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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

France reveals familiar issues in film

With one film left, the French film festival “France Today: Documentary Films about Contemporary France, which has been running in Bryan Jr. Auditorium since Sept. 12, will draw to a close tonight with “Into Great Silence.”

The festival’s films address a plethora of issues including threats of globalization faced by the artisan wine industry (“Mondovino”), the racism that affects the job opportunities of immigrants and their children (“The Glass Ceiling”), popular reactions against the Iraq War and post-9/11 French politics (“Notre Musique,” “Chats Perches”), homophobic violence (“Beyond Hatred”), and the perseverance of monasticism in the French Alps (“Into Great Silence”).

What this festival brings to the audience is not the usual touristy array of escapist romantic themes … la “Chocolat” or “Babbette’s Feast.” Rather, these films show France as it exists in the present, revealing that it is, despite its distinct culture, a country whose problems are not so different from our own.

“It was really interesting to see that the French have a lot of the same immigration issues that we have here,” sophomore Lauren Holt, a French and English double-major, said about “The Glass Ceiling.”

Also, as those who saw “Beyond Hatred” this Tuesday can attest, France is no stranger to the repercussions of homophobia either.

“I didn’t see the point of going all around the world to do a film on homophobia when we had everything to work with in France,” director Olivier Meyrou, said in an interview on the World Socialist Web site.

Covering the aftermath of the murder of a young gay man by a group of skinheads, “Beyond Hatred” departs from the incendiary, damning tone one might expect from a director tackling such a brutal act. Instead, Meyrou takes a subtler, more humanistic approach, documenting not only the reactions of the victim’s family, but also those of the accused. What results is a film rich with potent psychological insight into the nature, and origins, of hate.

“Beyond Hatred” is very eye opening because there is very little (pronounced) hatred in the film,” Assistant Professor of French, Maria Bobroff said, who has organized French film festivals for the last three years.

Viewers may find an exception to the reigning themes of political ferment and social inequity with the starkly filmed “Into Great Silence,” playing tonight at 8 p.m. in Bryan Jr., which relies on all-natural lighting to faithfully capture the ascetic world of the Grand Chartreuse Monastery, located high in the French Alps.

It received the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival for the originality of its approach to documentary film making, and true to its title, it contains little more than the ambient sounds of the monastery, with no interviews, dialogue, or mood music to contribute to thematic effect.

“This is what you would call direct cinema, where the filmmaker does not intrude,” said visiting assistant professor of theatre studies Chad Phillips, who will lead a post-viewing discussion on the film. “The filmmaker is more of an observer than interpreter.”

Thus, it is the silence that conveys the strongest message about the monastic life and, Christian or not, you too may be able to understand that within the absence of sound, there lies something truly divine.

“This film will be a special treat,” Bobroff said. “The director of (“Into Great Silence”) wrote to this monastery back in the 80s asking permission to do a documentary on them. They responded to him that they would think about it, and that they would get back to him when they were ready. Well, 17 years later, they were ready.”

So, before you commit yourself to an evening of quasi-Greek debauchery at the Kaiser’s Hole, consider the Carthusian way – you may find their silence therapeutic, if not enlightening.

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