Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 28, 2020

Epicentro; Enter the Forbidden City

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 8:40 pm

Around fifty years ago I saw “I am Cuba”, a documentary made by a Russian director. Nothing I ever saw since then came close to it except a new film titled “Epicentro” that is now available as Virtual Cinema through Kino Marquee starting today.

Directed by Hubert Sauper, it allows the Cuban people to speak for themselves and boy do they do. The stars of the film are various 10 to 14 year old Afro-Cuban girls who hold forth on the bombing of the battleship Maine, Teddy Roosevelt, imperialism and why they have self-esteem despite being poor. When I used to visit Nicaragua in the late 80s, I was struck by the things I heard from teens who had a better grasp of American politics than 90 percent of the idiots that live in this country.

The word utopia gets discussed quite a bit in the film. It has dual meanings, both as a perfect world and as no place. Cuba is utopian in a dual sense. As the world’s remaining socialist society, it embodies the hopes of a better world despite the poverty. It is also no place since its enemies regard it as a country that does not deserve to exist.

Sauper is a poet with a camera. Watching pastel-colored American cars from the 1950s brings back fond memories. They are reason enough to visit Cuba even though the best reason is to help bring foreign currency to the country.

It is impossible to describe the film since it has such a kaleidoscopic quality with characters, street scenes, the ocean crashing on the beach near Malecón, and daily life in Havana apartments cycling throughout the film.

The last Sauper film I saw was “We Come as Friends” that highlighted the “vulturistic” assault on the newly formed state of South Sudan by both the West and China in search of oil, cheap land and any other wealth that can be extracted in a 21st century version of what Karl Marx called primitive accumulation. In my review, I noted:

In a scene that will remind you of how Manhattan was “sold” to the Dutch, an elderly tribesman shows Sauper a contract he signed without understanding what it meant. It allows a Texas company to have a lease in perpetuity on hundreds of thousands of acres that belonged to a group of native villages in order to “develop” the land and extract any minerals therein. Meanwhile villagers here and everywhere else that he visits are being evicted from land they lived on for a thousand years in some cases.

Not only is Sauper a committed anti-imperialist, he is a film-making genius. Don’t miss this one if you know what is good for you. If you need any further motivation, read this Q&A with the director in the film notes:

Q: Domination and the colonial mindset are always under scrutiny in your films. They offer windows into history. How does EPICENTRO reflect on our current world politics, and more specifically, American geo-politics?

A: EPICENTRO is Cuba. This beautiful island is the epicenter of the Americas, in many ways. Geographically, it’s in the very center between north and south. Politically, it’s at the crossroads of capitalism and communism. Historically, it’s been the epicenter of Spanish America as well as the nucleus of US-American expansionism. The first U.S. flag to be raised overseas was in February 1898 on a hill overlooking Guantánamo Bay. To me this explains why Guantánamo will never be given back to Cuba. It’s symbolically too important for the empire. Havana itself is a living indictment of American history, a window into time. It is not surprising that Americans are so charmed and hypnotized by the beauty of Havana [with] its billboards from the 1950s and the amazing American architecture and old cars, which have been on the road 80-plus years. Some people dream about “making Cuba great again.” A famous American real estate tycoon has long planned a tower with his name on it. It’s the “T-word”… I don’t want to spell it. When you think that most of the hotel towers on the Malecon sea promenade were made by the Mafia kings in the 50’s, when you think that their “religion” was abuse of power, luxury, gambling, prostitution … history seems like a dirty running gag.

Now available on Amazon and Vimeo, “Enter the Forbidden City” is a touching film that recreates the fortunes of a Chinese opera cast in the Qing Dynasty of the seventeenth century

period before the art form became legitimized through the Peking Opera. Directed by Hu Mei, it stars Jinghan Ma as Runsheng, an up-and-coming star of the Chuntai Opera company and Dalong Fu as Yue Jiu, the current superstar who plays the female leads in their works.

Both men are dealing with crises brought on by their work in what the Emperor deems as vulgar. Runsheng wants to marry Chunrong, but her parents forbid it because they consider him to be riff-raff. Meanwhile, Yue Jiu has been exiled from the Forbidden City (Beijing) for the same reason. The film revolves around their respective quests, one to marry the woman he loves and the other to be accepted in China’s capital city.

Much of the film consists of Chinese opera performances, which could not be more remote for Western audiences. For me, that’s reason enough to see the film since I crave to experience different cultures unlike the average yahoo in the U.S.A. that prefers Lawrence Welk or marching bands during college football half-times. That’s one benefit of the pandemic—putting the kibosh on Division One football games.

Director Hu Mei is one of China’s leading female filmmakers and a leading member of the Fifth Generation, the constellation of artists that began to make some of the great art films of the past 30 years.

The press notes describe Hu’s aspirations for the film:

She hopes that the movie creates a bridge for Western audiences. Peking opera is similar in many ways to Western opera, Hu said.

“Chinese opera, from singing and playing, to the vocalization production method, to the structure of lines and story, is similar to Western operas. It’s also a comprehensive performance system,” Hu said.

She said the film also brings viewers into the lives of Peking Opera artists, who didn’t enjoy a high status in society as entertainers during the Qing Dynasty.

“In Chinese history, Chinese operas, including Peking Opera, play an important role in passing down the heritage of China from generations to generations,” Hu said.

“Peking Opera is not as popular as before, especially to the younger audiences, but its artistic value is very high. We hope that we can bring Peking Opera into thousands of households through our film creation, and bring it to the people around the world,” Hu added.

1 Comment »

  1. Thanx. Didn’t see this one cause its behind paywall but did watch his “Darwin’s Nightmare” despite the fact that I usually don’t watch films that show misery. Damn. Despite poor closed captioning it jolt-reminds one of the huge problems that we must need face.


    On Fri, Aug 28, 2020 at 1:42 PM Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist wrote:

    > louisproyect posted: “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2ycVtJ8leM Around > fifty years ago I saw “I am Cuba”, a documentary made by a Russian > director. Nothing I ever saw since then came close to it except a new film > titled “Epicentro” that is now available as Virtual Cinema ” >

    Comment by John A Imani — August 29, 2020 @ 2:06 am

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