Sunday, March 29, 2009
The different cultures that inform Europe-Latin America and the United States shape the way through which these cultures are interpreted in the respective geographical locations’ art, in cinema for instance. Euro-Latin American films are not called films for no reason at all, in the same manner that America’s dream factory, Hollywood, churns out productions that are mostly movies instead of films. The abovementioned claims may be supported by the fact that Euro-Latin American films are directed toward the production of art first and foremost, whereas Hollywood movies are directed toward the consumerist goal of conquering the box-office. As such, Euro-Latin American films have a nobler commitment as an art form compared to Hollywood movies that opt for commercial appeal. Euro-Latin American films, for example, present scenes as naturally as possible. They are devoid of romanticism, frequently choosing to be expressed understatedly. This characteristic restraint is rarely found in Hollywood movies, which often draw attention to themselves by accompanying high points in the plot with backdrop music or grandiose dialogues. Whereas Hollywood movies blow their big budgets by capitalizing on special effects or explosive productions, Euro-Latin American films have the subtlety to bank on the acting and directorial skills of the people working on and for the films. In short, Euro-Latin American films are for substance while Hollywood movies, for form. While less is more makes for the beauty of Euro-Latin American films, the visual mediums from Hollywood obscure their artsy counterpart with imperialistic promotion across the globe.
Hollywoodization notwithstanding, three European films that I find experientially enjoyable include Babette’s Feast, Cinema Paradiso and Europa, Europa. In the first film, I encountered a character whose humble act of self-sacrifice changes the way the people in her adoptive community relate with one another. Babette, a French political refugee, chooses to be a low-key cook even as she used to work as a prestigious chef back in Paris. Instead of using the lottery prize she won to leave the two Danish sisters she had been serving for more than a decade, she spent it by holding a banquet for the sisters’ religious sect. Such good intention did not go unrewarded, as the small religious congregation that had feasted on wine, bread, turtle, sauces, quail in sarcophagus, grapes and figs and cake with fruits and liquor felt a transcendental experience of forgiving one another for committed sins, of reconciling their past conflicts. This world-changing selflessness, to me, is amazing for its religious parallels in such spiritual giants like Jesus Christ, Mohammed and Gautama Buddha. They all arrive in a flawed place that needs salvation, and instead of backing out they choose to endure the yoke of their sacrifice. In the case of Babette, she even prepared an epicurean feast that feed the soul apart from the body. The multilayered insight into the humility, self-sacrifice and service of the human spirit makes this film a true representation of the European film: it is subtle (which is a departure from the too-embellished Hollywood formula), selfless (for choosing to forego box-office for art’s sake) and serving (for offering significant human experience).
On the other hand, Cinema Paradiso puts forth the theme of reality being stranger than fiction. Life, obviously, is more real than movies, and this reality asserts itself through the rusty anchor that will not allow Toto to leave his slow-moving town, the vast sea that separates him from economic opportunities away from home, and the demolition of Cinema Paradiso that destroys the escape to fantasy by the moviegoers as well as a signal to return to reality. Most especially, this descent to reality occurs in Salvatore’s love life, since his and Elena’s relationship was broken because happy endings happen only in the movies, not in their real lives. Salvatore might have triumphed in his career but reality sets in to remind him that this success was bittersweet since he jeopardized his relationship. His teary eyes while viewing the kissing scenes in the cinema show the yearning for an aborted love. He could have consummated this relationship, but real life merited his choice of success over love life.
Meanwhile, Europa, Europa is so entitled to draw attention to the subject being the central concern of the plot. The repetition of the name helps the audience focus on the reference of the film. The drowning scene involving Solomon Perel is a cue to the life of the protagonist: he gets overcome by the waters of deception and he gasps for air due to his concealed identity, rendering him suffocated. His dream of a supper with an increasingly disappearing family is the price to pay for covering his identity: he loses the family that he can best identify in. His shared elevator ride with Hitler is a reference to the surrendering of his Jewish identity in favor of his survival as a German, something subverted in the dream since Hitler confesses to being the Jewish that Perel attempts to give up to begin with. Only when Perel had acted heroically by siding into his Jewish kind did he finally own up to his persecuted identity and while he gave away an opportunity to survive the Holocaust, he was able to liberate himself. Perel’s eventual revelation of his true citizenship is a life-changing decision that offers the lesson of being true to oneself.
European cinema, at best, is a sincere representation of life being raised to the level of the sublime. Not only does it honestly depict social realities from the cruelty of human killing in Olivier, Olivier to the brutal extent poverty will drive people in Maria, Full of Grace but also does it send important messages about universality of life as well as contextuality of life in other cultures. By screening various embodiments of the human spirit, one becomes humanized because of the insights one learns from these films. European cinema is relevant in that it is a mirror through which the audience may know themselves as well as realize the social conditions that persist. While other art forms like literature and painting may drive home the same humanizing point, their combination in the form of cinema makes the storytelling more tantalizing and exciting. While there exist other cinemas like those in Hollywood and homegrown movies, European cinema is a special case because it has been consistent in portraying life in the most artful presentation possible, without pressing regard for making money at the tills owing to the more important purpose of conveying significant human experience seen uniquely through the eyes of European artists.