BY JERECA PNG
In Jojo Rabbit, ten-year-old Jojo Betzler came to learn that the Jews were not monsters with horns, and that his anti-Semitic sentiments were founded on the propaganda he had grown up with. Although we have the benefit of hindsight, Jojo’s naivety continues to highlight just how malleable truth can be.
Jojo Rabbit © 20th Century Fox
Tell me everything about the Jewish race.”
“Okay. We’re like you, but human.”
Jojo Rabbit (2019), dir. Taika Waititi
There may be absolutes no one can dispute – like how we need oxygen to survive or that the Earth is round (is it really though?). However, in most instances, the Truth cannot be neatly pigeonholed into a clear-cut black and white. What we believe as the truth tends to be damaged goods – a fragile idea that has been tossed around, caught in the collective turbulence of memory, perspective and manipulation.
As art imitates life, the concept of truth cannot be avoided in cinema.
This year, Perspectives Film Festival explores three aspects of truth in cinema:
and its ability to illuminate the invisible parts of society.
Construction of Truth
In The Metamorphosis of Birds, director Catarina Vasconcelos reinvents her life in intimate snapshots and poetry. Through this autobiographical docu-fiction, Vasconcelos presents her life’s truth through varying lenses, which change according to her own emotions and perceptions. What we see is therefore but one version of the truth – her truth.
The Metamorphosis of Birds © Portuguese Film Agency
Even in created worlds and lives, we are pulled along a single perspective, the viewpoint of the protagonist. Momentarily, we construct our own version of truth based on what is presented on the screen, where each moment is carefully chosen and designed by the director. The filmmaker controls the audience’s perspective and, therefore, the momentary truth.
As much as we would love for the protagonist’s voice to have the final say, we so often come to realise that in film, the protagonist’s version of the truth can be littered with various fallacies and failures. Subconsciously, the protagonist may present a version of the truth they believe. Their truth is not wrong, it is simply one version amongst many others.
If we believe that film is a mirror of humanity, it will reflect that the truths portrayed are not one dimensional. They are constantly in flux and constantly reshaped and rebuilt to suit our needs.
Manipulation of Truth
Apocalypse Now © StudioCanal
When the USA bore arms against the Viet Cong, military propaganda ran rampant in Hollywood. At the height of the Vietnam war, Hollywood welcomed the all too familiar hero, the American soldier. However, as the audience sat entertained by guns and explosions, Hollywood had subconsciously set a standard. The North Vietnamese were typecast as the antagonists. The South Vietnamese, helpless. And the Americans were the democratic messiahs, the protectors against the Communist scourge, or so the average American cinema-goer was led to believe.
Manipulation seeps into the truths presented by documentaries as well.
Director Francis Ford Coppola © Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images
Reality, as it unfolds in documentaries, falls prey to perspective. Real-life is filtered through the agendas of the subject, director, and camera. In the dark editing room, the footage undergoes surgery – under the skilful hands of the editor, the unrefined truth is trimmed and moulded. A compromise is reached between the vision of the director and the story that needs to be told.
Illuminating invisible parts of society
Paris, the city of love. Egypt, a vast desert full of rolling sand dunes and mummies. How did we ever establish such stereotypes if not for how they were represented in the media? Stories have such an effect on us, and cinema is powerful in shaping our understanding of cultures, communities, and lives.
As we see an increasing flow of films from various parts of the world, we are also introduced to new perspectives from diverse voices. Film as a medium spotlights stories that would otherwise have gone unnoticed –— hidden gems, undiscovered by the world.
Voices that were once ignored have found a platform, bringing fresh viewpoints of their own countries, cultures, and traditions. These filmmakers tell stories of moments foreign to us, their films expand our worldview, leading us to empathise and identify with people and crush harmful stereotypes on the way.
Every frame immortalises a part of the truth – someone’s story, emotions, and their deepest desires. As a film passes through the hands of many, a part of each remains. We piece together these varying perspectives to create our own understanding of the world – our truth. All of these moments unveil our profound, vulgar humanity and reveals in no uncertain terms who we are.
© Perspectives Film Festival 2020
“There either is or is not, that’s the way things are. The colour of the day. The way it felt to be a child. The saltwater on your sunburnt legs. Sometimes the water is yellow, sometimes it’s red. But what colour it may be in memory, depends on the day. I’m not going to tell you the story the way it happened. I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.”
Great Expectations (1998), dir. Alfonso Cuaron