This week, with the opening of the Cannes Film Festival, France is all about movies. Unfortunately, this year, the Red Carpet, the opening ceremony and the world premiere of Woody Allen’s new film, “Cafe Society” were sadly upstaged by another moving picture, that of the nineteen year old Océane.
For one hour, Océane recorded herself on the live video-streaming app, Periscope, before throwing herself, phone in hand, in front of a RER commuter train at the Parisian suburban station of Egly. Before her death, hundreds, some say a thousand followers watched her at home, sitting on her red couch, staring into her camera, smoking a cigarette, drinking a coke, opening her mail. They listened to her banalities, all the while promising something shocking. “I am not here to create a buzz,” she says. All she wants is for people to react. She fails to say what she wants them to react to and instead urges them to wait. “It is too early,” she says and she promises ‘indications’.
With hindsight, the images are tense but at the time, they must have seemed more of an attention seeking tease than anything else, bound to end with an anti-climax. The live responses to her video are marked by boredom, impatience, curiosity, detachment, on-line apathy and sexual innuendo. One person asks if she is going to kill herself but the question is drowned in a sea of other, live-stream comments and taunts.
Show us your nipples. Are you a lesbian? Why don’t you talk? What’s up with the piercings? Leather or latex?
We did not know Océane. Neither it seems, did her followers. Only when she was at the station, did her intentions become clear. But by then, it was too late. Nobody arrived in time to stop her.
Shortly before her fatal act, Océane accused her ex-boyfriend of raping her. An investigation is now underway.
Hindsight is cruel. Watching and analyzing Océane’s video now, with knowledge and heightened senses we can’t but think that, surely, all the signs are there? But are they? And what to think about her ultimate solitude? Filming and watching herself, she, center stage, if only for a very short while, leading role in her own drama. At what cost? Unveiling which truth?
It is easy to describe Océane as a disturbed woman, a fragile mind, crazy, depressed, borderline, a victim perhaps, and then dismiss her, forget her in the ocean of unfortunate faits divers while her video lingers on YouTube, sinking further and further away with a declining number of views.
It is sad to think that a young woman, contemplating and eventually, committing suicide, spent her last hours, taping and watching herself, reading the vacant comments of a group of mostly unknown followers.
Live video streaming, often in the form of a moving selfie-picture, seems a powerful tool, but as I watch Océane’s video again, it occurs to me that as a medium, it remains deficient; despite the pain and the tragedy of the message, despite the dramatic unfolding of events.
Another lifetime. Océane writes a letter. She takes pen and paper, and in the quiet and solitude of her room, away from the eyes of spectators, with a purring cat as her only witness, she unfolds and records her thoughts.
Would time and privacy have allowed for a different reflection? Would the solitariness of the moment have held a new significance?
We will never know.
Meanwhile Cannes is abuzz. Paparazzi and gossip. Sunshine and pretty dresses. Fake in all its aspects, wrapped in glitter and glamour, the festival pretends to give, through ‘le cinéma’, a glimpse of the truth. But the truth is of a different quality. It is silent, lonely and alone, on a red couch, with few ‘spectateurs’, no applause and no standing ovations. Like the truth of Océane.