By Luke Spiby
“Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:4–9).
Babel is the supposed birthplace of the language barrier, and so Beyond Babel is a more than suitable name for a festival that commemorates overcoming these barriers. As part of Manchester Metropolitan University Humanities in Public series, March was made the month of multilingual life. And what better way to embrace this than with a one-day multilingual film festival, which took place at the Manchester Conference Centre on Saturday.
The first film of the festival was Wim Wenders’ 1991 science-fiction film, Bis Ans Ende Der Welt (Until The End Of The World). It was introduced by roaming lecturer and avant-garde filmmaker, Dr Barnaby Dicker. This film is set in 1999, and follows polyglot Claire (Solveig Dommartin) as she follows an elusive fugitive (played by William Hurt) around the world, all while a rogue satellite threatens the lives of everyone on the planet. There is a great haste, a feeling of excitement in the first half of this multicultural marathon, which eventually slows to a somber story of love, loss and obsession in a very seamless manner.
Later Barnaby told Humanity Hallows, “Looking to the past is a helpful way of realising that we’ve always been multicultural or multilingual. Of course, there are instances of people not getting on… but I think that’s against the backdrop of a deeper correspondence. Art is about resourcefulness and creativity, and openness. It encourages people to want to find out more… A piece of art might challenge or open the mind.”
Two of MMU’s leading multi-lingual ambassadors introduced the second film; Head of French and FILTA co-founder, Dr Isabelle Vanderschelden and French-speaking Sociology lecturer, Dr Benedicte Brahic. Cédric Klapisch’s 2002 comedy L’auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck) is regularly shown to students planning on studying abroad. It tells the story of a French student living in Barcelona for a year as part of the Erasmus Programme, as he shares an apartment with six other students from Western Europe. Hilarity ensues as the students act, well, like students. However, the occasional culture clash brings an extra comedic element that is seldom seen in unilingual cinema. In her introduction, Benedicte spoke about the benefits and successes of the Erasmus Programme. She also revealed how she first came to see Pot Luck; “I watched it the day before I came to the UK with Erasmus… I loved it.”
Humanity Hallows later caught up with Isabelle at the end of the event. On the topic of French cinema (which is her expertise) and its accessibility in the UK, she said, “There’s clearly a strong appeal for French cinema [in the UK] … we have to cultivate it – we have to ensure that there is visibility for French films. I think these events help to promote different ways of looking at film. That’s quite important.”
Introduced by MMU’s Head of Spanish, Dr Carmen Herrero – a specialist in Hispanic cinema – the final film of the day was Marc Evans’ 2010 emotive drama Patagonia. Basically two road trip films intertwined during editing, Patagonia shows the simultaneous stories of a Welsh-speaking couple visiting Patagonia in Argentina, and of an elderly Welsh-Argentine woman and her young neighbour as they attempt to find her mother’s childhood farm in Wales. It can only be described as an eye-opening adventure, watching characters from opposite sides of the world as they experience each other’s cultures, and occasionally falter along the way.
Carmen is the current director of MMU’s FLAME Research Centre, as well as being the co-founder of FILTA, which has gained 2,500 members from over 120 countries since its inception in 2010. Speaking to Humanity Hallows, Carmen told us, “Films contain universal themes – love, friendship – and they teach us about expressions, vocabulary, history, culture… Events like these help to facilitate people’s interests. It also helps bring culture, knowledge and diversity. Hopefully we’ll do another one next year.”
If Beyond Babel proved anything, it is that art does not depend on language or cultural background. Good art, and good films, can be understood in all corners of the world.
Luke Spiby is a third year Chemistry student with a passion for film. Follow him on Twitter @LJSpibs