Monday, September 1, 2008

Sign of the Times?

I was very taken with the short film, Historia de un Letrero, a Mexican production whose title is translated as Story of a Sign. It is a charming parable with religious overtones, or would that be undertones? In any event, this comes across as a fable with a moral about the power of words, and how changing the wording of a sign changes the reactions and responses of those who read it. It therefore serves as a nice little vignette for making a point about language, communication, persuasion, and both general semantics and semantics in general.

The religious sensibility has something to do with this being a "Latin" film, I imagine, and the young man in the film who comes to the aid of the blind beggar could be interpreted as a Jesus-like figure (and isn't Jesus typically depicted as an Italian, visually, as opposed to a Jew, owing to the long Italian tradition of religious art? (of course, in American television and film, there is a longstanding tradition of using Italian and Jewish actors interchangeably to portray Italian and Jewish characters, both having that Mediterranean quality and communicating ethnicity in contrast to the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant types)). As a savior-figure, the young man seems to provide a variation on the old saw about giving a man a fish and feeding him for a day while teaching a man to fish feeds him for a lifetime. Certainly, the blind beggar seems to treat him like some kind of messiah.

This film is not without its controversy, however, and I will admit to feeling less than comfortable with the portrayals, and some of the folks on the media ecology listserv took great offense with what they felt was a patronizing attitude on the part of the filmmakers towards the poor and the disabled. No doubt, some of the anger this film generated was due to the yuppie-like appearance of the savior, seeing him as a smug professional PR or ad exec type who did nothing significant to change the blind beggar's circumstances, and did not even donate his own money to the unfortunate man.

While I leave you to draw your own conclusions (and how interesting it is that this film leads to such disparate interpretations) I would point out that if we accept the critical view of the film, it uses images and narrative to manipulate the audience, just as the blind beggar's sign is about using word choice to influence the passersby reading it. In other words, on two different levels this film is about the same thing, the use of communication techniques, symbols, and media to achieve effects, specifically to influence and manipulate individuals.

Anyway, the film is described simply with the following: "Sometimes all it takes is a stroke of a pen. A beautiful film by Alonso Alvarez." And here it is:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The film is by the producers of "Bella" (2006).