"De profundis" (From deep affliction) or Cries out of Solitude

Report on the 69th film festival in Locarno. By jury president Werner Schneider-Quindeau

The ecumenical jury were curious and excited concerning the films of the 69th Locarno film festival competition and they were also on the lookout for "parables of life" in which - in an esthetical and ethic way - a human being can be seen as someone who asks questions and looks for the meaning of life. The cinematic journey took us to different cultures, from Japan to Egypt, from Buenos Aires to New York, from Bulgaria to Thailand, to familial and intimate situations to the point of affliction and death. In retrospective it became obvious that one of the main subjects of the shown films was people's loneliness in the most various circumstances. These films felt like "cries out of solitude" by showing how people suffer in dysfunctional or destroyed relationships. Again and again, the main stage direction was the drama of loneliness which the movies adhered to.

"Godless" by Ralitza Petrova - the film that won the award of the ecumenical jury and the Golden Leopard of the official jury - tells the story of Gana who looks after old people suffering from dementia in a far away town in Bulgaria and who steals their identity cards in order to sell them on the black market. She was sexually abused as a child, she hardly speaks to her unemployed mother and she shares her morphine addiction with her boyfriend. Nothings seems to move her in this bedraggled world, not even the murder of one of her patients. But then there's Yoan, a new patient of hers, who manages to instil compassion with his singing. When he is arrested, she knows that she cannot continue like that. But "doing the right thing" means paying a high price. In view of poverty and loneliness, there seems to be no way out of social pauperization - and no hope. This film shares a longing for God with the 42nd psalm - but God doesn't help. "My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?" (Psalm 42, 10)

It is the lamenting sound of this distress and pain that we tend to disregard or ignore and that can be heard in many films of the competition. Other films that have been awarded by the jury, namely “Marija” by Michael Koch and " Mister Universo" by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, also focus on loneliness and its consequential pain. Young Ukrainian Marija works as a cleaning lady in a hotel in Dortmund (Germany) and dreams of her very own hairdresser's shop. When she loses her job, she is forced to  subordinate her body, her social relationships and her feelings to her dream. The experience of migration as well as the fight for survival lead to loneliness that requires a lot of perseverance and endurance. "Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?" (Psalm 42, 11)

"Mister Universo" is the story of young lion tamer Tairo who is dissatisfied with his life. When he loses his talisman, he leaves the circus behind and sets off to find Arthur Robin, a former Mister Universe, who gave him his good luck charm a long time ago. The search for happiness also leads to loneliness and the circus doesn't guarantee security. Much to the contrary: the risk of not finding happiness and the meaning of life in the arena is high for everyone. " My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" ( Psalm 42, 3) None of the films explicitly makes faith in God an issue, but implicitly God is being asked for desperately in view of so many forms of experienced godlessness.

Dysfunctional or destroyed family structures are the focus of " Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces" by Yousry Nasrallah from Egypt and " The Last Family" by Jan P. Matuszynski. Self-determination and commitment/relationships are the extremes that can split up families and will leave its single members lonely. A lament can be heard in between tradition and departure, a lament asking where there is the right place for emotions, dreams and wishes that is desperately being looked for. In "Hermia & Helena" by Matias Pineiro from Argentina, the loss of a circle of friends is deplored on the way from Buenos Aires to New York, a loss that cannot be compensated in the new surroundings. As a consequence, there's homesickness and loneliness. Other films that also deal with the search for a place, homesickness and loneliness are "Bangkok Nites" by Katsuya Tomita from Japan, "By the Time It Gets Dark" by Anocha Suwichakornpong from Thailand and " Der traumhafte Weg" (The wonderful way) by Angela Schanelec from Germany. 

The search for one's identity turns into a painful experience because there is no other and the amount of casual or steady relationships overburdens people. Sexuality doesn't help to overcome loneliness either as  Shiota Akihiko from Japan shows in his film "Wet Woman in the Wind". The daughter's search for her lost father in " La idea de un lago" by Milagros Mumenthaler from Argentina during which the mother and the brother are discovered, looks for childhood places that have been lost. Pieces of memory are brought together like a puzzle, so that one might have a better idea of oneself and one's world. But the fragmentation remains and is always reason for lament. "I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" (Psalm 42, 9)

One can perceive the programme of the 69th film festival in Locarno as a liturgy of lament. Homesickness ("Correspondencias" by Rita Azevedo Gomes from Portugal), disease ("Scarred Hearts" by Radu Jude from Romania) and the fight for the recognition within society and for personal dignity ("Slava" by Kristina Grozeva from Bulgaria) concentrate the experiences of loneliness and turn them into such " cries out of solitude". By giving so much room to lament and protest, to the criticism of miserable circumstances and a view into the abysses of the individual and of society, the film festivals make an indispensable contribution to the cultural, the social and the political self-understanding of our society. Thus, it is a prophetic voice that denounces grievances, shows pain and suffering and asks necessary questions as to how to overcome them. 


Films as a "parable of life" look through the surface into the depth in order to find the spirit or non-spirit of the respective times. For the churches it is a special challenge to hear these prophetic voices that speak in a secular world. It's not one's own voice, but it's the words and images of others that often capture the godlessness and the longing of the people in a much more attentive way. The church has to realize its own blindness so that its eyes will see the images of the lonely and its ears will hear the laments of the unheard. In "La Prunelle de mes yeux" by Axelle Ropert from France it is the blind Elise who opens Theo's eyes for love by constantly provoking him in a nearly unbearable manner. Thus, the "apple of the eye" gets an altogether new meaning. It is no longer just a loveable object, but it turns into a source of a completely new way of seeing in spite of someone's blindness. Festivals can turn into places of the prophetic by turning the public into "apples of God's eye" so that it lends its eyes and ears to the voices of lament and pain. The ecumenical jury has certainly experienced this opening up of eyes and ears, of hearts and minds very intensively.

Translation: Lara Neumann