The Survival Of Kindness

Rebecca Varidel
31st Mar 2023

This land you will see is not one land
It is no land, it is many lands.

This time you will think of is not now.
It is not before, it is not after,
It is all time

This human you will travel with is not one person,
Not of one tribe, not of one race

Everywhere on earth there are people like this one,
And the mountain that must be climbed by them
Is very steep.

In the Middle of a scorching hot desert BlackWoman is abandoned inside a rusty metal cage. Her captures have left her here to die, only she is not ready for her fate to sealed, just yet. Barefoot and armed with determination, BlackWoman escapes, embarking on an unknown quest; she battles her way through pestilence and persecution. Her journey will lead her through some of the most beautiful but unforgiving landscapes. Stark desert, dusty towns, lush mountains, hidden canyons and finally to a city made of steel. The Framework is not fastened to anytime line and we float surreally through the story, is it a dream?, is it a hellish look at a dystopian future? Is it an alternative present or is it merely a cultural history that’s finally not afraid to be told. What can be said is that this film with great certainty was birthed as a response to a specific time in our own history, weaving together the impact of the pandemic, and the black lives matter movement. This film is thought provoking, Visually stunning and will have you on an emotional rollercoaster.

The Survival of Kindness is Rolf de Heer’s first feature film in 10 years, and it’s defiantly a unique film to be re introducing himself to the world with. The idea for the Film began during covid, de Heer had received finance on another project but sadly those countries involved (France and Italy) were sadly some of the hardest hit financially and with the film having its funds pulled and a director locked down here in Australia. That film was benched leaving an Idle de Heer itching to make a film. Not being able to go anywhere or do anything also meant having to get creative in a different kind of way, and it had to be made now. The production itself had to be covid nimble, it had to be able to shift with the ever changing rules and regulations, a journey that they could film in sequence from beginning to end, but at any given point if something where to happen they could shift the journey and still have it make complete sense. This film is exceptional in the way it’s structured. Most of the time the story and dialogue is set, then the locations are found, For The Survival of Kindness it was the locations that started the 'dialogue' and once they were found de Heer imagined what scenarios would take place, asked himself who would inhabit the space here?

The most noticeable thing about this film (and becomes quickly apparent) is the absence of dialogue. Furthermore cementing that this is a global film. There are no subtitles meaning anyone could watch regardless of language spoken and there are no written words, meaning there was no place of origin in this world created by Rolf de Heer. It truly is here that actions speak louder then words.

With no dialogue to speak of this also shows the brilliance in performances given from everyone in the film. From the 'SickMan' played by Gary Waddell who cradles his dying wife while pleading through teary eyed grunts for water, to the mumbled voices of the privileged who hide safely behind gas masks, or to the sheer cries of the WailingWoman, played superbly by Natasha Wanganeen, there is so much pain, anger and fear in her voice that it pierces right through you.

Not going to lie this is a heavy film however there are some very heart warming moments that come into play once our BlackWoman is taken in by siblings BrownGirl and BrownBoy, played by real life brother and sister Darsan and Deepthi Sharma. There is immediate warmth to their connection and gratifying in the way that they front as a symbol of hope, that all is not lost and that there is hope in the future generations. It also brings one of the films most joyous and heart-warming moments when they take her back to their hideout and give her a 'Makeover' in order to help her 'Pass' as a citizen.

That brings us to our lead Mwajemi Hussein, a woman who has said that she spent a great deal of her own life walking barefoot, fled her own native country with her husband and children and had to rely on the 'Kindness' of government to be granted a refugee visa. This social worker turned actress (who had never been in a cinema let alone acted in a film) is the spirit of this film. She’s charming and the colorfulness of a character that essentially is mute the entirety of the film, is blazing with personality, wit, off beat humor and an unbreakable will to survive.

The Survival of Kindness maybe a film of very few words but what it does say speaks volumes about the issues affecting us all. I won’t give away the ending, but it is bittersweet and depending on your personality may influence how you feel about the ending. I like to think that there is some peace found in freedom whether that is in the physical or spiritual sense. I choose to believe there is much kindness to be had in this world, but sadly we are in danger of losing it. This is film is captivating both in imagery and in ideas, that will hopefully start a dialogue once those credits role. This is an immersive journey that I hope you all take.

The Survival of Kindness stills, photographer Murray Rehling, (c) copyright Triptych Pictures and Vertigo Productions.

Sydney there is a Q&A on Friday 21 April at the Fantastic Film Festival - The Ritz, Randwick - featuring Rolf de Heer and Mwajemi Hussein, before the national release of The Survival Of Kindness in cinemas on 4 May.