Bastille, a movie memory

by Yule Heibel on September 2, 2004

Among the several things that have occupied my August was a massive pitch-forking of a small room upstairs that served as general dumping ground for anything that didn’t obviously belong elsewhere. As often happens in de-cluttering, one finds old journal entries and related stuff, and I was sidetracked for the occasional hour by journals from the early and mid 1980s when I was a student at the University of British Columbia. On June 1, 1985 — just a few weeks before leaving for Boston — I wrote something about a film by Rudolf van den Berg, Bastille. It wasn’t exactly a box office hit — IMDB has nothing on it (maybe I should submit my little review) — but when I read my nearly 20-year old entry (which I’ve posted here), huge portions of the film visually flooded back into my mind. At one point, the protagonist is persuaded by someone to act against his self-interest, at another he has to stop the car to puke by the roadside, and at other points the places of Paris, the country roads, and the peculiarly oppressive feel of costumed 18th-century royals and all their ideological baggage come into sharp focus: all of these images, like archipelagos, resume their former position while the text, which jogs the memory, pretends to weave a thread connecting a theory, and like a spider, I crawled across my old pages.

If you want to read about Bastille, click here (I posted this under my “stories” category), and if you actually saw the film, say something in comments please!


Mike Golby September 3, 2004 at 9:12 am

Okay, didn’t see the movie but here’s a comment anyway :).

“‘Bastille’ … tells the story of a man … who lost his parents as well as his twin brother at Auschwitz. … Of course he doesn’t consider that chance itself may be a kind of determinism.”

Yule, surely this is a movie exploring the ironic and paradoxical nature of hope, time, being, etc.? In other words, the good old ‘human condition’? Is hope not just thinly disguised regret, guilt and wishful thinking for a past differing from that which we know? Paul’s regret was that he lost his family. His hope lies in his search for Philip, whose death was not confirmed. The paradox lies in the impossibility of confirming the past. The past always exists only now. Paul’s family’s murder influenced his thoughts and actions, so much so that he tried, in various ways, to create and lend substance to alternative realities (his ‘theory’). Duality, good material for alternative pasts, are abundant. He is Jewish. His wife is non-Jewish. He tries unsuccessfully to deny his identity (through marriage) but trips himself up with Nadine (through adultery) as much as he does with Philip (Jewish and dead). Are Philip and Nadine real? Paul, the history teacher, captures their images (together) by camera on the Place de la Bastille [a prison at the time history was turned on its head by the Social Contract and man became his own warden]. Why does Paul seek his brother? Survivor guilt? His two daughters are mirror possibilities. The two sisters reflect the two brothers. Paul’s dilemma is choice. The one or the other? This goes further. Philip was not confirmed dead. Does Paul now metaphorically kill him? The past and Paul’s denial of it (though it thrusts itself at him in the structure of his family and life), determine the course of his life, which ends ironically, by ‘accident’. It’s ironic, but it’s no accident. All of Paul’s life, i.e. his determination of what is real and what is not and–mostly–his denial of himself and his brother’s death, results in his own demise. Ultimately, he is responsible for being Jewish, for betraying his wife and, ironically again, for ‘not’ killing his brother. In short, he (metaphorically) kills himself rather than kill Philip. Or does he? Does the delicious paradox not lie in Philip motivating Paul’s actions? Representing a past that cannot exist and a hope that cannot be realised, it is Philip who ultimately kills Paul. And this is what might (or might not) validate Paul’s theory. Philip has to ‘exist’ if he is to kill Paul, and this validates Paul’s theory at the death (ehem). Hmm… I dunno. It’s all supposed to come together in the end though. I wonder if it does. These are Biblical names too, eh? Both were New Testament apostles. I wonder if that was intentional. Sounds a good movie, though. An assiduous and thorough note taker you were, weren’t you :)?

Mike Golby September 3, 2004 at 4:56 pm

I don’t know why this post fascinates me so but, reading some David Weinberger, I came accros this. It’s appropriate when considering Paul, the history teacher (I think). “Hegel believed
history is how philosophy unfolds in time, or
something like that.”

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