Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

Death – more or less real

REALITY / We perceive reality very differently. So let me suggest three areas where reality is real, strong and direct for all of us. But also about what a newly translated book by Pier Paolo Pasolini says about film's contact with reality.

Let me attempt this somewhat difficult task: to talk about the meaning of reality. This is more in the form of an essay – a type of journalism we like here in our commentary newspaper – to be tentative and somewhat counter-current.

Reality? The words and images you find here in our magazine only refer to reality – the texts are indirect. It is not the direct experience of reality itself or the experience of reality that you are doing by reading here of course.

Reality intrudes

But when is reality real enough, one might ask. Let me suggest three areas where reality is actual, strong, and direct.

Firstly, when someone close to you dies. When you lose a parent, a child, a friend, or a strong role model. Many of us have experienced numbness and shock when our mum or dad died. The reality is not the same. And those who have seen their child torn away by illness, accident, or suicide will feel this for the rest of their lives. Or when a companion with whom you have shared the joys and sorrows of life’s journey suddenly is gone, it also feels like something in you is torn away. Moreover, when a role model, such as when the peace researcher Johan Galtung said goodbye at 93, meetings with him and what he had done for the cause of peace are brought closer. But when another role model like Alexei Navalny suddenly dies at the age of 47 in a brutal Russian prison, many of us are upset. Russian reality feels brutal.

Secondly, when you experience war. The war in Gaza is terrifying for those who live there – their reality is downright unbearable. It’s about surviving bombs, disease, and hunger. And in the war zones in Ukraine, reality has been ripped away for hundreds of thousands – yes, how does it feel to be in hell, drafted as Russian or Ukrainian cannon fodder to the front? And for those in Ukraine or Gaza who have lost loved ones, reality is changed forever. For example, the Palestinian father who went out to get his family some food, only to find them all killed by a bomb when he returned.

Far away, for the rest of us who don’t experience this massive violence first-hand, we see death on social media on a daily basis – but it affects us, too. We express our frustration with the ‘out of touch with reality’ militarism of cynical politicians – such as recently in Washington D.C., where 300,000 demonstrators protested against president Biden’s support for Israel.

And: The reality of nature is a different but third area. Climate change makes the reality very real for those who experience extreme heat, floods, droughts, and storms. And in a few decades, without real political climate action, it will probably be like the still alive frog that didn’t experience being cooked – because many will die when the planet can no longer support its population. I experienced a foretaste of the heat in Sicily in 2022, with several summer days of a European record 48.8 degrees. I was surrounded by a horizon full of smoke clouds and helicopters carrying water bags from the sea to extinguish all the fires.

At the same time, on a more positive note, it is possible to live more in tune with nature – as some choose to be close to the pleasures of physical reality. Whether living in nature or an eco-collective, hiking in forests and fields, growing your own food, socialising with animals, or feeling the ocean waves – nature feels more real. Some have taken into account the criticism from the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss#: «Human reality is cut off from actual nature […] we confuse our abstractions with concrete realities.»

«…rather in the political and capitalist social production of reality.»

Constructed reality

We also perceive the reality very differently, you, me, and others around us. Since desires and norms characterise our perception of reality. See HERE how our sister publication writes on philosophy. For example, there it is stated: «There is no ‘private’ and intimate desire that is not highly political – in the sense that the codes to which it is subjected, the regulations and norms, do not originate in the nuclear family and one’s loved ones, but rather in the political and capitalist social production of reality.» This refers to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s theory – that reality is constructed, or ‘machined.’ It lies there almost in germination «in reality, matter, or the body before ‘any (conscious) action or actor.’» The two philosophers also use the ‘schizophrenic’ as a happy and reality-removed metaphor in contrast to the reality-impaired neurotic.

the world of literature was more real to her than physical reality.

Indirect reality

In contrast to direct or constructed reality, what about indirectly mediated reality? After all, we often disappear into the screen’s news and films, the pages of a book or magazine, or maybe we constantly type, chat, and look at our smartphones. How ‘real’ is our communication society – or is it just what people are doing at the moment, with most of us watching the little prosthetic in their hands? Or how long does a real-life documentary film work – before other channels or stimuli tempt you? And books: I remember a friend who told me many years ago that the world of literature was more real to her than physical reality. She later became a literary editor at a major Norwegian publishing house.

The experience of reality also depends on how you dwell in the world, like the way your profession takes your attention. The life world of the mathematician is different from that of the soldier – and the librarian’s world among the books is different from that of the fisherman at sea.

But also ask yourself – do academics, theoretically minded people, have a bigger distance to reality? Perhaps at the outdoor table in a city centre café with a cigarette in the corner of their mouth, a book in one hand, a pen in the other, and a light scarf around their neck? Or what do you think of a politically orientated intellectual, is he or she  closer to reality than a critic of classical music or visual art? And some might argue that if you haven’t been scarred by reality, you can’t write meaningfully about reality.

Others prefer to distance themselves from the ‘ugly’ world out there and seek refuge in ‘an inner reality,’ in religious spheres, or the cosiness of the nuclear family.

Different election turnouts also emphasises how many people that do not care about the larger reality of politics. Do they feel powerless in the face of the chaos created by opportunistic political leaders of today?

So: We are all equally real, but some are more real than others – to paraphrase Animal Farm. Some have a better or more convenient reality. Or conversely, some have it harder. In contrast to our privileged Western reality, others are restricted and devalued: In the far south, for example, Israelis have for a long time long killed Palestinians with impunity.

Film as reality

Can a film or a documentary give us an understanding or experience to say whether direct or indirect reality is most important? No, it cannot. Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-75) has something to contribute in this regard – in the recently translated book with his text In reality, we make films by living (in Danish, Antipyrine, Copenhagen):

For example, what death means to a life lived, considering the dying people mentioned above. Pasolini writes that it is «absolutely necessary to die, because as long as we are alive we lack meaning […] a chaos of possibilities, a search for relationships and meanings. Death makes an instantaneous montage of our lives: that is, it selects its truly significant moments and puts them in order, turning our endless, unstable, and uncertain present into a clear, stable, secure past.» New attention after death can thus make the individual more ‘real.’

Pasolini believes that «human’s first language seems […] to be their actions. Written language is merely a supplement and a means for this doing.» The language of action is «the semiology of reality.» He writes that «[i]n reality we make films by living, by existing in practice, by acting.» And «[w]hen we remember, we play small, interrupted, intricate or clear film sequences in our heads.» Yes, memories are also reality.

Pasolini explains his grammatical film research as a «relationship to my way of seeing reality, to my way of interpreting reality, that is, to my relationship to reality. I am by no means a philosopher, but I am tempted to say I have my philosophy.» Pasolini’s vision of cinema as language is «a ‘diffuse’ and ‘continuous’ vision: a reproduction of reality that is as uninterrupted and fluid as reality.» For him, reality itself is a language: «Rather, it seems to be reality that has language in the same way that film art does. Semiotically, film is structured like reality – and vice versa.»

How close to reality was Pasolini really with his many texts and films? In 1972, three years before he was murdered – he was a great ‘heretic’ someone wanted to kill – he published the book Empirismo eretico («heretical empiricism»). He was also influenced by realism in Italy and attempted to «conceptualise the film medium’s attachment to reality,» as the preface of the new book states. As Emil Leth Meilvang writes there, Pasolini’s film theory project rested «on a kind of hunger for reality […] simply an illusory, childlike and pragmatic love of reality.»


So where do these observations take us fifty years later – now, in 2024?

The billion-dollar-subsidised militarism and ‘warism’ of the time is encroaching. Because when liberal humanist democracy based on the rule of law has had to give way to interest-based authoritarian so-called realpolitik, the world becomes rougher. For many of us, the realpolitik also weakens the legitimacy of the Western authorities – be it the arms supplier USA, which just are  expanding into my home country Norway with twelve military bases; the incarceration centre in England, which still holds Julian Assange in a high-risk prison because he exposed the brutality of war crimes; the leaders of Ukraine or Russia; or the ‘land grabber’ Israel. Politics seems today like a propagandistic theatre far from reality. The grief of the death of Western legitimacy is [se picture in top], therefore, real enough for many of us.

Who knows whether this year you will see the war in Israel and Gaza escalate – and involve European countries, which today supplies both Israel (indirectly) and Ukraine (directly) with weapons? If your country, with all the American bases, were suddenly attacked – you would maybe – from your until then safe ‘media reality’ – shout out: «The reality has become like a film!»

The essay is written by:
Truls Lie
Truls Liehttp:/
Editor-in-chief, Modern Times Review.

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