I had never been religious. Not that I had a special feeling about it. I just wasn't. So a religious surrounding never made me feel comfortable, but it didn't scare me either. I feel different about nuns. Somehow they make me feel uncomfortable. Those women in their huge black robes being serious all the time, following a faith I would never understand, have made me shiver since I was a little child visiting the Vatican and meeting a nun for the first time.
But it is not only my special feeling about nuns which makes it difficult to watch the scene over and over again. It is the sound. I wouldn't call it music, it is more of a metallic shrieking. To me it sounds painful. I have to reduce the volume. And this sound scares me, too. I feel like I need to run away from it, as if it was warning me of something even more terrible. 'Anyway', I say to myself, 'it is only a film. Even a dying film. It is not real. It cannot hurt you.' So I remain in front of the screen, watching.
Most of the screen went black when the sounds made me nervous. Now I am curious what is going to follow. Something terrible will happen, I can imagine. Hundreds of ideas come into my mind. First thing I see: nuns. And as I said, they do not comfort me particularly, but I expected worse to come. There is a Mediterranean yard with a tree; maybe olive or orange. In the middle of the picture is an archway. Children are walking through it, taller and smaller ones. Nothing to be scared of at the first sight.
The children are coming closer. Slowly, nearly unnoticeable. I cannot see their faces, as they are covered in the shades. Black spots are on the screen. I know that this is caused by the material fading away, but it looks like fingers - my own fingers, trying to cover my eyes. The metal is shrieking again and even louder. I really feel that I need to get away. There is something coming, I don't want to see it.
I'm looking at it anyway. 'Don't be silly, it's just the film. Your fingers are on the keyboard, not on your eyes. In the original film it was a pleasant scene, so calm down.' – my inner self is highly rational about this sequence of rotting celluloid. I concentrate on the children again. They are walking in pairs, holding hands. The biggest child is leading them, alone. All of them wear the same white shirt. I guess they are all girls. Pretty looking and small. Nothing to worry about.
Then I notice it: they don't have a face! Just as if someone estranged them a long time ago, not with those small black bars but by cutting out the whole face. My heart is beating faster. I want to know who those children are and why they have no faces anymore. There must be a reason for them wearing the same clothes and walking slowly, not a bit playfully as you would expect from children that age, down the path with the nuns watching them – maybe even guarding them.
A picture of an old children's home comes into my mind. Years ago those homes were frequently lead by nuns who educated the children strictly according to the rules of the church. That would explain the behavior of the children and the nuns around them. I'm not much of a fan of those institutions, but they were common some twenty years ago. 'The children were treated roughly but it's nothing I need to be scared of. Just ignore the metal's shrieking and the black bars.'
I would like to believe in this explanation. The film could have been shot as a memory of a disciplinary institution where the children have to behave the way the nuns like them to. 'But why should they estrange good children? It wasn't much about their personal rights back then.’ I ask myself. As I said, my inner self is highly rational, so I'm backing up. 'That's just the material rotting. The faces have gone, because of the material. We know that. I mean: I know that and I'm in your head.'
There isn't much to say against that. It sounds perfectly reasonable. But all of sudden my inner scientist interferes: 'How likely is that? About twenty children and all the faces gone? Not that likely...' This position sounds reasonable as well. I don't believe in the fading-away theory. The faces had been estranged, cut out, ripped off. My inner self doesn't want me to calm down anymore. It seems like she gave up on the other two of us. My heart is still beating fast.
Victims are estranged. I'm thinking of fascist regimes. There were films in the 30s. The blood is rushing in my ears. Those children are dead. 'If the film is that old, it is likely for them to be.’ My inner self is mad at my outer self and is trying to be sarcastic. I'm not laughing. If something had happened to them, one could never find out now. The faces are gone, the name of the place isn't shown and nuns look the same all over the world.
I feel pity for the children. It's even more. Some sort of pain or sadness. 'You don't know anything for sure!’ my inner self yells. 'So try to find out more. Watch it again!' My inner scientist is highly awake now. I'm shaking my head. I don't want to because I'm scared. 'Hush. It is just a film, nothing real. You know what digital films are. Ones and zeros. Just numbers. Calm down. Nothing can hurt you.’ my inner voices join in to comfort me. I'm shaking my head again. No, it is nothing real, just me having ideas. But does my fear need reality to hurt me? Well, to be honest: I can only answer reasonably when the film is turned off.