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Director Mario Fererri reenacts the events leading up to the Battle of the Little Big Horn in this wild, highly stylized surreal farce set in and around a gaping excavation for a huge urban renewal project in 1974 Paris. The anachronistic backdrop highlights the incongruity of the broad comic characterizations of real life figures George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull, and Buffalo Bill. Written by
Several tribes of Native Americans have taken up residence in a large excavation in the center of modern day Paris. Meeting nearby in an ornate domed room, some wealthy industrialists decide that the savages are impeding progress and must be exterminated. After successfully bribing the head of the army, General Custer is brought in to lead the effort. A portrait of their President, Richard Nixon, seems to watch over them from everywhere.
Made in the early 1970s, this surreal black comedy is usually interpreted as a scathing commentary on America's involvement in Vietnam, but I didn't see it that way. There is nothing in the film which significantly corresponds to the Vietnam conflict, and the few American symbols which show up are so awkwardly out of place and the characters exaggerated in such a ludicrous manner that it had the effect of constantly reminding me that this wasn't really about Americans. I can't claim to know how the European audience for which it was intended would have viewed it, but I saw it as a satirical look at European racism and colonialism (which, of course, would ultimately include both the genocide of Native Americans and the conflict in Vietnam) and a left-wing allegory of capitalism in which the Native Americans represent the oppressed working classes.
As a social/political satire, it achieves it's greatest success in depicting an absolute and brutal racism without being didactic or calling unnecessary attention to it. The most interesting character is Custer's Indian scout. Moving freely among both European and Native American societies, he is detested by both groups and detests both of them in return. The title of the film comes from Custer's constant reminders of the many things which the scout, being an Indian, is not allowed to do. When asked by another Native American why he hates Custer so much, the scout replies "because he treats me like... an Indian". The pause in delivering the line and the comic reaction of both characters afterward is handled exceptionally well.
All in all, the film's success as a left-wing critique of capitalism/colonialism is limited because so many of its clever subtleties get lost in the comedic noise. As a satire on American imperialism it fares much more poorly, coming dangerously close to being little more than a partisan screed. It does, however, achieve moderate success at being an entertaining absurdist farce with excellent comedic performances by the lead actors.
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