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Democracy: the movie

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, a.k.a. the Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community, which was the precursor to the Treaty of Maastricht, a.k.a. the Treaty on European Union, signed thirty-five years later. It is no exaggeration to say that the Treaty of Rome was an event of world-historical importance; one of the most momentous of the past seventy years. To mark the occasion, I want to strongly, enthusiastically recommend a terrific 1½ hour German documentary, Democracy, that I saw for the first time last October at the Festival du Cinéma Allemand in Paris, and with director David Bernet present (the film’s title in German carries the subtitle “Im Rausch der Daten”: inside the noise of data). The subject is the legislative process within the institutions of the European Union—and the European Parliament in particular—over the General Data Protection Regulation, a process that began in 2012 and lasted three years. ‘Democracy’ is, quite simply, the best behind-the-scenes documentary one will see on how the European Union actually works—of how EU legislation is crafted and adopted—and over an issue of great importance to the 500-odd million citizens of the Union’s member states—and who, thanks to the GDPR, will enjoy greater protection in regard to their personal information on the Internet than do Americans or others. Among other things, the documentary will also lay to rest any lingering notions of a “democratic deficit” in the institutions of the European Union (of a deficit greater than that in the institutions of any given member state, in any case). Here’s a synopsis from this website (and where a trailer with English subtitles may be seen)

Few things are more unwieldy and lacking in transparency than European politics. Who’s really running the show in Brussels? What’s the true role of the European Parliament or the Council of Ministers? And how do the new laws and regulations that apply to all 28 member states get made? For two years, Democracy followed several key figures behind the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, a controversial issue among European policymakers. The film starts in 2014 with the European Parliament approving the new regulation, and then leaps two years back to the start of the negotiations. Rapporteur Jan Philipp Albrecht is the German Green Party [member of the European Parliament] tasked with steering and overseeing the entire process. We see him talking with lobbyists and civil rights activists, joining fringe gatherings and debates, participating in think tanks, talking with colleagues in the corridors of power, and reporting to EU Commissioner Viviane Reding [who held the Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship file]. Often patient but sometimes visibly frustrated, he counters opponents’ arguments about a new regulation that met particularly intense resistance from big businesses working with large amounts of personal data.

The documentary has protagonists and heroes, notably Jan Philipp Albrecht and the Luxembourgeoise Viviane Reding mentioned above, but also, among others, the citizens’ lobbyists Paolo Balboni of the European Privacy Association and Katarzyna Szymielewicz of the Warsaw-based Panoptykon Foundation. And, indirectly, Edward Snowden, who naturally makes an appearance. The stakes in the legislation were huge for big data-mining corporate interests—Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon et al—but the only lobbyist interviewed on that side was from the Cary, North Carolina-based IT company SAS; I initially thought this was a shortcoming of the documentary, but, as one learns, the big data operators (Google et al), though omnipresent throughout, declined to be interviewed by director Bernet.

After seeing the film last October, I declared to all and sundry that every citizen of an EU member state should be obliged to see it—so as to see how the EU actually works—and that the film should also be screened in university courses on contemporary Europe. When I asked Bernet how one could obtain the DVD (and with English and French subtitles), he said to look on Amazon.de, so I had a copy ordered for a course I teach on European politics to American undergraduates on a semester abroad. As it happens, we watched it in class last week, with the students finding it most interesting—and one saying that she wanted to see it again—and a good discussion ensuing. The pedagogical value of the film was confirmed.

University of Cambridge technology law and policy specialist Julia Powles had a review essay on the film in The Guardian, “Democracy: the film that gets behind the scenes of the European privacy debate,” on its debut in Germany in November 2015. The lede: “As nationalism sweeps Europe, a subtle cinematic triumph about an unlikely subject animates the hopes of transnational democracy.”

Also see the review from June 2016 in ZDNet, by journalist Wendy M. Grossman, who specializes in IT and privacy issues, in which she writes that

Democracy is almost as extraordinary an achievement as the passage of the GDPR: Bernet manages to make data protection law and legislative compromise engrossing. Who knew that was even possible?

Film critic Jordan Mintzer has a review in The Hollywood Reporter, which begins

Watching a government at work can be akin to watching flies fornicate, so director David Bernet deserves credit for making the most out of a particularly tedious bureaucratic nightmare in Democracy, a rare and insightful glimpse into the inner workings of the European Parliament…

Two thoughts. First, Democracy is an excellent antidote to the half-baked, ill-informed Euroscepticism that presently pervades public opinion in the EU’s member states. Second, it makes Brexit that much more incomprehensible. Honestly, why would the Brits want to be left out of the legislative process one sees in the film, which will necessarily affect them whether they remain in the EU or leave? It makes no sense.

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I was reading the other day a lengthy enquête on Turkey in Le Monde dated Feb. 27th, on the resistance by Turkish civil society to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s implacable determination to consolidate his dictatorship and crush all opposition to his rule. The piece, by journalist Marc Semo, begins with an account of the ethnologist Ahmet Kerim Gültekin, who was abruptly dismissed from his professorship at Manzur University in Tunceli after last July’s attempted coup d’état—which he had nothing whatever to do with—and thereby from the civil service, and with his passport revoked, thus preventing him from seeking employment abroad. But it’s not as if there are other options available to him in Turkey, even as a waiter in a restaurant, as any employer will see, upon registering his social security number, that he had been fired from his job in the post-coup purge, and will thus not want to touch him with a ten foot pole. So he is unemployable, a “dead man walking.” But he resists, vaille que vaille. There are tens of thousands like him in Turkey.

As it happens, I saw a film on this precise theme last week—the day before reading the above article—the final one by Poland’s great director Andrzej Wajda, who died last October: Afterimage (in France: Les Fleurs bleues), which recounts the story of the persecution by Poland’s Communist regime of the country’s renowned avant-garde painter Władysław Strzemiński, from 1948—when he was fired from his position at the State Higher School of the Visual Arts in Łódź, of which he was one of the founders—to his death in destitution in 1952 (at age 59). Strzemiński—who had an arm and a leg blown off during WWI—was fired from his institute for his uncompromising rejection of the official doctrine of socialist realism as imposed by the Soviet Union. Not only was the blacklisted painter—who was Poland’s greatest of his era—unable to obtain steady employment but was deprived of ration cards to buy food or even oil paints and brushes, the sale of which was controlled by the state. But Strzemiński refused to capitulate to the commissars. And he died broken and destitute.

As for the film, it’s typical Andrzej Wajda: well-done, with a not so subtle political message (see my post on his previous one, Wałęsa: Man of Hope), and, in this case, tragic (as was his 2007 Katyń). It is as powerful an indictment of the Communist regime in Poland—indeed of every ‘really existing socialist’ regime of the sort—as one will find. For a discussion of Strzemiński’s life and œuvre—though which mentions his political persecution only in passing—go here. And to see some of his art, go here. The trailer of the film is here.

Back to Turkey, I read a sad essay this weekend—which makes one almost want to cry—dated last October 5th, on the Big Roundtable blog (h/t Claire B.) by writer Selin Thomas, “My shattered Istanbul: Turkey is slipping away from my family, collapsing into the arms of a tyrant. We thought she was ours. Maybe we were wrong.” 😥

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2017 Oscars

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The list of nominees is here. For only the second time in my now long life I’ve managed to see all the films in the top categories. I so far have blog posts on none—having slacked off on film reviews over the past year—but intend to get one up soon on the Afro-American themed films, plus another on the Second World War one (along with others on that topic). I’ll also have a special one on films set in Texas. And the foreign ones too. For the others, here’s my capsule assessment, beginning with the Best Picture nominees.

Manchester by the Sea: I was eagerly looking forward to seeing this, in view of the stellar reviews—a 96 score on Metacritic and 4.5/4.2 on Allociné—and dithyrambic reactions on social media. But then a highbrow New York-based intello-cinephile friend—whose views I take with the utmost seriousness—told me that it was “terribly overrated.” My reply to him after seeing: “It’s not a chef d’œuvre but I wouldn’t say it’s overrated—let alone hugely so—this implying that it’s not that good. It’s an engaging film—which, for me, means that I didn’t start checking the time on my phone half way through—and well acted. It won’t make AWAV’s Top 10 of the year but could make Honorable Mention [which it did].” After reading novelist Francine Prose’s essay on the film in the NYR blog, I emailed him that “[m]y estimation of Manchester is increasing…” But then I received this from a faithful Provence-based AWAV reader: “Interesting movie, great acting, sensible directing, but spoiled right in the middle [in the scene of the house burning] by a horrible mistake: the lengthy, insisting, emphatic, pompous, pathetic extract from Adagio d’Albinoni pasted wall to wall, several minutes of it, over the most dramatic silent scene in the movie… I couldn’t believe it! Not even a stupid producer would dare to ask that from a director.” Well! I didn’t fixate on the musical score myself, though can see the objection. Chacun son goût, comme on dit.

La La Land: I can’t remember the last time a movie was both so hyped and aroused such wildly diverging reactions from friends and colleagues on both sides of the ocean, ranging from gushing thumbs way up—with some loving it (e.g. a highbrow academic friend informed his thousands of social media fans that it was “enchanting”)—to vehement thumbs way down: e.g. one French journalist/Facebook friend so hated the pic that he fired off a 1,000-word diatribe ripping it to smithereens. Ouf! FYI, it’s a big hit in France, with an impressive 4.3/4.4 score on Allociné, though there does appear to have been a backlash against the film among some Anglophone critics. Now I normally do not care for musicals myself and tend to avoid them, though, in view of the hype, was certainly going to see this one. A highbrow cinesnob friend in the DC area who always likes a good musical (‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is his all-time favorite)—but otherwise rubbishes 85% of the films he sees—nonetheless dumped on ‘La La Land’, calling it “forgettable” and predicting that I would share his viewpoint.

Upon seeing it—with my 86-year-old mother, a lifelong cinephile herself and who grew up with musicals—I emailed the following to my cinesnob friend: “I started out not liking it… [b]ut then my attitude changed half way through, as the story started to come together—of [the protags’] relationship—and I came to appreciate some of the music—notably the band’s score in the nightclub—and choreography. And then talking about the movie with my mother, who liked it and, as is her wont, launched into a lengthy analysis (and which continued at home; and my mother’s film analyses are [on your highbrow level]). So my final verdict is a moderate thumbs up… Oh yes, my mother was also impressed with Ryan Gosling—whom she hadn’t seen before—of his talent as a musician and dancer. And found him physically graceful, reminding her of Marlon Brando. I was also impressed with his musical talent (on the keyboards).”

And then there was this reaction from my aforementioned New York-based intello-cinephile friend—and who has published articles on jazz, among many other subjects: “I liked it much more than I expected to. Sure, the jazz stuff is a bit silly, but it’s not a film about jazz, or about anything meant to resemble reality: it’s an ode to old Hollywood musicals, to the city of Los Angeles, and jazz is but a backdrop. To argue over the use of John Legend in the film is also to take the film too seriously. The two principals are charming, their relationship is believable and sympathetic, the use of color and setting striking. The music isn’t memorable, a weakness, except for that one song he sings and then later plays solo on piano. The film is not perfect, but for the most part I found it absorbing and delightful in an old-fashioned sort of way.” I’ll go along with that. [UPDATE: My mother has a review of ‘La Land Land’ on her blog here that is well worth reading (March 6th).]

Arrival: I had zero interest in seeing this when it came out here in December—under the title ‘Premier contact’—and despite the top reviews (4.1/4.1 in Allociné), as it looked to be a science fiction film, a genre I normally avoid. And I didn’t get any word-of-mouth on it (and still haven’t, apart from a shrug by a student). But in view of its Oscar nominations I decided I had to check it out, persuading an academic friend with whom I periodically see movies to come along. Now my friend—who is intellectually brilliant and analyses films on a rather higher level than I—knew absolutely nothing about it, so went into it blind, as was more or less the case with me. We were immediately impressed that the salle at the UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles multiplex was packed and two months after its sortie, signifying positive word-of-mouth. And we were impressed leaving the theater at the end, this time with the film itself, which surprised us both. It is, on the surface, a science fiction movie but is way more than that. It is a philosophical meditation on temporality and language, a “beautiful, astonishing, incredibly sophisticated film,” to paraphrase my friend. I am not capable of textually recounting her typically sophisticated analysis, nor my own thoughts at the moment—it was four weeks ago—so will simply link to the excellent review essay by the well-known science and technology writer-author James Gleick in The New York Review of Books, which is all one needs to read on the film.

Lion: I saw this just last night. The salle at UGC Opéra was almost full to capacity, which is not surprising in view of the manifestly positive word-of-mouth (reflected in the 4.5 audience score on Allociné). It’s a crowd-pleaser. One is totally caught up in the first half of the film, in India, and with one’s heart melting for the little Saroo all alone on the streets of Calcutta. Ça crève le cœur. One wants to take him into one’s arms and hug him to death. But the second half, in Australia, is less satisfying. I’m a sucker for sentimentality but it was laid on a little too heavily here. My tears were not jerked. And while Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman are nominees for best supporting actor and actress, respectively, I was not bowled over by their performances. The cinematography is impressive, though. And of course it has a happy ending, so one leaves the theater feeling good. The pic, while hardly a chef d’œuvre, may be seen.

And then there are these:

Captain Fantastic: I didn’t bother with this one when it came out—and despite the 4.4 Allociné audience rating—catching up with it on account of Viggo Mortensen’s best actor nomination. What to say, it’s a good, entertaining movie and with fine acting. I enjoyed it. And it is by far the most sophisticated Hollywood movie ever made in the way it treats left-wing politics, at least on the level of rhetoric. Hollywood invariably bombs when it comes to this but not this movie. Director-screenwriter Matt Ross knows the left, that’s for sure.

Florence Foster Jenkins: I thought that this would be anticlimactic after Xavier Giannoli’s 2015 Marguerite, which was inspired by the life of Florence FJ, but not at all. Having seen ‘Marguerite’ I knew the story, but was entertained nonetheless. The acting is excellent and with Meryl Streep more than deserving her best actress nomination. Too bad Simon Helberg wasn’t nominated for best supporting actor. The depiction of mid 1940s New York City is also impeccable. Voilà, c’est tout.

Jackie: I didn’t feel overly compelled to see this one, doing so mainly on account of Natalie Portman (best actress nominee)—for whom I have a well-known soft spot—playing the lead role. Director Pablo Larraín, who’s Chilean (he directed the terrific film No, among others), apparently said that he wouldn’t do the film if Portman didn’t take the role. She is, needless to say, perfectly cast as Jackie Kennedy. The pic is all Natalie P., and she’s great. Other than that, it left me indifferent. I gave it no thought after leaving the cinoche. Not even Natalie.

Sully: This received one nomination, for a category I have no opinion on (best sound editing). A perfect popcorn movie (though I never buy popcorn in movie theaters myself). Clint Eastwood’s most entertaining movie since ‘Invictus’. And Tom Hanks is impeccable in the lead role. French critics and audiences alike gave it the thumbs up, which is hardly a surprise (3.8/4.2 on Allociné). C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

My vote:

BEST PICTURE: ‘Moonlight’.
No hesitation on this, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the crowd-pleasing ‘Hidden Figures’ wins. I will be disgusted if it’s ‘La La Land’, which ranks close to last of the nine nominees.

BEST DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge).
A politically incorrect choice, I know. I was impressed with this film, however, and found the reenactment of the Battle of Okinawa to be a directorial feat. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) and Berry Jenkins (Moonlight) are tied for a close second.

BEST ACTOR: Denzel Washington (Fences).
Denzel has played his role here dozens of times on the stage but it’s a tour de force nonetheless. The other nominees are meritorious.

BEST ACTRESS: Natalie Portman (Jackie).
This is a close one. Isabelle Huppert is stellar in ‘Elle’ but this is not an American film and she already won the César for it yesterday. Meryl Streep is tops in ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ but for her to get it would be like the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl. Deserved but happens all the time. Ruth Negga in ‘Loving’: I wouldn’t rank her first here. Emma Stone in ‘La La Land’ did not knock my socks off.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight).
He’s awesome in this. Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) and Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) are tied for second.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures).
All the nominees here, Nicole Kidman (Lion) excepted, are credible winners.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: ‘The Salesman’ by Asghar Farhadi.
In view of the political context, I would be shocked if this didn’t win. Maren Ade’s ‘Toni Erdmann’ is very good. I haven’t seen the other nominees.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: ‘Fire at Sea’.
This is the only one I’ve seen, and it’s good. I have been reliably informed that ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, ‘O.J.: Made in America’, and ’13th’ are all amazing but I haven’t seen them yet. When they come to France, I will illico.

Table showing 2017 Oscar nominees in top categories. TNS 2017

Table showing 2017 Oscar nominees in top categories. TNS 2017

 

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2017 César awards

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[update below]

France’s Oscars. The ceremony is tomorrow (Friday)—two days before the US Academy Awards comme d’hab’—at the Salle Pleyel. The full list of nominees is here. Leading with eleven nominations each are Elle and Frantz, Ma Loute (Slack Bay) has nine, Mal de pierres (From the Land of the Moon) eight, Divines seven, Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World) and La Danseuse (The Dancer) six each, and Chocolat and Victoria (In Bed with Victoria) five a piece. As it happens, I don’t have blog posts on any—I haven’t written too much on cinema over the past year—but will soon enough, inshallah. But as I have seen the movies, I possess the necessary qualifications to cast a virtual ballot. So voilà:

BEST FILM: Les Innocentes (The Innocents).
It’s a toss-up between this and Frantz. There was, in fact, no really outstanding French film last year. A number were good, indeed quite—such as these two—but there were no chefs d’œuvre. Elle is a gripping drame psychologique but I had somewhat mixed feelings about it leaving the theater. As for Divines, see the ‘best first film’ category below. Three of the seven nominees, it should be said, do not belong: Ma Loute (screwball comedy that critics liked far more than did the unwashed public, of which I am a part), Mal de pierres (bof), and Victoria (frivolous waste-of-time rom-com).

BEST DIRECTOR: Anne Fontaine for Les Innocentes.
François Ozon for Frantz is equally worthy. If Xavier Dolan wins for his execrable Juste la fin du monde, I will forever lose respect for the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma.

BEST ACTOR: Nicolas Duvauchelle in Je ne suis pas un salaud (A Decent Man).
There are any number of worthy winners, e.g. Omar Sy in Chocolat and François Cluzet in Médecin de campagne (Irreplaceable) but Duvauchelle is a very good actor and deserves it for his role in this engaging film.

BEST ACTRESS: Isabelle Huppert in Elle.
She’s France’s greatest living actress. And her performance here is a tour de force. Other nominees are certainly meritorious: Marina Foïs is powerful as a sociopathic stalker in Irréprochable (Faultless), as is Judith Chemla in Une vie (A Woman’s Life) as an early 19th century bourgeois woman trapped in the gender roles of the era. And the sublime Marion Cotillard is tops in the otherwise unexceptional Mal de pierres. I did not, however, care for Sidse Babett Knudsen in La Fille de Brest (150 Milligrams).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: James Thierrée in Chocolat.
Laurent Lafitte in Elle is the runner-up. If Vincent Cassel wins for his role in the atrocious Juste la fin du monde—or for any role in any film—I will be sorely tempted to commit an unlawful act…

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Déborah Lukumuena in Divines.
She is memorable in her role in this, just a little more so than the other nominees in theirs.

MOST PROMISING ACTOR: Corentin Fila in Quand on a 17 ans (Being 17).
The other nominees are worthy but he gets the edge.

MOST PROMISING ACTRESS: Oulaya Amamra in Divines.
Absolutely totally. A Star Is Born.

BEST FIRST FILM: Divines.
Hands down. A very good movie. One of the best in years in the banlieue racaille genre.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea).
I’ve only seen one of the others in this category but this one is very good and, in view of the subject matter, deserves to win IMHO.

BEST FOREIGN FILM: Graduation by Cristian Mungiu.
Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann is a close runner-up, followed by Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius. Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is certainly the top gauchiste film of the year. The Dardenne brothers’ The Unknown Girl is honorable but not their best. Manchester by the Sea? Nah. If Xavier Dolan’s abominable Juste la fin du monde wins, I think I’ll…

UPDATE: The list of the winners is here. I nailed it on half the categories above, including the trifecta for ‘Divines’.  ‘Elle’ won for best film, which was hardly a surprise. Gaspard Ulliel winning best actor for the detestable ‘Juste la fin du monde’ was incomprehensible, as was Xavier Dolan for best director. My respect for the AATC is definitively lost.

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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)

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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

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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

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