The Power of Ideology By Jean-Max Méjean

in 51st Leipzig International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film

by Jean-Max Méjean

Those who doubt of the power of ideology and of words should turn their attention to Leipzig. They will discover a beautiful and rich city, with a prestigious past (Bach, Wagner, Goethe, etc.), which has mastered the tempests of time and dictatorships. In addition, a small detour to the Stasi Museum might prove beneficial to the younger students. Returning from this city I asked myself a question that is always in the forefront of my mind: how could the thought of one man or a group of people dominate an entire population and transform not only consciousness and habits, but also architecture and geography. Until, just as mysteriously, a movement brushed all this to the side, allowing no more dictatorships — fortunately. Law and justice always end up winning, we dare hope.

Leipzig’s DOK festival with its fine selection of this year enables me to view against this backdrop a number of films, one more passionate than the other, which offer a sometimes tender, often completely optimistic or desperate reflection on the state of the world, on democracy and on equality. Children of the Pyre (Ta paidia tis pyras) by Rajesh Jala shows the untouchable children of India piling bodies on pyres every night; Alice in the Land (Alicia en el país) by Esteban Larraín follows the long path of a young girl in the Andes as she tries to find work in Colombia; Gyumri by Jana Sevciková speaks of the children who, following the death of their brothers in an earthquake in Armenia, have to carry their names and pretend that they never died. All this suffering reveals that humanity is far from reaching harmony, and thus gives us food for thought. It is with regret that we have to state that documentary cinema cannot provide us with a weapon for resistance. It can only state the facts, although some documentaries appear to be perfectly staged, such as René by Helena Trestíková, which presents the life of a prisoner over twenty long years. The picture quality and the production design, clearly inspired by reality-TV, make us doubt its authenticity, as is particularly true during the long scene that unfolds the jealousy between the mother and the 52-year-old son in …Till It Hurts (Do bólu) by Marcin Koszalka. Only Pizza in Auschwitz (Pizza Be Auschwitz) by Moshe Zimerman, justly crowned by the Youth Jury, exhales some humour and optimism à la Woody Allen on a particularly horrific theme: the Holocaust. But it does so through the recent journey of an Israeli, a former inmate of prisoner camps, who is now a free man and a poet. The Beaches of Agnes (Les plages d’Agnès) by Agnès Varda offers a magical and poetic biography of the filmmaker: a kind of benevolent and colorful peace, which unfortunately did not receive an award. Perhaps it is a sign of the harshness of our time that Oblivion (El Olvido) by Heddy Honigmann (Leipzig’s FIPRESCI Award 2008) tries to soften with the portrayal of the misery of ordinary people in Lima as they resist their misfortune, poetically and with dignity, like a tribute to Charlie Chaplin.