Adopting 'problem' film children

Adopting ‘problem’ film children

To: America
From: The Cannes Film Adoption Agency
Date: May 25, 2009 (the day after our annual festival)
Re: Films for Adoption

Dear America,

Because you recently adopted one of our showcased films, we wanted to let you know about other films that you might be interested in adopting.

But first we wanted to write and tell you how pleased we are that you have chosen to adopt Tulpan. We are excited that Tulpan, which we first offered for adoption just over a year ago at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, has now been picked up and is being shown on various screens in America. We understand that this process can take a long time and that you may not be ready to adopt a film so soon after its birth. You need time to look around at other film options, to examine the economic health and vitality of the films we have to offer and to get comfortable with an individual choice.

And we think your choice of Tulpan is a good one! As you already know, this film won top prize in our Un Certain Regard program last year — a program that highlights creative, overlooked and emerging talent. Films in this category are vibrant and unique, yet still possess the very special qualities we here at the Cannes Film Adoption Agency have come to expect — and for which we are renowned.

Like your biological film children to which you have grown accustomed, Tulpan is a touching drama sprinkled with humor and poignancy about a plucky and determined young man who seeks to persevere and realize his dreams against all odds — and marry the woman of his dreams! We knew these characteristics would appeal to you.

It was the other unique aspects that made us unsure of how you would react — and which may also help explain the time you took to make this important choice. And, yet, we hope that these very qualities will especially endear Tulpan to your audience family members. These aspects include the Third World location — Kazakhstan — which we know is hard to pronounce and to locate on a map. Then there is the foreign language that Tulpan speaks, which must be translated on screen, as well as the unfamiliar culture in a desolate location, where poor people live in yurts. It also lacks the car chases, explosions, vampires, superheroes, phasers and television show characteristics possessed by your biological offspring.

We also worried a bit (somewhat ironically?) about how you would react to the scene in Tulpan where a mother sheep struggles to give birth. We realize it’s more graphically realistic than you are used to — it is, after all, a real birth and not computer generated or covered up with edits and camera angles. Perhaps, we wondered, if this scene were sprinkled with crass humor — like when Billy Crystal helps deliver a calf in City Slickers — you might have been more amenable to adopting Tulpan sooner.

But then forcing this sort of change would have taken away a major element of what makes Tulpan so special, and, thereby, spoil its mood and detract from showing why this birth is so desperately important to people eking out a living in a harsh and unforgiving environment.

That’s not to say, as you now well know, that Tulpan lacks a sense of humor! No doubt you now see it in the ingratiating way Tulpan pokes fun at human nature and our quirks and foibles, but still shows how much we love one another and need one another to get along — whether on the streets of Denver or the steppes of Kazakhstan.

We know that there are so many films vying for your attention that we thought these aspects might result in your turning away from Tulpan. That’s why we are so glad that you chose to embrace these aspects and discovered the value Tulpan can bring to your film-going family! Even if you keep it just for your art houses.

We have now come into possession of a large group of new films that are up for adoption. They are a little older and more adult than usual, but, like Tulpan, they are quality films. And, also like Tulpan, they require an open mind and creative spirit in order to eventually accept them. We hope the Tulpan experience will make it easier for you to consider adding these films to your family.

Most of these films come from prominent homes and parents who have produced other notable filmic offspring — even though you might not have heard of these originators. Yet, because they are from such artistic and complex parents, these films require more love and care. In other words, there are many more scenes like Tulpan’s sheep-birthing scene — and with an even more intense temperament.

It is for this reason that we expect you may have to seek editorial counseling for these films before you can feel comfortable taking them into your movie theaters. In no way are we being judgmental here. We realize that Europe is more accommodating of these quirks and outbursts. We understand that American parents are more forgiving and tolerant of these temperamental qualities if they come with a dash of cartoonish superficiality or winking humor. But show this troubling side of the human psyche or condition in an unblinkingly realistic manner, and you turn away, slap on an NC-17 or X rating or require that the offending warts be cut out.

That’s all by way of saying that we understand that these new films, which are in serious need of financial guidance, may not be to your liking or may give you pause. To highlight some individual examples, one film, called Antichrist, which, like Tulpan, was bestowed with an award, shows the decline of a marriage with brutal frankness, including scenes of graphic sexual pleasure and violence that might make some wince, squirm and head for the exits. It doesn’t sugarcoat its persona so that it can appeal to potential parental distributors. However, we believe that editing this film to make it accessible to your audiences would violate its message — just as adding humor to the sheep birthing scene in Tulpan would fundamentally alter that film’s personality. To be sure, some of the scenes in Antichrist are shockingly acted out. But that is its fundamental nature. Applying plastic surgery techniques to this film would thereby deny your audience members a chance to be challenged and moved — whether that is to the exit or to appreciation of its insights and viewpoints.

Another example is Kinatay, again awarded. It shows the vicious torture, beating, rape, stabbing and dismemberment of a woman by cavalier thugs, which may sound like something you would not choose to adopt. Again, all of this has been displayed in some way or another by many of your biological offspring. It’s just that, in this film, it is not acted out in a cartoonish, superficial or ironic fashion. That may require some extra effort to tolerate, but it can help your family understand that this sort of stuff happens, that it is unpleasant and that those trapped in situations where such inhuman and questionable actions are occurring face an uncomfortable moral dilemma.

We hope that you eventually might be ready for the thoughtfulness and richness that our adoptive film prospects can bring. Art, after all, is about opening minds and prodding discussion. It should not be altered, ignored or replicated to the point of banality. It is these differences that should be celebrated and nurtured.

Nevertheless, we realize that right now you feel comfortable only with embracing Transformers, Terminator, Star Trek and maybe even the occasional Tulpan. We just hope it doesn’t take another year or longer for you to come around to a whole new world of adoptive choices.

Doug Young, who works for Sen. Mark Udall, recently returned from covering his second Cannes Film Festival. In 2008, he won first prize for humorous writing in the Colorado Press Association’s annual contest, where he received a 100 percent score for his film reviews.