"I was absolutely sure of one thing: We should never be like our parents." Christian Labhart looking back, to 1968 and the city of Zurich he grew up in, at a time when the waves of the sixties countercultural revolution reached Switzerland. It's a personal story the filmmaker tells in Passion – Between Revolt and Resignation which had its world premiere during the documentary film Visions du Reel in Nyon earlier this year. The diary-like documentary lasts for decades and reflects on the political earthquakes that have shaken the world during Labhart's lifetime. At the same time, he announces a varying form curve in his own community engagement, his activism and his vision of a more just world order.
The documentary is very personal, but also offers a review of recurring events – from Chernobyl accident to Berlin Wall fall and 9/11 in New York – which has led to a new world understanding. And what happens when rebellious young people grow up and see their parents' faces, which they rebelled against, look back at them from the mirror, and their youth's belief in change has not manifested itself in changes around them?
Disasters and riots
When he was young, the newly liberated left-wing Labhart applied for teaching jobs, realizing his fascination for anti-authoritarian teaching methods. Together with six others, he also ran a farm collective for a period, and we get some glimpses of him demonstrating against nuclear power in 1977. His description of himself and his idealistic youth – a young man in hand-knit sweater and with Birkenstock sandals, who all the other like-minded protesters – are full of both self-irony and nostalgia. But reality did not keep up with their dreams. As he says, "We shared the utopia about a classless society, but never agreed on how to realize it." Baader-Meinhof the militant and violent actions of the group; the weaknesses of the communist ideology that emerged Berlin Wall fell; radioactivity that spread and polluted the whole of Europe after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded – events such as this led the left side to see its peaceful ideals crashing into the 70s and 80s.
Have we been moving forward at all since 1939?
Excerpts from pioneering thinkers' writings support the more personal reflections as well as the archival material from the disasters and rebellions that have shaped our current era. This partially random composition of excerpts reflects changing intellectual currents with Marxist thinking. A 1939 poem by playwright Bertolt Brecht, about the storm clouds that gathered over Europe, "An die Nachgeborenen" ("To Those Born After Us," re-written by Georg Johannesen); passages from Guy Debord's 1967 fetishism criticism, Society of the Spectacle; parts of a letter Ulrike Meinhof wrote while in isolation – all of which carries with it a sense that post-industrial economic crisis and fear of refugees are an inherent part of capitalism. And the feeling follows us into the freshest stream of thoughts, from Franco "Bifo" Berardis Poetry and Uprising and Slavoj Zizeks The New Class Struggle.
As Labhart argues for the really big day-to-day conflicts, and while the refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean as if they are worth nothing, the filmmaker admits that he himself is fighting the cynicism that often relieves the feeling of helplessness. It's been over a decade since he started making movies, hoping to change reality by showing it (he is behind a number of documentaries on several of Europe's open wounds, from the Kosovo War to Greece's economic crisis). The first line of Brecht's poem, which also kicks off the film, reappears in the consciousness: "Yes, I really live in gloomy times!" Have we ever moved forward and away from this paralyzing feeling of 1939?
As the perspective extends over the decades, it may seem that there is no progress or liberation at all to track, but that we are on the contrary in circles. And when voters cast a wide array of rumors and demagogues – from Donald Trump in the United States to Sebastian Kurz in Austria – it may seem as if we are again facing a darker and fascist future. "What was considered extreme right thirty years ago has now become popular and commonplace," the director points out.
On the right side
Labhart is plagued by internal contradictions as well as the question of whether the newlywed father has indulged in a civil complacency: In principle, he is to accept refugees from the Idomeni camp in Greece, but aren't as sure if he's ready to let them into his own home. But when the Arab Spring was pushed by a new generation of young people who were tired of old dictators in Cairo, Damascus and Istanbul, the fighting spirit rose again in him. We see streets full of protesters banging buckets: the sound of resistance resonates in every struggle for dignity.
"What was considered right-wing extremes thirty years ago has now become popular and commonplace."
The fact that the Internet played a crucial role in organizing the Arab Spring in 2011 – and in fact changed the terms of popular activism – is not devoted much attention to the documentary. The director is far more concerned with finding an unbroken line in humanity's will to revolt than by putting its finger on the formative changes in recent years' actions.
Economic greed and fascism are likely to bloom at irregular intervals, as will the will to resist these tendencies – and we will have enough strength to force them to their knees. And it's not just the young people who are going to take these battles. Although we live politically for a scary time, the documentary shows that being on the right side of history and fighting for what one believes in is what makes life meaningful. Although "the anger over injustice also makes the voice hoarse," as Brecht writes.
Translated by Vibeke Harper