There is no doubt that this film reaffirms (through stunning cinematography and amazing colours)* the long-standing characteristics of human individuals: immeasurable dignity, limitless capacity for unbearable suffering, superhuman ability to inflict extreme violence, and also great intelligence, kind simplicity, conscious appreciation of love and ability to verbalize despair. All of these human virtues and vices, however, lose their meaning and become devalued on account of at least three reasons. These reasons are briefly explained as follows:
1) Asepticity. The film seems to have “washed” all the participants and therefore the content on the screen comes through as rigorously aseptic. No one sweats, there is no dirt, no callouses are shown, very few flies or mosquitoes bother the participants. No one suffers from cold or heat. No food or drink is shown. There are no verbal fillers, no hesitations, no swear-words, no words which would “rock the boat”. No pimples, no eczemas. All women wear makeup and everyone looks like they went through a Hollywood cosmetics and coiffeur studio. Why? In the trailer, Yann Arthus-Bertrand explains that he wanted to let the beauty of the world resonate through the faces and words of the interviewees, that their voices are pure and direct. So he made a film that shows beautifully but is sterile.
2) Contextlessness. The interviews do not provide any context of the individuals’ lives: no educational, familial, social, economic, political, ideological, background which is crucial to our comprehending of the standing of the individuals, their points of view, the reasons for their thoughts and emotions. Although the film-maker claims that he made certain critical and political choices, he does not elaborate on these choices. Obviously, the stated intent was to detach the individuals from their environment. Needless to say, as the very first interview clearly and unequivocally demonstrates, the environment made the young man a certain way: but this is only a fraction of his individuality, of the motivations that drove his father to act as he did, and start a chain reaction with tragic consequences.
3) The filmmaker’s deceptive detachment. In general, communication studies teach that all images are mediated, and therefore the honesty of the filmmaker is always in question, and his/her choices at any stage of the production affect the whole. There are a number of occasions in this film during which I would have dearly loved to know what the reactions of the cameraman or director were to the interviewee’s words. But since the film “lets the voices of those who are never heard speak on their own”, the impact of the content is surely lessened, because there is no dialogue. It is hoped then that the producers take up a suggestion of one interviewee whose statement was surely not rhetorical. She asks to “change places with her”. Now that would be an interesting film, and it would be one that would give a more profound answer to the question “Why is it so hard to understand one another?”.
In conclusion, it is difficult to determine what even the tentative answers are to the existential questions posed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand as the reasons for creating this film. “Why do we, from one generation to the next, make the same mistakes?” One answer could be that we make the same mistakes because we judge others by looking at them from a detached point of view, without regard to the context in which they live, and we let them express their “voices” (giving them false hopes that their “voices” will make a difference). Without a real, difficult, complex dialogue, the existential questions will remain without answers.
*I let someone else comment on 1) the cinematography 2) sources of funding of the film.