Rightwing Film Geek

FilmfestDC — Day 5 capsule

THE ARMY OF CRIME (Robert Guediguain, France, 1)

I will start at the end, because that is what determined a grade of such distaste as “1” — if the closing title card were removed and the facts it referred to altered in the film, my grade would probably be about a 4 or 5. I also add that if I misread or the subtitles mistranslated that ending, I will happily alter my grade.

ARMY OF CRIME is a French Resistance movie. It (also) begins at the end with a strong, incantatory reading of litany of about 20 names identified as having “died for France” to images of people in handcuffs that (we presume correctly) are the death honor roll. The first thing I noted was that many of the identified are not typically French and/or typically something else — Slav, Hungarian, Jewish and others. And that’s the key to what the movie’s about and ultimately why it nauseated me — this cell consists of exiles, mostly East Europeans, several Jews, most Communists. Which is fair and plausible enough — the makeup of anti-Nazi resistances would naturally draw on such groups, and there’s always been a cosmopolitanism streak in admirers of the French republic and muthos (“every man has two countries — his own and France,” an American Francophile president once said). And all the talk of proletarian internationalism and Popular Front and whatnot is certainly appropriate here. But this zeal causes Guediguian to cross a moral line I believe sacrosanct.

But even without those intellectual problems, ARMY OF CRIME would still strike me as an unspectacular and muddled film. The best through-line involves an Armenian poet who starts the movie as a pacifist but has to learn to lead a Resistance cell. ARMY suffers from comparison both with INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (perhaps unfairly; Tarantino couldn’t care less about history and really made a film about cinema and about his own skill in constructing set pieces, a measure by which QT painfully outdoes Guediguian) and with THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (more fairly; indeed several scenes seem like precise parallels, including the unpopular fact that both guerrilla groups were ruthlessly broken). Compared to ALGIERS though, ARMY is much less hard-headedly realistic, morally complex on civilian bombings, and has nothing on Pontecorvo’s French colonel or Morricone’s primal-wail music. Serious urban guerrillas have always been willing to kill civilians — a fact Pontecorvo presented unblinkingly in his film’s most memorable and suspenseful scene. Here, we get a bomb raid on a German officer soiree called off in mid-attack because there were women (and good-looking young ones, we’re helpfully told) as if there could ever have been doubt on that score. I also will probably never be completely happy with the spell-it-out History Channel touches inevitably found in this kind of movie.

But then there was one bit of outright fraud that made me start to question the film. The guerrilla cell is led by an Armenian who’d already seen (and describes fleeing) one mass slaughter. Subtext received, and plausible enough. But I began beating my head against the back of the stadium-seating chair when the Armenian gilded the lily (or rather Guediguian gilded his script) by explicitly mentioning Hitler’s “who remembers the Armenians today” remark, (1) the authenticity of which is disputed and not merely by Turkish denialists; (2) *certainly* wasn’t reported until after the war anyway; (3) *certainly* was not in a 1936 Reichstag speech as ARMY OF CRIME states (or any other public rhetoric; its claimed origin is a dispute with Army men about conduct during the planned invasion of Poland); and (4) refers anyway to plans to annihilate the Poles for Lebensraum — an issue of doubtful relevance to the events in ARMY OF CRIME. To quote it in dialogue supposedly taking place in 1942-43 is a travesty and a pander.

And then we get to the closing title card, which caused me to snap and say something aloud (I forget what) to the screen. It is a quote from Guediguian himself, saying as close as I can recall (and was trying to read it in both Enflish and French simultaneously) that, “in order to tell this story in a way relevant to today, I had to alter some facts.” I instantly began spitting rage. No, Robert … you didn’t HAVE to — you chose to. What are the things you chose to lie about? Are they what I think they are — a desire to turn the French Resistance into a multiculti Benneton ad avant la lettre (a cause that would certainly serve the needs of today, in the eyes of some)? Who gives an airborne fornication to supposed relevance or needs of today? And if they are such that they cannot be served by the truth about history, are they really needs or even desireable? And most relevant to your film — now that you’ve acknowledged that the needs of today, as you see them, override truth (i.e., you’re a liar for political convenience’s sake) why should anyone believe a word of your film?

April 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Filmfest DC — Day 6 grades

AUTUMN ADAGIO (Tsuki Inoue, Japan) — 8
WHITE WEDDING (Jann Turner, South Africa) — 4

April 22, 2010 Posted by | DC 2010 | Leave a comment

Filmfest DC — day 4 capsules

NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS (Bahman Ghobadi, Iran) — 4

This material about the underground pop-music scene in Tehran, though certainly better than MY TEHRAN FOR SALE, probably would have worked better as a reality-TV show (which it kinda is anyway; most of the actors are musicians playing probably some version of themselves). If this were THE REAL WORLD: TEHRAN. it would then become possible to overlook this film inadequacies as a drama, most basically that nobody in the film, with one delirious exception, can act worth excrement, particularly the central couple Negar and Ashkan. I mean the reality TV comparison literally — the “acting” is of the style you’d expect on a reality-TV show (which is to say, when viewed as drama, awful). The plot is thin and mostly winds up just a picaresque excuse to move from band to band and play what ultimately become like videos of their song (ditto the “we accept such conventions in reality TV” caveat). CATS also lacks in some of the most-basic elements of film craftsmanship — I was particularly aggravated at a early scene, in an apartment being used for disc-bootlegging, that never managed to be in proper focus, and not because shooting was hurried or threatened or Ghobadi was deliberately moving objects into or out of focus for expressive purposes.

There are two things worth seeing in this film, which make it almost worth a recommendation — one is the de-facto music videos. Not because the music is especially great but because it’s at least OK (and some of it good) and such a novelty to hear at all that you can hardly really mind. And if that judgment commit the crimes of patronizing Orientalism and tourist exoticism, then let me be guilty. I mean … who knew there were Persian rappers and heavy-metal bands? The singer for the hard-rock group (I didn’t catch its name) explicitly says his act has nothing to do with politics or religion, but their song (heavy on “King of Pain” type repetitive imagery about who’s awake all night) is as apolitical as the women’s tales in SCHEHEREZADE, TELL ME A STORY. And did you imagine you could ever hear rappers, however amusing it might be (is) to see them strut about representin’ like Public Enemy or House of Pain, complain about how, in their society, money is first and God is second?

The other thing worth seeing is the crazy, manic performance — the only one in the film that belong in any kind of dramatic movie — of Hamed Behdad as Nader, who dubs film and music disks, listens to Negar and Ashkan’s record and promises to make it a hit and get them abroad. He is only prominent in two or three scenes, but he is a clownish comic delight as the hyper-helpful, motor-mouthed, big-talking little guy who’ll make things happen. And then in one scene — let’s just say it involves a trial — we see the same persona in another context and the laughter sticks in the craw.

THE OTHER IRENE (Andrei Gruzsniczki, Romania) — 7

I’m at the point now where I want to see a bad Romanian movie, just to convince myself that my grades for the eight or so Romanian films I’ve seen in the past few years — every one at least a 6, most better, and one a “best of decade” favorite — aren’t simply a fanboy’s reflex. But across a wide variety of subject matters, they all have the same combination of urgent realism and existential gloom and an utter lack of snark or Generation-Whatevuh — a mix I’m just a sucker for. In the case of THE OTHER IRENE, it’s hard to say exactly what it’s about and how it’s about it without spoilers, so I’ll discuss more after the jump. For the front page, let me say that it makes a nod to virtually every recent Romanian festival hit and most resembles POLICE, ADJECTIVE (Dragos Bucur even has a small role, as does Vlad Ivanov), though it’s less stylistically radical — another structural exercise in a character trying to spin a narrative for the sake of his sanity and (in this case) his memories, only to be … well, what happens here (WARNING: link to a recent French classic that obviously is a giveaway too). Continue reading

April 22, 2010 Posted by | Andrei Gruzsniczki, Bahman Ghobadi, DC 2010 | Leave a comment