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Comment: Subtitling (personal) history does not work

IN-SITE VIEWS - Our literary editor watched the Danish Berlin Wall anniversary play and was not amused

»What new forms of artistic expression have emerged as a result of the opening towards the former Eastern bloc?« asked the After the Fall seminar organized on October 24-25, 2009, by the Royal Theatre, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Danish National School of Theatre and Danish department of the Goethe Institute.

Another fall of the Berlin Wall

»What new can be said about the fall of the Berlin Wall?« I asked myself, entering the Playhouse to interpret for the only representative of the Eastern bloc on the panel, director of the Stary Theatre in Kraków, my native city. Two Poles, we were supposed to bear witness to the change.

Inside the building, whose exteriors I admired for the first time two months ago on a tour for the internationals newly employed by the University of Copenhagen, I couldn’t not observe that for me the dismantling of the wall meant exactly this: being inside, rather than outside; being international, rather than from the Eastern bloc.

How NOT to understand a Danish play

As a member of the community of international intellectuals, of intercultural Denmark, of the Schengen Treaty countries, of the European Union, I looked forward to the opening night of History of the Future written and directed by the Dane Christian Lollike.

My first Danish play! Which I would understand (more than jeg kan forstå lidt in my rudimentary Danish), as the organizers promised English subtitles.

One and a half hours later, with my neck stiff from craning upwards to read the English subtitles, I understood that this Danish take on exclusion, division, loneliness felt after, and beyond, the Berlin Wall escaped my comprehension. Not even subtitling could help.

A good cause as an artistic flop

What was clearly meant to be humorous didn’t make me laugh. The ‘message’ of the play – pointing out the less personal risks of globalization and the more personal risks of living in a refugee camp – undermined its artistic expression.

Big declarations had grown enormous, as the actors delivered their speeches directly to the audience. They preached at us even in the most intimate scenes between the main protagonist and her lover! (Not to mention the fact that a female taxi driver cannot impersonate an ordinary human to a Pole – most taxis in Poland, and I would assume elsewhere, are operated by men.)

How about a documentary?

My failure of comprehension matched the failure of the play. Neither in its dramatic language nor in its subtitles could it tell what was most poignantly expressed by another artistic means: documentary. Towards the play’s end, the actors left the stage – now we could watch a fragment of the black-and-white film about a refugee camp. At one point the interviewed man remarked: »I didn’t change the clock. It makes no difference. There’s no time here.«

What does the twenty years mean then?