Slogans – Absurd Hierarchies

Quick Thoughts: Slogans (2001)

The second film in the World Cinema Series from Albania made by Gjergj Xhuvani.

Slogans

Slogans is a terrific film and the first Albanian movie to be screen in Cannes in 2001. It serves mainly as a critique and spotlight on rural life in communist Albania during the late 1970s. To give a little background, post-WWII, 1944, Enver Hoxha, leader of the communist Part Of Labour, became the 22nd priminister of Albania. Under his 40 year reign, the country saw vast improvements and a relative stabilisation of political infrastructure with the rebuilding of the land following the devastation of the second world war, the renewing the education system, expansion of communications and transportation, lowering of illiteracy rates and building of the agricultural industry. However, Hoxha’s rule was of an iron fist, with stringent control put in place by the secret police – especial in rural regions. In such, there was a strict enforcement of zero political opposition in place which saw Albania become one of the most isolated countries within Europe. This encapsulated a great use of the death penalty, long-term imprisonments and evictions, all of which begin to set the scene for Solgans’ narrative.

Focused on a small rural town Slogans explores the small-scale effects of the anti-revisionist Marxism–Leninism (a form of communism based on the aforementioned Soviet political figures that opposed any change or revision) regime in place on a community. And in such, if you were to watch this film without seeing the words ‘based on real events’ in the beginning, you’d think it was something by Yorgos Lanthimos.

    

This is because there is such an absurd and dark humor built into the fabric of this narrative, one that sees a town obsessively care for and implement patriotic phrases across hillsides with stones and the labour of children in school. The effect of this ludicrous work is a highly toxic community fixated on political symbols and empty phrases; tribalism for the sake of tribalism. This toxicity is fueled by those with power and connections to the state party who use their positions to settle grudges and justify their constant neurotic tirades.

The point that this narrative then builds toward is on a question of community and hierarchy. In such, Slogans questions if the socialist regime put in place in this rural region is even about the community, rather dictatorial relations where power is unfairly distributed and abused with the facade of a greater good. Through this, Xhuvani (director) cites the corruption that can infect a system where ideas of hierarchy are too strictly controlled, in turn, allowing absurdity to flourish. We see absurdity through constant hypocrisy; the communist party representative of the region sleeping with teachers and slipping up with his political terminology, yet persecuting those around him for the very same thing. We see other shades of hypocrisy in upstanding citizens putting up a facade of patriotism just to stay out of trouble, like one teacher obliviously sustaining a slogan encouraging the Vietnamese in their war against the Americans – a war that had ended 10 years ago. Another example would be citizens taking advantage of the kangaroo court system for their own sexual interests.

What these many plot-points and character motivations suggest is an inherent set of interests within the community; interests that entail a need to find companionship or better social standing. With governmental bodies trying to control this only comes chaos, and such paints a picture of Slogans’ poignant and witty social commentary. Its ultimate position then seems to state that people should be left with the freedom to exercise social inclinations; to be with who they wish to be, to say and do what they wish and to help those around them as they wish to.

So, to end, have you seen Slogans, if so, what are your thoughts on the narrative?

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The Patience Stone – Extreme Genuity

Quick Thoughts: The Patience Stone (2012)

From the French-Afghan director Atiq Rahimi, we have the first film in the World Cinema Series that represents Afghanistan.

The Patience Stone

Awe-inspiringly powerful, The Patience Stone is one of the greatest character films I have ever seen – without a doubt. With immaculate cinematography, camera work and acting, this stands tall as a film I can’t describe to be anything other than perfect.

The script, based off of Atiq Rahimi’s book of the same name, utilities its female protagonist in an anonymous war-torn country to explore extremely profound notions of truth and isolation. In such, she starts the narrative wanting to escape her town, almost willing to leave her husband to die, but cannot bring herself to entirely abandon him. So, having discovered her aunt, who is able to watch her children during the days, our protagonist ventures back home to take care of her husband. It’s here where she is faced by a stone wall that she must care for, one she eventually begins to talk to – hence the parabolic title that has roots in Persian mythology. With the husband as her patience stone, something she may confide in as a means of exploring herself, our protagonist reveals the most intimate details of her life, expositing an ‘extreme genuity’ by laying out the patterns of thought we often push out of our own consciousnesses and into a subconscious. And it is this extreme genuity that lies at the source of this narrative’s power; it not only gives us untold access to the mind of a protagonist, but puts that protagonist in an extremely complex and dramatic situation.

What you will then find in this film is a powerful lesson in characterisation; one that demonstrates how to access a deep truth within protaognists. In such, getting to know a character, being able to walk in their shoes and know their thoughts, their concealed behaviours, thoughts and emotions, is not just about complete access. There is a fourth wall within The Patience Stone that is put in place and leaned on so that this ‘access’ that we are allowed is measured. To expand, the fourth wall being leaned on is exemplified in moments of self-reflection in our protagonist, moments where she will not just lay down the truth of her thoughts, past and emotions but question them and debate the meaning of her actions. This is important as, though it is easy to think the opposite, we do not actually want raw access into people’s minds or pasts. We do not want non-reflexive voices and exposition because the conflict of a film that means to delve deeply into a character usually exists within them. So, if there are mainly inner-conflicts put to screen and no debate, no self-reflection, characters become passive and slip through the narrative in an almost meaningless stream of consciousness. Add to this the banality of simply expositing horrific moments of a character’s past and you construct a narrative thats only draw is the imagination of a writer thinking up something vastly melodramatic. But, by sustaining a debate within his character and not just expositing her complex past, Rahimi maintains a strong and present character, demonstrating her empathy and the fact that she thinks of her husband as she talks – which also means that she, in part, thinks of the audience too. This is why there is a leaning on the fourth wall; our protagonists is seemingly talking to us too at points. That not only makes things much more intimate, but, most importantly, makes her self-reflexive – all to the consequence of a deeper, more complex and more genuine exploration of her inner self.

What this culminates in is a shade of truth that we have been calling ‘extreme genuity’; a character conveying exactly who they are to an extent which we rarely are given access to in films. When we add to this the looming physical conflicts that are present in this film, you have a recipe for a profoundly emotional and resonant story. So, to conclude, all I can say is that The Patience Stone is a film I more than recommend you find and watch.

 

 

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