I love some of the changes in Cebu in recent years. As a city, it is getting much more cosmopolitan, especially compared to when I was a kid. You can now buy prosciutto in the supermarket, the latest London street fashion from Top Shop, or cosplay items of your favourite anime characters in Comic Alley. But sometimes I worry that while we have fully accepted Western consumerism as a way of life, the deeper parts of foreign culture is missing. We get the global flash, but maybe miss out on the soul. When was the last time we had an opera in Cebu? How many Cebuanos have seen a real life Rembrandt on a gallery wall? Have you ever seen a play by Chekhov, Pinter or Beckett? So I was very happy to bump into the 20th French Film Festival in Ayala Centre Cebu, an opportunity to receive some of the deeper nourishment of Western culture.
The Festival of French Film
French films are a treasure trove of cinematic excellent. They are as diverse as Hollywood movies, but France being the birthplace of so many good things, like democracy, secularism, and Camembert, the depth of ideas offer us a different way of looking at the world. The French Film Festival was situated in Cinema 4 in Ayala, and the films were completely free to watch with English subtitles. Ten films were shown over two days (June 23-24). I managed to catch the last film on offer on the Wednesday night, Thomas Lilti’s Hippocrate.
Inaccurately billed as a comedy, Hippocrate is really a medical drama with comedic elements about a young intern Benjamin Barois (Vincent Lacoste), starting at a public hospital run by his father (Jacques Gamblin). Benjamin has had it good as his father’s son, being protected when he makes serious mistakes due to the hospital’s cost cutting procedures. The film centres around Benjamin’s love-hate bromance with co-intern Abdel (Reda Kateb), who is an experienced foreign doctor starting as an intern to get into the French medical system. Both have their woes as the hospital buckles under a corporate style of management, putting the pressure on its doctors and bringing on disastrous consequences.
The Spirit of 68 Lives On
Hippocrate is very, very French. It is a political film, imbibed with the spirit of 68 (when the French students revolted against their academic oppressors), as the doctors, the nurses, and the audience gradually realize the problems of the system and eventually take action. There are annoyances; the frat boy hijinks of the doctors and some of the casual sexism and sleaziness of French society. I disliked characters I am meant to like. The slowness of the pace of the film contrasts sharply from the narrative speed of the mainstream Hollywood fare we get daily. I prefer the naturalistic rhythm without exaggeration; it takes its time to flesh out its characters, with rambling dialogue that is both funny and revealing.
What the French Can Teach Us
A story that so realistically presents the French health care system gives us, in the Philippines, a slice of life we would never get to eat normally. It shows us how different life can be in many parts of the world and offers us real learning. While the French health system is shown here as problematic, to the Filipino eye, it looks like heaven. We wish we had the problems that they had. As someone who has had to often use the Filipino health care system, despite being able to afford private care, I am always appalled by the ineptitude of our hospitals, where doctors arrive to their clinics hours late and often patients are maltreated as they are asked to wait ages for treatment.
A Different View from the Left Bank
The joy of seeing art from around the world is that it broadens the ideas that we are exposed to. We see that things don’t have to be the way we do it in our particular country, nor are we limited to the kind of shallow positive thinking Americanism of Hollywood. I sincerely thank the organizers of the film festival for this satisfying French fare, and may we all learn from the idealism of French liberté, egalité and fraternité. Vive la révolution!
If you are interested in French culture, check out Alliance Francaise de Cebu’s Facebook page for more events.