The Alliance Francais French Film Festival has arrived in Perth. I’ve decided to see a selection of the movies and began this afternoon with an adaptation of a Victor Hugo novel. The movie is L’homme qui rit or The Man Who Laughs. It’s set somewhere in time before the Revolution , even before the Enlightenment, and stars that ubiquitous French actor, Gerard Depardieu. The lesser known actors playing the roles of Gwynplaine (the disfigured laughing man), and Dea, (the blind girl whom he rescues as a child), beautifully embody the tragic lovers of the tale. The film alludes to the decadent society of pre-revolutionary France but could be set anywhere in any time. In a persistently understated manner it powerfully evokes the value of love as the thing which will ultimately carry the soul beyond whatever mortal torments may be experienced in life. Although the focus is on the impoverished of the country, represented in the strolling players and their audiences, in the person of the Duchess, a self-described lost entity, we see how love can also reach through to allow at least pause for reflection, even in one so far gone.
The themes are as relevant today as they were in Victor Hugo’s time and also in the age before that in which he has set his story. At its end, Ursus (Depardieu’s character) who has told us he’s never cried for anything, despite the appalling conditions experienced by his peers all around him, stands silently weeping as he witnesses the death of Dea. Gwynplaine soon follows her. Ursus weeps for the loss of innocence. But his tears are also for joy in recognising that love will finally triumph.
It’s a beautiful film. I strongly recommend it.
The other story which brought tears to my own eyes during the last few days is a true one (and all the worse for being so). In the Maldives a fifteen year old girl (about Dea’s age) has been brutalised by her father and other males in her family almost all her life. Constantly raped and abused, when her situation became public knowledge she was immediately condemned for acts of fornication and condemned to receive 100 lashes to be administered before all in her community. This is a situation of almost inconceivable obscenity and yet is entirely in conformity with the country’s laws. Organisations including Amnesty and Avaaz are marshalling the outrage of all sensible people in a program to produce millions of signatures in petition to the Maldivean government to repeal this sentence and the law which allowed it. I pray they will be successful.
The bestiality of one section of society in its acts against another section is as present in our contemporary world as it was in Victor Hugo’s and, to the shame of humankind, has ever been since the beginning of history.
I went to see a film for entertainment. And I was entertained because of the beauty of the story. But the horror lying beyond the entertainment makes me also cry silent tears.
If we haul on the rope, will it be enough to bring the sun above the horizon,
Will this be a day to die and rise, a day when love will be abroad.
Ruari Jack Hughes