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A meditation on civilization. July, 2001: friends wave as a cruise ship departs Lisbon for Mediterranean ports and the Indian Ocean. On board and on day trips in Marseilles, Pompeii, Athens, Istanbul, and Cairo, a professor tells her young daughter about myth, history, religion, and wars. Men approach her; she's cool, on her way to her husband in Bombay. After Cairo, for two evenings divided by a stop in Aden, the captain charms three successful, famous (and childless) women, who talk with wit and intellect, each understanding the others' native tongue, a European union. The captain asks mother and child to join them. He gives the girl a gift. Helena sings. Life can be sweet. Written by
There are many opinions listed here about the film itself from technical or artistic points of view or about whether it is interesting or boring etc.. My reaction is not about any of that. I have serious problems with this film's naive Eurocentric point of view, which, seems to me, adds up to a very troublesome and dangerous crusader mentality that breaks the world into a 'civilized' 'West' and the 'uncivilized' Rest. Don't misunderstand me, the idea is certainly not put in these many words, the film does have a nice politically correct surface --but simply look a bit deeper below the surface to see the way Africa is referred to, the direct and indirect ways 'Arabs' are pictured (not to mention the deeply ignorant way in which a whole world of Islamic cultures and civilizations are grouped under this term 'Arab' at one point), or the way the notion of civilization, its origins and its trajectory is depicted, the way terrorism is understood or pictured, and one can keep listing. Had this film been made in 1920s, I would have had less of a surprise reaction to it, but I mean, come on, we are talking 2003!
Consider the following excerpt for example. This is out of a scene where three main characters (three women, a Greek, an Italian, and a French -Papas, Sandrelli, & Deneuve, respectively) are having dinner with the ship's captain, an American man (Malkovich). You judge for yourself.
(French): Greece is still the cradle of civilization, and will be as long as the world goes around.
(Greek): It's a civilization that's been forgotten
(French): And with it fraternity and human rights, and the Utopian ideals of the French Revolution
(Italian): Which the United States later adopted
(American): And has reinforced
(Italian): Yes, but they're also being forgotten, as is happening on other continents, like Europe, not to speak of Africa!
(Greek): No civilization lasts forever That's how Alexander the Great saw it when, under the influence of Aristotle, he decided to found a universal library But what I find most curious is the case of the Arabs, who, having spread Greek culture in Europe and beyond, were the ones to destroy it, burning all the books in the blindness of their religious fervor.
(Italian): The beginnings of fundamentalism, which is everywhere today
(Greek): What haunts the Arab world nowadays is the development of the West, with its many technical advances and scientific progress. This creates religious prejudice, which is what divides us
PS, I know I said I won't explain, but for anyone who still takes seriously the story that the library was made by Alexander and then burnt by the Arabs, why not take a look at this Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Library_of_Alexandria or better yet, at this article: http://www.bede.org.uk/Library2.htm
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