QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM BERLIN
In the leafy-green part of Berlin where I live, near the Grunewald forest, lie many boars. For many months I might not see one, but when they do arrive, the provide a magnificent sight: great, big monsters that could cause some serious damage. If they organised in big numbers, perhaps they might even be able to take over my entire area.
In Everything Will Be Ok, the latest film by Cambodian experimental documentarian Rithy Panh, a boar lies at the head of society and human existence is in a woeful state. The Parthenon is in (further) ruins, Stonehenge has collapsed, and the Statue of Liberty has been torn down by an assortment of pigs, dogs, elephants and bears. They are not CGI-animated, but created through miniatures, the camera panning between their still, handmade visages accompanied by the surround sound of grunts, barks and guffaws.
Mankind, meanwhile, have been enslaved by the animals, taking revenge for the awful things they have done; in his trademark style, Rithy Pan splits the screen into six parts, showing us factory footage of animals being killed and minced for meat on an industrial scale. These are not the only horrors of the twentieth century, these miniature, unmoving animals watching the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot on the big screen. These images of history intermix with classic cinema — Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) and King Kong (1933) — with the animals perhaps unable to tell the difference between history as it happens and popular culture.
This is accompanied by French narration which, typical of the language’s philosophers, provides semi-profound sweeping statement after semi-profound sweeping statement. While the animation is effective — which cannot really be called stop-motion as there is no actually movement of these figurines — and the documentary footage well-researched, I found little insight into the sweep of history and the nature of tyranny.
The final result is as if Adam Curtis directed Animal Farm, a portentous, skilfully edited deep-dive into difficult topics that lacks the former director’s penchant for specificity in favour at just vague gestures at all this. I loved the animation, but think it would’ve been better as a focused short film, while the archive montages go on and on, with typical Nazi and Khmer footage general pointers of atrocity seemingly divorced from context or analysis. While Panh has previously explored these controversies in detail, it felt a little scant on the ground this time around, and at worst, a little cheap and easy. There were so many ways for the film to go, but it felt more like a highly theoretical university lecture rather than a piece of accessible filmmaking.
One topical detail: the enslaved people wear face-masks. With no mention of any kind of virus, the film seems to make fun of how the piece of cloth has transcended its conventional trappings to be a vague symbol of conformity. A controversial statement to make when the pandemic is still sadly very well going-on, but perhaps the most provoking, especially while having to wear one while watching the movie myself. Once the pandemic is fully manageable, it will be telling which countries stick to their mask mandates and why.
Everything Will Be Ok plays in Competition at the 72nd Berlinale, running from 10-20th February.