BFF 2017 Curator’s Notes – “No Exit” Film Series

There are more people imprisoned and enslaved in our world today than at any point in human history. The bare facts of this do not even account for countless others in the limbo of migration and refugee status, fleeing certain death in their homeland only to face new confines in exile, from Calais to Manus Island. One might say they leap from the fire to the frying pan, but even this optimistic.

The broader idea of the No Exit film series does not limit itself to actual physical imprisonment. But it begins there. Such tragic stories are universally compelling for the more metaphysical way we understand imprisonment. Not everyone will know what it is to be physically confined or bound by forces far beyond one’s control, but nearly everyone knows what it is to feel powerless, paralyzed or trapped by one’s circumstances. This metaphorical view hopefully does not trivialize the brute reality behind these stories in our minds. Ideally, some viewers will even be inspired to seek solutions to these global concerns, especially in the country that leads the world in incarceration by a wide margin.

For some characters in these films, the prison is is social, material or political. Examples: Ayaw Ko’g Sunda and MAVİ (BLUE). For some, it is mental—a prison of thoughts, habits, or memories. Examples: Lethargy and Area (Reeds). Among these frank, poetic and often harrowing windows into trapped lives, we also include a black comedy, Jusqua Le Fin Du Monde (Until the End of the World), whose protagonist has no memory of why he is gagged, cuffed, and carrying a locked suitcase. The effect is a little Kafka, a little Camus, and—let’s just say it—very French. It’s no less unsettling than the other films, but its absurdist structure evokes a common metaphysical claim…that life as a whole is a sort of prison.

A contemporary of Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, saw humans as “condemned to be free” (to paraphrase) because we are not at liberty to do many things, but we must yet self-determine, often fumbling for meaning along the way. In spite of being trapped in numerous ways, the protagonists in these films often make difficult choices that allow them to claim dignity in lieu of power. (Indeed, the antagonists often lack all dignity.) There is generally a sacrifice involved, so we can’t stand and cheer, but we can also say that they are not truly defeated, even if overwhelmed.

Sartre also famously wrote that “Hell is other people” in his play, No Exit. In this series, No Exit, other people can be both heaven and hell, and we the viewer have more liberty to see it one way or the other than the characters themselves. What will you choose?

Films in this series

  1. Fireplace
  3. FEDRA
  4. Rose
  5. Lethargy
  6. Ayaw Ko’g Sunda
  7. Jusqua Le Fin Du Monde (Until the End of the World)
  8. MAVİ (BLUE)
  9. Area (Reeds)

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