Prison we live in

“A prison is a social catastrophe for the society which constructed it.” With these words, famous German documentarist Harun Farocki introduces the new Czech film In Sight revealing the fact that the contemporary society is gradually turning into a perfect prison. The film essay by Andrea Slováková is available from November 14 to 20 for free.

Borrowed from the works of French philosopher Michel Foucault, the basic metaphor of the film is that of the Panopticon. The architectonic solution of a “perfect prison” was designed by English reformer Jeremy Bentham at the times of the Enlightenment; Foucault employed it in a figurative sense in his interpretation of the functioning of the institutions of 19th century society. Within the model, the key position is taken up by the “invisible inspector” who realizes a maximally effective surveillance of the inmates. The effectiveness of the model consists in the fact that each inmate, due to the awareness that he may be watched at any time, actually watches himself. However, the practical solution of Bentham’s design was complicated by the basic requirement of “seeing without being seen”, which was outside the scope of possibilities of traditional architectonic solutions. Nevertheless, as shown in the film In Sight, the technological development as well as the atmosphere of contemporary European society (including the obsession with safety, control and immediate sharing of information) have enabled an almost perfect realization of the Panopticon for the first time in history.
Andrea Slováková is also known as programme selector of the experimental film section of Jihlava IDFF. Therefore it is not surprising that she has a particular like for unusual film forms which she also employs in her films. Since making her first student films, she has been searching for a way to an ideal symbiosis of the intuitive form of experimental cinematography and an extremely intellectual content. In this respect, In Sight definitely represents the climax of her works. Deformed image; hidden camera; split screen; collage of scenes from security cameras; black and white shots of lit up windows; all of these provoke a slightly oppressive atmosphere; together with the accounts of the film protagonists, they reveal the invisible Panopticon of our lives.
One of the merits of the film consists in the international variety of interesting personalities who speak in front of the camera (as well as behind it, above it or under it), ranging from a Slovak security system expert Peter Ostromecký, political prisoner Eduard Limonov, architecture theorist Françoise Loyer to former secret service agents Pierre Martinet (DGSE) and Mikhail Trepashkin (KGB). During their witness accounts, a complex mosaic of the (un)foreseen possibilities of institutionalized power over the life of the individual gradually unfolds. However, there is one thing missing in the accounts of the protagonists as well as on the second level of meaning of the whole film; an answer to the question as to who or what represents the power; who, when and for what reason is watching? Is there someone watching at all? With respect to the institutional crisis that is currently culminating by the (not only) economic crisis of whole states, there is no automatic solution. Perhaps the fans of conspiracy theories would have a clear answer ready. However, it is not them who makes powerful and intelligent films.


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