QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
At the heart of this stirring Italo-Slovenian drama is a philosophical argument which addresses the following questions: when is it right to forgive? When is it moral to leave behind the spirit of revenge? While answers provided may be slightly oversimplified and naive, this impressive debut is a moving metaphor for the courage that it takes to finally move towards peace.
As a result of the borders between Italy and Slovenia having moved about a few times during the 20th century, the protagonists of this moral tale are part of a minority of Slovenians who live in Italy, at the intersection between two cultures. Angela is a cleaner at a hospital who has suffered the loss of a husband, a victim of an asbestos-related disease while working in the service of a man called Gorian. Gorian is guilty of having authorised the use of absestos while in the full knowledge of the effects it could have on his employees. When, years after Angela’s husband’s death, the man in question is hospitalised, having just suffered a stroke effectively leaving him without the ability to walk or to talk, Angela is given the choice to either persist entertaining the thought of vengeance, or to finally let go.
Enrico, Gorian’s son, is a charming young man who is visibly unaware of the depth of his father’s guilt. Having grown up in a boarding school, he admits that he barely knows who the man is. Impressed by Angela’s swift abilities to take care of hospital patients, even though she is only a cleaner who occasionally behaves as one of the nurses, he invites Angela to start working for his crippled father at their rich and conspicuous mansion built near the sea – an ironic twist of fate. What follows is the intriguing portrait of Angela’s psychology, as she moves between an almost Catholic-like performance of ‘turning the other cheek’, and a strange flirtation with the desire to carry out what could become the perfect vendetta.
Her blossoming friendship with Enrico beckons her towards the side of forgiveness. But her friends refuse to understand her: “Do you clean his arse?” asks one of them, also a victim of asbestos. How could she have become the old man’s slave after the crimes that he committed? In the azure-blue eyes of the titular man without guilt, sat on a throne-like wheelchair, shines the cruelty of a tyrant, mingled with the fragility of a cripple. Sat on a mountain of gold, built on the deaths of others, he wallows in self-satisfaction, certain that he should be admired for having built everything from scratch, from his business to his magnificent house. The son embraces his father’s mythology of rags to riches as a defence mechanism to push back against guilt.
The fear of forgiving is the fear that justice may have not been served. In the face of absent retribution, hate must be entertained within the victims as eternal wounds nurtured for the sake of future justice. The film, however, takes the conciliatory route, allowing for the past to stay behind. But such can be the case only when there is a clear sense of who the perpetrators and the victims are. Indeed, here lies the fundamental moral pillar of the film – a dividing line is clearly marked between the guilty and the innocent. And by extension, the moral outcome must be the repentance of the perpetrator, and nothing else. But what if there is no clear perpetrator, and no clear path towards salvation once the perpetrator accepts guilt? The causes of war and cultural resentment are often the result of an impossibility to embrace a Manichaean worldview and the advance of time erases evidence of guilt just as much as the makers of history do when narrativising the events of the past. Most moral situations are murky, and dangerously so, for the people, or the countries, on both sides have immense difficulties delving into the intricacies of the conflict’s causes and understanding the full dynamics at bay. In this sense, while the moral message is deeply moving, it can feel slightly innocent and difficult to uphold in practice.
The Man Without Guilt just had its World Premiere at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.