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That’s the title of an excellent commentary in the LRB Online by my dear friend Adam Shatz on the aftermath of the April 9th Israeli election. Adam touches on a number of issues on which I have things to say myself, e.g. the salutary debate underway in the Democratic Party over Israel-Palestine. I will take this up, plus the BDS issue (on which I had a post a few years back), à l’occasion.

If one missed it, Adam had a must-read review essay in the August 30, 2018, issue of the LRB on Anshel Pfeffer’s biography, Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Of the numerous analyses of the Israeli election I’ve come across, two merit posting here. One is by Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev, “13 lessons from Netanyahu’s victory for Democrats hoping to beat Trump in 2020.” The lede: “Israel and the United States may be oceans apart, but both are led by wily nationalists-populists who stop at nothing.”

The other is by Haggai Matar of the indispensable +972 website, “Five reasons why voting for Netanyahu was a rational choice for Jewish Israelis.” The lede: “Yes, Netanyahu is facing corruption probes and is practically annexing the West Bank. But for many Jewish Israelis, he has also provided relative security, a better economy, and growing international legitimacy — which makes the unknown alternative much worse.”

To these may be added a pertinent piece by The Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff, “For Hamas, Netanyahu’s reelection offers prospects of long-term deal.” The lede: “Prior to the vote, Egyptian mediators made it clear to Gaza’s rulers that if Netanyahu won, an arrangement would be forthcoming — but the calm still faces many pitfalls.”

Issacharoff, who is the best Israeli journalist on the Palestinian beat, is, as one may know, the co-creator of the Israeli TV series ‘Fauda’, whose two seasons I recently binged-watched on Netflix. It’s a very good series, which I will have a post on soon.

À suivre.

Notre-Dame de Paris

(Photo: Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

There is nothing I can say that isn’t being said or felt by countless millions of others right now, except that words cannot express my shock, stupefaction, and profound sadness at watching the conflagration on television this evening, which recalled my sentiments on that afternoon of September 11, 2001. My last time inside the cathedral was this past December 28th; it left me in awe, as always. It will have been my last visit. Emmanuel Macron and others are promising that it will be rebuilt. It surely will be but will cost billions of euros—the money will come—and take many years, probably more than I have left in my life. And it will not be the same. The rose windows and much else that was surely destroyed are likely beyond restoration. What a tragedy.

UPDATE: Journalist and friend Claire Berlinski has a post (April 16th) on the City Journal website: “No words: In Paris, as Notre Dame burned.”

Journalist and acquaintance Vivienne Walt has posted on her Facebook page an article she wrote for Time magazine in 2017, “Notre Dame cathedral is crumbling. Who will help save it?”

2nd UPDATE: Arthur Goldhammer has an essay in The Nation, “Grieving for Notre Dame.”

3rd UPDATE: La Vie des Idées has an interview (April 19th) with sociologist Nathalie Heinich, “Notre-Dame, une émotion patrimoniale.” The lede: “Les flammes, la stupeur et l’effroi. Une cathédrale brûle et des larmes coulent. Mais pourquoi le patrimoine et sa disparition nous émeuvent-ils autant?”

4th UPDATE: Commentator Anne-Elisabeth Moutet has a spot-on op-ed (April 21st) in an otherwise unmentionable New York tabloid, “Hey, Macron: Don’t you dare modernize Notre Dame!”

The Brexit fiasco

People’s Vote march, London, March 23rd

[update below]

I haven’t had a post on Brexit since the aftermath of the calamitous referendum now almost three years ago, but have been following the affair closely all along, and particularly in the run-up to today’s third vote on Theresa May’s plan. The Brexit psychodrama is, as they say on my side of the Channel, ubuesque. It’s bonkers.

As everything there is to say about the Brexit matter has been said countless times by the legions of pro-Remain commentators—e.g. on the opinion page of the FT, the first-rate politics.co.uk, and analysts presently or formerly associated with the Centre for European Reform, to name just a few—I will simply reiterate what I’ve been asserting from the outset, to wit:

  • There is no valid argument for Brexit. None whatever. It makes no sense for a country to quit a single market and customs union with which it has been economically interlocked for four decades and conducts close to half of its trade. There is no rational argument for this, economic or otherwise.
  • That crashing out of the EU with a no-deal is irrational and makes no sense was expressed during the referendum campaign by the Leavers themselves, none of whom advocated leaving the single market (or even the customs union); and this included Nigel Farage and the most Europhobic of Tories, who assured voters that in the event of Brexit, the UK would continue to enjoy frictionless trade with the EU in a relationship akin to Norway or Switzerland—though it seemed not to occur to the Leavers that these two countries are bound by EU rules—though which they have no seat at the table in making—must respect the “four freedoms” (one being the movement of people), and pay into the EU budget, entre autres. (As for why Norway and Switzerland have their particular relationships with the EU, it’s because their electorates rejected joining the EU, or the EEA for Switzerland, in the first place, so these are the closest relationships they can negotiate with the EU short of full membership).
  • In short, the Brexit campaign was driven by delusions and sold to the British electorate on lies. As Boris Johnson famously put it, the UK would have its cake and eat it. The Brexiteers thought they could have a Europe à la carte, in which the UK would take what it liked (single market, customs union), reject what it didn’t like (movement of people, ECJ, contributing to the EU budget), and then take things that were not on the menu (concluding its own trade agreements). This was utterly delusional. And then there was the matter of the Irish border, which was never mentioned during the campaign. It wasn’t even an afterthought. As for Scotland and sentiments there, qu’est-ce qu’on en a foutre?…
  • The referendum, needless to say, should have never been held. And, needless to say, the majority of those who voted ‘leave’ had no idea what they were voting for. Demagoguery over immigration was central in the Leave campaign, as was, for working class Labour voters, anger over six years of the David Cameron government’s austerity. But whatever the case, if a hard Brexit had explicitly been the one on offer, ‘leave’ would have never won. This is a certainty.
  • Contrary to popular belief, referendums do not express the “will of the people.” Referendums are not inherently “democratic.” French Republicans long had a healthy allergy to plebiscites, in which strongmen or demagogic politicians can short-circuit the institutions of representative democracy in stoking the fears or appealing to the base instincts of voters with ill-understood binary choices. Likewise with popular referendums (Switzerland, which has its unique history and particularities, is a case apart). Insofar as the Brexit referendum was merely advisory, i.e. not binding, there was no legal reason to respect its outcome. Failing that—and in view of the inability of the House of Commons to approve anything—it stands to reason that the people should have the opportunity to revisit the 2016 referendum in a second one: to vote to quit the EU outright, with no deal, or revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU, and with the House of Commons ratifying that choice. After that, no more referendums. On anything.
  • Theresa May, in view of her abject incompetence, may be the worst British prime minister ever, but she is joined by Jeremy Corbyn, who is surely the worst-ever leader of the opposition. If the Labour Party were led by someone other than this 1970s gauchiste dinosaur, who still thinks of the EU as a Trojan Horse for the Gnomes of Zürich, we likely would not be in this Brexit mess.

It’s been a challenge engaging in a contradictory discussion of Brexit, as seemingly every UK citizen and/or resident I know personally is pro-Remain and as opposed to Brexit as I and my US cohorts are to Trump. But then I discovered that one UK citizen I do know personally, and whom I see on Facebook, is a Leaver, so I tried to engage him in debate a few months back, in response to a Brexiteer comment he made. I got some bollocks about how the EU is “undemocratic,” to which I responded that this is a myth, that the EU’s institutions are no more or less undemocratic than those of its member states (and as for the euro and its very real structural problems, the UK, with its opt-out, is not concerned by these). He then brought up German “dominance” of the EU, with me retorting that this is no less a reality than the now erstwhile British dominance—or at least outsized influence—in Brussels over the past three decades. Following that I was zinged with a question about Jean-Claude Juncker and who elected him anyway, with me replying the European Council followed by the European Parliament, and then rhetorically asking in return who, pray, elected Theresa May to be prime minister? No answer to that one and so that was that. So much for exchanging views with a Brexiteer.

At least he didn’t rhapsodize about a post-Brexit UK becoming another Singapore

The excellent Irish columnist Fintan O’Toole had an essay in The Guardian last November 16th entitled “The paranoid fantasy behind Brexit: In the dark imagination of English reactionaries, Britain is always a defeated nation—and the EU is the imaginary invader.” I mentioned above the UK’s outsized influence in Brussels. This was real. The Single Act was spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher. The Brits basically got everything they wanted from Europe, including the rebate and opt-outs from Schengen and the single currency. That Europe has been a very good deal for the UK makes Tory Euroscepticism that much more irrational. For English right-wingers, allergy to the EU has become a marker of identity, like guns and Israel for US Republicans. And that it has been fueled by myths and lies goes without saying.

Who knows what’s going to happen on April 12th? The choice now looks to be between a no-deal crash out and requesting a long-term extension from the European Council, which would necessitate the UK participating in the European elections and likely organizing a second referendum, perhaps preceded by a general election. The logical choice would be the latter—in terms of both public opinion and the votes in the House of Commons—but after reading this uncomplimentary portrait of Theresa May in Spiegel Online (March 15th), I’m not confident. If faced with a choice of breaking ranks with her party’s Brexiteer base or going over the cliff, it is more than likely that she’ll opt for the latter.

If one didn’t see it, former UK and EU diplomat Robert Cooper has a must-read op-ed (March 22nd) in the FT, “The Brexit farce is about to turn to tragedy: Britain is paying for its ignorance of how the EU actually works.”

Probably the most pertinent piece I’ve read on the general subject over the months has been by Pankaj Mishra this past January 17th in The New York Times, “The malign incompetence of the British ruling class.” The lede: “With Brexit, the chumocrats who drew borders from India to Ireland are getting a taste of their own medicine.”

The view that so many of us have always had of Britain as being a serious country, with serious institutions and a serious ruling class, has sustained a serious body blow over the past three years. Watching BoJo, Jacob Rees-Mogg & Co, how can one take this ruling class seriously? Sérieusement.

À propos, literary critic and cultural historian Joanna Scutts had an intriguing article last September 14th in The New Republic, “Britain’s boarding school problem.” The lede: “How the country’s elite institutions have shaped colonialism, Brexit, and today’s global super-rich.”

For those slightly conspiracy-minded—or maybe not—this piece (January 30th) by OpenDemocracy UK co-editor Adam Ramsey is worth pondering: “Stop calling ‘no-deal’ Brexiteers idiots. They know exactly what they’re doing.” The lede: “This is not bungling, or delusion. It’s part of the Great British Asset striptease. And we need to know who’s bankrolling it.” In this vein, also see Anne Applebaum’s March 8th Washington Post column, “The more we learn about Brexit, the more crooked it looks.”

Finally, New Statesman contributing editor Martin Fletcher has a ‘long read’ dated March 27 entitled “The humbling of Britain: The ‘enemies of the people’ are not those opposing Brexit, but the reckless politicians who have brought us to this act of self-harm.” He concludes:

Events are now moving so rapidly that it is impossible to predict what the situation will be even by the time this article is printed. Just conceivably, enough MPs will have discovered their spines to avert a complete disaster. Just conceivably they will have paused to ask themselves what was so awful about EU membership that leaving is worth such turmoil. Just conceivably they will have realised that there is no deal nearly as good as the one we already have.

Otherwise Britain will slink shamefully away – impoverished, marginalised and vastly diminished – from the greatest experiment in multinational co-operation the world has ever known. There will be no sense of joy, no national celebrations. As we live with the consequences the Brexiteers will inevitably blame anyone but themselves, but they will assuredly deserve what Donald Tusk, the European Council president, called their special place in hell.

À suivre, c’est sûr.

UPDATE: Politico.eu has a lengthy, must-read enquête (March 27th) by its UK correspondent Tom McTague, “How the UK lost the Brexit battle: The course of Brexit was set in the hours and days after the 2016 referendum.” The party to whom the UK lost was, of course, the EU, which quickly gained the upper hand after the June 2016 referendum and took charge. The EU’s position was predictable from the outset, but that those in power in London were blind to. What has been striking is how isolated the UK has been in Brussels throughout the process. The UK has always had allies in the European Council. It has been a very big player and for decades. But in the case of Brexit, it has had not a single ally. Even the Visegrad countries and Italy, who are otherwise telling Brussels to sod off, have been at one with Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier—who’s the real hero here—on Brexit. Whatever the outcome of the Brexit psychodrama, the UK will be greatly diminished. Sad.

I’ve been closely following events in Algeria over the past three weeks, along with everyone who has the slightest interest in that country, of the dramatic, exhilarating, and quite unexpected movement of civil society against Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s candidacy for a 5th presidential term—now forsworn, though not really. The popular movement is being compared to the early stages of the 2011 “Arab spring”—particularly in Tunisia and Tahrir Square in Cairo—but is more than that, in that it has swept up the entire country—there have been simultaneous Friday demonstrations in all cities and towns—all social classes, age cohorts, and political sensibilities. And the movement, which has no leaders for the moment (and with Islamists not in evidence), has been entirely peaceful. Gilets Jaunes these are not. Academic specialists of Algeria are all weighing in with their analyses—which I’ve been linking to on my French Twitter account (I know most of the specialists personally and several are friends)—though not me so far. I was invited last week by a very high-profile US publication to write on the subject but declined, as I haven’t been to Algeria in 2½ years and didn’t feel like repeating what others are saying, and with my words being dépassé in a couple of days. We’ll see down the road, as the Algeria story is not going to fade anytime soon. And for the moment, I’m not going to offer a full-fledged commentary on AWAV. Instead, I want to post some photos, most from last Friday’s huge demonstration in Algiers (coinciding with International Women’s Day), taken by unidentified persons present and posted on social media (Facebook and Instagram; if there’s a credit here, it goes to Franco-Iraqi film director Abbas Fahdel, who assembled the pics and posted them on Facebook), and which will give a good sense of the movement.

For journalistic sources on Algeria, the best, in addition to the major French organs (e.g. Le Monde, Libération, Mediapart) and Algiers dailies (El Watan, Liberté, etc), are Huffpost Maghreb, Middle East Eye, and Orient XXI. À suivre.

Messali Hadj is on the banner.

Dancer Melissa Ziad, Algiers, March 1st (photo: Ranougraphy)

The border

Tijuana, Baja California

The article at the top of The New York Times website late yesterday was headlined “Border at ‘breaking point’ as more than 76,000 migrants cross in a month.” Trump’s histrionics over his famous wall have clearly not deterred migrants and asylum-seekers south of the US-Mexico border from reaching and trying to enter the United States. Asylum-seekers need to be emphasized here, as, according to the NYT article, more than 90% of the new arrivals are from Guatemala. Some of these are no doubt “economic migrants” fleeing poverty and seeking a better life tout court, but one may be reasonably certain that a larger number are quite literally fleeing for their lives.

On this, the March 7th issue of The New York Review of Books has an absolute must-read article by the Italian journalist and writer Roberto Saviano, entitled “The Migrant Caravan: Made in USA,” though on the NYRB cover it is simply headlined “The nightmare they’re fleeing.” The nightmare is in the Northern Triangle of Central America—Guatemala, El Salvador, and, above all, Honduras—where the levels of violence and death are comparable to countries in the midst of full-fledged civil wars. The organized crime and gang phenomenon—the maras—in the three countries are well-understood, with Saviano, who has gained fame for his work on the Neapolitan Camorra—and at some risk to his life—well-qualified to inquire into the situation there—and Honduras in particular—and further our understanding. In becoming a narco state, Honduras is, in effect, witnessing state collapse, where ordinary people are left to fend for themselves in the face of daily danger to their and their families’ lives. Thus the flight to the United States. And the United States, Saviano emphasizes, bears huge responsibility for the catastrophic situation, in view of its insatiable domestic demand for cocaine and other narcotics, the militarized War on Drugs, flooding the region with weapons during the US-sponsored counterinsurgencies of the 1980s, deporting back to the region young men who had fled to the US during the 1980s and were initiated into the Los Angeles gang culture, et j’en passe. Insofar as the nightmarish situation in the Northern Triangle is largely of American making, the US has a moral obligation in addition to a legal one—if international conventions on refugees and asylum-seekers mean anything—to be generous with Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans arriving at US ports of entry.

Saviano’s article should be obligatory reading for any American who has the slightest interest in what’s happening on the southern border. Or even if s/he has no interest but votes. If you, dear reader, haven’t read it, do so. Now.

In a similar vein is an enquête in Le Monde (Feb. 2nd) by correspondent Angeline Montoy reporting from San Pedro Sula, “Au Honduras, l’exode pour seul horizon.” The lede: “Les caravanes de migrants en route pour les Etats-Unis fuient la misère, la violence et la répression politique de l’Etat d’Amérique centrale.”

And there’s this piece in the NYT yesterday, “Border patrol facilities put detainees with medical conditions at risk.” The lede: “The deaths of two children in Border Patrol custody point to shortfalls in health care provided to migrants, who sometimes arrive with serious illness and injury.”

And this from the NYT (Mar. 3rd): “‘You have to pay with your body’: the hidden nightmare of sexual violence on the border.” The sexual violence is, of course, not only at the border but at every point along the way. And back home.

Seriously, anyone with the slightest sympathy for Trump’s position, or who otherwise favors an ungenerous policy toward Central American asylum-seekers, is a moral midget who should be ashamed of him or herself.

À propos, I recently read a lengthy article in the March 2016 issue of the American Journal of Sociology, “Why border enforcement backfired,” by Douglas S. Massey (who is the leading social science specialist of Mexican migration to the US), Karen A. Pren—both of Princeton University—and Jorge Durand, of the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas in Mexico City. The abstract:

In this article the authors undertake a systematic analysis of why border enforcement backfired as a strategy of immigration control in the United States. They argue theoretically that border enforcement emerged as a policy response to a moral panic about the perceived threat of Latino immigration to the United States propounded by self-interested bureaucrats, politicians, and pundits who sought to mobilize political and material resources for their own benefit. The end result was a self-perpetuating cycle of rising enforcement and increased apprehensions that resulted in the militarization of the border in a way that was disconnected from the actual size of the undocumented flow. Using an instrumental variable approach, the authors show how border militarization affected the behavior of unauthorized migrants and border outcomes to transform undocumented Mexican migration from a circular flow of male workers going to three states into an 11 million person population of settled families living in 50 states.

What Massey et al definitively demonstrate in their study has been known for some time, which is that restrictionist immigration policies do not only not significantly reduce migrant or refugee flows—their effect is minimal—but have perverse, unintended consequences, which include dramatically increasing the size of the undocumented migrant population by effectively shutting down longstanding circular migratory practices, increasing the costs to the migrants (and thus considerably lowering their standard of living), and fostering criminal networks (of gangs who lend the migrants the substantial sums of money for their voyage, cross-border smugglers, and the like).

As the article is behind a paywall (accessible for free for those with university accounts), here are a few passages:

By any standard, the surge in border enforcement after 1986 constituted a massive policy intervention into the workings of a vast and complex social and economic system that had evolved since the 1940s in response to changing social and economic circumstances on both sides of the border (Massey et al. 2002). Critically, this massive intervention was undertaken for domestic political purposes and not based on a rational assessment of the forces actually driving undocumented migration or a reasoned consideration of how one might manage it. Whenever a policy is derived in a climate of fear without any real understanding of the actual workings of the social or economic system it aspires to influence, the stage is set for unintended consequences. (p.1563)

And this

Although U.S. policies may have decreased expected net earnings gain from undocumented migration by lowering wages and increasing crossing costs, the net differential in expected earnings between Mexico and the United States never came close to being eliminated. Under these circumstances, the changes induced by U.S. policies functioned less to deter undocumented migration than to compel migrants to work longer to earn back the costs of crossing and make the trip profitable. Moreover, having experienced the risks of a desert border crossing migrants would logically be loath to relive the experience. Finally, given longer stays north of the border and more attachments formed to people and places in the United States, permanent settlement is expected to become more likely. Given these changed circumstances at the border and within U.S. labor markets, we hypothesize little effect on the decision to depart for the United States without documents but strong effects on the decision of undocumented migrants to return to Mexico. (p. 1582)

And the conclusion begins

The principal substantive finding of our analysis is that border enforcement was not an efficacious strategy for controlling Mexican immigration to the United States, to say the least. Indeed, it backfired by cutting off a long-standing tradition of migratory circulation and promoting the large scale settlement of undocumented migrants who otherwise would have continued moving back and forth across the border. This outcome occurred because the strategy of border enforcement was not grounded in any realistic appraisal of undocumented migration itself but in the social construction of a border crisis for purposes of resource acquisition and political mobilization. Although these arguments have been made previously, never before have instrumental variable methods been applied to such a wide range of border outcomes and migrant behaviors to assess the causal effect of U.S. border enforcement.

How Border Enforcement Failed

Our estimates reveal that the rapid escalation of border enforcement beginning in 1986 had no effect on the likelihood of initiating undocumented migration to the United States but did have powerful unintended consequences, pushing migrants away from relatively benign crossing locations in El Paso and San Diego into hostile territory in the Sonoran Desert and through Arizona, increasing the need to rely on paid smugglers, and substantially increasing the costs and risks of undocumented migration. The increase in border enforcement, meanwhile, had only a modest effect on the likelihood that an undocumented migrant would be apprehended during a crossing attempt, one substantially mitigated by the greater use of coyotes and higher quality of services they offered, and no effect at all on the likelihood of gaining entry over a series of attempts.

The combination of increasingly costly and risky trips and the near certainty of getting into the United States created a decision-making context in which it still made economic sense to migrate but not to return home to face the high costs and risks of subsequent entry attempts. (…) (p. 1590)

And some policy options

Aside from doing nothing, however, there were other policy options available to officials beyond attempting to suppress migration through police actions at the border. One such option would be to accept Mexican migration as a natural component of ongoing economic integration under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Between the agreement’s implementation in 1994 and 2010, for example, total trade between Mexico and the United States rose 5.3 times, while according to data from the U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics (2014) entries by business visitors increased 3.6 times, exchange visitors 6.2 times, tourists 12.1 times, intracompany transferees 17.4 times, and treaty investors more than a thousand times. Within an integrated economy, people inevitably will be moving.

As the experience of recent decades has shown, however, in practical terms it appears to be difficult if not impossible to integrate markets for goods, commodities, capital, services, and information while keeping labor markets separate (Massey et al. 2002). A more realistic option would have been to manage migration in ways that benefit both nations while protecting to the degree possible the rights and interests of both migrants and natives, much as the European Union did with the creation of its internal labor market (Fernandez-Kelly and Massey 2007; Massey 2008, 2009). Ironically, a more open border would likely have produced less permanent immigration and slower Mexican population growth in the United States by facilitating cross-border circulation. Indeed, the recent analysis of Massey, Durand, and Pren (2015) shows that documented migrants are now the ones circulating back and forth between the two nations, even as undocumented migrants remain trapped or “caged in” north of the border.

Rather than blocking the revealed preference of the typical Mexican to move back and forth temporarily for work in the United States, policies could have been implemented to encourage return migration, such as lowering the cost and risk of remitting U.S. earnings, paying tax refunds to returned migrants, making legal immigrants eligible for U.S. entitlements even if they return to Mexico, and cooperating with Mexican authorities to create attractive options for savings and investment south of the border. The billions of dollars wasted on counterproductive border enforcement would have been better spent on structural adjustment funds channeled to Mexico to improve its infrastructure for public health, education, transportation, communication, banking, and insurance to build a stronger, more productive, and more prosperous North America and eliminate the motivations for migration currently lying in ineffective markets for insurance, capital, and credit (Massey 2008). (…) (p. 1595)

The Washington Post has a report (Feb. 7th) from Nogales, Arizona & Sonora: twin cities divided by a border but that have always existed in symbiosis, with families on both sides, people crossing back and forth freely… Until the militarization of the border, with a wall and concertina wire separating the two cities as in a war zone. According to the Post, the city of Nogales AZ—which has had no say in the matter—has had enough. Borrowing from Ronald Reagan, “Mr. Trump, tear down this wall!”

Nogales, AZ (credit: Jonathan Clark/Nogales International/AP)

2019 Oscars

I’ve seen all but two of the films in the top categories. The list of nominees is here. I have posts on three: Vice and a single one on Bohemian Rhapsody & A Star Is Born. As for the others, here are my brief takes:

BlacKkKlansman: It’s about time Spike Lee got some Oscar nominations. This is his best film in years—I have admittedly not seen his entire œuvre but know I haven’t missed any masterpieces—indeed since ‘Do the Right Thing’ (which should not only have been nominated for best picture that year but also won it). I did enjoy ‘Inside Man’ and ‘Summer of Sam’ but these were popcorn movies, not political. This one is good, entertaining, and with a worthy message—seen at the end, with the commentary on the present day (Charlottesville, etc)—though not equal to the aforementioned ‘Do the Right Thing’. I hadn’t heard of Ron Stallworth before seeing the film, let alone know of his audacious operation against the Klan. Great material for a screenplay. On this score, I actually had a few issues with Spike Lee, as he takes a four year story—Stallworth joining the Colorado Springs police department in 1975 and infiltrating the Klan in precisely 1979—and compresses it into a single year, and 1972 at that (the year is not mentioned in the film but it’s pretty obvious, as one sees Nixon reelection campaign posters and with the Vietnam War still going). Directors invariably take liberties with the historical record when making a film about real-life events, which is okay so long as there are no egregious or flagrant errors. Spike Lee does not go over the line here but there were still a number of little anachronisms and unlikelihoods that I noted. E.g. police departments, particularly in conservative towns like Colorado Springs, were thoroughly racist in the early ’70s and did not set out to hire blacks until well into the decade, once affirmative action was instituted (and none would have allowed a beat cop to wear an afro); David Duke was not a KKK member in ’72 and Stokely Charmichael was in “exile” in Guinea that year (FYI, he spoke at my college in the fall of ’74 and the audience was mostly white, whereas in the film there is no white in sight at Charmichael’s event); answering machines were rare at the time and the model one sees in the film did not exist then. And then there’s the black student militant and love interest of Stallworth—played by the rather beautiful Laura Harrier—who talked too much like a white person from an educated family (not that there weren’t educated Afro-Americans back then but they didn’t talk like white people among themselves). Her character would make more sense today than in the 1970s. I may be buggering flies here (French expression) and do know that most people don’t care about these things—when they even notice them—but am just sayin’. And one other thing, as pointed out by Howard University communications professor and Huffpost columnist Natalie Hopkinson: Spike Lee is too nice to the police. He cuts them way too much slack. There’s only one outright racist cop among Stallworth’s colleagues, whereas in real life there would have been far more (if not practically all of them). And Klansmen of the time (as in the past and present), whom Lee depicts as bumbling low-IQ losers, were dangerous people and nothing to laugh about. All this said, it’s still a good film and should be seen. And if it wins the Oscar, that will be fine.

Green Book: Just about everyone I know—particularly in France—thinks this one is wonderful, as it is both an amusing—and ultimately gratifying—interracial buddy film but which also reminds us yet again of what a thoroughly wretched place the Jim Crow American South was. I gave it the thumbs up myself after seeing it. I do go for impeccably reenacted period pieces, particularly of historical periods of my youth. And having learned about the Negro Motorist Green Book in the last few years, this hook was of particular interest (and I’ll see any film on race in the US that receives halfway decent reviews). On this, the film disappointed somewhat—the actual Green Book was not its main subject (but is in a new documentary)—but still. I thought Viggo Mortensen was great in his role as Frank Anthony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, as was Mahershala Ali as Donald Shirley. But then a faithful AWAV reader (French) sent me an email about how much he hated the film, shredding it for, among many other things, the superficial and caricatured manner in which it dealt with the grave subject of Jim Crow and the violence that was consubstantial with this. I thought his critique a little strong but the points were well taken. And we both agreed that certain scenes did not ring true, e.g. the Memphis YMCA incident; in real life at that time, Shirley would not have made it out of there in one piece. My AWAV reader followed up in emailing me a critique in the NYT by Oklahoma State University philosophy professor Lawrence Ware, “How ‘Green Book’ gives short shrift to a gay life.” And then a stateside friend with expert knowledge on race in the US—who has avoided seeing the film, as he fears the worst—sent me two must-read pieces on the pic. One is by NYT arts critic-at-large Wesley Morris, “Why do the Oscars keep falling for racial reconciliation fantasies?” The lede: “In many Oscar bait movies, interracial friendships come with a paycheck, and follow the white character’s journey to enlightenment.” Morris’s dissection and dismantling of the Hollywood interracial buddy movie is thorough. The other article is by the Shadow and Act website’s managing editor Brooke C. Obie, “How ‘Green Book’ and the Hollywood machine swallowed Donald Shirley whole,” in which she details the many fictions and inaccuracies of Peter Farrelly’s film—e.g. the relationship between Vallelonga and Shirley did not, in fact, evolve into a veritable friendship—and the vociferous objections of Donald Shirley’s family to the making of the film when they learned how it was going to depict him (the family was not consulted at any point by Farrelly or Vallelonga’s son, Nick, who co-wrote and co-produced it). After reading these critiques, I’ve had to revise my assessment of ‘Green Book’ downward. If Mortensen or Ali win Oscars for their performances, that will be fine (particularly Ali), but not the film itself. [UPDATE: L.A. Times critic Justin Chang has a slash-and-burn post-Oscars piece, “Oscars 2019: ‘Green Book’ is the worst best picture winner since ‘Crash’.”] [2nd UPDATE: NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers has a brilliant, hilarious satire, “White Savior,” of the way Hollywood depicts race relations, as in movies like ‘Green Book’.]

Black Panther: I don’t think there’s been a film in the history of my Facebook news feed over which so much virtual ink has been spilled, notably by gauchiste academics, intellos, and other engagé types. Lefties seemed to like it on the whole and find it entertaining, though assessments of its putative political subtext varied, with, e.g., one Über-gauchiste academic friend, in critiquing the “heroic role by the CIA,” deplored the fictitious Wakandia’s “complicit[y] with US imperial designs…” Lefty suspicions will indeed not have been allayed by the effusive praise of the film in Breitbart, whose critic favorably compared King T’Challa (the Black Panther) to Donald Trump. Sans blague. As I’ve never read a Marvel comic in my life, know nothing of its stories and characters, and quite simply do not bother with such movies, I would not have considered seeing this one had it not been for the buzz in my socio-political-professional milieu and the putative political themes people were reading into the pic. So I saw it, last March. It was entertaining enough, even fun, but overrated, And I deemed that gauchistes and others were seriously over-interpreting it, sometimes laughably so. I archived some twenty-five analyses of the film from various publications and websites, with the view to writing a full post on it, but finally didn’t. Pourquoi faire? Life is too short. As for interpreting the film politically, one friend remarked that it represents “a great triumph of (black) capitalism,” with me submitting that none of the analyses and gauchiste commentaries I’d seen noted that Wakandia was a rentier state—a Dubai in the savanna—that got rich because of a natural resource (the magical vibranium). And the only Wakandians we see are the royal family and its praetorian guard. A People’s Republic Wakandia is not.

The Favourite: I saw this last Tuesday evening, at a multiplex in the center of Paris. The large salle was packed, signifying strong word-of-mouth. I have tended to avoid Yórgos Lánthimos’s films, finding them odd, but as this one was nominated for a slew of top Oscars, I wasn’t going to miss it. A friend later asked me to describe it with just one word. My response: loufoque (zany, wacky, crazy). It’s a black comedy. If one doesn’t know, it’s set in 1708 in the court of the wacky, zany Anne, Queen of Great Britain, and with a bevy of wacky, zany characters. What drives it, though, is the three lead female characters: Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), and Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). They’re terrific—it’s a collective acting tour de force—and the movie is engaging, so I do not regret seeing it, au contraire. I will henceforth be more open to Lánthimos’s films.

Roma: I had to see this on Netflix, as it could not debut theatrically in France in view of French legislation—that imposes a four month delay before movies can go from the cinema to VOD—which was too bad, as it’s a film that should ideally be seen on a wide screen. But better my 42″ flat screen than nothing. The only thing I’ll say about it is that it’s very impressive and on every level: technically beautiful, very well acted, and with a strong, compelling story (of a slice of director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood in Mexico City, though without him being the protag). I will willingly watch it again. For more on the film, I refer readers to Alma Guillermoprieto’s review in The New York Review of Books—growing up herself in Mexico City at the same general time, it hit close to home for her—and Anthony Lane’s in The New Yorker. If you’ve seen ‘Roma’ and maybe have a reservation or two about it, these reviews will put them to rest.

And then there are these, with nominations in the best acting categories:

The Wife: I’m not going to say much about this one, which I saw in the US last month with my mother, who’s 88, has written a lengthy review of it on her blog, and to which I refer the reader. Just three things. First, Glenn Close carries the film. Her performance is a tour de force, in the absence of which the film would have likely not been nominated for any awards. Second, Glenn Close was too old for the role she was playing. She was 71 when the movie was made and looks it, but when her husband, Joe Castleman (actor Jonathan Pryce), wins the Nobel Prize for literature, in 1992, she could not have been over 56, as she met him as an undergraduate at Smith College in 1958—the dates are flashed on the screen—when he was her professor. And when he won the Nobel, he would have been in his mid 60s—some ten years his wife Joan’s senior—except that Pryce is the same age as Close but looks older. So the ages are way off for both of them, but particularly Close. But critics seem not to have to picked up on this, nor a couple of friends who’ve seen it (the film has curiously gone directly to a streaming service in  France, which means that almost no one here will see it). Director Björn Runge could have made them up to look a little younger but maybe he didn’t think of it either. Third, sexism and the (very low) glass ceiling is a leitmotif, with Joan, we learn, a far superior writer to her future Nobel laureate husband Joe, but who sacrificed a career as a writer and in publishing, and gave all to Joe, working in the shadows to advance his fame, and with him basking in the glory and accolades, all while cheating on her right and left. But was this a fatality? Was she condemned to this subservient role given the ambient sexism of the era? Seeing the biopic of Ruth Bader Ginsburg afterward, who is about three years older than Joan would have been, one wonders, as RBG forged ahead career-wise malgré tout, and ended up we know where. Likewise with one of my professors in graduate school, also older than Joan would have been but never played second fiddle to her accomplished husband and was a major figure in American political science. Joan, as one sees the latter part of the film, blows a fuse and decides to even the score with her jerk Nobel laureate husband. Too bad she didn’t do so far earlier, as she could have.

If Beale Street Could Talk: Barry Jenkins’s previous film, ‘Moonlight’, was a chef d’œuvre, which any sentient person will readily second. This one may not be that but is still quite good. The cinematography and atmospherics are very Barry Jenkinesque, as is the pacing. And the young couple, Fonny and Tish (Stephan James and KiKi Layne), moved me with their unbending love (a US friend sniffed that they were an “insipid Ken and Barbie couple” but that’s too harsh). And Tish’s mother, Sharon (Regina King, Best Supporting Actress nominee), is first rate in the role. The film’s value, above all, is in the depiction of the Kafkaesque judicial nightmare which Fonny got ensnared in, which was almost the rule for young black males in the 1970s, when the film takes  place, not to mention afterward (or before, of course), and which wrecked his life, i.e. in sending him to prison for seven years for a crime he didn’t commit. It may not have been director Jenkins’s intention but the film is, entre autres, an indictment of the American judicial practice of plea bargaining, which is happily non-existent in legal systems underpinned by Napoleonic or other such codes. The scene of Fonny’s interface with the cop in Greenwich Village is also bone-chilling. Another reminder of the shit black men in America have had to put up with….

And this, nominated in technical categories:

First Man: I thought this biopic of Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) and the Apollo 11 mission was both very good and unexpected in its approach, as director Damien Chazelle opted not to make a classic ‘The RIght Stuff’ kind of movie about the heroic march to the moon landing but instead meditate on the extreme dangers faced by NASA astronauts—who were taking their lives into their hands with each mission—and the psychological toll this took on them, their wives, and children (entre autres, the colleagues and friends who had perished—and whose families were their friends—weighed heavily on all, as NASA in Houston was a tight-knit community). The Apollo missions, including the big one in July 1969, were anticipated by the astronauts and their families not with excitement but stoicism (for the former) and dread (the latter). And exhilaration did not necessarily follow the mission’s success. The subtext: history may be heroic but it is just as often tragic.

My choices:

BEST PICTURE: ‘Roma’.
As this is not an American film or even in English, it should by all rights not be in this category, but it is and is by far the best of the eight nominees. If not ‘Roma’, then ‘The Favourite’ or ‘A Star Is Born’.

BEST DIRECTOR: Spike Lee.
For his lifetime œuvre, not the film (BlacKkKlansman) for which he’s nominated. If not Lee, then Alfonso Cuarón (Roma).

BEST ACTOR: Christian Bale in ‘Vice’.
He killed it as Dick Cheney. Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born) is second. Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) is acceptable but absolutely not Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody). Don’t know about Willem Defoe, as I haven’t yet seen ‘At Eternity’s Gate’.

BEST ACTRESS: Glenn Close in ‘The Wife’.
A no-brainer and despite the age thing I discussed above. Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born) and Olivia Colman (The Favourite) are second ex æquo. Yalitza Aparicio (Roma) would be an edgy choice. Can’t speak about Melissa McCarthy, as ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ has not yet opened in France.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali in ‘Green Book’.
Obviously.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Regina King in ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’.
All the nominees are equally good, actually.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: ‘Cold War’ (Poland) and ‘Shoplifters’ (Japan) ex æquo.
Only if ‘Roma’ doesn’t win best picture (in which case it should this). ‘Capernaum’ (Lebanon) is not a good film. Don’t know ‘Never Look Back’ (Germany).

2019 César awards

[update below]

France’s Oscars. The ceremony is tomorrow (Friday)—two days before the US Academy Awards, as always—at the Salle Pleyel (in the 8th arrondissement). The full list of nominees is here. Leading with ten nominations each are ‘Le Grand Bain’ (Sink or Swim) and ‘Jusqu’à la garde’ (Custody), followed by nine for ‘The Sisters Brothers’ and ‘En liberté!’ (The Trouble with You), eight for ‘La douleur’ (Memoir of War), seven for ‘Pupille’ (In Safe Hands), and six each for ‘Guy’ and ‘Mademoiselle de Joncquières’. I’ve seen most of the films in the top categories. I’ll eventually have separate posts on some of the nominees—the best of them—but, in the meantime, here’s a brief mention of a few.

Le Grand Bain (Sink or Swim), directed by Gilles Lellouche. This was the huge hit comedy in France of the fall—indeed the year—that packed the salles (4.3 million tix sold, i.e. a mega-hit), which the critics (French)—at one with the masses—loved to boot, and that has consequently been nominated for a slew of Césars, including Best Film, Best Director, and four in the supporting acting categories. The pic, with its ensemble cast of A-list actors and actresses (Guillaume Canet and the overexposed Mathieu Amalric play the lead roles), tells the tale of seven sad sacks in their 40s and 50s who are down on their luck—divorced, unemployed, going nowhere in their lives, and/or just washed out, over the hill, and/or out of it—who join a club to train for a synchronized swimming championship in Norway—why not?—where they will represent the French nation, i.e. they will be the national team of France. Sans blague. They’re all out of shape and have never synchronized swam in their lives—some barely know how to swim at all—mais peu importe. Two slave-driving female coaches (Virginie Efira, Leïla Bekhti), who have life issues themselves, set out to whip them into shape. There is no hint that the seven slobs can perform at any level when they arrive at the tournament in Norway, but lo and behold—SPOILER ALERT!—they put on a performance worthy of Olympic champions. Comme ça. The whole movie is a buildup to the crowd-pleasing denouement. Of course. It is, as I read afterwards, a French ‘The Full Monty’ (a film that I have never seen, believe it or not). I think one has to be culturally French from a young age—or just have a sense of humor and taste in comedies different from mine—to appreciate the pic and find it funny, as I simply did not. I mean, it’s okay and all, but nothing more. I may have smiled at a couple of points but no chuckles, let alone gros rires. On this, the handful of US critics who’ve seen it largely share my view. But it will surely win its share of Césars and a Hollywood remake goes without saying.

En liberté! (The Trouble with You), directed by Pierre Salvadori. This one, nominated for Best Film and Best Director, is also a comedy, of the madcap variety. French critics loved it (US critics liked), with audiences rating it not bad to good. The story: Yvonne (Adèle Haenel, Best Actress nominee)—a police inspector in a seaside town near Marseille—suddenly learns that her beloved cop husband, Captain Jean Santi, who was heroically killed in the line of duty two years earlier, was not the squeaky clean, upright police officer of integrity that she believed him to be but rather a sleazy, corrupt ripou, and who had sent an innocent man, Antoine (Pio Marmai, Best Actor nominee), to prison eight years earlier no less. Horrified by the discovery, she sets out to make amends to Antoine upon his release, first via his wife, Agnès (Audrey Tautou, Best Supporting Actress nominee), and with crazy stuff ensuing, and with Yvonne’s colleague, Louis (Damien Bonnard, Best Supporting Actor nominee), who’s secretly in love with her, complicating the situation. The pic does have some amusing scenes—particularly its running gag (repeated several times), in which Yvonne theatrically recounts, and with embellishment, a bedtime story to her young son of one of his father’s/her husband’s more spectacular exploits in catching bad guys—but I found the plot overly complex and confusing. I struggled at times to figure out what was going on. So my verdict is mixed.

The Sisters Brothers, directed by Jacques Audiard. The only thing French about this one is the director, qui n’est pas le moindre d’ailleurs. It’s otherwise 100% American—based on the eponymous 2011 novel by Patrick deWitt—set in the Old West (Oregon and California)—though shot in Spain—during the late 1840s Gold Rush, about two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix), who are professional killers, both cold blooded—though the latter more than the former, who sometimes has a conscience—and who are hired to track down and eliminate a fortune seeker named John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), but who continually throws them off the scent. It’s well-done, the cast is great, and is thoroughly entertaining but if director Audiard was seeking to convey a message, it escaped me, as I gave the film no thought after leaving the theater (except to recount the spider scene to my arachnophobic wife and daughter)..

Nos batailles (Our Struggles), directed by Guillaume Senez. Olivier (Romain Duris, Best Actor nominee) is a foreman at a big e-commerce warehouse in a town near Lyon, with wife and children, and a normal-looking working class life. And he’s a union delegate, investing time at work defending the interests of fellow workers vis-à-vis management. A good man. But one day his wife vanishes, leaving a note saying she’s taken off, though offering no explanation. She occasionally sends a post card to the family saying she’s fine, though doesn’t say where she is. And that’s that; she’s never seen again. So Olivier is left to raise two young children alone, getting help from his supportive sister and mother, but still having to assume the big responsibility in addition to his day job and union activities. And that’s the film. Critics (French and American) and audiences alike gave it the thumbs way up. But not me. The film certainly has merit but the wife’s disappearance—and, above all, leaving her children—for no apparent rhyme or reason bothered me. Mothers/wives who are overwhelmed with family responsibilities do sometimes blow a fuse and take off for a stretch of time (as, e.g., depicted in the excellent 2017 Georgian film My Happy Family), or seriously contemplate doing so. People need to take a breather and have their own space. But a mother definitively abandoning her children and going incommunicado requires minimal explanation, but which the pic does not give. This is a flaw IMHO. I am, however, clearly in a minority in my mixed feelings about the film..

Un amour impossible (An Impossible Love), directed by Catherine Corsini. I’m in a minority on this one as well, which critics (French and US/UK) and audiences praised mais pas moi. It’s an adaptation of the eponymous, autobiographical 2015 novel by the well-known, très médiatisé writer Christine Angot, whom I personally think is a nutter and a flake. The story, which spans five decades, begins in the 1950s in Châteauroux, where Rachel (Virginie Efira, Best Actress nominee), a secretary from a modest background, meets Philippe, a young litterateur from an upper bourgeois Parisian family. They have a torrid affair—Rachel being beautiful, thus Philippe’s attraction to her—and with a child, named Chantal (Christine Angot, in effect), being the outcome, though Philippe will not a marry Rachel, as, for him, the social class gap (and certain parental objection) is insurmountable. So mother (with help from mamie) raises daughter alone—and with the two naturally being extremely close—though Philippe shows up in Châteauroux every once in a blue moon, to check in on Rachel and Chantal. Rachel, who’s had other prospects, inexplicably remains in love with him for years and never marries. When Chantal becomes a teen and with a literary streak, she seeks out a closer relationship with her absent father and vice-versa, spending time chez lui in Paris. He’s finally becoming the responsible, attentive father, or so it seems, and that she so yearned for. And then everything goes off the rails, as it is ultimately revealed that he has been sexually abusing her, and which exacts its lasting psychological toll, with Chantal, into her 30s, taking the whole thing out on her mother, with whom she breaks off relations. I have no idea what specifically happened to Angot—though could probably inform myself by reading her books and accounts, which I have no intention of doing—but something in this part of the movie didn’t add up, particularly with Chantal’s sudden rejection of her mother, who, at least as far as she’s portrayed in the film, was attentive, loving, and could not be reproached for what happened with the father (except, perhaps, for having maintained a link with him). So I left the theater with mixed feelings. But again, that’s me.

Les Chatouilles (Little Tickles), directed by Andréa Bescond and Eric Métayer. Voilà another movie, this nominated for Best First Film, about sexual abuse of minors, here outright pedophilia, based on co-director—and professional dancer—Bescond’s autobiographical one-woman play. The film goes back and forth between protag Odette as an eight-year-old who wants nothing more than to be a ballerina, and her as a professional dancer in her 20s (Bescond plays the role here), and her trauma of the sexual abuse she sustained as a child by close family friend Gilbert (Pierre Deladonchamps), often when her parents, Fabrice (Clovis Cornillac, Best Supporting Actor nominee) and Mado (Karin Viard, Best Supporting Actress nominee), were in close proximity or had confined Odette to Gilbert’s care (the chatouilles, or little tickles, of the title is what Gilbert told Odette he was doing to her). Adult Odette has Gilbert prosecuted and confronts her parents about their implicit responsibility, as Gilbert was their good, trusted friend. Father Fabrice accepts it—expressing contrition at having seen nothing, or not wanted to—but mother Mado defensively refuses to, going so far to imply that maybe Odette was, at age eight, at least partly culpable, that perhaps she egged Gilbert on. We know that this does happen in real life, that some mothers simply will not be held to account for the sexual abuse sustained by their daughter at the hands of a family member or friend, and practically under their eyes. Reviews of the pic were good, including in the Hollywood press. I go with the general consensus. The film ends with a reminder to the audience that a significant percentage of children—mostly girls, of course—are victims of sexual abuse and that proactive action against the perpetrators must be taken. Bien évidemment.

Amanda, directed by Mikhael Hers. This one is about an early twentysomething named David (Vincent Lacoste, Best Actor nominee), who lives in Paris’s 12th arrondissement, makes a living doing odd jobs, and often helps out his older schoolteacher sister, Sandrine (Ophélia Kolb), with her seven-year-old daughter (and David’s niece), Amanda (Isaure Multrier), with childcare, as there’s no father in the picture or, for David and Sandrine, a mother (who lives in London and hasn’t seen them in ages; this estrangement later being explained, unlike in ‘Nos batailles’). But then tragedy hits, when Sandrine is killed in a terrorist attack on picnickers in the Bois de Vincennes, and with David’s new companion, the very attractive Léna (Stacy Martin), seriously injured (the attack obviously recalls what Paris experienced on November 13, 2015). So in addition to the devastation of losing his sister, David now has to inform Amanda of what happened, to help her try to comprehend it and traverse the stages of grief, but, above all, to take full responsibility for her—to adopt her, in effect, as she is orphaned—but for which he is neither psychologically nor financially ready. He has to grow up and fast. It’s a well-done, understated film. Reviews were very good, both French and US/UK, and it did respectably at the box office.

Sauvage (Wild), directed by Camille Vidal-Naquet. Here’s a description culled from the web: “Léo (Félix Maritaud) is 22 and sells his body on the street for a bit of cash. The men come and go, and he stays put… longing for love. He doesn’t know what the future will bring. He stays on the streets. His heart is pounding…” The backdrop of this one, which is nominated for Best First Film, is the underworld of gay street prostitution, which is as glauque as one imagines it to be (as with any kind of prostitution). I’ve seen gay-themed films that are borderline hard (e.g. the first-rate L’inconnu du lac) but this is particularly so, with scenes that are downright pornographic. And violent: not in the blood-and-gore sense but in the interactions among that substratum of gay men. The pic will inevitably be seen almost exclusively by LGBTQs, though may certainly be by others (US/UK reviews are good, BTW). And à propos, I will rate it above Christophe Honoré’s well-received gay-themed Plaire, aimer et courir vite (Sorry Angel), which, with due respect to the good US/UK reviews, left me indifferent,

BEST FILM: Pupille.
This, about the adoption of a baby at birth and the manifold complexities entailed, was the best French film of 2018. Runners-up are the excellent Jusqu’à la garde—about a child custody battle between two divorced parents—and Guy, a mockumentary about a fictitious, over-the-hill crooner in his 70s. ‘The Sisters Brothers’: No. ‘En liberté!’: No! ‘Le Grand Bain’: Inconceivable. I have yet to see La douleur, but which I cannot imagine would finish ahead of the top three above.

BEST DIRECTOR: Alex Lutz for ‘Guy’.
Most of the others are worthy but Lutz should get it for conceiving this original film.

BEST ACTOR: Alex Lutz in ‘Guy’.
Lutz is not even 40 but makes himself up to look like he’s in his 70s. He totally pulls off the role. All of the nominees are good and worthy. This is a strong category this year.

BEST ACTRESS: Cécile de France in Mademoiselle de Joncquières.
She’s stellar in this marvelous 18th century romantic drama. Sandrine Kiberlain, whom I love, is also great in ‘Pupille’ and Adèle Haenel (En liberté!) is excellent in any role she plays (even if the movie in question may not be). A strong category.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Philippe Katerine in ‘Le Grand Bain’.
This is a coin flip with Jean-Hugues Anglade in the same pic, as the other three nominees did not have significant enough roles to merit any award. A weak category this year.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Virginie Efira in ‘Le Grand Bain’.
This is by default, as none of the others deserve it. I normally love Leïla Bekhti but couldn’t stand her surly, insufferable role in ‘Le Grand Bain’. Isabelle Adjani in the trivial ‘Le monde est à toi’ (The World Is Yours) is utterly unremarkable. As for Karin Viard (Les chatouilles) and Audrey Tautou (En liberté!), they’ve had stronger roles. Also a weak category this year.

MOST PROMISING ACTOR: Dylan Robert in Shéhérazade.
William Lebghil in ‘Première année’ (The Freshman) is also good.

MOST PROMISING ACTRESS: Ophélie Bau in Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno.
Abdellatif Kechiche has launched the careers of several A-list actresses (Sara Forestier, Hafsia Herzi, Adèle Exarchopoulos) and will likely do so for Ophélie Bau. One takes note of the pretty Lily-Rose Depp—whose father is a somewhat well-known American actor—in Louis Garrel’s otherwise forgettable ‘L’homme fidèle’ (A Faithful Man). Likewise Kenza Fortas in the not forgettable ‘Shéhérazade’.

BEST FIRST FILM: ‘Jusqu’à la garde’.
If this one wins Best Film—for which it is also nominated—then let it be ‘Shéhérazade’. If L’amour flou wins, I will be scandalized.

BEST FOREIGN FILM: ‘Cold War’ and ‘Une affaire de famille’ (Shoplifters) ex æquo.
If the hugely overrated ‘Capharnaüm’ wins, I will moan and groan.

UPDATE: ‘Jusqu’à la garde’ won best film (deserved), Jacques Audiard best director (inevitable), Alex Lutz best actor (totally deserved), Léa Drucker best actress for her role in ‘Jusqu’à la garde’ (she was good, so yes). ‘Shéhérazade’, about Maghrebi-origin Marseille teenagers at the bottom of the heap, won best first film plus most promising actor and actress (great!). Variety’s report is here.

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