Comment – 12 Years a Slave

Is it possible to comment on something, when one only has a specific point of view? Possible in the sense of positively existing, non-superfluous. Are words lost, like so many moments fleeting in time, thoughts formed by the world, by what is already known, instead of forming the world. Still, the value is in the trying.
I will try.
“12 Years a Slave”, a film by Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt. Good marketing, interesting starting points (based on a true story, dealing with important social issues, great actors). But there was only one reason for me to watch this film, namely its director: Steve McQueen. Last year I went to see an overview of his work as an artist in a museum in Basel which really left a lasting impression on the manner in which I see video-art. Perhaps I was most impressed by his capacity to film the everydayness of a world without falling into das Man (sorry for the Heidegger here, but there was something particularly heideggerian about his art). “Giardini” An Italian park where the Biennale is held, where dogs roam about from dawn to dusk, without human interference but within a world completely structured… is one of these gems that I would advise everyone to go and see for herself.

Greyhounds in the mist … A still from McQueen’s film, Giardini, shown at the Venice Biennale

But then, this “12 Years a Slave”… – (and yes, perhaps I should have written this comment before it got an Oscar for Best Film 2014. Which is a purely politically motivated choice. Because it is definitely NOT the best film, see also my post on best films of 2013…)
…it is however a beautiful film. At least, I cried. Not because of the racial matters, as crying for those kinds of things is abominable. These things happened, if you really care you don’t shed a tear and feel better. No, you would do everything to stop it from happening right now (opportunities enough, take for instance sex slaves).
And still I cried, because of the beauty of the world in the face of injustice. The camerawork was truly magnificent, combined with great editing. The silences and long shots of nature, the close ups of the strings of a violin. They show the impact the world has even despite and perhaps even because of the harshness of human life.
The story is therefore only secondary. A way to bring beauty to its fullest expression. Working with wood to build a shed and the sounds that accompany it, the scraps of wood lying everywhere. Details that need an overall story to become meaningful. But its beauty is established long before you get to know the hands working with the tools. This is what I hoped for when going to a Steve McQueen film. And this is why I am already looking forward to his next work.
Beautiful, precisely because its beauty is not experienced by the actor, but left fully to be experienced by the audience.

Also, it should be said, I was positively surprised by Paul Dano in a great role – such a big leap from Little Miss Sunshine, although the same sadness could be seen in his eyes…

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