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Archive for December, 2012

Our flawed constitution

Louis Michael Seidman, professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, writes in today’s NYT about some of the major flaws in the US constitution. He begins

As the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.

Evil? Perhaps. Archaic and idiosyncratic? Definitely.

On the same topic, retired Justice Jean Paul Stevens had a review essay in the October 11th NYRB of UT Law professor Sanford Levinson’s latest book, Framed: America’s Fifty-One Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance. Levinson is a well-known critic of the constitution. For the anecdote, I briefly met him some seven years ago at a conference in Paris and asked him, along with Marcie Hamilton of the Cardozo law school, if they thought that the president swearing the oath of office on the Bible violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Both replied that, in their considered opinion, it did indeed, probably the letter of the clause, definitely of its spirit. When it comes to church-state issues at least, the US constitution—correctly interpreted—isn’t bad.

constitution - book cover

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washington-monument

TNR has been re-posting some of its “most thought-provoking pieces of the year,” one of which was Robert Kagan’s “The Myth of American Decline,” published in January. As it happens, President Obama was quite taken with Kagan’s argument, as TNR informed the reader in the preface to the article

At the State of the Union on January 26, President Barack Obama argued, “Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” According to a Foreign Policy report, the president had read and been influenced by [Robert Kagan's article], discussing it at length in an off-the-record meeting on the afternoon of the speech.

I also thought it was a good article, and even assigned it to a class of Master degree students (mostly French, no Americans) this fall, and which led to a most interesting discussion (and with no one taking issue with Kagan’s argument). Kagan is my favorite “neocon” policy intellectual; he’s almost always interesting and thought-provoking, even if I don’t always agree with him (e.g. his article “Power and Weakness,” which I have assigned in the aforementioned class for the past ten years, is seriously flawed; and I vehemently disagreed with his position on Iraq, needless to say). But he was convincing here. So I recommend the article. If one wants to disagree with me (and Kagan), that’s fine, but, please, read the article first. And to the end.

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Best (and worst) movies of 2012

Voilà my annual list of the best and worst movies of the year (for last year’s list, see here). The films here came out in the cinema this year in France or in the US. All the films have separate posts on the blog (or will soon). N.B. I see a lot of movies but haven’t seen everything, including some that figure on the “best of” lists of various film critics.

TOP 10:
Barbara
Cairo 678 (٦٧٨)
Compliance
Django Unchained
I Wish (奇跡)
La Désintégration
Labyrinth (Labirent)
Life of Pi
Louise Wimmer
Sister (L’Enfant d’en haut)

HONORABLE MENTION:
After the Battle (بعد الموقعة)
Amour
Argo
In the House (Dans la maison)
Take Shelter

BEST MOVIE FROM RUSSIA:
Elena

BEST MOVIE FROM DENMARK:
The Hunt (Jagten)

BEST MOVIE FROM MOROCCO:
Sur la planche

BEST MOVIE FROM SENEGAL:
La Pirogue

BEST MOVIE FROM THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO:
Viva Riva!

BEST MOVIE FROM CANADA ABOUT CHILD SOLDIERS IN AN UNNAMED AFRICAN COUNTRY THAT IS OBVIOUSLY THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO:
War Witch (Rebelle)

BEST MOVIE FROM PORTUGAL ABOUT LONG BURIED MEMORIES OF THE LATE COLONIAL ERA IN AN UNNAMED AFRICAN COUNTRY THAT IS OBVIOUSLY MOZAMBIQUE:
Tabu

BEST MOVIE FROM ARGENTINA ABOUT A YOUNG MOTHER AND HER BABY WHO SOFTEN THE HEART OF A TACITURN WORLD-WEARY MIDDLE-AGED TRUCK DRIVER:
Las Acacias

BEST MOVIE FROM CHINA ABOUT HOW THE FLAME OF TRUE LOVE CAN NEVER BE EXTINGUISHED:
Apart Together (團圓)

BEST MOVIE FROM CHINA ABOUT THE HORRORS OF THE MAOIST ERA:
The Ditch (夹边沟)

BEST MOVIE FROM GERMANY ABOUT TURKISH IMMIGRANTS IN GERMANY:
Almanya – Willkommen in Deutschland

BEST MOVIE FROM AUSTRIA ABOUT TURKISH IMMIGRANTS IN AUSTRIA:
Kuma

BEST EPIC TWO PART MOVIE FROM INDIA ABOUT THE INTERSTICES OF ORGANIZED CRIME POLITICS CORRUPTION COMMUNALISM AND WEAK STATE INSTITUTIONS IN THE STATE OF JHARKHAND:
Gangs of Wasseypur (Gangs of वासेपुर)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT EXTREME LEFT-WING JEWISH TERRORISTS OUTRAGED BY INEQUALITY AND INJUSTICE:
Policeman (השוטר)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT NEGEV BEDOUINS WHO ARE VICTIMS OF INEQUALITY AND INJUSTICE:
Sharqiya

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT TRADITION VS MODERNITY IN A PALESTINIAN FAMILY:
Inheritance

BEST FRANCO-ISRAELI MOVIE ABOUT A PALESTINIAN BOY AND ISRAELI GIRL WHO REACH OUT TO ONE ANOTHER:
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea (Une bouteille à la mer)

BEST SCHLOCKY MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT THE LATE COLONIAL PERIOD IN ALGERIA:
What the Day Owes the Night (Ce que le jour doit à la nuit)

BEST BIOPIC FROM FRANCE ABOUT A SCHLOCKY POP MUSIC STAR:
Cloclo

BEST MOVIE FROM SCOTLAND WHERE ONE HAD TO READ THE FRENCH SUBTITLES IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS BEING SAID IN ENGLISH:
The Angels’ Share

BEST MOVIE SHOWING HOW THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES WAS A MORE ESTIMABLE BODY 150 YEARS AGO THAN IT IS TODAY:
Lincoln

BEST MOVIE THAT MAKES ONE WISH AMERICA HAD MORE POLITICIANS LIKE ABRAHAM LINCOLN:
Lincoln

BEST MOVIE THAT MAKES ONE WISH AMERICA HAD MORE POLITICIANS LIKE THADDEUS STEVENS:
Lincoln

BEST MOVIE ABOUT A LOW I.Q. WHITE TRASH FAMILY IN DALLAS TEXAS:
Killer Joe

BEST MOVIE ABOUT A BUNCH OF GUYS STRUTTING THEIR STUFF IN TAMPA FLORIDA:
Magic Mike

BEST WOODY ALLEN MOVIE ENTIRELY SET IN ROME ITALY:
To Rome with Love

BEST MOVIE OF 2012 THAT ACTUALLY CAME OUT IN 2011:
Hugo

BEST MOVIE ABOUT THE WORKINGS OF FINANCE CAPITALISM:
Margin Call

BEST COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
What’s in a Name (Le Prénom)

BEST COMEDY MAKING SPORT OF AMERICAN POLITICIANS:
The Campaign

RAUNCHIEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN WANNABES ACTING OUT THEIR FANTASIES:
The Players (Les Infidèles)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FROM SERBIA:
Cinema Komunisto

BEST DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE DEPRAVITY OF THE SOCIO-POLITICAL-ECONOMIC ORDER IN RUSSIA:
Khodorkovsky

BEST DOCUMENTARY ABOUT COMPETING ZIONIST-PALESTINIAN NARRATIVES OF THE WORLD’S MOST INTRACTABLE INSOLUBLE CONFLICT:
My Land

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHOWING ISRAELI JEWS AND PALESTINIANS TALKING ABOUT HAVING SEX WITH ONE ANOTHER:
Would You Have Sex With an Arab?

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHOWING HOW COPTS AND MUSLIMS DON’T GET ALONG SO WELL IN A VILLAGE IN UPPER EGYPT:
The Virgin, the Copts and Me

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHOWING HOW JEWS AND MUSLIMS USED TO GET ALONG IN ALGERIA AND EVEN PLAYED MUSIC TOGETHER:
El Gusto

MOST HORRIFIC MOVIE FROM MEXICO ABOUT THE VIOLENCE OF MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS:
Miss Bala

MOST HORRIFIC HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ABOUT THE VIOLENCE OF MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS:
Savages

MOST HORRIFIC INDY COP BUDDY MOVIE ABOUT THE VIOLENCE OF MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS:
End of Watch

MOST UNSATISFYING MOVIE FROM THE PHILIPPINES REENACTING A TERRORIST HOSTAGE CRISIS:
Captive

MOST PAINFUL MOVIE FROM BELGIUM TO SIT THROUGH:
Bullhead (Rundskop)

MOST FORGETTABLE MOVIE DEFINITIVELY PROVING THAT IT WAS ALL DOWNHILL FOR JAMES BOND MOVIES AFTER SEAN CONNERY STOPPED PLAYING JAMES BOND IN JAMES BOND MOVIES:
Skyfall

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE FROM FRANCE:
Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os)

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE FROM NORWAY:
Oslo, August 31st

MOST TEDIOUS MOVIE ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS IN THE BRONX RIDING A BUS FOR HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS:
The We and the I

MOST TEDIOUS MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ON THE ENNUI OF NYMPHOMANIA:
The Slut (הנותנת)

MOST STULTIFYINGLY BORING COSTUME DRAMA FROM FRANCE ABOUT THE COURT OF VERSAILLES ON THE MORROW OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION:
Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux à la reine)

WORST SCREENPLAY ADAPTATION OF AN 18TH CENTURY GERMAN PLAY:
Faust

WORST SCREENPLAY ADAPTATION OF A 19TH CENTURY ENGLISH NOVEL:
Trishna

WORST SCREENPLAY ADAPTATION OF A 20TH CENTURY AMERICAN NOVEL:
On the Road

WORST SCREENPLAY ADAPTATION OF A 21ST CENTURY AMERICAN NOVEL:
Cosmopolis

WORST GERMAN MOVIE BY A RUSSIAN DIRECTOR:
Faust

WORST INDIAN MOVIE BY AN ENGLISH DIRECTOR:
Trishna

WORST AMERICAN MOVIE BY A BRAZILIAN DIRECTOR:
On the Road

WORST AMERICAN MOVIE BY A CANADIAN DIRECTOR:
Cosmopolis

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Something I’ve been wanting to ask conservatives since seeing Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ the other day. If you had been around for the January 1865 debate in the House of Representatives over the 13th amendment to the constitution—and had adhered to the prevailing conservative positions of the time—would you have identified with the views of Thaddeus Stevens or George Pendleton?  Just asking.

lincoln

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Life of Pi

Life_of_Pi

Saw this yesterday. It’s an amazing film and of a wonderful, beautifully written novel (and as I am not a big novel reader, if I say it’s beautiful please do take my word for it). No screenplay could do justice to the richness of Yann Martel’s writing but this one did succeed, at least as much as could be expected. Do see the film. And if you haven’t read the novel, do that too.

cover lifeofpi

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La Pirogue

La Pirogue

This is one of the better films I’ve seen over the past couple of months. It’s from Senegal, about a major, real life subject, which is migration—irregular, clandestine—from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe: in this case, of the treacherous 1,500 km passage in pirogue fishing boats from Senegal to the Canary Islands in Spain (see the map here), which African migrants determined to reach Europe began to take toward the middle of the last decade, and that peaked in 2006, when some 30,000 came ashore in the Canary Islands. As the islands couldn’t cope with the influx, most of the migrants were transported to reception centers on the Spanish mainland, at which point they were home free—to move on to their destinations on the continent (mainly France)—, which the well-informed migrants knew would happen. The pirogues were piloted by Senegalese fisherman driven out of their waters—and into unemployment—by big fishing trawlers, mainly from South Korea. And the voyages—which have for the most part ended due to concerted international action—were organized by unscrupulous traffickers.

The film—which is an homage to the thousands of migrants who perished at sea (some 6,000 in 2006 alone)—reenacts, in documentary-like fashion, the journey: of the recruitment of the pilot by the sleazy trafficker in a coastal village outside Dakar, the assembly of the 30 migrants—native Senegalese and Peuls from Guinea—on the beach, the crossing to the Canaries on the high seas, the dynamics among the passengers—who are divided by ethnicity and language—, their contrasting reactions when they come across a pirogue whose engine has failed and is packed with desperate migrants (Guinean Peuls), and then what happens when things start to go wrong with their own boat. The portrayal of all this is no doubt totally accurate. It’s quite a powerful film for this reason, but above all because it shows the migrants as real, flesh-and-blood individuals seeking to better their lives—and at huge risk to their lives—and not as statistics, some faceless mass, or objects of phantasms and fear stereotyped by European public opinions and demagogic politicians. Seeing the film increases one’s revulsion—well, mine at least—toward the anti-immigrant demagoguery in immigrant-receiving countries. Not that Europe (or the US) should throw open the doors to unfettered immigration—which no one is proposing—, but that policy responses to the issue must involve respect and consideration for the migrants, that we’re talking about real people and who, again, seek nothing more than to better their lives. The film should be required viewing for anyone expressing a decided viewpoint on the issue, not to mention politicians and policy-makers engaged with it. Variety gave the film a good review, as did French critics. Pierre Haski of Rue89 had a nice essay how “the African boat people finally have their film.” Trailers are here and here.

On the subject of irregular immigration to the European continent, I saw a small Italian film a few months ago, ‘Io sono Li’ (English title: ‘Li and the Poet'; en France: ‘La Petite Venise’), on a young Chinese undocumented immigrant who works in a bar-restaurant in Chioggia, on the Venitian Lagoon, where she was sent by the Chinese trafficker who brought her into the country, initially to work in a clandestine textile factory near Rome. The story is of her effort to accumulate enough money to bring her young son from China to join her—while still owing money to the trafficker—, of her isolation in Chioggia, and the friendship she develops with a retired Slovenian fisherman, who has lived in the town for many years—he’s nicknamed “the poet” and is a regular at the bar—but, as an immigrant, is also an outsider. The review in Variety, which called it “a gentle pic,” is here. French reviews, which were positive, are here.

io sono li

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Inheritance

affiche-heritage

This is the latest film from Israel-Palestine to hit the Parisian salles obscures. It’s the directorial debut of the well-known Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (whom I’ve seen in some fifteen films over the past decade; love her, she’s great). It’s good! I liked it. It’s set in an Arab village in the upper Galilee, near the Lebanese border—and with some scenes in Haifa—, during the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war. The war serves only as a backdrop, though, and the film is not about politics, not directly at least (except for one of the characters, who wants to run for mayor of his village, and is being sponsored by an outside Jewish political patron). The focus is on inter-generational and gender relations in a Palestinian family—here, Palestinians in Israel—, specifically of the youngest daughter/sister, Hajar—played by the fine French beurette actress Hafsia Herzi—, a university student in Haifa, who wants to marry her English (non-Muslim) professor/boyfriend, and over the objections of her father, brothers, and one of her sisters-in-law (played by Abbass, perhaps substituting for her mother, who is dead)—and more from her brothers (who are considerably older than Hajar) than her father. The movie is about tradition vs. modernity, family honor, patriarchy, inter-confessional relations (Muslim/Christian), group conformity vs. individual freedom…  And not only as all this negatively impacts on women but on men as well. The themes are not totally original but are treated well, perhaps because the film is partly autobiographical, based on Hiam Abbass’s own past (as she recounts in this interview, as well as this one). The other characters in the film—played by Israeli-Palestinian actors one has seen in other Israeli films—are well-portrayed (except perhaps the Englishman), and all of whom have their own marital or other issues. The wedding scene (of one of Hajar’s cousins) is particularly good, as is the depiction of Palestinian society in Israel more generally. The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a good review, as did all the critics of the Paris press. Trailer is here.

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