early age. Don’t Look at me this Way’s lead actress and director, the enchanting Uisenma Borchu, also moved from Mongolia to Germany as a child. Only Borchu’s exile is a far more metaphysical one in her film: the return to native Mongolia might refer to a certain afterlife, another (perhaps better) world where real values reign and the corruption is left behind.

Regarding all this, it is telling, that the programme’s best film, Colombia’s Delivery (Nacimiento) by Martin Mejia Rugeles offered adaptation instead of plight. Rugeles saw man essentially as part of a bigger whole, the nature, the universe if you will. The exile never goes anywhere – in all of the films mentioned, the change is either temporary or possibly fatal – and there is no real way to outrun yourself. Changing the surroundings is not enough to change the root of the problem inside. In Delivery, the characters are willing to acknowledge that “nature is Satan’s church” (as was so eloquently channeled by von Trier via faux-Nietzsche), even when a character is unceremoniously wiped away by the river current in the very beginning. The only way to overcome the everlasting cycle of exile is to give birth to a new life in the surroundings that have embraced both – the civil and the savage. Certainly a balance that we are all looking for every day.

Edited by Amber Wilkinson