Monday, February 16, 2004

Sitting in judgement... 

Over at Mischievous Constructions, Michael Brooke suggests that we all screen Dekalog to our schoolchildren in a reformed religious education which is much more broadly moral (this in response to Jason's suggestions at The Uninformer, which I also agree are excellent, and which correspond roughly to my own 'religious education').

While Dekalog is genuinely wonderful, and would make better viewing than what we were in fact shown as part of our R.E. lessons (Can Ellen Be Saved?, an unintentionally hilarious film about a girl who joins a cult) I have to disagree with Michael quite strongly. I speak from the perfect viewpoint (perhaps), because I first saw Dekalog when I was either 14 or 15, which is exactly the age at which we would be likely to show such things in school. I wasn't exactly normal in my film-viewing tastes - I was a big fan of Jean-Luc Godard at the time, and was just being introduced (via a local video sohp) to Svankmajer, Riefenstahl, Herzog etc. But even I was bored to tears by Dekalog at the time, only made my way through the first of two videos and guiltily returned them the next day without further thought (I always felt guilty in this shop, because the owner would 'tut-tut' to himself whenever I got out anything that wasn't arthouse, foreign, old or documentary - as I found out when I decided to ditch the depressive chic and go for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes one evening).

The major problems - it was made for TV, it's very 1980s in terms of picture quality and... it's in Polish. Much as I would love to think that we could all broaden our minds by spending a term watching and discussing difficult foreign language films, most adults would be put off just by the concept behind these films. I do think showing films is an excellent means of stimulating discussion and giving students something to look forward to in what have otherwise always been very pointless parts of education.

I think a curriculum based around this sort of discussion would certainly attract more teachers and would be likely to scare off those would-be nuns and mentally long-lost hippies who currently inhabit the profession, but the films need to be either more mainstream, or simply more directly emotive. The films in Dekalog are very slow-moving in many ways, where I can think of other foreign films which students might find more approachable.

I'm too tired to try and think of a list which would correspond to the ten commandments in the same way, though I think it might be quite fun to try, but in terms of broadly moral education, centred on current issues, two films by Lukas Moodysson come straight to mind (because I've been thinking about the first recently anyway, and this reminded me of the second): Lilja 4-Ever and Fucking Amal/Show Me Love.

Lilja 4-Ever has been on my mind because it deals, extremely effectively, with the issue of human trafficking and the global sex slave trade (the subject of an Amnesty lecture given by Harold Hongju Koh last week). This is all very topical, since the Morecambe Bay tragedy has brought slave labour in our own country into sharp focus in the last week (as evidenced by another story which appeared last week regarding Greek migrant workers in Cornwall - at least the disaster has had this small publicity effect). In the film, Lilja is abandoned by her mother, who goes to America with a recent boyfriend in order to search for a better life.

Lilja is desperately lonely, as her mother first ceases to make contact with her, and then ceases to pay for her accommodation, so that she ends up living on her own in a tiny flat with awful neighbours. A friend, in order to hide her own doings, allows her to be accused of prostitution, and all the local boys (but one) begin to taunt her and eventually molest her. Only one sticks by her, himself in many ways abandoned, and she ignores him in turn. Finally driven to the prostitution of which she was accused, she finds what she thinks will be a way out, in the form of a boyfriend who offers to take her with him to Sweden. He then betrays her, putting her into the hands of some human traffickers, until she ends up, all documents stolen, locked in a hotel room in Sweden, without any external contact, where she is used every night for sex and badly beaten, until finally she commits suicide.

All this doesn't begin to describe the relentless pain of the film, which is unceasingly dismal but never over the top, party because even in its detail it cannot capture the extent of the problem which we (fail to) see all around us. I know the film would provoke an outcry if shown to teenagers, but I think it should be made mandatory viewing for everyone anyway, as it gives a great deal of food for thought, and could be the subject of an entire term's discussions in and of itself.

The much lighter-hearted Fucking Amal is a romance of sorts, set in a school and detailing the mundane life of a young lesbian, Agnes, who is picked on for her sexuality and whose parents don't understand anything that goes on in her life. One of those who rejects her at first, Elin, is popular but thought to be a bit of a slut. The film also shows the pressures she faces as she goes on to become friends with Agnes. The film documents the way in which teenagers in a dead-end town can feel equally trapped, whatever their social status. It has a sweet ending though, as the two girls get together despite everything. This would be good for discussion of bullying, homosexuality, teenage culture and depression. Also a bit more suitable for young people than Lilja 4-Ever.

Just some suggestions to set the ball rolling (others are welcome). I could probably devote an entire week to discussing more, but I'm quite aware that my posts, when I post, are already too long...

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