jueves, 4 de febrero de 2010

Participación en las Universidades: Notas sobre el cine y su tracendencia

Participación de las Universidades

Notas sobre el cine y su tracendencia

La realización del mundo respecto a la capacidad de influencia en las masas del cine no llegó inmediatamente pero si con el tiempo, como resultado de una serie de impresiones que se confirmaron progresivamente. Cuando ocurrió, la industria cinematográfica se convirtió en Grandes Negocios y desde la segunda década del siglo ha tenido su mayor fuerza pujante en Hollywood. Otros centros de producción cinematográfica, situados en el viejo continente, actuaron con principios diferentes a aquellos que prevalecieron el Estados Unidos. El cine europeo, en sus formas más avanzadas, ve su rol como arte para ser comparados con otras ates, entendido como una forma privilegiada de la cultura moderna.

In the twenties France saw the phenomenon of the avant-garde cinema, closely related to the surrealist movement; in Germany, at the same time, expressionist cinema flourished: in Russia, Sergei Eisenstein and other directors gave birth to a new and original style which was to mark an important step in the evolution of the language and art of cinema. The film industry and art cinema seemed, at least in theory, to take different directions, even if the real situation was much more complex and contradictory than may appear in these hasty notes. Take, for example, the case of Fritz Lang, who, after creating several masterpieces of expressionist cinema in Germany, moved to Hollywood, where he succeeded in retaining the demands of his personal style alongside those of the film industry.

Since its beginnings, in addition to well-tried subjects from the lighter forms of literature and popular theatre (adventure stories, dramas of passion, comedies), the cinema has always tried to tackle more culturally demanding subjects such as the life-stories of historical characters, adaptations of great masterpieces of literature and classical theatre. Among these have been stories from the Bible, above all the Passion of Jesus, which was one of the first subjects to be brought to the screen, following in the wake of popular religious dramas going back to the Middle Ages, whose traditions have been kept alive in certain places (such as Oberammergau in Bavaria) right up to the present day. The primitive "Passions" constitute an important chapter in the early history of the cinema. One scholar has counted over fifty which were filmed before 1915.

But it is obvious that subjects such as these, entrusted to the tender mercies of the film industry (which in the following decades has never ceased to remake them with ever more grandiose spectacle), can only obtain partially satisfactory results. The grandiose spectacle, in fact, is not always matched by a corresponding depth of interpretation, which can only be achieved with the requisite knowledge supported by the resources of art. This applies to many films which have been made on the life of Christ or of other Bible figures or the first Christian martyrs....

All the films of this kind, and there are many, are mainly characterized, with regard to the visual aspect, by a mawkishly sentimental style (known in France as Saint Sulpicien, in Italy as oleografico) which, while it may delight simpler people, nauseates persons of more cultivated taste and has often provoked the indignation of those who see in this sort of spectacle the exploitation of religious subjects for predominantly commercial purposes.

To escape from the trap of sentimentality, many film directors gifted with a personal style have preferred to approach religious subjects indirectly, particularly the passion of Jesus and the drama of redemption. Imaginary figures of priests, mostly drawn from pre-existing literary works, have been brought to the screen as a means of communicating the perennial immediacy of the Passion, as described in the words "Jesus will be dying until the end of the world". Jesus suffers, by substitution, in the figure of the priest, who bears witness in his life to the ancient axiom: Sacerdos alter Christus.

One can recall, in this context, films such as The Fugitive (1947) by John Ford, The diàry of a country curate (1950) by Robert Bresson, and The Nazarene (1958) by Luis Buñuel. Alfred Hitchcock also did something similar in his film I confess (1953). The proximity of the dates of these films tells us that there was a period when production of this kind of movie was really booming.

We may ask ourselves, at this point, how the cinema expresses transcendency. Is it really in the great film spectacles aimed at the masses, dealing with biblical, christological or hagiographic subjects and telling of miracles and divine intervention, with an abundant use of special effects? Would it not be more correct to seek traces of transcendency in films which eschew the extraordinary, in the spectacular sense of the word, and strive to show the extraordinary in the ordinary, the divine in the human, the miraculous in everyday life? Can transcendency be achieved through a realistic kind of cinematic narration presenting events in their unadorned objectivity? Or is it not better to think that transcendency is manifested in the cinema by means of the indirect and allusive use of symbolic language, rather than in the linearity of a realistic narration? May not transcendency, which is always present in some way in poetically inspired films, also be treated convincingly by well-made craft films not necessarily to be inscribed among the masterpieces of cinematographic art? To what extent are the personal convictions of film-makers involved in this type of subject? In other words, is it necessary to have the gift of faith to be capable of making a good religious film?

It is this yearning for transcendency with which the cinema has been imbued over its century of history which makes the film a valid object of study by those who question themselves on the rôle of religion within the scope of contemporary culture. To the directors noted above, products of various environments in western Europe, should now be added Andrej Tarkowski and Kristof Kieslowski, coming, significantly, from eastern Europe. The grand old man of Portuguese cinema, Manoel de Oliveira, has also never ceased to work along these lines.

The need for brevity prevents the continuation of this list of names, to which many others should be added. One cannot fail to think of the leading performers in many films, particularly women, pictured on the screen in vibrant close-ups, figures on the borderline between the human and the superhuman, captured in moments of surpassing artistry? The film has indeed done much to communicate things that rise from the soul and reach the soul. With images that can be seen and heard, the cinema, in its state of grace, lets us perceive what can neither be seen nor heard.

There are directors who have been able to look at natural phenomena and the life of humankind which has developed from them with a particular attitude of detached yet at the same time involved observation that nevertheless captures a sense of the greater unity animating the created universe. Robert Flaherty's famous documentaries come to mind. Other directors, like Joris Ivens, have been able to catch with the movie camera the most meaningful moments of humanity's struggle to achieve conditions of life more in keeping with its dignity.

There was a period of Italian cinema, called Neorealism, when various film-makers seemed to be competing with each other to capture in the life of humanity in its everyday reality, submerged by conditions of humiliating poverty and deprivation, traces of a spiritual dimension all the more authentic for being cloaked by an instinctive modesty. The names of Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, have gone all round the world together with their universally admired films. Like the great artists and men of letters of past centuries, they can be considered as ambassadors, to other cultures, of a vision of the world imbued with humanistic and Christian values.

Other films from other cultural environments relate to a different order of values which nevertheless have certain important affinities with Christian culture, such as, for example, those which derive from the spiritual resources of the ancient civilizations of the Orient. Brief though these notes must be, it is impossible not to mention the films of the Indian director, Satyajit Ray, and of Yasujro Ozu of Japan, rich with intimistic sensibilities which to Christians reveal the features of those virtues defined by the Fathers of the Church, when they found them expressed in the works of pagan writers, as naturaliter cristianae. Their films are not restricted to addressing the question of values in a veiled and restrained manner for educational or propagandistic purposes but each time invent new ways of approaching a reality outwardly manifested in signs and tokens which, when correctly interpreted, lead to the discovery of an interior world rich with spirituality. The same could be said of films from other areas of the world such as Latin America, Africa or the Middle East, where the frequent poverty of technical and financial means is counterbalanced by the wealth of their poetic inspiration and human content. Interesting signs in this regard have also recently come from the new cinema in China.

Then, of course, there is all the production of the so-called "independent" cinema. Totally or partially free from the demands of the entertainment industry, the films so created move in syntony with the most advanced forms of culture and art today and, like them, manifest the profound spiritual unease which humanity is suffering from in the contemporary world. In this context we find phenomena typical of modern cinema art, pervaded with metalinguistic ferment and tense with anxiety to test and redefine the procedures on which its language is based, with products ranging from the aftermath of the French Nouvelle Vague to the less conventional forms of the new American cinema, born on the Atlantic coast as opposed to the old Hollywood.

Over these phenomena, too, stretches the broad sky of transcendency, though at times the horizon may appear streaked with the threatening clouds of an impending Apoclaypse, while the unconventional approach with materials derived from the collective religious imagination raises disturbing and even irritating questions on the rôle of religion in the contemporary world.

Faced with film products which exhibit these kinds of problems, we have more than once found ourselves, even recently, under attack by those who feel their own convictions challenged. One wonders, in cases like this, whether responding to noise with louder noise is an appropriate measure of self-defence. The cinema is a form of culture now universally accepted; even in its more provocative manifestations it demands calm and articulate answers. But perhaps, before asking for answers, the cinema is simply waiting to be understood.

Padre Virgilio Fantuzzi, SJ
Profesor, Universidad Pontificia Gregoriana
Escritor de "Civiltà Cattolica"


1 Esto es sobre todo una cuestión de enseñarle a los niños a leer "los signos y símbolos" de la liturgia y sobre la creación que ellos encuentran continuamente en su entrenamiento religioso, y también de enseñarles a comprender los "signos" de la vida diaria, que siempre tiene algo que comunicar.
2 La "amistad" has been chosen and developed as the theme by way of example. Other themes which interest adolescents could equally well be used, e.g. freedom, careers, sport, joy, loyalty, etc.
3 If preferred, the same process could be applied to a song, in which case, instead of images, the words and music would be analysed and reflected upon.
4 A critical analysis of a film, TV programme or novel could be made, if this appears possible and profitable.
5 Immediate preparation will always take into account what the Church intends to do with regard to specific events such as the Centenary of the Motion Picture (as in this case), World Communications Day, etc., where its relationship with the mass media is highlighted.

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