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Archive for February, 2016

2016 Oscars

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I’ve seen all but three of the films in the top categories. The list of nominees is here. Some of them I have blog posts on: Bridge of Spies (tops), Spotlight (excellent), The Big Short (good), The Hateful Eight (sucked), The Martian (very good). As for the more numerous among them that I haven’t posted on, here’s my brief take on each, starting with the Best Picture nominees:

Brooklyn: A good movie about emigration, love, commitment, loss, and not being able to go home again, set in early 1950s Ireland and New York City, and based on the novel by the well-known writer Colm Tóibín. Best Actress nominee Saoirse Ronan is meritorious but I’m not voting for her, and I would be most surprised if it won Best Picture. Those who have not seen it should by all means do so, however, as it is worth the while.

Mad Max: Fury Road: I have not seen this. It did not occur to me to see it when it opened last May, not even for a split second, and despite the stellar reviews. Not that I have a principled objection to seeing movies like this, but it’s just not my genre. And one can’t see everything. Noting that it made the “best of” list of the year of practically every Le Monde and New York Times critic, however, I thought that maybe I’d open my mind and catch it on DVD. But that thought was quashed after watching the trailer. Not a chance I’ll sit through such a film for two hours (and send my wife fleeing while I’m at it). As for its ten Oscar nominations, I don’t doubt that it deserves some of the technical ones but as for Best Picture, this I cannot imagine for a split second.

Room: I haven’t seen this one either, as it hasn’t opened in France yet. When it does (next month), I will.

The Revenant: Is there anything to be said about this movie that has not already been? It is, of course, great Hollywood genre entertainment—the classic revenge story of two men, only one of whom will survive to the end—notable for the extreme climatic conditions under which it was shot, which everyone has heard or read about by now. It is a directorial tour de force by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and, above all, Leonardo DiCaprio’s role of a lifetime. Amazing to think that he actually did the things one sees him doing in the film, that it wasn’t special effects.  [UPDATE: Gilles Havard, director of research at the CNRS and member of the Centre d’Études Nord-Américaines, has an essay (March 14th) in the intello/academic webzine La Vie des Idées, “Le trappeur, fantôme d’Hollywood: À propos du film d’Alejandro González Iñárritu.” And there’s an essay in Le Monde’s Culture & Idées supplement (dated February 20th) by Marc-Olivier Bherer, “Dans ‘The Revenant’, un méchant à l’accent délicieusement français,” in which Gilles Havard’s new book Histoire des coureurs de bois is reviewed.]

And then there are these:

45 Years: Critics fell over themselves with dithyrambic praise for this film but I’m going to come straight out and say that I didn’t like it. Sure, the acting and all that is fine, and with Charlotte Rampling’s Best Actress nomination no doubt deserved, but I simply did not relate to the story, which is the discomfort, bordering on jealously, of Rampling’s character when her husband of 45 years—and it’s been a reasonably successful, trouble-free marriage, so we understand—has sudden occasion to think and reminisce about the first love of his life, tragically deceased before he met his wife, and whom he would have married had she lived. So people have a past. La belle affaire. I simply do not see how a partner in a decades-long marriage could get all upset about such a thing and into his or her 70s no less. This is alien to my way of being. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

Carol: The reviews of this were even more stellar than for the one above, and with everyone I know who saw it praising it to the heavens. I thought it wasn’t bad, though won’t say it knocked my socks off when I saw it. The depiction of early 1950s America was, for me at least, easily the most impressive aspect of the film. This was really good. But I was not initially convinced by the story, of the relationship of the Cate Blanchett (Best Actress nominee) and Rooney Mara (Best Supporting Actress nominee) characters. A discussion of the film with a young female colleague, however, prompted me to rethink my reaction, as she convincingly explained that the lesbian relationship of the two women was credible and well-portrayed, that the dynamics between two gay women are quite different from those between men (which I have no problem believing). Looking at the film in a slightly different light, I now think more highly of it. And it does merit comparison to ‘Brokeback Mountain’—a chef d’œuvre IMO—as a portrayal of a relationship between two gay women in an era before such became socially acceptable.

Creed: I would not have seen this had it not been for Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actor). Now I knew this one was related to the films in the Rocky series—of which, believe it or not, I had not seen a single one—but I did not realize going in to the cinoche that it was a sequel, that the pic was, in effect, Rocky VII. Moreover, this was only the second film I had ever seen starring Stallone—the previous one, ‘Fist’, dating from 1978 (I also watched part of ‘First Blood’ in a bar in Tel Aviv in 1985). Crazy, no? Now I did know something about the Rocky series, as it’s been part of popular culture for four decades now, but not all the details and characters. I must have been the only person in the salle in this situation. Three short comments: First, seeing this movie was not a judicious use of my time. Second, if one has not seen the other Rocky movies, there’s no point in seeing this one. Third, Stallone’s Oscar nomination has to be purely sentimental, as he looks to be playing his stock character. Voilà, c’est tout.

Joy: I saw this for one reason and one reason only, which is Jennifer Lawrence’s Best Actress nomination. What to say, it’s light Hollywood entertainment, a biopic about a person, Joy Mangano, a rags-to-riches born entrepreneur in my adult lifetime, whom I had not heard of before seeing it, and played by Lawrence (Mangano apparently liked Lawrence’s performance, despite an age difference). I thought it was an okay movie—I don’t sign on to the mixed reviews of it—made watchable by Lawrence, who’s very good. The end was not satisfying, though: Joy is a struggling, near-failed businesswoman for almost the entire film, but does not give up, finally achieving wealth and fame in the end. I thought this part was sort of by the numbers. It is, however, a film that may be seen (at home, on the small screen) if one wants something light and that won’t tax brain cells or critical faculties.

Steve Jobs: This is not a conventional biopic, if one doesn’t know the film. It is structured into three acts, of the behind-the-scenes psychodrama (professional and personal) in the hour preceding Steve Jobs’s presentation at the formal roll-out of three products of companies he headed at the time (Apple and NeXT): the Macintosh (1984), NeXTcube (1990), and iMac (1998). Michael Fassbender (Best Actor nominee) is very good as Jobs—though the latter was, it seems, not as odious of a prick as he’s made out to be here (which would be the doing of Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay)—as is Kate Winslet (Best Supporting Actress nominee) as Jobs’s right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman. The film does not evoke Jobs’s pre-Apple years, except in one scene, where, at a restaurant, he points out to an associate the restaurant’s owner, who Jobs says is his biological father. The restaurateur, Abdulfattah “Abed” Jandali—who hailed from Homs, Syria—had no idea at that moment that Jobs was his son. For the anecdote, my parents were friends with Abed Jandali and his first wife, Joanne Simpson, during the 1950s in Madison, Wisconsin. My mother has written on her blog about Abed & Joanne. If one is interested in reading her account, go here and scroll down several paragraphs.

The Danish Girl: I was initially not going to see this and despite the Oscar nominations—Eddie Redmayne for Best Actor, la belle Alicia Vikander for Best Supporting Actress—as I am not interested in transgender as a subject (apologies to any transgender persons out there mais c’est comme ça). But I was persuaded to see it by a colleague—the above-mentioned one, who got me to modify my view of ‘Carol’—who gave it the enthusiastic thumbs up. And she was pretty much right, as I liked the movie more than I had expected to. It’s beautifully shot and tells a moving story. My attitude was also perhaps influenced by the fact that I got a crush on Alicia Vikander while watching it (which can happen). The film is apparently riddled with inaccuracies and other distortions. Perhaps. I wouldn’t know. It’s just a movie.

Trumbo: Haven’t seen it. It opens in France in April.

My vote:

BEST PICTURE: ‘Spotlight’.
No two ways about it. ‘Bridge of Spies’ is the second choice, ‘The Martian’ third.

BEST DIRECTOR: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (‘The Revenant’).
He got it last year (for ‘Birdman’) and deserves it again.

BEST ACTOR: Leonardo DiCaprio (‘The Revenant’).
This is so obvious that nothing more need be said.

BEST ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence (‘Joy’).
It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Brie Larson will win this one for her role in ‘Room’ but I haven’t seen it, so have to go with Lawrence here. [UPDATE: Having now seen ‘Room’ (March 20th), I will confirm that Brie Larson deserved to win the best actress award; she’s very good, as is the film.]

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mark Ruffalo (‘Spotlight’).
He’s a good actor and deserves it. Tom Hardy (‘The Revenant’) is nº 2.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Alicia Vikander (‘The Danish Girl’).
But of course (see above). Kate Winslet (‘Steve Jobs’) is a close second.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Son of Saul.
The criteria for selecting the pics in this category are, of course, ridiculous but one goes with what one gets. Mustang and ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ are also credible winners. I haven’t seen ‘Theeb’ or ‘A War’.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: ‘The Look of Silence’.
I have seen none of the others in this category but don’t imagine that any could rise above Joshua Oppenheimer’s mind-blowing masterpiece on the memory of the 1965-66 bloodbath in Indonesia. Will eventually have a post on it.

Table showing 2016 Oscar nominees in top categories. TNS 2016

Table showing 2016 Oscar nominees in top categories. TNS 2016

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Spotlight

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This is a terrific film. Period. And, for the record, everyone I know who’s seen it agrees. It is not a fluke that it has received a 93 score on Metacritic and 4.0/4.2 on Allociné. If one doesn’t know by now—if that’s possible—the pic tells the story of the Boston Globe’s 2001-02 investigation into reports of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the Boston archdiocese, and which yielded the revelations that everyone knows. I remember the story from the time, of course, but didn’t pay undue attention to it, as I’m not a Catholic, was consumed by 9/11 and its aftermath, and it somehow didn’t surprise me that there would be a sex scandal on a mass scale in the only religion in the world that prohibits its official propagators of the faith from marrying and having normal sex lives. Objectively, scientifically speaking, the Roman Catholic Church’s prohibition of sexual relations for members of its ecclesiastical hierarchy is totally abnormal.

The film, in addition to being riveting, well-acted, top-notch entertainment, has a couple of important messages. One, obviously, is the centrality of a free press. A free press, however, does not only signify the absence of formal censorship or assurance that reporters and/or their bosses won’t be prosecuted for merely doing their job. It also means financial independence—of not being dependent money-wise on public or private power—i.e. being truly independent. Moreover, a free press also necessitates professional journalists who are operating in a polity with a certain degree of transparency, know how to do investigative reporting (Spotlight being the Boston Globe’s investigative unit), and do not fear taking on powerful, respected institutions.

A second message, or takeaway, is precisely the courage it takes to investigate these powerful institutions. One learns in the film that the behavior of the abusing priests had been well-known for a long time, and even reported in passing in the Globe several years earlier. But the Globe came up against the omertà of the Boston ruling elite, of men who all knew one another (and that included the Globe itself)—and often since childhood—and the acquiescence of ordinary people who uncritically accepted the moral authority of the church. And when a newspaper report is buried in the inside pages and not picked up by other news outlets, it dies. A big story has to be on page one to have legs. And having outsiders making editorial and reporting decisions in the newspapers—persons who are not from the city and therefore don’t have longstanding personal relationships with those they’re investigating—is of central importance.

The film has been nominated for several Oscars, including best picture. It deserves to win this.

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The Martian & Bridge of Spies

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These are two good, entertaining Hollywood movies that, as one likely knows, have been nominated for several Oscars each, including best picture. I saw both last fall with an academic friend—a brilliant Africanist and specialist in the domain of development economics—with whom I often go to movies. My friend is culturally refined and with highbrow tastes in everything but, when it comes to cinema, has a marked preference for Hollywood blockbusters (and over any French film whatsoever; if it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t see half the movies I do in the Hollywood mega-production genre). When we exit the cinoche and exchange initial reactions to the film just seen, I’ll usually say something like “ouais, c’était pas mal” (yeah, it wasn’t bad), whereas she will embark on a complex analysis and with all sorts of insights, and which invariably leads to an interesting discussion. On The Martian (in France: Seul sur Mars), we were in entire agreement as to the film’s merits, both as entertainment and the larger, subliminal messages conveyed. On the latter, we identified four.

The first is the praise bestowed on science and scientists—astrophysicists, botanists, all of them—and with particular attention to those who think originally—outside the box—the kind of research scientist who risks having his or her precociously cutting edge papers heavily critiqued, when not rejected outright, by mainstream scientific journals in the peer review process (a point made by my friend, who has had rather more experience with this than I). Seeing scientists extolled in the way Ridley Scott’s film does is gratifying in the present period, characterized as it is by increasing obscurantism in large parts of the world—including the United States, e.g. climate change denial—the domination of the world of finance—which is sucking away top mathematical minds—budget cuts for research, and short-term thinking.

The second takeaway from the film is the celebration of a multicultural society—here, that of the United States—and, implicitly, of a liberal immigration regime. The teams of scientists in the film are straight out of a Benetton ad. One reason—perhaps the principal one—why the US has been able to maintain its edge in science and technology has been its liberal immigration policies over the past five decades, which has made America a magnet for talent throughout the world (America’s great, well-endowed research universities also play a role, obviously).

A third takeaway is the dead-on accurate portrayal of the scientific milieu and of the conditions in which the scientists in the film work, with an absence of hierarchy and the only thing mattering being excellence and results. This particularly struck my friend, who has spent her career in the French scientific research establishment, which, while producing excellent work, is riven by steep hierarchies (notably age) and clientelism (and money-wise is less well-endowed than in the US). In America—but not so much in France—if you’re young and good, you will be catapulted over your less good elders. My friend hopes that the movie will be an inspiration to young people—and particularly women—who are contemplating scientific careers.

The fourth implicit message of the film is international cooperation. NASA, despite its massive brain power and resources, could not bring Matt Damon back from Mars on its own. It needed the help of other countries, notably China, and their scientific know-how. America can do great things but not all by itself. And that’s okay.

Another good thing about the movie is the soundtrack. Great pop songs from the 1970s!

On how scientists evaluated the film, my friend sent me an interview with planetologist François Forget, “Peut-on vraiment rester ‘Seul sur Mars’?” in the CNRS’s online magazine. His verdict: the film was inaccurate or implausible on several points but largely got the science right. And he enjoyed it.

As for Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (Le Pont des espions), we both liked this one too (as did, for the record, three well-known Parisian intellos with whom I discussed the film on social media a couple of months back). It’s a riveting geopolitical thriller, even if one knows how it’s going to end, which impeccably depicts—down to the smallest detail—its historical period. One feels transported back to the late ’50s-early ’60s. And it conveys well the political climate in the US during the height of the Cold War, when the American public viewed the Soviet Union and communism in the same way as it does radical Islamist jihadism today (though the Soviet Union—with its nuclear arsenal and superpower military—did pose a threat to the United States in a way that Al-Qaida and the Islamic State objectively do not). To merely provide disinterested legal counsel to a suspected Soviet spy could get one labeled a traitor. Despite Spielberg’s attention to detail, though, there was a little error that most people, myself included, did not pick up on. The American doctoral student in Berlin—whom Tom Hanks’s character goes to rescue—crosses into the Soviet zone as the wall is going up. The weather is cold and there are snow flurries. But the Berlin Wall went up in August, i.e. in the summer. Spielberg no doubt wanted to depict a Cold War both figuratively and literally… Also, it took a few weeks for the wall to be built, whereas in the film it looked to happen over a couple of days. There’s also another weather-related goof in the pic, mais c’est petit et pas bien grave. It a fine film and totally recommended.

Bridge of Spies

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The Big Short

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The Césars happened last night, the Oscars are tomorrow. This is one of the eight films nominated for Best Picture, which I saw last month (I would imagine that anyone with an interest in seeing it has by now). I thought it was entertaining, well-acted—though Christian Bale’s Michael Burry character got on my nerves—and had a good, multifaceted message to convey about the roots of the 2008 financial crisis, one of the facets being that it wasn’t obvious who precisely was responsible for the near collapse of the world economy: the greedy traders who made a killing during the housing bubble did not create that situation—they merely took advantage of opportunities that presented themselves—but, also, that not every last person in the world of finance was a scurrilous, amoral scumbag. A few did have a conscience. I won’t say that I understood all of the film’s finance mumbo-jumbo, and with the pedagogical exercise by Salena Gomez and Dr. Richard Thaler at the blackjack table not helping much (or, rather, I thought I got its explanation, until I got lost again). On this, I don’t imagine I was alone; even the family member with whom I saw the pic, who has an MBA and does a lot of online trading—he’s riveted to the CNBC ticker a few hours a day—said a lot of the insider fast talk about collateralized debt obligations, derivative mortgage securities, and credit default swaps was over his head. To try to make sense of all this, Michael Lewis’s articles and books on the general subject are a better bet than the movie (he’s a great writer and a pleasure to read).

The big question about the film, naturally, is how accurate its portrayal of its subject is. On this, one turns not to film critics but to economists and economic journalists. The short answer: yes, the film does basically get it right (though there are naturally differing views on this). Here are some of the analyses I came across:

Paul Krugman, “‘The Big Short,’ Housing Bubbles and Retold Lies.”

Neil Irwin (NY Times senior economics correspondent), “What ‘The Big Short’ Gets Right, and Wrong, About the Housing Bubble

Dean Baker, “‘The Big Short’: A Tale of Stupidity, Greed, and Corruption.” Also this by Baker: “The Big Short, the Housing Bubble and the Financial Crisis.”

Matthew Yglesias, “The Big Short tells a complicated story, but the Great Recession is very simple.”

Todd VanDerWerff (Vox culture editor), “The Big Short turns the financial collapse into an angry, funny, sad underdog story: It’s not perfect, but it’s still essential viewing.” See also this by VanDerWerff: “Big Short director Adam McKay talks about finding the humor in the financial collapse.” The lede: “[These guys] were doing their job. They foolishly believed that the market was fair.”

A libertarian view: Tyler Cowen (George Mason U. econ prof) reviews ‘The Big Short’.

A French Keynesian view: Christian Chavagneux (editorialist at Alternatives Économiques), “‘The Big Short’ ou comment gagner des milliards en pariant contre la finance.”

A critical view: Michael Grunwald (Politico Magazine staff writer), “What ‘The Big Short’ Gets Wrong: How a heroic effort to explain finance whiffs on the big message of the crisis.”

An alternative view: David Beckworth (adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute) and Ramesh Ponnuru (visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute), “Subprime Reasoning on Housing.”

As for the film critic reviews, here are the American and French. Trailer is here.

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2016 César awards

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[update below]

France’s Oscars. The ceremony is happening tomorrow night. The full list of nominees is here. Leading with eleven nominations is Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (My Golden Years) and Marguerite, followed by Dheepan and Mustang with nine, La Tête haute (Standing Tall) and Mon roi with eight, and ‘Fatima’ and ‘Les Cowboys’ with four. As usual, there were several films in the top categories I hadn’t seen when the nominations were announced on January 28th but have managed to catch all of them since (which is not hard to do if you live in Paris and have a flexible work schedule). I have blog posts on most of the nominees and will eventually on the others. For those that won’t get a post, here’s a brief mention.

Les Bêtises (The Cocktail Party), by Rose and Alice Philippon. A short (<80 minutes) light comedy set in Strasbourg and the Alsatian hinterland, about a clumsy, klutzy 30-year-old named François (Jérémie Elkaïm), who’s always tripping, falling down, knocking things over and that sets off chain reactions, and making a mess of everything. He was given up for adoption at birth—the pic starts with that scene, before fast-forwarding three decades—and sets out on a quest to find his birth mother, which is really hard to do in France but, in one of his clumsy mishaps, he serendipitously manages to get the secret information. He thus locates her sumptuous villa in a picturesque village, shows up on a Sunday when, as it happens, a garden party is just underway, and surreptitiously makes his way in, disguised as the hired help. The subsequent sequence, which is most of the film, recalls Blake Edwards’s ‘The Party’, with François the Peter Sellers. The pic has its moments and with a host of goofy, offbeat characters, one being Sonia (Sara Giraudeau, Most Promising Actress nominee), his colleague on the hired staff. As a light comedy, it naturally has a happy ending. It’s not bad and may be seen, though is hardly essential.

Connasse, princesse des cœurs (The Parisian Bitch, Princess of Hearts), by Eloïse Lang and Noémie Saglio. This feature-length film that came out last April—of which I blissfully knew nothing until the César nominations were announced—is an extended version of a series of two-minute TV sketches (on Canal+) of the same name—that I had never heard of—on the antics of Camilla (Camille Cottin, Most Promising Actress nominee), a French female Borat with attitude. Thus la connasse, i.e. the bitch. It’s a comedy, for persons at least two generations below mine and with a rather different sense of humor. At 1 hour 20 minutes the film is way too long. The two-minute sketches will do (and even then). Anyone reading this does not need to see it. Many who did clearly appreciated it though, as it bagged over one million entrées in its cinematic run. C’est dingue.

Voilà my ballot:

BEST FILM: La Loi du marché (The Measure of a Man).
This was the best French film of 2015. If ‘Fatima’ or ‘Mustang’ win, it will have to be seen as a political choice. ‘Marguerite’ and ‘Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse’ are credible winners, though are not the best French pics of last year IMO. ‘Dheepan’ already won the Palme d’or at Cannes. If ‘Mon roi’ wins, I will seek to have the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma hauled out and shot.

BEST DIRECTOR: Xavier Giannoli for ‘Marguerite’.
He edges out Jacques Audiard (‘Dheepan’).

BEST ACTOR: Jean-Pierre Bacri in La vie très privée de Monsieur Sim.
No hesitation on this one. Antonythasan Jesuthasan in ‘Dheepan’ is runner-up. Vincent Lindon in ‘La Loi du marché’ and Fabrice Luchini in L’Hermine are totally credible choices but they’re almost always great in their roles (and you can’t win all the time). [UPDATE: Lindon has actually not won all the time—I was in error here—having been nominated for best actor five times in the past but never getting it. As he’s popular—with cinema people and the public—he likely will this time (et tant mieux, though I still vote for Bacri). As for Luchini, the only César he’s ever won is best supporting actor back in 1994.]

BEST ACTRESS: Catherine Frot in ‘Marguerite’.
A no-brainer. Catherine Deneuve in ‘La Tête haute’ is runner-up. Soria Zeroual in ‘Fatima’ would be a political choice, as would Loubna Abidar in ‘Much Loved’ (a Moroccan film, not French).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Benoît Magimel in ‘La Tête haute’.
Why not? Vincent Rottiers in ‘Dheepan’ would be okay too.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Noémie Lvovsky in La Belle saison (Summertime).
Faute de mieux. Not a particularly strong category this year IMO.

MOST PROMISING ACTOR: Rod Paradot in ‘La Tête haute’.
I gave this one to Quentin Dolmaire in my post on ‘Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse’ but now think that Paradot really deserves it for his role.

MOST PROMISING ACTRESS: Lou Roy-Lecollinet in ‘Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse’.
Hands down.

BEST FIRST FILM: Mustang.
This is actually not a French film; it’s Turkish. The only thing that makes it French is that it was French co-produced and the director is a naturalized French citizen. But as it’s on the list, it’s my choice.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: L’Image manquante (The Missing Picture).
I’ve only seen two of the five on the list but this so obviously deserves to win.

BEST FOREIGN FILM: Son of Saul.
I’ve seen but three of the seven nominees. I imagine that if I were to see all seven, this one would still be it.

UPDATE: ‘Fatima’ won Best Film. A political choice, as I said it would be. Now I wholeheartedly approve of the politics here and thought it a good film, but, objectively speaking, it was not the best French film of 2015. I was right in all my other choices, save Arnaud Desplechin for Best Director, Vincent Lindon for Best Actor, Sidse Babett Knudsen for Best Supporting Actress (‘L’Hermine’), Zita Hanrot for Most Promising Actress (‘Fatima’), Demain for Best Documentary, and ‘Birdman’ for Best Foreign Film.

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MARGUERITE

Continuing from my previous post on French films nominated for César awards (the ceremony happening tomorrow), Xavier Giannoli’s Marguerite has garnered eleven—tying ‘My Golden Years’ for the most—including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress (Catherine Frot), and Best Supporting Actor (Michel Fau & André Marcon). It was a hit this past fall in France, with over a million tix sold—meaning it was one of those movies that occasional cinema-goers made a point to see—and received very good reviews from critics and Allociné spectateurs alike. If one doesn’t know the story, it’s set in the early 1920s in and near Paris, where the Baroness Marguerite Dumont (C.Frot) lives in a château with her husband, Georges (A.Marcon)—whom she loves madly, more than he does her (N.B. she’s the one with the inherited wealth)—and fancies herself an opera singer, which is her obsession, performing before friends and invited guests at the château. She sings tragically off-key, but which she has no clue of, as no one will tell her (the Baroness’s character is inspired by the real life American socialite and amateur operetta soprano Florence Foster Jenkins). Husband Georges can’t bring himself to—he always finds pretexts to miss her private performances—the household staff certainly won’t, her devoted butler, Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), shields her from all bad news, and her friends and hangers-on will not even hint to her how cringeworthily, comically bad she is (sort of like an academic not telling a fellow academic friend that his work sucks). Not even the opera singer, Atos Pezzini/Divo (M.Fau), whom she hires for private lessons, will tell her that she has zero talent and should just hang it up. When she decides to sing in public for the first time, which no one can dissuade her from doing, reality catches up. Everything one needs to know about the film is in the Hollywood press reviews (all tops) here, here, and here, and in the trailer here.

The scenes of the Baroness’s performances at the château are certainly amusing, though one gets the idea pretty quickly. And watching someone cluelessly making a fool of him/herself does make me uncomfortable. But there’s a lot more to the film than that, one theme being the hypocrisy—but also cruelty—of all those in the Baroness’s social circle who played along with her unwitting farce, as she was fabulously wealthy and generous with her money. Those who politely applauded and then mocked her behind her back don’t come across too well. And all the more so as the Baroness was a nice, sincere, good-hearted person, who would have likely abandoned her opera diva fantasy if she had been made aware of what her fellow socialites really thought of her (lack of) talent. And again, she loved her philandering, indifferent husband, who finally revealed his tender feelings toward her—as she was such a nice, sincere person. The acting in the movie is great, and particularly Catherine Frot, for whom the role—of singing off-key—was apparently a challenge, as she is said to be a very good singer. So, all in all, it’s a good movie. Recommended.

Another film that has received César nominations (eight) is La Tête haute, directed by Emmanuelle Bercot (English title: Standing Tall), including Best Film, Best Director (Bercot also being nominated for Best Actress for her role in the execrable ‘Moi roi’), Best Actress (Catherine Deneuve), Best Supporting Actor (Benoît Magimel), Best Supporting Actress (Sara Forestier), Most Promising Actor (Rod Paradot), and Most Promising Actress (Diane Rouxel). Practically the entire cast is up for an award. The film opened last year’s Cannes film festival, hitting the salles in France immediately after and to top reviews. In short, the film’s protag, Malony (R.Paradot), is a turbulent, out-of-control, manifestly disturbed mid teenager, who has been in and out of state foster homes since he was six-years-old, as his drug addict, white trash single mom, Séverine (S.Forestier, perfectly cast for the role), was not capable of raising him on her own. His case has been in the hands of the same juge d’enfants (juvenile court judge), “La Juge” (C.Deneuve), throughout his childhood and adolescence. Malony, given his personality and behavior, was in a straight trajectory toward a life of delinquency, crime, and prison, but the adults in charge of him—”La Juge” and the social worker assigned to work with him, Yann (B.Magimel), who, one learns, had his own issues in his youth—were determined to do all they could so that would not happen. The film is a two-hour paean to the professionals—here, functionaries in state social service agencies—whose mission it is to put wayward youths on the right path. It took the state to raise Malony. Indeed. The film is not bad. The acting is first-rate and with a great cast. And one cares about Malony—who finally gets tamed by a girl, Tess (D.Rouxel), his first g.f.—even if one wants to give him a good hiding at times. Anglophone press reviews were good overall (here, here, here, and here). Trailer is here.

la tete haute

Mommy, by Xavier Dolan. I’m cheating here, as this is not a French film—though it’s Quebec Canadian, so in French (more or less)—and has not been nominated for any Césars this year, as it came out in 2014—though it did win the César last year for Best Foreign Film (as well as the 2015 Prix de Jury at Cannes). The reason I’m including it here is because ‘La Tête haute’, which I saw some six months after this one, bears a strong resemblance to it, with the central character a mid teen boy, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), who suffers from ADHD and is really out of control, along with his devoted but overwhelmed mother, Diane (Anne Dorval), who raises him—no juge d’enfant or assistant social here (though state institutions are looming)—and a neighbor schoolteacher, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), who, taking a liking to Diane and Steve, helps Diane out with her turbulent, hyperactive son. It’s a pretty good film, though one should know a couple of things before seeing. First, it’s the fifth feature-length film of the precocious director Dolan (born 1989) and not the first of his to be screened and to win awards at Cannes and other top festivals (Venice, Toronto, among others). Would I have had such a palmarès at his age. Dolan’s previous films, so one reads and hears, contain information that give context to ‘Mommy’, but I had not seen a single one of them (and still have not). A certain number of cinéspectateurs in France—where Dolan has a following—had, though, so knew the antecedents to the story. There was indeed a certain hype over the film when it came out here (October 2014), it did very well at the box office (over one million tix sold, which was higher than for ‘La Tête haute’)—the Quartier Latin cinoche where I saw it was totally packed—and the reviews (critics and Allociné audiences alike) were dithyrambic. Not bad for a 2 hour 20 minute subtitled pic—and it had to be subtitled, as the Quebec French (Joual, in fact) was almost incomprehensible. Quant à moi, I thought the characters were powerful and the acting even more so, but wasn’t as blown away by the pic as were so many others. On Allociné’s 5 star scale, I give it a 3 or 3.5 (not bad to good).

There is one technical feature of the film that bothered me—and this is the second thing to know about it—which is its 1:1 aspect ratio. I thought through much of the film that there was a problem with the projector, realizing only toward the end that the small square image—only taking up part of the screen—was deliberate. Whatever reason Dolan did this—and I haven’t sought to find it out—it really wasn’t necessary IMO. It adds nothing to the film but maybe does take something away. Anglophone critics, who gave it top reviews (here, here, here, and here), manifestly didn’t share my sentiment. Trailer is here.

Mommy-Affiche

La vie très privée de Monsieur Sim, by Michel Leclerc (English title: The Very Private Life of Mister Sim). Voilà l’histoire: François Sim (Jean-Pierre Bacri, César Best Actor nominee) is the dictionary definition of a loser. A pauvre type, socially clumsy, and whose life has been one succession of failures: he can’t hold a job, his wife left him because he was so hapless, his teen daughter thinks he’s a klutz, his father won’t even take him to lunch when he comes to visit, and he’s blown golden opportunities to make it with hot babes who were beckoning him to make the first move. And he’s a bore, the type who starts talking at the person sitting next to him on a plane—which is how the pic begins—but saying nothing whatever of interest. Monsieur Sim is shy, awkward, not at all courageous, has a low opinion of himself, and consequently feels very much alone in the world. His is a life of solitude. After losing the last job, he gets a new one, as a travelling salesman for a small company that makes ecologically friendly toothbrushes, setting off from Mâcon—where he lives—in a company car to promote the product, but which becomes a road trip—a road movie—with detours to drop in on his ex-wife and daughter, visit with people he’s met recently and reconnect with those from his past, forges a bond with “Emmanuelle”—the female voice on the car’s GPS—and comes to realizations about himself.

The film is based on British novelist Jonathan Coe’s The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim. It’s a sad film but touching, and which does not lose one’s attention. Jean-Pierre Bacri dominates the film as Monsieur Sim. It’s a stellar performance on his part and with a fine supporting cast, including the ubiquitous Mathieu Amalric, la jeune et jolie Vimala Pons, Carole Franck, Félix Moati, and Vincent Lacoste, entre autres. So: recommended. French reviews were good (there are none so far in English). Trailer is here.

la vie tres privee de monsieur sim

Valley of Love, by Guillaume Nicloux. This one—which premiered at Cannes last year—is entirely set in Death Valley, California, where a famous, long divorced (and since remarried) French movie star couple, Gérard (Gérard Depardieu, nominated for César Best Actor) and Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert, Best Actress nominee), have rendez-voused—at a cheesy motel—in response to a request from their dead son, who had committed suicide in San Francisco—where was living—six months earlier and, in his suicide letter, had asked that his parents—neither of whom had tended to him during his childhood—meet there for an improbable reason. The movie is all Depardieu and Huppert—deux monstres du cinéma français, in their first film together in 35 years—raking over the past and dealing with the guilt over the son both had so neglected. Huppert is good comme d’hab’, even if she always seems to be playing the same role, but Depardieu is grotesque. He is so grossly obese—he looks like a bloated whale—that, while watching him, one is half waiting for him to keel over with an infarction. And he actually parades around without a shirt on, showing off his bod… In your face. The film, which was thankfully short (an hour and a half), left me indifferent. It was bof, though did have a couple of positive facets. One was Isabelle & Gérard’s chance encounters with Americans at the motel and nearby restaurants. Des Américains moyens dans toute leur splendeur. One nods in recognition, cackles knowingly, and maybe winces. The other positive facet was the scenery of Death Valley. Otherwise, I have nothing in particular to say about the pic. Hollywood press reviews (respectful) are here, here, and here. Trailer is here.

valley of love

L’Affaire SK1, by Frédéric Tellier. This one opened in January 2015 but totally passed under my radar screen at the time. It’s been nominated for two Césars, including Best First Film. The pic is a police thriller and based on actual events, of the seven-year manhunt in the 1990s of serial killer Guy Georges, who atrociously raped and murdered seven women in Paris’s 11th and 12th arrondissements. Anyone who lived in Paris during the 1990s will remember well the fait divers. The protag, Franck (Raphaël Personnaz), is a young cop at the famous 36 Quai des Orfèvres on the Île de la Cité—HQ of several specialized units of the Paris police—who is part of the team—the head of which is cop Bourgon (Olivier Gourmet)—tasked with finding the murderer(s) of the women, whom, once it is determined that it is a single person, is designated SK1 (Serial Killer 1). The film shifts back and forth in time, between the 2001 trial of Guy Georges—who is defended by two lawyers, played by Nathalie Baye and William Nadylam—and the manhunt as it unfolded between 1991 and Guy Georges’s arrest in 1998, with all the frustrations and dead ends. It’s a total genre film, which one has seen countless times, and, as it reenacts a true story, one knows how it’s going to end. But it is nonetheless a taught, riveting thriller, and with a top flight cast to boot. At no point does one look at one’s watch. What one takes away from the pic and the Guy Georges story, entre autres, is the multiple failures of the police of the time, of the serious problems in their organization and of their inter-service rivalries and lack of cooperation, the consequence of which was that, in this case, the serial killer remained unidentified and at large at least three years longer than he should have been—and with young women horrendously murdered in the intervening period as a result. In France’s famously centralized state, the police, despite being national, were anything but. One of the consequences of the Guy Georges case was the systematic recourse to DNA tests and the creation of a centralized police data base for this.

The film received good reviews—particularly from Allociné spectateurs—and didn’t do too badly at the box office (400K tix sold). One Hollywood press review is here. Trailer is here.

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trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse

I’ve seen a slew of French films over the past year but that I haven’t gotten around to writing about; with the César awards ceremony coming up this Friday, now’s the time. Arnaud Desplechin’s Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (English title: My Golden Days) has netted, along with Xavier Giannoli’s ‘Marguerite’, the most nominations (eleven), including Best Film and Best Director. Desplechin—one of the “Frenchest of French directors,” as The Hollywood Reporter’s Boyd von Hoeij has called him—is held in the highest esteem by film critics and highbrow cinephiles on both sides of the Atlantic, so it is not surprising that this one would top the list. It opened in France last May, the week after its debut at Cannes. It’s only the fourth Desplechin film I’ve seen: his previous one, Jimmy P., is considered not to be among his best but the two previous to that one, Un conte de Noël and Rois & reine, are almost universally labeled chefs d’œuvre. At the end of both of these, though, I didn’t know what to think. Maybe the stories—involving labyrinthine interpersonal or family relationships with multiple characters—were too complex pour ma petite tête, je n’en sais rien. Not that I didn’t like the pics, which did hold my attention, but my immediate thought was that I needed to see them again (which I have yet to do), as I must have missed something.

This was sort of my reaction to the latest one. As for what it’s about, here’s the synopsis from this site

The story centers on Paul Dédalus [Mathieu Amalric (older), Quentin Dolmaire (younger)], an anthropologist preparing to leave Tajikistan, who has a series of flashbacks that include his childhood in Roubaix, his mother’s attacks of madness and his father’s alienating depression. He remembers his trip to the USSR, where a clandestine mission led him to offer up his own identity for a young Russian, whom he considered a phantom twin for the remainder of his life as well as remembering Esther [Lou Roy-Lecollinet], the beautiful, rude love of his life.

For more lengthy discussions, see the (stellar) reviews by Lisa Nesselson in Screen Daily, Oliver Lyttelton in IndieWire, and Justin Chang in Variety, who saw it at Cannes (trailer is here; the pic opens in the US on March 18th). One of my faithful readers, a highbrow cinephile in the south of France who goes by the nom de plume Massilian, wrote to me that he loved it. I asked him if he could write a paragraph explaining why and he agreed. Le voici (my translation)

I love everything about Desplechin’s films: his stories, the way he looks at things, the rhythm , the directing of actors, the editing… One should, however, maintain a critical distance. I do recognize that some of Desplechin’s films are better than others. Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse is among his best. All magnetisms are somehow unfair to those who get attracted or repelled.There are directors (artists, auteurs) for whom all is forgiven and others who are not too bad but for whom nothing is forgiven. Desplechin’s films are magnets that attract and then rivet me to the screen, fascinated as I am by his charm as a storyteller, like a book that does not leave my hands until the very last page. When the light goes out, when one has read the final page, one is still a little tipsy. In Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse I succumbed to the formidable invention of a passionate love at first sight, an absolute, total love that sweeps away everything in its path, a love that is inseparable from the folly of youth. Me as well: I have done everything—and anything—to love like that. Without fatal passion life had no meaning. That was my youth. Desplechin knows how to recount that. He finds the right actors to do it. And he knows how to film it. The music wasn’t bad either…

So one understands that the film is, above all, a love story. Lou Roy-Lecollinet and Quentin Dolmaire—who play the young Esther and Paul—totally carry it. They have been nominated for Most Promising Actress and Actor, respectively, and both deserve to win. Their performances are exceptional. As it happens, Mademoiselle Roy-Lecollinet was present at the screening of the film I attended at my local cinéma municipal, as she’s a resident of my banlieue and was, last year, a senior at the high school just down the street from chez moi (my daughter’s alma mater). This was not public knowledge, the manager of the cinema having learned about it par hasard from his own daughter—and after he had scheduled the film for the last week of May—who told him that a classmate of hers had had a part in a movie and was going to the Cannes film festival. So the youthful Lou entered the salle at the end of the credits, played a song on her guitar, made a few remarks, and fielded questions from the audience. She was modest, unassuming, almost shy—said it was her first-ever experience in public speaking—but was poised and manifestly self-confident. A Star Is Born. I pronounced her a slam-dunk for the meilleur espoir féminin César and will be rooting for her on Friday.

Love and passion are themes in several films nominated for the Césars. One is L’Hermine (English title: Courted), by Christian Vincent. I was originally not interested in seeing it but the positive word-of-mouth and box office success (almost one million tix sold) persuaded me. The story: Michel Racine (Fabrice Luchini: César Best Actor nominee, and who won this award for his role in the pic at the last Venice film festival) is a judge at the cour d’assises (criminal court) in Saint-Omer (sub-prefecture in the Pas-de-Calais). He’s in his early 60s, a humorless curmudgeon, so insufferable that his wife fled from him and people avoid his company, and with a reputation for handing down the maximum sentence possible on convicted lawbreakers. With Judge Racine, you’ll get at least ten years in the slammer, if not more. But everything is upended during jury selection for a horrible infanticide—the lumpen father indicted for the crime (which he denies)—as one of the jurors, the mid 40ish Ditte Lorensen-Coteret (the Franco-Danish Sidse Babett Knudsen, nominated for Best Supporting Actress), is a medical doctor who tended to Judge Racine during a lengthy hospitalization several years earlier and toward whom he developed an unrequited love that never died. And so the film is him juggling the difficult trial and dealing with his intact passion for Mme Lorensen-Coteret the juror, and which naturally reveals his softer side. The pic’s a crowd-pleaser for the over 40 age cohort. Reviews by Hollywood critics who saw it in Venice were tepid (here and here) but I liked it. Everyone I know who saw it liked it. If you’ve read this far, you’ll no doubt like it too. Trailer is here.

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La Belle Saison, by Catherine Corsini (English title: Summertime). This one opened in France last August to very good reviews. The story: Set in 1971, Delphine (Izïa Higelin), who’s 24 or so, lives on a farm with her parents (she’s an only child) somewhere in the Limousin, cannot express her lesbian identity—soixante-huitard values having yet to reach la France profonde—so moves to Paris, where she gets a job working in a store. By chance she meets Carole (Cécile de France; César Best Actress nominee), a mid-30ish public school teacher of Spanish and feminist activist (this being the heyday of the MLF). Delphine doesn’t know a thing about feminism or anything political but accepts Carole’s invitation to attend MLF meetings and events, as she’s alone in the big city and is kind of attracted to Carole, though who’s straight—or at least appears to be—and lives with b.f. Manuel (Benjamin Bellecour), who a cool leftist. He even concocts a scheme where they all burst into a psychiatric hospital to spirit away a gay friend who had been committed there precisely for being gay. Carole and Delphine develop a close friendship and despite their educational and social class differences, the latter comes on to the former, awakening the former’s repressed bisexuality and with a vengeance, and with the two women embarking on a passionate love affair (and with requisite steamy scenes). But Delphine is suddenly called back home to tend to her dying father and, as her mother, Monique (Noémie Lvovsky; César Best Supporting Actress nominee), cannot run the farm by herself, Delphine decides to stay. Carole comes for a visit, announcing—after dumping confused and distraught b.f. Manuel—that she wants to live on the farm with Delphine, as that’s the only way to continue the romance. Monique, not suspecting a thing about her daughter’s lesbianism, appears fine with it, though hopes and expects that Delphine will marry village boy suitor Antoine (Kévin Azaïs), who’s had a crush (unrequited) on Delphine since primary school. Eventually the truth comes out, with—spoiler alert!—Monique telling Carole that she must leave immediately. Their romance is quashed and that is that.

I thought the film was okay, pas plus. The performances are certainly good, the attention to historical detail impeccable—director Corsini was careful about this—and the romance torrid but my socks were not knocked off. Corsini has called the film her “Brokeback Mountain on the Plateau de Millevache,” though the lesbian comparison with Ang Lee’s chef d’œuvre (which it was) more properly belongs, IMO, to the recent Hollywood movie ‘Carol’. I wondered how MLF veterans viewed the film; though I don’t have a response to that, the reaction of the presse féminine has been effusive. Hollywood critics who saw the pic at the Locarno film festival gave it the thumbs up (here, here, and here). Trailer is here.

La Belle Saison affiche

En équilibre, by Denis Dercourt (English title: In Harmony). This one, which also stars Cécile de France, was not nominated for any Césars, which is too bad, as I thought it was one of the better French films of 2015. The protag is Marc (Albert Dupontel), an accomplished equestrian stuntman and horse trainer in the Loire-Atlantique, who is suddenly paralyzed from the waist down following a freak accident—he’s trampled by his horse after a freak fall—while on a film shoot. Florence (Cécile de France) is the insurance company adjuster handling his dossier, who has to persuade Marc to accept the payout, which he considers insultingly low, but also drive it into his head that he will never again be able to mount a horse, i.e. to practice his profession and do the one thing in life he loves. Their interaction does not get off to an easy start—and she has no particular interest in horses to boot—but improves as they spend more time together—strictly in her professional capacity, at first—during which it comes out that she also has—or had—a passion in life as well, which was the piano. She had aspired to being a concert pianist but didn’t pass the concours, so ended up working in insurance faute de mieux, but it was just a job and clearly not what she wanted to be doing. She’s happily married, more or less, and with children, but develops feelings for Marc and vice-versa, though that’s a sideshow to the main story, of two people with a frustrated passion in life but that they finally decide they are going to realize vaille que vaille. No spoilers but at the end one feels good and with a tear in one’s eye (I’m a sucker for that sort of thing). The movie is understated but that I enjoyed and was moved by. Others clearly felt likewise, as it did well at the box office (over 500K tix sold). For some reason it has yet to open commercially outside France. Trailer w/English subtitles is here.

en equilibre

Comme un avion, by Bruno Podalydès (English title: The Sweet Escape). A light comedy and also about passion, again for a pastime. Michel (played by director Podalydès) is a computer graphic designer just turned 50 in the Île-de-France’s grande couronne, happily married to Rachel (Sandrine Kiberlain, excellent as always), with friends and an overall decent life, and has a somewhat unique, lifelong passion for Aéropostale planes from the 1920s and ’30s, but which has also been a source of frustration for him, as the planes no longer exist and he never learned to fly anyway. Then one day at work he discovers the design of a kayak on the computer screen, sees that it looks like the wing of an Aéropostale plane, and so orders one in the mail, constructs it, and then announces to his initially puzzled wife that he’s going to go on a kayaking trip all by himself. And, with her support and love, he does, setting off on a voyage of (self-)discovery—flying away, as it were—down the languid back rivers of the bucolic Sologne, with camping gear and all. He encounters curious characters along the way (one a nutter, played by Pierre Arditi in a cameo role) and, on the second day, comes across a riverbank restaurant-auberge and asks if he can pitch his tent on its grounds for the night. The place is run by divorcée Laëtitia (Agnès Jaoui, César Best Supporting Actress nominee), with charming waitress Mila (la jeune et jolie Vimala Pons), and a couple of amiable oddballs. Michel has a good time there, ends up prolonging his stay by a day, during which he has a fling with Laëtitia, which is friendly and no big deal, as he will of course be going back to Rachel soon (though who knows what she’s been up to in his absence?). What’s a harmless little infidelity après la cinquantaine? And that’s pretty much the movie.

It’s light, like I said, but I enjoyed it. This thumbs up review by Boyd van Hoeij in The Hollywood Reporter gets it right, IMO. Trailer is here.

comme un avion

À trois on y va, by Jérôme Bonnell (English title: All About Them). This is billed as a romantic comedy. Charlotte (Sophie Verbeeck) and Micha (Félix Moati, César Most Promising Actor nominee) are a mid-20s couple, in love, and who’ve bought a flat in a quartier populaire in Lille (she’s a struggling chanteuse who gets occasional gigs in local bars, he’s a para-veterinarian). But despite their love, Charlotte (who’s bi, so one notes) has been carrying on a torrid secret affair with their mutual friend, young lawyer Mélodie (Anaïs Demoustier). Micha, feeling neglected by Charlotte, though suspecting nothing, develops a crush on Mélodie, spontaneously hits on her one evening, and with her, after a momentary hesitation, falling for him (though I frankly did not see his appeal). So Mélodie and Micha, à leur tour, embark on a torrid secret affair. All three are in love with the other. A ‘Jules and Jim’ à l’envers. But as the secrets cannot be kept forever, the truth all comes out in—spoiler alert!—a climactic ultra-torrid threesome.

It’s a trifle of a film, inoffensive, almost stereotypically French, thankfully short (under an hour-and-a-half), and not essential. French critics liked it but Allociné spectateurs were lukewarm. The handful of UK reviews are positive. Trailer is here.

a trois on y va

Moi roi, by Maïwenn (English title: My King). This one—which debuted in competition at Cannes last May—has been nominated for eight Césars, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Vincent Cassel), Best Actress (Emmanuelle Bercot, who won the same award at Cannes for the film), and Best Supporting Actor (Louis Garrel). Despite these laurels, I am putting it last here, as I despised this movie. If this movie were a person, I’d want to punch it in the face. Leaving my local theater when it was over, I proclaimed to the vendeuse at the guichet, “C’était nul!” I’m not going to go into any detail on the stupid ass story except to say that it’s constructed as a flashback by protag Tony (E.Bercot), who, recovering from a ski accident, harks back to a passionate love affair she had had six years earlier as a middle-aged divorcée—and which yielded a child—with Georgio (V.Cassel), a suave, smooth-talking, life-of-the-party tombeur, who has tons of money—he says he’s a high-end restaurateur—a jet-set social circle, and sweeps her off her feet. She falls madly in love with him and he with her, or so he claims, they fuck with abandon, do fun things together, et le total. But he is quickly revealed to be a mythomaniac, womanizer, a manipulative narcissist, and overall sleazy S.O.B. Un sale type. Moreover, he has a whack job ex-girlfriend, Agnès (played by supermodel Chrystèle Saint-Louis Augustin), who’s a drug addict and parasite and who won’t let Georgio go, but he finally won’t break with her either. And if this weren’t enough, he causes major financial prejudice to Tony and upends her daily life while he’s at it. Tony’s brother, Solal (L.Garrel), taking a dislike to Georgio, warns his sister about him, but she does not pay heed. As a lawyer she hardly needs Georgio for financial support and would certainly have other options in the men department, but remains smitten and under his spell.

The whole thing was just so ridiculous and not credible—from my way of viewing life, at least—but also insufferable to watch and from the get go, with the main characters either odious (Cassel) or pathetic (Bercot). Even the film’s poster (below) is gag-inducing. The Guardian’s film critic Peter Bradshaw got it exactly right in his thumbs down review, calling the pic

an unendurable confection of complacent and self-admiring nonsense: shallow, narcissistic, histrionic and fake… [I]t is an outrageous 130-minute firework display of drama-queen over-acting and bad acting: impossibly irritating and self-indulgent, featuring people who are clearly on some important level supposed to be irrepressible, adorable and richly life-affirming — but are actually tiresome prats.

Further down, Bradshaw makes a spot-on observation about the film that also irked me

But oh, what a dynamic force of nature this impossible, fascinating, glorious alpha male [Georgio] is! Always making Tony and the general roistering crew laugh uproariously in public places with his chaotic bohemian behaviour! In one horrific scene in a restaurant, Georgio impulsively grabs wine and plates of food and pretends to be a waiter, “serving” Tony and other diners. They all smile indulgently, as opposed to slapping him with a seabass. Maïwenn is always convening circle-jerk group scenes of this sort: characters incessantly drinking and laughing together.

Groups of people in restaurants or bars laughing uproariously, and no doubt over stupid stories or jokes that are objectively not all that funny. I can’t stand that. Other useful reviews are in IndieWire and Screen Daily. French reviews averaged between not bad and good, with Allocine spectateurs liking it even more (on this, I break with the vox populi). Box office in France was solid (750K tix sold), signifying positive word of mouth. Go figure. Trailer is here if one is interested but please trust me and avoid it.

mon roi

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Cologne, December 31 2015 (Photo: Deutsche Presse-Agentur)

Cologne, December 31 2015 (Photo: Deutsche Presse-Agentur)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below]

This is the first post I’ve had on what happened in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, though I’ve been riveted to the story and its aftermath since it broke in the days following that calamitous evening. My immediate reaction—apart from indignation over the actions of the hordes of men—was that the perpetrators were most certainly not recently arrived Syrian refugees. This made no sense to me and for a variety of reasons (that need not be elaborated upon here). And my supposition was correct, as police and journalistic accounts have revealed that the men were mostly from the Maghreb and undocumented migrants, not refugees.

As for why the men behaved toward the women in the way they did, the link with religion, i.e. Islam, was prima facie nonsensical, as if a mob of several hundred drunken non-Muslim men would have behaved differently. Not that there are not specific issues with gender and women in public space in a number of Muslim (mainly Arab) societies. On this, one naturally thinks of the numerous incidents reported in Egypt over the past several years and of feature films on the general subject. As I wrote in a post on one of these some 3½ years back

The attack on [CBS reporter] Lara Logan [in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in February 2011] no doubt gave many Americans the unfortunate impression that Egyptian/Arab men are misogynistic a**holes and that there is something sick about those societies. Well, there are indeed such men in Egypt—as there are everywhere—and on the matter of gender relations there are some issues that are specific to that part of the world. But it has to be said that Egypt was not always this way. When I lived in Cairo in the mid 1980s it was absolutely one of the safest cities in the world, on a level with Tokyo, and that likely had less crime than even Oslo or Stockholm. One could leave one’s apartment door unlocked and walk about anywhere at any time of the day or night without the slightest worry. And this was also the case for women too (maybe not late at night, but then hardly anyone went out late in Cairo back then; the city was asleep by 11 PM). The situation has changed considerably over the years, with the worsening economic conditions for so much of the population, overwhelming population density, etc, etc. Egypt is incontestably a coarser, more violent place nowadays than it was in past decades.

In reading the polemics over Cologne, of the European and North American commentators who have tried to establish a link between the men and the fact they were from Muslim cultures, I was reminded of my visit with relatives in India some twenty-five years ago, where a 16-year-old cousin told me that she avoided walking around the center of the city (Allahabad) even during midday, as she was constantly harassed by groups of men (whom she specified were mainly migrants from the countryside recently arrived in the city). And, as one knows, there have been numerous incidents (reported in the international media) of gang rape in Indian cities, which, until proof to the contrary, were not committed by Muslim men. Indian cities are not necessarily safe spaces for unaccompanied young women.

Whatever cultural variables one may isolate regarding the men in Cologne, the determinate ones were, I will venture, the mob and inebriation. On this, one recalls New York City’s Puerto Rican Day parade in June 2000, during which dozens of women were sexually assaulted by packs of men (e.g. here, here, here, and here). And none of the men arrested or otherwise identified were refugees and/or from Muslim cultures.

One thing Cologne and New York City in June 2000 had in common: the police were not present. The packs of alcohol-imbibed young men had free reign of public space.

What is prompting me to write about Cologne at this particular moment is a debate/polemic on the subject that has been raging this month, including this weekend, which was initiated by the now well-known Algerian writer and commentator Kamel Daoud, who published a full-page tribune in Le Monde dated February 5th (online on January 31st), “Cologne, lieu de fantasmes,” in which he sought to establish a link between what happened on New Year’s Eve and Islamism, and which he followed up with an op-ed in The New York Times (February 14th) carrying the titre de chocThe sexual misery of the Arab world.”

Daoud’s linking of Cologne with Islamism and sexual pathologies in the Arab/Muslim world was too much for a certain number of readers. Nineteen MENA specialist academics of varying nationalities thus signed a tribune in Le Monde dated February 12th, “Nuit de Cologne: ‘Kamel Daoud recycle les clichés orientalistes les plus éculés’” (Kamel Daoud is recycling the most hackneyed Orientalist clichés), which was translated into English by the Jadaliyya webzine, under the title “The fantasies of Kamel Daoud.” A full-throttled polemical pushback, with no mincing of words. Disclosure: I know several of the 19 signatories personally and am personal friends with the tribune’s veritable authors.

My dear friend Adam Shatz, who published a profile of Kamel Daoud in the NYT Magazine last April—and with the two becoming good friends—had a few issues with the critique of Daoud, but was also disturbed by what he considered to be excesses by his friend. So he wrote him a letter/email several days ago and which prompted a response by Daoud, the two being published in Le Quotidien d’Oran this week (here and here) and then together in this weekend’s Le Monde, under the title “Kamel Daoud et les ‘fantasmes’ de Cologne, retour sur une polémique.” It’s a moving exchange between two friends, not to mention intellectuals.

On making sense of what happened in Cologne, the best analysis I’ve seen is a lengthy article that led Le Monde’s Culture & Idées supplement (February 6th), “Cologne: peut-on expliquer cette nuit de cauchemar?” by Frédéric Joignot. The lede: “Faut-il voir dans les agressions sexuelles massives de la Saint-Sylvester une conséquences des rapports compliqués qu’entretient le monde arabo-musulman avec les femmes et leurs corps? Plusieurs thèses s’affrontent.” Several major French MENA specialists weigh in. As the article is behind the wall, I’ve copied-and-pasted it in the comments thread below for non-subscribers.

While I’m at it, The New Yorker (February 8th-15th) has a must-read article by staff writer Elif Batuman, who’s Turkish-American, “Cover Story: The head scarf, modern Turkey, and me.” Don’t miss this one.

UPDATE: The Adam Shatz-Kamel Daoud email correspondence has been translated into English, by Elisabeth Zerofsky, and posted on the blog of the World Policy journal. (February 26th)

2nd UPDATE: The intellectual food fight debate over Kamel Daoud’s February 5th Le Monde tribune has continued into the second week of March, with all sorts of intellos, talking heads, and even politicians (qui ont perdu une bonne occasion de se taire) weighing in. As for contributions by the principal parties to the debate, Thomas Serres (one of the 19 signatories of the counter-tribune) launched a polemical salvo, “Autopsie d’une défaite et notes de combat pour la prochaine fois,” in the neo-anarchist Article 11 (March 2nd); Adam Shatz wrote a follow up, typically thoughtful essay on “The Daoud Affair” in the LRB Online (March 4th); Muriam Haleh Davis (one of the 19) has a post in the World Policy Blog (March 7th), “The ‘Daoud Affair’ sparks debate;” and Kamel Daoud penned a column entitled “Mes petites guerres de libération” in Le Quotidien d’Oran (March 7th).

3rd UPDATE: Olivier Roy is interviewed in the April 7-13 issue of L’Obs on a variety of topics, one of which is Cologne and the controversy over Kamel Daoud’s position. Here’s the question and Roy’s reponse

A la suite de votre tribune «Cologne ou “le tartuffe féministe”», parue dans «Libération», on vous a reproché d’apporter votre caution au «procès en sorcellerie» intenté au romancier algérien Kamel Daoud pour ses propos sur les violences sexuelles en Allemagne. Vous dénonciez en effet l’analyse culturaliste des agressions du Nouvel An. Quelle était votre intention ?

J’avais précisément refusé de signer la tribune contre Kamel Daoud. Car ses signataires, dont beaucoup me sont proches, me l’ont évidemment proposé, et j’ai décliné, parce que, si je partage leurs idées, je ne partageais par leur indignation. Pour ma part, je n’attaque pas Kamel Daoud, qui en tant qu’écrivain a le droit d’écrire ce qu’il écrit et d’être excessif, de même que chacun a le droit de critiquer ses opinions.

Ce que j’attaque, c’est l’idée qui traîne désormais partout qu’un musulman harcèle parce qu’il est musulman, et qu’un Européen harcèle parce qu’il a une pathologie particulière. Je ne comprends pas cet essentialisme. Qu’on nous dise qu’il y a une culture musulmane machiste, oui ; que la société algérienne soit une société où les femmes ont beaucoup de mal à aller dans l’espace public, oui. Mais qu’ensuite on nous décrive les musulmans, où qu’ils aillent, comme se trimballant avec un petit logiciel culturel de violeur potentiel dans la tête, non.

A contrario, on dit que les Occidentaux respectent la femme. Mais quand Cécile Duflot se fait siffler à cause de sa jupe à l’Assemblée nationale, ce n’est pas le petit beur de banlieue qui siffle ! Nous sommes dans des sociétés où le féminisme est un combat permanent. Le machisme est certes prégnant en Méditerranée, dans des sociétés qui n’ont pas fait Mai-68, mais il n’est pas spécialement religieux et, surtout, c’est la chose la mieux partagée au monde. Regardez Donald Trump.

I agree with Roy, needless to say.

4th UPDATE: Kamel Daoud’s January 31st Le Monde tribune has been translated by Elisabeth Zerofsky and published in the summer 2016 issue of World Policy Journal, under the title “Cologne, scene of fantasies.”

5th UPDATE: Adlène Meddi, an editor at the Algiers daily El Watan and one of Algeria’s sharper journalist-essayists of the younger generation, has an opinion piece (March 9th 2017) in the French edition of Middle East Eye, “Le cas Kamel Daoud, contre-ênquete.”

 

 

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David Cameron and the Brexit

David Cameron en boîte de nuit

So an accord a minima has been concluded in Brussels that will enable David Cameron to campaign for a yes vote to remain in the EU, in the mind-bogglingly, breathtakingly crazy, insane, and utterly unnecessary referendum he has pledged to hold on the Brexit. Quelle histoire lamentable. That a British prime minister would embark on a course of action that could have such deleterious consequences, for both his own country and Europe, defies belief. Cameron—along with France’s current president—has to be the most pathetic leader of a Western democracy. Of course one wants the UK to stay in the EU—as a Brexit would be calamitous for the future of Europe and most certainly lead to the breakup of the UK following the inevitable next referendum on Scottish independence—but one would, in a moment of pique, still like to tell the Brits to go sod off. In any case, the point of this post is not to offer my own analysis of the question—of which I have none apart from the above thoughts—but to link to this excellent, spot on commentary in The Guardian by columnist Polly Toynbee, “David Cameron deserves to come out of the EU referendum with no credit.” The lede: “Since becoming Conservative leader in 2005, Cameron has taken every opportunity to undermine Europe. He ought to be ashamed of his actions.” Mme Toynbee nails it, rien à dire.

Another comment: One reason to hope that the UK remains in the EU is that a Brexit would give satisfaction to these wankers.

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Vladimir-Putin-Islamic-State-troops-609757

This piece by George Soros in Project Syndicate (February 10th) merits a blog post, not a mere tweet. It begins

The leaders of the United States and the European Union are making a grievous error in thinking that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a potential ally in the fight against the Islamic State. The evidence contradicts them. Putin’s current aim is to foster the EU’s disintegration, and the best way to do so is to flood the EU with Syrian refugees.

Soros gets it right, IMHO. Putin, via Russia’s action in Syria, is out to destroy the European Union as a supranational political entity and assert Russian primacy in Europe. Europeans need to understand this and, if they have the interest and will, to resist it.

On Syria and US policy, Aaron David Miller has a spot on tribune in The Wall Street Journal (February 12th), “The flawed logic in blaming the U.S. for Syria’s humanitarian crisis.” ADM concludes

As horrible as the destruction in Syria has become, the U.S. doesn’t bear primary responsibility. A more accurate assessment starts with Bashar Assad, ISIS, Iran (and Hezbollah), and Russia.

In case one missed it, Vox’s Max Fisher has a must-read post dated February 10th on the “14 hard truths on Syria no one wants to admit.”

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[update below]

One of my reservations about Bernie Sanders’ candidacy has been his foreign policy qualifications, or, to be more precise, his interest in the subject. My reservations have been largely put to rest by a piece in Politico Magazine, dated February 11th, by Lawrence Korb, an Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration and Washington think tank habitué since, “Bernie Sanders is more serious on foreign policy than you think.” I won’t summarize what Korb says—just read the thing—except to say that I’m convinced.

In point of fact, there is no rhyme or reason to think that Bernie, who has been in Congress for the past 25 years, would be any less knowledgeable on foreign policy than any of the other candidates, Hillary excepted (whom everyone agrees is totally on top of the subject, regardless of how one feels about her positions). And, to put it mildly, I trust Bernie’s foreign policy instincts over those of any of the candidates in the other party, and particularly on subjects like this.

On foreign policy, Salon writer Daniel Denvir had an article dated yesterday, “America needs a ‘Bernie Doctrine’: How Sanders’ foreign policy weakness could become a game-changing strength,” in which he cites several lefty academics, as well as engagé writers on the Middle East. Denvir, entre autres, links to a piece in The Electronic Intifada by Rania Khalek, “Bernie Sanders and the question of Palestine,” which is the most comprehensive I’ve seen on the matter of Bernie’s position on Israel.

In the event—still unlikely—that Bernie is elected POTUS, one may be sure that his Middle East policy will not be significantly different from the present one. Also that he’ll appoint mainstream Washington establishment types to his foreign policy team. The usual think tanks (Brookings, Carnegie Endowment et al) will be well represented in a Sanders administration. Lefties who have illusions on this score will be disappointed.

I watched today, via YouTube, the entire Bernie-Hillary debate in Milwaukee last night. I thought Hillary hit it out of the park but that Bernie was very good too (TPM’s Josh Marshall has a good analysis). I like him—both politically and viscerally—and have a high regard for her, as I always have. If they maintain last night’s tone—with no acrimony or nastiness—for the rest of the campaign, then it will all work out.

UPDATE: Bernie supporters on social media have been trashing Hillary of late for her friendly relationship with Henry Kissinger, to the point where this is being seen as almost disqualifying her candidacy. In this vein, a Hillary-hating friend, linking to this Mother Jones article, wrote the following yesterday on social media

Odd how Clinton supporters are so quiet about about the Kissinger connection. For the life of me, I can’t imagine how a self-professed “progressive” would proudly associate with the worst and most cynical secretary of state in US history, someone who rightly could be considered a war criminal regarding Southeast Asia and a stone reactionary in Latin America. No doubt the Kissinger problem will not go away, particularly when younger people learn of who he was and what he did.

My response: I haven’t been keeping tabs on how Hillary supporters are responding to this Kissinger brouhaha but, IMHO, it’s irrelevant and hardly even worth talking about. So Hillary Clinton—a former First Lady, former Secretary of State, and ex officio pillar of the foreign policy establishment—pals around with Henry Kissinger, a former NSC director, Secretary of State, pillar of the foreign policy establishment, and quite simply one of the best known, most famous personalities in international diplomacy of the latter half of the 20th century… I find this utterly unexceptional. Moreover, I find it entirely normal. Seriously, why wouldn’t she have a cordial relationship with him? And they both live in New York City to boot!

As for Kissinger being a ‘war criminal’, he has been accused of such in incendiary pamphlets and countless articles in leftist publications but never been indicted by any court of law. And no such indictment is on the horizon, so far as I am aware. But even if one were issued (but from where? and for what crime exactly?), it would necessarily target Kissinger’s hierarchical superiors, i.e. Nixon and Ford, both long dead, as in the United States it’s the president who formulates foreign policy. The buck stops with him, not the NSC director or Secretary of State.

Seriously, Hillary-haters should let this one go, though they likely won’t. Haters gonna hate, whaddya wanna do?

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(Photo credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking)

(Photo credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking)

[update below]

My 2¢. I was amazed, along with everyone else, by the margin of Bernie’s victory. As a member of the “Like Bernie, voting Hillary” camp, I would have preferred a closer result but am in no way dismayed by Bernie’s blowout. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop wrote last night, it was a remarkable achievement on Bernie’s part. Watching Bernie’s fine, if longish, victory speech, I agreed with just about everything he said; and even if some of his policy proposals are not too realistic—e.g. free college tuition for everyone, or financing all new welfare state measures exclusively via taxes on the super rich—one understands that he would necessarily compromise on these if he were president (as these would be opening positions in a protracted negotiating process and with Democrats—unlike present-day Republicans—always ready to compromise). As for Hillary, her concession speech was excellent (watch it here ICYMI). One of the functions, as it were, of Bernie’s candidacy has been to pull Hillary to the left and, listening to what she said last night, it is manifestly working. If she keeps talking this way and with the same intensity, she should be able to regain her footing. Inshallah, because, echoing author Kate Harding in The Guardian today, while “I’m glad Sanders won New Hampshire…I want Hillary Clinton to be president.”

But if Hillary is going to be POTUS she needs to tell her surrogates—and particularly husband Bill—to STFU on Bernie and, while they’re at it, to stop playing the feminist/women’s card, which is not a valid argument in and of itself to vote for her (and is not working in any case). If HRC’s campaign goes negative on Bernie in a big way—with low blows and mud-slinging—that will be bad. Bernie’s supporters will be very pissed off—and me too—and it will cripple Hillary in the general. If she gets that far, that is, as if Bernie closes the gap in Nevada and South Carolina, then the thing will really be up for grabs. I’ve been insisting that Bernie will not/cannot get the nomination and still think that but I’ve been wrong before. And, as Matthew Yglesias wrote in Vox last night, “Bernie Sanders is the future of the Democratic Party” (see as well Yglesias’s “9 things we learned about American politics this February.”).

As for the Republicans, I got a little ahead of myself after Iowa last week in opining that the air would likely come out of Trump’s overinflated balloon. Silly me. With his runaway victory yesterday and the order of finish for the others, it’s not clear to me how he can be stopped, at least by anyone other than Ted Cruz, but who, as Thomas B. Edsall reminds us in the NYT today—if one needed reminding—would be even more appalling. It’s nice that John Kasich came in second, as he’s the only one of the lot who is not totally insane and/or a catspaw of his plutocrat donors, but it is most unlikely the (insane) GOP base would help him vanquish Trump. The GOPer base, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, intensely dislikes Jeb! Bush and it’s pretty clear that Marco Rubio is toast, on account of his debate debacle but also the now generalized view of him as a lightweight and panicker who cracks in crisis situations.

So if one doesn’t want Cruz, that means Trump. Ezra Klein, in a comment in Vox dated today, asserted that “The rise of Donald Trump is a terrifying moment in American politics.” Indeed. Matt Labash, writing on The Donald’s temperament and in a lighter tone, had a hilarious lead article in the February 1st issue of the conservative TWS, “Nine tales of Trump at his Trumpiest.” I was laughing out loud while reading it on the metro today. But if the prospect of a President Trump is utterly inconceivable, liberals should nonetheless support him for the GOP nomination, so argued Jonathan Chait the other day in New York magazine and for three reasons: 1. He would most certainly lose to the Democrat. 2. He would blow apart the Republican party. 3. If he were to somehow win and become POTUS, he would, politically speaking, be less bad than any of the other GOP candidates, definitely more moderate on the economy and welfare state issues, and—who knows?—may even grow into the job, as did Arnold Schwarzenegger in California (who, Chait reminds us, was also a gross vulgarian and male chauvinist pig before he became governor). I would prefer not to test Chait’s hypotheses but his reasoning is impeccable. On Trump sounding less like a conservative than a gauchiste, conservative columnist Byron York had a must-read commentary on the eve of the NH primary, “As vote nears, a more radical Trump emerges.” Also check out Ezra Klein yesterday on how Trump’s candidacy has shown that “Maybe Republican voters don’t hate universal health care after all…” No wonder the GOP establishment is so distraught by The Donald.

For those who want to see symmetry in the Trump and Bernie phenomenons, I’m sorry but that won’t fly. On this, TAP’s Harold Meyerson has piece entitled “Informed citizens and the mob.” The lede: “In their final Granite State appeals, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders seek different kinds of followers.”

À suivre.

UPDATE: A few good pieces read Thursday morning:

Joan Walsh, “Beyond Bernie’s Bros and Hillary’s Hellfire,” in The Nation. Walsh offers Hillary, whom she’s supporting, a friendly critique and some advice on what she needs to do.

Michelle Goldberg, “Hard choices: I used to hate Hillary. Now I’m voting for her,” in Slate.

Also in Slate: Jamelle Bouie, “Hillary’s time to fight.” The lede: “As grim as her New Hampshire defeat was, Clinton’s upcoming road looks a lot better.”

Charles M. Blow, in his latest NY Times column: “Stop Bernie-Splaining to Black Voters.” The lede: “History and experience have burned into the black American psyche a functional pragmatism whose existence doesn’t depend on others’ approval.”

Harold Meyerson, “The Establishment tanks: The Donald? The Bern? What’s this country coming to?,” in The American Prospect.

Frank Rich, “Expect the GOP establishment to start looking at the bright side of Trump,” in New York magazine.

Amanda Marcotte, “Kasich is almost as bad as Trump: Don’t let the Donald’s repulsiveness distract from the ugliness dished out by other candidates,” in Salon. The lede: “Kasich is being held out as the ‘compassionate’ alternative to Trump, but in most ways, he’s nearly as bad.”

Also in Salon: Heather Digby Parton, “The GOP primary is officially a horror film: Welcome to a world where Trump & Cruz are the last men standing.” The lede: “Trump won in dominant fashion and Cruz met expectations as Rubio fell completely apart. This is scary stuff.”

Finally, Harvey Feigenbaum—George Washington University political science prof and friend—has a commentary up in Le Monde Diplomatique’s English edition, “US primaries and the unintended consequences of democracy,” in which he—arguing much the same thing as have I over the past 35 years or so—critiques the whole primary system as a way of nominating party candidates.

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A drone over Homs

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[update below]

I’ve had three posts on the horror in Homs (here, here, and here), the first dating from exactly four years ago. The latest images of the unbelievable destruction visited upon that city—as has been visited upon so many towns and cities in Syria—is this one-minute video taken by a drone, broadcast on Russian television, and aired on Channel 4 in the UK (the original from the Russian TV network, which I saw a couple of days ago, appears to have been removed from its website; not surprisingly, one supposes, in view of Russia’s implication—indirect and now direct—in that destruction). If anyone is still wondering why Syrians are fleeing their country, watch the video.

UPDATE: Natalie Nougayrède—former editor-in-chief of Le Monde and its Russia correspondent for many years—has an opinion piece in The Guardian dated February 5th, “What happens next in Aleppo will shape Europe’s future.” The lede: “If there were any doubts about Vladimir Putin’s objectives in Syria, the recent Russian military escalation around this city must surely have set them aside.”

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The Iowa caucuses

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It is morning in Paris, from where I write, and the middle of the night in the US. I’ve been reading the instant analyses of my favorite political columnists. Before going to bed last night I tweeted a piece by The Daily Beast’s Ana Marie Cox, “President Trump is now a possibility, and it’s terrifying,” in which she observed what had been pretty clear, which is that if Trump were to beat Cruz in Iowa he would necessarily go on to a smashing victory in New Hampshire before heading to South Carolina and other states down that way, where he’d blow everyone else out and ergo be unstoppable. He’d be the GOP nominee and not necessarily a 100% sure loser in November. But as Trump has not only lost Iowa but almost finished third, I won’t yet pronounce him dead—which looks to be conventional wisdom at this hour—but, as they say over here, la baudruche va se dégonfler (translation: the air is going to come out of that overinflated balloon). The cover of today’s NY Daily News nails it.

As for the veritable winner on the GOP side, Marco Rubio, the latest CW has him as the GOP Establishment’s new front-runner, who, in a mano-a-mano race with Ted Cruz, will certainly come out on top and be the party nominee. Just about everyone—Dem and Repub alike—think Rubio would be a formidable candidate against Hillary Clinton and an outright favorite against Bernie Sanders—i.e. that, for Dems, he’s the most dangerous GOPer out there—but I don’t buy it. He may be youthful, glib, a beau gosse, and with a politically sexy ethnic background but he’s a lightweight. In his presumptive area of expertise, foreign policy, I’ve shredded him myself. In a one-on-one debate, Hillary would clean his clock, j’en suis sûr. Mais on n’en est pas là.

The Democrats: The race is going to be a slog for Hillary but I think she’ll win it. I’m among the legions of Dem voters in the “Like Bernie, voting Hillary” camp, who think Bernie’s candidacy is salutary—with his single-minded focus on the economy and that is tugging Hillary’s rhetoric to the left—but would be nervous about his chances in November. I shudder to think of what the Republican attack machine would do to him—Karl Rove & Co are no doubt salivating at the prospect—but with Bernie not having the Democratic establishment and all of its elected officials behind him nearly to the same extent as would Hillary—Bernie, pour mémoire, is an independent, not a Democrat—a point that Michael Tomasky stressed in a column last week. And, frankly, I just don’t see Bernie in the White House. I can’t see him dealing daily with the Washington establishment—an immovable Rock of Gibraltar—and going toe-to-toe with a GOP-controlled Congress. And I have an equally hard time imagining him in summit meetings with the likes of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping (not that he wouldn’t be à l’hauteur but foreign affairs just doesn’t seem to interest him; and I haven’t a clue as to who would constitute his foreign and defense policy team). Bernie may have spent the past twenty-five years in Congress but he’s a marginal figure there. He’s a relative outsider. My personal conviction: If Bernie were elected POTUS—which would not displease me at all, don’t get me wrong—he would accomplish little to nothing of what he’s set out to do. And he’d definitely be a one-term president, on account of age but also as he’d likely find himself in the same position as did Jimmy Carter in 1980.

But it is most unlikely he’ll get that far, as I also don’t see Bernie defeating Hillary, of him repeating Obama’s feat of ’08. Obama initially looked to be a long shot when he entered that race but he already had rock star status in the Democratic party, a slew of endorsements from elected and other party officials, and an army of young volunteers. Bernie also has the young people but doesn’t black voters, who were even more crucial to Obama’s victory. And while Bernie’s economic populism is the right message for this campaign, Obama’s in ’08—of reaching out to Republicans, “Yes We Can,” and all the “hopey-changey stuff” (dixit Sarah Palin)—was crafted to cast a wider net. Also, Obama was the most centrist of the Dem candidates in that campaign and had a clear strategy for winning the nomination, of racking up delegates in caucus states that the Hillary campaign had neglected. Obama’s ’08 campaign was the most perfectly run and executed in American political history. But though he locked up the nomination with the victory in the North Carolina primary, Hillary still ended up winning more primary and caucus votes in the end than he. Again, I don’t see Bernie pulling off what Obama did that year.

Bernie supporters—which include many friends: personal and on social media—will no doubt drop a ton of bricks on my head for this. I’m used to that from lefties. The Hillary-Bernie race will likely start to resemble not 2008 but 1988, when Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition gave Michael Dukakis a serious run for his money, and with the latter only pulling away after the Wisconsin primary in mid-April. Lefties—including numerous friends—all enthusiastically jumped on the Jesse bandwagon (though without the black vote, that campaign would have amounted to nothing). Lefties didn’t care about Dukakis during the primary season, though they of course all voted for him in November. But they do care about Hillary right now and they loathe her. The Hillary hate I see every day on social media from lefties has to be as virulent as that on the right. A significant number of progressive Dem voters simply can’t stand her. Personally, I don’t understand it. A lot of it is visceral, i.e. irrational. Hillary is reproached for all sorts of heinous acts and deeds, e.g. voting for the Iraq war (though John Kerry did too, and this wasn’t held against him in ’04, at least not nearly to the same degree), of palling around with Goldman Sachs and other finance capitalists (an inevitability if one is or has been senator from New York), or making shitloads of money on the buckraking circuit (which, alas, is par for the course for all top-tier Democrats). What lefties forget is that Hillary was seen as a progressive when husband Bill ran for president in 1992, and definitely to his left. And this appreciation of her did not change during her eight years as First Lady. The negativity toward her dates from her subsequent eight years as senator, when she took positions that New York politicians tend to take. And, in point of fact, she is not markedly to the right of Bernie on most issues. La preuve: yesterday I took the quiz—well-conceived, IMO—”2016 Presidential Election: How do your beliefs align with the potential candidates?” The result: on the issues, I sided with Bernie 98% and Hillary 96% (details here). If there were a significant difference between the two, it stands to reason that there would have been a wider distance in my scores.

Though I believe that Hillary would be a far stronger general election candidate than Bernie, I am indeed concerned about her high negatives (54% the last time I looked, which was a week ago). People think she’s “untrustworthy,” or just not “likable” (as if “likability” ever swung a presidential election in one direction or another). Looking at her polling history on this parameter, one observes that she was indeed popular—that her positives were higher than her negatives—until the email business broke last March. And one noted a spike in her popularity among Dems after her appearance before House Benghazi committee last October. In view of this history, it stands to reason that she can turn the numbers around in her favor—and that she will if she outlasts Bernie to win the nomination. Lefty haters will necessarily start liking her, cuz what are they gonna do? Sit out the election and watch Rubio win? Or Ted Cruz? Or Trump? Sure.

Here are good instant analyses I read this morning (it is now afternoon here), which say stuff better than I could:

John B. Judis, “Initial reflections: A better night for Republicans,” in TPM.

Josh Marshall, “A win for the GOP,” in TPM.

Ryan Lizza, “The Iowa caucuses and the birth of a new Republican party,” in The New Yorker. Lizza retweeted a most relevant NYer article of his from last September 18th, “Donald Trump may not have a second act.”

Jonathan Chait, “‘If you don’t want Cruz or Trump as the nominee, you better get onboard with Rubio’,” in New York magazine.

Jamelle Bouie, “Democrats won in Iowa: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are energizing the party,” in Slate.

Matthew Yglesias, “The surprising success of Bernie Sanders’s insurgency should be a wake-up call to the Democratic establishment,” in Vox.

Ezra Klein, “Bernie Sanders’s tie should be the biggest story of the Iowa caucuses,” in Vox.

Joan Walsh, “Why Ted Cruz won—and Donald Trump lost,” in The Nation.

Amanda Marcotte (writing during the day yesterday), “Why I’m supporting Clinton over Sanders: Liberals don’t need a ‘savior’, but someone who can actually get things done in Washington,” in Salon.

Heather Digby Parton, “The GOP’s 3-way race from hell: Everything you need to know about last night’s Iowa caucuses,” in Salon.

David Corn, “After Iowa, both parties are facing hostile takeovers,” in Mother Jones.

À suivre.

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Photo credit: Peter Dejong/AP

Photo credit: Peter Dejong/AP

That’s the title of an article of mine (here) which was just published in the web magazine South Writ Large: Stories, Arts, and Ideas from the Global South, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The article was commissioned by editor Samia Seragaldin, who asked me to offer my personal sentiments and analysis of France in the aftermath of the November 13th terrorist attacks. The first half of the piece is my blog post of November 14th, written à chaud, which a certain number of people read at the time (it got a lot of hits). The second half is an update—dated January 20th—in which I discuss the reaction of the French government, i.e. of François Hollande and Manual Valls, to November 13th, specifically the état d’urgence and déchéance de nationalité. I will have a longer post on that subject soon.

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