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Renault 12 (2018)
Self-centered and unhealthy
It was not easy for me to rate this movie because the rating kept changing while I was watching it. It started as "good" (7/10), but then I felt some kind of discomfort without being able to understand what was bothering me, which made the movie so-so (6/10), until I realized suddenly that I simply disliked the guy.
The switch occurred when his sister asked him to stop filming and he kept going. When a woman says no, she does not want you to do it, when she asks you to stop and you keep doing it because you want to, I'm sorry but that's called rape. Of course it is not as bad but it's the spirit. This very scene is followed by the best scene-by far-in the whole movie: his sister explains how the filmmaker is using their mother's death to further his career, and that he is completely selfish about it, as if he owned her death. One can't help but wonder who is stupid enough to put such a truthful condemnation of a movie in the movie itself. As soon as his sister told him all this, he should have dropped the project altogether but no, the filmmaker apparently feels he is well above anything in this world, he is so smart, he is so proud to be a guest on the intellectual French Radio "France Culture" that he just discards such childish warnings (or, even better, put them in the movie as evidence of his intellectual honesty). These people are hicks, he's educated, he knows best, he'll do it anyway. In this day and age, this sounds pretty Trumpian.
Once you start "understanding" his personality, the movie turns sour pretty quickly. You feel that his grief is indeed just an excuse to speak about himself, - the little boy his mother loved the most, - you question the sincerity of the tears, and the testimonies of his family about his mother all fall flat. The title of the movie does not help: it is the name of old car model by French carmaker Renault. I can't wait for a movie about a genocide named after a hotel brand because the filmmaker slept in these hotels while shooting the documentary. To begin with, speaking about your grief in public does not sound very healthy, psychoanalytically speaking. The saddest people in the world don't rush to call people to film their pain, they just cry alone or in utter privacy. But you also cannot bind sincere grief with such superficial topics as how Renault-12 is the perfect car for drug smuggling, or the troubles you face with your inheritance. Finally I also had the impression that the filmmaker made fun of the people he met and showed in this movie. He seems to think: "How charmingly naive these country folks are! I absolutely need to capture their words to show my brilliant Parisian friends how backward they are, that'll be a good laugh." It is not as bad as that but, again, that's the spirit.
I am sure many people will enjoy this movie, especially those who share the mindset of the filmmaker, but his vanity and lack of compassion, his disrespect and shamelessness in exploiting people and events to his profit, as well as the bo-bo (bourgeois-bohème), smartass and see-how-cool-I-am attitude, ruined it for me. My final rating (5/10) is pretty generous and rewards the tiny bits that managed to make it into the movie against the filmmaker's will, in particular his sister's wisdom and sincerity, and the little cultural knowledge that transpired nonetheless. But, please, don't take my (humble) word and watch it yourself. Having lost my own mother in very similar circumstances, I may be biased in that I don't think grief should be a public affair, let alone a commercial one, but I may be weird.
Interesting but biased
First let me state the obvious: all humans are the same, with the same rights, the same qualities, the same flaws, there is no such thing as a race, and no culture is better or worse than another. Racism is stupid. Going even further, everything living being deserves respect.
All that said, this documentary is as intolerant as what it condemns. What they show is obviously awful but this does not give the folks in the movie the right to judge anybody from the past. They should show the pictures and state the facts objectively, but the whole documentary is instead a huge trial, the narrator speaks like an inquisitor who condemns everybody as he sees fit. They are so convinced that they are right (and they are, strangely enough) that, if they had lived in the 16th century, they would themselves have killed native americans because they would have been convinced that non-Christians were animals. It is easy to be a humanist a posteriori. The folks in this movie appear endoctrinated about something that just happens to be right, but they are still endoctrinated. Historians should not be judges. But, to conclude, the worst thing in this documentary is still the narrator's voice, with its preacher's tone full of hatred and the cheap dramatic theatrics that are not suited for historical events.
Final note: some of my ancestors were slaves and went through some of the inhumane treatments described in this documentary, so what is shown and said means a lot to me. But, if the words are correct and should be told, they are are not told the right way here. Let us comdemn historical bigotry without being bigots outselves.
War of Art (2019)
Outrageous documentary about contemporary-art missionaries in North Korea
Disclaimer: I am French and I have no connection whatsoever with North Korea, be it genetically, historically, or philosophically.
This is the 999th documentary I rate. That's a lot of documentaries. Yet I can say with hardly any doubt that this is the most outrageous documentary I have ever seen. I am even surprised they actually released it. If I had been one of the producers, I would have called it quits and marked the expenses as lost revenues.
I have watched maybe half a dozen documentaries about North Korea. I read the news related to that country like anybody else, nothing less, nothing more. I hence have a basic knowledge how how the regime works, the values of their society, and I am well aware of the indoctrination of the North-Korean people, which is clearly visible in this documentary. I am even able to see some positive things in their society; for example an artist in the documentary asked his North-Korean translator about his dreams, like having an apartment or a car, and the translator was surprised by such a shallow dream and said with a great innocence that they don't have that kind of dreams in North Korea.
What is so outrageous about this movie? Well, imagine you invite a few people to your house. You do your best to receive and accommodate your guests. You know that the people visiting you do not share your values so you tell them gently how to behave: we use forks, please do not eat with your fingers like a child; do not throw food on the table or drop wine on the tablecloth; we are quiet people, please do not scream, make dirty jokes, smoke, drink enough to be sick. These are your humble rules and you tell them to your guests. Sounds reasonable? Well, as soon as you told them the rules, the guests eat like pigs, swear, scream, etc. You try to contain them and ask them to stop. Do they? Hell no, they misbehave even more. You insist: please, we welcomed you, respect us, do not do things that bother us. Now they go even further: they insult you. You know nothing, understand nothing, they do you a favor coming to you stupid ugly house, your food stinks, your tastes are awful, why don't you grow up and be adults like them? You are really really polite, maybe too much, and tell them to stop. The more you do so, the more they misbehave and insult you.
That's what this documentary does. No matter what you think of the regime in North Korea, you are going to their country, they welcome you, they are polite. Yet the few guests who came to visit spend their time laughing at their hosts, being arrogant, insulting, provocative. They claim they know better and the more you watch the documentary, the more you understand that they are rather uninformed individuals who live in a fantasy world, like the North Korean they make fun of. They have no empathy, no curiosity, not a bit of understanding of people who do not live like them. And I am sure they would claim they have all of these, because it sounds good to say so.
Did you ever think about Europeans who went to Africa to "educate" Africans? Did you wish you could witness missionaries going to America and teach the native population about the truth of Christianity? Does colonialism and imperialism make you sick? Well, now is your chance to see it in real time. You will be sick seeing the "artists" in this documentary go to a foreign country and make fun of basically everything the inhabitants do, and try to "educate" them.
Somebody intelligent, educated, curious, would go to North Korea to understand their culture, share his/her vision of art, have an exchange. There is no exchange in this movie: the neo-conquistador come as the masters who need to enlighten the savages. No wonder North Koreans find capitalist countries despicable if these are the folks we send there. For once, they make an effort to open up and have an intelligent discussion, they only receive rude arrogant visitors. At the end of the movie, you can clearly see the North Koreans look at the artists, clap and think: "What a bunch of idiots!" The foreigners laughed at North Korea all along the movie, and North Koreans laughed at them at the end, thinking that, if that's what the West has to offer, god, we are very lucky to live in North Korea. Honestly, I think North Koreans in this movie were more sympathetic and open-minded than the westerners who visited them.
There is the rare exception of the Irish woman who showed some empathy with the translator at some point. There is also the message that the filmmaker tried to convey about life in North Korea: he showed people in the streets, lovers, friends and families, all smiling and rather happy, while we could hear Donald Trump in the background saying awful things about the country, and you could clearly see that the filmmaker was trying to say that life in North Korea may be hard, or very hard if you go against the system, but that they may not be the absolute monsters that the media describe in the West. Thank you, mister filmmaker, for your tolerance and curiosity, because the contemporary artists in this movie shamed us beyond words. Thinking that these people are esteemed in their respective countries is amazing. North-Korean artists have more to learn from world-class Chinese contemporary artists than from the fellows in this movie.
Philosophical, poetic and just freaking awesome
I have rated more than a thousand documentaries on IMDB. This is one of the most profound and beautiful ones.
It may seem simple at first but it really shows the genius of the American people (I am French, by the way), the freedom and desire to be oneself, but also the hardship of being oneself, accepting your imperfections and turn them into a strength. The power of dreams too, the dare to be different and be proud of it. The beauty of accepting others as they are too, and loving them for who they are, without judging, without belittling them.
This is the America that Trump hates, but this is the America that the world needs. Live your dreams, be happy, love each other. Being wealthy and famous won't make you happy, but a mermaid tail could. Find your own tail, and enjoy life!
Like watching two hours of torture in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq
Like a couple other reviewers, I am surprised this movie is rated so high. People seem to rate the cause against animal cruelty, not a movie. The cause is noble and of primary importance, but the movie is very bad and, as noted by another reviewer, it is nothing but propaganda. Is propaganda about a good cause okay? I believe it is not.
Propaganda is manipulating the mind of people without giving them a chance to think. Propaganda always shows one side of reality. The far-right in the US will show only the footage of immigrants that do bad stuff. After two hours of such images, you'll be convinced that immigrants are bad people. They won't show you the kind immigrant with love-filled eyes and smile, who is leading a humble and fulfilling life. In the same way, what about all the small farmers worldwide that love their animals and treat them ethically? We are given statistics about animal in this documentary but how many of them are treated as badly as what we see? 99%? 50%? 1%? This would make a huge difference, like with immigrations. You can't show all the bad cases and make it look as if you are showing all there is. That's dishonest.
I am very happy if this movie made some people realize how bad animals are treated in the industry today, but I didn't need to watch it to know. This is like watching a two hour movie showing the awful torture sessions that took place in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. If you are a judge in a tribunal and need evidence, watching torture is indispensable to rest your case and punish those who committed atrocities but what good can it do for the general public to watch such awful images? You've got to be masochistic.
This documentary is worse than watching the archive footage from Nazi death camps because you "only" saw dead bodies in Auschwitz. Now imagine the crazy nazies had filmed thousand of hours of their killings and torture, would you watch it? I personally would watch ten minutes, cry my eyes out and turn it off. Viewing such cruelty is an act of cruelty by itself. When ISIS put videos of hostage beheading online, these videos were not shown on TV because they are too awful to show. Watching this documentary is like watching two hours of ISIS beheading and be horrified. Again, a few minutes is enough to understand. Watching more is sick.
A last and even more relevant example would be to film a woman being raped and show it to people while calmly explaining all the phases of the rape. Only sick people would watch it. My first action would be to call to the police and complain. If the police didn't do anything because the rapist is a wealthy man and they dare not intervene, I'd step up the action and go and knock off the man myself to make it stop. Filming the rape without intervention to get evidence of the crime would sound very strange. What did the people who collect these images do about it?
The people obviously guilty of animal cruelty in this movie should be charged the same day the footage was shot. Were they? If not, isn't that movie hypocritical? Isn't it like saying: "We didn't do anything but we'll show it to you and hope you'll do something about it. Please act."
I am not completely stupid and I understand that there is not much you can do while remaining lawful (unlawful action would be to physically confront the people and the owners and force them to stop), but I can't believe watching through two hours of purely barbaric images will do any good to anybody. As I said, watch ten minutes of it, puke, turn it off and go to the authorities to complain. These people are criminals and should be charged as such.
In France these images would automatically trigger an arrest and an investigation. There are still many cruelty cases against animal in the EU, with the blessing of governments for supposedly economic reasons, but things are changing and I believe there won't be any such place in a couple decades. I hope I am right. This documentary does not tell anything about what is going on in the courts and legislation.
Animal cruelty must stop. Watching this movie won't make it stop. It will make you sick, that's all. Now next time you go and buy meat, ask where it comes from. If they don't know, it comes from these places; don't buy it. But how many people will stop buying meat of unknown origin just because they watched this movie and rated it 10? Not many, I believe. Which makes it even more hypocritical.
Context: I'm a French leftist who loves Europe (more than France even) but hates what the EU has become. I believe Brexit is a bad thing for the UK but a good thing for the EU, and that other countries that don't share the ideals of Europe (Hungary, Poland, Italy, maybe Austria, the Czech republic) should also leave. The remaining countries would then become a federation with a single passport, a single army, the same laws and rights everywhere, and a common environment-friendly humanistic dream. Nationalism has no place in Europe. I would not be surprised if the EU had taken a much better path if the UK had never been part of it. I believe the UK is corrupted by money and special interests, like the US. The focus on money is what has ruined the EU and why citizens have come to hate Europe. As I said, I am a leftist, so no big surprise here.
As for the documentary, like another reviewer, what strikes me the most in this documentary is the absolute mediocrity of the people that are presented to us, who behave more like high schoolers than like world-class diplomats and negotiators. I have been lucky enough to work with world-class American intellectuals for a few years and nobody in this documentary comes even close to being a world-class mind. The worst of the bunch is undoubtedly Guy Verhofstadt himself, who appears nothing less than simple minded, with awful humor and naive thinking. Michel Barnier is the only person who is not completely ridiculous, without being that impressive either. World diplomats must be laughing when they meet such mediocre European officials. In fact Theresa May is the only person in the documentary that seems strikingly smart. Not as smart as Trump, of course, but who is?
If you want to be ashamed of being European, watch this documentary. I am surprised that the people in this documentary did not see how embarrassing it is for them. They may even have thought that they looked cool somehow. Poor them, and poor us.
Important historical information
This documentary could and should have been good. The personality of Albert Speer and his decision to plead guilty make his trial a very significant one to understand how anybody not completely psychopathic and with some (apparent) morality can get involved in war crimes. But this movie is pretty awful in its choice of re-enacting historical scenes even though historical footage of the trial is available. If the actors had been world-class, it would make some sense, - maybe, - but this is not the case. When you see the archive footage of Speer or Göring, and then suddenly switch to the actors that impersonate them, the contrast is striking. This documentary should have included only archive footage and interviews of historians, psychologists, and historical witnesses.
Je vois rouge (2018)
A young woman's ego trip
I watch a lot of documentaries. I love them. Among those I really enjoy personal experiences, personal quests, which, though specific, allow one to better understand the world of others, one step after another. It makes us more understanding, tolerant, compassionate. This documentary is such a personal quest, I should have liked it but I did not.
First I think, as the title of this review suggests, that this film is before anything else an ego-trip project. In personal-quest documentaries, one usually asks a lot of questions to others, one goes into the world to find meaning. The filmmaker here appears in almost all the shots, and you can clearly see that she is acting (although unconsciously, I'm sure) to appear at her best. She's acting curious, thrilled, happy, serious, moved, and so on. Not to mention the omnipresent "ain't I cute?" feeling. A documentary director should focus on the topic of the film, not on herself/himself. Except for a few characters, in particular her father and the driving teacher, all individuals are too aware of the camera to have any journalistic significance. Her mother is particularly helpless in the movie, especially when she argues for five minutes that she may not be in the movie at all because it's too private, yet you can clearly see that it's her own ego trip too and she dies to be in it, be it with a little drama at the end. The only person who could have been really helpful and meaningful, her father, quickly stepped out of the movie as he understood that his daughter did not have the right approach. I disagree with his idea that these things should be forgotten (though I'd say the same thing if I were him), but he's certainly right when he says that his daughter is not doing anything worthwhile, that she's merely jumping up and down.
Second, there is absolutely no depth in the analysis on the chosen topic. We chronologically go through random events with little historic substance. We all know that citizens were under surveillance in former communist countries. Did we learn anything more here? Nope. All we get are vague impressions about vague documents, as if learning that you were under surveillance is worth one hour and half of an audience.
The underlying problem is that the filmmaker is too young and too much of a dilettante to make a movie on such a difficult topic. She admits herself that she's 30 and she had never asked herself "that" question. What I learned once more in this movie is that one should not do something they don't understand, especially when people who understand better tell you not to do it. This young woman comes out as a stubborn brat who shoots herself in the foot and is proud to show it to the world. If you are of a millennial and find self-centered watch-me-brush-my-teeth youtube videos informative, you might enjoy this movie. Personally I found it disturbing by its vacuity and I would be surprised if this young woman won't be ashamed of it in a few years. I am sure she's a smart lady who just didn't realize what she was doing at that time in her life.
An elephant giving birth to a mouse.
I am sorry I am so harsh but I find it very distressing that this kind of film could become the new norm. I have seen a few of them already.
Europe at Sea (2017)
Interesting and accurate, but on the propagandish side
As a European with deep humanistic values, what this documentary deals with is interesting and very important to me. It is even sad that this is the first documentary I have seen (I watch many) on such major topics: much-needed Europe's defense and diplomacy. But I must say this "documentary" really felt like propaganda to me, especially by the role it gives to Federica Mogherini, who appears as the savior of Europe somehow. I'm sure she's a nice lady who's trying to help, but her name is mentioned so many times in a cult-of-personality way that it made me uncomfortable. Also some precious time is wasted listening to rather-cliché ideas and speeches, which could have been used to get the opinion and analysis of researchers. The documentary is, in the end, a bit shallow and does hardly answer any question at all.
Both interesting and pathetic
First of all, I must mention that I agree with Ziegler's analysis of world affairs. We are on the same side, so anything negative I'll say in the following is not biased by politics.
As a leftie, my congnitive confirmation bias was pleased to hear Jean Ziegler say what should be said more often in my opinion. But, as an intellectual aspiring to wisdom, watching this man talk for one hour and half is nothing but scary. As a summary, I would argue that Jean Ziegler is like Noam Chomsky but without the intelligence nor the charisma. He comes out as a submissive child who learned a limited set of ideas when he was young and keeps repeating those ideas without ever thinking deeply about them. Sorry but the world is more complicated than what you think sir!
My guess is that he was from a left-leaning family which programmed his behavior for the rest of his life. He would absolutely hate to read this but his behavior is fascistic in nature. Had he been born to a alt-right family, he would have been a Trump supporter. Had he been born to a Nazi family, he would have been a fervent member of the Nazi youth. In short, the guy is scary and quite dangerous in my view. We must be thankful that he was not smart enough to have had a political role in Europe; he's just talking and some people (who don't know better) like what he says. He is certainly not somebody I'd quote to make a point or explain my view to others. Making a documentary about him does not seem to be a good idea in his own interest.
Finally, given the shallowness of his views, I can't help but think that deep-thought Jean-Paul Sartre must have been secretly smiling listening to him...
Little Land (2013)
Teaches you how to be a failure and document it
It must be a modern trend: this documentary is about a "failure story". If you were bored with success stories, then you'll love this movie. It will show you how to believe you understood everything about life, how to act on this belief, and how to fail while invoking a lot of good reasons to explain a posteriori why you failed.
The premise of the project is sound: young people are fed up with urban life and want to settle on a beautiful island, rediscover an ancestral lifestyle and change the world. Great. But their quest is quixotic at best and nothing goes as expected. They were dreamers who suddenly realize (did they really? I wonder) that real life is not a fairy tale. It's easy to come as conquerers but it is difficult to actually conquer anything.
If one removed the uninteresting life and shallow thoughts of these young dreamers, the remainging documentary would be worthwhile: the lovely old folks speak words of wisdom and one can feel their philosophy and their deep happiness. Unfortunately the remaining movie would be very short, a matter of minutes. But the biggest part of this documentary won't teach you anything: all in all, we all know how to be failures, don't we?
Mythos Oper: Carmen (2017)
Narrowly scoped and lacking depth
Reading the French title (Le mythe de Carmen/The myth of Carmen), I expected a documentary that would tell me about the origin of Carmen, the genesis of the myth, the influence it had in the arts from the 19th century until now, an academic analysis of a myth like what could be done for ancient-Greece myths, with literature researchers, historians, musicologist, etc. that would share their meaningful knowledge of the iconic character. There are many such well-made documentaries about art and Carmen sure deserved one. Well, I was disappointed.
The German title is more accurate: this is nothing but the episode in a series of documentary about mythic operas that hapens to be dedicated to Bizet's Carmen. But, even then, one could expect to have a throrough review of the history of this opera, its genesis, the history of its staging from the first performance until today, the controversy of its first performance. Well, I was disappointed again: this is a documentary about a single performance of the opera, more or less, with interviews of a few singers, one musician, and the director-as well as a pathetic act by an actress that tries to embody Carmen between the different chapters.
The points of view of performers can be interesting but, from a scholar perspective, they lack depth and offer a subjective and rather naive analysis of the personality of Carmen. I personally learned nothing from the opinions expressed by the performers and the director. They appeared uninformed and amateurish. If I were a bit cynical, I'd say that the documentary could have featured Donald Trump giving his enlightened opinion of Carmen. Being famous is not enough to be able to provide an insight into a wide and subtle topic.
Finally, I can even say that I found the depiction of Carmen particularly vulgar in the different scenes shown in the documentary. Carmen was no lady but it is way too easy to turn her into a woman in heat living in an ugly and dirty environment, among vulgar men. It is appalling (yet not surprising) that's what the bourgeois Parisian "intellectuals" have come to enjoy. I can't help but believe that Bizet would throw up if he saw what these people made of his opera. But I understand that "il faut de tout pour faire un monde" and that I can't claim I have a better insight into the world of Carmen than everybody else. Still, I believe Carmen is more beautiful, refined and complex than what is shown therein. She deserved better.