Philippe Grandrieux’s It May Be that Beauty Has Reinforced Our Resolve – Masao Adachi begins with the film’s titular subject pushing a little girl on a swing during what must be dusk. Then in a moment that brings to mind the famous scene from Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, he gets on a swing himself and starts singing an old song, an old man’s song, with lyrics that mention “desires unfulfilled.” With Grandrieux the master portrayer of the low light at the helm, the scene overwhelms the viewer’s senses with a vicarious nostalgia. Then Adachi asks a rhetorical question, “Too sentimental? Too sentimental? It doesn’t fit me!” This exemplifies the central question addressed in this film. Can a man of revolution and ideas like Adachi, a pivotal figure in Japan’s leftist cinema, indulge in the world of sentiments and sensations as well?
Adachi might seem like an odd subject for Grandrieux’s underlit cinema of sensations which seems as removed from the world of politics as can be. But as this is the first installment of a trilogy of films he is making about highly political filmmakers, Grandrieux himself has doubts about the validity of this dichotomy of art versus politics. As Adachi reminisces, “Some have seriously asked themselves if they were part of the revolution or if they just made films. For me, the two are one and the same thing. I’ve never had any doubt about that. It has caused many problems… (The writer Haniwa) was torn between politics and art. That question didn’t bother me. For me, it has always been the same. In fact in my world, art is not separated from politics… Ultimately, I’m a surrealist. You understand, Philippe? Surrealist! That says it all.”
Ultimately, Grandrieux lets Adachi’s body of work speak for itself regarding this question. He shows us a clip from the 1971 film Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War, perhaps the most iconic film in the careers of both Adachi and Koji Wakamatsu, who directed the film together. It is a film that documents the Palestinian struggle. In the clip, we hear the following voiceover narration: “The plateau was very beautiful. Everything was so lovely. It may be that beauty has reinforced our resolve.” As the last sentence also serves as the title of Grandrieux’s film, we come to understand that both the documenter and the documented believe that revolutions do not happen independently of beauty. Appreciation of beauty reinforces the resolve to change the world. Adachi observes, “I am reminded of Dostoevsky. ‘Beauty will save the world.'”
The film features, not one, but two scenes which are obvious re-creations of the famous Tokyo highway scene from Tarkovsky’s Solaris. In the first, we hear a voiceover narration by Adachi. It is a cinema of politics and ideas. The second scene and the longer of the two, represents a cinema of sensations and beauty and thus features no narration. Towards the very end of the film, Grandrieux asks Adachi through an interpreter, “How do you feel about the relationship between the world of ideas and the world of sensations?” Adachi answers, “Since we filmed with our sensations, we must finish the film with sensations and not as a prisoner of our ideas.” Grandrieux’s film (and Adachi’s exemplary career) teach us a vital thing: it may be that beauty is just enough to save us from a potentially noxious world of ideas.