'Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising.' - Pauline Kael


Dr David Archibald, University Of Glasgow
Film International, Financial Times, Cineaste

Liza Bear,
Bomb Magazine

Dan Bessie
Filmmaker and Culture Critic

Prof. Dennis Broe
Jump Cut, NY Newsday, Boston Phoenix

Dianne Brooks
The Film Files,

Lisa Collins

Benjamin Dickenson
Bright Lights Film Journal, UK

David Ehrenstein
Quarterly Review of Film and Video

Miguel Gardel
Proletaria Press

Michael Haas
Culture critic

Laura Hadden
Pacifica Radio

Gerald Horne
University Of Houston

Reynold Humphries
British Film Historian

Sikivu Hutchinson, KPFK Radio

Jan Lisa Huttner, Films For Two

Cindy Lucia
Cineaste Magazine

Pat McGilligan
Film Historian

Prairie Miller
WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network

Logan Nakyanzi
Go Left TV, Huffington Post

Gerald Peary
Boston Phoenix

Steve Presence
Radical Film Network, UK

Louis Proyect

Sandy Sanders

Nancy Schiesari,
BBC, Channel 4,
Univ. of Texas, Austin

Rebecca Schiller
Culture Critic

David Spaner, Hollywood Inc.

Luis Reyes
, Arsenal Pulp Press

Christopher Trumbo
RIP, January 8, 2011

Dave Wagner
Mother Jones, Film International

Linda Z
LFC Film Club

Noah Zweig

Paul Robeson With Oakland, Ca. Shipyard Workers, 1942

Black August

So in order to best cover all bases, progressive film critics tend to consider three categories of assessment, rather than two: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The first two are self-explanatory. And the third category is reserved for movies that may have been impressively put together, but there's just something offensively anti-humanistic about them.

Stay tuned......

The Organizer


 Bro on the World Film Beat

The Cannes Film Festival Report 2018....

Marx In The Cinema: Capital On Screen

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 Marx’s goal he said was “to render the world more conscious of itself,” that is, to make this process, which capitalist scribes had obscured, clear. If we start to speak of labor in the cinema and imagine how Marx would have conceived it, we might first look at a history of representation of labor on the screen, then a history of off-screen labor, that is, of organizing in the cinema which also affected what appeared on the screen and finally we might look at how the cinema itself is an intense process of all kinds and levels of labor, which its owners continue to efface, claiming that they are its ultimate creators...

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Listen To The Show Here

 This is Broe on the World Film Beat “Breaking Glass” in my windup coverage of the Venice Film Festival. 


 This is Bro on the World Film Beat “Breaking Glass” at the Venice Film Festival 2017.

There are three main stories at this 74th edition of the oldest film festival in the world. The first is the ever increasing use of Venice as a launch pad for the Hollywood Academy Awards, with the streak of three straight Best Picture Winners broken last year as the Venice candidate the oh-so-Hollywood La La Land, lost to an actual film deserving the best picture title Moonlight because of a change in Academy voters to include more women and minorities. This year that voting contingent has been expanded further and so the Venice Best Picture contenders have taken into account that they may need to mix relevance with their more standard Hollywood feel good fare, especially in this year of Trump. 


The films they debuted on the red carpet of the Lido have in many ways attempted to expand the conversation while still focusing firmly on the largely white American middle class, chiding that class for its isolation, but also coming up against the limitations of having to speak in a language that class can understand. Only one film actually transcends this limitation, and does so in grand style making it this year’s lead contender for the Best Picture. That is Guillermo Del Toro’s Cold War fantasy The Shape of Water, a film which in the blockbuster magical realist mode recalls Toro’s own Pan’s Labyrinth.  Water though actually harkens back to two other films of his, The Devil’s Backbone, a horror film set in the closing days of the fascist Franco’s Civil War in Spain which here equates the darkness of the American Cold War with those fascist times, and Hellboy, since this is also an intervention and rewriting of the superhero film with what initially looks like the monster from the Amazon, who recalls the Creature From the Black Lagoon, turning into a hero and the evolving monster becoming Michael Shannon’s maniacal and gangrenous Cold War Security head. This is lead actress Sally Hawkins’ film. She plays a mute cleaner of a locked down military facility who gets help in her quest to save what the military industrial complex calls a monster from an African-American female fellow worker who stands up to her husband who is scared and hides behind the law, from a gay artist who tells the mute woman’s story, and from a Russian scientist. This mermaid story in reverse, a rewriting of Splash from the female perspective, even features a musical number recalling La La Land but here the musical number marks a much harder won triumph and a reprieve from the awfulness of the dreary Baltimore existence most souls were confined to in that bleak period.

Two films that don’t quite succeed in transcending the limitations of their audience, but are well-intentioned, are George Clooney’s Suburbicon and Alexander Payne’s Downsizing. As does The Shape of Water, Suburbicon reworks the flattering idea that character’s like Mad Men’s Don Draper were, despite all the racism and intolerance, charismatic builders of a new world as Matt Damon, the star of both films, here is a corporate chief financial officer slowly going to pieces though he continues to retain his seemingly in control discourse of mastery as his world disintegrates and as late 50s middle America is revealed to be a place, must like America today, of rigidly-confined, morally-bankrupt shysters. The problem is that the Cohen Brothers script eventually plays the material too broadly and it moves from social satire to more blockbuster black comedy losing all subtlety and failing to remember that there were excellent films made of the period by say the Hitchcock of Shadow of a Doubt and Strangers on a Train which were highly aware of its contradictions without taking them to absurd levels. A subplot involving a suburban rousting of a black family complete with Confederate flag thrown in their window resounds with the Virginia race riot and reminds us that the supposed primitiveness of the late 50s has in no way been transcended.

Downsizing, again with Damon as a(n) American middle-class)  everyman, this time gently takes on both the destruction of the planet through global warming and the reduced expectations of the American of that class as Damon shrinks and enters a tiny gated community claiming to then be doing his part to save the world. The tiny jokes are clever as the film is a sort of Darby O’Gill and the Little People meets Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, but the film seems like too little too late as the Damon character finally realizes there is inequality even in his gated tiny world and eventually pledges to help right that wrong but within the confines of the gated community. The transformation is touching but restores an image of the American middle class of essentially being “nice” people rather than a pampered class whose lifestyle and sense of entitlement is responsible for a global destruction that is now coming home to roost.
Far worse is Paul Schrader’s First Reformed which in its story of a priest questioning his values when confronted by an environmental activist reeks of a self-righteousness that is not only Schrader at his worst but Schrader combined with the pretentiousness of lead actor Ethan Hawkes whose self-important projects are beginning to mark him as a Tom Cruise of the indie set. Can you say Vanilla Sky? The film sees itself in the line of Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest but can’t help end up being closer to the blockbuster pretentiousness of a King of Kings here scaled down to fit a low budget. Much worse is James Toback’s The Private Life of a Modern Woman, possibly the worst film of the festival which, like the Schrader film, uses the diary writing cliché, once a vibrant technique in French New Wave filmmaking, to here recount the privileged status of a Hollywood star, played lethargically by Sienna Miller, who has murdered her lowlife boyfriend, thrown him in a trunk and rationalizes the killing by claiming it has made her a more aware person. Far better actors trapse through her apartment, Alec Baldwin, Charles Grodin, but to no avail as she continues her pop aphorisms which translate as the truth of the privileged and are more revealing about the snobby righteousness of this class then they are meant to be.

The second major story is the festival’s willingness to innovate along with its ecumenism; it is all things to all people, being able this year to absorb the Hollywood onslaught since, as one producer put it, low and mid-level U.S. production, like the films discussed above, now depends on the festival circuit and European festivals in particular for successful openings. The trick is for mid-level Hollywood production not to dominate European films at Euro festivals. That the pendulum may have swung too far in this direction could be seen at the booing of the festival’s logo this year which was entirely oriented toward Hollywood with outlines of Freddy Kruger, Luke Skywalker and Gene Kelly dancing across Italian screens. This year though there are more and, the festival’s director Alberto Barbera claims, better Italian films as well.

A major area of innovation is that Venice this year is the first major film festival to host a Virtual Reality competition, with 22 films varying from 6 minutes to Taiwanese director Tsai Ming Ling’s 56 minute first VR feature, The Deserted. The VR festival is being held on the island of Lazarretto Vecchio, once a hospital for quarantining plague victims where in an excavation mass graves were unearthed, then a planned site for an archaeological museum until, like the Moise project to save Venice, the funds were absconded. It is now turned into a VR theatre where you sit with about 20 others, put on the goggles and headsets and watch. Tsai’s film which is a continuation of his aesthetic, sometimes called Asian Miserabilism, a pejorative description which might instead be embraced as a championing of the lives of the downtrodden. Here detailing a man recovering in the jungle from an operation, haunted by a ghost and in the film’s money scene making love in a bathtub. The squalor of the jungle life show’s Tsai incorporating also the languorous aesthetic of Thai director Arpichatpong Weerasethakul as the VR touring of the house in these quiet vignettes emphasizes the life force of these characters surviving in the front part of the frame under both the beauty of the jungle and the dire poverty of their surroundings, which can be seen in the 360 degree touring of the rooms. VR does enhance the experience but at this point may not yet be a significant advance over 3D. It does though utterly isolate audience members so that we were all sitting in the same place watching the same film but utterly oblivious of each other.

Barbera has also absorbed easily both Netflix, Amazon and television, claiming that audiences have many ways of viewing and refusing to discriminate among them, very different than the Cannes controversy over Netflix’ presence in the competition. The two Netflix entries though were subpar. Our Souls at Night reunited Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, honorees at the festival, who have both been on the screen for six decades, in a film which though directed by the Indian helmer of the very good The Lunchbox failed to deliver on its concept. The very straightforward Fonda character knocks on Redford’s door and proposes that these two retirees, neighbours for years, begin sleeping together to bar their souls in what I guess amounts to ‘meeting cute’ for the geriatric set. The problem is that they never do get to actually talking in a meaningful way and when the Fonda character does present a painful event that changed her life, it is quickly glanced over. She looks great on screen, more Barbarella still than On Golden Pond, but her character is underwritten and shrill while Redford’s restrained male is much more likable. A shame they couldn’t have been more equal.

The other main Netflix event was its production of the Italian Television Series Suburra where the first two episodes were screened. The series which, like the extremely successful Gomorrah follows a book and a film, all three written by Giancarlo DeCataldo, and details a mob attempt at a takeover of a Roman beach at Ostia to turn it into a port for the importation of cocaine from the South. The political manoeuvring involves the Vatican, the Rome government, and the local mob being leaned on by the Sicilian Mafia. The detailing of this plot is excellent but the series in an attempt to expand the material and “skew young” makes way too much of a blackmail attempt of a monsignor by three youth all disaffected as the unemployment rate among the young in Italy is 35%, but here emphasizing in boring overbearing club music soundtrack their outre lifestyle as heroic rather than as what has been left to them. The series has a long way to go to achieve the casual and truthful cruelty of how the mob ruins lives and structures its economy in Gomorrah.   
The third story of the festival is the onscreen concern with refugees which in a way accounted for three of the best films of the first week. Eye on Juliet by Canadian director Kim Nguyen is a drone romance, a highly improbable linking of capitalist technology protecting Middle East oil pipelines and a woman trying to flee a stifling situation. We used to celebrate technology as a savior but in this film, in a way that is similar to the way the media is now often represented, everything has to go right and a modern miracle has to occur for the characters caught in this technology to at all behave in a human way despite its supposedly progressive thrust. We’ve come a long way baby. The artist Ai Wei Wei’s Human Flow tracks the refugee question as Europe closes its borders to those who are fleeing wars--from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria--that the Western powers instigated. The film, often in exquisitely beautiful shots tracks the plight of those fleeing wars caused by climate degradation or attempts to garner their home countries resource wealth. A stunning overhead shot descends slowly on what at first look like ants and then we see are civilians being rousted from refugee camps by Turkish forces in a deal that Europe has used to hide the crisis. The film, where Ai Wei Wei uses his status as an art world superstar to call attention to the worse migrant crisis since World War II, could not be more timely since, besides Trump’s renewed call for a US-Mexican Wall, the four Western European powers met last week and created a quota system, ostensibly to, like Trump, limit Muslims from entering Western Europe and the Italian police in Rome thuggishly dismantled a camp of Africans fleeing war and climate poverty.

Finally, the very wonderful documentary, which along with The Shape of Water is the best film so far of the festival, This Is Congo explores through its tracing of four characters the troubled history of that mineral rich country, also a site of refugees. The film opens on verdant fields and cow pastures as a young colonel in the Congolese army says he will return to farming when his job is done. We then follow him as he in honoured by the president Joseph Kabila, little realizing the honour is about beefing him up as he is sent into the danger zone of the mineral processing city of Goma where a rebel army has taken control. His bravery defeats the mercenaries but he is then victim himself of the Congolese authorities as his story truly illustrates why wars have infested the country for so long. The colonial past is rehearsed as is the role of the West in Rwanda and Uganda in fomenting conflict and fragmenting the mineral rich eastern Congo. The filmmakers also had access to the rebel leader who spouts revolutionary patter to disguise a naked grab for wealth, to a tailor who must flee the so-called rebels arriving in a refugee camp with only his sewing machine, and to Mama Romance, a mineral smuggler whose stones are used for weddings. The country’s history is rich in betrayal since the American inspired killing of the true revolutionary leader Lumumba and the film well illustrates both the quagmire the country is mired in and an indomitable spirit of its people to continue battling and try to right the course.

This is Bro on the World Film Beat “Breaking Glass” at the Venice Film Festival. I’ll be back next week with more on the festival. 

This is Bro on the World Film Beat live from the Venice film festival.

Venice big stories this year. The first and major one is Venice as Academy Award showcase. Venice has been the lauchpad for the last three Academy Award winners, Gravity, Birdman and Spotlight and the festival is now solidly back in the Hollywood spotlight, after previously being judged as too far to go and being outflanked by Toronto. It is now seen as the premier showcase for Oscar worthy films and Hollywood actors see it as more glamourous than Toronto, which opens this week. Venice’ reputation had previously been as a European auteur festival with in the last few years a strong Asian presence. That reputation now risks being eclipsed by the Hollywood juggernaut with this year not only best picture nominees, La La Land, Arrival and Nocturnal Animals but also best actor and actress hopefuls like Jake Glynnhall in Animals and Amy Adams in both Arrival and Animals and mid-career festival honoree Liev Schrieber for The Bleeder all showing up on the Lido, to say nothing of the Hollywood big-budget closing, the remake of The Magnificent Seven with Denzel Washington walking the red carpet.

At the moment, with the controversy over The Birth of a Nation, Venice looks like a shoe-in for a fourth best picture launching with La La Land. This is partly by default, with Variety, which has gone out of its way to stroke the controversy about Birth taking the initiative to dig up dirt on the director and which in the same issue as it grilled Nate Parker on a film which considers radical black action to untenable conditions went out of its way to present Michelle Obama as the acceptable symbol of black behavior, in an article that was essentially an invitation to the entertainment industry to give her a show or a network, perhaps to rival Trump’s after he loses the election.
I’m going to hate myself for this in the morning, but I did like La La Land. The film’s opening LA freeway number presented the city as a multi-culti paradise, a utopian land where energy is unleashed with all races racing toward the equally realizable dream of stardom in a kind of Hollywood version of A Chorus Line which got an ovation from the Venice audience and is to the musical what the opening of Saving Private Ryan is to the war film. Unfortunately, what comes next is that the movie comes back to earth and we remember that Hollywood is instead the land of the white Oscars as the film focuses on its Caucasian leads and tells only their story. Nevertheless within  the bounds of the musical, which this film is interested in restoring rather than challenging, the story of how two dreamers support each other’s dream does reverberate and the final dance sequence, an updating of the fantasy ballet of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon, has a bittersweet poignancy that will resound at Oscar time.

Arrival also is in its own way ambitious for Hollywood, an ET for the age of the Anthropocene, that is in the digital humanoid era. The film has in its alien landing scenario a focus on language as what underpins the symbolic economy and is in the end a good-hearted old fashioned, in new clothing, appeal for understanding on earth, shifting focus from ET to the still welcome liberal message of and anti-cold war message of nations working together for peace from Day the Earth Stood Still.
The same can’t be said for the third Oscar contender Nocturnal Animals, as nasty as piece of class superiority as has been put on film, barely masquerading in its story within a story as a tough edged noir and in its framing story as a woman who has everything seeking liberation. The art dealer, Amy Adams the lead in this and Arrival, who wistfully gave up her dreams attempts to recapture them by reading the novel her ex-husband wrote. This brings her back to life, but the novel she reads, recounted on the screen, is a story of middle class intimidation by a destitute working class, here portrayed as both unredeemable and disposable and the middle class revenge sanctioned by a dying lawman. This is “1 percent” trash barely even posing as popular entertainment. It simply validates the luxurious LA lifestyle the art dealer lives and proclaims that the price for it is an occasional pang of guilt. Worth noting that in an era in which art is no longer antagonistic to capital, or if it is as in the case of The Birth of a Nation, is quickly silenced, both La La Land and Nocturnal Animals see not what is said by an artist as any longer of any importance, only a vague commitment to something called ‘your art.’

While we’re on the subject of despicable pieces of work, there is the documentary American Anarchist, about William Powell who as a 19-year-old wrote The Anarchist’s Cookbook, subsequently used, as the filmmaker Charlie Siskel is at pains to explain, as a guide for violent acts. The filmmaker, by the way Gene Siskel’s nephew, yes that’s right the lesser talented, rule-bound half of Siskel and Ebert, thinks he is exposing Powell as unconsciously still prey to what Powell has long ago disavowed in a life spent making up for writing the book. What instead he is doing is torturing Powell, who died shortly after the film was finished, in a film that is blind to the fact that the Cookbook came out of a particular revolutionary time and place and that the subsequent uses it has been put too perhaps say more about the breakdown of society than about the author of the book. Siskel’s condescending personal-psychology-explains-everything approach has us instead watching a filmmaker whose vision is limited sadistically torturing his subject for what can only be seen as reasons of exploitation.  

China and Asia as a whole were again major forces at the festival with China putting out a publication describing its role in contemporary film production which rivaled Variety and The Hollywood Reporter in terms of graphics and production values.
Two Korean films then kicked off the Asian participation in the festival. Kim Ki-Duk’s The Net is perhaps the most controversial film of the festival. A fisherman’s boat on the Korean demilitarized zone drifts south over the border where causes the fisherman to be confronted by the evils in both societies that keep Korea from being reunited. In the South, in, as he notes, a land of abundance, he finds women forced to sell their bodies for the money that everyone craves and in the North, he finds a corrupt bureaucracy that steals wantonly from its people. The message that both are corrupt and both systems stand in the way of a reunited Korea is a difficult one for Western audiences, pumped so full of propaganda, to hear and Kim is expert at dramatizing Korea’s destruction in previous films such as Address Unknown and The Coast Guard and the South’s penchant for money in Pieta.
Another Korean film, Age of Shadows, is the kind of bigger budget competitive attempt at challenging Hollywood in genre production that the US industry often attempts to lock out of American screens. Age is a spy thriller set in Korea and China in the 1920s about the Korean independence movement challenging Japan with the unlikely hero being a Korean who works for the Japanese police. The film amounts to a kind of John Le Carre espionage saga as directed by Brian DePalma, a subtle spy thriller with a number of well shot action sequences including a shootout in a train station in Seoul at the arrival of the independistes that recalls the last sequence of The Untouchables.

Finally, I want to draw attention to three lesser known films that for me constitute a movement, though one that will most likely get lost in world cinema. The Philippines’ Ordinary Family, Portugul’s Saint George and Italy’s I Was A Dreamer all call attention to working and underclass people attempting to survive and grow in a world that has abandoned them. Ordinary Family has its two teen protagonists, in a replay of The Bicycle Thief, searching instead for their baby, kidnapped from them for money. The film illustrates how conditions have degenerated since the 40s and Bicycle Thief, with the girl being sexually assaulted instead of just ignored when she goes to report the theft to the police, but it also lovingly recounts how these two, against all odds, forge a relationship of mutual trust. Saint George follows an ex-boxer, still getting beaten up in the ring for money, as in the height of that country’s imprisonment by the European banks, the troika, becomes a debt collector (repo man sounds so trite) and foregoes his own humanity in being forced to survive. The film makes of the boxer and his Brazilian girlfriend’s housing units a kind of documentary poetry that in continual long shot neither idealizes nor condescends in filming the facts of their existence. Finally, I Was A Dreamer is about an ex-con in Rome who is elected head of his neighborhood and tries to revive it. The film is based on the lead actor’s true story and is highly improvised in a style that he dominates as he attempts to bring life to a neighborhood given up for dead. The film operates on the edge of film noir but effectively skirts that edge to become a hopeful story of resurrection, with a class that, rather than the fodder of the Hollywood Nocturnal Animals, proudly trumpets its humanity in the face of overwhelming odds.

This is Bro on the World Film Beat.  Today we’re Breaking Glass on the subject of:

Wonder Woman and Pure Entertainment

Pure entertainment is the handle of one twitter hashtag about the film which is now on its way to grossing 600 million worldwide and is being hailed by critics as an unmitigated triumph. A feminist antiwar fable about equality both on the battlefield and in the superhero genre? That’s how the film is being billed. Would that it were truly so and that in the world of late capitalism it was possible to concoct something called pure entertainment. Unfortunately in the world we live in, that is hardly the case and the film equally can be read as a pro-war extravaganza that enlists and subverts its feminist cause in the service of a colonial project that unfortunately brings many of the evils and aggression of capitalism to the forefront of the superhero genre. 


Let’s give credit where credit is due. This is a memorable intervention into a genre, the superhero film, which has up this point been entirely male focused so that when women intervene, in say the pretty good Marvel Series Agent Carter, on ABC which is basically a women’s channel, and cancelled after two seasons, they originate as spin-offs of a male series, as Carter was spun off from Captain America. Diana, princess of the Amazons brought up in an all-female world, though one in which she has a black nanny who is called her teacher, relates that in her reading of ancient texts she has learned that “Men are essential for procreation but when it comes to pleasure unnecessary,” giving the lie to Christian dogma which for so long forbid women’s pleasure. On the battlefield Diana is a marvel, in low-angle shots stressing her prowess as she destroys the World War I Germans, looking a lot like World War II Nazis, to an anthem that in the DC comic universe previously had only resounded for its male heroes.
Unfortunately, not everyone is cheering. Lebanon, still officially at war after Israel’s invasion in 2006, its fifth invasion of the country, has banned the film and Jordan and Tunisia are trying to figure out whether to follow suit. Its star, Gail Godot, who in the film fits that ultimate Hollywood moniker “fresh-faced” and who seems innocent in the film, served in the Israeli army around the time of one of its bloodier 2004 interventions into the Gaza strip. Unlike some Israeli voices of peace, detailed in Amoz Gitai’s new film West of the Jordan River, Godot, a military trainer in the army, came out more gung ho than when she entered and claimed she traded on her weapons use in the army to secure a role in the Fast and Furious franchise. Most notoriously--at the time of the 2014 Isreali invasion of the Gaza Strip, which in comic book terms given the might and the money behind that army is a little like Superman versus Bambi--as Palestinian women and children were being slaughtered she posted on Facebook “I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens,…risking their lives protecting my country…We shall overcome!!!"

Godot’s Diana is revealed in her full splendor as Wonder Woman, the first time we see the costume in its entirety, as she takes the battlefield against the Germans. She is surprised at any lack of equality for women as when she tells the secretary of the American spy she has befriended, who says her job is to go where he tells me to go and do what he tells me to do, that where she comes from that is called slavery. And indeed in the Israeli army, where the real Godot merges with the cinematic Diana, there is female equality with mandatory military service for women such that by 2011 33 percent of all the army and an astounding 51 percent of officers were women while a 2000 law granted women equality in serving. This is echoed in the film with the opening sequence of the Amazon’s warrior training, with this all-female island seemingly engaged in nothing but battle and claiming this preoccupation it is for self-defense. Not only Godot but all of the Amazon’s seem to speak with an Israeli accent which fosters the claim that the Israeli army itself, perhaps the most aggressive army in the world in terms of invasions of its neighbor’s territories, itself acts out of self-defense as both societies seem devoted to warfare. It’s a country which after being awarded 38 billion dollars in arms aid by Obama, the largest military aid deal in history, criticized the award as too little.

The feminism in Wonder Woman seems to be a very battle ready one and as individual male aggression accelerates in more warlike and broken societies this makes a certain amount of sense, but the film utterly jettisons the idea that a feminist intervention might stand for pacifism and a way of compelling men to put down their weapons. Diana half-heartedly stands for peace but even she concludes by the end of the film that “ending war and bringing peace to impossible… so I stay and fight.” This may be the reality of the uneven world late capitalism has created but if so it’s a fairly depressing one. In a midpoint scene, Diana unwittingly scrambles into an all-male British Parliamentary war debate and is ushered out, the point seeming to be not that war is wrong but that women should be included in making war.

If one of the feel good stories of late capitalism, where inequality is surging, is supposedly women’s rights, here that platform is refashioned to simply be the right to die on the battlefield, a misdirection for the movement and somewhat akin to the African-American deception in being coopted by the military in 1948 in a way that has led to a clivage in that community where it is necessary to continually raise consciousness over the role of an imperial army in maintaining global order and killing one’s brothers. Now we can add killing one’s sisters as well.

The male side of the film, involving the spy Steve Trevor, has him enlisting a band of minorities to fight; an Arab, a Native American and a Scotsman all enrolled under the banner of the white patron and risking themselves for him. There is also an interesting way in which the Marvel and DC “universes” intersect. Steve Trevor’s act of heroism at the end of the film is very close to Steve Roger’s act in the Marvel Universe in defeating the Nazi Baron Zemo in Captain America as the two corporations collide in parallel universes distinguished for their lack of imagination. In Captain America’s male-oriented origin though ultimately the frozen Captain America returns to life while all those around him die. Here, Diana the woman is the one living and looking back on fallen comrades. That change may be miniscule though and one wag praised the success of Wonder Woman as scoring a badly needed victory for a franchise under siege, an attempt to enlist us to root for Warner Brothers-DC which through its generally inept films and characters has played second fiddle to Disney-Marvel. It’s a bit hard to call a multimillion dollar conglomerate an underdog but perhaps that’s what an underdog has come to in the era of all companies melding into one, with the other Amazon about to move into produce distribution after buying Whole Foods,.

Finally, there is the ultimate reveal of the villain, not the German, Nazi-like and later in reality actual Nazi General Ludendorf, but the genteel Britisher whose civilized ways conceals the demon and god of war Aries. This is an accurate depiction of the British empire which has continued to make colonial mischief after the Nazi’s were long gone but in the film the implication is glided over in favor of a simple reveal and is obliterated with the special effects barrage that follows.

In the context of the 24/7 warlike nature of the film, Wonder Woman’s answer to Aries, “humans are everything you say but so much more” sounds simply like a rationale and plea for understanding the atrocities of the Israeli army and indeed for the sustaining of capitalist and colonial continuing wars of dispossession of which this film unfortunately, rather than being pure entertainment, is more than just lightly engaged in boosting.

This is Bro on the World Film Beat “Breaking Glass” 

 Cannes 2017 Breaking Glass (Bro on the World Film Beat)

Bonjour from Cannes 70. The venerable film festival, the largest in the world, turned 70 this year and perhaps is showing some signs of age, since not only is the festival changing but the whole pattern of film distribution, of which the festival is a part, is changing as well. That fact was highlighted by this year’s Cannes Crisis, and the festival’s biggest story. No it’s not that Nicole Kidman is in four films. It’s that Netflix, the evil streaming service, the Red Devil from Los Gatos, its California headquarters, has two films in the main competition; films which in most countries including here in France are going directly to Netflix just after the festival closes and will never open in theaters. Thierry Fremaux, the festival director, choosing simply on what films would make an interesting selection, choose Boon Joon Ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories as eligible to win the Palme D’Or, the Cannes first prize, the most prestigious award in the world for art house and auteur cinema.
The choice then created a sensation. French theatre owners launched a protest against the two films being included on a platform that circumvented theatrical distribution and in response Fremaux then said that never again would films that will not have theatrical distribution be part of the Cannes main competition. This year’s jury president, the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, then announced at his Cannes press conference that he did not think it appropriate that films that do not open in theaters win the Cannes prize, essentially disqualifying the two Netflix entries.



Will this position hold? It’s doubtful, Amazon also has a film in the competition, Todd Haynes Wonderstruck but that is getting a pass because it will have a limited, just to qualify for awards, opening in theaters. It should be said that Okja, the better of the two Netflix films, will open in theaters in the U.S., Britain and its home country South Korea, but these are mostly day and date openings, that is, the film will open the same time in the theaters as worldwide on Netflix. Again, these openings are not about getting the film seen in theaters but rather about having it qualify at awards time in the three countries; the idea being that a limited theatrical run, though a bit costly, could pay off later in the movie season by generating increased cultural capital for the company through these awards which is this case translate as more subscribers.
Is Netflix truly evil? Well, they are part of FANG, the infamous quartet of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google whose profits in the last quarter have themselves equaled the profits of the remaining 496 members of the Fortune 500. Amazon is doing to retailers what Netflix is attempting to do to local film industries: level them. However, the approach taken at Cannes seems shortsighted. Punishing Netflix for distributing worldwide across their network and not opening in theaters is not the answer, since it will not stop the company. The answer, as the French ingeniously realized with Canal Plus decades ago, is to tax Netflix or require it to pay a fee for showing its content. Canal Plus, the French pay per view service, has a deal with the French government which allows it to be able to show films in a reduced window of 10 months after they open instead of the usual 3 years. In return for that concession the company pays 15 percent of its profits to subsidize French and global cinema. Its film producing arm Studio Canal is responsible not only in France but around the world for producing some of the most progressive films on the market. A deal like that needs to be worked out with Netflix where some part of their profits can be reinvested locally, here in French film, in return for them operating in the country. Instead we have the Starbucks phenomenon where American companies make huge profits in the European markets and quarter themselves in places where taxes are the lowest, in Starbucks case in Holland, simply taking and not returning.
That said, the Netflix entry Okja is the best film I’ve seen at the festival, a kid’s ecologically minded, anti-capitalist fable by in my mind the world’s leading director, the South Korean Boon Joon Ho, who has already given us one of the most socially situated serial killer films inMemories of Murder, the anti-imperialist horror film about South Korea threatened by a virus hatched in American labs in The Host, and the impassioned plea locating social stratification and hierarchiazation at the heart of global warming in the action thriller Snowpiercer. Okja, co-produced by Tilda Swinton in a true blending of East and West, opens with Swinton’s tour-de-force on stage presentation as corporate inheritor Lucy Mirando of her supposed rewriting of the sins of her factory belching father on the site of the factory as she announces her company’s new image as clean agribusiness proponent manufacturing a superpig, that under her breath she concludes “Better taste pretty f—ing good.” The pigs are distributed across the world and we meet the little girl Mija who raised the now full grown Korean pignocerous a cuddly being that is a miracle combination of CGI and full-scale suit designed by the creator of the creature in The Host. There follows two exciting action sequences one involving Mija and Okja on a cliff and the other with her tracking Okja to Seoul and hanging off the top of the truck the Mirando corporation is using to reclaim her pet. In the finale though Boon Joon Ho foregoes the King Kong running wild in New York sequence to instead focus on the slaughter and mutilation of the genetically altered animals in a way that merges ET with Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett’s indie film about the psychological damage the everyday grind of a slaughterhouse inflicts.
Okja is a hypersmart combination of global and local moving from the mountains of South Korea to the digital mecca of New York which nevertheless disdains the Dreamworks and Disney media showing off consisting of hyper-referential and unsatisfying cultural jibes, substituting in its place actual heart and social politics which Okja has aplenty. It is also, in its respect for the little girl’s relation with the animal and her peasant upbringing which allows her to remain honest in the world of New York media which is everywhere about corrupting her local affiliations and which also affects her grandfather, a comment on the relation between Netflix and local cinema. The Mirando corporation, which first seems benign in the form of Lucy, but which then turns much harsher in Lucy’s ousting by her totally bottom line oriented sister, also played this time by a tight-lipped Swinton, is itself a kind of Netflix selling a benign version of entertainment and concealing a lust for profit and slaughter, in this case of local artists, who it is everyday supplanting. So, Boon Joon Ho is subtly biting the hand that feeds and distributes him.
The Netflix logo was booed initially at the press screening and the booing continued not at Netflix but because the screen was only about two-thirds visible to the balcony audience which hooted until the film restarted. Asked if this might be deliberate sabotage of the Netflix screening, Boon Joon Ho remarked instead that the technical glitch allowed the audience to re-see the first 10 minutes which is jam packed with a recounting of the former evils of the Mirando Corporation which are the past evils which have led to the now sanitized corporate image of tech companies. He was very happy the audience got to see it again. Asked what he thought of Almodovar’s statement eliminating the film from winning the Cannes top prize, he simply proclaimed himself in awe that Almodovar would be watching his film.  Co-producer Swinton replied that the filmmakers did not come to Cannes to win prizes but to deliver a very canny and ultimately savage criticism of corporate destruction of the environment in this case of animals that might have a larger impact if it opened worldwide on the Netflix platform. In sum, an altogether winning performance both on and off-screen by Boon, Swinton and the filmmaking crew which in the end valued the film’s social message above what alongside it looked almost like petty gripes by a film industry clinging not to any authentic morality but merely to its established patterns of profit.
Joon Ho’s and Swinton’s clear-eyed anti-capitalist commitment stood in sharp contrast to another film directed by the usually equally clear-eyed Vanessa Redgrave called Sea Sorrow about the refugee crisis in Europe. The film starts out strongly, interviewing an Afghani who explains he started crying when American soldiers entered his home and in response to his tears the soldiers killed both his mother and father. But then the film drops all questioning of what created the crisis, where refugees are primarily from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, all countries which the Western powers have decimated, and instead becomes a mute plea to let a few more refugees into Britain. The film seems to go out of its way to offend no one but in so doing becomes a fairly mundane liberal hand-wringing exercise about an issue that Western media give a good deal of preachy lip service to while never analyzing the problem at its Western colonial core and thus never suggesting what actually might be done about it.
Far better by the way is the Martin Scorsese exec-produced A Ciambra directed by Jonas Carpignano who was at Cannes two years ago with Mediterranea, a distinctive immigrant film which focused not on the African trip across that sea but on the difficult interaction, once arrived, with Italian locals. A Ciambra, shot and conceived in a starkly realistic style, concerns a Roma, a gypsy boy’s bitter coming of age and his relation with a Ghanian, Khoudas Seihan from the previous film, who befriends the boy Pio but whose friendship he must balance with the demands of his own clan, a rung just above the Africans, and the pressures of the dominant Italians who police the ethnic hierarchical structure. It’s a kind of multicultural updating of Scorsese’s own Mean Streets with a preadolescent De Niro.
The second best film in the festival I have seen is Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, a fairly scathing critique of Russian and indeed capitalist consumer society as it plays out in a post-socialist, post-gangster-economy Russia where the corporate ethos has become normalized. Like his Academy Award winning last film Leviathan, this film opens with desolate country shots of a bleak Moscow winter. The film traces the self-absorption of a father who worries that his breaking up with his wife will affect his sales and marketing job and the wife whose California-obsession with fitness and her body leaves little room in their life for their son who subsequently disappears. They return to the wife’s mother, a signifier of old Russia, referred to by the husband as “Stalin-in-a-skirt,” but that road is closed. This is a new take on the disappearing child, the favorite trope of serial TV series these days, where the focus is only mildly on finding the child and more determinedly on how the consumerist, hedonist and competitive lifestyle of the parents has engineered the boy out of their lives. A shot of him concealed behind a door in tears as the adults claim he is better off in boarding school is an extremely striking depiction of their own callousness as is the ultimate lack of resolution of the dramatic question and the reappearance of the initial bleak winter landscape which is the actual emotional content of the lives of the parents now with other partners who have substituted material comfort for genuine satisfaction.
Another excellent examination of the global and the local is Western from German director Valeska Grisebach, which details the spirit of colonization with which a German crew and especially the foreman, building a hydroelectric dam, treats the Bulgarian inhabitants of the nearby village. The main protagonist is an ex-mercenary, as he says a Legionnaire, who, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, disdains violence and conquering and attempts to forge relations with the villagers. The foreman on the other hand projects contemporary German economic might as in direct relation to its Nazi past, claiming that “we were here 70 years ago, and now we’re back.” The film in dealing with the inhabitants of Europe’s poorest country refuses the easy labelling of their peasant organizational structure as “mafia” and instead highlights their collective customs. The legionnaire ultimately himself and despite himself begins to exhibit a more domineering manner and the film leaves open the question as to whether these cultural patterns can be transcended.
An astonishing film that details the leaving behind of the Chinese workforce as that country struggles towards maneuvering its economy toward a more high tech orientation is Walking Past the Future about a family of peasants living and having helped build the modern coastal industrial city of Shenzun with its new gleaming corporate skyline. The parents of the young woman Yang Yaoting are getting old and are both told their services are no longer required in their factory jobs. They move back to the countryside in a reverse migration that is not unlike that of African-Americans in the last decade moving back to the South. But there they find their village communal land has been confiscated by an agribusiness boss who claims it is all legal because he has the correct papers and who quickly fires the family for again working too slow. Yang returns to Shenzun where she is the subject of a new kind of 21st century human trafficking. To earn money to provide her parents with an apartment for their retirement, she takes part in medical tests which pay better than her equally dangerous job in a microchip factory which requires that she wear a blue suit and facemask to deal with the radioactive materials. In this new form of prostitution, she, after her best friend has died trying to perfect herself with plastic surgery, falls in love with the procurer of the test victims, essentially, in the scenario of this new form of biomedical exploitation benefitting big pharma, her pimp. He also hides behind the legal charade of signing away consent since Yang, desperate to save her family, has little choice but to concede. The film is a bitter indictment of the lengths this new economy will go to exploit and then to discard its workers.
Worst film of the festival so far was the out-of-competition opening Arnaud Deplichin’s Ismael’s Phantoms, a misogynist, colonialist hyper-indulgent piece about a French director, Matthew Almaric, and the two women who inhabit his life but who for him function merely as muse’s for his so-called art. Charlotte Gainsbourgh is underused as the director Ismael’s current lover while the always wonderful Marion Cotillard returns from the dead to briefly breathe life into a film that retrogressively celebrates the director’s Peter Pan syndrome as a mark of genius. The director’s film within a film, nominally an espionage thriller, has the look of a much better film than that about the childish artist but it too then succumbs to being, as are the two women, essentially figments of his artistic imagination. The espionage film begins by reminding us of the kind of skillful quoting of Hollywood the French New Wave directors used to do, being unable themselves to manage a blockbuster budget. However,  this “film” also ends up as a projection of the director’s ultimately mundane problems and finishes by being far less instead of the intended far more than what at least in television storytelling has achieved a higher, meaning more complicated, intricate and social, level of storytelling than this film can even imagine. By the way sprinkling references to James Joyce, Melville and Hitchcock, rather than deepening the examination of creative genius, in this context, simply shows us what lesser company we’re in at the moment.
The other Netflix film The Meyerowtiz Stories is an attempt by director Noah Baumbach to claim the mantle, in detailing the lives, loves and generally lack of passion of New York’s cultural elite, of a new Woody Allen. Alas, he succeeds. The film is a well observed but ultimately pointless depiction of one of Baumbach’s failed artists, this time a declining patriarch, Dustin Hoffman, an unsuccessful sculptor who has visited his resentments on his two sons, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller. What has happened as Baumbach approaches Woody status is that the satire, which in say The Squid and the Whale could be devastating, is now settled into a kind of nostalgic recollection in tranquility that blunts the humor to the point that even the delayed entry of the almost always funny Ben Stiller cannot save it from its tepid heart which like its patriarchal lead character often fails to beat.

Back next week with more from Cannes 70. 

This is Bro on the World Film Beat Once Again “Breaking Glass” at the Cannes Film Festival.

The prizes are in at the festival and first prize, the Palme D’Or, goes to The Square, a Swedish film about the persistence of big money in the art world. Meanwhile, the continuing breaking story at Cannes concerned migrants, two of whom turned up dead in Cannes during the festival while onscreen the Hungarian film Jupiter’s Moon opens with a unarmed Syrian migrant gunned down by the local police who then acquires the power of, no pun intended, flight in a kind of crossing of the Marvel comics series Legion with the starkest European social reality.

Elsewhere French director Michael Toesca brought four migrants to Cannes to call attention to their plight as the police forbid them from taking their place on the red carpet with the director. This famous tapis rouge on which Nicole Kidman, in four films and honored by the festival, was a fashion sensation was in a way mocked in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks where agent Cooper seems to be trapped in a red velour curtain, like the carpet, and cannot find his way back to reality as so much of the event seems to both want to embrace the social ills of contemporary Europe and to at the same time deny them, subsuming then in a wash of consumerist glamour.

The order of the day in week two was television as Cannes screened what was claimed as its first, not one but two, television series; the second season of Jane Campions’ Top of the Lake in its entire six episodes and the sequel to Twin Peaks with episodes one and two screened days after opening on Showtime in the U.S. Footnote, this is not the first series screened at Cannes, that honor goes to Bruno Dumont’s P’tite Quinquin, a four episode series which screened in 2014 but was not a high profile American series and even earlier to 2010s Carlos by Olivier Assayas. The Top of the Lake screening was unique. We were sitting in a Cannes theater watching TV for six hours with director Campion and her actors and crew and snacking after every two episodes with candy and granola bars supplied by the screeners. I consider these two series along with Cannes bad boy Lars Von Trier’s The Kingdom the three crucial series for the establishment of a more committed and critical form of serial television, the most dynamic contemporary narrative form, which Cannes by holding the screenings was acknowledging.

Top of the Lake season two began well, with the first two episodes, this season with the female detective Robin Griffin now back in her workplace of Sydney Australia investigating the death of a Chinese sex worker and as well the middle class exploitation of migrants as baby incubators, surrogates, with both somehow tied to a frustrated philosophy professor/pimp who initially holds the place of the drug lord patriarch of the first season. A very promising start but the series then dissolves into a haze of ambiguity and confusion as the patriarch himself becomes a fractured truth teller and the upper middle class Nicole Kidman character instead of being evil as is hinted in her earlier appearances in the series becomes instead merely obnoxious, weakening what was a very promising beginning.

Twin Peaks unfortunately has a similar trajectory. The question here was, would the series return to a refashioning of the “Who Killed Laura Palmer” framework which made it the best and most influential series ever on the air or would it languish in the demon Bob aftermath of the mess that was the final episodes post the revelation of the incest behind and at the root of the American experience and that carried over into the experimental but nonsensical Fire Walk With Me. There is more than the germ of a great series here, not only in the return to the Twin Peaks characters but also in a South Dakota story involving a seemingly innocent high school principle, his lawyer and his wife. The second episode though remains consumed in the demon Bob taking over agent Cooper nonsensical skullduggery. Lynch’s explorations of the unconscious are always best, in Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, when they are initially grounded in the social world and episode two disdains that grounding. The series does explore two crucial questions. One is, given the series’ consciousness of itself as aging 25 years, does the unconscious or how does the unconscious age? The second is, what is the impact of the digital age on the unconscious, or rather, do we have any unconscious left or are we all simply preordained images mixed in a consumer morass that is now our minds? A New York section quotes Andy Warhol’s Empire as a watcher of the now digital skyline of the city is then punished for his watching in a way that suggests we are all now couch potatoes perhaps awaiting our comeuppance.

Though Top of the Lake attempts to map the battlefield of contemporary male-female relations three other films at the festival do it better and with less ambiguity. First is Sophia Coppola’s remake of the Clint Eastwood film The Beguiled with wounded Union soldier Colin Ferrell rescued by a Girl’s School near the end of the Civil War and which we heard a clip from in the opening of the show. Four different ages of women within the school all become enamored with the soldier with this remake told not through his eyes, as is the Don Siegel original, but through theirs. This is a coming-of-age film for director Coppola, awarded the best director prize at the festival, where the past as in Marie Antoinette is still not really the past, but a screen on which to project post-feminist struggles, but here those struggles and the women’s ability to fight back and to form a collective is what is emphasized in a deepening of the post-feminist position.

Second in this fight-back line is the remarkable Indonesian film Marlina, The Murderer in Four Acts by Mouly Surya, a combination of the rich heritage of Indonesian folk tale and the visual and iconographic heritage of the 1970s Sergio Leone Italian Spaghetti Western. The landscape for this tale of a woman set upon by thieves who steal her property is the flat arid Old West plains of the island of Sumba, far from the usual tropical rainforest that is the image of the country. Marlina, triumphs over the men in a way similar to that of the triumph of the Girl’s School in The Beguiled but that is only the beginning of her tale which features equally the awakening of a pregnant companion along the way, all in the face of the inert figure of Marlina’s mummified husband, no help in confronting wanton male energy in a cruel landscape where the human scale is reduced to a single horizon line in shots that betray the majesty of a director emerging onto the world stage.

Finally, there is the wondrous bloodletting of the South Korean epic, screened as a midnight film, The Villainess, which first depicts the savage fighting skills of its gang-trained female assassin then tames and domesticates her as she moves to a legitimate position inside a government security agency and falls for one of its operatives. Finally though, betrayed by both the agency and the gang, she exacts her revenge in a death-defying armored car sequence before being taken by the police as the last shot closes in on her smile as she is cuffed, the smile seemingly her excitement at the power she wields rather than the more simplified satisfaction of revenge.

I would like to continue my coverage of Cannes 70 with a tribute to the range of films the festival screens. In one day I first saw An Inconvenient Sequel, Al Gore’s follow-up 10 years later to his Academy Award winning doc on climate change. In the decade between, Gore has become, not embittered, but sharper and more direct in his message, pointing out that there are now places in Africa where because of the increased pestilence caused by the heat which promotes the Zika virus women are being told to wait two years to have babies while in the U.S. for the same reason pregnant women are warned not to visit Miami where Gore explains the flooding coming from the melting of Greenland may sink that city faster than Venice. He identifies the fossil fuel industry as the villain and though still guilty of consorting with known Democrats like Chuck Schumer does point out that his heritage, where his father opposed LBJ’s War in Vietnam, is from a time when Democrats had both a heart and a spine.

Next, on the same day, I saw in the Cannes Classic Section African director Med Hondo’s Soleil O, the first restoration by The African Project, partially funded by George Lucas and introduced onscreen by Martin Scorsese which will eventually restore 50 African films from the Golden Period of the 1970s and 1980s. Hondo one of the key African directors in that cinema’s revolutionary period was a student in France and the film observes French racism firsthand in its main narrative while a remarkably prescient opening pantomime has African warriors fighting each other for the approval of a European general. They all collapse in a heap in front of the wily brigadier and he smiles as divide and conquer, employed now more stridently than ever on the continent, works wonders.

Finally, my day concluded with the already discussed Villainess, which begins with an opening montage in subjective camera, that is, we see not her but only what she sees, of her blades mowing over the gang of men who oppose and mock her. The first time we see that this talented assassin is a woman is when she looks in a mirror, echoing The Lady in the Lake, a Hollywood ‘40s noir which uses this technique. The audience claps at the carnage she exacts similar to a male assassin who becomes known as the killer of 100 in Tashio Mike’s Blade of the Assassin also screened at the festival. This time though the destruction is engineered by a woman as a tour-de-force settling of accounts for a whole cinematic and actual history of male violence against women. A truly remarkable day at a festival which really did contain multitudes.
In the griping section though I will say that security which last year in the wake of the Bateclan Paris attacks was spectacular and showy, this year was omnipresent and constantly invasive. A team of experts managed to detect and deactivate the threat posed at one point by my double chocolate muffin, instructing me that I could not go into the Palais with a weapon like that and so I had to eat it outside. And of course, as in the wider uses of the security state, fighting terrorism could conceal and rationalize any number of other restrictions which cannot be questioned. I was told I could not take my computer into a screening which seemed to have much more to do with piratage and recording than with a security threat. Even The Hollywood Reporter could not but be struck by the way the heavy presence of the police in what has become an armed state contrasted sharply with the supposed “freedoms” being lauded on the red carpet of filmmakers to pursue their personal whims and fantasies.
I will conclude with three French films that were in various ways less than meets the eye. The first was Rodin which like five years ago’s Renoir falls into the stultifying genre of the French Heritage film, which as opposed to its British cousin validating empire, validates the Republic through its artistic preoccupations. This film has a bit more going for it than Renoir with Vincent London, so good in 2015’s The Law of the Market, as the brooding 40-year old sculptor about to embark on his grandest creation, The Gates of Hell. Unfortunately it often dissolves into Rodin’s sexcapades and historical myth as when he tells “Paul”, Cezanne that is, to stay true to himself and Cezanne falls to his knees and kisses Rodin’s ring which even if true has a very false ring to it, substituting artist star-finking for a socially complex recounting of the events.
Francois Ozon’s L’amant Double, on the surface a Hitchcockian tale of a woman who falls for two opposite psychoanalyst brothers, is unfortunately really just 100 Shades of Grey, more erratic than erotic thriller which doesn’t ultimately make much sense even as the tortured images of its obsessed heroine. Fleshy, fashion photography disguised as psychoanalytic fable.
More insidious but also more interesting was Markala, a documentary shot in the Congo about a charbonier, that is a villager who cuts down the mighty baobab tree and turns it into charcoal briquettes which he loads on his bicycle to make and make us feel the long and arduous trip to town to sell at an African market, part of the oldest market system in the world. The cutting down of the tree and the journey in a neo-realist style are well told but there is a tendency by the French director to fetishize the African customs with the film ending in a religious frenzy which the French camera observes somewhat disdainfully with the film unable to penetrate the culture or to view it as anything but exotic. At the screening the director Emmanuel Gras called his five white French compatriots onstage where he celebrated his filmmaking and finally got around to thanking his Congolese lead, not at Cannes, “without whom this film would not have been possible.” Duh. That’s like Elvis Presley “thanking” Chuck Berry and Little Richard without whom his ripping off of a more authentic culture would also not have been possible.

This is Bro the World Film Beat Breaking Glass and signing off from Cannes 2017.

I’ll be back with a recap of best of the films in the festival beyond the main competition. 

 2016 Top 10: The Year of the Filmexit

Two trends in the 2016 cinema. One is the continuing dominance of the television serial long form which is replacing much mid-level and indie film production, giving creators the opportunity to explore stories at length, so that the film Top Ten is becoming less important. 

That is why I follow my own Top Ten with the Ten Best Serial Series of 2016.  The second trend is that in this year of Trump, the Brexit, and a resurgence everywhere of movements that are alternately or at the same time anti-global capital and reactionary, my Top Ten has followed suit stressing in true Bernie Sanders fashion the progressive side of the anti-corporate critique.


In no particular order, and bearing in mind that from my place in Paris distribution patterns are different than in the US so that this list may function as a potential cinema going guide for 2017, here are the best films I saw this year, a Top Ten plus Two.

The Olive Tree - Paul Laverty may be rewarded at Oscar time for his screenplay for Daniel Blake, but this screenplay, about a young woman who searches to restore an olive tree uprooted from her home in Andalucia in Southern Spain to function as window dressing for a German corporation in Dusseldorf is even more poignant and far reaching in its critique of the uneven global order in Europe between the north and south.

I, Daniel Blake – Laverty again with director Ken Loach in a film that tracks post-Thatcher-Blairite meanness and cruelty as it affects those most in need of help; a worker who has collapsed from a heart attack being harassed into returning to work early and a mother trying to feed her family. One at the mercy of a now merciless neoliberal state, the other forced to succumb to a masculinist form of private-enterprise thinking that registers bodies as just another form of saleable commodity.

Trumbo – Opened in the US last year, but surfaced here in France early this year. Extraordinarily complex dissection and glorification of a figure for whom ethics was not just another marketable phenomenon. Bryan Cranston shines in the role as blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Trumbo who reminds the corrupt Republican Senator Parnell when they cross paths in prison that only one of them is there because they are a criminal and in a beguiling way explains to his daughter that a communist is the school kid who, when they find that others around them do not have enough, shares, rather than sells or trades, their lunch. Subversive, because mostly positive, portrait of an actual hero and perhaps Hollywood’s greatest screenwriter. 

Last Train to Busan – This resplendent South Korean zombie film uses the horror form to discuss such topics as: global ecological destruction, in its opening beguiling scene of a zombie deer rising after being squashed by a truck carrying radioactive waste; the interpersonal devastation that the ultimate profit motive wrecks in a CEO’s sacrificing everyone to save himself; and the painful memory of the island’s being sacrificed as still victim of the Cold War in the approach of the survivors to the title city where a key battle was fought. Part of a resurgence in the genre as it embraces a new grounding in the social horror that everywhere marks the global landscape. 

The Net – Korean director Kim Ki-duk stunned the Venice film festival with this entry about a poor North Korean fisherman who inadvertently slips over the border to the South, where he finds a land where selling is everything while upon his return to the North finds a place where blatant corruption rules the day. A eulogy that suggests both states need to start over in a reworking of relationships. The evenhanded comparison in detailing the maltreatment of the population of both Koreas is hard for Western audiences, still spoon-fed Cold War propaganda, to grasp. 

Jackie – Performance of the year from Natalie Portman who from the opening portrait of an elegant woman under pressure captures the grace, haughtiness and social acuity of Jackie Kennedy’s crucial moment in her commanding presence around the funeral of Jack, refusing, for example, to change her blood-stained dress because she wanted those who created the atmosphere that made the assassination possible to feel what they had done. Chilean director Pablo Lorain, also weighing in this year with a screen bio of Neruda as a victim of Chile’s entry into the Cold War, strikes again.

Brimstone –Despised by mainstream critics and seen as simply posing, this Dutch Western with an indefatigable Dakota Fanning pursued to the ends of the earth by Guy Pierce’s perverse, sado-masochistic reverend has both a fascinating well-conceived fractured time structure that plays like four distinct episodes making it resound with the narrative intricacies of series TV and a critique of the American Puritan ethos currently projected as global violence that recalls both Lars Von Trier’s Dogville and the wonder of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. Underappreciated but will eventually be recognized as a masterful late Western. 

The Witch –Puritan ethic again, this time in its original guise, as once again the horror film is the vehicle for imprinting a critique of the American psyche as devastating the physical landscape of New England and the psychological landscape of female subjectivity in a way that recalls Terence Malick’s The New World in its ravaging of nature and Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist in its celebration of the power of female desire to triumph over the repression that would silence it. 

Sami Blood – In this year of indigenous resistance to the destruction wrecked on Native People’s by that most wretched of capitalist enterprises, the oil and gas industry, this Swedish film, which got a very quiet release in the US, details the prejudices and misunderstandings directed at the Laplanders or Sami, as told through the eyes of a woman who “escapes” her culture only to find that she is now utterly imbued in a European devaluing of her heritage that sees her people as primitive both in customs and in their non-Aryan look. A wise and timely film that deserves to find a wider audience. 

Fiore – Romeo and Juliet in the slammer. This hard-bitten story of a young Milanese’ decision to adore her fellow male inmate is less romantic tale than tribute to the lead characters’ ability to find love amidst the pain of working class life in an Italy devastated by unemployment to the point where it is a marvel that this second generation thief, now mining the digital realm of stolen cell phones, can still imagine with her prison lover a place where she, the flower of the title, can still bloom amid the harshness of the life around her.

Ma Rosa –Almost similar to Fiore in its depiction of a literally Mom and Pop convenience store in one of the worst slums of Manilla where to make ends meet the female proprietress must sell drugs on the side. Brillante Mendoza’s beautiful long take film contains multiple shots of both, as it’s called, “the impasse”, the dead-end alley where the family is sheltered and the ominousness of the long walks of the police out to haunt and corrupt the streets rather than to make them safe. Quiet and for that reason more disturbing examination of the devastation of drugs in the country which includes the unfettered corruption of those engaged in this supposed war on drugs, in actuality a war on the impoverished. 

Where to Invade Next – European Social Democracy is everywhere under attack from all sides but Michael Moore finds in scouring the continent rays of hope that, pre-Trump, could have been applied to the US system to humanize it. From lack of student debt in Slovenia, with the exception of two American students who are there fleeing the high cost of American education; to enlightened prison training, including courses in Philosophy, in Finland; to five course meals in France in the equivalent of American inner-city student lunches, Moore’s best work in a decade outlines practical methods for improving American life, many of them, oddly, conceived in the US.

Honorable Mention:

Julieta –Almodovar’s bittersweet remembrance of a mother’s breakup with her daughter replete with Bunuelian stunning shape-shifting of actresses is a visually gorgeous hymn to the wisdom of his female characters.

Bitter Money – 6th Generation Chinese director Wayne Bing’s documentary recounting of the lives of those from the provinces who flood not the interior but the fringes of the Chinese industrial cities where their lives and livelihood are continually at the mercy of an ownership system and a deregulated economy that casts them aside if they do not continually produce at an ever more rigorous level. 

Risk – In this year of the degrading of Wikileaks, Laurie Poitras’ inside look at the systematic attempt to silence Julian Assange’s government truthtelling as well as his protégés’ exposing of corporate malfeasance is a timely follow-up to last year’s noirish telling of the Edward Snowden saga Citizen Four.

Horror, Horror Everywhere and Politics Aren’t Spared

Any assessment of the best films of 2016, as critics around this time of the year are wont to do, has to take account of the new power of traditional genres to illuminate contemporary truths. I’m talking particularly about the horror film which this year has seen: the Korean Last Train To Busan, a zombie thriller whose subtext is the horror of neoliberal life and its stifling of all collective feeling; The Witch, as good a film as has ever been made about the way a particular brand of fervent Puritanism continues to inflect and infect the American psyche; and the upcoming Brimstone, a Dutch film set in the American West which uses elements of horror in its perennial battle between a woman’s desire and a stifling and violent macho culture, justified under a kind of religious and military fanaticism that predominates in the history of theWestern. This is not even to mention Don’t Breathe where the horror of the contemporary American urban nightmare of under or non-funded inner cities is metastasized into a battle in Detroit between urban raiders taking advantage of the situation and a Iraqi war vet whose sadism is the detritus of the US Middle East colonial wars, and the related reviving of the disaster genre, distant cousin to horror, in the blockbuster crossing of it with the contemporary social problem film in Deepwater Horizon, so that just when British Petroleum thought it was safe to go back into the world’s waters we have the nightmare they inflicted on Louisiana retold as a corporate disaster on the scale of Earthquake, Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno.


It really is not surprising that in today’s world horror is a genre that draws directors. What is different is that, globally, a good number of these films are moving beyond the splatter aspect of the genre and into more sophisticated dystopian imaginings of contemporary events. Where horror in the first decade of the millennium was defined by the Hollywood splat pack epitomized by Saw where sadistic effect is piled upon sadistic effect in a reflexivity or consciousness about the genre that substituted gore for the comic sophistication of Wes Craven’s Scream and by reactionary pieces such as Hostel where the other of the American empire, the strangeness of life outside the neo-liberal order, was villainized. The one film worth remembering from the whole lot was Cabin Fever which cast a negative light on the now no longer innocent band of privileged teens previously in the genre only victims but in this film also victimizers. 

Humanity does appear to be at an impasse in a number of areas; with there seeming to be no real will to stop global warming as energy companies become more and more vicious in their pursuit of profit, seen currently in the unleashing of dogs on peaceful protestors in land of the Lakota; with more and more areas of the globe simply written off as no longer profit centers and with people in those areas being offered only right-wing demagoguery or Trumpisms as an alternative; and finally with neo-liberal governing mechanisms, nominally called democratic, everywhere being exposed as simply under the command of a global oligarchy with the processes incapable of producing anything like true representatives of the people, as fully 58% of the electorate in the US view the two puerile mouthpieces who are unable to get out of the gutter unfavorably.

In this increasingly catastrophic world, along comes the most important representative of the new political horror Korea with the resplendent Last Train to Busan, a zombie film for the neoliberal age. Unlike The Walking Dead whose subtext is simply how to manage the empire in the wake of its personal catastrophe of 9/11 (how much violence does one use to subdue the world’s population of zombies who are sleepwalking through existence?), here the film’s virus that causes the zombie breakout throughout the world and specifically on a single train is tied to nuclear radiation leaks, recalling nearby Fukushima, the winds of which can not but also have affected the neighboring island of Korea. The penetration of nature by these deadly manmade energy sources is forecast in a truly frightening and wondrous opening where a deer, become roadkill by a pig farmer, rises reborn as a creature of the dead, as so much of nature is now stillborn.  On the train we witness the force of the zombies penetrating every strata of society, but two business types stand out. The lead character is a financial manager, on the train with the daughter he often neglects, who is reborn as a human being in the course of helping others in combatting the outbreak. In contrast the most vicious of the zombie-battlers is a corporate CEO who sacrifices everyone in his single minded desire to stay alive, utterly devoid of all fellow feeling, as accurate a depiction of the neoliberal ethos as has been rendered on screen. The train hurtles toward Busan, the site of one of the major battles of the Korean War, and it is here in the finale that the human survivors of the zombie attack are met with a line of soldiers recalling the primal trauma on the island of a war inflicted on it by the great powers. Though the city has been remade as a global production capital, Busan for Koreans still bears the scars of those never healed wounds. The film is in the line of two earlier Korean horror-disaster films, The Host, concerning a seaside city menaced by a aqueous monster begot in the labs of the still occupying American army and Snowpiercer, a dystopian fable about the wages of climate change which this film acknowledges by the former film’s lead appearing on the zombie train, broken down and in tatters, muttering over and over “We’re all dead.” Busan is contemporaneous with another Korean horror film, The Stranger, where horrible murders in a village are tied to a Japanese recluse who haunts the countryside long after the end of the brutal Japanese colonial period.

Why the mastery of these genres in contemporary Korea? For one, the Korean cinema is duplicating its role as trendsetter in Asian television by challenging Western distribution in Asia with extravagant genre films with a regional bent.  But the force and vociferousness of these generic creations owes much to the horrors in Korean history (the Japanese occupation, the Korean War, the South Korean dictatorship, and the current inability to reunite the island) and the willingness of Korean directors to transmute this tragedy into a form in the horror and disaster film in which it can be contemplated, and which has reenergized genres that had atrophied, partly from becoming too shielded from the social world.

And Hollywood is following suit. Don’t Breathe utilizes the ravaging of Detroit as subtext for its intimate horror inside the last house inhabited on a block destroyed by the cities debt, fostered on it by its banks. The film recalls Wes Craven’s resplendent People Under the Stairs of a quarter of a century ago when the devastation wrecked on the inner city of Philadelphia is seen from the inside by its black inhabitants as fueled in a horror mansion by a sado-masochistic Caucasian Mommy and Daddy who torture the neighborhoods downcast. Craven in his social attitudes follows a line in the horror film that dates back to World-War-II impresario Val Lewton whose nine horror films, including Cat People, a branding of the Serbian female other and The Leopard Man, which materializes the horror of Latino treatment in the US, together present a savage critique of American normalcy. Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow in its treatment of Haitian voodoo as desperate cry of a former colonial downcast people recalls directly Lewton’s I Walked With a Zombie where the horror of a Caribbean island is tied to its history as a sugarcane plantation. Don’t Breathe, in the Lewton/Craven line is a well-drawn, basically single set-piece where the trauma inflicted on the city is reflected in equal measure by the young housebreakers who are attempting to flee and the blind war vet who has lost his daughter, but who reenacts his pain in the most violent of ways, a reversal of Audrey Hepburn’s victimized blind woman in Wait Until Dark.

The new and important wrinkle in all of these film’s is the contemporary social setting that grounds the film and lets in and references directly the horrors of the modern global capitalist world. Thus in Don’t Breathe we get a montage of the deserted houses on the same block as the one the intruders are attacking. This element of social reality is even more strongly at play in Deepwater in the interpolation of an almost fetishistic recreation of life on board the Deepwater Horizon just before and after the disaster, including featuring and naming the members of the crew who will become victims of BP’s drive for profits as a cagily evil John Malkovich, instead of his usual over-the-top villainous persona, refuses safety tests and pushes the drilling that results in the spill. Just as Don’t Breathe cuts to a variety of shots of devastated Detroit, so too Deepwater contains a series of shots which describe the awesome destruction, a true attack on nature, of deepwater drilling where the earth is pounded in ways it cannot sustain.

These films constitute a global change in renewing tired generic formulas by investing them in the horrors of daily life under an ever more destructive and ever greedier capitalism. 

This is Bro on the World Film Beat live from the Venice film festival.

Venice big stories this year. The first and major one is Venice as Academy Award showcase. Venice has been the lauchpad for the last three Academy Award winners, Gravity, Birdman and Spotlight and the festival is now solidly back in the Hollywood spotlight, after previously being judged as too far to go and being outflanked by Toronto. It is now seen as the premier showcase for Oscar worthy films and Hollywood actors see it as more glamourous than Toronto, which opens this week. Venice’ reputation had previously been as a European auteur festival with in the last few years a strong Asian presence. That reputation now risks being eclipsed by the Hollywood juggernaut with this year not only best picture nominees, La La Land, Arrival and Nocturnal Animals but also best actor and actress hopefuls like Jake Glynnhall in Animals and Amy Adams in both Arrival and Animals and mid-career festival honoree Liev Schrieber for The Bleeder all showing up on the Lido, to say nothing of the Hollywood big-budget closing, the remake of The Magnificent Seven with Denzel Washington walking the red carpet.

At the moment, with the controversy over The Birth of a Nation, Venice looks like a shoe-in for a fourth best picture launching with La La Land. This is partly by default, with Variety, which has gone out of its way to stroke the controversy about Birth taking the initiative to dig up dirt on the director and which in the same issue as it grilled Nate Parker on a film which considers radical black action to untenable conditions went out of its way to present Michelle Obama as the acceptable symbol of black behavior, in an article that was essentially an invitation to the entertainment industry to give her a show or a network, perhaps to rival Trump’s after he loses the election.

I’m going to hate myself for this in the morning, but I did like La La Land. The film’s opening LA freeway number presented the city as a multi-culti paradise, a utopian land where energy is unleashed with all races racing toward the equally realizable dream of stardom in a kind of Hollywood version of A Chorus Line which got an ovation from the Venice audience and is to the musical what the opening of Saving Private Ryan is to the war film. Unfortunately, what comes next is that the movie comes back to earth and we remember that Hollywood is instead the land of the white Oscars as the film focuses on its Caucasian leads and tells only their story. Nevertheless within  the bounds of the musical, which this film is interested in restoring rather than challenging, the story of how two dreamers support each other’s dream does reverberate and the final dance sequence, an updating of the fantasy ballet of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon, has a bittersweet poignancy that will resound at Oscar time.

Arrival also is in its own way ambitious for Hollywood, an ET for the age of the Anthropocene, that is in the digital humanoid era. The film has in its alien landing scenario a focus on language as what underpins the symbolic economy and is in the end a good-hearted old fashioned, in new clothing, appeal for understanding on earth, shifting focus from ET to the still welcome liberal message of and anti-cold war message of nations working together for peace from Day the Earth Stood Still.

The same can’t be said for the third Oscar contender Nocturnal Animals, as nasty as piece of class superiority as has been put on film, barely masquerading in its story within a story as a tough edged noir and in its framing story as a woman who has everything seeking liberation. The art dealer, Amy Adams the lead in this and Arrival, who wistfully gave up her dreams attempts to recapture them by reading the novel her ex-husband wrote. This brings her back to life, but the novel she reads, recounted on the screen, is a story of middle class intimidation by a destitute working class, here portrayed as both unredeemable and disposable and the middle class revenge sanctioned by a dying lawman. This is “1 percent” trash barely even posing as popular entertainment. It simply validates the luxurious LA lifestyle the art dealer lives and proclaims that the price for it is an occasional pang of guilt. Worth noting that in an era in which art is no longer antagonistic to capital, or if it is as in the case of The Birth of a Nation, is quickly silenced, both La La Land and Nocturnal Animals see not what is said by an artist as any longer of any importance, only a vague commitment to something called ‘your art.’
While we’re on the subject of despicable pieces of work, there is the documentary American Anarchist, about William Powell who as a 19-year-old wrote The Anarchist’s Cookbook, subsequently used, as the filmmaker Charlie Siskel is at pains to explain, as a guide for violent acts. The filmmaker, by the way Gene Siskel’s nephew, yes that’s right the lesser talented, rule-bound half of Siskel and Ebert, thinks he is exposing Powell as unconsciously still prey to what Powell has long ago disavowed in a life spent making up for writing the book. What instead he is doing is torturing Powell, who died shortly after the film was finished, in a film that is blind to the fact that the Cookbook came out of a particular revolutionary time and place and that the subsequent uses it has been put too perhaps say more about the breakdown of society than about the author of the book. Siskel’s condescending personal-psychology-explains-everything approach has us instead watching a filmmaker whose vision is limited sadistically torturing his subject for what can only be seen as reasons of exploitation.  

China and Asia as a whole were again major forces at the festival with China putting out a publication describing its role in contemporary film production which rivaled Variety and The Hollywood Reporter in terms of graphics and production values.

Two Korean films then kicked off the Asian participation in the festival. Kim Ki-Duk’s The Net is perhaps the most controversial film of the festival. A fisherman’s boat on the Korean demilitarized zone drifts south over the border where causes the fisherman to be confronted by the evils in both societies that keep Korea from being reunited. In the South, in, as he notes, a land of abundance, he finds women forced to sell their bodies for the money that everyone craves and in the North, he finds a corrupt bureaucracy that steals wantonly from its people. The message that both are corrupt and both systems stand in the way of a reunited Korea is a difficult one for Western audiences, pumped so full of propaganda, to hear and Kim is expert at dramatizing Korea’s destruction in previous films such as Address Unknown and The Coast Guard and the South’s penchant for money in Pieta.
Another Korean film, Age of Shadows, is the kind of bigger budget competitive attempt at challenging Hollywood in genre production that the US industry often attempts to lock out of American screens. Age is a spy thriller set in Korea and China in the 1920s about the Korean independence movement challenging Japan with the unlikely hero being a Korean who works for the Japanese police. The film amounts to a kind of John Le Carre espionage saga as directed by Brian DePalma, a subtle spy thriller with a number of well shot action sequences including a shootout in a train station in Seoul at the arrival of the independistes that recalls the last sequence of The Untouchables.

Finally, I want to draw attention to three lesser known films that for me constitute a movement, though one that will most likely get lost in world cinema. The Philippines’ Ordinary Family, Portugul’s Saint George and Italy’s I Was A Dreamer all call attention to working and underclass people attempting to survive and grow in a world that has abandoned them. Ordinary Family has its two teen protagonists, in a replay of The Bicycle Thief, searching instead for their baby, kidnapped from them for money. The film illustrates how conditions have degenerated since the 40s and Bicycle Thief, with the girl being sexually assaulted instead of just ignored when she goes to report the theft to the police, but it also lovingly recounts how these two, against all odds, forge a relationship of mutual trust. Saint George follows an ex-boxer, still getting beaten up in the ring for money, as in the height of that country’s imprisonment by the European banks, the troika, becomes a debt collector (repo man sounds so trite) and foregoes his own humanity in being forced to survive. The film makes of the boxer and his Brazilian girlfriend’s housing units a kind of documentary poetry that in continual long shot neither idealizes nor condescends in filming the facts of their existence. Finally, I Was A Dreamer is about an ex-con in Rome who is elected head of his neighborhood and tries to revive it. The film is based on the lead actor’s true story and is highly improvised in a style that he dominates as he attempts to bring life to a neighborhood given up for dead. The film operates on the edge of film noir but effectively skirts that edge to become a hopeful story of resurrection, with a class that, rather than the fodder of the Hollywood Nocturnal Animals, proudly trumpets its humanity in the face of overwhelming odds..n the fodder of the Hollywood Nocturnal Animals, proudly trumpets its humanity in the face of overwhelming odds. 

This is Bro on the World Film Beat with my Venice 2016 Roundup.
The prizes are in and top prize goes to Philippines director Lav Diaz’ The Woman Who Left clocking in with a very short film for him of three hours and forty-five minutes in black and white about a female ex-con who plans revenge against one of the country’s elite for having gotten her falsely convicted and sent to prison for 30 years but who, in the vein of the Tolstoy story the film is based on, accepts redemption rather than revenge.

For me this year the festival more than any other broke down into three clear categories and the prizes did honor all categories. The first is the Hollywood film, where no matter what genre or theme, there is wealth displayed on the screen which other styles and formats must match or counter in some other way. And as I said last week, Venice has now, even more than Toronto become the launchpad for Oscar hopefuls. The prized films this year were the musical La La Land, which as I said last week, with The Birth of a Nation now discredited, becomes the Oscar behemoth, the juggernaut listen to themowing down all the competition on its way to the Best Picture Prize, as well as Nocturnal Animals, a nasty piece of “1 percent” filmmaking, which I discussed previously, Jackie, on Jackie Kennedy and The Bad Batch, a cannibal film that was otherwise not well liked here.
The best of the Hollywood entries for me was Jackie with an extraordinary performance by Natalie Portman, better even than the prize winner Emma Stone in La La Land. From the opening close-up of a face torn by grief and shock, Portman inhabits the role with an ease and grace that is so natural it is unnatural. This is the first lady’s finest hour, the moments after the assassination in which she refuses to change her blood-stained dress because she says there were wanted posters in Dallas of her husband and she wants to make “them” feel what they have done. The wonderful Pablo Lorrain who this year has already given us Neruda, on the Chilean poet and his persecution during the cold war, here, in his first Hollywood film, gives us a far more intimate portrait of someone who understood what it meant to be a public personality. In the process with these last two films, he invents a new genre, one for our time, the celebrity melodrama, the real and made-up agony of the man and woman who exist for and through the media but in each case use that stardom to hew whatever integrity may be allowed through it.
The second category of films at Venice, which the juries did a good job of rewarding, was the auteur cinema, a now global modernist cinema often of formal provocation that stands at a distance from its subject and which is a European legacy. The Lav Diaz film is the epitome of that category. It challenges audiences in its length, in its being shot in black and white in a fine-grained process that in its disturbing clarity of every leaf and tree is the cinematic equivalent of the Photorealists of the Art World in the 60s and 70s, and in its underground milieu of the demi-monde world of transvestites, street hawkers selling balut or goose eggs, thieves and security guards. It’s set in 1997 a particularly bloody time in the country with hosts of kidnappings and describes a world in which the rich so lord it over everyone else that they must be guarded whenever they leave their front door It also describes a kind of poetic destiny where crimes are avenged, though not by the law of course, in a way that allows those who can contribute positively to endure. Also prized in this category was the Russian director Andrei Kochalovsky for Paradise, a concentration camp romance between an SS aristocrat and a Russian aristocrat confined to the camp for saving two Jewish children. The first half hour is exquisite, centering on the French police captain who describes his job of torturing Jewish victims as that of a ‘humble bureaucrat.’ The concentration camp saga though starts to walk more well-worn paths with the idea often being to stun the audience with new takes on the atrocities such that when a woman collapses dead, the reaction of the inmates is to immediately steal her shoes and loot her possessions. Konchalovsky’s last film, The Postman’s White Nights was on my top ten but this film, which will probably win the best foreign film Oscar, seems to me to engage in the how-to-present-the-holocaust-in-ever-more-graphic-terms contest (though the plot that has the SS looting the camps is new) that does little to throw real historical light on it or to situate its uses in the present. Also recompensed, in the auteur category was Wayne Bing’s Bitter Money, a documentary examination of the migration into the city, in this case Shanghai, from the countryside of those too poor to make a go of it any longer in the country. The film, which follows his epic consideration of abandoned Chinese factory workers West of the Rails, one of the top films of the last decade, tracks these mostly very young male and female workers, as they do not penetrate to the inner city of Shanghai or to its global wealth, but rather remain on the fringes of the city, working not even in the organized though exploitative factories but rather in the looser structure of textile workshops where they often paid by the goods they produce with no structure to support them except their reliance on each other. The film follows a number of these workers and watches them at the sewing machine as they work, get fired, drink and gamble to compensate for this lifestyle and bemoan their fate as having been able to save almost no money. It’s odd to say this of a film that is two and half hours long but the film feels unfinished, and the director revealed that there was a rush to get something for Venice and that of the 2600 hours shot, the film uses only about 200 of them and that there will be a second film to follow. Many of the stories like the opening one of the teenaged girl whose mother warns her about getting pregnant in her move to the city feel barely started and to get the full force we would like to see what happens over a duration to these workers, perhaps in what will ultimately be a much longer film.  
My top film in the auteur category was the Dutch Western Brimstone, a film not liked by either critics or audiences but which I feel will eventually be understood as a film that takes its place beside Dogville and the other two films of Lars Von Trier US trilogy and Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, a film that has gained credence as the director’s cut has been more widely seen and which now has a reputation beside being, because of its cost, “the film that sunk a studio,” which I’m not sure should be held against it. Brimstone opens in Cimino’s West of Northern European sheep farmers in an epic duel between a mute woman, Dakota Fanning, and a preacher who mysteriously seems to have it in for her. The opening quarter shooting of a menacing west at night is stunning as is the four-part fractured sequence where the time manipulation effectively layers the story rather than just adding a gimmicky element to it and Dakota Fanning, my co-best actress with Natalie Portman, is superb as the resilient woman who must fend off the patriarchal violence of the west embodied in the preacher whose use of religion to rationalize all degrees of crimes relates to this year’s also stunning horror film The Witch and lays bare the inner workings of the American psyche. This spectacular film also has the look and feel of the best series television and is very much the reverse of a series that I saw in back to back screenings, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope, which is disappointing series television. Jude law stars as Pius the XIII, a deliberately conservative name reminding viewers of the Pius who aided the Nazis during the war and of Francis’ predecessor, Benedict who the English papers referred to for his support of the Nazis as “God’s Rotweiler.” This series is neither an expose of Vatican Power--Sorrentino claimed that would be too trite--nor a celebration of what a pope committed to equality like Francis could accomplish. Instead it’s a toned, down sanitized look at the Vatican, at its first American pope, whose rebelliousness is expressed in his drinking Coke in a long product placement segment, and in drinking American coffee and smoking. The show delights in pithy witticisms about the nature of power but ties none of them to specific instances of how that power is expressed and so, as one can see in retrospect in Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, substitutes worldly cynicism for sincere criticism. In the end Pius XIII turns into exactly the preacher that haunts the woman in Brimstone only this transformation is in part viewed positively as his Spartan ways make those around him feel guilty.
The third category of cinema which I talked about last week is those films still following the neo-realist tradition and telling the stories of first and third world oppressed peoples but in a more straightforward manner. Here the jurors did name Nuno Lopes from St. George which I mentioned last week, as best actor. In a category in which there were some wonderful films, last week I also mentioned the other Philippines entry Ordinary Family and Italy’s I Was a Dreamer, my best film was the Swedish Same Blood, about the Sami’s or Laplanders, Sweden’s indigenous Northern population, and one woman’s being ostracized from both societies for trying to overcome the prejudice of one against the other. Told as a flashback with the question being why has this now old Laplander refused her people, the film has a very piercing way of exposing the fashion in which the European gaze falls disrespectfully on those outside it. The most stunning scene is one in which the Lap girl, in a Swedish academy, has to try to keep up with blonde, thin, and conventionally beautiful other girls in a balletic gymnastics class where her body is in every way the opposite of theirs in a society which does not value the differences. Also worth mentioning from Turkey is Big, Big World where two siblings escaped from an orphanage are first exploited by a supposedly loving family and then flee to the woods where the brother also falls prey to the now consumer society appeals of a travelling circus with its instant preteen singing celebrities and thieving fortunetellers. Their struggle is very similar to the boy and girl in the Philippines film and this film was also acknowledged with a special jury prize.
Before I go I would like to mention two other documentaries, both excellent, my co-winners of the best documentary award. The highest credit I can give to David Lynch, The Art Life is to say the film, which features Lynch talking about while making his dark art and which is a kind of prequel to his career with this film ending with Eraserhead, is nearly a David Lynch film. It reminds us also with Lynch’s always intuitive description of the breakdown of Philadelphia that lead to Eraserhead, that that film may have been the first to provide a visceral representation of the effects and the everyday way that Reagan’s deindustrialization was lived. Also exceptional was the Italian documentary Storming Heaven, a recounting, using the footage of the Italian public TV station RAI, of the turbulent period of 60s and 70s Italian student activism. Unlike the festival’s other entry on this time period, the US’ American Anarchist¸ the vision here is not myopic and begins by recounting the way that peaceful student rallies and means of effecting change were beaten back by the state and fascist militias. Even when the film deals with the violent period of the Red Brigade, it presents the police machine gunning of a teen member of the movement as told by his parents, who support not necessarily his actions but him. The film ends with a plea for an experimental utopia as a means of countering the capitalist present.
Finally, three revivals stood out. The first is Pretty Poison, a 60s film that in disguised form attacks the society that drives its nonconformists, in this case the asylum parolee Anthony Perkins and the homicidal majorette Tuesday Weld, to crime as well as an early veiled attack on industrial pollution since it is a poison spewing factory where the duo commits its first crime. The Italian film from 1960 Everyone’s Going Home by the master satirist Luigi Comencini which opened the festival has Alberto Sordi as his usual Italian everyman this time leading a World War II platoon which is disbanded after the 1943 armistice but which is then attacked by the Germans, their former allies. The Sordi character, in a kind of live and let live approach, is slow to come around to retaliating against the Germans and joining the resistance in a way that describes Italian complaisance during the Christian Democrat ruling period in which the film was made. In the end though, after facing down his fascist father and after his platoon has been slaughtered, he mans a machine gun and joins the fight. Great film on several levels. The third revival was the first-time screening of a censored Iranian film The Nights of Zayandeh-rood by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. A 65-minute version of the 100 minute film, about a professor and his daughter who live through the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath and who are critical of Iranian attitudes both before and after, was found in the Iranian archives and restored for this screening. The film in its troubled intellectual’s, in this case an anthropology professor’s, consideration of the Iranian character is a kind of Iranian Memories of Underdevelopment, a Cuban film about a troubled intellectual. Nights sets part of its critique in a suicide clinic where the daughter has to ask survivors why they tried to kill themselves and where their answers reveal the fissures in a pre- and post-revolutionary society still rife with violence. A sincere criticism from a committed intellectual.    

This is Bro on the World Film Beat signing off from Venice.

Cannes Cleanup: In the Wake of Daniel Blake

My fellow critics have all gone home but I am still here on the Croisette wading in the muddy flood waters after the global warming storm looking for a rainbow in the other three Cannes competition entries but often finding myself instead knee deep in cinematic muck. The three other competitions, Un Certain Regard or A Certain Look made up of films by more established directors not represented in the main competition, Quinzaine Des Realisateurs or Director’s Fortnight featuring emerging directors, and Semaine de la Critique with new directors, all are replayed in Paris after the competition at respectively the Reflet Medici theater, the Forum des Image at Les Halles and the French Cinemateque. These are films that will be released in the US in dribs and drabs throughout the year. I am hoping to spotlight the worthy entries that are likely to get lost but also to deflate those that will be overhyped because of their Cannois origine, or place in the festival. Let the hyperinflation and deflation begin.

First my prizes for best of the rest, not by specific competition but all three together.

First prize goes to the Italian film Fiore from the Quinzaine. The most extraordinary fiction film of the secondary competitions was this lightly regarded Italian female gang film (the title Fiore means Flower) about a Milanese girl Daphne who steals cell phones at knifepoint making sure to get the code to unlock the phone and is caught and thrown into prison. At this point the film could have turned into a horrible contemporary women in prison version of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, but instead metamorphoses into a tender love story about this young girl’s coming of age and the awakening of her desire; Romeo and Juliet in Reform School. The film refuses to blame her absent father, himself caught in the prison industrial complex nor her inmates including a female inmate with whom she forms a touching prison friendship and celebrates her daring in her no-holds-barred romantic pursuit of her fellow inmate Josh. She dreams of the island paradise of Ibiza, Josh counters, in his pragmatic dream, with the mundane Italian beach of “Rimini” and in the end they are able to achieve at least for a moment a semblance of that dream, though with consequences for her. Wonderful, elegant filmmaking, better and more evocative than the main competition’s like-minded view of a young lost generation American Honey.    

Second prize to Risk, Laura Poitras’ follow up to her superb and visually haunting portrait of
Edward Snowden Citizen Four. Risk is an equally stunning, though not as visually intriguing or menacing, account of Wikileaks and the trials and tribulations of not just its founder Julian Assage but also of two of its other principles, lawyer Sarah Harrison and activist and internet journalist Jacob Applebaum. The film very carefully, given Assange’s and his partners hounding and legal troubles, lets others make the case for the democratic intervention of Assange and company’s leaked documents. Poitras presents an intimate look from the viewpoint of the censored at how the US government has subsequently not only, with most likely trumped up charges, railroaded a disguised Assange into asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy but also by threatening legal problems if they return to England, attempted to neutralize Harrison, who is a formidable attorney shown battling for a democratic internet and Applebaum a journalist who we watch accusing Egyptian internet companies of shutting down the web during the Arab Spring while they claimed to be aiding dissidents. Poitras’ remarkable on-the-spot coverage of the events, including a cameo by Lady Gaga, leading to the exile of all three is a tour de force of contemporary documentary filmmaking that is not afraid of an engaged point of view.

Third prize to the Singapore film Yellow Bird a sort of combination of noir/banlieu or inner city/migrant film that examines race, class and sexual tensions in a land that is often viewed as a spotless financial capital and shopping center; the Geneva and Zurich of South East Asia. That is not the Singapore depicted here as an Indian convict attempts to restart his life amidst the squalor of the slums where his mother has rented out his apartment to the city’s dominant Chinese and his wife and daughter have disappeared. Finally he takes up with a Chinese sex worker herself trying to reconnect with her daughter and both endlessly victimized by a ruthless for profit system designed to humiliate and roust them. An utterly unromanticized but tender exchange takes place between them in a scene about desire circulating between two bodies under pressure. The film is marred somewhat by a ridiculous ending that may be read as the Indian, called black in this racist society, cracking under the relentless pain of a greedy structure in which he has no place, in an action that is otherwise utterly out of character. Very promising start for a director who uses noir stylistics to expose the seamy underside, as do other contemporary Singaporean films like Shopping and Ilo Ilo, of a society whose pristine surface is all windowed skyscrapers.

Two films classed as interesting but unable to transcend that classification because of an over aestheticization are Chilean Pablo Larrain’s Neruda and the Canadian noir Mean Dreams. The former, by Latin America’s current best director, is about the Chilean poet and open Communist who is hounded out of the senate to become a fugitive in 1948 at the moment of the installation of the Cold War which in a vignette is also the appearance on the political stage of a promising young officer named Augusto Pinochet, suggesting that Cold War repression hatched Pinochet’s Chile. The film swims in the same current as the wonderful Trumbo about an elite but engaged artist in what Trumbo called “The Time of the Toad.” Neruda’s poems are recited by the people as they are dragged into paddy wagons in this early appearance of the eventual more brutal dictatorship of the 1970s. The film, which looks gorgeous, is obsessed with Neruda’s decadent lifestyle but more centrally with the police state cop, Gail Garcia Bernal, who pursues him by every possible fascist vehicle, ‘40s Mussolini type limos, Nazi motorcycles and Latin American strongman horses, looking debonair in each but the film ultimately dissolves or languishes a bit too long in a kind of Pirandelloesque haze about an author and his creations.

Mean Dreams is Wild at Heart on the Canadian Plains as two teenagers find first love while being pursued by the girl’s father, a somewhat frightening Bill Paxton, himself reprising his role as supposedly amiable sheriff at the heart of racist evil in One False Move. The father’s malicious and incestuous confusion of his daughter for his dead wife who he both loved and hated results in his jealousy over her first love, a neighboring farmboy and in his infernal pursuit of the two teens. The psychodynamics work well in a promising film with a somewhat surprising and fitting denouement but one that too often uses genre paint by numbers so that the blonde actress playing the young teen while looking like her mother to her father to us begins to look exactly like Laura Dern in Lynch’s film while Paxton recalls Frank in Blue Velvet et cetera and the et cetera is the problem in a film that doesn’t quite add enough new wrinkles to its genre devotion.

In other noirs, CBS goes the indie route with a tale of two brothers in West Texas who attempt to outwit the law but more crucially the banks in Hell or High Water. Ben Foster and Chris Pine are bank robbers tracked by Texas Ranger-on-his-last-roundup Jeff Bridges, in a bid also for a last Oscar. The brothers rob the Texas Midlands Bank to make enough money to pay off the mortgage on their family farm owed to the same bank. This is a kind of indie Smoky and the Bandit car race film which in the Age of Austerity and Debt takes on an underlying more grave tone where several deaths, in a sense forced on the brothers by the bank, dispel the ‘70s mood of light hearted road robbery drive-in vehicle.

The Italian noir Pericles Il Nero, Pericles The Black, features what is becoming a cliché of Italian noir in the wake of entries like 2013’s Salvo, the mentally damaged mafia strongman who if he does not have a heart of gold, equally does not have a head filled with malice. The Pericles of the title is the muscleman and designated humiliator for a Naples Mafia Don in Brussels. The film boasts lots of seedy and broken down Belgium landscapes, with that country’s economic ravishing designating it as one of the contemporary capitals of Euro Noir, but in the end its lead character and his struggle is not interesting enough for us to care whether or not he gets out from under the thumb of the don and his exploitative family.

Most interesting of the interesting is the Roumanian Dogs, a noir set on a deserted no-man or woman’s-land on the Ukraine border where a young man and his urban female partner from Bucharest come to sell land inherited as his birthright. He finds himself in the middle of a drug trafficking paradise complete with dying cop who cannot watch one more time as the corruption oozing around him engulfs everyone in its wake. The shock of the film, akin to the moment in Blue Velvet when Jeffrey discovers the murders in Dorothy Valens apartment, is the abrupt dismissal of the lead characters in this mating of noir with the static composition and slow pace of the Roumanian art film, the last bastion and inheritor of late European cinematic modernism.   
Next up are two French banlieu films, or what we would call hood or inner city films, each of which in a way, one positively, one negatively, break stereotypical modes. The one that garnered all the praise and a Cannes award Divines or Divines or we would say Divas was, the French critics claimed, a film that broke the inner city clichés and was thus better than the last female banlieu film Bandes des Filles, released in the US to no acclaim as Girlhood. But that film traced the authentic experience of its three protagonists whereas this film, with an adorable and remarkable lead actress Oulaya Amamra, “transcends” the hood film clichés by its lead drawn toward an embracing of a more typically French view of art and life in the person of the male dancer she voyeuristically observes. Its false transcendence is a colonialized version of desiring French acceptance through amelioration. Surprisingly, the better film is the more commercial Tour de France, made in the wake of the national hit The Untouchables where this time the cross culture buddy film/road movie involves a rapper fleeing drug lords who must take up with an openly racist Gerard Depardieu in a cross country evasion. This film’s crudity is on the surface and enjoyable and its interchange more honest than the colonial sexual fantasy disguised as liberation in Divines.

Another prized and for a while stunning though ultimately disappointing film was the animated The Red Turtle, financed by the great maker of animation the Japanese Studio Gibli (last represented at Cannes by the spectacular Princess Kagaya), directed by Academy Award winning Dutch Director Michael Dudok de Witt, with a screenplay by Pascale Ferran of last year’s Cannes hit Bird People, all coming together in a film many French critics thought was good enough to have been in the main competition. The film, about the lone survivor of a shipwreck finding a desert island, boasts a very un-Disneylike pale and washed out palette, and reminds us that animation need not be the consumerist colors of Disney and Dreamworks, while the predominance of straight lines in the figures and setting owe much too Japanese lithographs. There is an early sequence on the island with the character being trapped in an underground cavern that is frightening as his attempt to dominate the island is threatened by the natural elements and by the magnificent presence and then spectacular site of the red turtle, his nemesis who you think he will have to learn to live rather than rule over. Instead, and this is most likely the fault of the Ferran script, at the midway point the turtle turns into Ann Margaret or, if you want to update the reference, Pink.  Perhaps this is how the survivor’s fantasy might conjure the turtle but from that point, excepting the horror to the island of a tsunami, the film regresses to an utterly anthropomorphic view of nature – and goes from an ecological fable to consumerist branding: Red Turtle by Loreal.

Less hyped but more heartening is the French biopic on Loie Fuller, The Dancer, produced by The Dardennes. Fuller’s fan dance, an act of the will by a non-dancer, became the rage of Paris at the turn of the last century, being performed at the Folies Bergere and at The Opera and along with the performances of Sarah Bernhardt helping to define a cross aesthetic sharing of the stage and screen as the fan dance became an early cinema favorite. The film defines the dance as more physical than artistic event, draining Fuller, transported from the American West to Paris, and each time moving her closer to extinction. Most interesting part of the film, and a metaphor for Franco-American relationships to this day, is Fuller’s encounter with the budding Isadora Duncan. It is said Fuller, whose father was French, survived the violence of the American West, her New England mother’s temperance prohibition on her dancing, and Parisian backbiting, but that she could not survive Duncan, a coy and catty blonde ingénue to Fuller’s dark-haired muscularly anxious troupe leader. Duncan comes onto Fuller, who is unclear about her sexual identity, gets her to disrobe, pushes her away saying “We have all the time in the world” and then deserts her. If that’s not Google and Amazon’s relationship to the French market, all seductive come-on about promising paradise but then producing low quality series like Marseille and not paying taxes, I don’t know what is.

Two ostensible overtly political films that don’t quite click are the Argentine The Long Night of Francesco Sanctis and the Egyptian film Clash. Francesco Sanctis, a film about the early years of the Argentine dictatorship begins promisingly as a study of one man’s awakening to his committed past when he thought he could be a poet instead of simply a bureaucrat as he is called upon to perform an act of bravery in the face of former comrades about to be disappeared. However, this is no The Secret in Their Eyes, a nuanced look at sexual violence in the fascist classroom; the main problem being the long night is not long enough, with the film skimping on its core focus of building credibility and tension and showing us why Francesco makes the decision he does.

Clash takes place entirely in the back of a police van in Cairo in 2013, at the moment, post the Arab Spring, of the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government and the reinstitution of the police state. The film begins in an empty van which is then filled with all walks of Egyptian life: journalists caught up by a militarized police halting dissent; democracy advocates; ordinary Egyptians; and Brotherhood supporters, all of whom are pummeled first by the police and then by Brotherhood rioters. Unfortunately this is the Paul Greengrass (Green Zone, United 93) school of filmmaking where frenzied camera movement and a brutal sense of immediacy (we needlessly watch the entire process of a nurse stitching a deep wound) substitute for analysis so that, at the end of in this film in what feels in contrast to Francesco Sanctis like a really long night, we learn almost nothing about what brought the characters to this moment and consequently where they might go from it.

Worst film of the festival was Mimosas, a long, unexpurgated but beautifully shot comparison of the Moroccan mountains and its peasant culture with the contemporary desert peopled by cars and brands, emphasizing what Marx called the country’s uneven development. Unfortunately, the quasi religio-philsophical overlay and the grating characters, including a garrulous prophet, combine, with a failure to make any of the meanings connect, to sink the film. The obscurity may perhaps be the sign of censorship and repression of both European post production done largely in the country of the former Moroccan colonial master Spain and the traces itself of the country’s contemporary monarchical near dictatorship. Whatever the reason, the film is simply incoherent and nearly unwatchable.

Better, more ambitious but ultimately disappointing is the Lebanese Tramontaine or Across the Mountains, about the still somber impact of the civil war of the late 1980s and early 1990s on the society at large. A blind and very gifted musician searches his and the country’s past nominally to find his birth certificate so he can tour Europe with his blind band. He is very diligent in wanting to discover his origins and in attempting to dislodge the history of the brutality of the war, but in the end, he decides, without truly knowing what happened, that it is better to forgive and forget. Acceptance is a fine virtue but ahead of truth telling it goes by another name, repression, and the final song, the supposedly poetic rendering of his newfound forgiveness, reads instead like a hymn to the sanctity of the coverup.

A trio of South Asian and Middle Eastern films will conclude our Cannes cross cultural tour. Continuing the Iranian critique of Tehran’s hyperindustrial reality, a critique not of The Revolution but of The Reform, along with the Iranian film from the main competition, The Salesman about profit and property speculation, is The Inversion which tackles the right of a woman to control her destiny, a common theme in Iranian cinema which is, at least in its persistent bringing up of the topic, one of the most profeminist cinemas in the world. The heroine’s struggle though is set against a smog infested Tehran that looks more like Los Angeles or Shanghai. Nelofar, an unmarried 35-year-old finds herself coerced by her family into giving up her factory and leaving a new relationship she is starting to move to the countryside with her mother, who is dying from the pollution. The independent woman is selected simply because she is neither male, as is one sibling, or married, as is her sister. The juxtaposition of the ecological with the feminist theme does not quite fit but both in the end leave the lead character, whose mother understands the pressure she is facing and urges her not to go, gasping for breath, though Nelofar in the end takes her misfortune humorously in stride.    

More pointedly and more bitterly satiric is the Israeli, Beyond the Mountains and Hills, directed by Eran Kolirin of The Band’s Visit about the prejudices evoked in Israel by a travelling Egyptian band. The current film starts off being about the new Israeli culture of success as a retired soldier trying to find his way out of the collectivity of the army must integrate into a dog eat dog society as a salesman chanting in a room with other unemployed “I Want to Succeed” which translates blackmailing one of his unwilling army comrades into buying his product. The film’s actual topic though is the layers of violence circulating around a society that treats both Arabs, the almost invisible dwellers in the nearby mountains of the title, and non-elite Israeli’s as disposable objects and the layers of repression that must be sustained to keep the four members of the ex-soldier’s family, all of whom have a nasty secret, smiling and pretending their world is a rosy one.

One of the most stunning directors in contemporary India is Anurag Kashyap seen previously at Cannes with the Scorsese like, except better and deeper, Gangs of Wasseypur, an examination of 40 years of an Indian providence through the cultural and economic life of its criminal underworld, followed by Ugly, a coldly cynical kidnapping film that indicts the Indian police as more brutal than the kidnappers. His latest entry Raman Raghav 2.0 follows hard upon in its comparison of cop and serial killer, recalling Clint Eastwood’s equation of the two in Tightrope and the Korean corrupt cop investigation The Unjust, both of which are better than this overwrought story of a killer who patterns himself after an actual Mumbai serial killer in the 1970s but whose real tutor in the art of sadistic murder is the cop who pursues him. The title is the combined names of both cop and killer, linked equally. A bit too sadistic and brutal itself to have the critical effect for which it nominally aims.
If that all went by too fast, you can read the article at the James Agee Cinema Circle under World Film Beat. And with that, I am trading the Cannes washed out beaches for the flooded high water marks of the Seine where Global Warming last week endangered the paintings in the Louvre. It turns out the spectacle of Cannes was inundated just after the end of the festival by an actual inundation or flood. Are even film festivals safe any longer from Trump’s denial and Hilary’s fracking? I’ll leave you to ponder this while I leave the Croisette.  

This is Bro on the World Film Beat signing off. 

Portraits of People in the Endless Recession: We Found Love in a Hopeless Place 

      The big news at Cannes is that Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake, not his best film for sure, but a very good one, won the Palme D’Or, the top prize, in an acknowledgement that this is a year in which people and electorates all over the world have had enough of the neoliberal or global capital order which has brought them austerity and misery. Loach’s film, about the plight of a 59-year-old carpenter with a bad heart who is being coerced in David Cameron’s post-Thatcherite England into either going back to work or simply tumbling into obliteration, has hit home with the George (Mad Max) Miller jury. With the Cannes send off and in this year when the corporate order is everywhere being overthrown at the polls by the left and the right, the film has a very good chance of being Loach’s most popular and of its message translating to mainstream America and to a globally impoverished and vanishing proletariat in much the way that Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 did in its exposing of the greed behind the security state. 
 This week I’ll be reviewing films in the main competition as a preview of films many of which will appear in the New York Film Festival in October and then be released later in the year as they were on display in Paris this week at the Gaumont Pathe Cinema near the Opera. This was generally a down year for films in the main competition but nevertheless could be grouped around two age groups, each affected by the downshift in the global economy. The first is the Daniel Blake 59s and over in an era where there is no more patience with those who no longer contribute directly to GDP in films by Loach, Almodovar and a Brazilian film, Aquarius, with Curse of the Spider Woman’s Sonia Braga as an author how is battling greedy developers. The other is the most young where American Honey deals with a generation which does not dare to dream, Neon Demon recounts the cutthroat, literally, vampiric world of professional modeling, a profession in which to be 21 is to be senile, and the Dardennes’ The Unknown Girl, which deals with a young female doctor’s guilt over her cold hearted response which leads to the demise of a young black woman from Gabon.
  Loach’s film, fashionably despised by the some leftist French critics claiming that at 79 his films were just pro forma or Loachian, is set in the devastated working class Northern England of Newcastle, just as the Dardennes’ focus their films around the formerly industrial Belgium city of Liege. The film charts how a state which is becoming less human and more imbued with the cutthroat values of a predatory capitalism is participating in the devastation of its citizens by hounding them off the welfare, unemployment and worker’s compensation rolls in a rhetoric that thinly disguises wanton neglect as excessive politeness and hides behind compliance with overburdening rules. The treatment combines nicely with an entrepreneurial vicious form of individual greed that sees the woman with two kids that Daniel befriends who cannot afford to eat herself because she is feeding her kids, caught shoplifting (in an acknowledgment of last year’s best social drama at Cannes, The Law of the Market or Measure of a Man), chastised and then more savagely brutalized by a security guard claiming to lend her a helping hand. The net effect is not simply to remove people from social care through a highly organized and meticulous policy of harassing them, in much the way that health care companies do in the US, but also to remove their dignity by making all this seem to be their problem and it is here that Daniel interferes, stands up and in his own kind fellow feeling way attempts to reassert solidarity and thus plead for a more humane world. The bleak world of I Daniel Blake is the opposite of the hopeful one Loach so beautifully described in his documentary Spirit of ’45 in the establishment after World War II of a state in touch with its citizens that is now almost in the last stages of being systematically and deliberately destroyed.

Almodovar’s Julieta is a grandiloquent foray into melodrama that in its focus on the mother and a prodigal daughter recalls not only Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life but also Almodovar’s best film in a career of stunning films, All About My Mother and the current film might be retitled All About My Daughter. There are two startling moments in this breathtakingly gorgeous film. One, which quotes Luis Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, is a transition moment in the life of the mother Julieta as she moves to an older stage of her life and the film switches actresses. The other moment, as startling, occurs off-screen as we realize the supposed mother and daughter reunion, the centerpiece of the standard melodrama, will occur only in the audiences’ mind in order the keep the focus more solidly on the life, but also on the triumph, of the mother. This is Almodovar’s first time working with Spanish acting royalty Emma Suarez but the find of the film is the young Julieta, Adriana Ugarte, who we watch transform from a dazzling punk dreamer to a stuck depressive who her older self will confront and rescue.   

Global baby boomers were everywhere in the festival’s competition and nowhere more apparent than in the Brazilian Aquarius, with Sonia Braga as Clara, a sexagenarian who has already defeated cancer and who now must battle a different kind of disease. “Greed is Good,” Gordon Gecco proclaimed in Wall Street, and in this film Greed is Global and the cast, Braga included and crew used the occasion of the film’s premiere to equate it’s struggle with land developers with the current, in their words, “coup” that in the real world had those of the same ethos evicting the other Brazilian grande dame, of the Worker’s Party, Dilma Rousseff. There is a shocking moment in the film where Clara goes to take a shower and we see on screen her mastectomy at an age when meeting a man is less important to her than the reflected memories of her life that are being dispensed with in the landlord’s haste to buy her out to develop property along the Recife beach into money-grubbing high rises. The film is too long almost by half, too much Braga trilling in the living room listening to her Victrola without enough substance, and pulls its punches in its conclusion in both the revelation of the ends to which the developers are willing to go and her clunky confrontation of them. However, it does provide the language, just as does a similar film from Iran, The Salesman, for how this form of globally greedy speculation is being spoken in Brazil.
  Moving to the other end of the age spectrum in these troubling times, we have American Honey, a hard-edged portrait of a desperate young woman, Star, who takes up with a band of equally desperate kids from nowhere improbably going cross country in a van selling magazines. The squalor from which these teens come and in which they live makes them afraid to project or dream but Star the boldest of all of them dares first to dream an individual dream of personal or romantic success which transforms in a rebirth into her taking her place in this travelling collective. Brit director Andrea Arnold flirts with two directions this hardcore updating of the teen film could have taken and rejects by turn both the hardcore nihilism of the Larry Clark/Harmony Korine Kids approach and the latent violence erupting into an apocalyptic frenzy of a Tarantino, instead putting the emphasis on methodically chronicling a generation of outsiders trying to find their place in a world, that, like the one Daniel Blake experiences, would be more than happy to annihilate them. Special kudos for contextualizing Rhianna’s “We found love in a hopeless place” in an opening cathartic sequence with the van members dancing in a supermarket and for the end credits which list all the cast and crew equally (except the mark of the Hollywood star in the cast credits which says “and Shia LaBeuf”) without specifying their jobs and thus positioning them as contributing equally to the project.
 Great for much of the film in its summoning of the ominousness of David Lynch’s Mulholand Drive in its examination of the modeling industry in its LA variant, Nicholas Rending Rufn’s Neon Demon uses tropes of the horror film to describe the horrors of the industry. The film relates how just-in-town Sarah, revealed to be 16, has gold applied to her body by a photographer in a way that signifies how that body is turned into a commodity, has another model try to suck her blood in an apt metaphor for how the industry turns living beings into undead divorced from their bodies, and peaks in on a conversation with a hairdresser in which the models declare 21 to be over the hill, the equivalent in this industry of Daniel Blake’s 59 year old carpenter. Sarah becomes a cog in the machine, declaring about the envy of the other models. “I don’t want to be one of them: They want to be me.” Unfortunately, the last quarter turns from beautifully exquisite metaphor to gross out literal cannibalistic ritual, blaming the models themselves, the group of which who hate Sarah recalling Heathers, and transforming from clever examination and quoting of Val Lewton’s 1940s psychological horror in a Pasadena ecological reference to The Leopard Man and Cat People, to near validation of the visual outre-ness of the industry in a Z-Man and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls mansion frenzy sequence.
 The Dardenne’s lastest entry The Unknown Girl is itself a come down after their exquisite Two Days, One Night which did an excellent job of fitting French powerhouse actress Marion Cotillard into their format. That does not happen this time as Adele Haenel, also French acting royalty, plays a middle class doctor whose opening cold professionalism may have helped sentence a Gambonese immigrant girl to death. The highly narrativized murder story with the doctor investigating slows down the usual frantic over the shoulder camera work to a crawl reflecting the change in class of the character in a film that begins to look more like a Scandinavian crime film than the brothers usual exploration of working class tensions in their, as the French say, fetish city, of Liege. The film still bears enough of the brother’s usual frisson in the doctor’s search to map and display the ever increasing breakdown of the town and the relations within it as the economy deteriorates.

Love in another broken place of a different variety occurs in Park Chan Wook’s The Handmaiden, a Rashoman-type lesbian romance set in Japanese occupied Korea of the 1930s between a street-wise Korean grafter and a supposedly innocent Japanese wealthy young mistress of both her Japanese uncle and the Korean male con artist posing as a count who wants her money. The sumptuous lesbian lovemaking and the story of the two women outwitting the patriarchy of both countries though is undercut by Park Chan Wook’s other taboo busting scene, the torture of the Korean flim-flam man by the Japanese uncle. Given the devastation the Japanese wrought on Korea, this action is taboo for a reason and breaking it does not as Chan Wook, famous for such scenes in the Lady Vengeance series and Old Boy, seems to think simply titillate an audience but rather rubs their face in a needless glamorizing of a ruthless imperial adventure.

Finally, we have middle aged exploitation, exquisitely detailed in the opening scene of Iranian director Asgar Fanahi’s, of Academy Award Winning The Separation fame, The Salesman, as the residents are urged out of a collapsing building which we think may be from bombings or an earthquake but which we then learn is from a bulldozer as developers swarm to take it over. The Salesman of the title is Willy Loman, a signifier of the all-up-for-grabs ethos that is taking over the society in a theatrical production by the lead couple who have fled their building. This promising start though goes awry in a contrived plot which has the wife attacked in their new home and the husband, in an Iranian evoking of the silhouette of a Charles Bronson revenge film, pursuing, confronting and punishing the lower class attacker in a way that is simply about a middle class, which in truth the husband and wife are, fear of attack from below. The ending reverses and corrects the Bronson echo but by this point the film has veered so far from its promising beginning that it is well neigh irredeemable.   

My Cannes Awards

(The Cannes juries try to spread around the awards but I am under no such compulsion, so here goes):  

Best Film, I Daniel Blake
Best Actor I Daniel Blake’s Dave Johns
Best Actress shared I, Daniel Blake’s, Hayley Squires and Julietta the Younger from Julieta, Adreana Ugarte.
Best New Performers Ma Loute’s Raph and American Honey’s Sarah Lane
Best Screenplay Paul Laverty I, Daniel Blake
Best Director Almodovar, Julieta
Cannes Song of the Year: After last year’s Pet Shop Boys “Go West” from Mountains May Depart, this year its Rhinna’s “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place,” from American Honey, the theme song of a generation.    
In Two Weeks: Best of the Rest at Cannes: Pablo Neruda vs. The Cold War; The Arab Spring Reconsidered in Light of the Repressive Long Winter that has followed it in Clash; Fear and  Loathing in Singapore in Diamond Island; and Laura Poitras’ Reverse Portrait of Julian Assange and Wikileaks after Alex Gibney’s pro National Security State documentary.  

This is Broe on the World Film Beat signing off from the Croisette at Cannes.

        Cannes 2016, Can the Spectacle of Cinema Erase the Spectacle of Joblessness?

 The Cannes Film Festival at its opening last Wednesday shared equal billing with the so-called-Socialist government’s invocation of a draconian and highly undemocratic procedure to pass a very unpopular labor law, called the El-Kourmi law. So the day before Woody Allen and his stars including Kristin Stewart, who represents Chanel, mounted the red carpet, labor unions and France’s omnipresent burgeoning new democratic movement Nuit Debout rallied in protests against the government’s arbitrary passing of the bill in the lower house, the General Assembly. Nearby the lower house, in the rain, attacked by the riot squads, they chanted “Assemblee Nationale, Assemblee de capital”: the Assembly is the House of Capital. The labor “reform” bill making it easier to hire and fire, in polls opposed by 70% of the French, was also opposed by a wing of the Socialist Party called the frondeurs or rebels for going too far and by the right for not going far enough since it now has attached to it almost 500 amendments to make it palatable to everyone though it was ultimately palatable to none. And thus the Holland government made the decision to pass the bill in the Assembly by decree citing 49.3, section 49, line 3 of the constitution that, somewhat like Executive Action in the US, allows a law to pass by governmental decree and can only be halted by a vote of censure in the government which the so called “rebels” were unready to join and which might subsequently bring down the government.

Cannes second week will see this Tuesday and Thursday two days of strikes and demonstrations against the cowardly and undemocratic evocation of this clause which has already been used three times by the government to pass its last unpopular labor law, the Macron Law. While in the past the controversies at Cannes have centered around the films, this year the overall question is closer to, can the spectacle erase, even for its 12 days, the failure of the Holland government to effectively create employment, the fact that two of France’s top three banks, BNP and Societe Generale were named as engineering tax shelters in the Panama Papers in a Europe in which the top 1 percent owns one-third of the wealth, and Paris pollution which in a study released last week was revealed to be five times over what constitutes a healthy level. That’s a lot of work and a lot of tension for one festival to manage.


Biggest story at the festival is the increased presence of Amazon which is using the festival this year to announce itself as a, if not the, major player in the auteur or indie cinema world, beyond its already substantial influence in television. Concomitant with that are questions about the continued longevity and health of Canal Plus, France’s cable equivalent of the American Streaming Video on Demand Services (SVOD). Canal Plus has just signed a five year contract for French film financing but its literal and perhaps symbolic place on the Croissette, just steps from the Red Carpet, which was formerly called the Canal Plus Patio has this year been commandeered by Amazon as the French company cut its staff at the festival from 469 to 50.

    The online American giant has invested 5 billion in film and series financing this year, and now outranks even Warner Brothers which has invested only a paltry 4.5 billion. The company is now challenging the film industry distribution pattern by opening films in theaters which then later play on its streaming service and thus serve double duty snagging patrons in the theaters and subscribers online. It has hired Ted Hope, perhaps the foremost American Indie producer over the last two decades, as its studio chief and this year has 5 films at Cannes including: the festival opener Woody Allen’s Café Society; two films by Jim Jarmusch, Paterson about a Paterson New Jersey bus driver with the hottest actor in Hollywood Adam Driver and a doc on Iggy Pop; Nicholas Wending Refn’s return to Cannes where he was honored as best director with Drive in the zombie thriller The Neon Demon; and Park Chan-wook’s, of Lady Vengence fame, The Handmaiden, set in Japanese occupied Korea in the 1930s. All this is not to mention, but I am, paying 10 million to score the biggest hit at Sundance this year Manchester By the Sea and at the same festival driving up the price to 15 million in the bidding won by Fox for African-American director Nate Parker’s Nat Turner epic, The Birth of A Nation. Outside the festival circuit Amazon has moved into global blockbusters originating in both US domestic, Brad Pitt’s War Machine, and foreign markets where it is financing the next feature of Korea’s intellectual and politically committed answer to Michael Bay, Bong Joon-ho of The Host and Snowpiercer fame.     

France is the fifth largest producer of feature films and, behind Hollywood, the second largest exporter of features in the world with one-third of investment for this cinema coming from the pay channels, Canal Plus and OCS required in exchange for permission to show first run films on TV just 10 months after they open. Two-thirds of French films had at least some pay channel backing but the channels are now being pressured by the US SVOD services, Amazon and Netflix, who are competing for their subscribers. Canal Plus chair Vincent Bollore, owner of the 9th largest fortune in the country and head of the media conglomerate Vivendi, has blown hot and cold about the channel, at one point threatening to close it and recently claiming he was 100 percent behind the agreement to finance French films and would only change it, quote, “if the stockholders ask me too” which is far from an ironclad guarantee. This financing is crucial to both French and global cinema, since a considerable percentage of the money also goes to produce often more progressive foreign films. Hollywood unable to sabotage the model in the GATT trade agreements, is now attacking it through the increased presence of these internet companies as producers, distributors and exhibitors of cinema and television.       

     Finally, another leading story concerns Cannes security after the two Parisian attacks since the last festival. This tiny ville recently inaugurated its 500th surveillance camera, near the town’s hospital, which translated to one camera for every 147 inhabitants, giving it the most cameras per person of anywhere in France and starting to narrow the distance between it and the capital of Big Brother, Great Britain which as of two years ago had a camera for every 11 people. Hopefully everyone in the West will soon have their own camera watching their every movement. How have we lived without them? Freely, you might answer. The ville also hired Israeli security expert Nitznan Nuriel, formerly in charge of security at the Israeli embassy in Washington, to oversee the festival; meaning that technology and techniques used at Cannes were most likely developed by surveilling Palestinians. He quickly staged his own mock terrorist attack on the Palais to justify his salary. The town is also hiring mercenaries or outside contractors (Can you say Blackwell?) to delay everyone going into the screenings and to “protect” the sea at Cannes from armed invasion by supposed terrorist armadas.  
    And now to the opening films, so far fairly underwhelming. Woody Allen’s Café Society is a gorgeously lit, by Apocalypse Now’s Vittorio Storaro using a digital palette of bright lights for Hollywood and the New York club scene and faded pale light for The Bronx, but essentially innocuous story of unrequited love in the US in the 1930s summoning its inner Annie Hall, but also raising the question, in the Post-Great Recession climate of who has time anymore for unrequited love? In Woody’s world there is nothing but time as the Depression, except in a vague comparison of New York to LA, is mostly non-existent, meaning the Cannes opening film erases its economic moment just as the live spectacle of the festival is erasing the contemporary continuing Recession. This is Kristin Stewart, who has never had imprinted in her persona the powerful rebelliousness of say Jennifer Lawrence’s Katsis, fit into the role of mealy-mouthed Diane Keaton, in a continuation of her Snow White and Twilight franchise setters. Finally, even the axis of this film appears ancient, in its setting LA against New York when in fact by the end New York nightclub society looks a lot like LA poolside society and both look little like America in the late 1930s which had its worst economic year in 1937. The film may be stuck in the axis of New York and LA but at this moment the always shifting center of power is neither but rather the digital capitals of Palo Alto, Copertino, Los Gatos and Seattle where Woody made a pilgrimage to secure his Amazon funding.

    The most prominent French film at the festival was Bad Boy Bruno Dumont’s Ma Loute, the pet name of a male fisher harvesting clams near a French seaside resort in 1910 but which means “my dame” and hints at the film’s gender bending project. The film really is a French concoction but to anglicize it, one might say its Benny Hill meets The Crying Game on the grounds of Downtown Abbey. One part of the film is played for broad farce with French acting royalty (Fabrice Luchine, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Juliette Binoche) as a high bourgeois family, the Van Peteghems, utterly consumed with degeneracy whose motto is “ We know what to do but we don’t do.” Binoche as the Van Peteghem aunt fainting at will is particularly broad in a professional cast that also includes a local police commissioner doing a Fatty Arbuckle complete with rolly-polly noises at the time before Arbuckle had fallen from grace and climaxing in a Mary Poppins fantasy. The other side of the bourgeois family, the clam fishers, is played by ordinary people, supplying an acting as well as a class contrast and carrying their own quite well. The most affecting part of the film concerns a romance between a gender ambiguous Petegham niece Billie, a name which can be male or female played by the sumptuous breakout star of the film Raph, and Ma Loute, a romance which ends in disaster as director Dumont finally can bring himself to believe neither in the bourgeoisie’s ability to transcend its own degeneracy nor the working class’ rough honesty short-circuited by its own ability to transcend its inbred limitations, dissolved in a sea of incest.

Worst of the all the openings though was the Jodie Forster directed, George Clooney, Julia Roberts vehicle Money Monster, and this is too bad because it has its heart in the right place, unfortunately its head is somewhere else. Clooney plays a sleazy TV investment counselor, ala Jim Kramer, whose show is invaded by a working class investor who lost all his money in a bad tip and wants to know why. The film channels Network and even earlier films like A Face in the Crowd which seem to be condemning a totalitarian use of entertainment but which actually through their lack of analysis participate in that scheme. Its mode of presentation is pre-Oliver Stone’s Wall Street in not knowing how to represent and make sexy the flow of money in financial capital, a regression after the sophistication of last year’s fictional The Big Short and 2010s previous financial doc Inside Job. The film in its muddle headedness collapses terrorism from below with the far more serious, since it affects far more of us, financial terrorism from above and does not know how to separate the two strands. We’re asked to believe that Clooney’s TV showman has a change of heart in his quest to find out the truth behind a failed trade and to accept as genuine a reconciliation with his producer, Julia Roberts, after their harrowing day, a reconciliation that comes at the expense of the ordinary investors whose retirements and pensions were wiped out. The French reviewers were disdainful of Foster’s direction noting that she had directed serial television series and claiming this film fit that mold, but I would argue that in fact it does not come up to the much higher standard of contemporary serial television. Not a fit addition to what is shaping up otherwise as a significant genre, the Hollywood post-Recession financial caper film.

Next week Pedro Almodovar post Panama Papers, Ken Loach, who holds the record for most Cannes film in competition, back again with a fiery film about British opportunism, and an Israeli film about how capitalism has corrupted that country.

Top Ten 2015 - The Year That Mountains Moved

Let me begin with a slight rationale for my Top Ten which does contain a number of films that have not been released in the US.  First, I have to represent my own filmgoing experience not fudge it for market releases so this Top Ten will function as a kind of preview of coming 2016 releases and many of the films on my list will be released early next year. Two films that were on my list last year are on other critics Top Ten this year and they are Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, a penetrating and heartbreaking peering behind the Indonesian economic success story at the fascist underbelly, still in place since the US-supported 1965 massacres, and Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall, in which Loach wonders if there is ever a second act for revolutionaries in a bittersweet assessment of the return of an Irish radical. 

The second reason though that I’m presenting my Top Ten as is, is that this is “Broe on the World Film Beat” and my Top Ten reflects a more global viewing experience in which Hollywood and American Independents take their place among the cinemas of the rest of the world, so this Top Ten is also about breaking the Amerocentric embargo where a few years ago it was revealed that only about 1% of the films released in the US were from outside the US and indeed some of the films on my list are still searching for a distributor.

Mountains May Depart – In many ways there is this film by Zia Zhang Ke and then every other film. Three different eras in the life of a not extraordinary but ordinary Chinese woman, played by Tao Zhao, my actress of the year, whose odyssey and fortitude in the face of the onslaught of Chinese capitalism is beyond uplifting. Zia, already master of a kind of New Wave Social Realism has with this film and last year’s noirish A Touch of Sin added a mastery of genre; this time that third world genre par excellence, the melodrama and its validation of the enduring suffering of the woman, to a repertory that makes him the most crucially relevant director of the last decade and the one to best understand the punishing effects of global capital on a people he loves intensely. To be released in the US in the first quarter. 

Bottom Nine in no particular order.

Casa Grande. This Brazilian film opens with long shot of the swimming pool of the casa grande, the big house and its walled off grounds and then explores the interpersonal dimension of the Brazilian cast and class structure through the eyes of its wealthy young protagonist who will become a class traitor and the family maid who will pay the consequences.

Vivid and Rabin, The Last Day. To be released in the US in January. Israeli director Amos Gitai’s conceit that Rabin and the 1995 accords were the last chance for an Israeli peace with the Palestinians, whether true or not, is the animating force for this multi-layered examination of the right-wing forces in the society that collaborated on his assassination. The mixing of witnesses’ testimony, fictional recreations and documentary footage of both the day and the coverup investigation afterwards contribute to making this a fictional and documentary blend that recalls formally the gains of two years ago’s The Act of Killing.  

Behemoth. Chinese director Zhao Ling’s utterly beautiful documentary about the ugliest of subjects, coal mining in Mongolia, is terrifying it is awesome comparison of the mining pits with Dante’s Inferno and, in the final sequence, frightening in its depiction of the way this destruction of both the earth and the people’s who mine it is utterly effaced in the contemporary Chinese city. Pray for a US release. 

Songs My Brothers Taught Me. This film literally voted best at Sundance does indeed mark a kind of best that independent mode of filmmaking can contribute. Set on the Pine Ridge reservation, where memories of Wounded Knee are disappearing in an alcoholic haze, this reverse Good Will Hunting is a story, told through the eyes of a Dakota girl, of her brother’s quest for dignity not in deserting but in remaining on the reservation and contributing to its survival. Remarkable filmmaking by Chinese female director Chloé Zhao who lived a year on a year on the res and it shows.

The Postman’s White Nights. Last year was Leviathan and this year we have Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky’s even more stunning and less ethereal contribution to the fortitude of the Russian people as all deteriorates around them in this story, using for the most part entirely real people, of an isolated region where the only solace is the daily arrival of this mail carrier.

La Isla Minima, English title Marshland. This highly prized Spanish film is by far the best European film of the year. It’s an Iberian Chinatown with its dark secrets on Spain’s Francoist period slowly unravelling as two cops, one utterly conflicted about the period, the other representative of the new democracy, discover a pathology which at a crucial moment of the new democracy threatens to destroy it. The film like Chinatown links sexual perversity with the class perversity that is industrial exploitation and that underlay Spanish fascism. 

The Taking of Tiger Mountain. This year’s most stunning action film by the master in the field, not J.J. Abrams but Tsui Hark, to be released in the US in January, features an epic struggle of the red army in the closing moments of the revolution to take a bandit stronghold that might be read as the last capitalist fortification. Openly celebratory of the Revolutionary triumph while also making significant advances in terms of action sequence cross-cutting that proves the US is not the global master of the blockbuster.

Green Room. Blue Ruin, Jeffrey Saunier’s first film was an ugly and promising exploitation film that in no way prepares for the equally ugly punk horror excesses of this b-masterpiece about a punk band fighting it out in the great Northwest with the town’s power elite and its fascist bikers. This film proves there is life and politics in the deservedly much-maligned gore fests in recent years of the Hollywood “splat pack.”

The Big Short. Much closer to the thoughtful Wall Street documentary on the 2008 crisis Inside Job than to the airy bombast of Wolf of Wall Street, Alex McKay’s film still does not skimp on either the sex or the comedy that both dynamizes the vitality of the financial community that sank us all while also expressing shock at the fact that in the end that greed and fraud was neither exposed nor punished.

My revival or restoration of the year is Orson Welles’ episode for his television series, The Merchant of Venice, Welles recreation of Shakespeare in the late 1960s that was pointedly designed to be about exposing the prejudice, both ethnic and classist,  of old wealth in Europe. The restoration for a show that CBS cancelled almost as soon as they’d seen Welles polemical daily rushes matches visuals from his sixties filming with a soundtrack from a Mercury Theater presentation of the play in the 1930s, thirty years earlier. Welles as the tortured Shylock calling out his torturers is superb.

Honorable Mention

Embrace of the Serpent. Ciro Guerra’s film about the star-crossed meeting of Indigenous Amazonian’s and European scientists, mining their culture and land.

Bridge of Spies –Many problems especially with a historically false moment in which the Russian’s are seen to torture their own spy, but still this is for the most part the more nuanced Spielberg of Munich, here examining the faults on both sides of the Cold War, with the performance and the viewpoint of the Russian spy, my best supporting actor, Mark Rylance, in many ways dwarfing even the quintessential Spielberg hero Tom Hanks who must deal with the double dealing and cold ruthlessness of Alan Dulles’ Americans as well as the Soviets.

The Shameless. Great Korean noir in the Vertigo mode, only with the film’s female heroine in the end performing the revolutionary act that rewrites the Hitchcock film’s victimization of the female and puts some teeth in the deliberately devalued concept “empowerment.”

Neon Bull. Brazilian examination of a new and vibrant underclass in that nation’s embattled north where its people struggle to become more than just tenders of the beasts who perform for those better off.

Law of the Market, in the US Measure of a Man. The financial crisis from the viewpoint of a failed “entrepreneur” who instead as a supermarket security guard, gets a look at capital’s criminalizing of the behavior of those it no longer provides for; featuring the performance of the year in Vincent Lindon’s impassive observer and victim of these new and ever expanding indignities.

Most Disappointing Films

Black Mass. This one is really two easy to even take pot shots at, but here goes. Overhyped lead performance by Johnny Depp in one register, sadistic, in a film that never rose above what I call ‘gangster shit.’

Spotlight. Pretentious expose of Boston Catholicism’s pederasty that in its smarmy self-congratulatory way by following only the exploits of a newspaper team keeps the audience at a safe distance from the true effects of this exploitation. Pompous rather than revealing. Beasts of No Nation. Perhaps the most racist film of this or any year, closer to Birth of a Nation than to any progressive filmmaking in its rattling off of every cliché about Africa while leaving out the colonial presence.

Macbeth. A film full of sound and fury, signifying Oscar, while having on its mind, nothing. The violent underside of the previous Weinstein Company Oscar promo, The Artist.

The Anarchists. French film supposedly about working class rebels at the turn of the 19th century but in fashion and design the ‘rebels’ look more like a French start-up company, who in the final scene are supposedly robbing a bank but are dressed instead for a presentation to an investor.

Childhood of a Leader. The most muddle-headed film of the decade crossing The Omen with Mein Kampf in what is supposed to be a psychoanalytic portrait of the formation of a dictator, lets call it Rosemary’s Fuher, but then lets never say another word about it.  

 Broe on the Global Television Beat

Top Five Television Series:

Un Village Francaise. The best series not being shown on American TV. Une Village, though at times ideologically suspect for its ‘humanizing’ of fascists and collaborators builds its seasons based on the German Occupation of a border village in World War II. This season, season six, explored the village with the Germans gone as collaborators were exposed and the French fascist militia lingered.

Silicon Valley. Still the best single fiction in any medium on the rise of the new power in capital and its main joke, that companies which once claimed they were benefitting the world are now completely caught up in the profit motive, is an excellent way of satirizing the industry.

Narcos. Based on the Une Village Francaise model, this series will explore year by year the takedown of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s. That it does so, at least initially, with a jaundiced eye toward the CIA in Columbia and with a keen interest in the economics of the drug trade makes it a step above both ordinary television and the other shows on its streaming network, Netflix.

Fresh Off the Boat. Best sit-com of the year traces the odyssey of an Asian family in the American South and focuses on a relation unique to the sit com, that of the driven Chinese mother and her laid-back rapper Chinese son.

The Americans. Still waiting for this series to take its conservative turn at the end of the Cold War, but so far, despite a miscalculation with an overemphasis on the teenage daughter, the series maintains its nuance in exploring Cold War deceit and deception on both sides.

Top Five Trends in Television

1. Binge Watching. As the climate crisis heats up, the economy tanks and jobs are automated, television has more than ever pushed comfort television, i.e., consumption of a series at a single viewing with both Netflix and Amazon in a release war for weekend binging on one Friday late this year. 

2. Industrial Seriality. Accompanying the binge watching trend has been a move by the streaming services to more sharply continued stories but a simplification of the contours of those stories, reducing in the Marvel-Netflix case of Daredevil and the far better Jessica Jones to what seem like monumental struggles with a single opponent but which are also shortcuts with plots and characters thinned out for assembly line production. Thus a major marker of complex television may now have been simply integrated into a factory model.

3. Blocked Mergers. A big shout out to Al Franken, the last liberal in the US senate, since Bernie Sanders really is a socialist, who initially singlehandedly stood up against and eventually helped block the Time Warner and Comcast merger which would have meant the entity controlled 40% of broadband in the US and thus would have had unique access to the American home.  One wishes this were a trend and not a one-off but Mergermania continued and at year’s end we saw the chemical industry, probably bracing for environmental lawsuits, becoming a single entity with Dow and Dupont now one. 

4.  Television dominance of streaming studios. Not necessarily in the ratings, but in the awards categories with by year’s end networkless nominees for best comedy for golden globes that included instead nominees from Hulu, Amazon and Netflix. 

5. “I don’t watch television,” a line I heard often from my students, meaning not that they don’t watch series but that they don’t watch the box. For the generation that is entering the media industry, television is mobile and watched on many platforms. It is also global and so no longer centered exclusively around either America or the American home.

The Blockbuster: Star Wars vs. Snowpiercer.

The first film, whose competent mediocrity is being heralded, is really just as much a commercial as a supposedly archetypal tale. The underlying question, as much as it is can Luke Skywalker return to save the universe, is, can Disney recoup, or rather how fast can it recoup its $4 billion investment in buying the George Lucas franchise? The film manipulates the codes in all the correct ways so that it can almost be called pleasing but it also prepares us to believe that this comfortable moving around of familiar pieces is all the blockbuster can ever offer and so we become complacent viewers never asking any more than familiarity.

But the form is better than that, as a Korean blockbuster from a few years ago that had a fraught release history in the US Snowpiercer, proves. This film about the last human’s after environmental freezing caused by human hands on not an arc, but a train, that orbits the globe once each year and the class distinctions erected on the train ends shockingly as nature reasserts itself. Its stunning filmmaking from Korean director Boon Jong Ho, who had already given us the social serial killer film Memories of Murder and the political horror film The Host and who in this film is free to exercise his intuition unlike the American director J.J. Abrams, a true television auteur for such series as Lost, Revolution and Believe, who is utterly trapped within the Star Wars mythology. There is life in the blockbuster, though little fresh blood coursing through the withered veins of its American version. 

Commenting on the French Political Scene:

The recent regional elections here which are the last election before the presidential one in 2017. The National Front did not actually take command of any of the regions, which are perhaps similar to our governerships, but they posted historic highs in each round of the elections and their forward march has its echo in the US with the backing for Donald Trump. A few points.

One, the advance of the National Front, which is racist and zenophobic, is based on its message to a growing faction of French, workers, small business people, and marginally employed, that the neo-liberal order signified by the combination of Francoise Holland’s Socialists and Sarkozy’s Republicans is no longer working, that is able to deliver the goods. This sentiment is accurate both here and in the US where a recent Pew Study concluded a fifth of Americans are near or under the poverty line and where one expert claimed that the American dream used to be two cars and a house and now it is “a job.”

The problem in France is that the right and so-called left do not address the problem of this global system which they are entirely tied into not trickling down but rather gushing up with wealth, as Thomas Piketty says, cascading into the hands of the wealthiest. And what is coming is automation, as capital unemploys workers at a rate that by 2050 could see 50% of the workforce no longer in jobs. This is not the fault of the FN, though Donald Trump certainly has had a hand in it, and it is devastating to watch the left and right instead of attempting to solve the problem, demonizing the FN, which as one politico said rises in votes based on the rise in unemployment.

The answer is a tough one and involves not tinkering with adding a few low paying, precarious jobs here and there which has been the solution so far. It involves as Bernard Stigler says in his excellent book, The Future of Work, rethinking the idea of value, work and labor in a society where more and more work is being done mechanically. However that rethinking involves redistributing wealth on an enormous scale. If not, what we will see, and Paris is a blueprint, are global cities for the wealthy few surrounded by extreme poverty and suffering. Our future is beginning to look much more like The Hunger Games with the outlying regions reduced to supplying fodder and entertainment for the capitol. 

I’ll end the year with a slogan on the Odeon Theatre here in Paris, “The World is Yours.” This slogan highlights the degree of penetration of the neoliberal mentality into France and is opposed to Renoir’s 1930s film at a moment of collectivization titled La Vie est Nous “Life is Ours.” In the era of a grand but deluded individuality the world is yours, your mobile phone, your tv shows, your bottled water and there is no ours, no collective project. However this parceling of the world into discrete units is only to more desperately conceal the fact that the global collective project is more imperative than ever, as climate, jobs, education all walled behind this idiotic and personal “yours” are now more than ever both our project and our problem. 

This is Broe on the World Film and Television Beats signing off for this year.

Whose Tragedy?
In Paris, my city, they are still sifting through debris to find bodies and people are still reporting their loved one’s missing as the death count mounts. There is a stillness and a somberness that has fallen over the city that contrasts to the exuberant mood of solidarity after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. This is the slow realization that we are in a war, that this is not Quantum of Solace, or Skyfall or even Spectre, an extravagant blockbuster whose spectacular special effects can not easily be duplicated, ala the Hollywood sensation of 9/11.

No, this is war. It’s a potential permanent state and as such the touchstone is not Bond but The Battle of Algiers, the 60s film about colonial peoples fighting for their independence. The question though, worth posing since almost no one dares to, is, whose war?, for what?, benefitting whom? 

The answers we are given are simple. It’s the terrorists, trying to destroy civilization, in their latest, most ferociously blood-thirsty manifestation, as ISIS, here called Daesh. There is no rhyme or logic, they simply strike; their only credo, annihilation.

That’s the fairy tale, or perhaps slasher film, that we’re supposed to believe. In which case the proper response is to eliminate the terrorists and devote what is left of the funds of the continually shrinking Western state to combatting them, thus making the world safe again for the rapacious form of global capitalism that has now added this crisis to that of destroying the environment and the combination of income disparity, automation and perpetual recession that will result in the next 10 years in a standard unemployment rate of over 25%.

The French government’s knee-jerk response to the attacks was to attack themselves, bombing a supposed Syrian training camp for jihadists at Racca, a dangerous move that will likely perpetuate more violence here on the homefront.

Whose war? The attacks are at the moment the end result of over two decades of the West, claiming, in 19th century parlance, to be a civilizing force, striking with impunity, bombing indiscriminately and starving systematically the countries of the middle east, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, while also giving aid, comfort and arms to the West’s proxy Israel in its attacks on Gaza and Lebanon. It is impossible to expect that that much reigning of terror and destruction on an entire part of the world will not one day be met with a response. I am fearful, just like after 9/11 when I lived in New York near the bombings, but the fear I am now living with for a few days, those in the Middle East have lived with for each day of at least two decades.

Why these attacks? Because “they” hate democracy? But democracy in the west is  now a hollow promise which is outmaneuvered on every level by corporate capital as we watched with the humiliation of the expression of the Greek people’s will that was Syriza. No, this is about oil and energy that the West needed badly and felt it could take under cover of a war on terrorism. (The Financial Times on the day of the bombing of Libya ran an almost full-page graph detailing the sites of oil extraction, the routes to the coast, and the main shipping alleys to send the oil to the West, a map that in light of the subsequent bombing and NATO division of the country looked like the treasure map from Pirates of the Caribbean.) That is, “the war on terror” is concealing what amounts to a continuation of colonial wars, now back under a new name, but still evidencing the same hubris with the West believing it has divine right to the resources of the Middle East.

The formation of ISIS, the particular way this colonial war is playing out, and the more ferocious barbarism that it perpetuates is also the result of a more systemic barbarism on the part of the West, which has targeted and killed all the remnants of the best of Arab thought, destroying much of what was progressive in pan-Arabism as a liberation movement in its destruction of the generation of leaders from that period. When you destroy the best, and keep reigning destruction, you are left with the worst, as people still struggle to be free. The rationale for the terrorists attacking in the way they do though is still not so different from that offered by the Algerian leader Ben-Midi in The Battle of Algiers when asked by the world press why the Algerians fight with homemade bombs. First, he cites the West’s use of napalm in Vietnam as equally barbarous, then he replies that they must fight with what is at hand, in this case kalashnikovs and homemade explosives, since they do not have drones and smart bombs, the West’s robotic killing machines that leave no traces after their deadly missions.  

This is not even to mention the role of the West in directly creating Al Queda, the previous generation of leaders, in Afghanistan, in incubating ISIS in Iraqi prisons, and the persistent rumors that the CIA may still be both combatting and promoting these groups which serve the purpose of uniting the West around a supposed common enemy that is not the actual enemy which is global capital.

In particular in the French case, the attacks also come out of a failure to address the effects of the long history of devastation of the banlieu, the suburbs, which are akin to American inner cities, so that 10 years after massive protests and car burnings in a cry for help, nothing has changed. (There was a specific class nature to the attacks on Friday, as for the most part the sites that were chosen were the yuppie watering holes of the 10th and 11th arrondissements struck by assailants who can not afford even to sit in those places. Thus capital will tolerate even threats to its own citadels of consumption to fuel its mad energy game which drives that consumption.) All this is not even to mention the persistent long-term effects of treating former colonies as if they were still part of the colonial system.

What can we expect? The aftermath of one of these attacks is always terrible. To paraphrase Patrick Henry on patriotism, National Security is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Thus we will have “security experts” draining the French government of funds badly needed to address the social problems of unemployment in the banlieu and decreasing standard of living of French outside the reach of the global cities. The resentment of these classes, the majority of the French, for being left behind in the elite march to globalization has now found its political expression in the National Front which will likely again be victorious in the next elections. Both the Sarkozyite right and the Socialists-in-name-only left are judged to be simply defenders of global corporate interests.

We can also expect a visit from the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu proclaiming solidarity and in effect here to sell the overpriced security systems that Israel has perfected on the backs of the Palestinians who served as the data, the guinea pigs, in developing this expertise. These funds will now all be classified and will further drain as well the funds for education and the arts which have deteriorated rapidly after what we could call a recession, but let’s call it a rape, of the state and the populace by the elite financial class in 2008 and its aftermath.

Yesterday the French president Hollande declared that he was replacing the pact of stability by the pact of security, that is, he will open up the anti-austerity budget but only to hire new security forces in what in US terms instead of a Green New Deal will amount to Black New Deal as the fascist forces of order swarm the streets. The bump in employment then will guarantee that Holland, who had staked his administration on lowering the employment rate, will be able to run for election again.

Finally, one crisis global capital has engendered is now effecting its other crises. The attacks, two weeks before the most important conference in the history of the planet, COP21 where if there another failure as in Copenhagen, the planet itself does not have long to live, have threatened the stability of the talks. Thus capital’s insane lust for oil-driven energy which has already devastated the planet and which drives the so-called civilizing policies of the Middle East now threatens to return in a nightmare form to destroy any hope of stopping the energy companies and their state benefactors. 

What is to be done? The solutions are not that difficult, and they do not involve either the right-wing calls for vengeance, that is, perpetuating more war, or the left calls for a justice that neglects all causality in the attacks. The immediate solution is for France to get out of Syria, to abandon its still cherished colonial adventures and attend to its own problems at home. This was a lesson the US refused to learn after 9/11 which led to the failed “missions” in Afghanistan and Iraq. (The Pentagon screened The Battle of Algiers, they just didn’t learn anything from it.)

I love this city, it is my home, but I do not want to be collateral damage in a colonial war. It is possible to turn terror into hope but that would involve a rally that promotes solidarity not with the attackers but certainly with the generations of attacked in the Middle East and a recognition that systemic terror, the kind Western capitalism unleashes each day on the planet, on the economy, and on regions it simply sees as sources of raw materials to perpetuate its lifestyle choices, is the real problem and the peoples of the planet need to be united against it.  

This is Broe on the World Film Beat with France on the ground. 

Venice Days 2015

This is Broe on the World Film Beat. Everyone has now left the Lido at the end of the Venice Film Festival, but I’m still here with a review of the fest best, and worst; films you’ll be seeing in theaters this season (those are mostly the worst films) and films you may have to hunt down to see (those are the best films).

Best of the best Amos Gitai’s Rabin, The Last Day, mixing documentary, dramatic recreations and journalistic expose to recount the climate around the assassination of the Israeli prime minister at the moment in 1995 the film claims firmly planted Israel on its current belligerent path. Shimon Peres says the Israeli right had promoted an atmosphere of sedition at the time of the assassination. And the film questions how Israeli security, which includes the Mossad, the most feared and successful intelligence organization in the world, let an assassin linger in the area for hours waiting to strike.  A psychoanalyst declares Rabin schizophrenic, out of touch with reality, for wanting peace, and the film allows us to instead draw the conclusion that it is Zionism that is schizophrenic, a doctrine that preaches war and hate – and claims that is reality. An excellent look inside the more fanatical aspects of a society where peace has been abandoned in favor of endless war and love thy neighbor has turned into “build bigger fences”.

Also best of the best, Behemoth – Movingly poetic deconstruction of the coal industry in China’s Inner Mongolia using the framework of Dante’s Divine Comedy, where hell, in flaming red, is the rape of the earth in the coalmining process, purgatory is the grey waste of human lives as an appendage of the process and heavenly blue is the effacing of the marks of destruction in the glimmering corporate modern city, devoid of humanity and oblivious to nature.

Monster of 1000 Heads. Shot in Mexico this film is about a woman’s interaction with the medical bureaucracy and her increasing frustration as she moves up levels of an uncaring capitalist machine in which no one is ever guilty, but which nevertheless destroys her family.

Underground Fragrance – The New York Times calls this style of filmmaking Asian miserabilism via Tsai Ming Ling who this director Song Pengfei credits as his mentor. The film, following in the footsteps of Jie Zhang-ke’s Still Life, is the story of three individuals whose lives cross in their struggle to maintain their dignity in an area in rapidly corporatizing Beijing that developers are trying to clear.

Heart of a Dog is a touching transfer to the screen of what remains of the early 1980s lower Manhattan performance art aesthetic by one of its main proponents Lori Anderson. The narration, visuals, and music create an overwhelming mood of sadness and loss at the death of her dog Lolabelle, a sculptor she knew, and her mother. Hovering just offscreen and acknowledged in the end is the real death she is contemplating, that of her partner Lou Reed whose song concludes the film on an eerily poignant note. The film also takes on surveillance after 9/11 and the fact that the phenomenological approach to art that marked this downtown scene, with personal moods, feelings and stories revealing the universe, may be dwarfed by the utterly impersonal reduction of us all to simply data. 

Madame Courage is the name of the drug that the film’s protagonist uses to prop himself up and keep going in a world where he is utterly unloved. This Romeo and Juliet in the Algerian slums paints a desperate but heartbreaking portrait of the city’s forgotten.

Bonus film I liked, not to mention last week’s Neon Bull and Bleak Street:

Frederic Wiseman’s In Jackson Heights.  There are 167 nations represented in Jackson Heights, Queens, and besides celebrating diversity, the film’s focus is on the ousting of small businesses, largely Spanish, from the area and their replacement with chain stores. Not to be missed, in a series of stirring vignettes, is a Mexican woman’s extended monologue about how she was finally able to get her sister to the US.

Now we come to “less than meets the eye,” as Andrew Sarris would say:

I mentioned last week the out and out racist import of Beasts of No Nation, nuff said on that.

Looking for Grace. This Australian snoozer was the most hyped film going into the festival. The director, Sue Brooks’, affection for her Australian middle class characters, which translates as bad Raymond Carver, derails any attempt to understand those characters. She doesn’t even explain why the lead teen character, Grace, ran away, because that might expose the underlying lovability of this very troubled class. In a Rashoman moment she gives us what the director thinks is a key moment in three different points of view. The problem is the moment is not that significant. In the end the film uses the worst plot cliché, the sudden death out of nowhere of a lead character, a sure sign of running out of narrative steam or gutless refusal to examine the implications that the film raises. 

Black Mass. The story on this ‘true life’ gangster saga is that Johnny Depp is back. That’s only true though if you thought that he had ever arrived, that his combination of acting ticks and crowd pleasing shtick amounted to actual performances. Whereas before he was all animated emptiness, now he’s slowed down to a kind of prosthetic death beneath the hard-boiled makeup. The rest of the film is third rate Goodfellas with its expose of power instead turned back into neighborhood vengeance, accomplished with sadistic glee. An all-around stinker.

Spotlight is an interesting journalistic procedural but in the end the matter of fact quality of the exposure of the Catholic Church’s coverup in Boston of priest’s sexual abuse is itself a kind of coverup of the actual violence involved in the abuse which we feel not at all. The film is too smugly in love with its own do-gooded-ness, epitomized by Michael Keaton’s condescending performance as the leader of the journalists, to really make us feel what its victims experienced.

Childhood of a Leader is structured by the tantrums of the child, a future head of a vague tototaltarian state. It has a bombastic visual style emphasizing the horror of the child and his upbringing with a booming soundtrack that makes John Williams sound like Philip Glass, with both sound and visuals searching for a theme to attach themselves to. The film ends up not as complex psychodynamics but as cheap horror. Lets call it Rosemary’s Fuhrer, as Wilhelm Reich meets The Omen.
The Clan. Politically retrograde film from Argentina’s Pablo Trapero how has given up trying to match the elan of his first two films, Crane World and El Bonaerense. This one set on the moment of the breakup of the dictatorship is instead about a left-wing criminal family which struggles without morals, ruining the life of the male teen protagonist who wants really nothing more than to play Rugby which in the film’s muddled-headed and oh-so-commercial terms seems to be its answer for social activism.

As I sign off from the Lido, I want finally to mention Tsai Ming Ling’s Afternoon, a long poignant discussion of Tsai, who I think it’s fair to refer to in his promotion of all types of outsiders as the Taiwanese Pasolini, and his muse, his main actor, Lee Kang-Sheng as Tsai claims to be winding up his career. So different as a reflection on a career than another doc at the festival, on Brian DePalma presenting a standard array of his clips from previous films, this simple single shot, with the screen going black in changing the cartridge like Hitchcock’s Rope, highlights ultimately Tsai’s thoughtfulness but also the actor’s extraordinary naturalness which allowed Tsai to build so many key sequences around him.

              Barefoot Refugees On The Red Carpet At Venice 

This is Broe on the World Film Beat, live from the Lido, with my coverage of the Venice Film Festival. The big story on the opening of the festival this year the way the rivalry between the major studios and the online services, becoming studios themselves, played out on the Lido. Venice had led off the last two years with the Academy Award Winners Gravity and Birdman, both of which were anointed at the festival and went on to easily sweep the awards. This year the major studio opening was Everest with Jake Gyllenhaal whose film Demolition also opened the Toronto fest. This alpine snoozer is not going to win the Academy Award, and even festival director Alberto Barbera described it as a film that had ‘great special effects,’ the kiss of death because it implies ‘and nothing else,’ which is the way most critics judged the film. 

Going head to head with the studio powerhouse opening was Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation. Netflix did not produce the film, merely picked it up for distribution as the majors often do, planning on distributing mainly not in theaters but to its 67 million subscribers. The mode of distribution is very different with the streaming service claiming it never looks at box office numbers.  The major theaters have refused to pick up the film for its October 16th release, judging it a threat to their industry but it will be released in Mark Cuban’s Landmark theaters where it will qualify for the Academy Awards.

The synergy around the two releases in terms of them benefitting both the companies and the festival was striking. Everest shot in the Italian Alps region of Alte Adige was also an advertisement for shooting in that region which is increasing dramatically as has shooting in Italy as a whole since the government has granted a 25%, not rebate, but simply discount. This has occasioned new Chinese productions in a three-picture deal and the new James Bond film Spectre with as one report noted ‘impressive car chases around the Colosseum.” The Netflix film, about the horrors of child soldiers in Africa as well as being a prestige picture designed to challenge for the academy award at a prestige opening, was timed to hit Venice a bit before Netflix opens this fall in Italy. The film was also directed by Cary Fukanaga, the show runner for True Detective and thus was designed to prove that television auteurs, a big part of Netflix and Amazon’s claim to studio status so far, could compete with cinema auteurs.

The film won the award for best child actor, which, considering there weren’t many, is a little like saying it had great special effects. At Cannes, independent impresario Harvey Weinstein said the streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, etc) were the future of more mature film production. That is not true in this case. Beasts made my five worst films for being an out and out racist portrait of Africa regurgitating every possible cliché in the Idris Elba warlord character as the utter corruption of the revolutionary era of independence but in no way explaining how Africa got to be this way and who, meaning the colonial powers, was responsible. All this was done under cover of being a transcription of a book by a Nigerian author. This is the Blackhawk Down version of history where there is only the present and no past causes.

On the other hand at the festival Venice itself did intrude. Fest director Barbera acknowledged that one of the reasons work had not finished yet on a new press hall was that last year the mayor of Venice was arrested, this because of the Mose scandal where millions have been contributed not only in Italy but throughout Europe which regards Venice as part of its patrimony to build a series of gates that would prevent the city from flooding. The new mayor this year during the festival explaining why work still is not proceeding claimed that the problem is not corrupt officials siphoning money from the public trough but ‘human error.’

Actress and model Elisa Sednaoui opened the festival declaring that ‘we will not let Venice be transformed into a Euro Disney.” Of course, she then introduced Everest which along with the remake of Ben Hur and James Bond in the Roman Coloseum was part of a film industry reduction of Italy to a theme park.

Finally, the immigration question, so disturbing in Europe, burst onto the Lido, with demonstrators and African immigrants actually having their moment on the red carpet where they demanded one Europe without walls and asylum for all not just so-called political refugees, since they are all equal and all fleeing the poverty of Africa.

And now to the films. I was very much out of sync with the Alphonso Cuaron, Mexican director of Gravity, jury, It prized what I thought was a non-political film from Venezuela, From Afar, and gave Best direction to Pablo Trapero The Clan, utterly bewildering for a politically retrograde film that was one of my worst, Most astoundin of all was the prize to Childhood of a Leader, which I and many others thought a clear choice for worst film of the festival in its muddle headed and Hollywood histrionic attempt to understand fascist psychology. Let’s call it, as a nod to Michael Haneke’s actual exploration of fascist historiographics—the White Ribbon for Idiots. 

The jury was heavy on rewarding unknowns but for my mind at the expense of ignoring much more substantial work and my two best films who share best director were Amos Gitai’s Rabin the last days, whose subject is really Isreael as schizophrenic nation that has rejected peace and Liang Zhao’s Behemoth which uses the framework of Dante’s Divine Comedy to poetically render the hell that is the coal industry in China and elsewhere.

Let me point to two major trends this week which I believe will influence film releasing in the next year and many of these films you will be seeing in the US over the next year. One is a very clear distinction between the haves and have nots in the films this year. Those outside the neo-liberal order, trying to survive it figured in films from Italy (Non Essere Cattivo--Do Not Be Bad--,a supposed updating of the Roman underclass of Pasolini’s Accatone), China (Underground Fragrances inspired by the work of Tsai Ming Ling) and most stunningly Mexico in Arturo Ripstein’s Calle de Amargura, literally Street of Bitterness, to be released in the US as Bleak Street, a kind of Los Olvidados for the aged about the lives of worn down sex workers. 

This trend is exemplified, for example, in two films from Brazil, one Neon Bull, in my five best, about the changing life in the northeast, the poorest region and site of worker struggles. This film about Brazilian rodeo focuses not as American films do, on the star of the rodeo, the cowboys, but instead on the bulls and the humans who attend them by readying them for the cowboys.The film compares the impoverished lives of each. However, as in so many of the interesting films, the focus is not only on exploitation, but on overcoming it, even as northeast Brazil becomes filled with malls and nuclear plants, the lead supposedly macho character follows his desire by working at being a clothing designer. 

On the other side from Brazil, was another of my five worst, Mate-me Por Favor, Kill Me Please. And yes I was thinking kill me please several times as I was forced to watch a smarmy privileged teen film whose heroines, menaced by a serial killer, seem to have no interaction with the rest of their society unlike the far better film from this year from Brazil Casa Grande, to be released in November in the US, where the teenage boy does get exposed to how the other 99% lives.

The other major trend is that this was the year for the revival and particularly of the Italian revival. These films will open in the US at Moma’s October series To Preserve and Protect. The festival began on an incredibly high note, as opposed to the false high based only on the altitude of Everest, with Orson Welles Merchant of Venice, supposedly part of a CBS series called Orson Welles Bag, which CBS could not tolerate for even a single episode and pulled the plug. The 30 minute show has been reconstructed and features Welles’ intro in 1969-at the time of American racial strife-which stresses the importance in that time of racial intolerance of Shakespeare’s tale about breaking that prejudice for Jews in Venice, the city from which the word ghetto comes. 

The show culminates in Welles speech as Shylock about his humanity and throughout suggests that the Venetian power structure is nefariously organized against its outsiders. The restorers did not have the sound track from the ‘69 version so they used a Mercury Theater soundtrack with Welles doing Shylock’s speech from 1938, producing the eerie but delirious effect of two Welles, with voice and image 30 years apart.

The rest of the Italian revivals were equally strong and included:
1973s Vogliamo I Colonnelli (We Want the Colonels) by Mario Monicelli. This film charts a gathering of all the right wing elements from the legislature, the nobility, and the army to stage a coup, but they are all too old. The officer reading the coup notes forgets his lines and another has a heart attack as he is about to take over the media. Funny but also telling assemblage of the Italian right which attributes to it much of the violence of the early ‘70s  in the the anni di piombo, the  years of lead. 
1953’s La Lupa (The Shewolf) by Alberto Latuada. My best of all the revivals. This missing piece of work by the director of Il Bandito, The Bandit, was seen at the time by the Italian left as not neorealist and by the right as too neorealist. Both ahead and behind its time, this is a tale of an ancient village with houses still hollowed out of the mountains and a woman who will not have her pleasure abated seducing a soldier first in a cave and later again after he has married her daughter and while the daughter is giving birth. The film features women angrily storming a tobacco factory that will not give them work and is a combination, as with the work of Guiseppe De Santis of Bitter Rice fame, of Italian operatic extreme melodrama and on location neorealism. Wonderful revival. 

1977’s I Mostri by Dino Risi featureds two great Italian actors in a film that deserves to be seen outside Italy.  Ugo Tognazzi and Vittorio Gasman in a series of sketches, many hilarious, that together add up to a satire of Italy in full economic revival as a country whose institutions are utterly corrupt, from the father who instructs his son on who to cheat and get ahead in lines by faking a medical condition to the lawyer who humiliates a witness who comes forward to tell the truth.
Finally, the jury award for best restoration, 1975’s Salo or 120 Days of Sodom. Very prescient film today.  Pasolini’s tale of depravity in the last days of the war under the fascist-nazi regime, his telling statement that sex is really power written on the body is so true today when the over 63% of internet users watching porn believe themselves free and instead are utterly bound to bourgeois convention that is as deformed in its calculated depravity for profit as Pasolini’s fascists. The directors is utterly aware of this coming mass fascistization of sex at the time of his making of this, his last, film. The real thing more than makes up for the shoddiness of last year’s abysmal Abel Ferrara biopic on Pasolini.
This in Broe on the World Film Beat signing off from the Lido. Next week, in time for their foray into cinemas this fall, I’ll be discussing my best and worst, including Tsai Ming Ling’s extraordinary bow out of filmmaking and the non-return of Johnny Depp. 


My Cannes Best of the Rest

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed films in the main Cannes competition. Well, I just can’t get enough of the festival so this week, in my final report I will be looking at the best and worst films outside the main competition. Some of these  films will play the New York Film Festival and then open in the US, a few will open before the festival, and some may never get a distributor. Nevertheless what follows are films to watch for or watch out for and some exhilarating and disturbing trends. 

Thanks especially to Paris’ Forum des Images, Reflet Medicis and the Cinemateque which allowed me to catch up on films I missed at Cannes. 

First, back to La Loi du Marche, The Law of the Market, a Cannes competition film that won for best actor and that in the US will be released with the utterly depoliticized title The Measure of a Man. The film, which I discussed previously, about a worker forced to take a surveillance job in a supermarket where he must collar “shoplifters” who he realizes are as poor as he is, is a huge box office hit in France where the so called Socialist President Holland’s main problem is a perpetually high unemployment rate since he has sworn to change that situation. Law of the Market, about capitalist cruelty, opened wide in France, though on less than half the screens of the global American summer blockbuster Mad Max and has been competing favorably with both that film, and the disaster film San Andreas. Apparently in France there is some taste for facing problems directly instead of sublimating them under the spectacle of an apocalyptic future or a catastrophic present. (The publicity line for San Andreas here is “Where will you be?”, meaning, when the ultimate earthquake hits. I always answer to myself, “Not sitting in a theater watching this piece of crap, that’s for sure.”

As I said in the last report, my Palme D’Or for best film goes hands down to Jia Zhangke for Mountains May Depart, which really should be titled Mountains May Move. Outside the main competition, my prize goes to two films, strangely both American, and which may prove there is life in the American indie; that is, that the form has not entirely degenerated into pseudo-psychoanalytical naval gazing.  The first, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, is a stirring example of the best the Sundance film festival and its related development fund is capable of producing. The film, set on the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation--Yes the site of the Wounded Knee uprising signaled obliquely in the film--is a loving portrait of the struggles on a contemporary res of a Lakota teenage girl against alcoholism, a broken home, and the lure of the outside world. In a reverse Good Will Hunting, the film instead of privileging the genius character who gets away instead stakes its claim on the touching decision of a character who will stay and attempt to make his situation and that of everyone else’s better. First time film by a Chinese female director Chloe Zhao who spent considerable time on the reservation which paid off in a loving and complex treatment of the lives of the Lakota which also, to refer back to Jia Zhangke’s agrarian bias, relates the Lakota struggle globally to that of the Chinese peasant. 

As for my second prized film, Jeffrey Saulnier had a critical hit here in France and in the US with last year’s Blue Ruin but it in no way prepares for the splendor that is The Green Room. It’s as splendorific as a splatter film can be. Saulnier has entirely reinvented the horror film by crossing it with a by now archaic but still enervating punk sensibility. Among the accomplishments are: a politicizing of the horror film as the punk left, from DC, battles the punk right from the unwashed northwest as the lead singer, in a club that time forgot, blasphemes fascist punks and gets a hostile reception that rivals the original Sex Pistols’ tour of the US; a reinvigorating of the final girl from Scream fame, as this time a hard-bitten formation of a final couple; and a punk take, in one of the great last lines of any film ever, on the Hollywood notion of the repeated phrase that is reprised as part of the happy ending. I won’t give away the line but I’m dying too. All this while stressing not the digital manufacturing of horror of a worn out Jurassic World, whose “world” is simply the prefabricated Universal amusement park ride and  video game, but the relishing of using the accoutrements of classic horror design for effects that are scary, gross, cheesy and touching all at the same time. The b-film rises, walks, and lives again among us. 

A welcome entry in the genre of immigrant films is Mediterranea, which begins in a hand held sequence that has become de rigeur for showing the trauma of the journey since Ken Loach’s California crossing in Bread and Roses, here of two immigres from Burkina Faso. The film then details their being robbed in Algeria and barely making it to land in their small boat, a part of the trip described in detail in a French film Pirogue. It then actually begins when they land in Italy, the real subject of this film which traces the difficult relations of the two men among the Italians who are variously interested, amused and utterly hostile and contemptuous of them. The film, in a denouement torn from the pages of the French and Italian current rousting of immigrants, ends with a forced evacuation of their shanties, which utterly deprives them of their sole means of coping with the pressures of attempting to find a better life for themselves in a country and a continent that is narrow-minded and unwelcoming of groups that can reinvigorate and enliven the standard culture while also contributing to paying the costs of a decaying social welfare system. A must see and an important addition to this genre. 

Next I want to focus on two films treating a similar theme very differently and that theme is the repercussions of violence against women, One, the South Korean film Shameless, a Korean police noir, suggests a radical gesture as the solution to the problem, and the other film, the Indian-European co-production Masaan is replete with what I call “neo-liberal, neo-realism” where the veneer of a social trajectory hides behind what is basically a market solution to the question. Shameless recalls in its detailing of the unceasing brutality and corruption of the South Korean police Unjust in which in the end the seemingly heroic and handsome cop is so despised he is killed by his own men. This film likewise presents the cop as initially above reproach in a Vertigo-like scenario where he tracks the girlfriend of a murderer waiting for the murderer to arrive. But the cop seduces the woman, torn between both men, and then betrays her and it is her violent gesture at the end against his sanctioned psychological violence masquerading as righteous moral defense of the law that constitutes in her vengeance a truly radical gesture. Masaan on the other hand is a smarmy liberal look at the horrors of traditional Indian society where a young girl’s act in meeting a companion for sex in a hotel is discovered and she is ostracized in a way that deploys the female issue as a way of attacking Hindu society seemingly for its inability to grant the modern woman freedom but in fact more for its recalcitrance in refusing to accept the corporate digital lifestyle the woman and her companion are so accustomed to. 

While we’re on the subject of neo-liberal remakes, there is the French The Anarchists which likely will be featured in Rendezvous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center next spring and which traces the lives of an anarchist brigade in the Paris of the 1890s, with the sons and daughters of the Paris Commune supposedly carrying on their parents’ fight. Unfortunately, these anarchists, unlike the actual historical movement the film is discussing, are only initially related to the concerns of the underpaid and scantily sheltered factory workers they seem to represent and instead end up looking more in their fashion plate nonchalance like a start up team whose gauzily filmed final criminal act looks more like a software demonstration than a bank robbery. The subject of anarchism in the wake of the Haymarket killings was much better treated in the first season of the British television series Ripper Street. 

Much worse but in an equally neo-liberally blithe manner, as part of the Babelization of film culture, that is, following from that film’s incorporation of all perspectives into a corporate Hollywood perspective, is A Perfect Day, supposedly set in the Bosnian War but utterly unconcerned with the circumstances or background of the war as part of the corporate parceling of Yugoslavia. Instead of an actual sense of the war, what we get, from Spanish director Fernando Leon de Aranoa who once did the very stirring Mondays in the Sun on Spanish unemployment and who ought to know better, is a film lionizing foreign aid workers We have Americans (Tim Robbins), Spanish-Americans (Benizio del Toro) and the obligatory in this new type of Euro-American neo-liberal trash, Angelina Jolie look alike, Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, all cynical but underneath with hearts of gold. The film, as is the problem with so many of these types of films, ends up utterly enraptured with war, just from the side here of the aid workers whose hard-bitten, fairly uncaring, attitude is only the liberal side of Kathryn Bigelow’s soldiers in love with war in The Hurt Locker. The two together prove the mainstream neo-liberal consensus on war as derring-do component of globalization, not so much war is hell as war as for sale. 

On the other hand, outside the liberal consensus is a film from Columbia, where there is a creative cinema boom, Embrace of the Serpent, by Ciro Guerra about the interaction between a German explorer and the last member of a tribe in the Amazon. This is Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God from the indigenous point of view or at least from both perspectives. There are two different time frames with the second Apocalypse Now version of the story unneeded, but the earlier just after the turn-of-the-last-century tale is a painful examination of the European mentality and its interaction with the indigenous. This is no domesticated Last of the Mohicans and the native Karamakate in what should have been the final scene burns down the tree that represents the pinnacle of native culture and learning to keep it from falling into the hands of the German explorer who as he says is not in himself evil but who presages the arrival of the drug companies and patent wars which are never far behind even the most benign explorer or supposed seeker after truth.

 We’ll end with what is really the most difficult film to discuss, and that is, The Arabian Nights, a trilogy of over six hours by Miguel Gomes whose nominal subject is Portuguese austerity. The film’s intertwined documentary and fictional heart is in the right place, unfortunately its formalist head is elsewhere, that is, stuck somewhere else, if you know what I mean. Gomes utilizes multiple sources in this supposedly retelling of The 1001 Nights complete with Scheherazade describing the kingdom being ruled by a rapacious king, read the IMF and the European Central Bank, and opening with voices of shipworkers explaining how they were brutally let go over footage of them still inhabiting the port where they worked. 

The problem is that Gomes is a formalist at heart and foremost and it hurts in this film. In the opening, he is speaking to the camera and then goes and hides and the crew chases him, just as he often hides what he has to say behind the formalist veneer throughout the film. His constant deconstruction of the stories rather than being exhilarating, as it often is in Godard, seems at cross purposes with what he is saying. That is, to tell a story, as American television knows, is often a sign of energy and vitality; to continually frustrate the telling of a story, on the other hand, in a film structured around the promise of story, is often to reduplicate the defeated lack of energy of the victims of austerity. The formal conventions of questioning every narrative moment here ultimately signifies exhaustion rather than critique. Nevertheless, his recounting of the folk traditions which enable resistance, from peasant bird collectors in the city to the anxiety of losing a dog is a catalogue of people’s thought and reactions to a crisis which has devastated the country. 

That concludes this year’s Cannes Report and this is Broe on the World Film Beat. I and the beachcomers are the last ones on the beach and it’s time for me finally to go home.

Cannes Competition Wrapup: Tales of Sound and Fury (And a couple of films of substance)

Two points to continue last week’s discussion about Cannes as mega storefront for luxury goods. The first involves the controversy over women having to wear high heels, with Emily Blunt at the premiere of Sicaria and others reacting against the prohibition that was then denied. The point of the convention is that women walk the red carpet not as actresses, or not as actresses primarily, but as manikins—as movable billboards and high heels are part of that fashion fetish. At same moment as Cannes this year was supposedly celebrating women in a festival panel organized around them, the red carpet economy trumped women’s liberation or even their comfort.

Second point. Along with the red carpet economy, last week I talked about how the Kering Company (Gucci, Chanel) influenced film selection, and this week I will return to that with Salma Hayek as fashion model more than actress in the way she is used in the film Tale of Tales. In another way though, many of the French films this year--with the exception of the political film The Law of the Market whose American title is the depoliticized The Measure of a Man—were about what might be termed lifestyle excesses; sensational ways of being that simply conform to the high end bourgeois extravagant market concept of living that propels the luxury companies that finance Cannes. Thus French badboy Gaspar Noe, this year returns to Cannes with Love which is auteur porn, and the catch or the enhancement being, it’s in 3D, (you know the way things shoot off the screen at the audience in 3D, well… That’s enough of a visual I don’t think I have to go further). Also on the agenda  was incest, presented not as a factor of unequal sexual economy but as intriguing lifestyle choice in Marguerite and Julian and that staple of the French repertoire the philandering male featured in both Philip Garrell’s The Shadow of Women and Woody Allen’s (who at this point is an honorary French director)  Irrational Man. Again the films and their reception rather than challenging any aspect of contemporary life seem more about setting up an atmosphere for the selling of luxury products to continue unabated, much the way television advertisers seek out shows that set up the proper atmosphere for their products.

A word on Cannes Prizes. The Cohen Brothers Jury I thought made only one good choice, Vincent Lindon for Law of the Market, while on the whole rewarding obscurely political films like the validation of the struggle of the Tamils (Dheepan) and a concentration camp film (Son of Saul) rather than taking up films that dealt with deeper tragedies like Jia Zhangke’s brilliant expose of capitalism’s ruinous effect on the emotional life of its victims, Moutains May Move and the Portuguese director Miguel Gomes’ three-film look at the devastation on the country of austerity in his retelling of A Thousand and One Nights,” of which more next time.

Here is a breakdown of a few of the films:
Law of the Market is the best Dardenne Brothers, perennials at Cannes, film the Dardennes never made. Vincent Lindon is simply superb as a down-on-his luck worker who finally gets a job as a sort of supermarket security guard who confronts shoplifters. What he finds though is that they are simply poor people, aged, or minority residents who can’t because of the economy, afford to pay. This is the American Paul Blart Mall Cop with the class tensions intact instead of mocked. Much of the film is written on the faces of Lindon’s slightly world-weary worker and those of the victims of this destroyed economy, with the director, Stéphane Brizé surrounding Lindon’s Peter Sellers like absorption of the indignities of an embattled class in a Being There for the age of austerity with real workers in the service economy. A scene with Lindon responding to the detached voice of a prospective employer which emanates from his computer in a way that suggests the inhumanness of this way of more casually dismissing people is a master class in deadpan authenticity and throughout the actor modulates his performance to that of the actual workers cast in the film. My choice also for best actor and one of the best films.

One of the best films of this or any year is Mountains May Depart by Chinese master Jia Zhangke. Jia has been documenting China’s often brutal transition to capitalism for 20 years and the French have this year taking to calling him the Chinese Balzac because of his desire to chart the social and political history of modern china, but if he keeps on giving us masterwork after masterwork, we are going instead to have to start referring to Balzac as the French Jia Zhangke. I mean it and his work is that good; this is not just hyperbole. His last film was in the generic key of noir, about how often irrational violence has accompanied as a more than inevitable byproduct China’s rise to capitalist great power status. This time he employs the melodrama, quoting in the film’s most affecting second part Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession. His actress Tao Zhao, who should have been Cannes’ best actress this year and is mine, in this, the best film, is a woman who initially in a Jules and Jim scenario must choose between the aspiring capitalist in leather jacket with car to match or her real love, the peasant miner in faded jeans. She makes the wrong choice of the capitalist which haunts her but not as much as the loss of her son, simply named Dollar, to his father in Australia. This is an old-fashioned weepie, an extraordinary melodrama about the power, persistence and finally resilience of this Chinese woman in the face of an argument the film is persistently making that in global capitalization China is losing its soul.

Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, distributed by the Weinsteins, is a tale of sound and fury signifying Oscar, but little else. There are three Oscar notable performances, as well as likely prestiege Best Picture nomination in the works for this grouping of Euro superstars, with Michael Fassbender as Macbeth, Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth and Sean Harris as Duncan also Oscar worthy, whatever that mean. But while a former Weinstein Oscar winner Shakesphere in Love was lighter than air, this one is darker than a cesspool, but for little meaning or purpose. Polankski’s Macbeth began with the remnants of the battle; this one begins in full 300 type carnage mode with the battle itself. It is possible to do a political Macbeth. Orson Welles at the time of a political change in the US with the more conservative Truman usurping Roosevelt’s New Deal has Duncan fleeing Macbeth’s terrorized kingdom just as Welles was about to flee the US. Here the meaning leans in the other direction. After the last election, with the British Labor Party in utter disarray, Scotland is now the citadel of the left in the British Isles. It is finally David Cameron’s England which in the film finances Macduff to destroy the dream of Scottish independence, even this sordid one of Macbeths, so the film is utterly conservative in every possible way and will likely succeed in the US as also did another Weinstein Eurobrew, The Artist.

A far stranger film in a similar vein is Matteo Garone’s Tale of Tales, adapted from the Neopolitan hard-edged proto-fairy tales of Giambattista Basile. This mix of Euro and global actors recalling the super productions of the 1970s and 80s used to be called a euro pudding. Unfortunately, this highly commercialized mess isn’t even Euro jello. The various tales are in style poised somewhere between Passolini’s raunchy peasant inspired Decameron and EuroDisney, with the pendulum often swinging in the direction of the latter. Salma Hayek as the queen struts the runway, in one case the palace maze, in a series of gowns that can not on their own constitute a character. John C. Reilly acquits himself best, because he has the good sense to abandon the film early and not return. Vincent Cassell reprises his Europervert role from Brotherhood of the Wolf, but this time without the critical quality of lambasting a decadent aristocracy. So this is simply licentious lip smacking. The film claims to tap the peasant sensibility of the Naples countryside, but too often instead, as in the finale where the teen princess alone triumphs, what is being tapped is the commercial sensibility of Sophia Coppola ala The Bling Ring. Run don’t walk, away from Tale of Tales.

I’ll be back next time with my Croisette clean up, sweeping up in Cannes after all the other critics have gone home and bringing you the best of the films outside the main competition including a trilogy of films about Portuguese austerity.

             Tale Of Tales: Not So Subtle Cultural Imperialism

This is the passing of the mantle of the directorship at Cannes from Thierry Fremeaux to Pierre Lescure and at first look the former director of the pay for view channel Canal Plus would seem to be recharging the world’s largest and most prestigious festival in a way that de-emphasizes the commercial and gets it back to the business of promoting the art and politics of the cinema. Last year it should be said in his favor that he inaugurated the appearance of the television series at Cannes with Bruno Dumont’s Petit Quinquin.

This year 5 of the 19 films in the competition are by French directors, only 2 by Americans and they are somewhat considered outsiders, Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant, whose Elephant won here previously. In addition Cannes has a history of opening with a splashy, big budget often awful American summer blockbuster and, maybe because the last two have been such disasters--last year’s monarchical selfie Grace which barely dented the American scene and the year before’s hugely underwhelming, except as a fashion billboard, Great Gatsby--this year Cannes disdained the American blockbuster and instead opened with a French film about juvenile delinquency in the era of the selfie, La Tete Haute, badly translated in its American title as Standing Tall, with the grand dame of French cinema Catherine Deneuve as the judge overseeing the jds case.

However looks can be deceiving and in this case not only have the moneychangers not been driven out of the temple, they have actually slyly taken it over in two not-so-subtle ways. First, while going strictly by auteur, the competition appears to be diverse, nevertheless a good number of the foreign language directors have chosen to work in English with American commercial cinema backing and American actors; a choice, highly conditioned by the market, which has tends to move them away from local, more political and specific concerns and towards a more generalized abstract cinema with a bigger budget. Two extreme cases in point are the Greek director Yorgos Latimos’ The Lobster, with Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and John C. Reilly set in an apocryphal future where if you don’t find a mate you’re turned into an animal and which disdains the Greek present where if they don’t pay their debt the Greeks are turned into fodder for the German banks and the Italian Mateo Garrone, best known for his organized crime expose Gamorrah, with Tale of Tales, based on the Neopolitan founder of the fairy tale, Giambatistta Basile’s fractured stories but shot not in Naples but in Ireland and starring Selma Hayek, Vincent Cassel and the ever present John C. Reilly. This not so subtle cultural imperialism can also be reversed as Denis Villeneuve, the Canadian director, has chosen this year to work in Mexico in his tale of the corrupting influence of the drug wars in Sicario, but even that film is Americanized with its stars Josh Brolin and Emily Blunt. So as the French paper Liberation pointed out, there is an international cinema packaging, that while it may feature a foreign director in its push for a bigger budget will need to be shot in English with Hollywood stars and thus the globish mix moves the world ever more subtly toward globalization as Hollywoodization and enlists Cannes, the home of the auteur, as a co-conspirator in this process.

The second major commercializing feature of the Lescure era—it was noted that in the festival opening press conference he spoke more about sponsors than about cinema—is the insinuation of brands into the actual filmmaking and film selection process. Particularly active, or ominous, depending on your perspective, this year, which had been called the year of the ‘brandization of Cannes,” is Kering which houses the luxury brands Gucci, Puma and Chanel. Kering was founded by Francois Pinault but is now run by his son Francois-Henri Pinault and the company is this year co-producer of Ice and the Sky which will close the film festival and which has raised some very suspicious eyes. Pinault’s wife Selma Hayek who will be a leader of a panel on women in cinema caused a stir this year with her busty purple gown but perhaps caused a bigger stir by also starring in the competition film Tale of Tales, thus a triple winner for Hayek as Kering Queen.

There is a new or more heightened symbiosis this year between these mostly English language speaking actors and the brands they represent. Take the case of perennial sponsor Chopard, the jeweler. This year the company boasted of having dressed 11 actors for the opening night including Oscar winners Julianne Moore and Lupita Nyongo with Moore then becoming a “godparent” where she supports young actors, like this year’s Lola Kirke from Gone Girl, chosen because they express the company’s “philosophy and values,” the philosophy mainly being of course to “reach new audiences,” that is, to make more money. The values being imparted by the godparent then involve teaching newcomers how to turn their body into a billboard for the rest of their careers because as the company says jewels in a showroom are just nice looking stones but, “on the body of a beautiful actress pieces come alive.” Of course none of this has anything to do with acting or cinema but the infiltration of what is called the ‘red carpet economy’ at all levels of cinema culture continues as Chopard this year sponsored the Lumiere exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris, now linking itself to the birth of cinema.

But what of the Cannes opening of a seemingly topical film about delinquency in the digital era, La Tete Haute. The film itself was roundly criticized as well-meaning but as being too much taken up with Catherine Deneuve and too little concerned with its nominal topic. However, Deneuve redeemed herself not with the critics but with the sponsors by her “stunning” appearance in a Gaultier gown at the premiere; the real purpose of the film then being not to shed light on delinquency but to get Deneuve to the red carpet. And what of the shunning of the monster American summer blockbuster? That didn’t really happen either as Mad Max Fury Road premiered the next day and got the summer season off to a boringly predictable start.

Goodbye from the Croisette from Broe on the World Film Beat. Next week, I’m going to actually talk about some films including the return of the Dardennes in a new guise in the form of the French film The Law of the Market, with an incredibly natural performance by a former union leader as a new Peter Sellers in a Being There for the age of austerity.

Dennis Broe World Film Beat 2014

 Top 5 Films

The first thing to say is that in my top 5 and 5 honorable mentions is that there are only two American films and those were both documentaries. So, in my mind, this was not a very good year for American features, and of course the year ended with the most despicable of the lot, The Interview, mercifully being pulled, though now it seems only momentarily, from theaters.

Nevertheless there were films to crow about in the foreign cinema, however most of these either got short shrift or did not get released in the US, and I must say that even New York, a global city, is, if we’re judging from the film world, globally provincial, instead of truly open to the world.

Anyway here goes:

1. Black Coal – Chinese winner at Berlin and an international hit this year, barely shown in the US. Part of a trilogy of Chinese noirs in the last few years, including Jie Zhang-ke’s Touch of Sin and People Mountain, People Sea that in their own quiet way rail against the way that capitalism is destroying the emotional fabric of Chinese society, this one in tracing the isolation around the search for a serial killer in a Chinese coal-mining town in the North, where human value is being
gradual reduced and erased. Bitter, elegiac and truthful.

2. Princess Kaguya – The last work of the Japanese animated Studio Gibli co-anchor Isao Takahata is a resplendent pro-environmental film in that deepest Shinto way about the utter imbrication of the young princess found in the wood and the nature around her, as her well-meaning foster
father attempts instead to enroll her under the artifice of the court. A staggeringly beautiful film that is also in its animation a history of 300 years of Japanese painting and calligraphy. Though said to be the ‘best reviewed film of the year’ elsewhere, utterly ignored by the New York Times, but if there is any sense of justice should win the Animation Academy Award.

3. Two Days, One Night – A return by the Dardennes Brothers to the simpler, more elegant, and more politically direct masterpieces of their earlier years such as La Promesse and Rosetta. This expose of the way the working class has fragmented by buying into an every man and woman
for themselves mentality has the stark directness of The Bicycle Thief, as a female breadwinner, beautifully underplayed by Marion Cotillard, must petition her co-workers to vote down their own raise in order that she not be fired. Best film on the important subject of the breaking down by corporate power of working class solidarity since the forgotten Ken Loach masterwork It’s A Free World.

4. Adieu a Langage – Godard returns, maybe for the last time, here to stunningly apply his avant-garde experiments to that crudest of commercial gimmicks, 3D. It’s a revelation to see how the master refits his subtitles, jagged narrative, philosophical voice over on subjects from the fate of Africa and Palestine to the misuse of the media in an attempt to rethink a device that Hollywood has utterly emptied of meaning. Can you say Green Lantern. All in the context of a love story
questioning through its erstwhile heroine the nature of love or rather its imbrication in commercial representation.

5. My major best unreleased film, most likely unheard of on these shores, is a film by Italy’s Michael Moore, only at this point after Moore’s recent miscues in both defending The Interview and trying to make the Academy Documentary category more exclusive, actually superseding him, is Sabina Guzzanti and her film La Trattativa, The Treaty, an experimental film that in a very Brechtian way mixes documentary footage, reenactments and reflections by Guzzanti and her crew on the subject of the negotiation in 1992 between the mafia and the Italian state, one result of which was the bringing to power of Berlusconi. In both the importance of its subject matter and its utterly exhilarating style, this film is the successor to last year’s breakthrough in the documentary form, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing. Please help bring it to a theater, or at least a computer, near you.

And the rest, Jimmy’s Hall, Ken Loach’s melancholic comparison of the coopted political climate in the wake of a negotiated Irish Independence in the teen years of the last century and the stultification among European workers today in the post-Recession, austerity climate. Citizen Four, Laura Pointras’ moody portrait of Edward Snowden is a recounting of the difficulties of whistle-blowing in the age of global surveillance, a paean to Snowden’s dedication in pulling off these revelations, and a gloomily visual evoking of the way the secretiveness of this brave new world enshroudes us all in darkness. 

The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow up to last year’s Act of Killing veers toward a more standard documentary portrait but persists in unearthing the dark nature of the Indonesian past, as a man who looks professionally, fitting eye glasses, peers into the souls of the murderers of Sukarno’s workers, artists and labor organizers, murderers who not only walk among the people but in many cases still intimidate them.

Roy Anderson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, a hit at this year’s Venice Film Festival which in Anderson’s surreal way explores Sweden’s and Europe’s racist and bloody monarchist past suggesting the link to the present but in a way that is both riotously and heartbreakingly funny.

Giovanni’s Island by Mizuho Hishikubo is by turns an elegiac and bitter Japanese anime about the cross-cultural childhood after World War II of a Japanese boy growing up on an enchanted island in the Kuril Island chain taken over by the Russians. The film persists in exploring against all odds the difficulties but also the rewards of relations between very different cultures as his militarist father is himself brutally imprisoned in a Stalinist gulag while the boy’s  first love is a the daughter of the Russian commander. This may be a lot of unknown films, but I would like to say that these Top Tens will be posted at the

James Agee Cinema Circle website under World Film Beat and Broe on the Global Television Beat.

Dennis Broe At The The Cannes Film Festival 2014


Noir And Capitalism: Class, Crime And International Film Noir.

Long Island University professor and cultural historian Dennis Bros discusses his new book, delving into the connection between the international working class and film noir in movies. And some thoughts about the absence of the working class on screen - but what about when they are actually in movies, or even have a say about the content of those films. Professor Broe has a fascinating wealth of information to share, particularly when it comes to the politics of film noir in movies, and those resistance currents in cinema across the globe. Film noir by definition has historically been a way that filmmakers have symbolically critiqued the global reign of corporate capitalism. And the accumulation of capital, where lives are smashed and dreams are brutally broken. Broe is also the author of Film Noir: American Workers And Post-War Hollywood.


     I'm Dennis Broe and today I will be doing a wrap-up of the Paris Film Festival, 10 days of cinema heaven in the capital of cinema that closed yesterday and that this year remarkable resembled a festival which has also just wrapped up, and which is practically the only reason to endure the big city summer heat and that is New York’s Asian Film Festival in its 11th season. The differences though are instructive.

The film that opened the Asian Film Festival, which is a popular cinema fest that also includes all kinds of exploitational films, was the aptly titled Vulgaria, from Hong Kong about a film about making low budget films and with no skimping on the exploitation. The Paris festival, in its 10th season, opened on the other hand with Hong Kong impresario Johnnie To’s La Vie sans principe, Life Without Principle, To’s account of the impact of the economic crisis on Hong Kong, a selection in last year’s Venice Film Fest which should open soon in the US. The Paris opening selection stressed that here, while there is always the requisite amount of diversions, cinema is, like everything else here, also about politics. To attended the opening and introduced the film by saying he detested the Hong Kong corporations for what they had done to his city, and indeed their emblems absolutely define the city’s skyline in the film’s opening scenes. The film is a multi-character description of the greed that drove this eruption of the crisis in Asia, with the greediest characters all eventually suffering sometimes grisly fates, while the three innocent characters or couples are saved or profit by divine intervention. Best moment of the film is the lovable every-gangster, Panther’s, induction by a former mob crony into the mysteries of the financial markets, where the buddy has made a killing. Panther becomes absorbed in the profit and loss charts, looks up and exclaims excitedly, realizing he has solved the secret of the market, “This is baccarat with graphs.”  

There were many more films from Hong Kong, the honoree of the festival, including an opening all-night Johnnie To fest, a film I saw from 2009 called Accident, about a hit-man and woman team in that city who perform killings by designing Rube Goldberg devices that result in the death of the victim and who are finally undone by the mixture of chance and planning that has allowed them to succeed, a film whose somewhat spurious debate between manipulation and fate is sleight, and retros like the director’s cut of Tsui Hark’s 1980s, Dangerous Encouters of the 1st Kind, whose topic is really the end of the student armed resistance moment of the 70s, As martial arts spectacle in disguise with the young Hark cutting his teeth on material that will later be reworked for his wujia epics to come, it was mildly interesting, but as coherent take on the period of the student movement turning violent, as say Fassbinder’s The Third Generation or Wakamatsu’s United Red Army are, it was laughably simplistic with the student’s blowing up things because they felt like it, more David Letterman than Baader Meinhoff. Sort of, “Stupid Terrorist Tricks.”

I saw three of the ten films in the festival’s competition, including new Portuguese sensation Miguel Gomes’ Tabou, a beautiful black and white three part examination of that country’s colonial past that is perhaps the best Raul Ruiz film Raul Ruiz, whose films were also featured in this fest, never made. The film is extraordinary in its experiments with narrative thought ultimately ordinary in where it gets to about the crime of Portuguese colonialism. In continuing with the Asian theme, there was also the South Korean anime King of Pigs, also in the New York fest, which stretches the animated form this time in its evocation of the class brutality of secondary school and being a kind of cartoon version of If, with all the bullying of that film intact. The best of the three films was from Hungary Just the Wind, about the treatment of Roma in that country where beatings and outright slaughter have become more frequent. The film opens with news of one family having been massacred, and, as the three members of another Roma family get up to do their day follows each as they live under the shadow of the massacre. This subterranean terror is excellently described, but there are two problems; one, the film, which crosses the horror with the neo-realist films of say the Dardenne brothers  in a way that evokes the great Let the Right One In, ends violently when in fact the psychological violence that it has recounted throughout takes a greater toll and makes the horror film ending seem superfluous and, two, it presents the Roma, gypsies, in a liberal fashion, only as oppressed people, so that their actual culture of opposition and at times outright anarchy which might be a tonic to today’s overly regulated world is diluted by their more bland representation as universal victims. Still, a very interesting film which demonstrates that the recent restitution of the fascist General Horty in Hungary is simply a code for authorizing hate crimes against the non-Magyar minorities.

Finally, to return to the Asian theme, perhaps the strongest film in the festival, was a restoration of the 1960 South Korean film The Servant, a film whose remake was shown two years ago at Cannes. Firstly, this is an unbelievably gorgeous restoration of the original, except for a second half reel that apparently was too fragile to touch, with impeccably precise blacks and whites. The film itself is fairly blunt, as is often the way in the Korean cinema, out and out class warfare between the factory girls in a Korean town and their haughty middle class professor, and his equally entitled children, who teaches them music and lords it over them. The film, made in a brief thawing in the 1960s before a more hardline government returned, is every bit the equal or better than the similarly titled Joseph Losey film, four years later, with Dirk Bogarde. It’s a very dark exploration, like Losey’s, of the hatred of one class for another and the other classes’ imbibing of that hatred and turning it against itself. Coming to an internet video rental site near you, but here in Paris the stunning print has appeared in one of, what seems like hundreds of, repertory theater’s still in existence, and can be seen in its pristine beauty with the rain glistening off the trees as the professor’s maid attempts both to kill him and commit suicide. Now that’s an Asian Film Festival.
 You can also listen to this edition of Broe on the World Film Beat on Newsblaze Newswire.

Bro on the World Film Beat

                          No, By Pablo Larrain

It's Cannestastic: The Simulacrum Abides

Cannes 2012—Review

Hi, this is Broe on the World Film Beat, today with a Cannes Cleanup.


I’m Dennis Broe and all the other critics have left the Croissette and are home by now, but I’ve remained. I’m here alone sweeping and cleaning up after the event. Actually I didn’t go to Cannes but I did follow it from Paris where the films in three of the four  main competitions play in theaters immediately after the event, theaters which include the Forum des Image and Reflet Medicis. Cannes is the main feeding ground for foreign films that will both be featured in the Fall New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center and that will be released in the U.S. throughout the year.

The main competition, far from being Cannestastic, was judged a bit lackluster this year, so instead today I’m going to discuss films in competition in the series Un Certain Regard, which generally deals with more established directors who did not make the main competition, and Quinzaine de Realisateurs, or Fortnight of Directors, created the year after the Cannes shut-down in 1968 which was said to have helped provoke the student strikes, and which, in line with the moment of its formation, boasts a strong emphasis on socially relevant films by new or established directors.   

I will be reviewing a number of the films and handing out my own awards: My Palme Rouge, the Red Palme, for the most politically engaging film; the Palme Verte, the green palme for a film that makes a worthy contribution to, in line with the color, sustaining the planet aesthetically and spiritually; and, finally, the Palme d’Or de Dinde, the Golden Turkey Palme, to the film which litters the planet with consumerist crap, if I may be so blunt, and it is my segment, so I may be.

Cannestroversy. There are always many controversies at Cannes and this year a major one involved possible jury tampering, as 4 of 6 films which received prizes in a jury presided over by the avowedly left Italian filmmaker Nanno Moretti were distributed by the company Le Pacte distributor of Moretti’s last film Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope), a not very good white washing of the power of the Catholic Church about a pope who is uncomfortable about accepting that power—and who bears no relationship to a certain contemporary pope who shall remain nameless but, who, because of his power grabbing, is now the subject of exposes collectively dubbed Vaticangate.

Tierry Fremaux director of Cannes called the Moretti jury’s choices an exercise of their “subjectivity,” as so it is in the film industry where objectivity and subjectivity are always merged, that is, both monetary reward and aesthetics exist side by side—and neither is ever exclusive of the other—and Cannes is the supreme moment of this merger. (There was a similar controversy in 2004 when the Quentin Tarantino jury awarded the top prize, the Palme d’Or to Michael Moore for Farenheit 911, and they shared the same distributor, the Weinstein Company. Fremaux, perhaps worried about a rerunning of these accusations, just prior to the festival, broke his policy of never revealing the jury’s individual decisions and tweeted, and this was the first fully twittered Cannes, that Tarantino had not voted for Moore’s film.)

If you’re looking for a weightier controversy, why not try this one. A habitual sponsor and very public presence at Cannes is Hewlitt Packard, which proudly proclaims that its printers help bring the Cannes Film Festival to life by printing out all of the Cannes signs and transforming the town, and whose wondrous technology also helps aid the Israeli occupation of the West Bank by facilitating the checkpoints and thus also helping “transform” West Bank towns into armed settlements and for which it is currently one of the companies that Palestinians have asked the world to blockade. Of course nothing of this is mentioned on the Riviera where there are as yet no checkpoints, though with the financial crisis and the anger at the banks increasing throughout Europe, that day may come.

First, an overall observation on the films programmed. An overwhelming topic that filmmakers have chosen to deal with, something that seems to be uppermost on their minds given the number and the breadth of films addressing this topic, is what Mike Davis has termed, in light of neo-liberal globalization, now hastened by the economic collapse, the “Planet of Slums.” Thus we have films which deal with this typography in a number of places in the world and which stand in these two competitions in contrast to the main competition where you have the other side, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, where that world is kept carefully outside the hermetically sealed limo of the Wall Street baron who, rather than prowling, parades down the same mean streets that these other directors describe from the inside.

Thus we have God’s Horses about the slums of Casablanca, a film which very much employs the argot of the streets, and is very attuned to that argot, recounting an actual incident where so called “terrorists” exploded bombs in a nightclub. The film is at pains to explain how the making of a “terrorist” is primarily the product of the pronounced class difference between those who explode the bombs who live in the most impoverished outskirts with one of the bombers seeing the inner city for the first time on his mission to destroy it, and those who live in the Eurocentric center where wealth accrues.

White Elephant, by renowned New Argentine Film director Pablo Trapero, traces the attempts by two priests, the older one played by Ricardo Darin of the Academy Award winning Secret in Her Eyes, to ameliorate the effects of gang war and the brutality of the police on those in the inner city of Buenos Aires. The film, though good intentioned, is Trapero still trying to work out how to incorporate blockbuster melodrama, here much toned down from his previous Carancho, with the earlier neo-realism of his two great films Crane World and El Bonaerense, with this film suffering from too much of the Belgium and Spanish priests and too little of the townspeople.

Not to be left out, the U.S. is featured, the Bronx to be exact, in Adam Leon’s Gimme the Loot, an again well-intentioned story of male-female, tag-team, graffiti artists whose goal is to leave their mark on Mr. Met at Citifield, which the female character, a very engaging Tashiana Washington, who you will be hearing more of, pointedly refuses to call by its corporate name and persists in calling Shea Stadium. The trajectory of a day when all their attempts to raise the money to bribe the guardian to get access to Mr. Met go wrong is meant to describe the frustrated life of many in this condition, but it is not quite inventive or authentic feeling and sounding enough to make its point resound.

More interesting is the first Columbian film in Cannes competition, La Playa DC,  which traces the efforts of a teenage artist, Tomas, and his two brothers to make some kind of living in a place where the streets threaten to kill his younger brother, already addicted and imbibing the drugs he is supposed to be selling, and have already deadened the older brother. Tomas finds a way to use his creativity, expressed around designs to be chiseled into hair—they are all impressed with the US hair style called, The Koby (Go Lakers)—and the film links the family’s tragedy ultimately to the death of their father at the hands of paramilitaries, in a way which suggests that the fascist militarization of the country, supported in the North as the US/Columbia War on Drugs, acts in concert with the poverty to limit its people.

Finally, we have the Algerian street scene in Repenti, which details the fate of a Muslim sect member who has committed acts of violence and who is promised redemption if he reneges on the struggle and becomes a Repenti, a repentant. Unfortunately the film is too little about the Repenti, whose character and past, accused of a bombing in which some in his village were killed, is too little examined. It instead becomes too much a kind of The Bedroom Window—middle class revenge posing as existential angst--with the introduction of a plot about a couple whose marriage is damaged by the group’s kidnapping of their daughter. The film in its middle class, more bourgie stand against terrorism also ends up validating the FLN in Algeria, the reigning powers that be, which have just been accused of rigging the last election.

Down a weirder path tread two widely different, yet in the end maybe not so different, looks at historical figures; Renoir, about the last moments of the father’s life and the moment of the sons’ becoming a director, and, Japanese director Koji Wakamatsu’s, John Milius turn in examining the quest of the militarist writer Michima’s suicide over not being able to lead Japan back to its imperial days by restoring the emperor in 11/25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate. The Renoir film is a British genre, the heritage film—you know all those stolid upright Brit’s who serve the empire with tight upper lip presented in misty Merchant/Ivory shots—transplanted to France, with the heritage in this case the extreme one of the father being the greatest French painter of the 19th century and the son the greatest French director.

Since it’s a French heritage film though, it’s heritage with, as the producers urge in Sullivan’s Travels, a little bit of sex, in this case in the form of the nymph-model who Renoir pere paints, nude of course, and Renoir fils falls for. The film touches on fascinating subjects such as the continuity/opposition of painting/cinema in the history of visual imagery but its heart is still in tasteful bodice ripping and in the end it does not disturb the basic mission of the heritage film which is to clean up the past and make it safe for consumption.

An oddly similar cleanup occurs in Wakamatsu’s Mishima, the director and his subject here being a meeting of one of Japan’s most left directors, participant in the student movement and for a while in the subsequent Red Army, and one of its most right wing ideologues,  the renowned writer, subject of a Paul Schrader earlier biopic, whose organization of a right wing band to rearm the military Wakamatsu wonderfully situates in the context of the student protests of the late 1960s, but then relates to the equally distorted left violence of the Red Army, akin to the Weathermen in the US, in a way that, especially in the suicide sequence, seems to negate Mishima’s own brand of craziness and flatten it out.

And now the Palmes, last first. Honorable mention to Pablo Lorain’s No, the third and concluding part of the Chilean director’s Pinochet trilogy, which includes perhaps the finest description of the ways fascism penetrates working class culture in Tony Manero and a second film just released in the US Post-Mortem. No is about the plebiscite that Pinochet authorized in 1988 in which the choices were yes Pinochet or No, no one, and Pinochet lost.

The film might have been a riveting story of the struggle to bring democracy back to Chile and it does not skimp on that aspect of the story, but it is much smarter, and instead focuses on the electoral campaign itself with Gale Garcia Bernal’s advertising assistant for the No opposing his boss, played by Lorain perennial Alfredo Castro, who played Tony Manero, and with both involved in selling candidates just as they sell any other product. It is Lorain’s thesis that the moment of overthrowing Pinochet was also the moment of the triumph of a kind of consumerism that in the end may be far more pernicious. The eerie moment of the triumph will echo loudly with anyone who remembers the giddiness at the moment of Obama’s triumph and the capitulation which to wax Shakespearean about it, followed hard upon as the day the night.

Green Palmare, 2nd place, to Senegalese director Mossa Toure’s Pirouge, a very quiet, very beautiful, very desperate film about Africans from Senegal making a contemporary boat journey to land in Europe that is compared to a kind of Atlantic crossing, recalling the slave journey of their African forebears, with the journey in the present provoked because the country’s natural resources, on the coast in Senegal it is fishing, have been decimated by the Europeans. Along the way, in this journey of a group in an open motor boat, the great sea sagas are recalled, including Melville’s “Benito Cereno,” where literally two ships pass, in this case another vessel like theirs where the motor has died and those aboard will not make it, a kind of eerie foreshadowing of what may happen to them. The ending, their reception in Europe, is heartbreaking and is also, in its very quiet protest and in the way it emphasizes the uncommon dignity of the main character, just right.

Palme Rose, 1st prize, Gangs of Wasseypur. What can you say about a nearly five-and-a-half-hour Indian gangster film that manages to innovatively revive the genre, not least by using it as a vehicle for outlining a history of the political economy of the country since before Independence in 1941, other than, “Bring it on.” So, bring it on. Here’s hoping for a US release of this extraordinary film that is a bridge between the popular melodrama of Bollywood and the more interior sagas of the Indian Independent cinema; think Scorsese, and you will not be far off, especially since the narrator’s continual passages about the overall exploitation of the country and the way the gang’s manipulate that exploitation and the attention paid to how their moneymaking schemes work recalls the wonderful first half of Casino, about the political economy of Vegas.

Which is not to say that there are not brilliant Tarantino touches, such as the long, hilarious discussion about what the real name of the one of the gangsters who calls himself Definite is (It turns out his real name is Definite). I hope American audiences get a chance to see the film (it’s being released in India in two parts in Kill Bill fashion) because they will Definite(ly) enjoy it. Friendly hint, stay to the end, the last sequence is a Godfather-like ceremonial cleansing and also a comment, again, on the disappearing, or disappeared, nature of democracy, western and otherwise, as the bloodbath that becomes the way of resolving problems takes place on election day.     

Finally, the Golden Turkey. For a film as embarrassing as it is bad, 7 Days in Havana. It must have sounded like a great idea to the fairly talented 7 directors, including Benecio del Toro and the aforementioned Pablo Trapero, who were each enlisted to make a short film that would supposedly catch the nature of an old-time, now disappearing, Havana. Unfortunately what it does instead, in sometimes painful ways, is project onto Havana old-time colonialism, which if the movie is any indication is in no way disappearing. The problem here isn’t the directors so much as the producers, the Saatchi Ad Agency, who famously also brought you Margaret Thatcher, here acting for its client, Havana Club, the rum makers.

 Most of the films center on the tourist hotels and reinvigorate the colonial gaze on the inhabitants, the other whose life beyond the hotels only becomes interesting when it intersects with the guests. You will learn many interesting things from this film about Cuba, for example I did not know that, judging from the weight given to the topic by several of the episodes, much of the island is gay. The worst of the worst of the subgroup of these films, which distorts what is a legitimate problem in Cuba, is Gaspar Noe’s thoroughly racist and colonial “Ritual” which recounts the exorcising of a woman caught with another woman in a ceremony which takes place in the jungle complete with sound track drumbeats. The major sentiment in the film, though, is that Cuba is a place of beautiful bodies and that all questions pale behind the one of how, using the Saatchi-esque gaze of the camera, to convert these bodies into global commodities. Two thumbs down, way down, on this one.  

That’s my very personal Cannes roundup.

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New Golden Age, Same as the Old Golden Age (And That’s a Good Thing)?


I’m Dennis Broe and today I want to talk about what film distributor and promoter of Academy Award winning Best Picture The Artist, Harvey Weinstein recently termed the “New Golden Age” of French Cinema. What Harvey was referring to was new laws to protect against what the film industry terms piracy and what ordinary people now simply refer to as “downloading,” but he’s also talking about his candidate for heralding this new golden age, The Artist, which might instead be called “Sarkozyite entertainment,” just as Robin Wood and Andrew Britain once characterized the mindless Hollywood drivel of the early ‘80s, delivered in a ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ mode, as “Reaganite entertainment.”

Thus, we have a new kind of French drivel which is particularly characterized by its kissing up to Hollywood and introjecting the Hollywood style in films like The Artist and the recently released Delicacy with the French Audrey Hepburn by way of Renee Zellwegger, Audrey Tatou, although she is Audrey Hepburn light, very light. So this is surely not the new Golden Age, but there were some other films, besides Delicacy, at the recent Lincoln Center Rendez-vous with French Cinema which do suggest that there may be a New Golden Age which has the qualities of the period of the 1930s, the first “Golden Age,” where French films achieved a kind of raw yet mythic quality, called poetic realism, as they commented on working class life and the moment of the Depression.

These new “Golden Age” films do what French films have often famously done, they question major phenomena in French life and the major one going on today is the interpenetration of the collective values of that society by Anglo-capitalism. No film does this better than 38 Witnesses by Lucas Delvaux, a major improvement over his last film Rapt about the kidnapping of an executive that really didn’t get going until the third act when the executive returned to face the contradictions of his life.

The new film uses the port of Le Havre, famous in French film and painting, and centers around what used to be called a tug boat captain, which refers to a golden age film with Jean Gabin called Remorques, who like many others is witness to a murder that he does not try to stop. The film is based on a novel based on the Kitty Genevose case in New York in 1964 and its point is that French society has now broken down in ways similar to America decades ago to where people stay locked in their safe apartments and containerized lives, like the eerie containers that come into the port seemingly with no human element needed. Very well done examination using the crime film but never veering into a false ‘who dunnit’ where the witness will come forward and neatly catch the criminal. The criminal element is in the society as a whole and what has become of it.

Also interesting is Smuggler’s Songs (Les Chants de Mandrin) a film about a French Robin Hood and his band of smugglers in pre-revolutionary France, guest starring Jean-Luc Nancy as the imprimeur, the printer, who publishes the poems and who has published revolutionary tracts today. The smugglers are pointedly a racially and class mixed band, including their Arab leader and a nobleman, a marquis, who aids the cause, suggesting as does the also interesting Low Life which deals with students and their intersection with immigrants, that the contemporary barricades are being manned (and womaned) in France by a polyglot band.

Best of all is Snows of Kilimajaro—by longtime French working class cinema stalwart Robert Guediguian whose films like Le Ville est tranquille, have often centered around Marsaille as does this one about the idea of what the French call retrait, of the retirement of a union man—suggesting that the bourgeois notion of retrait, is, as the word sounds, a retreat, but that for someone who is committed to changing a world that is shot full of inequality, retirement is not a retreat but a continuation of the struggle by helping those in the younger generation who must now make their way in an ever harsher world. This is a very wise film, in its own way a masterpiece, which puts Guediguian in the category of a Ken Loach and this is a blatant plug for it to get a U.S. release.

Also heads up to Louise Wimmer, a kind of Dardenne Brothers type film about a woman with no apartment who struggles to live, a sort of Rosetta with an oddly happy ending.

On the down side –there is Ici-bas (Here Below). In the cinema we’ve had many Joan of Arcs, Premingers’ Joan as politically persecuted, Dreyer’s and Bresson’s as spiritual maladroit, but here for the first time we have the quizzling Joan of Arc, betrayer of those who fought the Nazis.(She serves a higher God, her own desire.) Yes its fascist feminism, a fatuous fable about a nun who falls for a priest in the Resistance, then is betrayed by him—more horrible than heartrending, an example of the perverse left that is an active element of French films.

And finally, there is Gang Story whose title in French is Les Lyonnais, referring to a famous gang from that city in the ‘70s. Notice the great difference in the specificity of the titles, the American title a clear nod to the American and global market. The film manages to enlist every Hollywood gang cliché adding up to a kind of French cousin to its already clichéd cousin American Gangster, all bombast and predictable action with a revolting finale in which the one non-reactionary element of the genre, that there is honor among thieves, is struck down as the hero becomes a fink and the film smiles in agreement. This is a film that indeed belongs to the Sarkozyite Golden Age.

So we have two kinds of French Golden Age, one a false one that simply aids and abets global capital and is a cheerleader for its penetration into French life, and one, in the spirit of the Golden Age films of the ‘30s which thoroughly critiques this phenomenon.

Dennis Broe can be heard on WBAI Radio in New York and on the Pacifica Network on Arts Express Radio. He is the author of a Choice Outstanding Academic Book Film Noir, American Workers and Postwar Hollywood, and has written for Newsday, The Boston Phoenix, Social Justice and Framework, and Jump Cut.