Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 18, 2018

First Reformed

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:36 pm

For most film buffs, the movie “Taxi Driver” and the name Martin Scorsese are inextricably linked. But for me, the essence of a film is the screenplay. It all goes back to Aristotle who in defining tragedy in “Poetics” placed plot and character at the top of the six necessary ingredients (the other four are diction, thought, spectacle, and melody). Martin Scorsese did not write the screenplay for “Taxi Driver”. It was written by Paul Schrader, who also wrote “Raging Bull”. If there is anything that defines these masterpieces, it is the brilliant storytelling (plot) and character development of the screenplay (think Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta). Scorsese deserves credit for helping Robert De Niro fully realize two memorable characters and creating the spellbinding background against which they stand (think of spectacle as cinematography and melody as film score) but without Schrader’s screenplay, it would have been all for naught.

In addition to being a screenwriter, Schrader was also a director—sometimes with mixed results. I am pleased to report that his latest film that opens nationwide today is not only his greatest achievement but one of the great American films of the decade. “First Reformed” tells the story of Toller (Ethan Hawke), the grief-stricken pastor of the eponymous upstate N.Y. Protestant church who delivers sermons to less than ten people on an average Sunday. The drawing card for the church is not spirituality, but its status as a landmark building that draws tourists, including some that can be persuaded to buy a coffee cup, baseball cap or t-shirt from the church’s tiny souvenir shop.

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May 11, 2018

Capitalism: a Horror Movie

Filed under: Counterpunch,economics,Film — louisproyect @ 4:46 pm

As part of its special series celebrating the 200thbirthday of Karl Marx between May 18-22, the Anthology Film Archives will be screening “Capitalism”, a 320-minute, six-part documentary that is both supremely intelligent and briskly entertaining, on May 20th at 3:45. Directed by Ilan Ziv, the founder of Icarus Films, it is like no other film I have ever seen about the horror we face in our daily lives that is much more frightening than slasher movies like Halloween or Friday the Thirteenth. After all, the idea of nuclear holocaust or global warming—just two of the threats we face from an economic system gone mad—are not something a plucky hero or heroine in a John Carpenter movie can stave off.

The film operates on two levels. It is both a history of how this system came into existence as well as a profile of the men who have put themselves at its service ideologically (Hayek) and those who either fought against its worst abuses (Keynes) or hoped to abolish it altogether (Marx).

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May 4, 2018

Angels Wear White

Filed under: China,Film — louisproyect @ 8:05 pm

Purely by coincidence, “Angels Wear White” bears a striking resemblance to last year’s “The Florida Project”, a film I nominated for best of 2017. Like “The Florida Project”, most of the action in “Angels Wear White” takes place in a motel—in this instance on a seaside resort in southwest China’s that is bathed in sunlight. Like Sean Baker, the director of “Florida Project”, Vivian Qu’s film revolves around two women dealing with class and sexual oppression. Baker’s characters were a single mother forced into becoming a hooker out of economic desperation and her six-year old daughter who is the charismatic gang leader of the motel’s bored and restless children. Finally, like the “Florida Project”, “Angels Wear White” is an outstanding film that has the inside track for my nomination of best foreign language film of 2018.

In “Angels Wear White”, we first meet Mia who is subbing at the reception desk for her friend Lily who has a date with her boyfriend. Mia’s regular job is cleaning the rooms, doing the laundry and other menial tasks. On her lonely shift (the tourist season has not yet started), a middle-aged man approaches the desk with two young girls wearing white naval-style school uniforms in tow, with one of them wearing a blonde wig. Mia doesn’t bother to ask the man, who registers for adjoining rooms, what he is doing with the children since we can assume that such questions are not often asked in China, especially by a housekeeper who lacks a proper ID. Not long after the girls order four beers, Mia is at least concerned enough to keep an eye on the video security monitor. When she sees the two girls pushing the man out of their room, she decides to film the confrontation on her smart phone—an act that sets the narrative in motion.

Eventually, the children’s parents discover what took place and bring them to a clinic where an examination reveals that they have been raped. They oscillate between rage at the children for acting like sluts and at the man who took advantage of them.

It turns out that he is the police commissioner and a powerful figure in the small town, which obviously puts constraints on the investigation that begins after the medical exam. A lawyer for the prosecution contacts Mia about what she saw that night but is frustrated by the young woman’s reluctance to share information. Her boss, who understands power relations in the town, has warned her that she will be out of a job if she doesn’t keep her mouth shut. Since Mia is only 15 years old (played by the 14-year old actress Vicky Chen) and lacks a proper ID that would allow her to apply for other jobs, she is as vulnerable as the two children.

The girl in the blonde wig is named Wen. Like the waif in “The Florida Project”, she simultaneously street-smart and innocent. When her friend tells her in the clinic that their hymen has been broken, she asks, “What’s a hymen?” Tired of being rebuked by her mother who throws out her age-inappropriate garb and the blonde wig, she runs away and crashes at her father’s house. He is in the lower ranks of the village’s social order but determined to see that Wen get justice. Except for the prosecution attorney and Wen’s father, everybody seems willing to let bygone’s be bygone, especially since challenging the authority of the police commissioner leads up a blind alley. Even the parents of Wen’s friend are ready to accept his promise of a payoff in exchange for dropping the case.

If the story sounds like it is the Chinese counterpart to #MeToo, that is only part of the story. It is equally the story about those millions of workers, both men and women, who lack the protections afforded those with proper identification. In effect, they are internal undocumented workers. Known as the hukou system, it serves as both a social security number and an internal passport. Lacking proper documents, a migrant worker suffers super-exploitation in much the same way undocumented workers suffer in the USA. In Beijing, there have been raids on neighborhoods where migrants live that are as vicious as those on the refugee camps in France. The NY Times reported on November 30, 2017:

“Starting from today, demolish what can be demolished, don’t wait until tomorrow,” Wang Xianyong, a district official in southern Beijing, said in a speech to officials that leaked onto the internet. “If it’s demolished today, then won’t you be able to get a good night’s sleep?”

Initially, city leaders ignored the complaints from the displaced migrants. But as images of expelled workers dragging their belongings along streets on freezing nights appeared on social media, they ignited an unusually strong public backlash. Even some state-run news outlets have chimed in to criticize the rushed demolitions.

In the press notes for “Angels Wear White”, the director recounts her inspiration for making the film:

Once during a scouting trip, I saw a young girl, 8 or 9 years old, playing alone on a long flight of steps against a hilltop. It was approaching dusk and the area was deserted. The girl was happy to see us and volunteered to be our model as we shot videos of the area. She told me that her parents, migrant workers from a faraway province, were still at work; that her home was in a basement at the bottom of the hill; that she had no friends. She didn’t want to see us leave, and asked if we’d be back the next day. Are the young girls fine? I often wonder.

The film opened today at the Metrograph, NYC May 4 and will open in Los Angeles at Laemmle’s Music Hall on May 18.

April 27, 2018

Racism and Eugenics, American-Style

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:36 pm

As the Trump administration’s openly racist policies become ever more pronounced, two timely documentaries serve as an anti-toxin. Available exclusively from its distributor Bullfrog Films, “A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream” takes on the bogus science that underpins Trump’s complaint about too many people from “shithole countries” like Haiti and not enough from Norway. In September 2016, the Independent reported that Donald Trump’s biographer Michael D’Antonio accused him of subscribing to the “racehorse theory” of genetics taught to him by his Fred Trump, who was arrested at a KKK riot in 1927. D’Antonio wrote that “They believe that there are superior people and that if you put together the genes of a superior woman and a superior man, you get a superior offspring.”

Under Trump, police terror continues unabated with the most recent occurrence being the killing of Stephon Clark in Sacramento in his grandmother’s backyard. The cops thought that the cell phone he was holding in his hand was a gun just like the wallet that Amadou Diallo removed from his pocket to identify himself to trigger-happy cops who poured bullets into him. In reality, the fear of a cell phone and a wallet was lubricated by a racism that has been the high-octane fuel behind all these incidents. For most activists, it was the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri that propelled Black Lives Matter into a mass movement. Although I am probably like most CounterPunch readers in keeping up with Michael Brown’s death and the aftermath, I was stunned by the investigative reporting manifested in “Stranger Fruit” that can be rented on Youtube, Amazon and iTunes. It will also have a broadcast premiere in June on Starz.

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April 25, 2018

New Yorkers: all out for the Eugene V. Debs documentary!

Filed under: Film,socialism — louisproyect @ 3:33 pm

In March 2017, I attended a screening of Yale Strom’s documentary “American Socialist: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs” at the Socially Relevant Film Festival. A blizzard prevented Yale from doing a Q&A in NY that evening but excluding another blizzard (this has been an unusually cold April), I will be joining him at the opening night screening of the film at the Cinema Village this Friday night for a Q&A.

(Los Angelenos can also see the film between May 4 – 10 at the Laemmle Monica and Playhouse Theaters.)

This is an extraordinary film on a number of levels. To begin with, it sheds light on the kind of party we need today. When the “Leninist” model became universal after October 1917, it helped to weaken Debs’s party and strengthen sectarian tendencies that we have been paying dearly for about a century. I say that as someone who went up the blind alley of Trotskyism and learned from my mistakes. Nearly 20 years ago, I came into contact with Sol Dollinger, the husband of Genora Dollinger of the Flint Women’s Auxiliary sit-down strike fame, and learned about the project the two were involved with in the 1950s around the magazine American Socialist co-edited by Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman, who had broken with Trotskyist sectarianism.

The American Socialist magazine was replete with tributes to Eugene V. Debs, including the special issue of November 1955 that contained an article by Bert Cochran titled “The Eugene V. Debs Heritage”. Bert wrote:

It was one of Debs’ important achievements that the Socialist Party, from the time of its formation in 1901 up to the first World War, was an American movement. By that is meant that it was a genuine expression of indigenous radicalism. It was the Left continuation of the big Populist rebellion, and the natural socialist evolution of its best contingents after the promise of Populism was destroyed in 1896. Debs Socialism rose on the crest of the wave of the progressivism and widespread rebelliousness that was sweeping America up to 1914, because it was part and parcel of this movement. This was a new departure for socialism in this country, because before Debs, socialism was primarily a German proposition, with little contact and less appeal outside of its own community.

Indigenous radicalism, indeed. Our task remains the same as it was a century ago, to transform American society as well as the rest of the world along rational and humane lines. It is encouraging that the American left, including the DSA and the Sanders campaign, to look toward the example of Debs’s party. New York DSA’ers and Sanderistas should put this film on their calendar and spread the word about it. It is a film that matches documentarian skills to a subject of deep relevance to the left today, especially since the heartland of Debs’s party in places like Oklahoma and West Virginia are on the move today.

My review of “American Socialist: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs”  in CounterPunch.

April 19, 2018

The Confessional

Filed under: Film,middle east — louisproyect @ 6:15 pm

This Saturday evening at 6pm and showing at the Rich Mix theater, Londoners will be able to see the premiere of Lucas Jedrzejak’s “The Confessional”. The film is part of the East End Film Festival and is based on a play by Andrew Woodward who adapted it into a screenplay in combination with Emily Swain. Swain plays an Irish nun who is working with refugees that have fled violence in the Middle East. We are not told where they have come from but it is just as possible that they are Yazidis from Iraq or Sunnis from Syria. Unlike documentaries such as Jedrzejak’s “Ketermaya” that is explicitly about Syrian refugees in Lebanon, “The Confessional” operates on another plane. It is much more about people trying to find absolution in a period of apocalyptic warfare under ever-increasingly conditions of savagery. It may not be possible to find such absolution, not even for a nun.

As Sister Claire, Emily Swain is frayed at the edges. We are not exactly sure why she is wound so tight but it likely has much to do with her work on behalf of refugees that Jedrzejak is intimately familiar with as having spent months at a time in Ketermaya.

One day as she is out on a walk with some refugee children, they are nearly run down by a caravan of cars that is filled with men in suits who have come to Iraq to finalize a deal with some of the country’s elite. In a conversation between two of the investors beforehand, we are told that one of the men is troubled but we only find out how troubled he is when his path accidentally crosses that of Sister Claire.

She has found sanctuary in a church’s confessional box where she sits by herself swigging on a pint of whiskey. Not long after her arrival, the troubled man stops at the church to confess his sins to a priest. His role in launching the war in Iraq keeps him up at night even if its proceeds line his pocket. Even though he is still in the business of neocolonial exploitation, something keeps nagging away at him. Was the invasion of Iraq a sin? Were all the deaths and the ongoing chaos worth it?

Instead of a priest, he runs into Sister Claire who perhaps lubricated by alcohol or perhaps angry over what England did to Iraq as well as her native country decides to extract a confession out of the man that is much more like what a cop gets out of a criminal than any feel-good Catholic rite.

Needless to say, the film is very topical and worth seeing even though it offers no pat solutions to the ongoing agony of the Middle East, as no film could.

April 18, 2018

Lou Andreas-Salome – The Audacity To Be Free

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

This Friday, an extraordinary film titled “Lou Andreas-Salome – The Audacity To Be Free” opens at the Village East Cinema in NYC (schedule info here). I had the good fortune to see the film at the Socially Relevant Film Festival last month and posted a review of the film on CounterPunch that is reproduced below. I also took part in a Q&A with the director that helped me understand the labor of love that went into it. Cordula Kablitz-Post, the 54 year old director, first came across a biography of Lou Andreas-Salome 37 years ago and was struck by the fierce independence of a woman who defied patriarchy in all its manifestations. She began research on the film 8 years ago and her ability to recreate the social world of young bohemian philosophers like Frederich Nietzsche and his friend Paul Rée is a feat in of itself. But, as I pointed out to her in the Q&A, she also had the ability to breathe life into these characters and make their struggles as palpably real as if they were 1960s cultural rebels rather than obscure historical figures. The film succeeds in the same way that “The Young Karl Marx” succeeds by making post-Hegelian revolutionaries come alive. If I were to pick only two narrative films to see this year, it would be those two.

From CounterPunch:

The photo at the top of the article depicts in rather sadomasochistic terms Lou Andreas Salomé applying the whip to Paul Rée and Friedrich Nietzsche. This photo, whose taking is a key scene in the film, is provocative enough on its own terms to deserve pride of place in a photography museum. However, the story behind the photo deserves a full recounting, which is the purpose to a large part of Cordula Kablitz-Post’s 2016 film, finally viewable in New York—and hopefully across the USA before very long.

Like Alexandra Kollontai and Victoria Woodhull, Lou Salomé was a transformative feminist figure who challenged oppressive patriarchal norms. Although she was not a revolutionary, her boldness and independence arguably exceeded that of any woman from her time. Living between 1861 and 1937, her path crossed with some of the most important men of her generation. Besides Nietzsche and Rilke, she was one of the first women ever to practice Freudian psychoanalysis. If anything, her connections to Freud (possibly sexual as well as professional), Nietzsche and Rilke indicate a breadth of learning that is unrivalled. In every sense of the word, she was a renaissance woman equally conversant in philosophy, literature and psychology.

If this was all there was to Lou Salomé, there still might have not been a basis for a biopic. What makes Cordula Kablitz-Post’s film work so well is that it fully captures the dramatic story of a unique woman who as the title indicates had the audacity to be free.

Four different actresses play Lou Salomé at different stages of her life and special credit should be given to the 81-year old Nicole Heesters, who plays her in her final year as the Nazis are closing in on the woman who is under suspicion for practicing the evil arts of Sigmund Freud the Jew.

Born in St. Petersburg to an army general and his wife, she had 5 brothers and was determined at an early age to have the same freedoms as them. We see her climbing a tree with a brother and tumbling down from a lofty branch. When her father rushes out to tend to her, he asks what he can do. Her reply: get me a proper pair of shoes like my brother so I won’t have fall again. It was her spunkiness that persuaded her family to begin calling her Lou rather than Louise, her birth name.

Preoccupied with the deeper questions of existence from an early age, she caused a ruckus in church one Sunday morning when after the priest said that God is everywhere in a sermon, she asked if he was also in hell. Despite her iconoclastic frame of mind, the church sent a priest to provide home schooling in philosophy and religion. All was going well until he tried to force himself on her sexually. Her reaction to him should have been the same reaction that budding actresses had to Harvey Weinstein.

Seeing her so committed to philosophy and religious studies, her parents agreed to send her to Switzerland where women were permitted to attend university unlike backward Russia. It was there that she became immersed in philosophy, including that of post-Hegelians like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

On a trip to Rome with her mother in 1882, she met a young man named Paul Rée who was the son of wealthy, assimilated Prussian Jews. A monthly allowance gave him the freedom to pursue philosophical investigations that overlapped those of Salomé. As is typical of the biopic, her initial meeting with Rée turns immediately to intellectual matters—specifially their mutual admiration for Schopenhauer. Long walks between the two covering philosophical questions did not satisfy Rée who was smitten by Lou Salomé as were most men. When he proposed to her, she replied that marriage was not for her. Raising children within the confines of the household was not her life’s goal. Instead she wanted to pursue her philosophical studies without interference. So dear to his heart was the charismatic young woman that Rée accepted a platonic relationship.

When Rée introduced her to his friend Frederick Nietzsche (played brilliantly by Alexander Scheer, who also played Wilhelm Weitling in “The Young Karl Marx”), she went through the same duck and parry maneuvers she went through with Rée. Except with Nietzsche, who called her the smartest person he ever knew, it became even more stressful since she was far more attracted to him than to his friend. Not only did she have to deny him; she also had to deny herself. Watching the three together will remind you of the love triangles in French new wave films by François Truffaut or Jean-Luc Godard. Her ability to keep the two men at bay was the source of the joke depicted in the photograph above.

It was only when she met Rainer Maria Rilke in 1896 that she finally decided to give herself to a man sexually. He was 15 years her junior and deeply worshipful of her. In addition to her command of philosophy, she had also become a famous novelist writing under the name Henry Lou. Her success persuaded her publisher to finally reveal that it was a woman who had become a best-seller.

Rilke is played by Julius Feldmeier who fully conveys the puppy dog affection the young and as yet unrecognized poet had for the older woman. In one discussion between the two, he complains that his birth name René was chosen by his mother because it was sexually ambiguous. (She also dressed him in girl’s clothing when young, thus being the complement to her tom-boy youth.) It was Lou Salomé who convinced him to change it to Rainer even though she says at one point that it was his feminine qualities that made him irresistible to her. Rilke pays tribute to her in “To Lou Andreas-Salome”. The closing stanzas:

For I don’t think back; all that I am
stirs me because of you. I don’t invent you
at sadly cooled-off places from which
you’ve gone away; even your not being there
is warm with you and more real and more
than a privation. Longing leads out too often
into vagueness. Why should I cast myself, when,
for all I know, your influence falls on me,
gently, like moonlight on a window seat.

April 13, 2018

The Judge

Filed under: Film,Palestine — louisproyect @ 10:17 pm

Like Pavlov’s dogs going into a salivating frenzy at the sound of a bell, nothing has the same effect on Islamophobes, including the Assadist left, except the word sharia. For them, this means ISIS trying people for smoking and then handing out a death sentence.

The documentary “The Judge” that opens today at Cinema Village in NYC will not only provide a different perspective on sharia law but on the social dynamics of Palestinians living in the West Bank. The judge referred to in the title is Kholoud al-Faqih, the first woman to serve on a sharia court in the Middle East. In the West Bank, there are two types of courts. One is a civil court that tries criminal cases such as theft, assaults, etc. The sharia court functions in the same way that family court functions in the USA and other secular societies. We see Khouloud weighing in on divorces, child custody, alimony payments, etc., all within the framework of Quranic scriptures. In a way, it reminds me of how Hasidic courts settle such matters in Brooklyn except that Hasidic society is far more patriarchal than the West Bank Islamic world. Indeed, a woman would never been selected to serve on a Hasidic court.

It was not that easy in the West Bank either. In 2009, Kholoud al-Faqih and another woman trained as a lawyer were appointed to serve by Sheikh Tayseer al-Tamimi after she pressured him to see beyond centuries old prejudices that had nothing to do with Islam. Al-Tamimi is interviewed throughout the film and comes across as an enlightened soul. Although the film gives no background on him, it is worth mentioning that he was a reformer across the board. He was drawn into a conflict with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem for changing the sharia codes that allowed a woman to be married once she reached puberty. He thought that 18 should be the legal age. In keeping with the new directions represented by al-Tamini, al-Faqih’s judgements are completely opposed to what you’d expect from Islamic courts. In her own faith-based manner, al-Faqih is a strong feminist who will not allow patriarchal attitudes seep into her hearings.

Al-Tamimi was a hardline nationalist appointed by Arafat in 1994. It is not surprising that after he was replaced by a man selected by Mahmoud Abbas who ruled that women would no longer sit in judgement in sharia courts but only handle peripheral administrative tasks.

“The Judge” is very minimal in cinematic terms and mostly depicts Kholoud Al-Faqih at work and at home making dinner for her family as director Erika Cohn follows her about with a hand-held camera. Cohn met Kholoud Al-Faqih when the director was studying Islamic feminism and teaching film in Israel and Palestine. Her work is very important for  understanding Palestinian society today and where the progressive strands of renewal might be gestating.

April 6, 2018

The Heart of Nuba; Sweet Country

Filed under: Australia,Film,Sudan — louisproyect @ 7:51 pm

“The Heart of Nuba” opens today at the Village East in New York. The heart refers to the saintly Dr. Tom Catena who serves the war-ravaged people of the Nuba mountains at the southern border of Sudan. You probably know that South Sudan became an independent country in 2011 after its mostly tribal and non-Islamic peoples were anticipated to finally be delivered from the barbaric rule of the Arabic and Muslim north. Shortly after independence, the new nation was plunged once again into savage warfare between rival clans, attributable to the “resource curse”.

Like the people of South Sudan, the Nuban population was considered to be an obstacle to the ambitious “development” plans of the dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Although undeveloped so far, the land close to the mountains are petroleum-rich and once again there is a fight to control the spoils between Khartoum and guerrillas and simultaneously between rival guerrilla groups. In other words, the “resource curse” of decades past persisted in the foothills of the Nuba mountains.

Tom Catena is a deeply religious Catholic who came to Nuba to serve the mostly peasant and pastoral peoples who had no stake in the fighting. Khartoum decided to ethnically cleanse the area in order to weaken the rebels and create new facts on the ground that would allow his petrostate to sink roots in the region. He leads a monastic existence in the village of Gidel as the sole surgeon in a hospital serving the needs of 750,000 people in an area about the size of Austria. Although trained as a surgeon, he was soon forced to become a jack of all trades as pediatrician, internist, obstetrician, gynecologist, and any other specialty on a contingent basis. As well as being on call 24/7. His financial reward? $350 per month. This not to speak of the benefits accrued such as malaria that often leaves him too sick to care for others.

Catena was defensive lineman on Brown University’s football team when he was an undergrad and director Kenneth Carlson, who was on the same team, includes footage of Catena tackling a quarterback.

Catena comes from a large, religiously observant family in upstate N.Y. and Carlson shows him on a family visit where his brother, a Catholic priest, describes how he came to the decision to choose such a monastic but humanitarian existence. Despite the expectation one might have that such a man would be unctuously spouting scripture, Catena is a modest, witty and altogether likeable character that deserved such a compelling documentary. Check the film’s website for screening information in your area and Catena’s hospital. Khartoum has banned all material aid to the hospital coming from the UN and NGOs so they need all the help they can get.

Finally, as you see children near the hospital jumping into foxholes to escape a regime bombing raid and the bloodied bodies of those who were not fortunate enough to be spared, you will realize that all aerial bombing is criminal. It is criminal when it was done by the USA in Vietnam and Iraq, and now being done by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. It was also criminal being done by Russian jets in Chechnya and in Syria for the past 7 years. In 1921, an Italian air force officer named Giulio Douhet proposed that aerial bombardment could be an effective in times of war. The officer corps was so outraged by this proposal that he was court-martialed. And that was under Mussolini. How low we have sunk.

Generally, I only post negative reviews of films on Rotten Tomatoes if they are made in Hollywood. Foreign-language, art films, and documentaries get a bye since there is integrity behind them even if they are unsuccessful. This is one of the few times I am going to break my own rules and tell you why I had problems with “Sweet Country”, an Australian narrative film that opens today at the IFC.

Set in the Outback in 1929, it seeks to indict the racist white settlers who are tracking down an indigenous man who has shot a drunken and deranged white rancher in self-defense. Most of the film consists of a small posse led by an indigenous man with tracking skills. Like all indigenous characters in the film, the tracker is obsequious to the point of taking the side of white men even when they are demonstrably in the wrong. He continuously refers to them as “boss” and—quite frankly—reminds me of the servants in “Gone With the Wind”. You see the same traits in the man being tracked down who only picked up a rifle when it became clear that both he and his wife would be shot down in cold blood unless he acted.

The film is described as an Australian Western and if you’ve seen “The Searchers”, you’ll understand why. Most of the film consists of the hunt for the runaway in the visually striking Outback with few words exchanged and those that are exchanged to not come close to the intensity of Ford’s rather dubious classic.

The film concludes with an outdoor trial in the town’s dusty square with the indigenous man having turned himself in only because his pregnant wife, who had been raped by the man he killed, could not make it in the wilderness with him.

Much of the film is a commentary on the degraded state of indigenous people who have become passive subjects of the settlers. The only resistance to the racist colonizers comes when the posse strays into a tribal area that is considered hostile to whites. In a confrontation, one posse member is killed by a tribesman’s well-aimed stone. I only wish that director Warwick Thornton had made a film about them.

Thornton’s last film was “Samson and Delilah” that was also about degraded and hopeless native peoples, in this instance a couple of teens, a drug-addicted boy and a orphaned girl he loves. I thought this film was “fresh” but probably would have a different reaction if I saw it again today.

Thornton is of indigenous descent himself but apparently is not motivated to make a film about native resistance. To some extent this is the result of the colonizer’s immense control over the colonized. Granted that the outcome was not much different than the one that befell Nat Turner, wouldn’t it be a good thing if an Australian filmmaker, indigenous or not, made a film based on what took place in Caledon Bay in 1932?.


April 4, 2018

German Film Festival April 6-12

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:41 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, April 34, 2018

Between April 6thand 12th, the Landmark Theater on W. 57thStreet in New York will be hosting a festival of recent German films of great interest to cinephiles based on the evidence of two press screeners I saw that have much in common besides being well-made. To start with, both have nonagenarian main characters played by two of Germany’s most renowned actors.

As a 90-year old Communist about to celebrate his birthday in opening night’s “In Times of Fading Light”, Bruno Ganz might be best known to most folks for his portrayal of Adolf Hitler in “Downfall” but the 77-year old actor’s career encompasses a wide range of heralded roles ranging from art films made by Wim Wenders (The American Friend; Wings of Desire) to Hollywood films like “The Boys from Brazil”. “In Times of Fading Light” is set in 1989 as the Berlin Wall is about to come down. The fading light referred to in the title is Communism’s twilight.

Exactly the same age as Ganz, Jurgen Prochnow plays a 92-year old Wehrmacht veteran named Eduard Leander in “The Final Journey”, who led a regiment of Ukrainian Cossacks during WWII. The film’s title refers to his odyssey to find the woman he loved in a Luhansk village against the backdrop of a new war involving some of the same geopolitical cleavages. Like Ganz, Prochnow has a long and distinguished career and is best known for playing the German submarine commander in “Das Boot”. Deemed controversial at the time for showing German soldiers without the stereotypical mustache-twirling villainy seen in Hollywood films, “The Final Journey” could conceivably be accused of whitewashing Nazi war crimes—that is, unless you understand that his character paid dearly for them.

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