Sunday, 11 May 2008

Privacy and naturalism

As my post on Away From Her indicates, I am currently not too fussed about naturalism in films. But is that a luxury position? Can I say that because I haven't seen a family member die from advancing Alzheimer's long before the body gave up? Can I say that because I didn't suffer at the hands of the Stasi and have to ask 'why?'. Can I say that because I am neither Armenian nor Turkish and so am not woven in to a complex history and culture of recrimination, violence, revenge, massacre, oppression. My identity is not found there, so I am not troubled by minor historical inaccuracies in The Lives of Others or as troubled as some people are by major political and historical statements in Ararat that are extremely controversial.

Am I an untypical viewer? Does the audience in general really suspend its disbelief? Does it do so more or less in 'historical' films, or films set somewhere special?

And what about the marketing of the film. Das Leben der Anderen [a SUPERB film, by the way] has been marketed as being fanatically accurate in its depiction of conditions in East Germany in the mid-80s, but it has been criticised for portraying the Stasi's surveillance practices rather liberally. No assignment would have been left in the hands of just two agents, apparently, and no one would have been left on one assignment long enough to develop any sort of attachment to the people under surveillance. We watched The Lives of Others with friends from church on Friday and then had a long conversation about this with an eminent historical writer.

On the one hand, does that really matter? On the other hand, what if people watched the film and were asking 'why weren't more Stasi people as compassionate as that?' On that particular point, of course, maybe they were - after all, we wouldn't know about it because they would have suppressed incriminating evidence in order to prevent people's arrest. That 'flaw' allows us to be as hopeful about the lives of the Stasi operatives as it opens up the agonised question, above. There is still the question of artistic responsibility. Should the film have a disclaimer at the start that notes what is and what is not claiming to be accurate?

That would be tricky in the case of Ararat because the history is rather controversial. Not to mention the fact that the second half of the film seems to undermine the rather hammy 'educational' message of the first half. 'There was an Armenian genocide' it says clumsily through the words of the young hero at the airport, but then through his further words and actions it says 'people sincerely believe false things on no evidence'. What sort of a disclaimer or otherwise does such a complex (almost surreal) and controversial film require? And is that the director's responsibility, or the distributor's, or the wider society?

As for me, I think that no extra disclaimer is needed and that audiences should know better than to rely on films for their historical knowledge, but I could be wrong and questions remain about censorship and responsibility...