Berlin Film Festival Review: ‘Aujourd’hui’ is a Colorful, Sunny Exploration of Death

By  · Published on February 21st, 2012

In his last day on the planet, Satché (Saul Williams) doesn’t go sky diving, and he doesn’t go skinny dipping. He probably doesn’t even have a bucket list. What he does have is a vibrant world at his fingertips and a courageous ability to walk calmly toward death.

In Aujourd’hui (the french word for “Today”), writer/director Alain Gomis has used the stuffy old cliche of impending death and faced it with a poetic tone and a philosophy rooted more in sex and friendship than in deeper thinking. This is a mirror world that resembles our own. Possibilities are shunned, the end is embraced, life is just as dull and beautiful as it’s always been.

The movie opens with Satché’s eyes greeting the sunshine and a tearful crowd in his mother’s home. This is the ritual, and just as it’s never explained why our healthy hero is guaranteed death by the time he closes those big brown eyes again, we enter the world with a sense of bewilderment that matches our main character. Pulled from his mother’s arms, he heads out into the street where he’s greeted as a celebrity. An impromptu parade forms, but as Satché and his best friend head into the city, the day becomes more callous and cynical. It also comes alive.

Aujourd’hui is a movie that refuses to explain anything, but it feels familiar enough to work even as an alien culture comes into full view. Satché day trips from one encounter to the next with varying degrees of meaning, but even the smallest acts are made enormous by his impending demise. Gomis plays with that human misconception that what we do at the end defines us fully, and the result is something quietly powerful.

The pace is slow, yes. Sometimes too slow, but when it sins the most against time, it becomes introspective, pulling out fears of mortality and the desperate need to live quickly in the face of a clock with no more hours left on it. Gomis toys with that concept of death, perhaps arguing successfully that it’s better to experience something fully than fast.

Plus, the movie has three pivotal scenes that build enough momentum to keep the kinetic energy flowing smoothly. The first comes when Satché visits an “Uncle” who pantomimes the death ritual he’ll be performing the next day. The man runs his hands along motionless skin in an unbelievably intimate act that’s both sweet and sad. The second is a montage of vibrant city scenes which scream out the reality of a planet that dances on even as we disappear. The third is an extended segment with Satché ‘s wife and children which is first stubborn, then soft.

Williams, known for his spoken word prowess, is relatively silent throughout. He’s a passive presence here as the character is almost completely defined by everyone he meets. It’s only his actions that mean anything at all, and Williams manages a thousand words with a youthful yet stormy weathered face instead of reams of dialogue. In his way, he’s a ghost wandering the wilderness trying to understand all of it for the last time.

For what it’s worth, Gomis doesn’t make purposefully obtuse choices here. He doesn’t simply hunt for the opposite of the cliche. Still, it’s clear that he doesn’t approach the time-worn questions with the same old answers. It’s refreshing, and his structure echoes an entire life in a 24-hour period. From the confusion of birth, to the first steps away from mother’s house, to first loves, to the wife and kids. This is as serene and colorful a movie about death as was ever made, and it’s comforting to know that as Satché lays down in bed for the last time, somewhere else in the city a couple is dancing the tango.

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