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On London's privileged in the wake of Brexit https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/25/london-separate-city-state-leave-voters-class
We are life which wills to live in the midst of life which wills to live. Albert Schweitzer
Fortunately some are born with spiritual immune systems that sooner or later give rejection to the illusory worldview grafted upon them from birth through social conditioning. They begin sensing that something is amiss and start looking for answers. Inner knowledge and anomalous outer experiences show them a side of reality others are oblivious to and so begins their journey of awakening. Each step of the journey is made by following the heart instead of following the crowd and by choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance. Henri Bergson
Writing comes partly out of being wounded by life. Something has had to have been bruised and shaken you a little bit; otherwise, why do we ask questions? It's very rare that people who have lived perfect lives become artists because the need to create art is connected to a need to heal something that is imperfect. Ben Okri
Africa is not only a continent in exile but also a land where people emigrate to. Abderrahmane Sissako
The impetus is northern but the theft is local, done with our complicity ... I strongly oppose the idea that Africa's key characteristic is poverty. She is the victim of her riches. I would rather we talk about pauperisation than poverty. In talking of pauperisation you pinpoint the mechanisms (of poverty) ... I say that the West has created and imposed two fears on itself: terrorism and immigration. We must stop presenting the problems' causes as the solution ... Everything can be bought or sold ... pay or die. That's the West's lesson that we inflict on ourselves. Being a writer doesn't mean I don't have a certain experience at dealing with aggressive stances in an open debate or on issues that I experience from the inside ... Why should the fate of people depend on their ability to produce and sell abroad? Today we see Africans who opt for emigration, who are economic refugees, arrested, handcuffed, deported, humiliated and sent back home. Our countries are not imploding today because, on a domestic level, the women play an important role. That is why they must refuse to be imprisoned within the conventional interpretation of the situation that says they are victims of their culture, society and men. Madame Traore during the trial of the World Bank and IMF in Bamako
I want to tell you a story. It's a Jewish story. Jacob was alone in a valley. And there he met a stranger. They started to fight. They fought and wrestled through a long, long night. But as dawn broke Jacob realised he could never defeat the stranger because the stranger was an angel. Or God. Or perhaps, all along, Jacob had simply been wrestling with himself. Sally Potter from The Tango Lesson
After an unjust death, there's nothing to say. Nothing at all. As will become plain below. From the branch of an olive tree there hung a tiny chrysalis the colour of an emerald. Tomorrow it would be a butterfly, freed from its cocoon. The tree was happy to see his chrysalis grown but secretly he wanted to keep her for a few more years. So long as she remembers me. He'd shielded her from gusts, saved her from ants. But tomorrow she would leave to confront predators and poor weather alone. That night, a fire ravaged the forest and the chrysalis never became a butterfly. At dawn, the ashes cold, the tree stood still but his heart was charred, scarred by the flames, scarred by grief. Ever since then when a bird alights on the tree, the tree tells it all about the chrysalis that never woke up. He pictures her, wings spread, flitting across a clear blue sky, drunk on nectar and freedom. The discreet witness to our love stories. The Tree and the Chrysalis by Bachir Lazhar from Monsieur Lazhar
Out of Ireland have we come, Great hatred, Little room, Maimed us at the start, I carry from my mother's womb, A fanatic heart.
WB Yeates from Remorse for Intemperate Speech
I feel that the balance between fiction and reality has changed significantly in the past decades. Increasingly their roles are reversed. We live in a world ruled by fiction of every kind - mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the pre-empting of any original response to an experience by television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. It is now less and less necessary for the writer to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality.
In the past we have always assumed that the external world around us has represented reality, however confusing or uncertain, and the inner world of our minds, its dreams, hopes, ambitions, represented the realm of fantasy and the imagination. These roles, it seems to me, have been reversed." JG Ballard
In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.
From my favourite author Joseph Conrad:
All a man can betray is his conscience.
Being a woman is a terribly difficult task since it consists principally in dealing with men.
I can't tell if a straw ever saved a drowning man, but I know that a mere glance is enough to make despair pause. For in truth we who are creatures of impulse are creatures of despair.
They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything.
Go into the arts … The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practising an art no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow … Do it as well as you can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
The list will grow as I watch more.
Un homme qui crie (2010)
A man screams whilst his country cries
This is the last of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's feature films that I have watched; not with intent to view this director's filmography but because I have a strong interest in African cinema and his films have intrigued me. This is the most satisfying of his four films. It is nearly perfect.
Every detail of the protagonist's life - Adam - stands for Chad's struggles: Tension between the new age of technology and the older perspectives that are seen as unnecessary to a brave new world that includes colonisation by stealth from China in the form of business investments. From factional fighting that would destroy the country and its young men while making refugees of the rest of the population. To questions about the wisdom of the elders and faith in God. It is not just Adam who screams but Chad. I will not elaborate on the story because other reviewers have fulfilled that role. The story is only one element of the plot as there is the political subtext as well as personal suffering that the director serves hence the film's epilogue.
Youssouf Djaoro is the tall, charismatic actor who plays Adam in all his complexities. His is a fine and nuanced performance. The decisive moment in the film where father betrays son was artful as the camera moves in slowly towards Djaoro's inscrutable face. It is a profound betrayal of much that Adam and so Chad, were invested in. It is terribly sad as is the consequences of the betrayal; again delivered in an acutely poignant manner.
The film is slow and still. It requires attention to the little that is said, to how things are portrayed and to what is unspoken and unexplained. It features the young actress and chanteuse Djénéba Koné, who, I have just discovered, is missing and presumed dead having disappeared in Mali in 2011. Discovering this after seeing the film has deepened my sorrow and is a cruel, if not poetic, footnote to the film.
Oedipus Rex (spoilers)
In recent years French cinema has been wooing American audiences and this TV series courts an American public, somewhat unsuccessfully it seems from reviews and comments.
Initially Marseille was unsatisfying; playing as brief scenes consisting of a series of lines here and there before jumping to another scene. The political story has been seen before and combined with its twitchy format, the series seemed unremarkable. Once the emotional heart of the series was exposed - a battle between father and son with obvious nods to the tragedy of Oedipus Rex - there was a change and the merciless skulduggery was given depth and edge by son trying to destroy father.
The acting was hindered by the format with good actors like Depardieu and Magimel playing caricatures of roles they have played in earlier and better days. Only Pailhaus, as the mayor's wife, had screen time to embody her character and her suffering, as befits a good tragedy. As the story line morphed into the father-son dance of death the acting improved somewhat although Magimel remained stifled.
Overall it was enjoyable and if they make a second series I will watch. I hope that if there is a second series and as big revelations were revealed in the first, more time is devoted to characterisation so that the quality of the actors is allowed to shine and where there is more mood than pace.
L'important c'est d'aimer (1975)
Man is "the ugliest things he can do" (spoilers)
I thought that Pasolini's film "Salò o le 120 Diornate di Sodoma" was the best portrait of depravity I would see but this film exceeds "Salo". It is entitled "The Important Thing is to Love" because love is the sole good thing one can do amidst a world of utter ugliness where the sum of a man is "the ugliest things he can do".
Żuławski has created a film replete with sadness, melancholy, grief and misery and it is crafted so well that it is dazzling and, at times, beautiful. He is well assisted by his cast of actors, including his three beautiful leads, and the film's composer Georges Delerue, whose signature tune haunts the film as a discordant plaint.
The film depicts the relationship of a married couple to a man who becomes infatuated with the wife. They share the world of acting, film and pornography and each is a 'prostitute' in their own way. The husband, Jacques, is suicidally depressed and finds himself outside of life and not willing to enter life and engage. His wife, Nadine, is a broken personality who feels that Jacques saved her and she desires an acting career whilst making money as a porn star. Servais is a loner with a broken father; he has become involved with a porn/sex wheeler dealer, Mazelli, who is a gangster of sorts. All yearn to break free from the world they inhabit and Servais's plan, paying to have Nadine cast as Lady Anne in an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Richard III", seems a possible means of release. Like Richard III, the film's characters are somewhat deformed yet they are less ugly in their deformities than the superficially glamorous world they inhabit.
Of course Servais's plan fails. Words attributed to Rimbaud, which are the final words of Servais's late friend who died from liver failure, capture the tormented pains of the characters:
"Turmoil originated your poetry/ Immense forces served you/ Your entrails burst, death menaces/ Chosen City!/ Consume your shrieks In the deaf trumpet."
The film's themes seem clearer than the characters and their dense opaqueness. It is a series of brief, fast changing scenes that I found jarring, perhaps the intent to underline discord and distress. It is like one long howl. It is powerful and almost perfect.
Mon pote (2010)
Likable film (slight spoilers)
With a basis in truth this film tells the tale of two men from different social worlds whose chance encounter at a prison lecture changes both their lives in unexpected ways. So unexpected that it is hard to believe and I waited throughout the film for there to be some sort of fall, especially for Bruno, the ex-con.
Leaving aside the slightly wild tale of serendipity and golden fortune, one's enjoyment of the film hinges on the authenticity of the friendship between middle-class magazine editor, Victor, and Bruno, a car thief who hails from one of Paris's notorious banlieue. Playing these respective characters are two fine French actors - Edouard Baer and Benoît Magimel.
Baer plays the sanguine Victor with an urbane ease and it would be easy to assume that Baer plays himself, such is the comfort of the fit. The film does not permit us greater access to Victor whose charming existence is undercut by money worries. Magimel plays Victor with a deft touch easily mixing light with rough. Another character fitting his actor like a glove. When Victor and Bruno laugh together it is easy to believe this is Baer and Magimel laughing together. The matches are that seamless.
The film seems weightless and easy without much to offer. It does offer us optimism and a tale of friendship. There is a subtle theme of loyalty running throughout the film. Ultimately what really pays is not crime but loyalty.
Black & White & Sex (2012)
A story of women (spoiler)
First of all, this is a beautiful film to watch. The black and white photography is sharp enough to carve out details in the skin of the actresses who all play a single sex worker called 'Angie'. At important moments the black and white is soft and casts shadows. It is erotic as Angie is never coloured in and slightly elusive in her shadows. A screen for projection yet the black and white illuminates her fleshiness.
The plot is straightforward but the content is not. 8 different actresses speak of their experiences of sex, using the 'f' word that IMDb will beep out were it to be written here, in front of a male director who can be heard but not seen - aside from the odd shot of the set and crew. The conversation begins as an interrogation from the director to Angie. She rejects this quite quickly and becomes provocative and challenging; taking control of the interview. Angie gets the director to strip naked and masturbate.
After this point the conversation relaxes into a nice to and fro that sees Angie soften and both she and the director share confidences. The film culminates, aptly, with Angie masturbating to orgasm. This ending fitted the conversation but I was not satisfied. Some important boundary seemed to have disintegrated for me.
I found watching and listening to the different actresses compelling. I found what they had to say witty and at times, very illuminating. My favourites were Angie 4 and 5, I think; an older blonde woman who sported a black mac and an Asiatic woman wearing a satin night gown. Their dialogue was the most interesting as they discussed fantasy and reality and then what sex is for women and the role pain has to play. I was riveted and felt I was learning something about my own sexuality. This is one of the gifts of film.
D'ailleurs, Derrida (1999)
Writing is a betrayal
This short, dense film tries to show us Derrida as man and philosopher. His philosophy made him one of the Twentieth century's pioneering thinkers who was disliked and reviled within his own philosophic community as much as he was respected. Revulsion is a place he knows because he is an Franco-Algerian Jew.
Using his philosophic tropes of sign, trace, mark, inclusion and exclusion, Derrida strives to make sense of his own circumcision and a broader circumcision that affects the body and/or mind in terms of wounds and scars. Wounds and scars are particular types of traces and marks that gather to themselves a desire for reconciliation, which is a meeting with an Other. They are also the family heritage and culture that is within us always. His fleshy circumcision is a psychic inheritance of being Jewish.
We follow him around his Algerian home, his Parisian flat, the lecture hall, the desert and by the sea. We hear about his mother's death, see him with cats and the sepulture he has created in his Algerian garden for the cats who die. We hear him muse on a painting (The Burial of Count Orgaz), talk about Lorca's 'Blood Wedding' and its connection to sexual repression. We meet his friend and colleague Jean-Luc Nancy, learn about Derrida's brief imprisonment and the friendship and respite from prison violence he found then. He drives, he has a piano and a print of Charlie Chaplin, he walks around museums with ancient artefacts and discusses the unconscious whilst the camera lingers on early instruments of operation, for circumcision. All of this current figure is in the context that he is old now and readying himself for death as he wonders if his view of his life and its meaning will be what he finds at the point of death.
With camera following him Derrida remarks that the film process is like writing a text; in the process of making a mark there is a movement of inclusion that excludes too. This process of exclusion is the very betrayal at the heart of writing; it is the price paid for using language, being able to make marks.
The film maker uses the environment to enhance Derrida. An attempt to lessen the exclusion although decisive choices are implicit. Derrida begins discussing sexual repression of women and we see an old tree whose trunk has been bifurcated and from which two thick branches that jut in different directions. Derrida discusses the fantasy of identity and we see him walking through well tended grounds reflected in a large, immaculate glass window. Derrida discusses secrecy and a large wooden door with metal detail appears on our screen. It is so subtle and so clever and a constant reminder of subject and context.
As to the film's title: "Elsewhere, even when near by, is always beyond a certain limit. But within yourself there is elsewhere Elsewhere, here. If it were elsewhere, it wouldn't be an elsewhere." (Derrida) The illusion is of a me who is nowhere to be found, who is ever elsewhere. It is an affront to our Abrahamic discourse that believes identity is present when in fact we are absent the moment we make a trace or mark.
"What is tragic about existence is that the meaning of what we are living is only determined at the last moment the moment of death".
Love him or loathe him, or fall betwixt, here was a man concerned most profoundly with the process of life. This film is worth more than one viewing to appreciate how the film maker portrays Derrida's abstractions. Trying to capture the thoughts in images. It is a folly of humankind to try and capture, to make present. It is a need that does not need us. It is desire and it is love. It was no surprise to learn that the film maker is an Egyptian poet.
La cour de Babel (2013)
Children are children no matter their situation (slight spoilers)
I like films that focus upon the migrant experience in a host country. This documentary follows a Parisian reception class for migrant children over the course of an academic year. The children are aged about 13 and come from many different countries with multiple reasons bringing them to France. The reception class enables them to master the French language sufficiently in order to study other subjects in a regular class. Their aim at the end of the year is to move into a regular class with children of their own age and make a success of their education.
The children are respectful in class and towards their host country even though they express mixed feelings about migrating. The film feels observational but the discussions we see the children engaged in illustrates the film maker's agenda which is to examine what it is like for children on the verge of young adulthood being uprooted and sent to a country whose language they do not know and whose value system differs from what they have lived thus far. The film is poignant and does not sentimentalise the children but there moments of pain. For example we learn that Xin, a Chinese girl separated from her mother aged four and reunited 10 years later is not happy but does not want to return to China. The other pupils find this conflict hard to bear. Then there is Kessa, from Guinea, who is distressed at being separated from her mother but whose distress is minimised as "acting out" by her female relative.
What is most clear is that these children are like any children of their age. Their wants are ordinary as are their needs, although some need comfort and stability more than others. It is clear that the children want to integrate and be accepted even though they are made to feel outsiders in the way they speak French, for example.
The bonds formed amongst the class make for sad feelings at the film's end as they part; some move on and up, others must repeat their year. Their teacher is moving on too and the attachment that some pupils form towards her illustrates the power of education. Learning things, learning facts, learning about relationships and how to become a person. These features do not change because you are a migrant.
One of the myths connected to the Tower of Babel is the belief that the world's multiple languages originated within the tower. This myth is an apt image for class in the film where there is enormous diversity of languages. I was astonished at the many different countries and languages represented and the end credits provide further comment on this as the children are listed alongside their nationalities. If you have an interest in pedagogy and language then this is film is a must.
Nebesnyy verblyud (2015)
The celestial camel
Bayir is on the periphery of being a teenager. He is the eldest of three children in an agricultural family living on the Kalmyk steppe. His mother is expecting a fourth child and so his father sells the baby camel that his adult female gave birth to recently. This camel calf, Altynka, is believed by the family's Kalmyk tradition to be a celestial camel whose arrival heralds luck with the rain needed on the steppe. Bayir is appalled that his father is selling Altynka but cannot argue with the financial needs of the family.
Altynka has been sold to a film director who requires a white camel having lost his last one to an on-set fire. Altynka's future does not seem kind in the hands of the director.
When Bayir's parents depart for the hospital after his mother goes into labour, he is left in charge of his younger siblings and the animals. Unfortunately Altynka's mother, Mara, escapes. Her escape is a disaster as she is used to source and pump water for the family's flock of sheep. Bayir leaves his younger siblings in chase of Mara, who is following Altynka's scent across the steppe.
What follows is a road movie during which we meet various characters who share the arid steppe. We are acquainted with Kalmyk life and folklore and during the process Bayir starts to come of age.
The camels in the film are amazing and their scenes with Bayir very touching. The film is mostly very beautiful aside from contrasting dirty, industrial scenes where we see Altynka out of place and mistreated. The people that Bayir meets, the tales and folklore, the landscape and open spaces are wonderful. The film plays with the polarities of tradition versus modernity, magic/superstition versus pragmatism and relationships based on liking or need versus those purchased by money. You might guess which ones are valued within the film.
There is no doubt that life can be as harsh and arid as the steppe but one is left with a sense of happy equilibrium as people occupy their space at one with its nature and animals. This film is highly recommended for adults as well as children.
Hot topic (spoilers)
Never has a tale of an African migrant crossing the Mediterranean sea from Tripoli to Southern Italy been so timely. Daily reports of large numbers making the perilous journey abound and this path of migration into Europe and the EU is one of the many routes being used.
This tale looks at what happens to those African migrants who survive the journey and arrive in Italy seeking work to provide for their families back home and establish a life in their host country. This film is set in the present but it harks back to a riot in 2010 when the migrants protested their treatment by the local population in Rosarno. Rosarno is a town at the toe of the boot that is Italy on maps. This film is the biography of real life migrant Koudous Seihon, who appears in the film playing himself under the character name of Aviya. It is Aviya, a new arrival from Burkina Faso, that we follow and it is his perspective on events with which the film is concerned.
Aviya travels with his friend Abas from Burkina Faso to Algeria and then across the land border into Libya before crossing the Mediterranean. Along the way we witness Aviya being a chameleon who adapts to his situation and makes the best efforts to get ahead regardless of what is happening around him. He sells shoes to his fellow migrants for the desert crossing. He negotiates his friend's seat for the journey. He is a survivor.
There are lots of details during the journey that are not lingered on but inform the attentive viewer that surviving is a feat in itself. People are robbed and shot. People are sea sick and, when the boat's motor ceases, people cannot swim. Those who can and make it to a temporary sea refuge from which to hail for help are not strong enough to hang on. Bodies, lost lives and with them hopes and needs litter the way.
Upon arrival in Italy Aviya and Abas discover that living conditions are somewhat worse than they left in Burkina Faso. Home is a make shift hut with no insulation, a burner for wood and a thin quilt. There is no running water, rats occupy the same quarters and food is as and when. Nonetheless the migrants are not giving up; a market of sorts has emerged in the shanty town and there are locals willing to do trade. Work is not readily available and when it is, it is back breaking, potentially dangerous and low paid. Aviya sets himself to cultivating relationships with dealers, with local employers, with their families and with his other migrants. Abas rebels, angered by the way they are being treated. When one considers the challenges and traumas of their journey Abas's anger and contempt are understandable.
Tensions culminate in a spontaneous riot after two migrants were shot by police. During the riot Abas is beaten to a pulp and he seems unlikely to survive. Aviya survives and takes stock of his situation. Initially he wants to return home; emotional, tired and defeated he cannot see how to survive. Then a Skype conversation with his sister and young daughter ignites the last of his resolve and it appears he stays. The film leaves open Aviya's ultimate decision and fate but Koudous Seihon did stay. He was present at a Q/A conducted at the London Film Festival and in the company of the director, Jonas Carpignano and the actor who played Abas, Alassane Sy.
In spite of its bleak story this film is a pot-pourri of feelings: There is anger, hatred, racism, aggression and love, desire, fun, laughter, lots of humour and grief, sorrow and longing. The film was made on location in Southern Italy and Rosarno. It has the support of the residents of Rosarno and it is an important document for the European populace. The film does not attempt any answers; it shows how it was for one man. If migrants are not dissuaded from making the journeys then Europe and the wider Western world needs a better policy and response to those who survive.
La Mujer de Barro (2015)
Backwards in time, returning to mud (slight spoilers)
This is a difficult film to review as most of the narration is done through inference, symbol, by what is not said and by the thoughts the viewer brings when watching. The plot is embedded rather than explicit: A woman, Maria, has a young daughter who is doing well at school and the woman wants better things for her daughter than she herself achieved. She sends her daughter to live with friends whilst she journeys across the Argentine border into Chile to join itinerant workers picking grapes. She has taken this employment in the past a long time ago. She is startled to encounter a man she worked with before; each recognises the other but the recognition is not amicable. She explains she has not returned sooner because she has a daughter. We watch the female workers as they cut the grapes from the vines and package them for onward sale. They work in hot, dry conditions where water is scant. Important communications are done by a man carrying a particular flag and, as we see, are missed at critical times.
Maria forms a bond with one of the women, Violeta, who is somewhat rowdy but well intentioned. They make plans together for employment and a holiday after they finish fruit picking. The plans are disrupted by Violeta being injured during the course of work. Maria has been injured too in a sharp and brutal scene. The brutality is visceral rather than visual. Maria covers herself with mud, which was discussed earlier with Violeta as a beauty treatment. She walks as a "mud woman" around the lake where she had been injured and then plunges into the water. She does not resurface and there the film ends.
Most subtly the film looks at class issues and the plight of single women who are exploited. In this way it is deeply political. The image of a mud woman remembers also the Incas and the film feels like a psychological regression. The photography of the film is beautiful because the arid landscape is beautiful. The dialogue is scant and this is a bare film about a bare existence.