Dear Diary #6: And the most beautiful film of the festival thus far is…

Borders and language, from Pawel Pawlikowski to Mads Mikkelsen

CANNES – Dear Diary, as we reach the halfway stage at Cannes, there is one theme constantly popping up throughout a number of films and it is that of borders and language. Heck, there was even a film called Border, the genius Swedish movie that looks not just at physical borders between countries but borders between worlds and realities. The most beautiful film of the festival thus far, Cold War, saw its lovers cross a variety of borders and a variety of tongues were spoken by the characters, from Polish to French, with a smattering of English and German. But even before leaving Poland, the characters heard songs sung by their fellow countrymen that they couldn’t understand.

Cold War by Pawel Pawlikowski

This was taken up by this morning’s opening film by the Iranian director Jafar Pahani. Three Faces is about an actress who travels to a remote village to help a girl in need. As she and her friend head deeper into the countryside, the language shifts from Farsi to Turkish and back again. As with Pawlikowski’s film, language is used to show difference and a lack of communication and understanding rather than a shared culture and history.

Three Faces.

In Girl, three languages are spoken (French, Flemish and English) with fluency and ease. Lara and her family slip between their two native tongues, while English is spoken by teachers at the ballet school with no problems for the students. It is hardly surprising from a film made in the heart of the EU that multiple languages are viewed not as a Babel’s Tower but a freedom. Yet the irony is that in a society full of languages, the protagonist has so much trouble communicating.

A scene from Girl.

In Arctic, we see a lone man (Mads Mikkelsen) as he confronts nature. He speaks both English and Danish, whose swear words sound pleasingly similar. When he encounters the survivor of a helicopter crash, he discovers that, at least judging from the script on her ID, she is Armenian. He tries some English on her and we see him painstakingly transcribe her name onto paper for a would˗be rescuer to find. It was a film that showed a man’s desperation to communicate and converse with another human being.

Mads Mikkelsen in Arctic.

And then we come to today’s hugely disappointing Fahrenheit 451. After Ramin Bahrani’s previous feature 99 Homes, hopes were high and were quickly dashed, or in this case shot down in flames. This film deals with the very nature of language itself. Books are burned (even Bradbury’s, in a nod to the author), knowledge is policed, and vocabulary is being eroded. Although it is not a great movie, Fahrenheit 451 is a reminder that we are responsible for keeping language rich and alive, whatever language that may be.

Michael Shannon and Michael B. Jordan in Fahrenheit 451.

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