France ★★★★★

There's an obsessive enthusiasm over optics well executed here that we usually don't recognize, always looking from within the electrified mass that is “public perception.” But it's only an extension of our own petty vanities, ever striving to present an impression of being the quickest and the slickest, broadcast to everyone everywhere all at once. Our heroine runs aimlessly through warzones – chasing after the wind, you could say – while shouting directions at her cameramen and repeating her lines until she's captured what she imagines is the most authentic report to present to the public. These scenes of setting scenes could just as well be an illustration of the human brain's activity in social settings, to say nothing of social media. That effort to exhibit authenticity is no less vain an aim than the rest, France shows well enough; so with the pantomime combat and cheap flattery that politics offers all its adherents, high and low.

An ego regularly stroked provides something of a balm for the suffering and the madness (so goes the dog back to its vomit in our heroine's tragic journey), an admission you'd need to make to progress anywhere past it, but we'll still buckle under sin's weight. The public imposes their transgressions onto the receiving “icon” with selfie requests, and the icon's lost to the wilderness. Friendship only burdens her further with the poisons of praise and encouragement, leaving her stagnant in the wilderness. Vanity's comfort is brief, as Day of Wrath ended with its weeping witch resigned to her fate: “I see through my tears, but no one comes to wipe them away.” The only one who could was denied, of course: that's the original and lasting sorrow. Now, the “Dies irae” is found elsewhere in France but, as Dreyer had it, the hymn could just as well be reverberating with the slave to sin's final grieving close-up: “O' on that day, that wrathful day/ When man to judgement wakes from clay/ Be Thou the trembling sinner's stay/ Though Heav'n and earth shall pass away.” Why do you look for the living among the dead?

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