"But what about the blind kids that really live in Africa, then?"
"They don't even know anything about this. In the first place, they aren't here, and secondly, they wouldn't have seen anything, if they were!"
Saving what children, and from what?
Most People Live in China is not only a line in Save the Children, it is also the title of the compilation film of which Save the Children is one of the short film episodes. A blind girl and her younger brother tell this fact about "most people" to a filling station attendant, Lasse, after he reproaches them for having tricked people into buying lottery tickets and using the money to buy candy for themselves instead of to help blind children in Africa, as they claimed they would. This reply is just one example of the twists and ambiguities which can also be found in the compilation film as a whole. Another question that would be interesting to examine is what children, according to the title of the film, should be saved - and from what? As it were, I shall suggest an answer in the course of this article. But before taking a closer look at Save the Children, let us examine its context.
Lasse's dream I
Within Save the Children eight short films are compiled in a framework called Lasse's Dream , which is the story about the filling station attendant's strange experiences before and during an election day sometime in Norway. During the title sequence we see not only credits but also beautiful helicopter shots of the countryside, and we hear a voice announcing a radio magazine. In a tank lorry the driver and his co-driver are listening to the radio: "The parliamentary election may end in a political chaos … According to the latest polls … Welcome to Politics Today . The Progress Party …"
Delivering the gasoline to Lasse, the truck driver says: "The election won't be easy this year, Lasse", and they have a short discussion about the various political parties and which one to vote for. Evidently they have a hard time deciding. As they say, you can't place your vote just because "Høyre" (Right, a political party) is a nice word to pronounce, and left is not left anymore because it has moved too far to the right, and so on. "What do you say, Lasse?" - "I have other plans for tomorrow." Even if Lasse himself isn't sure at the moment, the film will show the audience the outcome at the end.
Save the Children is the fifth of eight short films, and each film is an illustration of or comment on the ideas of Norwegian political parties. Their titles are either a short statement or a key word expressing (perhaps metaphorically) ideological views of the party in question. Every one of the films is a kind of ironic, artistic analysis of the views of each party; whether it be the Dressman from "Høyre", who is stripped naked and leaves the film in a boiler suit, or the old men (in The best go first - called Most people don't care in the subtitles) from the social democratic "Arbeiderpartiet" who help prevent a young woman from being swallowed in the mire of a marsh, only to get stuck themselves and disappear, singing the Internationale .
Lottery to help blind Africans
In this context, Save the Children takes its place as "representative" of the Progress Party ("Fremskrittspartiet"; a right-wing, petit-bourgeois, and nationalist party). The slogan in the title seems very sympathetic - who wouldn't help a child with a handicap? But, what is the plot of the film, and what does it tell us?
The plot is very simple. It has only two main events (or just two parts of the same event!), which take place at the gas station: 1. Outside the station's little shop, two children try to sell lottery tickets, supposedly in order to send money to help blind children in Africa And 2. Inside the shop, where they want to use the money for themselves and their father (candy & gasoline) and have a discussion with Lasse about their right to do so.
1. The girl is blind, so her little brother is the one who calls out to people visiting the station and asks them, "Want to buy a lottery ticket?" From the explanation that the sister gives the first lady who buys one, we learn about the children's project. Of course, the customers pity the blind young Africans, as well as the girl who also wants to save enough money to buy a guide dog for herself. No one wins anything, and the children's skill at explaining their scheme and denying people any prizes is demonstrated through the use of effective shot/reverse-shot editing along with hand-held, slightly surreptitious camera work. The first episode with the lady is followed by an elliptically constructed sequence of episodes which humorously (underlined by the use of music) shows the bad luck of a number of customers. As a first-time viewer one hasn't any reason not to believe the children up to this point. Just then the transition to the second part of the film is marked first by a long shot and then an extreme long shot of the children and the outdoor scenery.
2. Brother and sister have worked hard enough, they think, and it is time to pack up and visit Lasse. In the shop, certain characteristics of the camera work and editing of the first part are developed further. During the first thirty-five seconds of the scene in the shop we are allowed to remain under the impression that the kids actually are working for a noble and altruistic cause. Precisely at this point there is a cut from the friendly and forthcoming Lasse to the shopping basket filled with candy that the children place on the counter.
From then on, camera work and editing function to communicate the confrontational aspect of the discussion between Lasse and the kids. This kind of anecdotal plot is of course very dependent on dialogue, but it is nevertheless essential to point out that the visual style keeps the equilibrium between the way it articulates the confrontations between grown-ups and children on the one hand, and the "understanding" articulation of the children's manoeuvre on the other.
Lasse's questions, reproaches, and efforts to address the moral aspects of cheating lottery ticket buyers as well as blind African children are met with simple but impenetrable children's logic which checkmates him. His only comment, then, is that he cannot find anything to say, but that he would never have bought any tickets if he had known they would use the money to buy candy for themselves. But the girl refutes this too. He can get his money back (for only three lottery tickets) if that's what he wants. Finally, in a long shot, sister and brother are shown disappearing with their candy, gasoline for their father's birthday present, and a little change.
After presenting his arguments Lasse is confronted with this strange combination of "innocent" children's logic and selfish hypocrisy, and as the two youngsters walk away, a decisive point is reached in his life (dream?) as well as in the compilation film: his vision begins to blur, and he tests his eyes with some old glasses. While continuing to work on his beautiful biplane, a so-called Tiger Moth, in his workshop, he gradually goes blind.
Lasse's dream II
In spite of this handicap Lasse's dream comes true: to fly in the Tiger Moth. With the help of his girlfriend from the post office (who is suddenly able to fly the biplane!), they take off and pass over his gasoline station and the areas nearby where the episodes in the film have taken place. As mentioned, all of the short films are embedded within the framework of Lasse's Dream , and this dream must have to do with a desire to get a clear (over)view of everything in the midst of what he sees as political and ideological chaos.
The biplane takes him above the problems of everyday life. But, since his confrontation with the two children, their cheating, and their confused ideas - as well as with the voters' and politicians' confusion in regard to motives, means, ends, ideas, and morals - his vision has deteriorated. His plane literally takes him above the chaos he cannot see through, and now he cannot even see his country, Norway, which was introduced in the title sequence, the same beautiful landscape which was disturbed by the radio journalist's comments about a chaotic political landscape and an unpredictable election.
The film itself can however show the audience not only Lasse's experience and his blindness as a citizen and a voter, but also the beauty of the bird's-eye view from the plane. Also, it demonstrates the tension between the dream of unity, of common solutions, and the built-in contradiction in the ideological statements and ideas of the political parties. So, according to the film, what children should be saved? Of course, it is a noble task to help blind children in Africa, but to do so the children in Norway as well as in other developed countries have to be saved themselves from hypocritical politicians and from narrow-minded selfishness - as is demonstrated by the two seemingly "innocent" children in Save the Children. This film is a representation of the Progress Party and its restrictive ideas about the world and Norway, nation and ethnicity - as demonstrated by the liberalistic ideology of the children's little operation: look out for yourself, be self-sufficient. Any good cause is turned into the argument that we cannot afford to send help of any importance to other parts of the world. The children's ways of arguing are sweet and funny, but without any real perspective; just like those politicians who use ideas merely for tactical reasons and as tools for re-election.
From the Tiger Moth the artist can lend his eyes to the audience and create a special kind of poetic x-ray analysis of how ideologies work in the hearts and minds of people. And, in a cinematic loop, he turns the world and the situations upside down, shows his humorous version, and makes us smile at the same time. On the one hand, we have the film's view of Lasse and his blindness; on the other, as the audience we are given the opportunity to see the duplicity in the vision of the problems and to see the dream as a non-solution. Hence its empathetic irony - and the force of its criticism. Hovering above the plot with the director, we, the audience, are shown the whole story about the multifaceted dream and the utopia of blind faith.
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