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In partnership with the Polish Embassy in Lebanon and Wardé, the projection  of the documentary Chopin. I am not Afraid of Darkness during the Beirut Art Film Festival took place on November 17 at the Béryte Theater, IESAV USJ. Alain E. Andrea, a Doctor of Pharmacy who graduated from Saint Joseph University of Beirut, studied piano performance at the National Conservatory of Music in Lebanon and is a music critic, presided over a discussion following the movie projection.

Alain E. Andrea (Credit: Sally Mire)

The documentary Chopin. I am not Afraid of Darkness pointed out existential questions targeting death, nature, life, music, and its healing power. Three Countries. Three Wars. One Music. The shared experiences of the three main characters coming from different countries with diverse geopolitical understandings bring them back to the essence of being human and the soul of art. Thus, the three pianists Poland’s Leszek Możdżer, South Korea’s Jae-Yeon Won and Syria’s Fares Marek Basmadji, devote themselves to music.

As they follow the traces of a broken past and reconnect with their roots, Chopin accompanies them, in his notes and silences. Therefore, Chopin’s music heals them along the way. They transmit it to their people, the ones who haven’t had the same chance, those who can’t visualize a future. The documentary retraces the past of these three artists and follows them as each prepares to give a musical performance of Chopin, in places strongly associated with memory: the Auschwitz concentration camp, the border between North and South Korea, and downtown Beirut.

Why music? The films answer this question, on the rhythms that Alain Andrea mentions, among which are Scherzo no.3 en do dièse mineur, Concero no.1 en mi mineur avec quintette à cordes, Étude no.3 op.10; Sadness. Each piece pairs with people’s thoughts and shattered pasts, transcending their origin and current states to a universal feeling. Even though they knew that “the work can never be done”, “Chopin became a kind of a tour de force success.” That statement applies to each of them. Following music is simply natural since anything that makes a sound is music and “our existence itself is pure music.” What could be better than returning to music to resonate with one’s inner self? Only then harmony could be achieved, just like in nature. Heartbeats and musical notes would follow Mother Nature’s law of gravity and everything would become peaceful.

The common ground between Chopin and these three artists is that he was also an immigrant. Maybe that’s why his music would resound better than any other in each of them… and in the people they would play to. It embraces the same human wounds,  knows the same anthropological aches. Besides, Chopin’s music is “based on the construction of the human hand, of the body…” and perhaps then on the reconstruction of one’s whole being or even country. Talking about Auschwitz, Leszek Możdżer stated, “Playing music in the dark places which are an expression of the dark side of humanity is a natural and necessary thing to do. I am not afraid of darkness…” The film also tackles Beirut’s port explosion which took away stones and human beings but also people’s future. In an allusion to Lebanon after the explosion of August 4 when “the ground was shaking as if it wasn’t real,” Fares Marek Basmadji attested, “Walking in Lebanon I can have a glimpse of what Aleppo was. It’s not the same. You cannot go back to what it was.” Music, be it Fairuz’s echoing regional morning memories or Chopin’s universal notes, is the only way to light, just as the movie transitions from the heaviness of death, the dark side of ruins, to children’s laughter, united around a football game, in a refugee camp, an experience Fares Marek Basmadji, of a Polish mother and Syrian father, has lived. Being compassionate over TV is one thing but still, seeing with one’s eyes touches beings on a human level and “leaves you with no words.” He also affirmed, “I consider myself full Polish and full Syrian. Still, I was always considered Polish in Syria and Arab in Poland.”

Art, especially music, with its universal language can unite people. “Music can transform things and we need this transformation.” Indeed, throughout the film, Chopin’s music guides spectators and simply helps them see. As we follow the three artists to their joint performance, we hold our breath. Chopin’s music, which has accompanied us throughout Joanna Kaczmarek’s film gives us the ultimate answer to the film’s question: “What is the role of art in the process of collective and individual healing?” It’s suddenly crystal clear. It has no scientific definition. It could only be felt with one’s heart. Chopin’s music brings us back to the core, to the expressive silences. Nothing that words could explain as it’s true that beyond broken walls and dreams, “we all bleed the same color.”

Alain Andrea’s Musical Exploration

During his conference, Alain Andrea tackled the cathartic aspect of music that elevates a person beyond borderlines, nationalities and war atrocities that wouldn’t justify the violence and hatred caused. Just like Chopin’s identity was not limited to nationalities, as he belonged to the ultimate form of creation, the one of art, human beings have in common a higher aim. Answering the question related to the role of art in the collective and individual human healing process, Alain Andrea highlights the three interviews he had previously conducted respectively with Dominique Merlet in 2019, Martha Argerich in 2021, and Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger in 2023.

Dominique Merlet expressed a lack of optimism regarding the evolution of romantic expression, citing the contemporary world’s noisy, brutal and vulgar nature as being distantly removed from it. However, he finds some reassurance in witnessing packed concert halls and churches, suggesting that music might be the antidote of the 21st century.

Martha Argerich acknowledged that while music cannot cure people, it helps open new horizons and connect an alternate realm with the real world. She noted the paradox of music appreciation during the Second World War, even among those not inclined towards peace.

Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger drew a parallel with the mythological figure Orpheus, who brought civilization (including arts and agriculture) to barbaric tribes. He hoped that the “technological barbarity” of modern times could be permeated by the transcendent essence of music, highlighting Chopin’s significant contribution to this endeavor.

Addressing whether music is salvific, Alain Andrea stated that it reestablishes a “vital connection between Beauty, sensibility, and the human soul, thus continuing its crucial role in experimenting with Truth”. He elaborated that “music reveals the splendor of Truth by unmasking humanity and removing the illusory veil of apparent truths”. He referred to the documentary, mentioning Chopin’s La Tristesse (Sadness) as the final piece, which, despite its title, contains harmonies extending in comfort and hope.

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