Writers and Wars

in 57th Cannes Film Festival

by Zlatko Vidackovic

After seeing more then sixty feature films in and out of competition in Cannes, the “Directors’ Fortnight” and the “Critics’ Week”, two themes have remained most vividly in my thoughts: writers and war.

Lives of writers and their creative crises were the themes of three very good movies in different sections: “Comme une image” (in Competition, directed by Agnès Jaoui, France), “Sotto falso nome” (in the “Critics’ Week”, directed by Roberto Andò, Italy/France/Switzerland) and “Je suis un assasin” (in the “Directors Fortnight”, directed by Thomas Vincent, France). All three movies, although in different genres, gave intriguing portraits of successful writers losing at the same time their inspiration or literary identities and the love of their wives. All the money and glory they had could not give them happiness or the strength for new challenges in a demanding profession in which one is always expected to improve. The protagonists of all three movies were bitter and cynical about everything that surrounds them, but the ones who live with them did not tolerate such behaviour forever.

The war in movies can be approached in different ways, and this festival gave us some very good examples of what a filmmaker can do. It is the right of every director to create a personal movie, and I have no doubt that imposed political correctness would kill art, especially film. However, when you make a movie set in real time and in a real country, like Emir Kusturica did in his movie “Life is a Miracle”, set in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the nineties, it is very questionable to ignore everything that we all know happened there, from the siege of Sarajevo, the massacre of Srebrenica, concentration camps, the rape of Muslim women etc. and show Bosnian Serbs almost as victims of aggression and bombardments. Even if this is just the background of a Romeo and Juliet style love story. “Life is a Miracle” is an interesting, skilfully directed and colourful movie, but thinking more thoroughly about it leaves me filled with bitterness, especially when the movie comes from a director in exile from Sarajevo (who declared himself Serb, although born by Bosnian Muslim parents).

It is not just Kusturica’s partial amnesia about the horrors of war that bothers me, it is also the style. Just imagine if instead of the “Fahrenheit 9/11” Michael Moore had created a love story between an American soldier and a Iraqi prisoner, and filled it with songs, humour, animals and flying beds. It is not always easy for a nation or its artists to start with catharsis and admit the bad things their nation did. It took some time for American filmmakers to denounce the war in Vietnam, but American artists have changed, if American state policy of interventionism has not.

Timing is also very important. It was interesting to see the documentary “Salvador Allende” (directed by Patricio Guzmán) and to find out how Nixon changed the history of Chile, but could have things been different if such a movie was done in time? “Fahrenheit 9/11” came at the right moment, while it can still make a difference, and Moore correctly felt that this is not the time to be subtle. Moore showed to the whole world, and hopefully to its fellow compatriots, the ignorance, corruption and cruelty of his nation’s leaders, clearly and directly, using the power that only the images of a documentary can have. It would be great to get proof from this movie that film is not only the reflection of reality, but also a conscience of a nation or humankind that can make things different while it is not too late.