2016年12月13日 星期二

Eperdument (Down by Love) (狂愛)

It is often said that love is blind. Philosophers like Plato taught that love is a noble virtue, a kind of non-sexual relationship between heterosexual friends, an arête and that we must distinguish between eros and philia. Believers in the monotheistic god tell us that love or agape has its origin in that greatest source of everything in the universe, that fountain of that Greatest Love that can possibly exist, called variously God, Allah, Yahweh. Moralists tell us that love is the kind of unselfish human kindness, compassion, and affection, loyalty and benevolent concern of one human being for another. Yet, biologist tell us that love is merely the kind of physiological reaction felt by human being, like other animals when he/she is ready to mate and for that purpose to copulate. If so, is love equivalent to love-making?  Can love be reduced to mere animal passion, without sense, difficult if not impossible to control by our reason which Aristotle and countless other philosophers tell us is something which distinguishes a man from an animal? Who is right? Who is wrong? Can we even sensibly discuss the question at all? Is it a meaningful question in the first place? If it's a meaningful question, what do we mean by "meaningful"? Do we know what we are talking about when we think or say that we are talking about "love"?

Yet, if we may judge by what we find in the 2016 film by Pierre Godeau, Eperdument (Down by Love) (狂愛), it seems that the biologists are closer to the mark than any of the others. It's based on a true life story which actually happened in what otherwise would appear an almost impossible environment: a French prison, a love which flourished despite all reason, between a warden and one of his charges, a teenage girl. The prison warder in this case Jean Firmino is played by  a young actor from the Comédie Française Guillaume Gallienne  and the teenage prisoner called Anna Amari is played by Adèle Exarchopoulos. Jean is an otherwise happily married husband of Elise Firmino (Stéphanie Cléau ), who teaches arts and craft at his prison  and the father of a lovely young daughter Louise (Aliénor Poisson).

We are never told in the film what exactly was the crime Anna had committed which brought her into prison in the first place. When the film opens, we are shown Anna stripping herself naked by taking off her T-shirt and bra for her photo to be taken without having been asked to, as part of what she thought would be the entry routine of all French female prisoners. She shows herself to be a pretty headstrong girl who got into trouble in no time with other inmate, following which she was given the treatment of solitary confinement and when she's done, she was assigned to a cell which she shares with two other female inmates, one colored and one not. Then as part of her education, she was trained to do laundry and then to work in the library, where the warden took more than a personal interest in her welfare and before long, all the female inmates started calling her the "directrice" or the female prison warder.

There seems a certain personal chemistry between her and the warden, a very strong physical attraction of one for the other, one which led the warden to go against all rules, to such an extent that he would "madly" disregard all social convention, all moral and professional standards, even  criminal sanction and would be prepared to risk to lose even his wife and daughter. And when it was time for Anna to be transferred to another facility, we are shown how she was reluctant to leave, saying that she loved staying there!   Why did she behave in that way? We don't know. The only thing we know is that during her stay in prison, her mother visited her once, from which encounter we could see that they did not appear to be on very intimate terms.

It's a very simple story, a complete enigma, showing us in the concrete the kind of things which physical love can make us do. The film does not present or suggest any moral lessons. It seems a completely naturalistic account of what "actually" happened, without any comment at all. It's through presenting us with the bare facts of physical interaction between the two protagonists as and when they meet that somehow makes it look credible. A great deal of credit in this respect must be given to Guillaume Gallienne and Adèle Exarchopoulos who both make that kind of great passion which defies all kind of logic look real and authentic.

Perhaps what Pierre Godeau is trying to do in this film is merely to present that "amour fou" as a "brute fact" so as to provoke us into reflecting why it happened at all or why it happened at that time, that place, under those kinds of circumstances. Many psychologists have argued that at the end of the day, many law enforcers may harbor a secret desire to do exactly what they see the criminals are doing. Maybe, all of us would die to be free of that kind of constant vigilance, pressure and resulting stresses which conventional morality demands of us to such an extent that some of us may secretly feel an irresistible urge to have a taste of the forbidden fruit. Is that not the moral of the story of Adam and Eve, both living in an otherwise perfectly happy and law abiding paradise, overseen and under constant surveillance by that giant eye in the sky which seems never to want or needs to fall asleep, from the beginning of biblical time and if we may trust our theologians, for ever and ever until the end of time, if any? Maybe, the prison guard and the prisoner may in time be bonded by the physical embodiment of a special type of power relationship but not ordinarily sexual relationship? Is that not what Joseph Losey is trying to tell us in his 1963 film The Servant?Are not devils once angels? Are not the so-called victims of sado-masochism not joined by the bond of pain, violence, power which somehow got mixed with sexual pleasure? Was St. Paul not once a Cristian persecutor? 
Why is it that the change of direction in the nature the object of the relevant relationship in the way a person interact can operate one way only?  Why must relationships be characterize by one dimension only?

Are the neuropsychologists right when they tell us the physical act of love-making generates as part and parcel of the love-making act itself a hormone called oxytoxin, which is a powerful chemical glue which emotionally binds the two human beings involved, a hormone which we are told is produced in the women when they are engaged in childbirth and when their breasts are being sucked? If the neuropsychologists are right, does that not help to explain that "amour fou"?
This hypothesis seems to gain a little credibility when we remember that when Anna first entered the prison, she voluntarily submitted to the power control  structure there without even being asked to to do so by taking off her clothes for the entry identity photo-taking. We do know that there are numerous cases in which children living in a family with abusive parents may sometimes but pathologically identify themselves with the abusive parent later, so as to reduce the psychological pain they feel after they have been punished by thinking and accepting that they deserve the punishment administered to them.
They may think that the pain of being abused may be less than the pain of being completely abandoned, of having parents who do not pay them any attention at all, the pain of their complete indifference, If to what started out initially in that prison as a purely relationship of power, is added later a physical love relationship, does  that not further reinforce that complicated bonding relationship. If the neuropsychologists and child psychologists are right, does that not help to explain that "amour fou"? Is that what ultimately what Pierre Godeau may be trying to provoke us into such explorative reflections?  Of course, he did not make any explicit suggestion in that regard nor even any suggestion at all, but that does not mean that he has not presented the "facts" upon which such reflections may take place.