Double feature: To begin with, “Le Havre,” “The Lives of Others,” and “The Remains of the Day” are linked by their explorations of the porous border between (and many definitions of) seeing and not seeing.
Two of these films directly concern themselves with surveillance. But all three offer up affecting examples of willfully or subconsciously turning a blind eye to reality, with characters refusing to admit into their hearts – or on official record – the facts their senses and intellect deliver to them.
“Le Havre” takes such “unseeing” one step further by having its very director complicit in it: the film studiously ignores a number of technological, aesthetic, and spiritual realities of current life in favor of a consistent and compelling, but selective, vision of how things should be rather than how they actually are.
“The Lives of Others” and “The Remains of the Day” are further connected by their shared depictions of the betrayals that history can effect on individuals. Both feature characters who dedicate the prime of their lives to the service of ideals that seem unalterably worthy. In both films, twists of progress reveal these ideals as being on the “wrong” side of history, and the accumulation of years reveal them as blinds obstructing personal fulfillment.
Both films pay close attention to the two sides of duty; the way it can imbue an ordinary position with dignity while it simultaneously swallows up the inner life of the position’s holder. “Le Havre” sees duty and dignity through a different lens – the duty of daily concern for one’s immediate community; the dignity of small, even marginal, but unselfishly-conducted lives.
For a marathon: After “The Lives of Others,” check out “Goodbye Lenin!,” another – much lighter-hearted – exploration of West Germany’s later decades.
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “jcoterhals,” “appelogen.be,” and “Theryn Fleming” at Flickr)