The Rich and the Poor By Thomas Rothschild

in 10th Bratislava International Film Festival

by Thomas Rothschild

The biblical legend of the writing on the wall could be regarded as a metaphor for cinema. Of course authors and film directors aren’t prophets. They can’t foresee the future any better than anyone else. But they might have a premonition of what is going on in the world and in society and what might be threatening mankind. So the pictures on the screen may be understood as a warning. One ought to take it serious. “Mene mene tekel u-pharsin”.

The writing on the wall tells us about the end of a kingdom, in which the rich humiliate and exploit the poor. It tells us about the violence that occurs and will occur even more if change doesn’t take place. It didn’t take the financial crisis of these days for children, women and men to starve on the streets. The Dow Jones is rather irrelevant to them.

A crime that should be kept secret; an upright police officer trying to reveal the crime and his corrupt superior who keeps him from doing his job; a mob in privileged housings prepared to lynch; exclusive rights for the rich — it all seems familiar to the cinema goer. But the Mexican director Rodrigo Plá mixes a harsh accusation against today’s state of things out of all this in his film The Zone (La zona). He makes us understand the hatred of the poor against the rich not only in his home country. There are, as we know, places in the world with even more suffering then Mexico. The Zone is a thrilling movie that ought to “work” commercially and at the same time a highly pessimistic piece of political art in the tradition of Elio Petri, Francesco Rosi or Costa-Gavras.

It is the context that counts. As in Michael Haneke’ s Funny Games, two men enter a house in The Bastards (Los bastardos) by Mexican director Amat Escalante, and practice terrorism. While Haneke demonstrates the unmotivated violence of wealthy kids, Escalante opens his excellent film with a series of paradigmatic scenes that make the viewer experience the humiliation of the poor in a drastic way. The fury of the twosome has its good reasons. The Bastards warns of what will happen to the rich in this world if they don’t take steps against global poverty soon. It is in their interest to listen to this warning. Cinema isn’t necessarily an escapist dream.

Festivals constitute interrelations. The films enter a dialogue with one another. And some problems of European film makers seem rather luxurious in comparison with the hardships of the poor in the so called “Third World”. In Arthur Schnitzler’s drama “The Lonely Way” (Der einsame Weg, 1904), the writer Sala recapitulates a remark his friend Julian Fichtner had made before: “Your son has a mind for essentials, Julian.” And a little later Sala declares: “I have somehow the impression that a better generation is growing up with more poise and less brilliancy”. That was meant sarcastically in 1904 of course. But doesn’t the quotation contain a truth valid even today: that one shouldn’t betray moral standards for originality, that one should bethink the essentials that are to be found where human beings are deprived of their dignity and even their lives. Provided of course this is told with the adequate artistic means and where it is art one intends to produce.