The Sun, The Sun Blinded Me: A modern spin on Camus
by Flavia Dima
- Polish filmmakers Wilhelm and Anka Sasnal's third feature film moves The Stranger to the Baltic Sea but retains its essence
The polarising main character of Albert Camus’ seminal 1942 novel The Stranger was described succinctly by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre as “neither good nor bad”, but a member of “a very particular species for which the author reserves the word absurd”. Clocking in at just 74 minutes, The Sun, the Sun Blinded Me [+see also:
film profile] is the third feature film by the husband-and-wife directing duo of Wilhelm and Anka Sasnal. Their script puts a modern spin on the French literary classic, while still retaining the essence that Sartre identified. The Polish-Swiss co-production had its local debut at the 32nd edition of the Warsaw Film Festival, following its world premiere at Locarno this year.
Relocating its plot from the unbearably hot, Mediterranean outskirts of Algiers to the cold and austere Baltic Sea bordering northern Poland, the Sasnals prove not only the extent of their directorial talent, but also the universality of Camus’ original tale. Meursault becomes Rafal (Rafal Maćkowiak), a man who finds out that his mother has just passed away – news which doesn’t seem to perturb him at all. He nearly falls asleep at her funeral and leaves it at the very moment her coffin is lowered into the ground. Then, almost immediately afterwards, he enters a sexual relationship. When Rafal becomes guilty of an apparently senseless crime towards an immigrant, his state of indifference remains absolutely intact.
What is most striking about this adaptation is how notions of race dynamics are reformulated, as the co-directors flip the notions of colonialism and white guilt on their heads. While Meursault stands for the horrors of colonialism, Rafal embodies neo-nationalist Europeans who are rejecting refugees of Maghrebi origin. They are (maybe unwillingly) two sides of the same xenophobic coin, the effects of which are the same even in situations that, at first glance, seem to be polar opposites.
As Camus’ novel is written in sparse first-person prose, Willhelm Sasnal’s cinematography, based on alternating hand-held and static shots, reflects the original’s deceptive simplicity, making it even sparser by rejecting any use of non-diegetic interior monologues. The audience has no access to what Rafal may be thinking, which makes his character all the more appalling or appealing – when in fact his reactions are all but neutral. “He is very much at peace within disorder,” Sartre wrote about Meursault, a state of mind which Maćkowiak perfectly conveys with his cold, calculated acting style.