Wild Blue: a meditation on violence

Mary O'Donovan

Wild Blue: Notes for Several Voices is the sort of title that conjures up images of vast skies or oceans or ephemeral things that cannot be pinned down. Belgian filmmaker Thierry Knauff admits to choosing the title deliberately so that the audience would not come to his film with preconceived notions.

Knauff was recently in Perth as a guest of the AFI and has been touring Australia as part of the European Film Festival, which touched down in most Australian capital cities during May 2001. Wild Blue picked up an award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, was selected for Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2000 and was in the running for the Camera d’Or.

Knauff is cautious about describing his film as either documentary or drama and seems happier to use the word poetry. There is almost no point in trying to pin down Wild Blue as it doesn’t fit neatly into descriptions usually applied to film. It has an internal rhythm, juxtaposing beauty with violence, images of stillness with the movement of the wind.

“Violence and beauty exist side by side in the world,” explains Knauff. “That is what I was trying to show. I didn’t set out to make a film with a theme of violence or of beauty and I don’t really like to talk about the film in terms of themes. I’m not trying to provide people with the answers, but I do think they should be asking the questions.”

Knauff takes you on a slow meditative journey through the history of violence around the world. His film draws you in by concentrating on images, almost as though you are looking at a still photograph, the camera tracking at a slow and even pace until you are face to face with the object under observation. There is no violence depicted in the film but it is discussed, in different languages and circumstances, by a chorus of women from around the world.

In Ireland they kneecap the disloyal. In Vienna the anti-aircraft gunneries built by the Nazis to last for 4000 years still stand against the skyline but are not referred to on any maps of the city. A young girl is raped and put to death in Asia for writing in a journal that she hated the government, and the Hindu shrine desecrated by Portuguese Jesuits 400 years ago in India is photographed in all its damaged beauty.

Knauff uses black and white film to create stark and beautiful images: African children and Irish men on crutches, damaged buildings and damaged people, are shown in exquisite detail and with a resonance that can only be achieved with black and white film stock in expert hands.

Motifs of women, children, hands and music recur mesmerically throughout the film. Repetition of the stories of violence and hatred caused by religious and political difference drives home a nail of misery. The question reverberates: “Will we ever learn?”

Knauff is not only interested in exploring the nature of violence, but also reactions to it. As he says, almost as soon as a massacre occurs it is ‘media-tised’–the statistics of death are broadcast around the world. It seems, however, that the higher the number, the more people dead, the less ability we have to actually take in the loss. “It’s not the journalists’ fault that they can’t identify the life that each individual lived, and be aware of the pain of loss, but it is something that we need to recognise in ourselves, when we react with indifference to news reports.”

The pace of Wild Blue doesn’t allow you to dismiss the deaths, whether of an individual or whole village. It is not a recreation of a 3 minute news item, but a contemplation of the constant repetition of the brutality and violence that co-exists with the natural splendour of the world.

Wild Blue, director Thierry Knauff, toured nationally as part of the
AFI's European Film Festival

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg. web

© Mary O'Donovan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2001