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A review of the festival del film locarno, 2016: Community, gloom and hope

Thursday 1 September 2016, by SIGNIS

Locarno, September, 1st, 2016 (Walter Chikwendu Ihejirika). Reviewing the 2016 edition of the Festival del Film Locarno from the religious and moral prism of the Ecumenical Jury, I will use a condensed version of the well-known narrative structure of Vladimir Propp (1968) as a reference guide.

The classical structure consists of: a) idyllic scenes of a community harmony (the Paradise); b) the breach of the moral fabric through human acts of omission or commission; c) the entrance of an evil agent or villain who sows seeds of sorrow and disharmony; d) the accentuation of the negative consequences of the activities of the evil on the lives of people in the community and the environment; e) the rise of a heroic figure in the community to combat the evil agent ; e) the struggles, fumbles and even seeming defeat of the heroic figure, f) the ultimate victory, because unless the hero succeeds in the mortal combat with the villain, the continued existence of the community is doomed; g) the re-establishment of moral order in the community and communal celebration of the heroic victory.

Taking the idyllic state of our human society as a given, majority of the films shown at the festival highlighted the moral breaches and evil elements which are eating through the fabrics of our modern society. Such negatives as loneliness, loss of family and community spirit, absence of father-figures, exploitation of the weak and poor, loss of direction by young people, and terrorism . Some of the films dwelt so morbidly on these contemporary manifestations of the actions of the evil agents in our society, throwing bluntly in the face of the spectators the social muddle in which we live. But some directors deftly portrayed not only the evil elements but also heroic figures who through personal struggles represent the human propensity to rise above the evil morass to aspire toward a better future.

Three films, to various degrees were outstanding in highlighting the moral movement from evil to good. These were the films which eventually won the Ecumenical Jury Prize and commendations. The first is Godless , directed by Ralitza Petrova, Bulgaria/Denmark/France, 2016, the second is Mister Universo , directed by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, Austria/Italy, 2016; and the third is Marija , directed by Michael Koch, Germany/Switzerland, 2016.

On the surface, it seems paradoxical that a film titled Godless will win the Prize of an Ecumenical Jury composed of Catholic, Protestant, Anglican or Orthodox Church members. But there is a great evidence of both God and goodness in Godless. The film tells the story of a young woman, Gana, who works as a caretaker for elderly people in a Bulgarian city. As part of a crime ring, she steals the ID cards of her patients. Due to an unjust society, limited choices, and a painful personal history, she lives in a cold, hard world without compassion or love. Gana yearns for a release from the pain in her life. In awarding the Ecumenical prize to Godless, the jury noted that the film projected a profound cry out of the depths of misery, a gradual opening from insensitivity to love, from coldness to a feeling of the human warmth. The ascent and descent from a mountain in the closing shots of the films are evocative both theophany and mission.

Mister Universo” which won the first jury commendation is set within the world of a circus. The main character, after losing a totem from his childhood, begins a quest to replace the lost object. On his journey, Tairo discovers the nature of human relationships, the importance of family and his true identity.

The film which won the second jury commendation, “Marija” tells the story of a Ukrainian woman in Germany who seeks a better life, despite the many obstacles facing immigrants such as herself. The film is a narrative for women from Eastern European countries who often struggle to survive by selling their bodies. Marija pursues her dream by using her intelligence, relational skills and her deep conviction to persevere.

These three films, while highlighting the various forms of evil besetting contemporary society, lead us to conclude that even in the darkest human soul, there is always a possibility to allow the rays of goodness to penetrate. In the struggle against evil, against oppression and natural challenges, we need three things: our God-given intelligence and talents, the warmth of family and our community, and ultimately, the grace of God.

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