Imagine this: A man is standing in a small, white kitchen peeing into a glass on the floor. It’s the middle of the night. He finishes peeing, picks up the glass and pours his urine into a water-purifier pitcher.
The man sits down with a sigh. As he raises the glass of “purified” urine to his parched lips, he catches sight of his distorted reflection in the chrome sink. He pauses and then throws the glass into the sink, rushes out of the kitchen, up the stairs and into the bathroom. As he pulls frantically at the red and white tape stretched across the bathroom sink, he cries out desperately, “I can’t stand it any longer!” “I can’t stand it any longer!”
The man attaches one end of a flexible rubber pipe to the sink faucet, puts the other end in the bath, and turns on the water.
Meanwhile, next door the neighbor is standing in front of his bathroom mirror. In one hand he holds a teacup and in the other a facecloth which he uses to mop the perspiration from his chest and from under his arms. Suddenly, in the silence of the night, he hears the noise of running water. He leans forward, presses his ear against the wall and listens in horror.
While the man who could no longer down another glass of his own urine, glides slowly into a bath full of cool water, his neighbor makes a phone call. “Hello, police?”
Within no time three officers are knocking down the door. One of the officers cannot contain himself and begins beating the man who is still lying naked in his bath. The other two pull their colleague back. The man is hauled out of his bath and carried away immediately, with only a small towel to cover himself. As two officers drag the man onto the landing and down the stairs, the third officer knocks on the neighbor’s door and presents him with a shiny blue bottle of water. “Thank you sir,” she says giving him a meaningful look.
The neighbor watches from his window. In the street below the officers push the culprit along the street and into a waiting police van. After a moment he turns away and trudges into the kitchen, prize in hand. The neighbor opens the fridge door and places his prize on the shelf, adding one more to row upon row of identical shiny blue bottles of water.
The place, it would appear, is Paris. The year is 2039, and water, quite clearly, is scarce.
The story of the bath-taking criminal and his snitch of a neighbor is told in a short film entitled “Râ” written and directed by Frenchman Julien Sibre. “Râ” was screened at the “Festival International du Film d’Environnement”, the annual environment film festival in Paris, which is currently coming to a close after seven days. This year the festival celebrated its 25 th anniversary and showcased a diverse selection of documentaries, short films and features from around the world, films that treat a variety of the major environmental issues of our day such as pollution, sustainable development, the north-south divide, the fight against poverty and desertification, and of course climate change.
I saw a series of short films, all of them part of the official competition. Many of those films present an excruciatingly bleak picture, whether the focus is on the inexorable extinction of an animal species, or the irreversible destruction of nature, or again the unmitigated suffering of the victims of climate change. And so they should, for the devastation and despair, although part of a fiction in these films, cannot be categorized as science fiction or fantasy since they are based on palpable, inescapable realities.
Other films that I saw contain an element of humor. The gravity of any given theme or situation in those films is not necessarily diminished, and the humor provided me with relief from the gloom and despair. Sometimes I find the images of the rape of our planet overwhelming and difficult to relate to, even if I know they’re not lying. In contrast, I could relate more easily to the characters and emotions in a number of those short films that contained a dose of humor. Almost invariably I was engaged in the story being played out on the screen, lulled and destabilized by the comic relief, and then all the more touched by a poignant denouement.
“Râ” was one of the latter. Julien Sibre’s film is not so much about climate change, but about human reactions to the extreme situations we will find ourselves in because of climate change. Indeed, during the open discussion after the screenings, Sibre apologized to the audience, saying perhaps the environmental theme wasn’t strong enough in his film. Yet on the contrary, I thought his film most relevant to an environmental film festival, for it is through art that we can explore and reflect on the human response to the destruction and change around us.
Sibre explained that “Râ” was made for a film contest called “48 Chrono”. Contestants were asked to make a film – write, organize, film and edit – all in 48 hours. That’s quite a feat, don’t you agree?