For one girl, her seriously ill sister posed a life-threatening danger. If she died, the other would live only a few more hours. For the other, however, the healthy sister was a life support. The 3-D model we made of the skeleton and the blood vessels of the twins clearly shows the artery running from one body to the other right across the lower chest, supplying it with oxygen-rich blood. We knew that if we separated them, we would have to cut that lifeline.
We sought advice from the pediatric ethics committee of our hospital. In many extensive conversations, I learned how important it is how to frame such a situation: Our intent was not to end the life of one girl, but rather to save the other's. The difference is subtle, because the result would be the same: We would push two living children into the operating room and leave it with only one.
The distinction between the two awards is suggested by the way in which the respective Oscars are bestowed. For Best Picture, the people whose names are mentioned when the envelope is opened and who go onstage to receive the statuette and give a speech are the producers. They are, for starters, the business people, who arrange for the funding, oversee the spending, and organize the shoot. What’s more, in big-budget studio filmmaking, whether classic or contemporary, they’re all-powerful, retaining the ability over the director to make the final decisions on such matters as casting and editing, ordering reshoots (even by other directors), and maintaining ultimate control over the movie that’s released.
It’s in that gap, as it played out in the classic age of Hollywood—in the distinction between the total and independent creators, who oversee every aspect of their own productions (such as Charlie Chaplin), and studio filmmakers, who were employees directing at the sufferance of studio bosses (such as Nicholas Ray)—that the idea of the modern cinema, of the “auteur,” the director as the actual artistic creator of a movie, came in. It’s a uniquely powerful idea because it’s often an accurate one—it speaks to the experience of viewing, the understanding that the unifying factors of Ray’s films from studio to studio are far stronger (and far more original) than the studio’s imprint on each of them.
Surely some people can read a book or watch a movie once and retain the plot perfectly. But for many, the experience of consuming culture is like filling up a bathtub, soaking in it, and then watching the water run down the drain. It might leave a film in the tub, but the rest is gone.
“Memory generally has a very intrinsic limitation,” says Faria Sana, a professor of psychology at Athabasca University, in Canada. “It’s essentially a bottleneck.”
O.K., granted I’m a sucker for anything to do with Berlin, so you may want to weigh my opinion with that in mind. But it strikes me that Cristina García’s “Here in Berlin” is one of the most interesting new works of fiction I’ve read.