Tristen Bakker is a documentarian and editor.
HISTORY / A new doc based on the much-heralded book EUROPEANA attempts to hold true to its impassive recounting of the history of the 20th century.

Orginal title: Espère de même pour toi)
Distributor:
Country: France

The film opens with a series of still black and white photos underscored by an eerie soundscape. We see the sky; a single futuristic building perched high atop a mountain, a spaceship. Voiceover narration tells a story – humanity has lost any knowledge of the 20th century due to unnamed world upheavals. Now, the way humans can regain their knowledge of past events is through the ability of a few, those who have a genetic quirk allowing them to peer into the past and relay the events they see. More photos of a woman, one of these special few being taken into a room presumably to begin her recounting session. It is all very Le Jetée, and the sci-fi element is intriguing.

Then, after only this brief intro, the film shifts into moving images, and the telling of the past begins. And that is the rest of the film: 90 minutes worth of scattered images, sometimes random, sometimes literal, unfolding under a narration of facts from points in the history of the 20th century. They are told by alternating voices in seemingly no particular order, without any inflection of emotion or visual images of the narrators.

EUROPEANA

This is a film based on the book EUROPEANA: A Brief History of the 20th Century by Patrik Ourednik. A book that has garnered a devoted following by arranging itself in just this way – random facts spelled out in no particular order of importance or relevance, no guiding of historical value, no judgment on the events or facts described – with the intention to illuminate the absurdity of historical events and of humans themselves.

Wishing You the Same-post1
Wishing You the Same, a film by Arnaud de Mezamat

The film follows this format closely, which is to its benefit as it is based on the book. It succeeds in throwing light on the absurdity of the human condition. Of how throughout history the belief that life, things, and people would be «better» in the future – more advanced as technology advanced and a person’s day-to-day basic needs were met more easily; enriched by the advancement of art and culture. However, in laying out events that were occurring amidst these beliefs, it turned out this simply was not the case. Humanity was constantly dissatisfied and at war with itself.

What, of our past, is real?

The director uses a square rather than widescreen frame for Wishing You the Same , giving one the feeling of looking through a telescope. The music is of varied styles (jazz, classical, experimental) and edited often in a jarring fashion, just as the images are of varying styles (stock footage, animation, «home-movies») and edited between each other helter-skelter. Everything jumps around in a mirror image of the average human being’s monkey-mind – thoughts come in and fly out, images and ideas are jumbled together, facts are mixed with memories. Over time one can no longer be sure what of our past is real and what has been constructed within our minds.

However this is not a human mind, this is a film and we are lead through despite the intent that all historical facts are to be treated equally. We return to the same topics over and over again, the most disturbing of which have to do with war and genocide. Given that the concept of the film is to give an impassive reading of mixed-up facts to create a broad picture of the 20th century, I came away with this – that war and genocide were the most important events in the 20th century and that we are destined to relive those evils again and again in the future. For me, returning repeatedly to the topic of war completely overshadowed the other topics that did come up during the film. And the additional facts offer no additional clarity other than to emphasis the pointlessness of it all and the bleakness of humanity. People ultimately think of themselves as better than all who are different from them, and when given any type of power, they will use it to bury the «other».

I was sometimes perplexed, sometimes bored, sometimes tired, and mostly depressed while watching Wishing You the Same. I felt buried in the sensation of existential angst and the general futility of human nature. One notable comment regarding the book is that it is peppered throughout with humour. The film, for the most part, is not.

It succeeds in throwing light on the absurdity of the human condition.

Humour does occasionally emerge from the film, for example in the ending line, «An American political scientist invented a theory … according to which history had actually come to an end … But lots of people did not know the theory, and continued making history as if nothing had happened». But rarely could any light moments permeate the general bleakness created by the repeated references to wars, death, and torture, the consequences of war, etc.

A cacophony of facts

A question that puzzled me was why the construct of the bookending sci-fi theme? It has nothing to do with the rest of the film. There is no explanation or a return to this «story» in the full 90-minute body of the film, so why the ruse of the future-storytellers in this fictitious future or of the lost history? To me, it comes across as if the filmmaker was afraid to let the experimental-documentary style be what it is. It needed a reason other than itself. Which is not so absurdist ironically.

In the end, there is a return to the woman from the intro. She is closer in the frame, her eyes are watery – is she sad, affected by all that has been relayed, or merely tired from this cacophony of facts? As I had forgotten about her after the first six minutes, I didn’t really care either way. In the end, I was happy to see the credits rolling and to be released from this relentless doom-filled film.