Friday, September 22, 2017

Le chemin

Jeanne Labrune's film Le chemin ("The Path") can lend itself to several interpretations, and I will talk of mine. The film has a simple or even almost non-existent plot but brimming with possibilities and is rich with tension: which in itself makes the film a worthwhile watch. But, as the title suggests, the film is about the paths, often against the bidding of society, we take, and how sometimes they take us where we could never have imagined; in such a manner, the film celebrates the beauty of our lives' unpredictability. Chance encounters can give a radically new direction to our life, as happens for Camille, trying to be a nun, when she meets Sambath, the pensive and charming French-speaking Cambodian, who is torn between a cultural upbringing in France and his inner identification with Asian attributes. The meetings with Sambath will come to be frequent, though always stolen and the desire behind them un-confessed to oneself: Labrune manages to sketch far better the resulting tension and desire hidden in Camille's mind than what David Lean could manage in A Passage to India. The film, however, also depicts, even if involuntarily, how the East and the West have grown, across millennia, to be incompatible: while Camille is governed always with passion, whether it be her desire to take religious vows or her renunciation of them, and hence concentrates her whole selfhood into a very narrow sphere of thought and activity, Sambath is governed with pragmatism and foresight, and hence does not give in to a strong pull of desire. For the West, giving in to passion is liberty, forgetting how cheaply, for the satisfaction of being able to act upon a whim, it in fact sells liberty; for the East, discipline is liberty, knowing that true freedom lies in governing one's own conditions, rather than the conditions dictating your life, and thus free not to be bound by some gnawing preoccupation. In some ways, the film is also an encounter between modern Christianity and the idea anchored in Buddhism: between here and now, and eternal. Camille will leave, having learnt a little but only of how things work, not herself; Sambath will be left behind, knowing his two pasts and an uncertain future, but knowing himself better. Thus indeed happened with the colonisers: they learnt and profited from their encounters, but could not re-examine or reform themselves; thus indeed happened with the colonised: they live in confusion, knowing two systems and now no longer of one, and yet innately adhering to the organic whole that existed before the invader came.