Don't Tell Me the Boy Was Mad: A defence of terrorism
by Thomas Humphrey
- CANNES 2015: Robert Guédiguian takes the fight for justice to the big screen in his new film, presented as a Special Screening
With his Special Screening in the 68th Cannes Film Festival's official selection, Don't Tell Me the Boy Was Mad [+see also:
film profile], Robert Guédiguian returned to the festival with his distinctive anti-imperialist, left-wing worldview. He also brought with him a battle-hardened cast, many of whom have served with him repeatedly in the past, including Ariane Ascaride, Lola Naymark, Simon Abkarian and Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet.
Together they have been slowly applying their classical film competence to ever more thorny topics, and this time they go particularly far. Beginning on 15 March 1921, this French production opens its account in black and white with a giant chess game between two men. A quotation from Israeli writer David Grossman then rises, flashing on-screen a very Guédiguianean belief: that history's most important moments take place in the kitchens and corridors of the domestic sphere, not the battlefields of war.
Seconds later, a man is lying on the floor. Having been gunned down, his brains gush forth. We have just witnessed the assassination of Ottoman World War One war criminal Taalat Pasha. In interbellum Berlin, Taalat had been escaping his punishment for instigating the extermination of 1.5 million Christian Armenians, but justice finally catches up with him at the hands of Armenian "avenger" Tehlihrian. What then follows is a series of pleasing, rhetoric-filled court scenes that are almost reminiscent of Paths of Glory.
This part of the film (as the English title might suggest) makes a compelling case for the method in Tehlihrian's madness. After all, history itself found Tehlihrian innocent, and his release won the Armenians much global attention. However, Guédiguian soon cuts to a tract of history from the 1970s and 1980s (marked out by a permanent switch to colour). And here, the significance of the French title, Une Histoire de Fou (lit. "A Story - or History - of Madness"), becomes much more apparent.
Guédiguian begins to show how diaspora movements born out of genocide are always prone to madness. And following a dormant period, a more indiscriminate Armenian terrorism begins to tear families apart. The film focuses on the families of "freedom fighter" Aram and innocent French victim Gilles (loosely based on José Gurriaran), raising all sorts of relevant, contemporary questions about one's right to fight for personal and ethnic identity in the process.
What results is a deliberate and determined attempt by Guédiguian (himself of Armenian descent) to explain these horrors. He also suggests that the only way for this global cicatrix to heal is through a process of becoming aware of what happened and trying to understand it. A message that should play to audiences who, like Cannes this year, are determined to raise major social issues in a very frank way.