And so it was that Liceo de Cagayan University once again hosted Cine Europa, the annual celebration of European cinema.
I am happy to report that on its 14th year Cine Europa seemed to have grown up, and wisely at that.
While there were still films that evoked a postcard-pretty Europe, and films that longed for the grandeur of empire, and films that simply went helter-skelter in a distinctly European kind of way—full of angst and malaise—the programming also decided to wake up to today’s world.
It decided to accept the fact that the 14th year of Cine Europa is the 10th year after 9/11. It decided to embrace the present day and its complexities.
And so this year’s Cine Europa featured, for instance, “The Escape,” a thriller from Denmark which explores gender politics in the context of the war on terror. A female journalist named Rikke is kidnapped in Afghanistan by a group of Taliban militants. But she manages to run away—with the help of Nazir, one of her captors.
During the media frenzy upon her return to the newsroom—she becomes a cause célèbre; her career soars—she never divulges the role of Nazir in her escape to freedom. In no time at all, Nazir seeks her help, putting her in a quandary that puts her personal and professional integrity at stake.
This film grips not just with its narrative but with the tough choices that come with it. There are no easy answers here, just an honest-to-goodness grounding on what, in the end, we put importance to, what we value, what we believe in.
These—not religion, not race, not gender, nor any of all those “isms”—define each of us. In a searing way, the film tells us that we are defined not by our backgrounds or thoughts, but by our actions.
An assertion that resonates, in a rather piquant way, with a film from Switzerland, “How about Love.” In it, a well-respected heart surgeon named Fritz tries to take a much-needed break by going to Thailand with his wife Lena. There they visit his friend, a doctor who works in a refugee camp near the Burmese border.
Moved by the horror inflicted by the Burmese government against its citizens and by the inadequate medical care available, Fritz volunteers to stay in the camp. His wife returns home. As Fritz immerses himself in the strange realities of Southeast Asian politics, he meets Say Paw, a Burmese refugee who surreptitiously documents the lives of the refugees. He falls in love with her—a troubling matter that he admits to his wife when he visits his family for the Christmas holidays.
Europe meets Asia
The unspoken premise in this film is the historical context of Southeast Asia as an outpost of the colonial project of, well, Europe. This context is such a minefield, period. In the words of the Polish poet in The New Yorker issue after 9/11: “Try to praise the mutilated world.”
Framed by the cycle of life—the death of the protagonist’s mother and his family’s acceptance of a newborn—this film offers healing as an elemental and apt response to tragedy and terror.
Thus does Europe meet Asia in the postcolonial dispensation. This film sums up, for me, the wondrous experience that is Cine Europa 14—an East-meets-West kind of thing, except that now we have done away with the pretense of naivete and postcard-pretty cinematography. Instead, Cine Europa now embraces the hard facts of history and their reverberations at present.
But wait, let me end by mentioning a film from Sweden. “Mammoth” stars Gael Garcia Bernal (yes, he of “Y Tu Mama Tambien” fame) and Michelle Williams as a savvy, made-it New York couple. He is the creator of a website that’s supposed to be the next big thing, and she’s an emergency surgeon who spends long nights on duty. And guess what, their eight-year-old daughter, Jackie, is left in the care of their Filipino nanny, Gloria (played by Marife Necesito, a Filipina actor). Talk about the global Pinoy.
Indeed, Cine Europa is suddenly very now, very vital, certainly a must-watch.
In the dark, it allowed us to escape into ourselves and the zany, improbable world of possibility.
Other films screened during Cine Europa 14 were: “Princess” (Finland); “Mataharis” (Spain); “An Ordinary Execution” (France); “Little Robbers” (Austria); “Long Weekend” (Belgium); “Exchange” (Romania); “The Lark Farm” (Italy); “The Crocodiles” (Germany); “Letter to America” (Bulgaria); “Grapes” (Czech Republic); “The Silent Army” (The Netherlands); “Intact” (Spain); and “Mosquito’s Tango” (Slovakia).