AGORA
: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.


CRITICAL WOMEN HEADLINES

4/28/08

Moolaadé
2004/DVD 2008
Director: Ousmane Sembene
Cast: Fatoumata Coulibaly, Maimouna Hélène Diarra, Théophile Sowié
Review by Nancy Keefe Rhodes

Many thundering, indignant tirades have rained upon another’s head already by the time Ciré Bathily’s first wife Kharjatou (Maimouna Hélène Diarra) finally loses her temper with his middle wife Collé (Fatoumata Coulibaly), whom she cherishes, lies for sometimes and secretly agrees with. Stopping the second wife dead in her tracks with an icy glare and pointed finger, Kharjatou commands Collé never to raise her voice again and banishes the younger woman to her quarters. And Collé meekly goes.

When this startling exchange occurs, Collé has the entire contemporary West African village of Djerisso in an uproar. In their husband’s absence, she’s allowed four runaway girls to seek refuge in the Bathily family compound, avoiding the purification rite of female circumcision that their local custom requires. (Two other little girls who also ran away threw themselves down the village well rather than submit to cutting.) Oumy, Diatou, Awa and Nafi – who look to be somewhere between the ages of five and maybe eight – tell Collé they sought her out because they’d heard that seven years ago Collé refused her own daughter’s purification. Then, Ciré (Rasmane Ouedraogo) and Kharjatou both let that defiance pass.

Now, with the simple act of tying a rope across the outer gate to their compound – so low that toddlers, chickens and baby goats routinely step right over it – Collé invokes the indigenous, ancient protection of “moolaadé” that only she can lift by uttering a single word aloud. Moolaadé alone trumps the relative new-comer Islam and leaves the red-robed Salindana – dour women who perform the circumcisions – thwarted, fuming, cooling their heels beyond the rope.

Worse, this all coincides with the triumphant return from Paris of Ibrahima Doucouré (Théophile Sowié), who passes out currency, pays his prominent father’s debts to the peddler Mercenaire (Dominique Zeïda) and expects to marry Collé’s daughter Amsatou (Salimata Traoré). He is undeterred that she is “bilakora” (uncut). His father initially let that pass too, despite several brief, wry scenes in which the older men vigorously reassure one another that they would never consider intimacy with such a woman.

More dramatic events follow – a public flogging, Ibrahima’s disinheritance, the forced and fatal cutting of little asylum-seeker Diatou (lured from safety by her mother), the peddler’s murder for interference, the furious confiscation and burning of the women’s radios. Guttenberg’s printing press sparked Europe’s Protestant Reformation by making Holy Scripture available to whoever could read. In remote Djerisso, this analogue of subversive blend of literacy with forbidden knowledge boils over when Collé tells the assembled village that – on the radio – she has heard the Grand Imam himself say that Islam does not require cutting. For good measure, she reports that a million uncut women make the pilgrimage to Mecca themselves every year, to which one elder responds, “You are Satan!”

Set in the West African nation of Burkina Faso and made in 2003, Senegalese writer and director Ousmane Sembene’s final film, honored first at Cannes and many times since, actually came to Syracuse last April, when Jean Jonassaint, liaison for French-language films to the Syracuse International Film Festival, screened it late one afternoon. Long available on DVD in Canada because of Quebec’s robust French-language cinema – indeed, films made in French hail from several continents and the Caribbean – Moolaadé only recently made it to US DVD.

It’s tempting to draw parallels between this film and current headlines on the basis of surface similarities – the seizure of children in Texas from the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints over possible sexual abuse and on-going custody hearings – but that lens can be distorting. Last June we lost Sembene, an old lion’s death overshadowed here by the twin losses in July of Bergman and Antonioni, both – shades of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – on the same day. Moolaadé is a good place to start if you don’t know Sembene’s work, with its finely calibrated performances and characters torn by the real dilemmas of personal affection competing with rigorous custom. With all the larger furor in their village, Collé earns Kharjatou’s rebuke because she embarrasses the older woman before her adult son with a moment of demanding, insistent inquiries, much as Ciré’s harsh older brother goads him into bullying Collé – his favorite wife – and so on. It’s a lovely and important film, likely to bust your categories.

*******
This review appeared in the 4/24/08 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly in Nancy's column "Make it Snappy," which reviews DVDs of recent films that did not open theatrically in upstate New York & older films of enduring worth. Find Moolaadé as well as Sembene’s Black Girl, Xala, & Mandabi at netflix.com. Jean Jonassaint reports that the Syracuse International Film Festival plans a Sembene retrospective during its 2009 program. SIFF is underway now &ilms by & ill screen a number of films by & about women later in the week; see www.syrfilm.com.

4/24/08

Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? Morgan Spurlock Shows the Simple Truth: We're in Some Serious Doo-Doo But There's Hope Yet

By Logan Nakyanzi Pollard

Despite its promising message, the reviews of Morgan Spurlock's new film, Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?, opening this week, have not been kind. A.O. Scott, is downright dismissive:

Mr. Spurlock, more so here than in Super Size Me, advances an essentially anti-political view of the world. It's impossible to disagree with much of what he says in Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden, but it's also impossible to learn anything about war, terrorism, religion, oil, democracy or any of the other topics a less glib, less self-absorbed filmmaker might want to tackle. (NYT)

Scott says the film reveals that:

. . . the things we all have in common, like our children and our families and our desire for a better world. So true! But also, and more to the point: So what?

I can see why Scott makes this argument. I just think he's cynical. A film about our common humanity is a big deal, especially at a time, when, as Alex Gibney showed in Taxi to the Dark Side (where US soldiers killed Dilawar, an innocent taxi driver and the film's main character, and where other young men were brutally treated, as in making them masturbate for cameras). Given these incidents, Spurlock's effort to bring us back to the table, to common ground is needed.

I recently heard a clergyperson say "we all know how this is going to end." You know, the higher power will take care of things, bring people around to the good. It's hard to believe that seeing how things go these days, between the wars overseas and the testy democratic campaign. But once you get past the cartoonish stuff at the top of the film, i.e. Spurlock wrestling Osama (yes, I know it's bad) with a mustache and turban... you see something one might overlook: 1) This film points us in the direction of peace, how to wage peace and get us more in the direction of the good. And 2) it shows that Osama bin Laden is no longer a person, but an idea, that cannot be destroyed by a war on terror.

Point number 2 is more complicated to explain than number 1. And maybe it's even beyond the grasp of the film and my ability to explain in this blog. Save that for another day. I suspect if you get number one down, number 2 will flow from it.

How do you get more in the direction of the good? Consider your point of view.

Many excellent documentaries about US intervention in the Arab World and the Middle East are propelled forward by know-it-all policy makers and upper crust ruling elites who explain how things work and why things are the way they are. After all, they should know: some play armchair quarterback, justifying decisions made long ago that "no one could have foreseen." And while these docs have their utility (these folks got us into this mess, they should have a chance to explain themselves and peddle their memoirs) Spurlock's point of view is also valid. He takes his camera to the streets.

He talks with regular people. This type of reportage you're probably familiar with: man-on-the-street, "a bomb just exploded!", extreme close up women crying, a crowd of men shouting, hands in the air, "Down with America!" . . . it typically takes an exploitative view. But what Spurlock does, is he breaks bread with the enemy and in doing so, shows a kind of humility and respect that is a path to resolving conflict.

His openness lacks a kind of prejudice and is actually the stuff of good reporting. Spurlock is criticized for being a self-promoting, naïf who asks charming but stupid questions. But can we fault Spurlock-the-artist for being self-involved -- creatives find themselves fascinating, that's why they make stuff. And as for Spurlock's feigned lack of sophistication, can we really make an argument that the average American would do much better overseas? What's the percentage of Americans who carry passports? Would we be able to find Jordan or Gaza on a map? How well would we be able to talk about the frustrations of the youth in Saudi Arabia? Or to describe how stifling life in Afghanistan has become? What might we gain from seeing a (white) man (because most Americans are white) who looks like us, sitting and eating with people who are not white and we think of as our enemies? These are important things to show.

In one scene, Spurlock points out how popular the WWF has become in some parts of the Arab world. A man from the film explains that he likes the WWF because it is "fair." We Americans, of course know that professional wrestling, at least by reputation is fixed, and the knowledge of this - plus hearing this man's yearning for a fair fight, make for a poignant irony. What do we know about our conflict with the other that is not fair? How funny and sad is it that there is this desire for "fairness" from our enemy? How unfair must this man's life be for him to be so enamored with two men fighting with just their body slams and wrestle moves -- or, how much like us is he? Could it be that we all want fairness and respect? Could a change on our mutual path, be as simple as acknowledging that?

The film closes with outtakes from personalities Spurlock encountered. Some simply gaze into the camera. One of the most anti-American Saudis slowly allows a smile to cross his face. He's tentative at first, like it hurts him. He looks pained and then it's like he's aware of how silly he looks and he gives us a real smile. In that smile, we can see our common lot. Like when you've had an argument with someone, and you just want it to end and there's a moment when you see you're wrong or you don't even care who's right anymore and a smile crosses your face. His smile was like that.

Spurlock is just one man (with a hard working band of producers) who took on trekking to these difficult places in the world, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Morocco and (what's often referred to as) Israel/Palestine. He stops short of Pakistan. Recalling Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl's fate there (Pearl, a hard news reporter was on the trail of al Qaeda; his wife was also pregnant at the time) it was probably not an un-wise move, given that Spurlock was a novice in these matters. The film shows how regular people can ferret out simple truths, when our leaders fail to make the effort.

Logan Nakyanzi Pollard
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/logan-nakyanzi-pollard/where-in-the-world-is-osa_b_97496.html

Logan Nakyanzi Pollard is an executive producer at Air America Radio and Go Left TV, and writes for The Huffington Post. Logan is also a member of the Women Film Critics Circle.

Meeting Resistance: In The Brave Tradition of Battle Of Algiers

By Prairie Miller


Sometimes a film serves as a potent weapon of endangered truth, dispelling official lies and giving voice to those whose collective pain has been silenced. Meeting Resistance is that film and more, an act of resistance in its own right to the US war on Iraq.

A powerfully probing and enlightening antidote to the orchestrated news of the US money media that believes there is only one side to every story, Meeting Resistance is a daring documentary that deconstructs the government approved pro-war propaganda of the nightly news. Rather than the distorted depictions of Iraqi fighters as religious fanatics and political extremists, Meeting Resistance in a play on words does just that, in a courageous face-to-face with the everyday people who join these partisans in confrontation with US invasion and occupation.

Filmmakers Steve Connors and Molly Bingham pursued these truths with fearless determination and at great risk. Connors' perspective grew out of very personal experiences, as he became politicized as a young British soldier in the ranks of the bloody UK occupation of Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. And Bingham, a Harvard graduate, has worked as a photojournalist for Human Rights Watch and around the world, including in Afghanistan, Iran and Gaza. She was also held in Abu Ghraib prison during the course of the US invasion.

Connors and Bingham began their investigative filmmaking just prior to the invasion, as they took the subversive route as embedded journalists with the emerging Iraqi resistance rather than with the US military. The filmmakers gained the trust of a number of fighters who agreed to share their stories. What emerges is a portrait of fiercely dedicated, articulate and disciplined individuals from disparate economic classes and religious faiths, but who are all joined together in an idealistic mission to defend the collective dignity and sovereignty of their people against invaders, as one points out, what any American with courage would do if faced with the same situation in their own land.

Meeting Resistance is organized with richly textured and emotionally resonant visuals and music, as these proud fighters speak of embracing the cause as the daily humiliations of the occupiers ignite 'a fire in the heart.' With impassioned women as well included among their ranks, they are given names by the filmmakers like Warrior, Teacher, Fugitive and Wife to protect their identities. And it becomes increasingly apparent through their words that their commitment and actions are in response to the brutality of the US military.

In the brave, defiant and principled tradition of Gillo Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers, Meeting Resistance is surely a companion piece as well to the semi-fictionalized upcoming release, Brian De Palma's Redacted, in a sense the 'Unredacted' response to the censorship that permeates the commercial media, and which De Palma continues to struggle against as his film does battle with those redacting his movie. Meeting Resistance finally, is both a valiant dissection of the anatomy of collective struggle, and a visionary blueprint for the end to US military madness and reckless foreign invasions and wars.

Meeting Resistance DVD Features: Audio Commentary: Filmmaker Q&A; Text/Photo Galleries; Biographies; Photo Gallery.

More information is online at: Firstrunfeatures.com/home_video_dvd.html and Meetingresistance.com.

Prairie Miller

4/23/08

VIVA Anna Biller

Plot:
Two housewives and their husbands go outside of the marriage dictates to find swingers, orgies and the world of “Sin” that typified the public image of the 1970’s sexual revolution. Brought on by the proliferation of the Pill and the woman’s freedom from that constant worry about “getting pregnant,” this film tries to bring humor and deliberate vacuous intellectual substance into a world full of unrestrained life and imagination, and change; the very qualities Anna Biller attempts to capture in her own artistic endeavor.


Trivia from IMDB
“The Japanese Mae West in the orgy scene who says, "Murray, peel me a grape" is Anna Biller's mother, dubbed by Bridget Brno. The guy at the bar in the brown plaid suit behind Rick is Anna's father. He originally had one line as a drunk”.
:

This is a family driven film that has outstanding use of color and scene and costume design but for me it was empty, almost stupid and certainly did not reflect the world of the sexual revolution it attempted to expose and make fun of.


What happened to the little girls who fell in love with their Barbie dolls and devoted entire toddler plus free time to holding, talking, being with their dolls? Part of the answer is contained in Anna Biller’s recent film Viva.
Anna Biller is the writer, director, film editer, costume designer, set maker, film producer and most importantly, she is the led actor in her own film

This film shows more bosom than any film I have seen outside of the porn industry, and more unattractive body parts in general than I ever want to see. They are the human equipment of these flat one-dimensional actors who are put into a flat, non arched plot with disturbingly simple dialogue and plot

But what stands out is the quality of the Barbie doll, of Anna Biller desire to present herself as a fat Barbie doll with the men faring no better as the Peewee Hermann or the Superman doll type actors. Although she might think this is a funny satire on a life style and time she knows practically nothing about, she is wrong. This movie is, on the surface dull, (except for the colorful imaginative costumes and scene designs) apparently unedited and the subject matter is an insult both to Anna Biller the film maker and to the audience who is not too old to forget what life was like then, even in Hollywood

I am grateful for the American Doll, for allowing girls to play with dolls who look like them and not like the stick figure, boob protruding Barbie dolls that dominated the doll world and unfortunately often still do.




LindaZ
WBAI Women’s Collective

4/19/08

Hollywood And The War On Women

The Case of The Life Before Her Eyes

By Prairie Miller


While war movies with whatever point of view, seem to be invading theaters at a steady rate, and at a parallel pace with the ever increasing heated debates about Iraq, there's been another kind of war film that's opened up on a perhaps more insidious second front at the plexes. Namely, Hollywood's war against women.

Whether originating from a widespread, lingering resentment against the female gender permeating this culture that just won't go away - or more specifically a kind of virtual retaliation in the male dominated film world against ex-wives and the funds they may be draining through substantial alimony settlements from the coffers of these directors and producers to play around with on the big screen - is really beside the point. The latest post-feminist thrust is that a woman's place is back in the kitchen, in the delivery room, in bed, or behind bars.

So in essence, the gains of the women's movement, which emphatically freed females on screen and otherwise back then from the mandate of defining themselves through men - whatever jerks, scoundrels or losers they might be - are now considered so yesterday. Instead, women are increasingly having their essential identity - or woeful lack of it - defined on screen by making, not careers, but babies. Witness incidentally in the real world the transsexual male in the news boasting his hairy baby bump, and the latest celeb consumer craze of acquiring babies from underdeveloped countries like collectors of exotic house pets.

And the orthodox family values cinematic trend in fake free spirit female clothing, whether natural or artificially induced, began last year with movies like Knocked Up and Juno, and now seems to be accelerating at full speed. There's Baby Mama, Then She Found Me, The Life Before Her Eyes, The Other Boleyn Girl, And Then Came Love, Vivere, and to a lesser extent, Turn The River.

And for those not willing to buy into mandatory motherhood, there are still a few roles left for women here and there, as dragons ladies, sluts and psychos. Not to mention demented chicks with menace on their minds who pack recycled semen along with guns, in a bid to frame men by faking rape of themselves (Red Road) or others (88 Minutes). If anyone has ever heard of this sort of crime in real life, please raise your hand.

So move over, Baby Boomers, to make room for the baby makers. And for those unwilling to toe the maternity line, there's apparently a new kind of female road movie out there, called the guilt trip. Last year the ambivalent teen protagonists with child of Juno and Lost In Beijing fled abortion clinics like they had wandered by mistake on to the sets of horror movies in progress. But now director Vadim Perelman (House Of Sand And Fog) has something far more punitive in mind for his abortion bound, party girl high schooler Diana (Evan Rachel Wood), pregnant by an older sexual predator, in The Life Before Her Eyes.

In the film, Diana is fated to become victim of a copycat Columbine massacre at her school. But she's also made to suffer a bizarre and excruciating kind of collateral damage to her physical wounds, by enduring unrelieved pangs of remorse for her abortion, while writhing in pain. Diana's ordeal is capped off by visions of disapproving nuns and the not unrelated image of an endless field filled with crosses reported to contain the multiple graves of aborted fetuses.

And ironically, such a warped cautionary tale pops up in a society where the rampant hyper-sexualization of female minors on screen is not only condoned and encouraged, but is big business (most recently The Babysitters and Water Lilies). I guess you could label The Life Before her Eyes a product of the school of moviemaking advocating catching more flies with vinegar than honey. Ouch.

What Uma Thurman is doing as the older Diana in this anti-abortion movement propaganda screed masquerading as a teen angst drama, is anybody's guess. All that's missing are the pamphlet tables in the theater lobbies.

The Life Before Her Eyes
Magnolia Pictures
Rated R
0 stars

Prairie Miller

4/17/08

BROKEN 2006 DVD

Broken
Alan White

2006 DVD

This is a film about women in Los Angles, specifically the life of Hope(Heather Graham) who leaves Ohio with guitar in hand, intend on realizing her dream of becoming a Hollywood star. On the beach where she is sun bathing with all her hope and future yet to be realized she meets Will,(Jeremy Sisto) who upon first meeting breaks her resolve to never smoke again by offering her a cigarette which she accepts.

Although there have been many films about the Hollywood of today and yesterday, where young want-a -be stars convene to find a better life and eventually end up in some night time sleazy diner serving coffee and frivolous foods to the same lost souls that she now is, the non linear story line, the interweaving of the characters into a coherent mosaic was very successful It created an atmosphere of suspense and hope despite the dismal unraveling of events.


For me the most poignant moment was when Will comes into the diner with his gun drawn, seeking to recapture Hope. He is not exactly angry but he is determined to the point of being out of control. To save the customer's lives, Hope coaxes him away from the dining area into the back bathroom where she proceeds to have some form of sex with him


This moment when Hope uses her body to protect others, when she allows her faith in humanity to stay alive even in close contact with Will who is now an unabashed murderer, was a moment when this film went from the mundane to the profound.


It is rare for a film to present such a credible understanding of women.

A truly great film, a must see for those who want to know what we are all about.



Linda Z
WBAI Women's Collective

4/8/08

More on Funny Games from Linda Z & NKR:
Nancy,
Your comment that most of the violence in Haneke films happens not on screen but is inferred. The sound of the gun being shot which the audience infers to be the death of a dog in Funny Games is a case in point The audience responds to his suggestion of violence by grabbing at it like it is "the truth" and then they turn away declaring the film too violent. But that poses the question, who is the violent one, Haneke the film maker, or the audience who has been over exposed to violence and thus over reacts even to the suggestion that it has taken place?
Isn't this essentially the problem with Nazi Germany? We hear about it and we can't imagine and yet in film we do image. What is the difference? Why in real life situations we are so remiss in understanding the depth of the violence and yet in film we project more than is shown.

LindaZ

Nancy Keefe Rhodes writes back:
I think what you raise speaks to the whole issue of the fourth wall & how that operates. Part of what feels like a violation in Funny Games is that he breaks the dream-state of cinema, within which we may indeed be able to take in some things that are harder to take in directly from life. I think this is very complex. At the end of the day it's also related to the power of art, which is sometimes greater & more persuasive that some in-your-face stuff. I don't think it's a coincidence that some of the most interesting experimenting in cinema right now occurs in documentary as those filmmakers wrestle with how to be persuasive on-screen about what we really don't want to watch. A number of them I've spoken with in the past year or so feel that flooding viewers with statistics, for example, is basically ineffective and bankrupt, & some suspect that onsluaghts of "gritty" or "ugly" reality may be too.

4/6/08

Beautiful: Single working mom finds her way to stardom

Sally Field
2000 DVD


Why review a film from eight years ago when there are so many worth while films out today?
This film was not a wild and financially lucrative film in 2000. It was under rated and certainly not applauded for its message. But it is a film that I think should be seen, because it can make a difference in a woman's life.

The internet movie Database (IMDB) had one favorable user review that said it all:

"Don't believe the reviews!, 1 October 2000

Author: Ed Cohen from Philadelphia, PA

'The contrast between the newspaper reviewers who clobbered "Beautiful" and its generally favorable bulletin board comments is extreme. The movie I saw is funny, entertaining, and has something thoughtful to add to discussion of gender politics, as well as to the various earlier films about beauty pageants.

 "Beautiful" asks whether or not it is OK to continue having beauty pageants, and yet drop the requirement that the participants have refrained from motherhood, thereby straying from the pageants' vestal virgin ceremony origins. "Beautiful" answers in the affirmative, since that way pageants may yet have value in the personal development and empowerment of young women. If they are done with a little common sense, pageants need not be about objectifying or patronizing women"



Maybe the film wasn't as funny as one might like, maybe the plot was too obvious and the message spelled out a little too clearly but the truth that it spoke resonates with every American woman today as it did when the film was made. Sally Field is a serious film maker, social commentator and to trivialize her life's work is a serious mistake. Women are still deemed unable to lead, to fight, to win. And this prejudice might best be addressed if not with Hilary Clinton's bid for the presidency then through film
This is a true family film, single working mom finds her way to stardom in a male patriarchal society. Don't miss it.

Linda Z
WBAI Women's Collective

new directors/new films 2008

new diectors/new films (Feb 27- March05.2008)
is a cooperative event of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art to offer its international audiance twenty six featurees and six short .

This festival is not for everyone. But for those who have the time and ability to see the emergence of new treads, new talent, the festival offers a full array of hopeful "master pieces" which should be seen. New blood is the hallmark of a growing thriving industry.

There was a variety of riveting subjects portrayed with fantastic, state of the art photography that uses incredibly inexpensive tehnology. This makes it diffficult to say what is the difference between a seasoned film maker and a neophyte but that is the question this festival puts to its audiance over and over again. The anwser in part is the acting. Professional seasoned actors are very important to give depth to the story. Editing is another important, often ignored art. An editor who knows what to show and how much time to allow per image is essence to conveying the story in an emotionally driven work.
In general the plots were based on important and interesting evens but they didn't seem to go anywhere. A few moments might have sufficed to convey what was said in well over an hour.

A case in point is a compartison or twp the film; Water Lilies and Man. Water Lilikes was shown right after Man.

Water Lilies has been reviewed by Prairie Miller and LindaZ. on their blog Critical Women on film. They seemed to concer on the impression that Water Lilies is borerline kiddy porn. This is a trend that needs to be identified and rectified before it becomes too common. Water Lilies plot, simply stated is the loss of an adolescent ' innocence" done in a one dimentional depiction of teenage life and struggles to achieved maturity. Why are these children allowed to work in film but not as drug store cashiers and what is the role they are acting: These borderline explicit sex scenes have meaning to the actors!

This same theme of loss of virginity to a virtual unknown boy, is the plot of Man where the internet is used as the vehicle for the assignation. What is a long drawn out event in Water Lilies is achieved with such briliant subtley in Man that suffice it to say, making films today is too cheap, doesn't cost enough for the director to think of putting less on the screne rather than more., And it didn't hurt Myra Joseph's efforT tthat she used professional actors to achieve her desired end.

Waer Lilies Celeine Sciamma
France/2007/85mn

Man
Myna JosephUSA?2007/15m



Sleep Dealer
Alex Rivera
USA/Mexico/2008/90m


This film is well worth seeing. It is an attempt to bring to light the essense of how the U.S. views the Mexican workers upon whom they are so dependent and yet how little the U.S. wants to deal with the people. They want the work done without dealing with the people who perform the needed tasks.

Alex Rivera presents a creative, computer game type answer to this less than pleasant view of slave versus worker posed by current politics. We don't cry during the film because we are too entertained but the trip to another deminion in human productivity is well worth seeing., If the acting had been better, the characters drawn with more attention to detail, this film would have hit the top fo my chart. But I am an old lady and computer games are not just one more new age everyday event. Maybe the younger genrations will not be so enthalled.

I applaud Alex Rivera's effort and hope to see more of his work in the not so distant future.


LindaZ
WBAI Women;s Collective

4/5/08

Time of the Wolf
2003/DVD 2006
Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Hakim Taleb, Lucas Biscombe
Review by Nancy Keefe Rhodes

In early January 2006, I saw my first Michael Haneke film at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York City one cold, slushy night. There's a moment in Caché – in English, it means Hidden – where, utterly without warning, a man slits his own throat, loosing a jet of blood across a kitchen. Even now, I feel my own head jerk back, how my hands clenched the seat arms, hear our – the rest of the audience's – noisy collective gasp. The success of Caché – with its meditation on how camera surveillance has penetrated our lives and its riff on the costs of colonialism at a time when North African migrant workers were rioting in French suburbs – introduced the Austrian's work to a wider US audience. DVD release of earlier Haneke films quickly followed that spring. Tellingly, Caché's own DVD cover features a white background rent with a single jagged red slash.

Such moments of disorienting recoil are Haneke's calling cards. In The Piano Teacher (2001), a film with certainly more than one such moment, my candidate for most viscerally gasp-inducing is that in which Isabelle Huppert's teacher leaves the auditorium during her nervous star pupil's dazzling recital and booby-traps the girl's coat pocket with shards of broken glass. Somehow this moment is more unsettling than successive ones - it's as though Haneke has broken the act itself into shards - in which we first hear her scream, then see the blood-drenched hand held mid-air.

Haneke's most violent moments sometimes occur just off-screen – we see the resulting bloodspray, after which his women, literally unable to stomach events, vomit – or the violence is other than merely physical. That gash on Caché's DVD cover as much represents another boundary violated: the breaking of the "fourth wall" convention of live drama – from which Haneke comes to cinema – in which action spills off the stage, characters speak directly to audiences or some provocation occurs that transforms one's safe spectator experience to participatory immediacy. Haneke opens the cage door. And from The Seventh Continent (1989) on, in most of his scripts – except for adapting novels twice – this occurs over and over with characters named some variant of Anne and Georges Laurent; their children, when present, often named Ben and Eva. As if, as a culture, we keep not getting the lesson right.

In Haneke's new Funny Games, set on Long Island and pretty much a shot-for-shot re-make of his 1997 film of the same title, the moment of most recoil for me arrives near the end. As Ann (Naomi Watts) – bound, gagged, her husband and son dead – crosses a small lake in her sailboat, perched on the edge of the deck, one of her captors, Paul (Michael Pitt), with a cheery "Ciao, bella!" and not so much as a glance in her direction, shoves her overboard. (She drops from sight as quickly, as disposably, as that first kid shot in the library dropped from the frame in Gus Van Sant's 2003 Columbine-inspired Elephant). But much of what repulses people about this film, with its veneer of opera scores and lovely God's-eye cinematography, occurs earlier – during the three times Paul or Peter turn to the camera to taunt the audience about torture-as-entertainment and then during a truly disorienting sequence in which Ann shoots one kidnapper, we may momentarily exult and Paul uses a TV remote to re-wind – erase – that possible outcome. Funny Games is assaultive, masterful and left Carousel Mall's multiplex quickly. In the shorthand parlance of my group of regular movie buddies, it's "not for Laurinda."

Despite making Funny Games anew – and he's working on a film now about how ritual punishment in a rural northern German school in 1913 contributed to Fascism's rise, the working title of which is The Teacher's Tale – Haneke did make one film (his first after 9/11) that's gentler, comparatively easier on his women, and full of grief for us all. Well, it's not exactly without its violence. But one appreciates Time of the Wolf (2003) more, understanding Haneke's usual bent.

Here, affluent city-dweller Anne Laurent (Isabelle Huppert) – a panicked looter shoots husband Georges very early - crosses the French countryside with teen-aged daughter Eva (Anaïs Demoustier) and young son Ben (Lucas Biscombe) after some convulsive catastrophe turns Europe to wasteland. Because she has "behaved correctly" in the past to a local woman we assume was a shopkeeper or maid, Anne receives a bag of biscuits through a narrowly cracked door. A violent feral boy (Hakim Taleb) hesitantly joins them and soon pulls an overcoat from a corpse which he offers to Eva. Initially she's repulsed, but in the next scene she's wearing it, and Eva remains this boy's single tenuous thread to any make-shift community. An unstopping refugee train zooms by but he guides them to a country train station. Several incidents of frail generosity occur, flickering before the tide of chaos – an old man shares a cup of milk with his wife, one woman calms another down, in a fitful night there's a faint, scratchy Beethoven sonata on a tape recorder.

Fragile, traumatized, increasingly given to wandering off, Ben hears garbled talk from some travelers of the Jewish legend of "the Just" – those 36 humans whose presence offsets all humanity's evil-doing – and decides to sacrifice himself. Beside a signal fire on the tracks in a vast night, a sentry stops him, cradles him, says his willingness is enough. Then someone watches from an open box-car door, rumbling monotonously across an empty land. Haneke's endings are aggressively ambiguous. Of course we might prefer it meant the next train stopped for Anne and her children. But it's hard not think that "Never again" is the simple lesson that we're still missing, all of us fellow travelers.

*******
This review appeared in the 4/3/08 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where "Make it Snappy" is a regular column reviewing DVDs of movies that didn't open theatrically in Central New York & older films of enduring worth.

4/3/08

Water Lilies: Filmmaker Sex Fantasies And Borderline Kiddie Porn

Water Lilies Movie Review

Borderline kiddie porn featuring sexual girl-on-girl garbage sniffing of one's favorite female object of desire, post-feminist burying instead of burning bras as female self-hatred, and gal pal how-to tips on deflowering your best friend.

Koch Lorber Films
Unrated
0 stars

Am I missing something here, or are movies increasingly becoming the new legally protected venue for filmmakers with dubious motives, to engage in borderline kiddie porn? Over the past year or so, both studio and indie films have cropped up in which underage actors simulate graphic sex and masturbation, and perform oral sex on adults.

And now Water Lilies has arrived in theaters, an admittedly occasionally poignant but reprehensibly lewd and voyeuristic cinematic obsession with teenage sexual and emotional turmoil. In other words, a filmmaker can request minors to posed nude and indulge in sexual behavior for the camera, however simulated, that would land anybody else in handcuffs. So ironically, the MPAA goes to great lengths to create a stringent regulatory system as to what minors can see in movies, but not what they can do on screen.

French director Celine Sciamma's film debut Water Lilies, is a coming of age tale playing out around swimming classes at a suburban Paris high school. Three glum teens in contrasting states of physical maturity, also represent the most deplorable generic female caricatures. There's the popular beautiful blonde bitch (Adele Haenel) who cock teases everyone in sight but is also frigid and possibly a closet lesbian; the shy, mousy introvert (Pauline Acquart) who looks about twelve and may or may not also be a lesbian, feeding her erotic fixation on other females by hanging around the pool ogling the bathing nymphettes when not stealing and sniffing the garbage of her primary girl object of desire, and later deflowering her as a favor; and finally, the chubby, slovenly outcast and butt of ridicule (Louise Blachere) who divides her time between stuffing her face, what else, and luring the handsomest high school hunk into hot sex because she's desperate for any male attention. Though her eventual act of revenge against her sexual humiliation is as ridiculously unreal as a scene in which she buries her bra in the garden to protest her fate as the designated town fattie.

In the end, one comes away from Water Lilies with absolutely no idea who any of these young girls are aside from their carnal sexual urges. How do they feel about the world around them, what joys in life fill them with wonder, who are their families and nurturers, what books are they reading? Minor details this filmmaker apparently couldn't care less about.

Prairie Miller

4/2/08

Taste of Cherry
1997/DVD 1999
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Cast: Homayoun Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari
Review by Nancy Keefe Rhodes

Years ago one of my sisters sent me a postcard from a Boston museum of a John Singer Sargent painting of a simple, square, sun-washed stucco house, I think in Capri, across whose clean, rectangular lines fell the shadow of a tree, sinuous and lacey. I've never seen that painting again and I can no longer locate the postcard. But I remember staring at the painting and the sudden blossoming pleasure I had in seeing it was as much a painting of the tree as the house.

It's no surprise, really, that Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami – also a landscape photographer of considerable renown who leans toward stark, nearly abstract groupings of trees against fields of snow – should come up with a similar image late in Taste of Cherry, his 1997 tale of a lonely, modern city-dweller who spends his last day alive seeking, with singular tunnel vision, someone to cover his grave. By the time Kiarostami trains his camera on Mr. Badii's living room window, we've spent the day with this man and we know his plan.

Beginning in downtown Tehran at a street-corner labor pool whose beseeching swarms of supplicants he passes by, the finicky Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) drives on, out of the city's center to the outskirts. There he offers money to a construction foreman at a deserted site who's been talking in a phone booth that's incongruously planted in the middle of a muddy field. This man, apparently with his own money problems, mistakes Badii's offer for a sexual advance and angrily turns him away. It's a huge sum Badii offers – 200,000 tomans, nearly six months wages for the average Iranian worker.

Mr. Badii drives on, picks up a young soldier (Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari) who's walked all night from his Kurdish village to get back to his post on time for his duty. Badii fondly remembers his own military service, but he makes the slender boy increasingly nervous. Dropping his not-quite-jelled military reserve, the boy sprints down the hill in panic once he sees the open grave. Badii stops a while with a construction site guard, an Afghani refugee who offers to make him tea in his rickety shack on stilts at the foot of towering slope from which a bull-dozer's constant din and dust rains down. The guard's fellow refugee, a seminarian, turns Badii down and fails to dissuade him. But even here, in this construction site as vast and desolate as any on-screen since those of Taiwan's Tsai Ming-liang in his 1994 Vive L'Amour, simple hospitality abides. And when Badii's wheel goes off the edge of the road, muddy laborers cheerfully haul him back.

At last, Mr. Bagheri (Abdolrahman Bagheri), an old Turk who's been out on foot hunting quail for his taxidermy students at the national natural history museum – a place of ornate, scrolled gates and deep, serene lawns, the only site of man-made order and beauty in this city – agrees to the deal, after relating his own close call with suicide decades ago and the sick child whose care Badii's money will secure.

It's Bagheri – after all, he's also found some famously nervous birds in a most unlikely spot too – who supplies the film's title, the culmination of his inventory of nature's bounty. "The world isn't the way you see it," he asserts. "Do you want to refuse all that? Do you want to give up the taste of cherries?"

Now, after dark, Mr. Badii paces in that living room, straightens up some items, picks up some papers from a desk and then puts them away, perhaps in a drawer, before he shuts off the light and leaves the building to descend his front steps and drive in his tan American Range Rover through a black night to that fresh hillside grave overlooking a glittering Tehran.

This living room scene is a layered, triply remarkable image. First, Kiarostami shoots it through sheer curtains, so we watch Mr. Badii in silhouette. Like many aspects of this film – the long shots, the vast, raw construction sites on the city's expanding outskirts where much of the story occurs, or the fact that Badii is almost never in the same frame with the person he's talking with – this heightens his isolation. But there's more than that. It's hard not to think later – this is a film that stays with you, unfolding in the next days – of the image of the ancient cave with its fire-thrown, flickering shadows – illusions that we mistake for what's real. Perhaps no matter how modern our architecture becomes, we are still in that cave.

Second, there's that old saying about the eyes being the windows to the soul. That strikes you suddenly near the end of this scene, when Mr. Badii turns the lights off and his living room window goes dark and blank – just as he intends to do in short order. It's a moment startling in finality – he means to do this – and unexpectedly, because now you see how much you've hoped he'll change his mind, sad.

Finally, throughout this scene, across the front of Mr. Badii's house falls the graceful shadow of a young tree trunk and branches, swaying faintly in a rising wind that signals rain. Like the golden sunset that Mr. Badii watched earlier – shimmering above a really deeply ugly cluster of squat, new cement boxes – this tree illuminates both the effortlessness of the natural world and how she casts her shadow across all the progress that we make and do.

Taste of Cherry was the first Iranian film to take top honors at Cannes, and even then critics argued about its ending, a brilliant extension of the thread that all is not as it seems. That ending – with its hillside lushly green, its cherry trees in bloom, its young soldiers lounging, its film crew chatting and Louis Armstrong's "Saint James Infirmary Blues" exulting – so moved Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum that he insisted defiantly that for once he would too write about the ending.

Martin Hogue, who teaches architecture, screens this film on Monday, April 7th at the Warehouse Auditorium in downtown Syracuse at 7:00 PM, part of his course, The City in Film, an extended exploration of how the city has functioned in movies as a character of shifting identities rather than a mere backdrop - appropriate work, it seems to me, for a school of architecture that has moved itself off its lofty hilltop and into the city's urban core, and some of whose students are still grumbling about that inconvenience. He's wouldn't mind if you dropped in to watch either.

*******
This review appeared in the 3/27/08 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where "Make it Snappy" is a regular column reviewing DVDs of movies that didn't open theatrically in CNY & older films of enduring worth.

Water Lilies Young love in search of a relationshp

Water Lilies
Celine Sciamma

Water Lilies is about three 15 years old teenager girls, all of them just at about the same psychological stage of budding sexuality, meet at the swimming pool during those long summer days when children are meant to fend for themselves and parents, adults cease to exist.



Water Lilies is a film for whom? Not for children, not for teenagers who would find it cold, calculating dispassionate tale about what they are supposed to feel, do and think once sexuality becomes a part of their everyday life.
I think this movie is for men, for those who want to look at what is considered a problem for young teenages: the loss of their virginity, finding their sexual identity.
Are all girls first homosexuals before becoming heterosexual as Celine Sciamma suggests?

This theme of young relationships goes far to present sexuality without benefit of human relations to sustain this new ingredient in a young girl’s life It is becoming so common it is almost trendy. Water Lilies seems to focus more on informing men about girls rather than in finding something to cherish, to love and identify with in the character’s presented plight. That is also true of Juno, where it wasn’t the relationship that was paramount but rather the result of going outside of the box, no pun intended, with the result of an unwanted pregnancy. For whom will the theme of a girl’s emerging sexuality have sufficient meaning and depth to ensure importance or will it deteriorate into just another semi pornographic moment?

Water Lilies does show tremendous talent and for a first effort it is outstanding. I hope the next film by this talented film maker will embrace a subject worth seeing, done with a delicate touch. and a wealth of human interaction without resorting to explicit sexuality recreated by underage children for the pleasure of their adult audience.
For a short (14 minutes) superb film on the same subject, I recommend MAN. But who watches short films? Maybe you.


Linda Z
WBAI Women’s Colective

4/1/08

The Memory Thief

The Memory Thief

Gil Kofman

Plot:

Lukas, acted by Mark Webber (The Hottest State, Broken Flowers, Storytelling) is a young man working as a tollbooth clerk when a chance encounter with a Holocaust survivor suddenly ignites an obsession with the survivors and their horrific recollections of evil His journey to learn, intellectually and emotionally what happened during those troubled times brings the viewer into a world where questions are asked and answers are sought with more success than we are usually afforded. The questions I found most pressing were:


How can one continue to believe in a God when there is nothing but the ill will of a God in clear evidence?



Why is it that few survivers talk to those near and dear to them about their experience in the war, the horrors they survived. And most importantly, when the experience is embraced, is talked about, what is the possible result? How much memory of pain suffering and inhuman treatment can a person survive and still live what is thought to be a "normal" life.


These question are poignantly offered and attempted to be answered in this film It is an attempt that will stay with you long after the lights come up and you look around and know it was only a film. Obviously the question of how to survive the Holocaust can be asked of most horrors of war that many people today are forced to endure.



I recommend The Memory Thief for the superb acting and for the compelling story and the honesty in treatment of this timely subject.



LindaZ

WBAI Women's Collective



'Memory Teeth'

Opens at New York City's Quad Cinema May 9

located at 34 West 13th Street in New York City