Monday, January 19, 2009

Presence of mind

I saw this French film once -- I was just channel-hopping late one night, and there it was...

It was a gritty, violent story, featuring a group of urban yoof. What I remember is a scene where four or five of these young thugs are in a public toilet, talking about some extremely illegal deeds -- I don't remember the details, but it was something of the order of multiple murder -- you know, the kind of laws that the police will normally make at least some bona-fide effort to enforce. The kids are excited, they're desperate, they're expecting and ready for any kind of trouble. And in the middle of their conversation, a toilet flushes behind them; the cubicle door opens, and an elderly man -- maybe 70 or so -- shambles out.

As the toughs turn to look at him, he says (a line that was translated in the subtitles as): "Nothing like a really good shit."

It was the air of immense satisfaction with which he delivered this line that probably saved his life.

As he shuffles over to the washbasins next to the lads and washes his hands, he delivers a rambling but eloquent story of someone, perhaps an ancestor of his, who was on a train en route to Siberia when, at one stop, he got off to take a dump, and got so caught up in the excitement that the train rumbled off without him. Leaving him stranded in the freezing, unpeopled wastes of central Russia with his trousers down, and not another train due for weeks. But it was worth it, the old man feels, for the sake of taking the time to clear one's bowels properly.

Throughout this speech, the thugs stare open-mouthed, their feet fixed as if rooted, only their heads turning to follow the old man's movements about the room. It was as if their own lives, their own crimes, their own fear and anger and suspicion, were completely forgotten, for the time it took the old man to wash and dry his hands, leisurely, and then shuffle out of the door.

I wish I knew what the movie was called, because that one scene has stayed with me now for at least 15 years. And the older I get, the more I sympathise with his story. It's my constant hope that, come the day when I find myself in a life-threatening gang-based situation, I acquit myself with as much presence of mind as that old man.


Deadlyjelly said...

I love the way you wrote this; sounds like a great film. IMO, that sentiment is not expressed enough in movies. There really IS nothing like a really good shit. Sometimes it is that good, you just want to SHARE the experience. I call those mystic dumps

vet said...

Thank you, DJ. That one scene I remember was great, but I can't answer for the rest of the film.

I was kinda hoping that someone would be able to tell me the title, but so far my Global Readership has let me down. It was shown on British TV, probably Channel 4, sometime in the mid-to-late 90s. But that doesn't seem to narrow it down as much as I'd like.

Eric Lester said...

I wish I could supply the title, but no -- haven't seen it. That's quite a scene you describe. I love the concept, and hope someone will be able to tell us what it's called.