The Tower of Babel
The film was created as a triptych with various interpretations of the poem “The Tower of Babel” by Wisława Szymborska. The complicated relationships among the characters are revealed from different perspectives: the first interpretation is the perspective of a son, the second – that of a woman, and the third - the perspective of the viewer. On one hand it is the complexity and the imperfection of speech that leads to conflict and a separation of human worlds, on the other hand – it is language itself that causes departures and misunderstandings, and estranges the characters from each other. Consecutive scenes broaden the experience of life at the tower of Babel.
First we witness the story of a man who is attempting to close a chapter from the past and recalls relations between his parents, incomprehensible to him: their worlds that were separate and common at the same time, captured in the confines of the home, while for their son – they are open in time, and remain puzzling after many years. A lack of understanding is not exclusively the boy’s experience as he secretly spies on his parents, but it is also the experience of the woman – the mother and lover, as well as that of the man – the father and husband, the creator in a solitary fight for understanding his own word.
In the second story we see the reality from the outside. An apartment building resembling a tower, dark at the bottom, becomes lighter towards the top. The light diffuses the depressing image of human relationships marked by role-playing, pretending, envy, betrayal and indifference. Connections are becoming increasingly loose. We witness good-byes among characters caused by fleeting feelings (of a young man towards several women he meets), a lack of trust between people, their suspiciousness or each other; uncertainty and indifference experienced by the main character, who will not meet the person she awaits. The encounters at the top of the tower descend towards the bottom and disappear into the darkness. In this world a homeless, lonely man seems free and happy. Looking up from the bottom he sees light. His presence brings the story of the inhabitants of the apartment building to a close.
The space of interpersonal encounters is limited by neither place nor time. The film concludes with a fragmented tale. The open and incoherent narrative of the presented world is integrated by the cognitive perspective of the viewer, who can connect the images and arrange them into a whole on his own. The form of the narrative shows the mode of the reception of culture, its creation and processing, and points to the experience of participating in the world – of the man as the viewer. The incoherence of the narrative is enhanced by multiple translations as the characters’ lines are translated into German, Italian, French and English. The scattered world composed of various elements presents several images. We see a woman talking to herself, to her own memories, to the past, to someone who is not there. We witness chance encounters of people on the train, their self-absorption and focus on indirect relationships – they are on the phone, and we neither hear nor know their interlocutors. In a different part of the film, lovers chance upon each other in an art gallery; ashamed of their feelings, they hide them from those around them and converse in a language that nobody else can understand. In one of the scenes, a young couple is also hiding their feelings – not so much from the world, as from each other. They choose a music club, the loudest spot, as the place to meet, and they create a situation of impossible communication in a place where they cannot hear each other.
The film interpretation of “The Tower of Babel” by Szymborska is an attempt at capturing the linguistic complexity of the world. The English translation of the text by Stanisław Barańczak, and later translations into German, Italian and French introduce a certain dissonance. Each translation reveals the linguistic entanglements of existence at the tower of Babel.
Szymborska’s poem can be read as a dialog between two people, as a polyphonic work, but it can also be read as an inner monolog of the subject. All these perspectives are present in the film, which depicts several imaginary situations. The complexity of speech is a result of differences perceived in many ways: of misunderstanding and lack of understanding; of man and woman, husband and wife, lovers, parents and child, one’s own past and present… On the other hand the complexity of speech may be solely an experience of the viewer who is often not fully aware of the context shared by the characters. To the characters, their words are parts of a bigger whole, of a reality beyond words that both connects and separates them.
A visual breakdown of the poem by the director preceded the film script. The black background in between words creates room for interpretation, and invites the viewer to fill the unspoken with images.
The animation of the text of the poem opening the film accompanies the viewer throughout the entire screening. The subtitles, according to the cinema convention, are a translation of what the characters say and they explain the image. However, one could ask - is it not the image and the world seen that is a translation of the words?
Different concretizations of the literary work are a product of looking at the word and perceiving poetry in different ways. Each perception determines and defines that which is undetermined, suspended, not fully specified. In the film “The Tower of Babel” the seeing is not objective, one and only, or indisputable, and through that poetry is able to retain its mysteriousness and ambiguity. There are many interpretations of a poem, one of which is the interpretation of the viewer, who can recall his own image of the poem.
In the introduction to the film all we hear is words, and we read the text displayed over the screen. The introduction initiates the first cinematic image which is invisible, imagined by the viewer.
Jadwiga Ann, przekład: Justyna Krukowska