Sunday, 9 April 2006

No news from god

This one is a direct extension of my previous blogentry, entitled "Don't pass me by" (after the Ringo Star song from the white album). Originally I intended for the two to be one, but the first one got to be too long.

I don't usually review films I don't watch in the cinema anymore; as I said before, you can learn a lot about me by the things I don't blog about. But here's an exception.
A week ago we watched a Spanish film called "No News from god" on video. We taped it a month or two ago from SBS; in fact, one of my main messages from this blogentry is to say that SBS seems to have something going for it every Wednesday night at ten. They tend to put their primary film for the week at that time slot, and given that SBS is all about foreign stuff these films tend to be quality stuff instead of the usual shit material you get on the commercial channels.
We don't like watching films on video anymore. The quality is not on par with DVD, it's hard to make up what people are saying... It's just doesn't cut it anymore. But we were too lazy that weekend to go out and rent something, so we had a marathon of watching films we taped. We managed to accumulate quite a backlog, with one film, Shipping News, waiting for us for more than a year (it actually had promos for the Australian Open on it - the 2005 Australian Open).

Anyway, what captured me immediately with No News from god was the fact it is, in fact, a discussion on my favorite bible passage. I'm talking about the passage I've already discussed twice in this very blog - Moshe asking god during their first date "who the f*ck are you", and god answering "I'll be whoever I'll be" (freely translated from the Hebrew original by yours truly). If you want to look for the original, peek-a-boo at Shmot (aka Exodus) 3:14.
I don't think that passage captured me because it's pi; I think it did because when we studied it, on 6th grade, with Ori the school principal as our bible teacher, we ended up devoting several weeks to this single passage and its interpretations.

You see, as with everything else in the bible, people who are true believers tend to look for more than meets the eye. Whereas I would read the passage as Moshe asking the burning bush "what the fuck's this burning shrubbery", and the shrub answering back "don't fuck with me", the bible interpreters have sensed something deeper.
It starts with the first level of interpretation. Moshe is asking "why pick on me" (as in why choose me to get the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt), and god is answering "hey, because that's the way I designed things to be".
The second level goes into analyzing the first layer of interpretation. Why did god design things this way anyway? Why is god making one nation pretty miserable (the Israelite slaves), and why is he about to make another nation pay the punishment (the Egyptians)?
This dilemma is at the center of the bible, because one of the key questions the bible tries to answer is why certain people who do good suffer while others who are evil are also having a pretty good time; this doesn't make sense in a world controlled by an all powerful and just entity.
And the answer is supposed to be that god will do whatever he/she will do, we as mere people should leave god be and worry about doing our own stuff without wondering why it's done this way.
If you're a believer, you would assume that god has designed the Egyptians as simply a tool to teach the Israelites a lesson, to have them go through an experience (being slaves and then set free) that will shape their existence for the next few millennia.

However, if you're a none believer, like me - someone who thinks that all people are equal and starts concluding from that point of view - you would reach one of two conclusions:
1. God is weak and can't really control stuff. He is busy in conflicts with the devil or whatever, and as a result you get certain people doing well and others doing pretty badly; god just can't help it.
2. God is evil. God enjoys seeing certain people suffer at the expense of others.

Which is exactly the idea being explored, in a very funny and open way, by the film.
Heaven, for a start, is a black and white version of Paris where people speak French; hell, on the other hand, is managed corporate style by people in suits carrying titles such as CEO and CFO and speaking English. Hell is a very American place.
There's not much more to the film; it won't answer the questions that no one is really capable of answering. It just discusses the issues in a very funny way, which makes you just think of the absurdity behind the ideas mankind came up with a few thousand years ago and which are still, sadly, too much in control of our lives (There are examples aplenty. Just this week I've heard a guy at work going through a tough period in his marriage saying how he goes to church to address the problem; and I've seen a video my father sent me of the elections' propaganda from Israel, where most of the parties say how they would be better at "maintaining Jewish values" and how "the Jewish people in the Jewish state" deserve them, making me proud to be an Australian).

So make sure you check out what's on SBS on Wednesday nights.

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