The complete statement : Foreign language Oscar nominees blame ‘leading politicians’ for inciting fear and bigotry across the world

The six directors in the running for this year’s foreign language Oscar have issued a joint statement blaming “leading politicians” for the fear they feel is creating “divisive walls”.

These filmmakers have condemned “the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the US and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians”.

The statement is signed by Asghar Farhadi, the director of Iran’s The Salesman, Martin Zandvliet, director of Denmark’s Land of Mine, Hannes Holm, director of Sweden’s A Man Called Ove, Maren Ade, director of Germany’s Toni Erdmann and Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, joint directors of Australia’s Tanna.

On behalf of all nominees, we would like to express our unanimous and emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S. and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, most unfortunately of all, among leading politicians.

The fear generated by dividing us into genders, colors, religions and sexualities as a means to justify violence destroys the things that we depend on – not only as artists but as humans: the diversity of cultures, the chance to be enriched by something seemingly “foreign” and the belief that human encounters can change us for the better. These divisive walls prevent people from experiencing something simple but fundamental: from discovering that we are all not so different.

So we’ve asked ourselves: What can cinema do? Although we don`t want to overestimate the power of movies, we do believe that no other medium can offer such deep insight into other people’s circumstances and transform feelings of unfamiliarity into curiosity, empathy and compassion – even for those we have been told are our enemies.

Regardless of who wins the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film on Sunday, we refuse to think in terms of borders. We believe there is no best country, best gender, best religion or best color. We want this award to stand as a symbol of the unity between nations and the freedom of the arts.

Human rights are not something you have to apply for. They simply exist – for everybody. For this reason, we dedicate this award to all the people, artists, journalists and activists who are working to foster unity and understanding, and who uphold freedom of expression and human dignity – values whose protection is now more important than ever. By dedicating the Oscar to them, we wish to express to them our deep respect and solidarity.

statement

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Mediocre ‘musical’ La La Land deserves to win at the Oscars – it’s a story for our uninspiring age

Will Brooker is a Professor of Film and Cultural Studies, Kingston University.

la-la-land-kiss-e1481856498407La La Land deserves its record-breaking 14 Oscar nominations, I now realise. When I saw the movie, I wasn’t blown away. A pleasant entertainment, with a pretty central couple and some nice frocks. Two actors dancing like the celebrity winners of Strictly Come Dancing and singing like cruise-ship karaoke. You applaud their efforts and can, to an extent, understand the critical acclaim. We need pleasant distractions right now, in the face of Trump and Brexit. We need nostalgia. I didn’t think it deserved the five star reviews, but I appreciate that people enjoy escapism, especially in a time like this.

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Dreaming, scheming, never growing old: remembering Abbas Kiarostami (1940 – 2016)

Joobin Bekhrad is the Founder and Editor of REORIENT, as well as the Co-Founder of artclvb, an online platform for contemporary Middle Eastern art. He is also the author of a new translation of Omar Khayyam’s poems from Persian into English.

Joobin Bekhrad
Joobin Bekhrad

MoC_CLOSE_UP_Kiarostami.jpgI didn’t grow up with Kiarostami’s films. I discovered Abbas Kiarostami long after he’d become Kiarostami, during the same time that I began devouring everything having to do with Iranian culture. I vaguely remember visiting the Film Museum off of Vali-ye Asr Avenue in Tehran with my friend one hot summer’s day, when I was around 16 years old. I had no idea who the man in the sunglasses was, only that he was of significance where Iranian cinema was concerned. To people like my friend (a film buff now working in the industry in Iran), directors like Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Dariush Mehrjui were demigods, not mere mortals; they had set the gold standard for Iranian art house cinema, and all and sundry took their cues from them. I remember hearing Kiarostami’s name more than anyone else’s though; it was he, apparently, who headed the pantheon of Iran’s great post-Revolution directors. It therefore only seemed natural that when beginning my foray into the seemingly endless ocean of Iranian cinema, I’d begin with his films. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, but as long as Kiarostami’s name was on the tin, I knew I was in good company.

Read the entire article here on reorientmag

Our Children

Louis Proyect, the author of this piece, is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list, where his various articles first appear. For information on how to subscribe to the list, go here. Active in socialist politics since 1967, he has given workshops on the Internet to community and union groups, as well as moderating a Marxist mailing list on the Internet that can be linked to above. He has also created a small archive of the writings of James M. Blaut, an outstanding scholar and revolutionary. Proyect’s articles, many of which appeared originally as postings to the Marxism list, have appeared in Sozialismus (Germany), Science and Society, New Politics, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Organization and Environment, Cultural Logic, Dark Night Field Notes, Revolutionary History (Great Britain), New Interventions (Great Britain), Canadian Dimension, Revolution Magazine (New Zealand), Swans and Green Left Weekly (Australia). He is also a proud member of the NY Film Critics Online. He also run a blog. He can be reached at lnp3[at]panix.com.

Louis Proyect

Our Children is based on a tragic incident in which a Belgian woman named Genevieve Lhermitte killed her five children during a period of extreme psychological stress. She lived with her husband Bouchaib Moqadem in the house of an elderly Belgian physician upon whom the couple was dependent. Director and screenwriter Joachim Lafosse has taken the bare bones of the story and transformed it into a general meditation on dependency with the elderly doctor serving as a symbol of colonialism and the wife as her Moroccan husband’s subject within the household. At first blush, the title “Our Children” would seem to refer to the four children (the film changes the number of offspring for no obvious reason) but upon further reflection points to the colonial and patriarchal relationships that taint this tragic household.

Leaving no doubt about the outcome, the film starts with Murielle lying in a hospital bed inquiring whether it would be possible for her murdered children to be buried in Morocco. It was not what the young lovers Mounir and Murielle would have expected years earlier, driving along in their car in perfect bliss. He proposes and she accepts. He then reveals his plans to his adoptive father, a physician named André Pinget who scowls upon hearing the news, adding that a young man should not get married to the first woman who gives him a blow job.

Despite his seeming aversion to a perfectly lovely young woman who has the advantage of being an educated woman of good Belgian stock, he ultimately accepts her as a daughter-in-law and even more generously as a resident in the apartment that he has shared with Mounir since he was a young boy. For reasons never explored in the film, Pinget has become entwined with a Moroccan family. After marrying Mounir’s older sister solely to allow her to become a Belgian citizen, he adopts Mounir, leaving his younger brother to languish in a backward Moroccan village. When his brother comes to France for the wedding, he lashes out at him in resentment, telling him that everybody in the village “knows” that he in an incestuous relationship with his adoptive father.

Despite earning a medical degree, Mounir is having trouble finding work. In an interview, a Belgian doctor tells him that his skills are inadequate. Once again, Pinget comes to the rescue in dubious fashion. He invites Mounir to work for him, thus tightening his control over the young man.

As Pinget’s grip over Mounir tightens, so does his over his wife. Within what appears to be a span of about six years, four children have come into the world—three girls and a boy, the latest arrival. Like one of the women profiled in Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique”, Murielle—an elementary schoolteacher forced to devote herself to child-rearing, cleaning, and preparing André and Mounir’s dinner—is growing increasingly desperate in a claustrophobic environment. After talking her husband into moving to Morocco, he broaches the subject with André who explodes at him: “I raised you for twenty years and now your are dumping me?” The solution is for the doctor and the family he controls with a tight leash is to move into a larger house. Of course, this is no solution at all and Murielle’s despair deepens.

In the press notes for “Our Children”, the finest narrative film I have seen in 2013, Joachim Lafosse touches on the subject of colonialism:

There is a colonialist dimension to the character: a European who has adopted a young North African…

Lafosse: Precisely. The problem with colonialism is that the colonizer doesn’t make his history with the colonized official, he doesn’t recognize it. It remains unofficial and secret for him. Doctor Pinget presents himself as Mounir’s adoptive father but he isn’t because he hasn’t given him his name. That’s why I would say instead that Mounir is Pinget’s protégé, with all the ambiguity that entails. That is one of the things that fascinated me. You don’t make a film with ideas but with characters. That’s the lesson that the Dardenne brothers teach us. And here the characters are what I care about. How do you break free of someone who has given you everything, who has been your protector, your teacher, your educator? It can be a dangerous gift. We can imagine that André Pinget finds it hard expressing his love, that he is concealing a fragile side of his personality. That is what I told Niels Arestrup who plays him: “Your character is like a little boy who has to hand out sweets all the time to have friends in the schoolyard! And if he doesn’t have any sweets, he thinks that no one will love him!” André can only imagine bonds from that angle. That is the tragedy of his life and it’s a vicious circle.

Fact versus fiction in three new films

Louis Proyect, the author of this piece, is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list, where his various articles first appear. For information on how to subscribe to the list, go here. Active in socialist politics since 1967, he has given workshops on the Internet to community and union groups, as well as moderating a Marxist mailing list on the Internet that can be linked to above. He has also created a small archive of the writings of James M. Blaut, an outstanding scholar and revolutionary. Proyect’s articles, many of which appeared originally as postings to the Marxism list, have appeared in Sozialismus (Germany), Science and Society, New Politics, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Organization and Environment, Cultural Logic, Dark Night Field Notes, Revolutionary History (Great Britain), New Interventions (Great Britain), Canadian Dimension, Revolution Magazine (New Zealand), Swans and Green Left Weekly (Australia). He is also a proud member of the NY Film Critics Online. He also run a blog. He can be reached at lnp3[at]panix.com.

Louis Proyect

Perhaps just by coincidence or perhaps as a reflection of the zeitgeist in the film world today, three movies premiered this week that straddled fact and fiction. “Act of Killing”, that has opened to rave reviews, is the documentary result of what might seem to be an American filmmaker’s conning of Indonesian mass murderers into believing that he was making a fiction film based on the 1965 anti-Communist massacres. Meanwhile, both “Computer Chess” and “Colossus” are mockumentaries in the style of “This is Spinal Tap”. What all these films have in common is exploiting serious issues in order to spin a glossy postmodernist web rather than deliver some prosaic and didactic lesson on, for example, the causes of the 1965 mass murder in Indonesia.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s “Act of Killing” that he describes as  “a documentary of the imagination” opens with a totally mystifying but eye-dazzling scene of young and beautiful women dancing down a gangplank from what appears to be a huge fish toward an obese man in drag to some Indonesian pop tune. (See image above.) The man turns out to be Herman Koto, a militia leader who killed hundreds of Communists by his own admission.

Koto and Anwar Congo, another mass killer, are the “stars” of this specious film that the New York Times review describes as occupying the same space as Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah”, an interpretation that I would liken to comparing Adam Sandler to Charlie Chaplin.

The film consists of two hours or so of Koto, Congo, and a host of other death squad leaders reenacting their crimes for a film that Oppenheimer is supposedly going to produce for world audiences. The killers become both actors and assistant directors on the set, telling frightened villagers hired for a day of shooting to display more fear. Supposedly, Congo is a big film buff, having seen all sorts of gangster movies growing up that inspired him to use the techniques shown on screen to kill his Communist victims, including a piano wire garrote. I imagine that many of the people who go to see this movie because it is so “out there” will have a different reaction to the film than me, a person who identified with the Communists even if their idiotic strategy facilitated the coup.

A.O. Scott suggests that the facts behind the 1965 coup might not be so well known to the audience as those of other mass murders such as Pol Pot’s in Cambodia. It would have been useful if he called attention to what his paper was saying at the time. Blogging at the New Yorker magazine, Johan Weiner commented:

On June 19, 1966, James Reston published a column in the New York Times titled “A Gleam of Light in Asia.” Nearly two thousand Americans had died in Vietnam the year before, followed by six thousand more in 1966, and Reston, a Pulitzer Prize winner who would soon become the Times executive editor, sought to acknowledge “more hopeful political developments elsewhere in Asia.” He emphasized the case of Indonesia, which had recently undergone an elaborate and bloody regime change “from a pro-Chinese policy” to “a defiantly anti-Communist policy.” … Despite the savagery, Reston argued that Sukarno’s ouster was something about which Americans could feel not only optimistic (“control of this large and strategic archipelago is no longer in the hands of men fiercely hostile to the United States”) but proud. “It is doubtful if the coup would ever have been attempted without the American show of strength in Vietnam,” Reston wrote, “or been sustained without the clandestine aid it has received indirectly from here.

That’s far more blood-curdling than anything in Oppenheimer’s flick.

Two of the executive producers reflect where Oppenheimer is coming from. One is Werner Herzog, who as much as I admire him, has a tendency to gravitate toward subjects who are outside of society’s norms. In one case, this has led him to direct a film lionizing an American jet pilot of German ancestry who was captured by the Vietnamese after his plane was shot down. In my view, this was a questionable choice of a “hero” even if it made for a fascinating character study.

Even more questionably, Errol Morris’s role as the other executive director brings to mind his documentary on Robert McNamara where the mass murderer was allowed to shed crocodile tears on camera. In contrast to McNamara, the killers of Oppenheimer’s film make jokes about what they did and are utterly unrepentant. At one point, one of the killers makes the same observation I once heard from Ward Churchill, namely that the winners of a war—such as they were—do not have to pay for their crimes.

Turning to the question of fact versus fiction, there’s something about “Act of Killing” that does not pass the smell test. The reenactment scenes are so poorly acted and scripted that anybody taking part in them would probably be winking to himself the whole time. The project would have made Ed Wood look like Orson Welles. I strongly suspect that the killers were in on the deception and went along with it anyhow. They had nothing to lose, especially from a Western imperialism that shares James Reston’s assessment that the killings were a good thing.

The last five minutes shows Anwar Congo up on a roof deck where he used to torture and kill people. In the course of describing his crimes, he suddenly begins to feel nauseous and the camera lingers on him as he dry heaves up nothing. I have a strong suspicion that he was faking it in order to make for a suitable redemptive conclusion. It cost nothing but it will certainly help Mr. Oppenheimer’s ticket sales since it makes his sordid enterprise more balanced than it really is.

Since I didn’t read the publicist’s note carefully, I assumed that “Computer Chess” was a documentary about the development of the earliest versions of the software that I literally spend an hour on each day ever since I got my first computer—a Mindset—in 1986, just 6 years after the events depicted in the film took place. I thought there would be serious interviews with computer programmers and chess masters.

In the first ten minutes of the film, I had no reason to think that it was other than what I expected. The clothing and the eyeglasses and the clunky machines, filmed in primitive black-and-white video, struck me as authentic. But maybe a bit too authentic as it is on “Mad Men”.

But when the characters began getting involved with drug deals and sex trysts, I figured out that this was a fictional film made to look like a documentary. The capper was an encounter group that was holding its meetings in the same room where a machine versus grand master competition was being held. The encounter group was portrayed as even sillier than it was in reality back when they were fashionable.

What is utterly lacking in the entire film is a look at how chess software works, something that would have intrigued me. Instead it was an affectionate if a bit patronizing look at the geeks who were supposedly the heroic vanguard of a technological revolution. It was a character study—with the emphasis on character—not that different from the one found in “Act of Killing”. The emphasis is on characters getting on their freak.

Like “Act of Killing”, this film has garnered very good reviews.

Finally, there’s “Colossus”, a fictional film about the making of a documentary of an “artificial” rock band in post-Soviet Russia under the auspices of one Clark Larson, a Brit who has been living there for 17 years. But it turns out that Larson is actually an American who is putting on an act. In fact the entire movie is a meditation on putting on an act.

The plot revolves around Larson’s struggle to make the movie, which is constantly dealing with challenges from the impromptu band he has assembled over directions to take, Russian gangsters who want to muscle in on the film and the band which has been gaining popularity, his wife’s opposition to what amounts to a hare-brained scheme, and finally the ordinary artistic and financial problems involved with making a film. This last matter is what interested me as a one-man production company.

Clearly, the director Mark Hendrickson, who plays Larson, is fascinated with the truth versus fiction tension. There are segments in the film where he walks down a mysterious looking tunnel philosophizing about such matters. It may ring a bell to anyone who has seen Orson Welles’s documentary “F for Fake” will know where Hendrickson got his inspiration. Trust me, Welles is a lot better at this sort of thing.

मैं इस समय इज़रायल नहीं जाऊँगी: मीरा नायर

Mira Nair
मीरा नायर

सुप्रसिद्ध फ़िल्मकार मीरा नायर ने इज़रायल में आयोजित होने वाले हाइफ़ा इंटरनेशनल फ़िल्म फ़ेस्टिवल के आमंत्रण को अस्वीकार कर दिया है. सोशल नेटवर्क साईट ट्वीटर पर अपने इस निर्णय के बारे में बताते हुए नायर ने कहा है कि ऐसा वह इज़रायल के सांस्कृतिक बहिष्कार की फ़लस्तीनियों की अपील के समर्थन में कर रही है. मीरा नायर ने ट्वीटर पर लिखा है:

“मुझे अभी-अभी हाइफ़ा इंटरनेशनल फ़िल्म फ़ेस्टिवल में फ़िल्म ‘द रिलक्टेंट फ़ंडामेंटलिस्ट’ के साथ सम्मानित अतिथि के रूप में आमंत्रित किया गया है. मैं इस समय इज़रायल नहीं जाऊँगी. मैं तब इज़रायल जाऊँगी जब वे दीवारें गिर जायेंगी.  मैं तब इज़रायल जाऊँगी जब कब्जा ख़त्म हो जायेगा. मैं तब इज़रायल जाऊँगी जब राज्य एक धर्म को दूसरे के ऊपर तरजीह नहीं देगा. मैं तब इज़रायल जाऊँगी जब नस्लभेद ख़त्म हो जायेगा. मैं बहुत जल्दी इज़रायल जाऊँगी. मैं इज़रायल के अकादमिक और सांस्कृतिक बहिष्कार (PACBI) और वृहत बहिष्कार आन्दोलन (BDS) का समर्थन करती हूँ.”

 

 

I am Nasrine

Joobin Bekhrad reflects on I am Nasrine– Tina Gharavi’s coming-of-age film about the experiences of an Iranian immigrant girl in England. Joobin is the Founder and Editor of REORIENT, as well as the Co-Founder of artclvb, an online platform for contemporary Middle Eastern art. He is also the author of a new translation of Omar Khayyam’s poems from Persian into English.

Joobin Bekhrad
Joobin Bekhrad

On that bright, sunny day in the middle of the sweltering month of Mordad, I saw the ends of your loose, red hejab fluttering gaily behind you as you clutched onto your aquiline-nosed paramour on his motorbike, laughing like a little girl. At that moment, it seemed as if you had brought that squalid city to its knees. Like the limpid rays of light shining through the gap in my car window, the unmistakable chime of those sparkling, jangly guitars, along with the words of the romantics whose pictures adorned our sooty walls seemed to echo your thoughts: everybody wants to rule the world.

Ah, Nasrine, how we all want to rule this fickle, ephemeral sphere, if only for a day. How I wish I could tell you that the curve of your smile was as fragile and fated as the blackened wings of butterflies born to die beneath this fetid gauze of filth. Nasrine, how I wish I could tell you that despite our hollow wishes, it’ll always be a man’s world out there … a man’s world, filled with scruffy, lecherous pasdars with darting eyes, knife-wielding thugs, sweet-talking heartbreakers, and the daunting glances of our kith and kin. How I wish I could tell you that though the azure dome above us occasionally blackens its face with shame, the sky is blue wherever we go.

My poor Nasrine … how awful the night the bearded ones dragged you away to the station. Bathed in a cold sweat, frail from their biting sarcasm, you gasped in horror as they pushed you to the floor. While one clutched onto your writhing frame, defiling you with his ominous appendage, the other laughed with delight, soaking in your every scream and squirm and the twinkle of your eye, wet with tears, to savour it all, over, and over, and over again. Only hours before you were just a girl. How could you bear to look your father in the eye again, when he picked you up from the station? How did you answer your brother’s taunts and your mother’s impending gaze? Where was I to rest your head on my breast, one last time, as they played with your destiny in hushed tones downstairs? When they told me you and Ali had left for England, I was incredulous. England … those wily, misty moors, the village green, the trams of old London … where did you go, Nasrine?

nasWhen they rejected your appeal for citizenship, the crimson of your ripe, ruddy cheeks flushed into a deathly white. You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you? Luckily, Ali had his wits about him, and managed to get you two a place. A hundred blessings on your father’s house! Ali wasn’t exaggerating when he called it a dump. With all your expenses, though, and Ali’s menial job at the local carwash, that was the best you could do. He was lucky not have gone to work that day, wasn’t he? They would have sent you two straight back to Tehran. Khoda ro shokr. Thank God. You shouldn’t have been so harsh with him. You were the only thing he ever had.

Things picked up for the both of you, though, fortunately. Just when you thought you weren’t going to fit in, you caught Neil’s eye. Rough hewn, broad shouldered Neil with his slicked back hair, sitting proud and virile atop his wild, black stallion … he belonged to a different age, a different time, just like a proper pahlevan. Ali never liked him, though – and how could he? In his eyes, you’d always be a baby girl, your skin far too tender for the rigour of country life and the coarse hands of a farmhand. Poor Ali. How he kept it a secret all those years is beyond me. You always knew, though. Ali was never like the other boys …

When you rang your mum and dad from that odious phone booth ridden with peeling pictures of pin-up girls and reeking of urine, you lied. You told them everything was alright, and that you were OK. Why didn’t you tell them you were living under the seedy glances of hooded ruffians, who spat behind your back and cursed you under their stale breath reeking of yesterday’s lager? That Ali lost his job at the carwash, and was reduced to serving doner kebabs and fried chicken to spotty lads, who had barely relished love’s first kiss, yet who fornicated with wild abandon in the sickly sweet haze of rubbish and vomit, drenched in the orange glow of gaslight alleys? What would baba have said had you told him about how you daubed your lips with rouge, and exposed like carrion your supple limbs, ripe for the taking? And what about Ali and Tommy? Estaghforollah.

When that tousle-haired dandy strode into the kebab shop and set his heart aflame with his boyish charm, he sealed your brother’s fate. No longer was he the boy in his baba’s house surrounded by voices telling stories of hell, damnation, and cardinal sin. Some vagrants caught them them kissing in a battered bumper car in the amusement park at dusk, amidst the stench of burnt rubber and popcorn, though the hordes of grubby, pimpled kids had long retired, along with the whirling Indian dervish. Ali seemed so happy afterwards, yet, at the same time, so frightened. Oh, Ali jan, didn’t you know that the streets of South Shields had no place for your love?

They found him too late. In the cold dead of night, they closed his eyes, blanketed him in white, and shuttled him off. My poor Nasrine, there was not even a soul to recite the fateheh for him. Far away from the warm embrace of his maman and baba, he left us on the icy steps of a crumbling council flat in a windy little English town.

And you, Nasrine, now had no one but a drifting cavalier to caress your sunken cheeks. Yet, in spite of it all, you again called your baba from that putrid telephone booth as those buxom pin-up girls once again regarded you lasciviously from overhead, and told him that everything was OK. Perhaps you weren’t lying this time, though; perhaps something much stronger, more gripping than fear had rooted itself in you. Emanating from within, it told you that you didn’t want to leave, that you were no longer daddy’s little girl, that things just might turn out OK.

I am Nasrine, it whispered softly.

Courtesy: Your Middle East