We went to see Shoplifters this evening, a film that won the Golden Palm in Cannes this year. In Japanese. With Swedish subtitles. And the film was just lovely.

Okay, I enjoyed picking up the odd word in Japanese (I had a semester's course decades ago). But there was not much in the way of words that we needed in order to understand that we were rather voyeuristically watching a presumed family that lived in very cramped quarters and did things that may seem morally reprehensible in order to survive.

At first it is just Mom, Dad, Auntie, Grandma, and Son who live together, eat together, and steal together. On the one hand it is a bit jarring to see how they live and sleep in the same room, how they slurp their noodles, and needle one another. On the other hand, they would probably find our way of living jarring as well.

On the way home from stealing stuff for dinner -- Dad explains that things in a store don't belong to anyone, so it's okay to take them -- they come across a child of about five, out in the cold of a balcony, frozen and hungry. They take her home and share the food they have with her. They are going to take her back, but discover that she is bruised all over, and when they are at the apartment, they hear loud shouting going on. They decide that she can stay the night with them.

And she stays longer, becoming part of the family, and also learning how to shoplift.

I don't want to spoil the story for you, so I'll stop there. Suffice it to say that there are lots of interesting twists and folds to the plot. But it is really a wonderful film, expertly filmed and edited, with a host of excellent actors. The actress who plays Grandma, Kirin Kiki, is apparently very well know in Japan. She died of breast cancer shortly after the film was aired at Cannes. Both of the children, especially the youngest, were just magnificent. They must have had a very patient producer who was able to draw out the thoughts they were to be having and have them be readable from their facial expressions.

In a way, it was very fitting to hear it in Japanese, I think I prefer it that way to a dubbed version. But of course, it it better to see it dubbed than not at all. Because you start thinking after the film: What exactly is a family? How do we choose the people we live with, the people who are important to us? And why does such a rich nation not care adequately for its people? The latter is a question we have to also ask ourselves in Germany, as well as in many other countries.