Friday, August 2, 2013

MIFF Session 7: MANUSCRIPTS DON'T BURN: Self Creating Artefacts

The title of this film is a quote from one of my favourite novels, The Master and Margarita. The Satanic Professor Woland returns to the Master the manuscript the latter thought he'd destroyed years ago and delivers that line. Bulgakov's novel languished in seculsion for decades before it was first published and even a superficial reading will answer why that was. It was written during the time of Stalin when nothing that didn't fulsomely praise the Great Leader and Teacher was destroyed and disposed of along with its author.

The hitman duo bent on locating and eradicating an unnamed victim at the opening of this film would be at home in Stalin's NKVD. They are tradies who kill and torture and whatever else the job calls for. They save their emotions for their families. The scary thing about them is that it is just business, it's nothing personal.

No, it's impersonal and ineluctable. The two state-hitmen are assigned to make their work look like a suicide. What could be so terrible that a government wants to act like the mafia? Dissidence, usual stuff but in the case the dissidence involves the accurate retelling of a government atrocity against writers, political or not, and the need to suppress all knowledge of it. Three men are at the heart of this. They are part of what has been termed the Cultural NATO, coursing in with intelligence and keen observation to expose the horrors of the regime. They are tolerated as long as they keep to themselves, don't attempt to publish or evade their constant surveillance.

One manuscript in particular is held in copy by the trio with the most power to make the administration wince. Things are getting restless among them and the goons move in.

What would be a nail biting actioner if made in the US, Manuscripts Don't Burn is on a slow fuse. It wants you to look at the procedure of repression and the aching hopelessness of resistance. The look and pace are sombre and the performances muted. The quiet self-assurance of the secret service officer in charge of the case is never less than chilling and the moments of his success in reducing his charge's resolve to acquiescence carry a clear and durable horror.

This film was written and directed by a man forbidden to ply his trade in his native Iran and forbidden to fly the country and work anywhere else. The credits beyond his are anonymous. This film embodies its own issue. The film's beginning is revealed to have been part of a loop which we see close at the end. One figure who seemed to be forgotten about from the opening appears again (though really for the first time) but now he brings a swag of unspoken questions and even hope (you'll have to see it to understand why). The single shot scene of the first of the trio to give in for reward ends with the non-digetic sound of birds in flight. We cannot bring ourselves to judge him. Our relief forbids it.

No comments:

Post a Comment