Sunday, August 26, 2007
Director Vittorio de Sica presents his on-screen adaptation of Giorgio Bassani’s autobiographical novel of the same title. The film has had its share of very worthy praises, materialized by numerous film awards bannered by the Oscar Best Foreign Film in 1971. It excels rather remarkably on various technical aspects as well, such as cinematography, lighting and music, as unanimously concurred by the various film reviews I have read. Most especially the latter, which according to them (and I agree) is rather very enchanting. It deviates from the normal use of “climactic” background music employed by mainstream films to stimulate the emotions of its audience (in short, I wasn’t really into the movie the first time I saw it) but instead used rather soothing harmonies all throughout the course of the plot.
Also, what seems to be a primarily a romantic film with a twist, with character subtleties making the film not really easy-viewing, had in fact socio-political allegories in its sleeve. Aside from it very political historical backdrop of anti-Semitist fascist Italy, according to film reviews, the garden of the Finzi-Continis itself, presented in many scenes, represents the lethargic, wait-and-see attitude of Italians, Jews and non-Jews alike, as response to the very grave political unrest happening around them. The tranquility inside the garden very much in contrast to the political unrest occurring outside presents the expectation of the Italian people, Jews and non-Jews alike, that the situation would not affect them severely and harmony would not be significantly disturbed by these racialist policies (Ebert, 1971). Yet, as de Sica (purposely) did not orient us of the visual boundaries of the garden, so were there uncertainties in this optimism of the Italian people. And as we all know the unfortunate fate of the Italian Jews in real life during the WWII, so was the garden breached, and the family seeking refuge inside the garden, the Finzi-Continis, was in the end rounded up as well. It implies that nothing one has, even wealth, education and prestige, or one does, can hide him from the harshness of “mindless, irrational bigotry” of the powerful people around him (Berardinelli, 2005).
One social concept this film tackles (and the supposed theme under which this film was ideally shown for) is the idea of race relations. Here the film reinforces one basic assumption on race relations: that the parameters on how people interact with others of the same race and of another are very highly political- that is, power dynamics are always involved.
Yet it is very interesting to start first with the concept of race itself. ‘Race’ is a concept used by people to distinguish their group from another on the grounds of supposed physical and genetic differences (Heywood, 2002). From a radical (but maybe in fact more appropriate) point of view, race implies the existence of biological determined physical and mental differences logically rendering some population inferior to others (Montagu, 1997). Yet, as science today refutes, this biological determination of social divisions (and hence society) is not really true (remember Solly in Europa Europa?). Therefore, the supposedly objective basis of the formation of race is now in fact rendered useless, which in turn implies that what is left as basis for the formation of race are the subjective reasons of the persons who formulated those. Note that the formation and justification of race are due to the efforts of a few people like Gobineau, H.S. Chamberlain and Hitler, and the traditional biologists and anthropologists that surround them, whose size is very much small compared to the millions of people they are trying to categorize.
Hence it is reasonable to conclude that there exists a very elitist nature in race formation that places power in the hands of the very few to dictate and justify the fate of the very much larger population.
The film’s plot then presents us a variety of race dynamics. First, there may occur a state of harmony (general peace and order) between people of different races. This is exemplified by the presumed status quo of the early 20th century Italian society, wherein the two races Jews and Aryans lived together without conflict and discrimination. Then, notice the introduction of anti-Semitist policies disturbed the normal activities of the people in Ferrara, thereby creating conflict. Here we see the second dynamic, where conflict between different races results from a certain stimulus that disrupted the initial status quo of harmony, which in general is characterized by social and political unrest. Here we can see the significance of the one who controls such stimulus, specifically the government at large. Hitler and Mussolini’s decisions greatly resulted to conflict between the Aryans and the Jews, leading onwards to the holocaust of the latter. Lastly, it is also possibly to happen that conflict may arise from members of the same race. Here the reason for conflict is clearly not racial prejudices, since they have common races. Therefore there must be some other form of social division that may trigger such conflict- and in the case of the film it was class, as exemplified by the antagonistic relation of Giorgio Lattes to the Finzi-Continis. But though this is basically class conflict, it must be noted that the conflicting parties are of the same race, and that the pretext of this conflict arose due to the same stimulus that caused the second dynamic, which is basically race motivated.
Here we see the effects of prevailing political conditions over occurring race relations. Hence it is but logical that those who dictate or influence these political conditions have considerable power over race relations itself.
Politics in its general sense, applied to the society at large and not just the government, is basically the dynamics of power- how power is used to influence the lives of others. And here, we saw that the power to create social divisions and the power to utilize them for specific means greatly affects the life of the people living in the present generation and most probably the fate of the people in the next generation.
Berardinelli, James. 1996. found in http://www.rottentomatoes.com
Ebert, Roger. 1971. found in http://www.rogerebert.com
Heywood, Andrew. 2002. Politics. Palgrave Macmillan: New York Hampshire.
Montagu, Ashley. 1997. Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. Altamira Press: Sage Publications.
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis was known as Vittorio de Sica’s comeback movie, and one of his most celebrated ones. It was released in 1971, three years before the death of de Sica in 1974, and won an Academy Award in 1972 for Best Foreign Film and a Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1971. It was based on an autobiographical novel of the same title, which was set in Ferrara, Italy, the same place where the movie was filmed.
The movie’s overall plot was very subdued. The first time I watched it, I thought it was mainly a love story, Giorgio and Micol’s love story to be specific. Basically it was yet another period film about the Holocaust. What makes it different from other Holocaust films is that it did not give emphasis to the horrors of the concentration camps and the Jewish ghettos. It showed, however subtly, the events that led to it, the visible tension in the air emanating from both the Jews and the non-Jews, the increasing persecution that the Jews are receiving. The Finzi-Continis’ garden became their sanctuary, both for the Jews and non-Jews alike. It became a safe haven for them, protecting the Jews from the constant persecution that they got outside its walls, and the non-Jews from a society that forces them to discriminate. It saved the affluent Finzi-Continis from the racial laws that the rest of the Jewish Italians were suffering from, however temporary. In the end though, the walls of the garden proved to be no match for the narrow-mindedness of the fascists, the Jewish intolerance that was infecting the entire country.
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis seems to define race or racial division in several ways. The first one is through its biological aspect. How can one say who is truly Aryan or not? Those who were born Aryans were the only ones seen as Italians. The Jews, who have spent their entire lives in Italy, no matter how much they try to convince themselves and the others that they were Italians, were still seen as someone of an entirely different race simply because they were born Jewish.
It also views race as a social construct. There was a very fluid idea of what race is in this film. The Finzi-Continis were seen as “non-Jews” by Giorgio’s father because of their wealth and, according to him, because they do not act like Jews. The idea of their “non-Jewish-ness” was apparent in the film. The only incidents of their Jewishness were when they were shown celebrating the Passover, and when they were taken away at the end of the movie. The fact that they seemed to be untouched by the Racial Laws may be a contributing factor to why they were separated from the rest of the Jews. When Jews were banned from public schools, Giorgio’s brother had to go to France to continue his studies, while Micol managed to get her degree in Berlin, her only problem was that her professor gave her a low grade for being a Jew. When Jews were prohibited from having Aryan servants, the Bassani’s had to cope without a maid while the Finzi-Continis kept all their servants. Giorgio was being kicked out of a public library while the Finzi-Continis had the convenience of having their own library. And when Giorgio was banned from playing tennis, Micol and Alberto held their own tennis tournaments in their garden. In a way, the garden became their division, the thing that sets apart the Bassanis from the Finzi-Continis. What used to be a sanctuary for both of them became the one thing that separates them.
Another subtle theme in the film is the indifference of the Italians to what is happening in other places. One scene in the movie shows Giorgio finding out about the concentration camps when he visited his brother in France. His brother comes to his defense, saying that these kinds of things were not discussed in Italy. It may be that the Italians didn’t really know, or they simply chose not to know about the horrors of racial prejudice.
It wasn’t just Italy that was separated from the rest of Europe, the Jews in Italy were indifferent to what was happening to the rest of the Jewish community. As long as they weren’t the ones affected, they just let the injustice happening around them to continue. To quote Giorgio’s line: “There have always been few enough rights for everyone..” Their tolerance for the increasing maltreatment that they were experiencing was seen by Giorgio’s father’s decision to keep supporting the government even when they were already suffering from the Racial Laws.
“… we all kept quiet as long as we weren’t hit.” Point driven.
- V.R. Alberto
Should I or shouldn’t I?
I should, I must.
I will grow.
The last words of Oskar Matzareth which marked his transition from childhood to adulthood independence.
Growth (transition from youth to adulthood) involves time, change and transformation; thus, it requires ‘sacrificing’ or letting go of one’s past and present state/situation to fulfill one’s perceived expectation of his/her role in society in the future (being an adult). Generally, we have gone through the ‘youth’ stage as Oskar Matzerath wanted to remain and permanently be. In the movie Die Blechtrommel (the Tin Drum), Oskar’s fixated behavior on his tin drum portrayed our youth – highlighted by his roles, beliefs, ideology and actions. But the over-display and exaggeration of Oskar’s capability and behavior shown in the film simply intended to show how culture, society and environment defined an individual’s perception of the ‘world’ – his ideology. Captured by Oskar’s fanatical and aggressive manners, I will examine the external environment, culture and society affect the transformation of an individual identity (concentrating on the youth identity of Oskar). After looking at the micro-level impact of the socializing agents, I will also look how culture sets political priorities and how culture forms/cause political mobilization.
Under the Skirt Environment
The movie Die Blechtrommel (the Tin Drum) occurred in Danzig, during the early 1900s before the World War II. This period can be referred to the rise of Nazism (or National Socialism) in the region. In the film, after the birth of Oskar, his parents waved a tiny Nazi flag in front of him. This demonstrated the prominence of the Nazi status in Danzig during the start of the 1900s. More so, during this period of intrusion and domination by the Nazis, it showed superiority, violence and force in the region (that is why the novel of Grass raised serious issues on contemporary Germans, which involved the Germans responsible for the Nazi war crimes). Consequently, the Nazi superiority penetrated itself in the society and culture of the free city, Danzig, marked by intruding/interfering with individual ‘rights’ (privacy of Anna Koljaiczek), family struggles, military obligations (shown by Alfred, Oskar’s father), destruction of peace in community (damage done to infrastructures and businesses) and clash with the Polish (combat in the Polish post office).
On top of these effects, the movie points on the individual level – specifically Oskar’s youth identity – as the most striking implication of the repressive order. Oskar, at a young age (or even before he entered the world from his mother’s womb), have already witnessed and have been exposed to this dark society which causes him to hide in his grandmother’s skirt to escape this repressive, dominated Nazi condition. As a result, Oskar has created and made his own world known as ‘under skirt’ world – wherein his rebellious and defiant beliefs, attitude and behavior have been shaped. The point I want to make is that when external forces enter a certain culture and society, it may change (low or high level of effect) the society’s structure (attitude, ideology) and society’s direction (goals, motivations). Moreover, it did not only alter the structure of the society but is also defined and transformed the individual formation.
The Binding Triangle
We are immersed in what may be called the triangular socializing and limiting agents in life – the environment, the society and the culture. To further elaborate my point in the first part, environment refers to the external agents and forces that offer and provide a transformative and new line of values, ideas and behavior (which may directly or indirectly attack the population). Culture, on the other hand, may view these external agents/forces as a threat to the overall structure and organization of the community. Culture offers a worldview that explains why and how individuals and groups behave as they do, and includes both cognitive and affective beliefs about social reality and assumptions about when, where and how people in one’s culture and those in other cultures are likely to act in particular ways (Ross 1997). Culture then provides a shield/guard to resist the external threats through the norms, rituals, traditions and value system. However, knowing these norms, rituals and traditions are not enough to safe guard us from threats and dismantling our loyalty and unity; and therefore, we need society - society refers to a collection of people bound by shared institutions that define how human relations should be conducted (Ross 1997). This means that institutions build ties and bonds among us; it socializes and makes as aware of these norms, laws, standards and the roles we play in the community. The society and culture here may be considered as binding agents against the external forces (threats).
However, external forces still do enter and break the walls of culture and the society. Indeed, it is difficult to separate and distinguish the effect of each agents from the other especially in the modern multi-cultural and globalized world.
Inside the Bermuda Triangle (the dark society) – the Youth Identity
The triangular socializing factors (environment, culture and society) define our roles and boundaries. Furthermore, socio-cultural groups and institutions entail clear expectations about how people are to act depending on our roles. In the film the Tin Drum, Oskar revealed the general value and behavior of the youth. Youth, which was exhibited in the movie, is not a universal category of biology but a changing social construct which appeared at a particular moment of time under definitive conditions (Barker 2000). This means that youth can be understood as a spatial matter, that is, youth may be produced differently in divergent spaces and places. Furthermore, in abstract, youth is a social position between childhood dependence and adult responsibility can be seen in the institutions of the family and education (Barker 2000). Therefore, childhood dependence and reliance leads to subordination and under the control of adults in society (parents in the family institution, teachers in the academic world). The young are then given limited avenues of freedom and expression and even are restricted in their actions, values and behavior.
Oskar also experienced the same limitation and restriction in his beliefs, interests and in his character. His social experiences within institutions such as family, school organizations and military exposure all provided cultural messages which reflected his values and expectations. However, cultural messages allow different interpretations and internalizations. In the case of Oskar, he viewed and understood his environment and society to be a repressive and unjust state which established his outlook and values towards his life and the world. In this state of transition, Oskar has invested in it as a privileged site in which to foreground his own sense of difference marked with the refusal to identify with the perceived routinized everyday life and perceived subordination. Youth has now become an ideological signifier charged with ‘anti-society, pro-self’ perception of the world. His behavior and attitude is feared by others as a potential threat to existing norms and system. According to Barker, youth is an especially formative stage of development, where attitudes and values become anchored to ideologies and remain fixes in this mould for life (Barker, 2000). Also, the transition from childhood dependence to adult autonomy normally involves a rebellious phase, which is itself part of a cultural tradition transmitted from one generation to the next (Barker 2000). Therefore, when young people go ‘out of bounds’, they get noticed and become visible. This allows them to ‘play with the only power at their disposal – the power to discomfort, to pose a threat’.
Ideology is set of values and ideas regarding fundamental goals of social interaction (Oneil 2004). Our ideologies are based on our interpretations of particular social and political significance. Individual ideology has the ability to mobilize action and values. In fact, Oskar has demonstrated his ‘self-centered’ and ‘anti–socal’ identity through (1) his tin drum and (2) his high, glass-breaking scream. These two forces was a sign of his protest towards the hypocritical German-polish family and disgusted by the German society. He used both protest tools in order to control people (parents – Alfred, Jan and Agnes) and situations happening around him (confusing Nazi marches and bands, disrupt fascist rallies).
This individual protest/demonstration was built on his anger and perceived threat to his (selfish) values and personal favor. Likewise, cultural mobilization builds on fears and perceived threats that are consistent with internalized worldviews (against their high-group quality interaction and emotional solidarity).
Culture order political priorities (Ross 1997), meaning, it defines the symbolic and material objects people consider valuable and worth fighting over. Culture then defines interests and how they are to be pursued. Groups and sectors do have certain valued and observed norms, ideals and convictions. Once these ideals and convictions are threatened, they may organized collection action to foreground their own sense of difference and may demonstrate their disagreement and opposition especially to a repressive environment.
In relation to Oskar, his attachment to his tin drum symbolized him. The tin drum became part of him. You cannot separate him and his tin drum as you cannot separate his youth to his life. This showed who he was and what mattered fighting over – his life, his youth.
Should I or shouldn’t I?
I fought. I did.
I have grown.
Barker (2000). “Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice”, Chapter 11: Youth, Style and Resistance.
Oneil, P (2004). Essentials of Comparative Politics. NY:W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.
Ross, M. (1997), “Culture and Identity in Comparative Analysis,” Chapter 3 of Mark Lichbach’s and Alan Zuckerman’s Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture and Structure.
J. P. Uy
The movie The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) is about a young boy named Oskar who lived during the World War II in Germany and refused to grow up at three years old. He deliberately threw himself from the stairs in order to stop his growth; being aware of the unfaithful relationships and the unforgiving realities of grown-ups, Oskar did not want to take part of this ‘adulthood’.
On his third birthday, Oskar received a new drum. Whenever his parents or other people around him treat him harshly, he beats on his drum as loud as he can; and when his tin drum is taken away from him, he gives an ear-piercing shriek that literally breaks glass.
The tin drum here is used as a metaphor about refusing the Nazi regime. Oskar’s refusal to grow and give up his drum is a metaphor on resisting the Nazis. the manifestations of this are when he was forced to do something he did not want or there were situations he did not favor, he forcefully hammered on his drum, like in the classroom scene or when he followed his mother and her lover to the hotel. If analyzed closely, we will see that Oskar’s resistance and refusal to the unfavorable situation is like an individual’s resistance and refusal to the regime which he/she thinks is wrong. Another scene which is more obvious was when Oskar decided to give up his drum and to continue his growth after his father’s death. Alfred Matzerath’s death symbolizes the fall of Nazism. The screenplay is based on the celebrated novel of German author Gunter Grass.
In this movie, it is shown how ideology, a system of illusory beliefs—false ideas or false consciousness—which can be contrasted with true or scientific knowledge, affects the course of action taken by the individual. Ideology here is linked with the behavior of escapism.
This is exactly how Marxists view religion—that it is the opium of the masses. Religion gives false hopes to suffering people who expect that they will be saved from hell’s fire and will experience eternal happiness after their present lives. Another example would be how people believe that joining the lottery or game shows would instantly eliminate their poverty. Charms and crystals bring good luck and therefore should always be worn.
Man cannot face all its problems and solve everything that is why they create means to give an easy answer or a short-term solution, which is basically the nature of ideology.
Oskar’s belief that his tin drum could save him in times of trouble led him to somehow control his parents and the people around him. It serves as his protection from being accountable to his actions and being condemned. He used it to gain attention. During his teenage years, he ran away from home to leave his miserable life and relationships behind and joined the circus, performing with his drum and his glass-breaking talent.
The movie is political in the sense that Oskar used his tin drum to defend himself. The tin drum and the scream serve as his power—the power to control or change, and at the same time his sanctuary—to escape from the miseries and truth.
Sometimes, we run from the judging eyes of society by settling on a certain group of ideas which we can relate to and will be able to justify our actions. And we live our lives based on that ideology. It is a reaction or a response to the norms imposed by society.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Historical it is. Or is it? Is it merely it? Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine is indeed a magnificent piece of art which exemplifies nothing less than art itself, the Peking opera, which is actually the ultimate form of Chinese art I must say.
The portrayal of the Peking opera, as well as the people around it however is so strong and is intensely submerged within history that at the peak of historical and cultural unfolding in China, I came into thinking that it is not simply a historical film. This is not just about the evolution of the Peking opera. It’s revolution.
Having known of the Kaige’s first-hand experience of the Cultural Revolution in China, it then became clear that the film is nothing less than a critique to the movement which attempted to vanquish all previous elements – may it be in religion or art – in China. The Cultural Revolution did not only take away China’s old culture. It has taken away China’s higher culture.
The movie however did not show that solely on the history of opera, and instead also somewhat portrayed it in other forms such as thought the lives of Farewell My Concubine the play’s Concubine Yu, and the Peking Opera actor Cheng Dieyi. The opera’s attempt to resist and struggle against Cultural Revolution is also thus mirrored in the lives of the two characters in the film.
There were therefore three faces of revolution that were showcased in the film. It was the battles and hardships of Concubine Yu, representing a classic Peking Opera piece; Cheng Dieyi, an image of a celebrated Peking Opera actor; and the Peking Opera itself – all struggling to preserve their own but shared glorious moments in China’s cultural stage.
For comparison, I was able to see some points of parallelisms, as shown in the film, among the lives of these three characters. Grounds for comparisons are thus set to further understand how the director have progressed the revolting dispositions of each of the said characters, representing the revolting Peking Opera on a macro level of Chinese Cultural revolution.
The characters, except maybe for Concubine Yu, have undergone a painstaking path to greatness. At a young age, Dieyi was faced with tremendous challenges, before and upon entering opera. From the beginning he was looked down by society, being a prostitute’s son, as well as having eleven fingers, on which the eleventh was cut by his own mother, he then encountered more challenges inside the opera as he was harshly forced to think of himself as a girl. Perfect should be the word and there is certainly no room for mistakes. That one also goes with Peking Opera. It was first shown as something being done merely on streets colorless, helpless. It was a struggling path for the opera, same as Dieyi’s. It was the begging for finding, the never-ending training for the actors, the hard beatings of the students, and the like – all for the dreamt glorious days of the Peking Opera.
As portrayed, the Peking Opera have had absolutely high standards. It was considered close to sacred as imperfections were certainly not allowed. Everyone behind it has put up tremendous efforts just to uphold the highly precious Peking Opera. The opera was nonetheless a product of sweat, tears, and blood and Kaige was needless to say successful in making reels out of it.
The glorious days of the opera came as the stage was painted with different colors. With colorful costumes, makeup, props, acrobatics, dances songs, the film was actually Peking Opera brought back to life. It seemed quite effortless for the film to show hoe Peking Opera was then adored, respected, and appreciated, by the Chinese who were genuinely fans of opera. The character of Dieyi also experienced the golden moments of her life the same time as the Peking Opera have. Opera indeed was the center of Dieyi’s life. It might have even become his life. It was certainly an amazing display of Chinese culture before the Cultural Revolution. Everyone definitely has put the highest premium to the Peking Opera, and has worshipped its actors. Everyone loved Peking Opera.
Another interesting points in the movie is the depiction of Peking Opera’s resilience and resistance to destruction,, even though it witnessed power’s several change of hands. The actors were constantly performing, and the stage was constantly filled with color, even though the backdrop of the audience symbolized by varying flags was constantly changing, until the Cultural Revolution was imposed by the new holder of power.
Decades of greatness or the Peking Opera was suddenly, immediately shattered by that imposition. As everything in the past was tagged as evil, the Peking Opera, at least that which the people knew during that time, as also considered as such and thus, must be at all means, destroyed. Repercussions on the life of the people, not just those within the Peking Opera, were for sure also ruined, as the character of Dieyi has exhibited. It was then time to bid the great Peking Opera goodbye, as that for Cheng Dieyi, and Concubine Yu. It was then farewell.
Farewell My Concubine has captured the greatness of the Peking Opera until it was finally shattered by Cultural Revolution. It was such an intensely, as well as a passionately, created film which was in a sense meant to let today’s people of China realize what they had back then, back when their higher culture was eliminated, back when they still have their highest form of heritage. Kaige undeniably created a very strong medium for political socialization, through political realizations of there’s such a thing. It was indeed so hard to bid farewell to a nation’s foundational treasures, even if someone argues that it is for the building of better ones. Nevertheless, Chen Kaige’s farewell My Concubine is certainly one great national treasure all for the Chinese to keep.
For a film that lasts for almost three hours, I may say that the film, “Farewell, My Concubine” was really worth my time.
Originally entitled “Bàwáng Bié Jī ”, this 1993 Chinese period film which was directed by Fifth Generation film maker Chen Kaige, shows the story of two opera performers of the Peking Opera Troupe, Xiaolou and Deiyi, as they undergone the different periods of political upheavals in China and how, these period of time had affected their lives as well as their art. Recipient of the prestigious Palme d’Or award by Cannes Film Festival in 1993 (along with “The Piano”), Farewell, My Concubine can be classified into different genres, just as the same with the other film studies. As mentioned above, the film is mainly a period film but it could also fall under drama, romantic epic or classified to be a gay or lesbian film. And its themes include political unrest, totalitarian states, life in the arts, gender- bending (homosexuality), star- crossed lovers and, as what I found to be a very important theme, betrayal.
Now, aside from the abovementioned thematic focus of the film, there is one concept that I would like to be my central argument in this discussion and that is the concept of public and private divide. In this short entry, I would like to show how the Farewell, My Concubine encapsulates the “public vs. private” concept and show how the film, could be seen, in the end, to be an effective medium for political socialization.
So what is said to be public? And how does it differ from the private? The public, as Heywood defines it, are “the institutions of the state (the apparatus of government, the courts, the police, the army, the social security system and so forth) and can be regarded as ‘public’ in the sense that they are responsible for the collective organization of community life (Heywood, 2002).” This public realm is shown in the film in two ways. One which could be considered to be the public would be the different political periods (and political changes) that China had undergone, from the time before the People’s Republic of China came into existence. to the Japanese invasion of China, then to the rule of the National Government, then to the Chinese Civil War, up until the Cultural Revolution. The other, which could be said to be depicted in the film as the public, would be the Chinese society.
The private realm, on the other hand, are “areas of life that individuals can do and manage for themselves (the economic, social, domestic, personal, and artistic spheres, and so on) (Heywood, 2002).” In the film, this is also portrayed in two aspects- the first is the Peking Opera and the second, the lives of Deiyi and Xiaolou.
Now, the film shows that there exists an interplay between these two realms- the public and the private. The film explains that the two concepts are dialectical in nature and somehow, one could not be divided from the other. So how is this shown? For one, the film depicts the effects of various Chinese political turmoil during the 20th century on a Peking Opera Troupe and shows how half a century politics could greatly have an effect on the lives of two performers and friends. Clearly, we see how the public greatly affects the private and that the public has always something to do with how the private lives their lives. In particular, we see how the Cultural Revolution had affected the Peking Opera and how it had, in a way, contributed to the death of the art. Also, we saw how this revolution led to betrayal among the characters of the film. If we are to analyze this, we could say that the friendship which the two main characters have developed is a private thing and it should be kept as that. But due to the Cultural Revolution, we saw how a public matter had infiltrated this private thing which eventually led to its destruction.
Another example where this interplay of public and private is seen is during the scene when Juxian (wife of Xiaolou) killed herself. Suicide is indeed a private matter. However the reason behind it may be seen to be what is public. Though it had not been explained, we could say that she killed herself because of the betrayal that her husband did to her- again a private matter. But is it not that the reason why Xiaolou betrayed her was because it was what the public, in this context the cultural revolutionaries, dictated? Again, we see how the public affects the how the private reacts.
So how does this film becomes a medium for socialization? The film, as I see it, is used as a medium of political critique. The film is utilized as a critique to communism and shows that communism is not all good. This is turn leads us to accumulating the “other face” that communism could take and shows us how this communism caused the downfall of the art of the Chinese, which is the opera. A person who is so entranced with the goodness of Communism would probably, after watching the film, (the same with how I felt) not feel the same way. On the other hand, one who is so into the art of the opera would now, after the film, understand, in one way or the other, why communism had this bad feeling towards it. The art of opera has its bourgeois and royal traditions, something that the new regime opposes. In a more general view, since the film shows to us that the private is indeed intertwined with the public, this would lead us to acting in ways that in deciding on our private matters, now, we would take into consideration the public realm.
As a conclusion, I bring to you my favorite line in the film, one that I feel has a great part on both the lives of the characters. “by nature, I am a boy, not a girl.” Indeed, Deiyi, by nature is a boy, not a girl but he will always be Concubine Yu to me.