Hessen, Morin, Dante, Mexico, Colombia

Hessen, Morin, Dante, Mexico, Colombia
Image of VV Nincic via Flickr Creative Commons

By Alfonso C. Hernandez

Indignez-vous! (Get Angry), Engagez-vous! (Commit Yourself to Political Action) and Citoyen du monde (Citizen of the World) are three books written by Stéphane Hessel in which he calls for action to change the world. I read these books at the Beaubourg Library in Paris this July and saw several films that relate to what Hessel says. These films may or may not be shown in Fresno.

Les Chansons populaires (Popular Songs) by Nicolás Pereda is a movie about Gabino, played by Gabino Rodriguez, a seller of CDs working in the subway in Mexico City who still lives with his mother. He spends his time in the shower and in the kitchen memorizing the titles of the most successful Mexican songs in order to sell them better. After an absence of 15 years, his father comes back home and joins his son at work. This father disappears again and the real father of Gabino comes back, poor and defeated asking for a place to stay.

In Canciones Populares, title in Spanish, Pereda presents a Mexico City of today where the inhabitants live in extremely small houses with claustrophobic rooms, without any privacy and where the living room is used as dining room and bedroom. The movement is minimal and the characters remain statically on the screen communicating their emotions with eye expressions and body language.

In one of the most painful scenes, we see the mother, played by Teresa Sanchez, taking a shower. The water flows for as long as we see her facial expression changing as the cool water refreshes her body suffering from a skin disease and starts to cry. The camera stops before we actually see her breakdown or hear her sobbing. However, we, the viewers are conscious of the impotence of human beings living in such dreadful conditions.

Pereda shows a Mexico City where individuals communicate with clichéd sentences such as why did you leave me; you left me because I am poor, I have loved you forever, why have you come back. All titles of well-known popular Mexican songs. The machista culture is presented in the character of the second and real father of Gabino, played by Jose Rodriguez, as the worldly man who has had affairs with several women of different cultures and nationalities. He is proud of his love life as he begs his wife and son for a room to stay. Both accept to give him a second chance.

La Cinquieme saison (The Fifth Season), a film by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth, with Aurelia Poirier, Django Schrevens and other excellent actors, is another film d’auteur, as is the preceding one. In The Fifth Season, winter refuses to end and spring and summer never arrive. A mysterious calamity affects a Belgian village in the Ardennes. The seasons’ cycle is broken and all human solidarity disappears.

The inhabitants return to barbarism and superstitions come back. All human life disappears in the worst human suffering possible, even if a scapegoat is found to pay for what has happened to the earth. Hell starts when we see that all nature dies and trees fall one by one leaving a landscape similar to that of Dante’s Inferno where all is ice. Nothing grows because the soil is frozen in summer. Starvation strikes and in autumn, the children die.

This film is not science fiction but a vision of the earth as a parable after a possible catastrophe in the future. The extinction of all species, including that of humans, may be caused by the destruction of the ecosystems that make life as we know it still possible on the earth. The photography is impeccable and reminded me of the perfection of Ver Meer paintings; the music, the sounds of nature, especially as trees fall, are unforgettable and the interpretation of the actors is simply perfection.

The direction, the script, all make this Dantesque film, showing a damned world, a seriously disturbing film through imagery and poetry. There is a ray of hope in a short scene at the end when two youngsters who love each other disappear in the high winter landscape as if the authors were showing a future Adam and Eve who might adapt to such earth.

Garras de Oro (Claws of Gold) is a Colombian silent film made in l926 showing how Uncle Sam looks at the map of Colombia until he grabs Panama out of it. Garras de Oro, an anonymous film, caused a scandal when first shown and was retired by censors in all Latin America, disappearing for almost a century, and finally shown again at the church of Saint-Eustache in Paris with music composed by Juan Pablo Carreno, in a Cine-concert for soprano, counter-tenor, organ, electric guitar and choir.

The authors present the Colombian situation before and after losing Panama at the beginning of the 20th century, showing the fear, the indifference, the lack of memory and the submission of the Colombian government toward the United States. A silent, historical film, critical of the ambition and power of the United States, Garras de Oro is nevertheless subtle in its criticism of Theodore Roosevelt. Juan Pablo Carreno, with the collaboration of filmmaker Luis Nieto, restored the film and added some scenes using epochal documentaries and still photos to recreate a political manifesto interrogating Colombian national identity in confrontation with the powerful United States.

I am waiting for another book by Hessel, The Convivial Manifesto, which he wrote with Edgar Morin, another political activist in France, in which they appeal for the creation of an organization to change the world for the best, a world in which all human beings, regardless of race, color or gender unite and share equally from the natural resources of the earth and enjoy equal economic well-being. They believe that the utopia can become real.

“Voila une partie de mon ete a Paris 2013” (Here is a part of my summer in Paris).


Alfonso C. Hernandez is a writer and poet from Three Rivers, Calif. Contact him at alfonsochernandez@hotmail.com.


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