SIEMEK - Philosophical coincidences

prof. emeritus Bronislaw Baczko, University of Geneva, 
previously Warsaw University
(Marek Siemek considered  Baczko his Teacher and Master

For the last year of so I have been working on a documentary about prof. Marek Siemek (1942-2011).  The film, with the working title "The Department of Historical Necessity", is half way through shooting.  In order to seek additional support (thanks to the institution and individuals who have already helped) I will share some of the aspects of the process on this blog.  Gathering the material I have been privileged to meet and talk with many amazing scholars and friends of Siemek. To start with I’ll try to signal their upcoming presence in the film.   

A seasoned and perceptive Teacher sees an eager and brilliant Student.  

What does the Teacher know about the future of the Student who badly wants to write his MFA thesis about Hegel?

He knows nothing, aside perhaps from some psychological intuition that belongs to wise men, you say.  OK.  

The Teacher gently steers the Student to write about Fichte instead. 

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was emotional and passionate.  It killed him.  Which is just a footnote in the history of philosophy.  Or is it?

The Teacher explains to the Student  that “Fiche is simpler and more manageable, later you can approach such a vast subject like Hegel.”

The Student agrees.   The argument is solid.  

The Teacher, recalling this conversation focuses on the common sense aspect of their joined decision.  It’s all logical, emphatic, proper.  

Times passes.  Actually a lifetime does.  

The Student dies too early but lives long enough to imprint his mark on the world.  He turns out to be brilliant, accomplished, nurturing his environment.  In this respect very much following the footsteps of his (beloved) Teacher.  

The Student’s legacy reveals his great oratorial talent, like Fichte.  It also reveals him being painfully misunderstood by his contemporaries, again like Fichte.   And suffering from right wing zealots, which matches the Fichte’s story as well.  

According to some, the Student died because he miscalculated human reactions, because his impulses did not take under account the brutal jealousy of his opponents.  That to a large degree matched a certain drama in Fichte’s life.   

How much of that could be known to the Teacher when he was suggesting Fichte?

None, you say.   

And on a certain level you are right.  




"I give it a year"

Since the flick is about the undoing of wrong choices within a time limit and essentially about the futility of a mismatched (marriage or a film?) it should be named “I give it two hours”.  But let’s not kick those who have fallen. “I give it a year” is amazingly lame and borderline painful to watch but there is one scene there that makes up for the discomfort of dealing with misguided intentions.  

At certain point the unspoken yearnings of the two of four main characters are cleverly challenged. He tries to express them staging an over the top romantic setting, she fights her attraction toward him.

Deliciously and slightly absurdly pigeons get in the way. Things are beginning to happen not only in the psychological but also in the physical sphere.  The mounting of these physical obstacles helps to go for laughs. The entire story lifts itself high, if only for one scene. 

Like never enough RAM in a computer, so never enough obstacles in a comedy.


Waterboarding: during or after?

Comparing the opening scene from “The Battle of Algiers” with the coercive interrogation scenes from ‘Zero Dark Thirty” one may wonder what’s the most effective in terms of inducing in the audience the true psychological complexity of such a situation.  

Pontecorvo most likely thought that presenting the torment after the fact gives more emotional layers to its representation.  In his scene we feel the tragic consciousness not only within the destroyed confessor but also witness ambiguity within the torturers.  

The Bigelow film on the other hand focuses on the battle of wills.  Even if initially the dread of the situation gets some reactions from the young and ambitious Mia, we mostly experience the scene through its emotional core, which is “yes, it’s extremely brutal but how will it end?”.  

Pontecorvo asks a different question: how can humans live with the brutality of their interactions?

And more broadly: are we able to get the emotional depth of events while they last?  Isn’t their completion the necessary step to reveal to us what they mean?  

What kind of narrators do we want to be: those who participate in the events told or those who try to understand the content of our tales?  Could be the question of temperament.   Or it could also be one of the necessary elements of a true talent: to see the true meaning in the story as it unfolds itself while we spin the tale.