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The Inescapable Past

Among the things I love about living in DC is that one Friday you can go see a movie for $10 and be part of an international film festival. In this case, I attended a showing of Es kommt ein Tag (The Day Will Come), as part of Filmfest DC, Washington’s International Film Festival. The movie, released in Germany in 2008, was written and directed by Susanne Schneider, who as it turned out was at the screening for a Q&A after the film. Yet another thing to love about art events – sometimes you get to interact with the artists involved.

To quiet my nit-picky side, I feel compelled to mention that the title really translates as: A Day Will Come, with the overtone of a warning…a day will come when the past will confront you.

Es kommt ein Tag explores revenge and forgiveness, what happens to guilt when it is carried for a long time, and how we face our past selves when they inevitably return to confront us.   It’s a powerful film, and well worth seeing if you can catch it on Netflix or somewhere similar.

The past cannot be left behind; it will come and find us, no matter how we hide. That is what Judith (Iris Berben), the mother, finds out one day when a young woman, Alice, arrives at her vineyard and disrupts her family. Age-wise, I fall between these two characters, although I am inching ever closer to Judith, so why does my sympathy lie more with the mother, the one who did wrong? Judging from the audience reaction during the Q&A, I am not alone in this. Judith seems the nicer person, less relentless and inflexible, and her daughter, although wronged against, seems insufferably smug in her judgment, allowing no mercy. As the audience, we wanted some measure of forgiveness for Iris Berben’s mother figure, some quarter given to her.

I wonder if this would be different for someone in their early 20s, when most of us are so convinced of our own correctness, so assured of our complete and absolute knowledge of the world, that we know right and wrong, black and white, intimately and entirely. Mostly. Alice gives no quarter, it seems, and that is hard to take when you see Judith’s distress. She seems nice, and we do not see her past in live color, so it is vague and unreal. Her distress is real to us, and Alice seems crueler for it. Her suffering was in the past, so less substantial to us now. She is a sabre, a lean instrument of revenge, and impressive. But she isn’t just attacking her mother, she is attacking the family Judith has built in the intervening years. Are Judith’s children to blame? Should they pay for Judith’s mistakes?

What can we forgive? What does it take for us to find forgiveness – for us and for others? And does our forgiveness matter in the face of what we did to other people? Can we absolve ourselves of the pain we caused others? Should we? Should we be able to do this without input from those we hurt? But how can you move on if you never let go? If I can’t forgive you for hurting me, then how can I stand the thought that you forgive yourself for it? Where do we find peace in the face of such questions? The film does not resolve them for us, although it does offer some measure of resolution for its characters. Just make sure you get a good copy of the actual film so that you can catch the subtle detail offered in the last shot. We had Ms. Schneider there to point it out to us, something you probably won’t be able to rely on when you watch this movie.

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