Thursday, January 10, 2013

74. Night and Fog (1955)

In the last three months I took a rather long break from blog writing and how things have changed! Diane Amann announced the end of intlawgrrls, a new year has begun (happy new year of the snake), my friend acquired a projector to watch movies on and we've gone from a dull cinematic year (2012) to an exciting Oscar year (2013).  During the last couple of months, I took a break from human rights films and watched some relatively new releases (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel probably the only one which I could tentatively recommend due mainly to its stellar cast), and discovered some older movies (Mysterious Skin by Gregg Araki, Summer with Monika by Bergmann, re-watched a host of Almodovar films in preparation for his new release in March.  

Last week, I restarted my blog preparation by hosting my first 'Feminist Film Lovers' night at my flat.  We started with 'Night and Fog' by Alain Resnais.  Resnais' documentary has been the subject of much academic work and is considered to be one of the most important films made about the Holocaust.  The film challenges the concept of 'ineffability': that the Holocaust cannot be spoken about or accurately represented.  Instead, filmmakers such as Resnais believed that the Holocaust must be spoken about, to avoid forgetting.  Made 10 years after the liberation of the concentration camps, Resnais was originally reticent to make the film until Jean Cayrol was hired as the scriptwriter.  Cayrol, a French poet, had spent time at Gusen concentration camp.  Remembrance, celebration of Jewish culture and experience and responsible representation are now considered axiomatic in considering the legacy of the Holocaust.  Night and Fog, left us speechless. In its short 30 minutes, it is the most powerful Holocaust documentary I have seen.  

Over the course of the next few months, our group will be meeting to screen 6 films which I have chosen (many of which I have previously reviewed).  These films serve to set the tone and kickstart the group.  Following this I am opening up the floor, with members picking the films to screen and providing the reasons for their choice.  Feel free to do the same wherever you are!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

73. 678 (2010)

This month I traveled to Tokyo to visit my family in Japan.  Traveling to and from the UK gave me a full day’s worth of movie watching time.  I brought some DVDs of my own as I asked myself pre-departure – would there be any ‘human rights’ movies to watch on the airplane? 

I few years ago I traveled to New York for a staff board meeting when working for Women’s Link Worldwide and had been presently surprised to find the feminist courtroom classic Adam’s Rib as an option. 

Yesterday’s flight didn’t disappoint either.  678 an Egyptian movie directed by Mohamed Diab is a resounding indictment of patriarchal society and the pervasive culture of sexual harassment in Egypt.  The movie is based roughly on a true story and interweaves the lives of three women: the first woman to officially file a case of sexual harassment; a poor woman who begins to use violence to defend herself from ‘the lemon test’ on buses; and an educated woman who turns to activism after being sexually harassed at a football game and rejected by her husband. 

The film skillfully deals with a range of issues including maternal mortality, difference within feminism and solutions to combat sexual violence.  At times, it left me bitterly angry, at not only what women face in Egyptian society, but in all societies.  In Japan, the metro stations are full of posters warning women about ‘chikan’ and women only cars are used at rush hour.  In countries all over the world ‘hollaback’ initiatives have begun with women reporting sexual violence on social networks and voicing their anger at some of the names they have been called.  As demonstrated by Julia Gillard just two weeks ago, women face sexism and sexist comments whether they are on the bus, walking down the street or hold office as Prime Minister. 

But the film is also uplifting.  Nelly (Nahed El Sebai) refuses to cave into pressure to drop the lawsuit and the man who harassed her received 3 years imprisonment.  According to the movie a year later a law against sexual harassment was enacted although admittedly official reporting remains low.  In the film women are also not punished for their bravery.  Instead, the movie demonstrates how men and women can work together.  Nelly’s boyfriend Omar supports her against his parents wishes.  The real losers in the story are the men who let their strong and beautiful wives and girlfriends down – either by abandoning them in their time of need or being caught for sexual harassment. 

678 is a brave film.  It is highly recommended. 

Written somewhere in the sky over Russia. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

72. Machuca (2004)

Life before Pinochet

During my internship at the ICC, I met a fellow human rights lawyer from Chile.   She noted that I had not reviewed any movies about the military dictatorship under Pinochet.  Today's review aims to rectify that, to some extent, by featuring the first (but not last) Chilean film - Machuca

Set in Santiago, Chile, during the presidency of Salvador Allende, the film is a coming of age story of two boys in the run up to the military coup d'etat.  The film directed by Andres Wood is semi-autobiographical and tells the story of a prestigious private school run by a priest, Father McEnroe (based on Father Gerard Whelan).  Father McEnroe carries out a social experiment, inviting boys who live in local, poverty stricken areas to attend the elite, private school.  

Gonzalo Infante, a white, middle class child, bullied by his classmates, befriends one of the new boys, Pedro Machuca.  Through his friendship with Pedro, Gonzalo attends the different demonstrations taking place throughout the city to sell flags.  At these marches, he is made aware for the first time of his privileged position: he witnesses his mother yell abuse at his new friends and the actions of his sister's boyfriend.  

The movie, as one might imagine, has no happy ending.  The military coup results in the repression of el pueblo, directly affecting Pedro's family.  Gonzalo, however, can carry on with his life at the private school, saved by the colour of his skin and his Adidas trainers bought in Buenos Aires. Pedro has no such luck with the army under orders to root out communists and with absolute impunity to act with violence, the beginning of Pinochet's dictatorship begin to unfold.  A dictatorship which resulted in torture as indicted by Garzon and confirmed by the House of Lords in London.  

According to the director, in an interview with Close Up film magazine: 
" We wanted to recreate our own past, you know? We didn't want to tell the official story of Chile . The film is very much a partial vision. So we wanted to recreate our own past. My own past was a mixture of things, you know? So in the movie you have the background of different people, different styles. Pop, hippy, Andean, poor, rich. You hear music from the right and from the left, because in Chile in those days it was very different to be a musician from the right to be a musician from the left. And we mixed everything you know, so that nothing was so clear. I think that gives the movie a sense of reality, more so than to take care of every little detail - which of course we did also!"

During the film, which is excellent and definitely worth watching, I couldn't help thinking how much my experience of the film must differ from those who have a close personal connection to Chile.  As the director states above, the film is very detailed, with great attention paid to the clothes and setting of the movies to re-create the past (for example, the posters of Victor Jarra on the walls of Machuca's house). 

I wanted to ask my friend why she had recommended this movie in particular?  Does it best represent the years leading up to Pinochet's coup?  How does the director's partial vision of history fit in with her own?  Did she recommend the film because cinematically it is good or due to its popularity?  
It is a strength of the film, that it leaves us asking questions about Chile's history, the role of society in Pinochet's dictatorship and its future.  As one mother asks at a parent-teacher meeting:  when are things going to be done differently?

A mixture of the profound with moments of touching comedy, I endorse the recommendation. 

71. I am cuba (1964)

Soy Cuba

Mikhail Kalatozov's Soviet Cuban film was forgotten following its release in the 1960s.  Unpopular both in Cuba and in the USSR the film only gained wide release in the 1990s.  Kalatozov's black and white film combines a number of short stories to give a picture of pre-revoluntionary Cuba.  Maria, a young Cuban woman works as a prostitute, exploited by the rich Americans who use Cuba as a playground of casinos and jazz clubs.  Pedro, a farmer is told that his land has been sold to United Fruit and that he must leave.  He sets his crop alight and dies from the smoke fumes.  The film then moves to Havana where students organise against the tyranny of Batista.  The students are killed by the police forces - summarily executed - in the run up to Castro's landing.  The final scenes deal with the fighting in the Sierra Maestra. 

Soy Cuba is an important work to include within the 'human rights film diary' for a number of reasons.  First, it illustrates some of the conditions which bring about revolution.  The inequality in wealth both within the country and also within the world.  The film therefore raises questions about the role of tourists and their responsibility for the inequalities and human rights abuses which take place.  Secondly, the story of United Fruit is part of a larger story of US imperialism in the region.  Thirdly, as a 'propaganda' piece, financed by the USSR, the film is interesting both in terms of cinematography but also in its depiction of Cuba and 'Cubans'.  Finally, the film talks directly about 'rights' and the abuse thereof.  

In the final scene, a radio transmission calls for all Cubans who have suffered injustice and the violations of their rights to join the revolution. To defend the right to life, the right to health, the right of families to a home, the right to work. The transmission calls to peasants, students and workers to fight for liberty. 

Soy Cuba is a romanticised retrospective on the coming of a revolution. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

70. Wolf Children (2012)


A few days ago I went to the BFI London film festival currently taking place at a number of locations across London.  I chose to go see Mamoru Hosoda's new film Wolf Children.  I'm a fan of Hosoda's other work (The girl who leapt through time (2006) ; summer wars (2009)) as both an animation director and an artist. 

The animated film tells the story of Hana, a young woman who falls in love with a wolf man.  Together they have two children and live happily until the Wolfman disappears.  Hana is left alone to look after her two children Yuki (snow) and Ame (rain).  Fearing the prying eyes of her neighbours and state interference from social services, Hana decides to move the children to the countryside to allow them to live freely and determine their own personalities - wolf or human?

Wolf children is a beautiful and moving story about the wonders of motherhood, the vulnerability of couples without state recognition of their relationships, the right to freely determine one's personality (established in Europe under Article 8 of the ECHR) and the notion of the 'Other'.  Reminiscent in parts of Studio Ghibli's Totoro, the film combines fantasy with every day parenting issues to make it both touching and funny.  

The director has stated of his motivation to make the film: 
"When you have children, you change dramatically as a human being. Maybe I’m attracted to people who have responsibilities. I was especially dazzled by a friend who became a mother. Until then, ‘mothers’ were unfamiliar people to me, but a friend became one, and child-raising became a more familiar subject to me. I was impressed by her sense of responsibility for raising a child. That’s why I wanted this movie to be a story about a woman through her role as a mother."

A 'human rights' film to share with kids!

69. The Prosecutor (2010)

'The Prosecutor has to be a bit of a salesman, he has to sell the idea of global justice'

The Prosecutor (2010) is a documentary film focusing on the work of the first and former Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.  Barry Stevens (Emmy award winning documentary director of Gerrie and Louise (1997)) both wrote and directed the film produced by Peter Raymont.  As an educational tool, the film simply outlines some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). 
 Much is made of the Prosecutor's inability to enforce arrest warrants and focus is placed on the enormity of his task in the 'era of no impunity'. 

Spanning a period of at least 5 years, the film provides a snapshot of the different situations under investigation.  The Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan are all discussed in the behind the scenes film showcasing some of the OTP staff including: Fatou Bensouda (current Prosecutor),  Florence Olara and Nicola Fletcher (media liaison),  Beatrice Le Fraper (former head of the JCCD) and many others.  In addition, the film presents the main criticisms of the Court: the allegations of neo-colonialism for the unique focus on Africa and also concerning double standards over the alleged war crimes perpetrated by Israel in Palestine.

According to Stevens: "We made an actuality film, but also it's highly critical. This is not a commercial for Moreno-Ocampo or a simple-minded human-rights-in-Africa film. We give a lot of space to the Court's most articulate critics, like Mahmoud Mamdani. There are legitimate questions about spending hundreds of millions of dollars to prosecute a few criminals and maybe making peace less likely when you do it."

The film is certainly more balanced than the documentary 'The Reckoning' made by Skylight Pictures but overall asks what alternative there can be to the new global system proposed by the ICC and the Prosecutor.  The film forms part of the Economist series on film in conjunction with PBS.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

68. The Night of Truth (2004) *

La nuit de la vérité 

Set in an unidentified African country, Fanta Regina Nacro's movie, uses largely unprofessional actors to tell the story of the conflict between two ethnic tribes - the Bonandés and the Nayaks.  A bloody war has left hundreds or thousands dead, children without limbs, women raped and a country torn apart through ethnic hatred.  In the midst of the conflict, a truce is born, brokered by le President and Col. Theo.  We join them at a dinner party, where the wives of the Colonel and le President take centre stage as hostesses of the event.  Whilst celebrations are under way, tensions rise between the factions, thirsty for revenge over the atrocities. 

The film is Shakespearean in its drama and yet original in its subject matter and cinematic form (shot in 8 weeks with a 35 mm camera).  Nacro suggests reconciliation between the tribes through local customs rather than accountability through courts.  The most important thing for all those involved is to end the massacres. Those who dare disturb the fragile peace have become the enemy for both tribes. 

The Night of Truth Poster