Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

Best (and worst) movies of 2016

In keeping with AWAV’s annual end-of-year tradition, I offer my list of the best and worst movies of the year (for last year’s, see here). The movies here opened in theaters this year in France or the U.S. Some have dedicated blog posts, the others will in due course, inshallah. N.B. Several well-reviewed Hollywood movies—and that figure on the “best of” lists of US critics—are opening in France after the new year, so I have yet to see them (e.g. Moonlight, La La Land, Loving). And not being a Pedro Almodóvar fan, I did not see his latest, Julieta, which has been praised to the heavens by all and sundry.

TOP 10:
Apprentice
Aquarius
As I Open My Eyes (على حلة عيني)
Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente)
Graduation (Bacalaureat)
Hedi (نحبك هادي)
Paterson
Spotlight
The Salesman (فروشنده)
Toni Erdmann

HONORABLE MENTION:
A War (Krigen)
Hell or High Water
Ma’Rosa
Manchester by the Sea
Tangerines (მანდარინები Mandariinid)

BEST MOVIE FROM JORDAN:
Theeb (ذيب)

BEST MOVIE FROM EGYPT:
Clash (إشتباك)

BEST MOVIE FROM CUBA:
Behavior (Conducta)

BEST MOVIE FROM MEXICO:
A Monster with a Thousand Heads (Un monstruo de mil cabezas)

BEST MOVIE FROM ARGENTINA:
The Clan (El Clan)

SECOND BEST MOVIE FROM ARGENTINA:
Paulina (La patota)

BEST MOVIE FROM ICELAND:
Sparrows (Þrestir)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN ICELAND:
The Aquatic Effect (L’Effet aquatique)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN GREENLAND:
Journey to Greenland (Le Voyage au Groenland)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN POLAND:
The Innocents (Les Innocents)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN GERMANY:
Frantz

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN CYPRUS:
The Stopover (Voir du Pays)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN CHAD:
The White Knights (Les Chevaliers blancs)

MOST IDIOTIC MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN FRENCH GUIANA:
La Loi de la jungle

MOST FEEL-GOOD MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
Good Luck Algeria

MOST HILARIOUS MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
One Man and His Cow (La Vache)

MOST TOUCHING MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
Two Birds, One Stone (D’une pierre deux coups)

MOST INTERESTING DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
Algérie du possible

MOST IN-YOUR-FACE DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE ABOUT JIHADIST TERRORISTS:
Salafistes

MOST AMUSING ENGAGÉ DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE ON HOW A WORKER GOT THE BETTER OF HIS EX-BOSS AND MADE HIM LOOK RIDICULOUS WHILE HE WAS AT IT:
Thanks Boss! (Merci Patron!)

MOST AMAZING FRANCO-IRAQI DOCUMENTARY ON IRAQ IN THE PERIOD PRECEDING THE 2003 AMERICAN INVASION:
Homeland: Iraq Year Zero: Part 1 (وطن: العراق السنة صفر: جزء ١)

MOST AMAZING FRANCO-IRAQI DOCUMENTARY ON IRAQ IN THE PERIOD FOLLOWING THE 2003 AMERICAN INVASION:
Homeland: Iraq Year Zero: Part 2 (وطن: العراق السنة صفر: جزء ٢)

MOST GRATIFYING FRANCO-GERMAN-IRANIAN DOCUMENTARY ON IRANIAN WOMEN WHO ARE DETERMINED TO PLAY MUSIC AND SING WHETHER THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC LIKES IT OR NOT:
No Land’s Song (آواز بی‌سرزمین)

MOST SURPRISINGLY ENGAGING THREE HOUR DOCUMENTARY WITH NO NARRATION ON A MULTI-ETHNIC IMMIGRANT NEIGHBORHOOD IN NEW YORK CITY:
In Jackson Heights

BEST DOCUMENTARY FROM ITALY ON THE CURRENT MIGRATION CRISIS IN EUROPE:
Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)

BEST DOCUMENTARY EVER ON THE FUNCTIONING OF THE EUROPEAN UNION:
Democracy (Democracy: Im Rausch der Daten)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ON ISLAMIST SELF-RADICALIZATION IN THE WEB 2.0 ERA:
Heaven Will Wait (Le Ciel attendra)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT BADASS DRUG-DEALING CHICKS IN A GHETTO HOUSING PROJECT:
Divines

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT BADASS DRUG-DEALING DUDES IN A GHETTO HOUSING PROJECT:
Chouf

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT A WALLISIAN RUGBY PLAYER FROM NEW CALEDONIA WHO ENDS UP IN THE LOT-ET-GARONNE:
Mercenary (Mercenaire)

BEST MOST POWERFUL HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ON THE HORRORS OF WAR:
Hacksaw Ridge

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE SHOWING HOW RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN GAY WOMEN ARE REALLY QUITE DIFFERENT FROM RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN GAY MEN:
Carol

BEST INDY MOVIE ON THE DILEMMAS OF GENTRIFICATION:
Little Men

BEST MOVIE FROM CHINA ABOUT THE LEGACY OF THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION:
Red Amnesia (闯入者)

BEST MOVIE FROM CAMBODIA ABOUT RURAL MIGRANT YOUTH FINDING THEIR WAY IN THE BIG CITY:
Diamond Island (កោះពេជ្រ)

BEST MOVIE FROM INDIA ABOUT LOWER CLASS WOMEN IN GUJARAT WHO ARE FED UP WITH MISOGYNY:
Parched (पार्चड)

BEST MOVIE FROM INDIA ABOUT UPPER CLASS WOMEN IN GOA WHO ARE FED UP WITH MISOGYNY:
Angry Indian Goddesses (ऐंग्री इंडियन गोड्डेस्सेस)

BEST MOVIE FROM RUSSIA ABOUT A TEENAGE RELIGIOUS FANATIC AND HIS MILITANTLY SECULAR TEACHER:
The Student (Ученик)

MOST COMPLEX MOVIE FROM IRAN:
Nahid (ناهید)

MOST ABSORBING MOVIE FROM GERMANY ABOUT A HEROIC NAZI-HUNTING PUBLIC PROSECUTOR:
The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer)

MOST HEARTWARMING TRIFLE OF A MOVIE FROM FINLAND:
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä mies)

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE FROM GREAT BRITAIN:
45 Years

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE FROM SOUTH KOREA:
The Handmaiden (아가씨)

MOST BLOATED MOVIE FROM ROMANIA:
Sieranevada

BLEAKEST MOVIE FROM ROMANIA:
Dogs (Câini)

DARKEST MOVIE FROM BELGIUM:
The Ardennes (D’Ardennen)

MOST EXCRUCIATINGLY PAINFUL TO WATCH MOVIE FROM FRANCE REENACTING A HORRIFIC ANTISEMITIC CRIME COMMITTED BY A GANG OF LOWLIFE DREGS IN A PARIS BANLIEUE:
Tout, tout de suite

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH ISABELLE HUPPERT IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Elle

SECOND BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH ISABELLE HUPPERT IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Things to Come (L’Avenir)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH FRANÇOIS CLUZET IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Irreplaceable (Médecin de campagne)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH NICOLAS DUVAUCHELLE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
A Decent Man (Je ne suis pas un salaud)

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH BRIE LARSON IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Room

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH BRYAN CRANSTON IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Trumbo

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH MERYL STREEP AND HUGH GRANT IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Florence Foster Jenkins

BEST BRITISH MOVIE WITH EDDIE REDMAYNE AND ALICIA VIKANDER IN THE LEAD ROLES:
The Danish Girl

MOST UNSATISFYING PALESTINIAN MOVIE WITH HIAM ABBASS IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Dégradé (ديچرادي)

BEST MOVIE BY ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU:
The Revenant

BEST MOVIE BY KEN LOACH:
I, Daniel Blake

BEST NOT BAD MOVIE BY WOODY ALLEN:
Café Society

BEST TEENAGE ROAD MOVIE BY FATIH AKIN:
Tschick

BEST CROWD-PLEASING MOVIE BY CLINT EASTWOOD:
Sully

BEST MOVIE BY JEAN-PIERRE & LUC DARDENNE THAT IS NOT THEIR BEST MOVIE:
The Unknown Girl (La Fille inconnue)

MOST ENTERTAININGLY INSIGNIFICANT MOVIE BY RICHARD LINKLATER:
Everybody Wants Some!!

MOST SKIPPABLE MOVIE BY JEFF NICHOLS:
Midnight Special

MOST TRIVIAL MOVIE BY JOEL & ETHAN COEN:
Hail, Caesar!

MOST MAUDLIN MOVIE BY NAOMI KAWASE:
Sweet Bean (あん)

MOST TEDIOUS MOVIE BY REBECCA ZLOTOWSKI:
Planetarium

MOST WASTE OF TIME OF A MOVIE BY OLIVIER ASSAYAS:
Personal Shopper

MOST DESPICABLE MOVIE BY QUENTIN TARANTINO:
The Hateful Eight

WORST MOVIE OF THE YEAR PERIOD BY XAVIER DOLAN:
It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du monde)

Read Full Post »

Paterson, Café Society, and more

paterson-2016-movie-poster

I loved this movie. Don’t ask me to offer a detailed explanation as to why or to analyze it at length. It simply moved me and on more than one level: the contemplative protag, Paterson (Adam Driver), driving a city bus for a living—in Paterson NJ: Paterson in Paterson—and writing poetry à ses heures—his reference being William Carlos Williams, who wrote poems on Paterson—and his daily routine: walking his bulldog, named Marvin, in the evening, stopping at the local tavern for a beer, and with all the offbeat characters and dialogues one gets in a Jim Jarmusch film. And, above all, his couple relationship with his lovely wife, Laura, played by the sublime Golshifteh Farahani, who is beautiful, fabulous, wonderful, and you name it (I admittedly say this about her after every film I see her in, e.g. here and here). They have such a loving relationship. What a lucky guy to have a companion like her. And the pic has an impeccable, typically Jarmuschian ending. In short, this is Jarmusch’s best movie in a decade (since ‘Broken Flowers’). Reviews in the US and France are typically good. Trailer is here. C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

Every year since launching AWAV I have had a post on Woody Allen’s latest film, which goes up almost right after I see it. For some reason I didn’t get around to doing so this time, though I did see his latest, Café Society, shortly after it came out last May. Perhaps I didn’t say anything about it because I found it to be a generally good, entertaining pic, with a fine cast and nothing in particular to object to, though which I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to after leaving the cinoche. Usually when I see a Woody Allen film to which I give the thumps up, I’ll merely say I that I liked it and leave it at that, as with, e.g. Magic in the Moonlight, To Rome with Love, and Midnight in Paris. It’s when I strongly disliked the film that I go to town with the critique, e.g. Irrational Man and Blue Jasmine. This latest one goes with the first group. Voilà.

cafe-society

On the subject of directors followed by the cinephile set, I will mention, strictly for the record, the Coen brothers’ last film, Hail, Caesar!, which I saw when it came out in February. I had nothing whatever to say about it. On leaving the theater with my friend, I said “Je n’ai rien à dire sur ce film.” Walou. Nada. Rien du tout. Neither did my friend, so far as I recall, and she’s always bubbling with insights about movies. It’s not that I didn’t like it; it just left no impression on me. I thought nothing of it and gave it even less thought the next day. In view of the tepid audience critiques on Allociné, I was likely not alone. C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

BTW, during the summer I saw, with the same friend, a restored 20th anniversary print of the Coen bros’ Fargo, at a great new cinema in town that specializes in new prints of film classics. It was at least the fourth time I’ve seen it. A chef d’œuvre. A masterpiece. One of the greatest films in the history of cinema. Period.

Hail Caesar

Continuing with cinephile directors, there’s Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, which hit the salles here last spring. After seeing the great Boyhood in 2014 and catching up with the rest of Linklater’s œuvre, I wasn’t going to miss this one, particularly as it was said to be a “spiritual sequel” to his implicitly autobiographical 1993 high school coming-of-age movie, Dazed and Confused, which is set in precisely 1976. So this one takes place in August 1980, at a (fictitious) south Texas state university, as the students arrive on campus for fall semester and get set up before classes begin. This is my generation—the students being three or four years younger than I—so I could, in principle, personally relate to the film.

The pic is generally entertaining—it’s a comedy, of course (trailer is here)—and retains one’s attention, but won’t make my Top 10 list of the year (due out in a couple of days). Positive facets: it’s a nice depiction of the era, with impeccable attention to detail; the soundtrack is great; and the girls are pretty, bien entendu, and particularly the love interest (Zoey Deutch) of the protag (Blake Jenner). Negative facets: it’s a trivial, irrelevant film, a self-indulgent trip down memory lane of the director. Personal reaction: the college experience depicted certainly wasn’t mine—not that mine was at all representative (I know for a fact that it was several standard deviations from the norm)—and I did not hang out with a crowd like the one in the pic. In fact, I am dubious as to the accuracy of a lot of what one sees in it, notably the casualness of the sex. My college in the 1970s was as freewheeling a place as one could possibly find but it wasn’t like what one sees in the film on this score. Linklater is no doubt embellishing his memories.

One great scene is the guys in the car singing The Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 hit “Rappers Delight.” Now it is unlikely that a bunch of white jocks in Texas back then would have listened to such music, let alone been able to sing it in unison, but that’s okay. It’s just a movie.

everybody wants some

Read Full Post »

America’s Deep State

snowden_1

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

I saw Snowden the other day. It’s good entertainment, as Oliver Stone’s movies tend to be, and with solid acting—notably Joseph Gordon-Levitt, excellently cast as Edward Snowden—though is not without flaws. E.g. way too much time is given over to Snowden’s relationship with his GF, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), the portrayal of which conforms to classic Hollywood conventions. And the political subtext is typical simple-minded Stone, uniquely skewering the United States for engaging in action—here, mass surveillance of the world’s population—that any state would engage in if it had the technical capacity to do so. There’s no morality in this domain. States are states. And, as we have learned since the Snowden affair broke in 2013, Germany, France, and the UK, among others, have indeed engaged in technological eavesdropping à la NSA (my posts on the NSA/Snowden are here and here).

Watching the film I naturally thought of the current political drama in the US and its unspeakable president-elect. In depicting the NSA/CIA surveillance apparatus, such as Snowden informed the world about, I had a thought: the American state knows everything relevant about any person—and particularly any American citizen—it wishes to know about. The American state—its national security apparatus—knows all about Donald Trump. It has the goods on him: maybe not of every last p*ssy he’s grabbed but of his foreign dealings—with the Russians et al—his finances, tax returns, shady persons he’s been associated with, you name it. There is necessarily something in Trump’s life over the decades—just one little thing—that is seriously comprising, not only to himself legally but eventually to the national security of the United States. Trump, America’s commander-in-chief to be, knows nothing about America’s national security apparatus and precious few of his handful of advisers do either, a flake or two excepted, but the apparatus knows about him. So my question is: over the next four years, who will have the ascendancy over whom in matters of the national security: the ignoramus president or the apparatus?

IMHO, I believe it will be the latter. Trump will be boxed in. The apparatus will dominate him—inform him of what he can and cannot do—rather than the other way around. For this reason, I am somewhat less concerned about Trump’s foreign policy than his actions on the home front.

One comment about Stone’s film. President Obama is shown defending the NSA and condemning Snowden’s whistleblowing. Likewise Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. Knowing Stone’s political parti pris, the effect on the spectator is clearly intended to be one of disapproval. But in view of the posts Obama and Clinton occupied in the state, does one seriously expect that they would have reacted otherwise, that their public statements would have been to condemn the NSA and praise Snowden? Allez.

Having seen Stone’s movie, I’m going to rewatch Laura Poitras’s very good documentary, Citizenfour, which I saw when it opened in Paris last year. It may be viewed free on the web here.

UPDATE: The Economist had a critical review of ‘Snowden’, which it said “fails to give movie-goers the whole truth.”

2nd UPDATE: On the NSA and the election, see Esquire journalist Charles P. Pierce’s Nov. 16th piece, “Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election is growing by the day: Now the NSA director admits Russia used Wikileaks to meddle in the campaign.”

3rd UPDATE: Here’s an email exhange I had on ‘Citzenfour’ with Adam Shatz back in April 2015, which I had forgotten about. First, Adam:

Edward Snowden was impressive, and not at all like the Thoreau-ian caricature presented by Packer and others; but that the film was flawed in some ways. Aesthetically it’s striking, perhaps a bit too much so: too cool and sleek for its own good. The film lacks dialectical tension. It treats critics as unworthy; their arguments aren’t even put forward, really, except by government officials who are lying. I’m not saying I sympathize with their views all that much but they are views, and they should be taken as such. All governments collect information, after all. The result is a sometimes wearying monologue, with a Pynchonesque vision of sinister government conspiracy, not wholly unconvincing of course but somewhat one-dimensional and…dull. Greenwald, whom I find irritating and grandiose, impressed me for once with his command of the facts and his determination. Anyway, it’s a good film, but not a great one.

AWAV:

It’s a well-made documentary and convinces, IMO. And I agree with you, Adam, that Glenn Greenwald, who normally irritates me too, impressed for once with his command of his subject. But I don’t know if I follow your critique of the film “lacking dialectical tension” (I’m not sure what you mean by this) or that it treats critics as unworthy. The critics it did show are government people but who, as the film also shows, brazenly lied during Congressional hearings. It wasn’t Laura Poitras’s mission to give equal time to all parties to the debate. The film certainly convinced me that what Edward Snowden revealed should be taken more seriously than I did when the affair first broke (my attitude was mostly bof). Now the question I’m trying to resolve in my head is if Snowden should be granted political asylum in France (as lefties here, including some I respect, have been arguing). Unless he clearly revealed specific state secrets to the Russians and that could compromise US security, I think he probably should be.

Offering asylum to Snowden could be François Hollande’s parting shot before leaving office. His final poll ratings would spike, no doubt about it.

4th UPDATE: Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz had a lengthy must-read article in TNR, dated January 19th 2014, “Would you feel differently about Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange if you knew what they really thought?”

5th UPDATE: The February 9th 2017 issue of The New York Review of Books has a review essay by Charlie Savage, who is a New York Times correspondent in Washington, of Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’, “Was Snowden a Russian agent.” Money quote

Stone’s movie, which premiered in September, presents a comic-book version of the pro-Snowden narrative in which a wunderkind super-hacker takes on Big Brother. In telling that story, Stone mixes accurate material with fiction, while simplifying away complexities. His movie steps on the genuine privacy issues raised by Snowden’s disclosures with melodramatic embellishments, such as a scene in which an invented senior NSA official, his Orwellian face filling a floor-to-ceiling screen, casually reveals that he knows whether the Snowden character’s girlfriend is sleeping with another man. It omits actual Snowden disclosures whose individual privacy rationale was debatable, such as when he showed the South China Morning Post documents about the NSA’s hacking into certain institutional computers in China. And its discussion of the volume of Internet metadata the NSA collects from equipment inside the United States ignores any distinction between truly domestic e-mails and foreign-to-foreign messages that are merely traveling across domestic network switches.

Savage also reviews—negatively—Edward Jay Epstein’s book How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft.

citizenfour

Read Full Post »

fair play

I’m sort of following the Olympics, watching a bit on TV, keeping up with the medals table. I’ve read about the Russian doping scandal over the past couple of weeks. Am not surprised the Russkies got off with a slap on the wrist. The affair recalled a good Czech film I saw last year, Fair Play (in France: Sur la ligne), about state-organized doping of athletes in Czechoslovakia during the communist era (and that was likewise in the other eastern bloc countries). Here’s a plot summary culled from IMDB

The 1980s in Czechoslovakia. The young talented sprinter Anna (Judit Bárdos) is selected for the national team and starts training to qualify for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles (before the Soviet decision to boycott). As part of the preparation she is placed in a secret “medical program” where she’s getting doped with anabolic steroids. Her performance is getting better, but after she collapses in training, she learns the truth about the drugs. Anna decides to continue her training without the steroids even though her mother (Anna Geislerova) is worried that she won’t be able to keep up with other athletes and might not qualify for the Olympics, which she sees as the only chance for her daughter to escape from behind the Iron Curtain (her parents having been dissidents and her father living in exile in Vienna). After Anna finishes last in the indoor race, her mother informs the coach (Roman Luknar) that Anna had stopped using steroids. They decide to apply the steroids to Anna secretly, pretending it’s nothing but doses of harmless vitamins.

The film offers what is certainly the most accurate cinematic treatment one will find of state-organized doping in communist countries: of the collaboration of doctors, oversight of the secret police and the party, and the pressure that was brought to bear on the athletes to comply—e.g. access to higher education and other resources, post-sporting career employment—and particularly if the athlete’s family was already politically suspect, as was Anna’s in the film. In short, it lays bare the overall insidiousness of the really existing socialism of the Soviet bloc countries. The pic did well at the box office in the Czech Republic (it has yet to open in the US or UK). The reviews in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are good. Trailer is here.

Not all was dodgy or somber in the Soviet bloc sports scene, it should be said. Last year I saw the terrific documentary, Red Army, by American filmmaker Gabe Polsky, about the saga of the HC CSKA Moscow ice hockey team, nicknamed “Red Army”—that formed the core of the national team the Soviet Union fielded in international competition—mainly from the 1970s to the early ’90s. The Red Army/USSR ice hockey team may well have been the best ever in any sport—and, under the yoke of the legendary slave-driver coach, Viktor Tikhonov, no doubt the most militarily regimented. The national team regularly blew away the competition in international sporting events (though was shocked by Team USA—then comprised of college-level amateurs—at the 1980 winter Olympics in Lake Placid, in what was one of the biggest upsets in the history of sports). They were amazing. One does not need to know a thing about ice hockey or have the slightest interest in it to find the documentary riveting and all-around excellent—critics in France and the US/UK alike gave it the thumbs way up—as it’s about politics, the Cold War, and the Soviet Union in his waning years as much as it is about sports (see the trailer here). Among those interviewed throughout the documentary are two of the USSR national team’s great players, Vladislav Tretiak and Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov—the latter, along with others on the team, going to the US and Canada in 1989 and after to play in the NHL—and the journalist Vladimir Posner, who was a fixture on American television in the 1980s, as a slick, English-speaking spokesman for the Soviet Union.

Did the Soviet hockey players take anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs? Probably, though in that they would not have differed from their counterparts in North America.

redarmy-poster-de-fr-it-640

Read Full Post »

la_jaula_de_oro

Mexico/Central America-USA edition. Continuing from the previous post, this Mexican film, ‘La juala de oro’ (English title: The Golden Dream; French: Rêves d’or), directed by Diego Quemada-Díez, is one of the more powerful I’ve seen on Mexican/Central American migration to the US—and I’ve seen several over the decades, beginning with the 1983 ‘El Norte’ (perhaps there was one or more before that one but which does not immediately come to mind). It begins in Guatemala, with three mid teenagers—Juan (Brandon López), Sara (Karen Noemí Martínez Pineda), and Samuel (Carlos Chajon)—who set out for the US (the reasons look to be economic, not flight from gang or political violence). Once across the Mexican border, they meet Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez), a teen from Chiapas who doesn’t know Spanish—speaking only the Maya language Tzotzil—but attaches himself to them, and particularly to Sara, to whom he takes a liking. Samuel dropping out and returning home, the three head north on the dangerous trek, where they are prey to both police and criminal gangs, the latter who demand their addresses in the US—and they necessarily have them written down—to extort ransom from their families there (gangs these days being transnational). And for girls like Sara—who tries to disguise herself as a boy—the probability of being sexually violated is in the high 90% range. If the reasons for migrating may be economically motivated—at least for the characters in the film—the youthful migrants would have clearly had a strong case for receiving asylum in the US.

The film—which came out in France in late ’13 and the US last year—is certainly topical, in view of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied, mostly Central American minors who sought admission into the US in 2014. Most were fleeing violence—indeed terror—in their countries, and should have consequently been considered refugees. And it’s not just Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, but also Mexico, where the violence and cruelty of the drug gangs puts the Islamic State to shame, and with the Mexican state often being in league with the narcos. One bit in the film that I was initially dubious about was the Chauk character not speaking Spanish. I am aware that such is the case for a certain number of indigenous persons in Mexico but couldn’t imagine that they would be able to navigate the journey to the US. Shows how much I know, as it turns out that there are indeed quite a few Mexican migrants in the US who do not speak Spanish (see here and here). One can imagine the challenges of living in the US and speaking only Tzotzil or Nahuatl. Sort of like being an Algerian in France and only speaking Taqbaylit. Bonne chance.

The film received top reviews in France and good ones in the US. Mexican reviews must have been stellar, as it is apparently the most awarded Mexican film in that country’s cinematographic history. See the interviews with director Quemada-Díez in the gauchiste webzine Counterpunch, the progressive Democracy Now!, and in IndieWire. Trailer is here.

Another Mexican film on the migration theme that received a slew of awards is ‘Aquí y Allá’ (English title: Here and There; French: Ici et là-bas), directed by Antonio Méndez Esparza. This one is rather different from the above, focusing on migrant return after many years away. Here, the middle-aged Pedro (Pedro De los Santos) returns home to his family—wife and two now teenage daughters—in his mountain village in Guerrero, after years of living and working in New York. His family is happy that he’s home but things have changed, particularly as he now hardly knows his daughters. As Variety’s Jonathan Holland’s review begins

A migrant worker returns to his native Mexico from the U.S. in “Here and There,” a quietly devastating exploration of the cruel paradox that, in order to feed their loved ones, emigrants have to leave them behind. Combining moments of lyricism with a documentary-like feel for truth, Antonio Mendez Esparza’s debut feature is far from hard-hitting, aestheticizing its tale with artful ellipses and juxtapositions. But its delicate portrayal of the emotional effects of immigration nonetheless amounts to a punchy social critique. Pic’s canny blend of artistry and politics should win it fest admirers.

I certainly admired the film, which is touching and, dare I say, poignant. IndieWire’s Ryan Lattanzio called it

the best film yet to screen at [the 2012] Cannes’ Critics’ Week, confidently made without a single wasted scene. The quotidian reality of Guerrero village life is realized with lyricism and lack of sentimentality. (…) Peaceful, almost biblical and completely absorbing, this film is a masterpiece.

French reviews were good to very good. Trailer is here.

Aqui_y_alla

Read Full Post »

affiche-mediterranea

Last week I had a couple of posts on immigration, migration, and refugees. Continuing in this vein, I want to mention a few films I’ve seen over the past couple of years on the general theme. One of the more noteworthy was ‘Mediterranea’, by American-Italian director Jonas Carpignano, which opened to good reviews in France last September and in the US two months later. Its timing was uncanny, in view of the refugee crisis of last summer and fall (and ongoing, of course). The film follows the journey of two young men from Burkina Faso, Ayiva (Koudous Seihon) and Abas (Alassane Sy), who head across the Sahara to the Libyan coast, to be smuggled across the Mediterranean to Italy. This part of the film—much of it, in fact—is documentary-like, particularly the scene, in Algeria or Libya (shot in Morocco), where the African migrants are robbed—and with a few killed—by criminals/terrorists (AQIM or one of those groups). The pic doesn’t linger on the maritime crossing—a whole film, La Pirogue, has been devoted to this aspect of African migration to Europe—the story mainly focusing on what happens to Ayiva and Abas once they make it to Italy, where they work as agricultural laborers, obviously exploited, with some of the locals being kind and welcoming but more not. Europe is not the promised land they imagined, that’s for sure. One naturally sympathizes with the two Burkinabé protags, though they’re not always angels (not that there’s any reason they should be). And, as tends to be the case with migrants, they are not les damnés de la terre in their home country, communicating regularly with their folks there via Skype—conversations in which they accentuate the positive and downplay the negative—home computers in a country like Burkina Faso signifying what may be considered middle class status there.

Director Carpignano’s inspiration for making the film was the events in Rosarno—a town of some 15,000 on the southern tip of Reggio Calabria province—in January 2010, which witnessed a riot by Africans after repeated harassment, beatings, and shootings of migrants by local residents (and with implication of the mafia), and which the pic reenacts. And, as it happens, actor Seihon was an actual Burkinabé/Ghanaian migrant in Rosarno, who had made the clandestine passage to Italy and participated in migrant protests there, which is where Carpignano met him (and with the two becoming close friends). In order to make the film, Carpignano did anthropological-like field research in African migrant communities in southern Italy, as he discussed in this interview. Carapignano also explained the reason for casting the film’s protags as Burkinabé, as he didn’t want to focus on refugees fleeing war but rather on people migrating to better their lives, as did the Sicilians and Calabrians who emigrated to the United States in the late 19th-early 20th century—and with southern Italy having been as “Third World” compared to the US—and as culturally alien to American society of the time—as sub-Saharan Africa is to Italy today. Trailer is here.

Another film on African migration seen last year was ‘Hope’, by French director Boris Lojkine. This one follows the journey of a Nigerian named Hope (Endurance Newton), as she crosses the Sahara to Morocco (where the entire film was shot), with Spain the destination. A single woman in a pitiless world of men, where it’s chacun pour soi. No need to say what happens to her along the way or what she has to do to survive financially. The social organization of African migrants is depicted in detail, particularly in the sequence in the migrant shantytown in Tamanrasset, Algeria, which is segregated by nationality, the migrants sticking with their own—Ivorians with Ivorians, Malians with Malians, etc—imposing strict rules of conduct and with hierarchies replicating those back home. Like Carpignano, Lojkine—who normally makes documentaries—did field research among African migrants, here in Morocco and particularly in Rabat’s African quartier, Takkadoum, where he recruited the cast, including the remarkable Newton, who was a migrant herself (she recounts her personal story here). In the words of one critic, some of the actors are basically playing versions of themselves on screen. After an act of sexual aggression committed against her, Hope hooks up with a Cameroonian named Leonard (Justin Wang)—she wants nothing to do with her fellow Nigerians—the sole man in the migrant column who showed concern for her. Their relationship is purely self-interested at first but they develop mutual affection in the course of their journey. The film does not, however, descend into sentimentality or pathos, nor is it misérabiliste in its portrayal of the migrants’ plight. It’s a good film and that I recommend, particularly to those who have a prioris on the subject. Reviews in France were good and with Allociné spectateurs giving it the thumbs way up. See, in particular, the reviews in Africultures and Variety. Trailer is here and here.

Though the two films portray “economic” migrants, many Africans who reach the shores of Europe are indeed bona fide refugees. For the anecdote, last August I went to a corner of the 18th arrondissement—near La Chapelle, on a quiet side street, seen only by riverains—where recently arrived migrants from the Horn of Africa congregate, just to try to talk with them. They were all from Sudan and Eritrea, with a few Ethiopians, so I was told. A couple of dozen men were lingering about, most riveted to their cell phones. None spoke French and only one English with any level of proficiency, the oldest man present—around 40 years of age—who said he was from western Sudan (i.e. Darfur). He was a truck driver by profession and said that he had decided to leave Sudan due to the security situation, i.e. civil war and absence of state protection. Sudan was a country one fled from if one could. He made his way to Europe via Libya, which he described as in a state of anarchy, with armed gangs running the show. I thought better than to ask nosy questions about the Mediterranean crossing or how they all made it to Paris. Or to delve too deeply into their actual circumstances back home and decision to migrate (which one cannot know or verify). One young Eritrean, who was listening to our conversation—which went on for half an hour—and spoke rudimentary English, said that he left his country because of its military service requirements, which last many years—ten years or even longer; it’s totally arbitrary—and that such was the case for all the Eritreans in the group. All had England as their final destination—naturally via Calais—though not necessarily because they knew anyone there (migrants invariably heading to a place where they have family or friends) or saw it as some kind of El Dorado. As asylum seekers—but in a legally precarious situation—they would, in principle, have been wiling to stay in France, except that the French state administration, such as they had dealt with it, was impenetrable. Not knowing French, they couldn’t communicate with it, and no translators were provided. And they were bereft of resources and with no local organism to help them (a middle-aged woman—in a hijab, no doubt Algerian—came to speak with some of them while I was there; my Sudanese interlocutor, who identified her as “French,” called her their guardian angel, a wonderful person who brought them cooked meals daily; no one else in Paris had shown them such kindness). As there was “nothing in France for us,” so I was told, the men wanted to move on to England, where they knew asylum seekers received temporary accommodations and assistance.

After a point I began to feel embarrassed with my inquiry, me the well-to-do, bleeding heart local who would go back to his comfortable home and life, and with nothing to propose or say to these desperate persons in a desperate situation. Apart from my questions, what could I say to these men or do for them? The one thing I did feel was revulsion at the demagoguery and general insensitivity of politicians and other public personalities who were piping off on the migration/refugee issue, presenting it uniquely as a threat to France and Europe. The men I met clearly cannot be sent back to their countries and it would be unconscionable, indeed downright immoral, to demand otherwise. Any ideas of what to do for them?

Hope

Briefly, two other films. One, ‘Macondo’, by Iranian-Austrian director Sudabeh Mortezai, came out in France a year ago—and to good reviews—under the title ‘Le Petit homme’. Borrowing from Variety’s positive review

This sensitive Austrian social drama from docu helmer Sudabeh Mortezai focuses on a [Chechen] refugee settlement outside Vienna.

Visit Vienna as a tourist and you aren’t likely to see kids like Ramasan, the 11-year-old [Chechen] subject of docu director Sudabeh Mortezai’s empathetically observed fiction debut, “Macondo.” To find such foreigners, one must venture to the outskirts, where the eponymous immigrant settlement offers housing to nearly 2,000 refugees taking shelter from their home countries. As an Iranian who split her childhood between Tehran and Vienna, Mortezai can clearly identify with the confused emotional state of her young protagonist, treating his unique situation as one example of Austria’s complex immigrant experience — a deeply humanist perspective…

It’s a coming-of-age story about a Chechen refugee boy caught between two cultures, whose combattant father was killed by the Russians, and who thus has to assume the role as head of the family, composed of his mother and two sisters. An impressive performance by the youthful actor Ramasan Minkailov. Hollywood Reporter and Indie Wire critics who saw the pic at the Berlinale also gave it the thumbs up. I thought it was pretty good too. Trailer is here.

The other film is a documentary seen in late 2013, ‘Stop-Over’ (in France: ‘L’Escale’), by Iranian-Swiss director Kaveh Bakhtiari, which offers an up-close portrait of the daily tribulations of seven undocumented migrants—six Iranians and an Armenian—in Athens, who had been smuggled into Greece from Turkey but found themselves blocked in the country, that they initially considered to be a mere stop-over in their projected journeys north (to Germany or Scandinavia). And given the situation in Greece, it clearly could not be their final destination. The film is worth seeing for those with a particular interest in the subject. Variety’s great critic Jay Weissberg reviewed it here, The Hollywood Reporter’s review is here. French critics were particularly enthusiastic. Trailer is here.

macondo_plakat

lescale

Read Full Post »

Ronit Elkabetz (Photo credit: Bebert Bruno/SIPA)

Ronit Elkabetz (Photo credit: Bebert Bruno/SIPA)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

She died today, at age 51. Cancer. I was shocked, as I had no idea. She was Israel’s leading actress, well-known in France, and one of my favorites (of any nationality). She was terrific. I saw her in eleven films, almost all good—with the best being the 2007 The Band’s Visit (in France: La Visite de la fanfare). I love this movie. She also co-directed (with her brother, Shlomi) three very good films—a trilogy, in which she had the lead role—two in the last decade: To Take a Wife (Prendre Femme) and The Seven Days (Les Sept jours), which, entre autres, are almost ethnographic in their depiction of Moroccan Jewish sub-culture in Israel.

The third part of the trilogy, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (in France: Le Procès de Viviane Amsalem), came out in 2014. It is entirely set in a rabbinical court room in Israel, with the protag, Viviane (Elkabetz’s character, who is loosely modeled after her own mother), seeking a divorce—gett, in Hebrew—from her husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian), from whom she is separated, can no longer stand, and doesn’t want to even try patching things up with. She wants a divorce, period. But as personal status in Israel—as in majority Islamic countries, Turkey and Tunisia excepted—is governed by religious law, she has to seek the divorce in a rabbinical law court, presided by three rabbinical judges. Husband Elisha refuses the divorce—and only he can grant it—and the rabbis take his side, at least initially, so she is constrained to remain married to the man she loathes. The entire two-hour film is of Viviane’s judicial nightmare and which lasts five years, of her and her lawyer trying to persuade three rabbis, who are no more sympathetic to the woman’s plight than would be any qadi in a Shari’a law court. It’s a gripping film, though seemed interminable after a certain point—it just goes on and on—but which was certainly deliberate on the Elkabetzs’ part, for the spectator to feel the exasperation of the wife with the interminability of the divorce proceeding—Jewish halakha law, objectively speaking, being archaic and retrograde when it comes to such a matter (for an elaboration on the subject, see the interview with Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz in The New Republic, “In Israeli divorce, ‘the man has all the power’;” an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post by rabbinical court advocate and attorney Osnat Sharon, “When film and reality meet;” and an article by Adam Janofsky in Tablet on “chained wives” refused Jewish divorces by their husbands).

Le Monde’s Middle East grand reporter Christophe Ayad posted on social media today a portrait of Ronit Elkabetz he published in Libération in September 2009. And writer Ayelet Tsabari has a piece in the Forward today on “How Ronit Elkabetz gave Mizrahi women like me permission to dream big.”

UPDATE: Haaretz has a tribute to Ronit Elkabetz with this lede: “In the span of only 25 years, Elkabetz grew to become one of the most respected Israeli creators, pushing Sephardi women to the cinematic forefront.” Accompanying the tribute is a one-minute video on her life and career.

2nd UPDATE: In an interview in Le Monde in 2007, Ronit Elkabetz had this to say about Israel and Arabs:

Je fais donc partie des deux peuples, Israël et Palestine, depuis toujours et pour toujours. La culture arabe est dans nos veines, dans notre cuisine, notre musique et notre langue. Les gens qui le nient sont loin du réel.

Pour l’info, Elkabetz was opposed to the occupation. N.B. her role in Michal Aviad’s film ‘Invisible’, which I posted on three years ago.

3rd UPDATE: Le Point has an article (May 1st) by its Jerusalem correspondent, “Les Rabbins et le divorce,” in which the film ‘Gett’ is discussed.

gett the trial of viviane amsalem

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: