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Cinemalibero. FESPACO 1969 – 2019

Posted by keith1942 on November 28, 2019

Film-makers at the grave of Thomas Sankara

The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou or FESPACO) is a film festival in Burkina Faso, held biennially in Ouagadougou, and dedicated to African and African film-makers. It was founded in 1969 . Then the host state was known as Upper Volta. The state became Burkina Faso under the leadership of Thomas Sankara, a revolutionary anti-colonial figure. In an early speech Sankara drew on the traditions of the US War of Independence, the French Revolution and the Great October Revolution. His socialist style programme was bought to a halt in a military coup in 1987: clearly involving intrigues by foreign states, in an area where French neo-colonialism is potent. The Festival has continued and remains the most important forum for African Cinema. In the same year an association of African filmmakers was formed, The Pan African Federation of Filmmakers / Fédération Panafricaine des Cinéastes. Several of the film-makers featured this year were important in this development, including Med Hondo and Gaston Kaboré, who later became Secretary-General. And there was Ousmane Sembène who is the best-known of these film-makers and who features have been fairly widely available.

Il Cinema Ritrovato has developed a productive relationship with the World Film Foundation, dedicated to the restoration of important films across world cinema. Their new project aims at restoring fifty African films that are considered important as films, as cultural products and historical artifacts. The programme in Bologna this year presented eleven films, eight in new restorations, as examples from the African Film heritage.

I have already posted on one of the titles: Arabs and Niggers, Your Neighbours / Les Bicots-Negres, vos voisins (1974). This was one of the films screened in its original 35mm format. And it provided a tribute to the film work of Med Hondo, who died early this year. The film provided a link between the other films shown in a Ritrovato retrospective in 2017.

Among the titles were a number seen here in the 1980s but not seen since. From 1975 in Cameroon came Muna Moto directed by Jean-Pierre Dikongué-Pipa. This was  a critical study of the dowry system, but which was constrained by the censorship operating at that time. Dikongue-Pipa felt that he was able to present

“only one fifth of what he felt in his heart.”

In the film a young woman, because she is pregnant, has to marry an older man who already has there wives, all sterile. The drama develops when the young man who fathered the child takes drastic steps.

‘Muna Moto’

Problems also attended the restoration as there was mould on some sections of the original negative and Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique had to work in part with a dupe print. The film, in black and white, used indigenous Duala and French with English sub-titles

Baara from Mali (1978) was directed Souleymane Cissé. His subsequent feature Yeelen (1987) has become a classic of African films seen in Europe.  Cissé had suffered arrest and jail for his previous film which addressed the question of rape; the charge was for accepting French funding; something the ruling class in this state have done right up until today. Set in Bamako this film is a study of trade unionism in a country struggling to escape neo-colonialism. There are two key character, of similar ages; one an intellectual the other a manual worker. Both work at a factory where the exploitation leads to confrontation and the need for people to identify their interests, individual and collective.

“The various elements operating in the film are unified by the narrative strategy employed – specifically related to the Marxist notion of history as essentially collective.”

The film screened from a colour 35mm print and used indigenous Bambara language. This was a version with Italian sub-titles and an English translation.

Wend Kuuni was from Burkina Faso itself and made in 1982 by Gaston Kaboré. A young boy is abandoned in the bush. Found, he adopted into a village family. The simple drama develops as we learn the trauma that made him mute and the further action that leads to a cure.

Kaboré, in 2017, explained that

“My preoccupation has been to find a film-making form to address my own people enshrined in both cinematic language and the legacy of our own story-telling tradition.”

This offers as sense of the form of the ‘griot’, a traditional story-teller whose function can be seen at work in a number of African films. The dialogue was in the local language of Mooré with English subtitles.

‘Wend Kuuni’

This was another restoration by the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique. The digital version looked really good. We also had an introduction by Nicola Mazzanti from the Cinémathèque which was less happy. His intentions seemed good but the delivery was rather like a harangue on the neglect of African films. Given that the audience were cineastes who had traveled distances for the festival and for this particular screening, then queued up to get a seat, [some had to stand] this seemed to me completely misdirected.

There were two films by the Senegalese film-maker Djibril Diop Mambéty. His two most famous films, Touki Bouki (1973) and Hyènes (1992) were both features. The two titles were intended to be part a trilogy, Histories de petites gens / Tales of ordinary people, but Mambéty died before he could complete the third part.

Le Franc [which refers to a lottery ticket] runs for 45 minutes. The protagonist, Marigo (Dieye ma) is an itinerant musician.

“With his easy-going walk and Chaplinesque clothes, Marigo immediately expresses his irreverent nature: …” (Alessaandre Speciale, quoted in the Festival Catalogue).

Indeed Marigo does share some characteristics with the famous ‘silent’ tramp. And the film  has its  moments of humour. But it also shares Mambety’s taste for sardonic comment, bricolage and a narrative that literally jumps around characters and settings. Marigo shares Chaplin’s famous characters ability to stare down adversity. But such adversities are more dramatic and oppressive in a neo-colonial setting. This is a landscape in which poverty and decay surround everybody. Yet the characters are vital as is the music which repeatedly disrupts the action.

We had a good transfer to digital with the Wolof dialogue accompanied by English sub-titles. However, the songs were not translated and I am sure they added to the dynamic but bitter story.

‘Le Franc’

La Petite vendeuse de Soleil / The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun. The ‘sun’ of the title is a daily newspaper which children tout round the streets of [I think] Dakar but it clearly has a double meaning [at least] in the story.. Sili (Lissa Baléra) is a paraplegic. Despite this and her crutches she gamely works round the streets selling what seems to be a popular tabloid. She also gamely ignores the taunts and tricks of the other sellers, all teenage boys. This is a film about facing adversity but with a more upbeat and less sardonic tone than Le Franc.

Mambéty, who died in 1998, was unable to finish the film which was at that point ready for editing. It was completed by colleagues after his death. It is an affecting drama with an emotional punch. It is also more in a linear fashion that Mambety’s other films and there is little sense of the irony that he usually offers. I did wonder if the final film is exactly as he himself would have made it. Like the other title it was in a good quality DCP, running 45 minutes and again in Wolof with English sub-titles.

There were several other features and  material on FESPACO. Notably, nearly all the films came from North and West Africa. The exceptions were the Hondo and a title from Morocco. A number were in French though we also had titles in indigenous languages like that by Cissé and by Mambéty. This is an area once termed ‘Francophone’ because  France was the dominant colonial power. This offers an interesting cultural factor, since narrative films are more common from this area than other parts which were dominated by Britain and the English language. France has continued to exercise a neo-colonial dominance in the region including military adventures. The flip side being the cultural plank and many films had to rely on French technical resources in their production. One of the key aims of FESPACO was to develop the indigenous film industries. This lead to a flowering in the late 1970s and 1980s, witnessed by some of the films at the festival. This fell away in the 1990s but there have been some important cinematic ventures in recent years; [see posts under ‘African Cinema’].

We can look forward to more of the restorations by the World Film Foundation at future festivals.

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Arabs and Niggers, Your Neighbours / Les Bicots-Négres, Vos Voisins (Mauritania-France, 1974)

Posted by keith1942 on October 1, 2019

This film was part of the ‘Cinema Libro FESPACO 1969-2019‘ programme at Il Cinema Ritrovato. The Festival has developed a strong relationship with the World Film Foundation who are leading the African Film Heritage Project which is committed to restoring 50 African films significant in cinema and culture. This series celebrates the Pan African  Film and Television Festival at Ouagadougou which was set up in 1969. That festival has become the centre for both enjoying African film and supporting and developing African Cinema.

This title was directed by Med Hondo and provided a testament to this important film-maker who died on 2nd March this year. We had enjoyed a trio of Hondo’s films at the 2017 Ritrovato. Fortunately he attended and we were able to hear him  talk about his film work. Med Hondo was born in Mauritania in 1936. He migrated to France in 1959 and the exploitation and oppression of migrants was a central theme in his films. He was well versed in International Cinema and his own work was both unconventional and used avant-garde techniques but in the service of accessible films which were ‘made politically’.

Les Bicots-Négres, Vos Voisins was his second film following on from Soleil O (1967). Aboubakar Sanogo in the Festival Catalogue described the film’s structure:

“[It] analyses the living conditions of African migrant workers in France in the m id-1970s . . . It comprises seven sequences exploring, respectively the conditions of possibility of cinematic representations in Africa …historical dissonance through the dialectic of past and present . . . a flashback to the eve of African independence , the predicaments of the post-colony, an assessment of the living conditions of migrant workers and the actions taken to transform these conditions . . .”

The film opens with a bravura sequence where an African man addresses the audience direct to camera. In a sardonic manner familiar in Hondo’s films he questions the viewer on cinema, Africa and representation. The camera tracks between close-ups, mid-shots and long shots to also reveal the walls covered with film posters. In other sequences he uses a montage of stills, prints and  pictures to show Africa in this way. Dramatised sequences point the experiences of African migrants whilst others point how European capitalism retains its hold, in this case on a ‘Francophone’ Africa. And documentary film reveals the actual conditions and the actual actions as Africans  become part of the French proletariat. Towards the close of the film footage of a vast worker’s demonstration, with black and white proletarians side by side, voices the opposition to exploitation and racism.

Hondo and his team used both visual and aural montage as developed by the Soviet pioneers. The cinematography was by Jean Boffety and François Catonné working to a script developed by Hondo. The editing, involving a sequence of stop-motion, was by Michel Masnier. And the music, with a varied combination of African rhythms and French popular songs, was by a team of Catherine Le Forestier, Mohamed Ou Mustapha, Frank Valmont and Louis Zavier.

The screening  used a version of the film from 1988. In an approach shared by other in Third Cinema, Hondo screened parts of the film  to the workers who appear in it and made changes in accordance with their suggestions. So in the opening sequence we actually see in the background a poster for the release of the first version of the film in 1974. Hondo described it as ‘a work in  progress’.

The complete film is challenging but the presentation is quite clear. Med Hondo has a clear grasp of the operation of capital in advanced European states and of the way that Neo-colonialism operated in the late C20th. The tone varies from sardonic to dramatic to informative to the powerfully moving. The film was shot in colour and we enjoyed a 35mm print from the Audio-visual Archive of the French Communist Party.

Med Hondo

The film  develops the content and style of the earlier Soleil O and also connects with the later works of the film-maker. The screening provided a memorial to a fine director. I was saddened by the thought that I would no longer be able to wait for another  film from Hondo; who had been trying (it seems vainly) to develop a further cinematic  project. However, I am heartened that his unique films will be available still for audiences. A friend in New York recently saw two of these at an impressive retrospective of Liberation Cinema.

NB – originally posted on ‘The Case for Global Film’.

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Displacement

Posted by keith1942 on July 4, 2019

Synonyms for displacement – deracination- move / movement – rearrangement – shift – supplanting

In this case, as indicated in the notice from Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019, the movement was occasioned by the screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s new version of ‘Apocalypse Now – The Final Cut’ (USA 2019). The screening in a digital format was programmed for the Piazza Maggiore, a square that can accommodate several thousand people. To this was added the ‘pop-up’ screening which added 600 places. And then to this the space at the Cinema Jolly, a further 360 seats.
The term ‘supplanting’ best describes the latter as it replaced a screening of Youssef Chahine’s Seråa fi al-wadi / Struggle in the Valley (Egypt 1954). For many cineastes at the Festival there was justified frustration though the organisers presumably thought, as this was the second screening of the Chahine title, that it was a minor disruption. At the level of values and interests this change was symptomatic of Coppola”s famous film; a work that superficially addresses a neo-colonial war but resolutely upholds the values of the dominant state. So a better term might be ‘deracination / uprooting’ which is exactly how the European and North American neo-colonial states treat the oppressed peoples and nations.
In an article in ‘MOVIE’ Andrew Britton discussed the many Vietnam films. His basic argument was that most so-called anti-war films do not address the actual politics of actual wars. Of the Coppola film in its original release version he commented:

“There is no more characteristic feature of the ‘seventies Hollywood cinema than the invitation to purchase the bankruptcy of American [i.e. USA] capitalism as the ultimate spectacle: the end of the world realised as an exchange-value.” (‘Sideshows: Hollywood in Vietnam’, Issues 27 and 28).

Apocalypse Now would seem to fit exactly the description by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino in the Manifesto, ‘Towards a Third Cinema’.

“The cinema as a spectacle aimed at a digesting object is the highest point that can be reached by bourgeois film-making. The world, experience, and the historic process are enclosed within the frame of a painting, the stage of a theatre, and the movie screen; man is viewed as a consumer of ideology, and not as the creator of ideology.”

Of course, it is a masterful spectacle but empty of genuine political opposition for all that.
I do not think that the ‘Redux’ version, whilst adding filmic material, added to the political content of the film. I have yet to see ‘Final Cut’, which is actually slighter shorter than ‘Redux’, but I doubt that this will do that either.
All versions owe something to Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. Whilst criticism, as that by Chinua Achebe, are valid the novella does more than merely reproduce Africa as spectacle. Unfortunately there is not a good filmic rendition of this work. It certainly deserves more than to be seen as the property for this Hollywood extravaganza. With reference to Vietnam a good antidote would be the Cuban film 79 Springs / 79 primaveras (1969), directed by Santiago Alvarez. This would have made a good screening at the Ritrovato. Meanwhile the Chahine film is one of the titles in the Ritrovato programme that has been transferred to a digital format, so that at least suggests that it will now be more accessible than in the past.

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‘Outsiders: The Battle of Algiers and political cinema’

Posted by keith1942 on March 30, 2019

 

I was reminded of the above article in Sight & Sound by Michael Chanan as I was checking through some old recordings. One was a Radio 3 ‘Night Waves’ about ‘Marxism and Cinema’; part of a series over a week debating Marxism in October 1999. A trio of speakers, Ian Christie, Ginette Vincendeau and Michael Chanan, discussed aspects of:

“Karl Marx and the Cinema;’ … discussing his influence on the critiques of film, the way the industry is organised but above all what the films have said, especially in Russia, France and Cuba.” [All three areas of expertise amongst the speakers}.

Industry was not really touched on so the discussion focused on films that might be ‘Marxist’ and writings by ‘Marxists on films’. Talking about contemporary film [in 1999] Ian Christie praised Land and Freedom; the film directed by Ken Loach in 1995 set in the Spanish Civil War, and in particular the scene where the Republican soldiers and village peasants debate collectivising the land. Michael Chanan also referred to the film and some expanded comments [addressing the film The Battle of Algiers] re-appeared in his article in Sight & Sound [as in the title]..

“It is common nowadays, especially in the kind of university courses that try to survey the whole of world cinema in a term, to cite The Battle of Algiers as an example of ‘third cinema’, which one educational website describes as “the oppositional cinemas of the colonised peoples.” [he adds] In that case, however, Pontecorvo’s film wouldn’t count, since all the key creative talent behind the camera was Italian, making it not a ‘third world’ film’ but a European film about the third world.” [As so often one contributor, Yacef Saadi the original writer, has been forgotten].

The ‘educational website’ appears to be a reference to our sister Website, ‘Third Cinema Revisited’. I assume Michael Chanan was unaware that the site did not relate to a university course, though it was developed in a University funded production course, and the material on it was composed for study over a whole year not just one term.

Michael Chanan was arguing the point, made by many, that the Manifesto ‘Towards a Third Cinema’ covers a wide range of cinemas and films, including works from within the imperialist countries. My criticisms of this is elsewhere on this Blog, simply put, even if this Manifesto does make such a distinction, I argue that a Marxist position needs to do distinguish between the struggle between classes in an advanced capitalist state and a struggle against occupation and domination by an oppressed people and nation.

Michael Chanan actually offers exemplar films to demonstrate his particular point. This is where he returns to his example regarding Land and Freedom.

“This dialectic between film and the time and place of its viewing functions in many different ways. When Land and Freedom was first shown in Havana it produced an unexpected effect. You might think it would be the perfect film for such a highly politicised audience, but this was 1996 when Cuba was struggling to reverse the economic disintegration that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union on which it had become financially dependent. Came that brave long central sequence of discussion about politics, and in Havana some of the audience began to leave : what turned them off was what Cubans call teque, mere political rhetoric. But when David tears up his Communist Party card, another remarkable response, half the remaining audience burst into applause, which of course provoked jeers and catcalls from the other half.”

A the time of the article my response was a letter to Sight & Sound.

“I found Michael Chanan’s article on this classic film stimulating, though I had reservations about parts of his argument. His use of ‘creative talent behind the camera’ is rather narrow, as it apparently excludes the writer and co-producer Yacef Saadi. Even so I would accept that the film is not strictly a Third Cinema film. Whether Third Cinema is ‘the oppositional cinema of the colonised’ depends on your reading of the manifesto by Fernando Solanas and Olivia Getino. Chanan’s quotations to the contrary are only one aspect: the authors refer constantly to ‘films of decolonisation.’ The manifesto is strongly influenced by the writings of Franz Fanon and Mao Zedong. Both clearly draw a line between the struggles of oppressed people against colonialism and neo-colonialism on one hand, and the struggle of the working classes against their own bourgeoisie in the colonising countries on the other.

In fact, one of Chanan’s film examples demonstrates this point. The first sequence from Land and Freedom to which Chanan refers is the debate about collectivising the land, a step towards socialist construction. And this debate takes place as the indigenous working class fight their rulers in a state that is both capitalist and part of the colonial system of exploitation. The Cuban audience that Chanan describes watching this film is part of a society where socialist construction is not taking place. The Cubans are conducting a national struggle for independence from the colonial and neo-colonial policies of the USA and its allies.”

The article is missing one point made on the radio. The applause by some of the audience when David tears up his party card occasions others who

“responded by having an ideological battle in front of the screen.”

This makes clearer the political nature of the confrontation .It also is an example of an important point in ‘Towards a Third Cinema’, a point Chanan discusses in one of his longer article from a Screen Special Latin American Issue [Volume 38 number 4 Winter 1997] ‘The Changing Geography of Third Cinema’.

When La hora de los hornos / The Hour of the Furnaces (1968) was screened in Argentina there were breaks in the projection when the audience debated points on screen and the film was so structured. Solanas and Getino in the Manifesto dwell at length on this as an important facet of ‘oppositional cinema’. This seems to be an aspect of the Havana screening.

The article does make the point that the screening was a particular time [1996] and place [Havana]. But there is more to be said here. The Soviet crisis certainly impacted on Cuba. But in this context it needs to be stated that Marxism in the country was only one factor, and that the prime mover in the first decades was independence and autonomy. Whilst the state set up programmes of social improvement, like the literacy or medical campaigns; such campaigns are a common action in liberation struggles. Cuba did not attempt the transformational of production and social relations within production; an essential component of socialist transformation. It is also clear that class stratification continued in Cuba. The factions in the cinema probably represented both aspects. In the radio broadcast Chanan added the comments that,

“as in Cuba Marxism has begun to atrophy”.

Chanan’s sense of the ‘Marxism’ found in Cuba is illustrated by his comments in the BBC programme where he pointed to the influence of two important Latin American revolutionaries. One was José Martí, the hero of the C19th struggle for independence from Spain and the founder of the Cuban Revolutionary Party. He remains a key part of Cuban culture and political discourse. The other was José Carlos Mariátegui, founder of the Communist Party of Peru. He is is immensely influential across the radical Latin American discourse. He emphasised the necessity in the struggle of liberating peoples from foreign colonial domination. Chanan remarks that there are parallels between his writings and those of Franz Fanon. Such distinctive influences can been seen in the radical cinema which opted for a different approach from ‘Soviet Socialist Realism’.

However such radical positions were found among cultural groups and factions but these were distinct from the official Communist Party. The official Communist Party was formed by a union of the Socialist Party, the July Movement that led the liberation struggle and a revolutionary student movement. It is debatable to what degree its Marxism followed the original discourse set up by Marx and Engels; or indeed the variant developed by the Bolsheviks under Lenin. Cuba was dominated, not just economically, but in terms of political line by the contemporary Soviet Union, which was both reformist and revisionist. This party was part of the State machine but did not really have a substantial popular base. The last is reflected in the divisions in the Havana cinema.

On the use of the term ‘atrophy’ – others use ‘crisis’; a comrade remarked tellingly that

“There was no crisis of Marxism but a crisis of Marxists.”

Chanan does develop more on the question of ‘time and place’, recounting the different responses to the film Missing (USA 1982)and screenings in Bogotá, Columbia and in London. In the former the flm was applauded, in the latter there was suspicion of the film among Chanan’s acquaintances; [a view shared by Chilean exiles I knew at that time]. One could offer another example, Cry Freedom (1987). But in both examples the liberation movement was led by reformist organisations. That ordinary people were elated to see their struggles on screen does not validate the politics in which the representations were encased. The categories of cinema in the Manifesto are constituted not just in films or in industrial practices but in a hegemony that affects practitioners and audiences.

Missing (USA 1982)seems to be an example, along with The Battle of Algiers, of an approach to film that Chanan values.

“As a general rule you can’t give a cogent account of a political film without relating it to the politics that inform it, but a good a good political film is usually one that articulates its politics within the narrative, as part of the diegesis.”

Diegesis refers to the ‘world of the story’. But I think this concept needs to be interrogated by the relationship between form and content; both clearly interact with each other. Missing is both in terms of its politics and in its form and style a mainstream film. The Battle of Algiers, whilst the politics are mainly in the diegesis, clearly is unconventional in both form and content. It is an early example of the combination of documentary and fiction modes; something that was seen as problematic at its release. And the diegetic world of the film is not straightforward. So we have on-screen titles, voice-overs, FLN statements and musical counterpoint: the latter seems to me to follow the mantras in Eisenstein’s now famous manifesto on sound and not be part of the diegesis. And such complex use of different conceptions can be seen in the films of Ousmane Sembène, – Black Girl / La noire de… (1966) – or Jorge Sanjinés and Ukamau – The Secret Nation / La nación clandestina (1989).

There is a further point made by Chanan with reference to Sanjinés in his article in Screen;

“It is necessary to allow for the kind of film – the outstanding example is the work of Sanjinés – which in stylistic terms retains all the marks of individual authorship, but in the process of of its creation incorporates the values of the collectivity within which it is made.”

This comment might be true of the first feature, Blood of the Condor / Yawar Mallku (1969) credited to Sanjinés and Grupa Ukamau, but it does not fit with the comments in ‘Problems of Form and Content in Revolutionary Cinema’ or to a later film such as El enemigo principal / The Principal Enemy (1974) where the form and content was chosen by the indigenous people whose history the film recounts.

An important point in the Sight & Sound article follows from Chanan’s sense of the ‘three cinemas’ defined by Solanas and Getino.

“First cinema is industrial cinema, whether it comes from Hollywood, Bollywood or Hong Kong. Second cinema is the ‘artistic; type of film characteristic of European production modes that value the director as an auteur; again this kind of cinema is found across the globe. Solanas and Getino characterised it as individualistic, bourgeois, full of psychological and social leanings – but politically reformist. Third cinema was the militant film of opposition, for which one of the models was their own 1968 documentary epic La hora de los hornos / The Hour of the Furnaces – once described neatly as a film made “in the interstices of the system and against the system … independent in production, militant in politics, and experimental in language.”

There is certainly a bias in the Manifesto for this kind of interpretation, allowing for different language and examples more akin to the 1990s than the 1960s. One criticisms of this type of definition is that it is too neat and many films do not fit in the categories. Not all industrial cinema is similar to Hollywood; Eire for one, note the urban dramas like the newly released Rosie. Many independent films, especially from distinct national cinemas, are not like the artistic type of European film and are nor easily defined as auteur projects. Whilst the third category includes independent films, many of these are certainly bourgeois and reformist.

In relation to The Battle of Algiers Chanan quotes Mike Wayne’s argument that the film straddles all three categories.

“combining the elements of the thriller (first cinema), the aesthetics of the director as author (second cinemas), and the perspectives of the liberation struggle.”

The idea of the thriller relates to genre; a problematic conflating of industry with a different type of category. It should be clear that there are many thrillers that are radically different from the Hollywood model. The European films of Costa-Gavros, [who directed Missing], are examples that are different, including from Missing..

I should add that he also discusses contradistinctions involving concepts of ‘auteur’ and ‘national cinemas’; yet here years on he maintains the idea of third cinema embracing work in both advanced capitalist countries involved in colonialism and work from countries under colonial or neo-colonial domination. He also here uses the term ‘post-colonial’, one I regard an an anachronism when colonies still exist.

Regarding the role of the author, it is true that the dictator is Gillo Pontecorvo and there are parallels with his other films. But equally Yacef Saadi can be considered also as an author; the film is adapted from his own book and he was closely involved in the production. And the latter connects with a different definition, that the film expresses a national quality. The film does certainly relate to the third category. For me this film straddles second cinema [not just auteurs but also national cinemas] and third cinema.

I have enormous respect for Michael Chanan and I always approach his work with interest; for years he has been one of the most important advocates for third cinema and been actively involved in this. But as a Marxist I think the important distinctions regarding class struggle in its different forms an manifestations must be applied to cinema as to all other discourses.

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The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, Netherlands, Palestine, Germany, Mexico 2018

Posted by keith1942 on December 1, 2018

This new release was screened in the Leeds International Film Festival and was also the first title in the 2018 Leeds Palestine Film Festival which runs on until December 11th. The film was a fine production to grace the Official Selection programme in the Leeds Festival and a strong opening film story for the Palestinian Festival. The Festival catalogue describes the film as

“Both a nail-biting thriller and a heart-breaking love story.”

This is a film that combines genres, an ‘infidelity’ film, a thriller and, at times, I felt it had tropes found in spy films. The main story concerns an adulterous affair between an Israeli woman, Sarah (Sivan Kerchner) and a Palestinian man, Saleem (Adeeb Safadi). This is treated as tragedy, rather like the film versions of Nathaniel Hawthorn’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’. The thriller element is far from that of Fatal Attraction (1987) and there is no satire, unlike The Graduate (1967).

Whilst the film concentrates on the personal relationships, the situation, the occupation of Palestinian lands, structures the whole narrative. But the conflict between two peoples is amplified here by differences of class. Sarah is married to a high-ranking Israeli Officer, David (Ishai Golan) in the Israeli army security service. She is attempting to run her own business, a café, but this attempt has been made intermittent by David’s work leading to moves. She has a young child. Saleem works as a delivery driver for a Israeli bakery and is married to Bisan (Maisa Abd Elhadi) who is pregnant. Sarah and David live in West Jerusalem, Salem and Bisan live in East Jerusalem.

In addition to his work as a delivery driver Saleem is persuaded by his brother-in-law, [not a sympathetic character] to use the van for an unofficial delivery service in the West Bank after work: This includes Bethlehem and beyond the ‘apartheid wall’ constructed by Israel.

There are nuances here resulting from the occupation. Israeli licence plates are clearly distinguishable from those issued by the Palestinian Authority. It appears that Arab citizens of Israel, including Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, have the same type of plates as other Israeli citizens. The van Saleem drives has Israeli plates and at checkpoint he passes with ease whilst queues of cars with Palestinian plates are visible in the background. There are further nuances as the film features both the Israeli police and Israeli Security Service and the Palestinian Police and the Palestinian Security Service.

These all enter the narrative at various points after Saleem takes Sarah with him on a delivery to Bethlehem; their usual assignation take place in a car park. An argument in a café and the obvious presence of an Israeli vehicle in a Palestinian area lead to investigations. The Reports of the title are compiled by the Palestinian Security but later fall into the hands of the Israeli Security. As one investigation follows another the complexities of the situation emerge for the audience. And the feelings and values of both Sarah and Saleem are tested as are those of their partners, David and Bisan. We also see the different responses of both Israelis and Palestinians as the affair becomes known.

The film has been written and directed by two Palestinian brothers, Rami Musa and Muayad Alayan. They also produced the film through their company Key Films, with co-producers from Germany and Mexico. They have previously produced several short films and one other feature, Love, Theft and Other Entanglements (Al-hob wa al-sariqa wa mashakel ukhra 2015). I have not seen this film which does not appear to have had a British release. It does though suggest generic affinities with The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, the plot involves a Palestinian who mistakenly steals an Israeli car.

The Alayan brothers also worked on the cinematography and art design for this earlier films. Here they have assembled a skill production crew. Sebastian Bock provides the cinematography which does fine work with both interiors and exteriors. He also uses a hand-held camera for certain dramatic sequences, [presumably a steadicam with a loose setting]. The interiors range though daytime and night-time lighting, with chiaroscuro in places. This also applies to the exteriors, which include narrow streets, car parks, the ‘separation wall’ and at judicious intervals long shots of both sectors of Jerusalem, Nazareth, and briefly the empty desert landscape of the South. Whilst these settings focus on the development in the plot they also are reminders of the conflict setting which is so important to the narrative. And the editing by Sameer Qumsiyeh keeps up a a narrative pace that maintains both the drama and the developing mystery of the story.

The film works well as a drama and is absorbing and at times generates real tension. There are relatively explicit sex scenes, unusual for a Palestinian film. Added to this is the representation of key aspects of the lives of Palatinates under Israeli occupation. As is regularly noted in the media East Jerusalem is at the conflicted edge of the struggle for Palestinian independence. The Israeli control and harassment of those Palestinian living in East Jerusalem is hedged round with restrictions and constantly threatens their homes and their culture. This emerges with increasing power as the film’s narrative develops.

The title demonstrates that the Palestinians, despite lacking a proper state, have been able to develop a proper national cinema. Even the Hollywood Academy seems to have recognised that. What we are seeing now are genre films but which still address the actual political situation under occupation.

The film was shot digitally and is in 2.35:1 and colour. The dialogue is in Arabic, Hebrew and English with the first two languages translated in English sub-titles. The Festival screening was the British premiere and to date there is not a British release listed for the film which neither has a BBFC certificate. The DCP for the screening was provided by Heretic Outreach, based in Athens,

“Heretic Outreach is a boutique world sales agency that supports and encourages outstanding films and film-makers to reach out to the world, by becoming a key partner for solid strategies in festivals, sales and alternative distribution models.”

This is a new agency but their aim is to be applauded. One has only to look at the programme of major Film Festivals, for example the Berlinale, to realise that there is a large and apparently really worthwhile stream of films that are difficult or impossible to see in a theatrical formats in Britain. Still one would expect this film to feature in other Palestinian film events round Britain, of which there are now a number. Hopefully it also be picked up by a distributor for a more general release.

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Leeds Palestinian Film Festival 2018

Posted by keith1942 on November 11, 2018

This year’s Festival runs from November 8th until December 13th. It opens, [as in previous years] with a screening in the Leeds of International Film Festival with the British premiere of Reports on Sarah and Saleem (Palestine 20918). The film deals with an affair between two married people, a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman. Affairs between Palestinians and Israeli’s have been a staple of the cinemas of both Palestine and Israel but adding marriage to the complications is rarer. The film is the work of director Muayad Alayan and writer Rami Musa Alayan. They have worked together on both a feature and short films together, but I have not seen any of these. The film is screens three times during the Festival.

Otley Film Society are giving a fresh screening to Firefighters Under Occupation [2016), a documentary screened at earlier festival which received a warm response. The screening is on November 125th,

The Hyde Park Picture House, a regular venue for the Festival screens Wajib (Palestine 2017) on November 20th. This is a new film written and directed by Annemarie Jacir. She has written and directed a number of films; the earlier When I saw You / Lamma shoftak (Palestine | Jordan | Greece | United Arab Emirates 2014) was set in 1967 amongst Palestinian refugees in Jordan. This was a splendid drama that I saw at a screening organised by Reel Solutions in Bradford. This film is a road movie as preparations are under way for a wedding, an of the important traditional events in Palestinian culture. The films has already won awards including ‘Best Picture’ by Arab critics in 2018.

Two departments at the University of Leeds join together to screen 1948: Creation and Catastrophe (USA 2017) on November 22nd. This is a documentary that presents recollections of 1948 from both Palestinians and Israelis. This is not just history but a commentary on the present conflict and its roots.

On November 24th at The Carriageworks there is another documentary, Roadmap to Apartheid (USA 2012). The film-makers are an Israeli and a South African. They examine to what degree the frequently made comparisons between the Apartheid regime and Israel is accurate or useful as an analysis.

The Seven Artspace offers Stitching Palestine (Canada, Lebanon, Palestine 2017) on November 26th. Twelve Palestinian women, from varied walks of life, share their life stories. The connecting thread between these stories is their practice of the ancient art of embroidery.

On Sunday December 3nd in the Pyramid Theatre, in the union Building on the Leeds University Campus, there is Killing Gaza (USA, Palestine 2018). Two US journalists documented the Israeli aggression against the people of Gaza in 2014. The film includes direct testimony and evidence from the people who survive the brutal assault. Apparently the film also include examples of the meretricious statements by Benjamin Netanyahu. The film has English dialogue and commentary and runs 97 minutes.

The Carriageworks is the venue again for Naila and the Uprising (USA, Palestine 2017) on December 8th. Set in the 1987 Intifada the film focuses on Naila, a young women who becomes involved in a clandestine network of women struggling for Palestinian self-determination. The film is in Arabic, Hebrew and English with English sub-titles. It is in both black and white and colour and runs for 76 minutes. Palestinian artist and activist Shahd Abusalama with lead a Q&A after the screening.

Around the Wall follows a visit by British women footballers to Palestine where they meet Palestinian women footballers. The film screens on December 4th at the Wharf Chambers. This 30 minute film is followed by a Q&A with the film-makers.

And the session will also screen Shireen Al-Walaja (Australia, Palestine 2015). A 28 minute film about activist in the village of the title fighting against demolitions.

Finally the HEART Centre in Headingly hosts a screening of Disturbing the Peace (Israel, Palestine, USA 2016) on December 11th. In a movement that stand out in the conflict Israeli soldiers and Palestinian Fighters work together to challenge the status quo. Their movement becomes Combatants for Peace. This English language film runs for 78 minutes in colour.

The Festival offers a varied programme with a number of new films. There is a special focus on films by and/or featuring women and their role in the struggle. The Palestinian Cinema has now established itself as an expression of the National Liberation Struggle. It has also achieved proper international status: even the Hollywood Academy now accepts these titles in the Foreign Language category. After a strong programme in this years International Film Festival Leeds punters can both enjoy and be informed by these films.

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Umut / Hope, Turkey 1970

Posted by keith1942 on September 11, 2018

This was one of the films screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato in the programme ‘Yilmaz Güney Despair of Hope’. The film combines the two key words in the programme title and suggest the critical and sometimes pessimistic stance in the works of this director. This is certainly a downbeat story with a finale that might be termed ‘dead end river’.

Due to the growing popularity of taxi cabs, the horse-drawn carriage [phaeton0 driver Cabbar is finding it difficult to support his large family of five children, wife and elderly mother.”  (Notes in Festival Catalogue).

The film opens as morning comes and the city starts to awaken: the cleaning lorry waters the streets. Outside the railway station Cabbar is already positioned in his carriage with two horses, black and white. His situation is briefly sketched as he first checks the lottery tickets to no avail and then waits as the majority of passengers take the taxi cabs We follow him through a long day as his earnings are a meagre 81 lira. [The exchange rate in the late 1960s was nine Turkish lira to one US dollar].

Cabbar’ situation as the film progresses is downhill. He is in debt to the shops where they buy the family food. He is in debt to the merchant who provides feed for his horses. And he is in debt for repairs to his carriage. The family suffer with him; his wife is supportive and grapples with household and children. His eldest child Hatice is studying for an English examination; with difficulty. And in one high angle shot we watch the younger children as they watch other children renting and playing on pedal bikes.

One of Cabbar’s horses is killed by a passing motorist but the driver disowns any responsibility. When Cabbar tries to protest the police first shout at him and later throw him out of the station. Later Cabbar follows a cart carrying the horse into a desert space where its carcass is dumped: presumably cheaper than paying for its incineration. He starts to sell family possessions and manages to make enough to buy a second horse. But when he returns home the other horse and his carriage has been seen by debtors.

Cabbar’s main friend is Hasan, who has no obvious work or income. Hasan first persuades Cabbar to join him in an attempted robbery, which is a fiasco. Then he persuades Cabbar to seek a solution from a local Hodja or Preacher. Both Hasan and Cabbar believe in local superstitions about buried treasure and the Hodja claims to be able to read signs which will reveal the hiding place. Cabbar sells many of his remaining possessions to find the money to pay the Hodja, [300 lira]. The one item he refuses to sell is his old gun, which figures in the abortive robbery.

The early signs have Cabbar digging up in the courtyard and shack where he lives with his family. Then he, Hasan and the Hodja set out for the banks of the Ceyhan River where, they believe, they will find a withered tree surrounded by white stones; the site of the buried treasure. This is a hopeless mission and Cabbar in particular becomes ever more desperate. I assume the audience in which I sat was sceptical of the whole adventure but I wondered how many of the audience in Turkey in 1970 would have been as sceptical. In fact, this is unknown; the film was

Banned in Turkey for propagating class differences.” (Festival Catalogue).

Right through his film career Güney faced censorship, imprisonment and finally exile.

The film has the ring of a neo-realist study. We have a palpable sense of watching the actual life of the city and of the one family, right at the bottom of the social networks. Cabbar lacks a critical sense of his position in society. Rather than try and work against the exploitative system he pins his hopes on luck or superstitious equivalents. At one point in the film we see Cabbar attending a rally and protest by the drivers of horse-drawn carriages. This is a radical affair , both in the rhetoric of the speaker and in the placards and slogans. But Cabbar is led away by Hasan who arrives with news of the Hodja and the supposed treasure.

The treasure hunt occupies a substantial part of the later film. And it offers a increasingly pointless and despairing hunt. Thus Cabbar’s final descent into madness signifies the hopelessness of such alternatives to direct opposition. In fact, Cabbar is clearly part of the lowest social class, in one sense proletarian. But his situation relies on his possession of a meagre capital which provides the commodity he attempts to sell. Thus his situation tends towards them petit-bourgeois and the resultant values. The censors ruling slightly misses the point; the film does not merely point up class difference but the interests embodied in different classes.

The film works quite slowly, gradually building up to the sad climax and unresolved ending. Güney and his cinematographer, Kaya Ererez, captures the actual urban world of Turkey, the film’s black and white cinematography relies almost completely on actual locations. There are frequent thigh-angle and low-angle shots, providing both omniscient and dramatic angles on characters. There are a number of fine silhouette shots of characters sited on skylines, including both at sunrise and at sunset. Long shots place the characters in the wider settings and long takes focus on the slow deterioration in the story. There are also a number of sequence shots and at the end of the film the camera circles Cabbar as he follows a descent that emulates Lear in an earlier period.


The cast, with Güney himself playing Cabbar, is very well done. They are as convincing as the locales and settings in the film. The soundtrack used music sparingly, though it is more noticeable as we near the final desperate situation.

The screening used a transfer to DCP with the Turkish dialogue rendered into English in sub-titles. The image quality was variable, which may have been down to the source material or the transfer process. The Catalogue’s final comment makes the neo-realist connection and adds,

Umut could easily be considered an heir to the Third cinema movement.”

I would suggest that the movement actually continues. Certainly Güney’s films, including this title, fit the requirement laid down by Solanas and Getino,

making films that the System cannot assimilate and which are foreign to its needs, or making films that directly and explicitly set out to fight the System.”

Güney, whilst using the film system in Turkey, nicely balances between these two ways of opposition.

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Gold: The Dream That United Our Nation, India 2018

Posted by keith1942 on August 25, 2018

This is a newly released Hindi-language film centred on India’s Olympic hockey teams. It is in colour and widescreen and it features the usual songs and dances found in popular ‘Bollywood’ cinema. The film dramatises, with a certain amount of fictionalisation, India’s performances in two Olympic Games, 1936 and 1948. India won the Men’s Title on both occasions, but in 1936 it was as ‘British India’ whilst in 1948 it was as the newly Independent India.

So the film is a celebration of India’s liberation from British colonial rule through the vehicle of sporting achievement. Appropriately its release in India was on August 15th, Independence Day. It has been very successful there, becoming the thirds highest opener of the year so far.

The story is recounted by the Indian team manager Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar), so effectively the whole film is in flashback. It opens in Berlin in 1936. Demeaning comments by Adolf Hitler regarding Indian independence has led to protests, so the Indian team arriving for a final against Germany is heavily guarded. Two protesters successfully raise the flag of an ‘Independent’ India, shouting ‘revolution’. Rather re-markedly Das and the Indian team seem little involved in the Independence movement, by then a national-wide crusade. But trailing badly, at the intermission Das, who has purloined the flag when the protesters are arrested and beaten, reveals it to inspire the team. In a notable turn-about they go on to win 8-1. But as the flag of British India is raised at the Award ceremony accompanied by ‘God Save the King’, Das is moved to promise himself that one day it will be an Independent Indian Flag and Anthem.

World War II suspends the Olympics until 1948. After the war is over Britain is forced to grant Independence. Now Das can fulfil his promise. But, of course, dramatically this requires conflict. A whole series of obstacles stand in the way and hinder Indian hockey’s progress to a Gold Medal. Nearly all of these are internal to India and Indian Hockey. Whilst we see quite amount of competition hockey it is not the actual playing that offers the main obstacle. And from the start of the film, or at least from the moment of Das’s promise, the audience can expect Indian victory. The drama lies in the road to that victory.

First Das has to overcome his indulgence in alcohol, used by a rival to undermine him. His wife Monobina (Muni Roy) is important here. Then Das tours India to find a team of new skilled players. A key figure here is Imtiaz Shah (Vineet Kumar Singh), not only a hockey player but also a member of the Indian National Army. Imtiaz is to be captain. However, another obstacle arises, Partition. We see Imtiaz set upon by a Hindu mob and his house is gutted. Thus five important members of the term leave for Pakistan and Das has to start again. When he has assembled a new team he has to find a training facility; right through the film it is private money from wealthy supporters that funds the project. Das finds a Buddhist Community that seems ideal. When he puts his request to the Head of the Monastery he mentions of Samrat (Kunal Kapoor, captain and star of the 1936 team). The abbot reveals he is a hockey fan as he breaks a five year-long silence to utter the name of his hero, Samrat.

But the training is disrupted by class and communal rivalries. The players, all from different provinces, fall into closed groups. And a key player, Prince Raghubir Pratap Singh (Amit Sadh), is more interested in scoring for himself than playing as part of a team. Das and Samrat resolve this in part through team building exercises. But, after a party to celebrate the announcement of the National Team, Das performs a drunken song and dance and is expelled from the National Hockey League.

Once in London the team suffer from the machinations of the British Imperial Hockey Association, who place India and Pakistan [also a strong side] in the same knock-out opening section. Whilst the team’s rivalries resurface, Das is called to save the day. Joining forces with the Pakistan management they force the British to change the listings. Nevertheless the British team succeed in beating Pakistan in a semi-final and the final confrontation between Independent India and colonial Britain is set up. But the simmering disputes in the team resurface. In particular, a star player Himmat Singh (Sunny Kaushal), has a fight with Raghubir.

In the interval of the final India are trailing Britain 1.0. Repeating his performance of 1936 Das lectures the team whilst unfurling the flag he claimed that day. Revitalised the team return to the field and score four goals to take the title. Das and the team stand proudly as the newly independent Indian flag is raised to the new Indian anthem.

The 1948 team’s departure

The film thus offers a paean to the Independence Movement. It is not especially focussed on a particular strand in the broad movement. The INA is referenced and we see Gandhi in some of the wartime newsreels featured in[in their correct academy ratio. But is a generalised independence movement: unlike Rangoon (2017), unashamedly committed to the INA. In the same way both class and communalism are factors in the narrative but the film tends to treat these also in a generalised manner. Interestingly the only example of the communalism at Partition is that inflicted on Imtiaz, a Muslim. We doe not see attacks on Hindus. As the title suggests, the film’s narrative addresses particular social conflicts in contemporary India. When we reach the final the issue between Himmat and Raghubir is class based; but Himmat is portrayed as lower down the social scale but not in any specific class character.

The British are represented as a superior-minded elite but they are not vilified: the Nazis are far nastier. The British clearly stoop to manipulation and do not play the game as ‘cricket’. At a meeting where they British Hockey management gloat over the effects of Partition on the hockey team the |leading member notes that they should thank Lord Mountbatten. These are an elite and Das’s problems in India are partly due to the Indian elite. One interesting aspect are the ‘ordinary’ spectators, both in 1936 and 1948. In Berlin as the Indian team make their come-back the crowd cheer and start to support the Indians. The same happens in London as the British crowd respond to the courage and skill of the Indian players.

This is a masculine movie. The only substantial female character is Monobina. She is an important factor in the story, helping to motivate Das. And when the training camp is organised it is she that runs the meals, rather like an NCO, purchasing supplies, supervising the cooking and the mealtimes. We do see women in the crowds and at the social events. And they are noticeable in the song and dance numbers. These, like the film, are in period costume but stylistically they are similar to the modern ‘Bollywood’ song and dance, though much briefer. Neither Monobina nor Das age noticeably in the decade between the two Olympics. The film is not especially concerned with realism in that sense; just as in Berlin whilst one character is clearly Adolf Hitler [storming off in a huff] he is not that physically similar to the leader.

The key figure in the production seems to be Akshay Kumar, a major star in Indian cinema. He it was who made the first announcement of the production. He does not have a listing as a producer but he enjoys the prime focus in the film. The film uses Yorkshire for British locations and mainly the Punjab for those in India. As far as history goes the film would appear to diverge considerably from the record of events. Whilst the listed score for the 1936 Olympics is 8-1, that for the 1948 Olympic final is 4-0, [rather than the 4-1 score in the film]. Moreover, neither Himmat nor Raghubir appear as players in the actual team. Interestingly India and Pakistan have been the dominant teams in this Olympic sport. Women’s hockey only started at the 1980 Olympics.

This is definitely a mainstream film but it is also a national drama. Thus it falls between the dominant cinema and First or national cinema. Whilst Rangoon is wildly fantastic and uses history as and adjunct to the melodrama that film also has a more specific and more direct representation of the radical Independence Movement. This film stays safely in the conformist history of Indian’s fight for freedom.

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Along the Sugari River / Songhuajiang Shang, China 1947.

Posted by keith1942 on July 20, 2018

This was one of the titles screened in ‘The Rebirth of Chinese Cinema (1941 – 1951) programme at the 2018 Il Cinema Ritrovato. The films were provided from the collection of the Centre de documentation et de recherche sur le cinéma chinois at he University of Paris. The collection partly comes from prints moved to Hong Kong in the 1950s and then collected and archived by staff at the University Chinese Department. To these were added a collection donated by the Chinese Embassy in Paris. With the exception of the well-known Spring in a Small Town (Xiao Cheng Zhi Chun, 1948) the films were a rare opportunity to see works from the 1940s. This was the decade that saw the end of the Japanese occupation and then the Civil war between the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang of China: the latter is frequently rendered as ‘Nationalist party’. However both the contending movements were nationalist, the civil war was to decide whether China took the Socialist Road or the Capitalist road. So these films carry the weight of the contending values of that decade but also of the contemporary decades as well.

The films were introduced by Tony Rayns, who has [at least in English ;language circles] an unrivalled knowledge of Chinese cinema. Generally he placed the films in the contemporary context and filled out portraits of the film-makers involved. He pointed out in many cases there was almost no easily available material in English on the titles. The screening was from a DCP transfer of reasonable quality. The original 35mm prints suffered from years of neglect but seem to have survived relatively well. We had a Chinese sound version with French sub-titles and an English translation projected digitally.

The title of the film is that of a popular song of resistance to the Japanese occupation which commenced in 1931. The lyrics would seem to have influenced the narrative offered by the film, so it is worth including them:

‘Along the Songhua River’

My home is on Songhua River in the Northeast.

There are forests, coal mines,

soybeans and sorghum all over the mountain.

My home is on Songhua River in the Northeast.

There are my fellow countrymen and my old parents.

September 18, September 18, since that miserable day,

September 18, September 18, since that miserable day,

I’ve left my homeland, discarded the endless treasure.

Roam, Roam, the whole day I roam inside the Great Wall.

When can I go back to my homeland?

When can I get back my endless treasure?

My mother, my father, when can we gather together? ‘

The film is set in Manchuria, a region in the North-East that is divided between China and Russia. In this period Japan was a rising imperial power, Russia was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and China was divided between an ineffectual government in Peking, a number of war-lords, one of whom controlled most of Manchuria, and a provisional Government of a Republic of China in Canton under the control of the Kuomintang. The young Chinese Communist Parry had supported the Kuomintang movement but after the massacres of Communists and leftists in Shanghai in 1927 by the Kuomintang the long conflict that resolved in 1949 had begun. And there were a number of so-called ‘Treaty areas and ports’ imposed on the Chinese Government by western colonial powers, of which Britain was the most rapacious. The film commences in 1931 when Japan began it occupation of Manchuria, setting up a puppet state.

Note, the characters are mainly presented as types, ‘the girl’, ‘the boy’, ‘the grandfather’ but in the original Chinese dialogue and the French sub-titles names occasionally appear, so that ‘the girl’ is called Niu and her cat, only seen early in the film, is called Minet. We first meet a family living on a farm who also act as a staging post for a regular convoy transporting goods to a urban centre. The arrival, feeding and stabling of the convoy is a major sequence. A member of the convoy is ‘the boy’ (Wang Reniu) who has bought a present from an earlier trip for ‘the girl’ (Zhang Ruifang). And the payment for the night’s lodging is given to the grandfather who places it in a purse hung round his neck.

The convoy moves on but some time later re-appear in a rush to warn that

“The Japanese are here.”

The Girl is in the nearby town with her father and The Grandfather. Japanese cavalry arrive followed by infantry. They dash into the street and the girl’s father is knocked down by their horses. The invaders show scant regard for the local people and immediately post notices warning the inhabitants to follow orders and treat the troops with respect.

“The great Japanese army is here.” villagers must “bow in the presence of the Japanese army.”

They pay no attention to The Girl cradling the body of her dead father. The Grandfather leads her away and home.

The film shows a series of instances that depict the harsh treatment of local people by the Japanese. The Girl has now lost her mother also, who succumbed on the news of he husband’s death. The Girl is washing clothes on the edge of the lake and fails to bow to a Japanese soldier. She is chased into the lake by the soldiers and falls into hysterics.

But resistance has started and one night a group of Partisans attack a Japanese convoy, killing soldiers and stealing weapons. At the farm there are signs of its run-down, lack of repairs and the absence of animals. The Boy, a cousin, arrives at the farm as does a passing Traveller (Zhou Diao). The Traveller tells a story of a Japanese atrocity in which he lost both his wife and his child. Later the family realise that the traveller is a member of the Partisans carrying grenades for us an attacks. The oppression by the Japanese military continues. When an officer starts eyeing up The Girl The Grandfather claims [falsely] that she and The Boy are married. The officer then forces the couple to make a public embrace and kiss to ‘prove’ the relationship. Then the cousin and grandfather are among local men forced to work on the construction of a watch tower. Alone at home The Girl is assaulted by a Japanese soldier and The Boy saves her by accidentally shooting the soldier.

The trio flee but The Grandfather is wounded in the chase and dies. He passes onto the couple the purse with their funds and tells them that

“Niu listen to him … she is your wife now.”

The surviving couple flee the area and the Boy finds work in a Japanese run mine. He and The Girl live as husband and wife and she has a baby. However a flood in the mine leads to the death of many miners. The Boy survives. He is part of a demonstration when the Japanese managers announce pitiful compensation for the families of the dead. The crowd storm the mine officers, in the melee The Boy first shelters The Girl but then she has to save him from a Japanese soldier. The protesters are mowed down by the Japanese soldiers and the couple flee. Pursued they finally find safety in the surrounding hills with a band of Partisans. They have now followed the advice given earlier by The ‘Traveller’,

“We have to resist.”

The film runs for just on two hours. For a first-time director it offers an impressive feat. The narrative is well set out and the story proceeds with an increasing rhythm. The cinematography of Yang Jiming is excellent and offers a range of moving camera. There are frequent pans, both in the opening sequence at the farm and later, as when Niu is chased into the lake. And there are numerous travelling shots, especially in the action sequences, as when the Japanese first arrive riding alongside the lake and then into the town. And again there is a dynamic range in the sequence in which the partisans attack the Japanese convoy. Most impressive is the demonstration that arises after the disaster in the mine. There are range of cameras shots including both high and low angles. And the camera pans across the battle and uses powerful close ups in the fighting to dramatic effect.

The editing by Shen Jualun and Guan Zhibin is also finely achieved. The narrative achieves a genuine momentum at times and the cutting in action sequences is as dramatic as the camerawork. The use of ellipsis works well and enables the passing of considerable points of time. Li Weicai’s music is ever-present and raises the tempo at moment so drama. The performances by the cast are convincing and Zhang Ruifang is outstanding at Niu. She went on to become a major actor and star in the cinema after liberation.

The film is clearly a melodrama of protest, ending as is common not in victory as such but in the continuation of the struggle. The Boy and The Girl have now joined the resistance to the Japanese occupation. Thus the narrative provides an odyssey for the characters from normal life, through oppression to resistance. The opening segment sets up a fine picture of rural life and introduces the key characters in the story. The advent of the Japanese army brings in a series of oppressions inflected on the indigenous people. But increasingly signs of resistance become apparent. And by the end of the film the key characters have been bought together with partisans.

The film was made in Manchuria Changchun Film Productions.

“After the Soviet Army liberated Changchun, the well-equipped Manying Film Studios were handed over to the Chinese Communist from Yenan, who renamed them The North-East Film Studio. In summer 1946, the Nationalists [Kuomintang] launched a big offensive in the region and took control of the city. They soon established Changchun Film productions and entrusted the direction of the first film, Songhuajiang Shang, to Jin Shan (1911 – 1982), a famous actor. As he was well-known for his anti-Japanese activities, few people were willing to mention that he had been a clandestine member of the Communist Party since the 1930s.” (Marie Claire Kuo and Kuo Kwan Leung in the Catalogue).

This background to the film demonstrates the complexity of the situation in China in 1947. Since the massacre in 1927 a civil war had been waged between the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang. The ‘Long March’, led by Mao Zedong, which ended in Yenan is the most famous event in this war. However, both parties were also involved in a war of resistance against the Japanese occupation. At various points during this war the two parties co-operated, but this was always temporary.

Given the control of the studio by the Kuomintang it is interesting that the partisans are not identified politically. However, partisans were mote likely to be communists as the Kuomintang relied on more conventional military forces. It was in Manchuria that the Communist Party launched its final war against the Kuomintang, leading in 1949 to the liberation of establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

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Kosmos, Turkey / Bulgaria, 2010

Posted by keith1942 on June 20, 2018

This is another fine Turkish film. After years of being practically invisible in the British territory, the last decade has seen Turkish cinema producing a series of beautifully crafted and fascinating features. Notable among these have been the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The terrain in this film reminded me of the winter sequence in Ceylan’s Climates (2007), though that was set in Eastern Turkey and this film is set in the North West border territories.

It is from that border wilderness that the central protagonist of the film emerges. This is a great opening shot as a small figure gradually emerges from the wintry wasteland. He is called Kosmos (Sermet Yesil). He arrives at a border town. Whilst washing in the river he spies and saves a drowning boy. The boys sister Neptün (Türkü Turan) believes Kosmos has bought the boy back from death. As this news spreads in the close-knit town community Kosmos is made welcome.

Attempts are made to provide him with accommodation and work. But Kosmos is a wayward spirit. He is taciturn, and his occasional utterances sound like quotations from sacred volumes, most likely the Koran. Moreover, as he tells the townsmen, he is looking for love. He finds this with Neptün, a kindred spirit. They often communicate by shrill, laughing cries.

Kosmos’ search for love crosses the cultural taboos about sexuality. And his attempts at other good deeds, including procuring medicine for a desperate and lame young woman, capture the attention of the army: the actual law enforcing agency in the town. By the film’s end Kosmos is sought by both hopeful townspeople seeking miracles, and by an army officer and his squad. The film ends as he disappears back into the wintry wilderness. However, Neptun’s own screeching at the captain suggest the possibility that she now also possesses Kosmos’ unusual powers.

The film treads an uneasy but successful line between drama and farce. The recurring cries of greeting between Kosmos and Neptün are bizarre by conventional film standards. But the film manages to evoke both a magical world and the staid everyday world into which it collides. This is partly done by effective characterisation and a remarkable mise en scène. The film makes fine use of the widescreen imagery, and snow, mist and shadows contribute powerfully to this. An atmospheric soundtrack accompanies the visuals. One set of the recurring sounds on this are distant or not-so-distant explosion, as the army conduct manoeuvres near the border.

There are also suitably bizarre episodes to match the wayward world of Kosmos. So a Russian space capsule crashes nearby one night and provides a notable distraction in town life.

The film also manages to retain some ambiguity about Kosmos’ powers. His ‘miracles’ are not uniformly beneficial. There is a young boy who has been dumb for a year after a traumatic experience. Kosmos restores his powers of speech, but the boy is then struck down by a fatal illness. This adds to the antagonisms that develop towards Kosmos.

The background to the story and main characters are sketched in with detail and frequent eccentricity. One recurring scene shows a band of four feuding brothers, driving round with their fathers corpse and coffin whilst they struggle over his inheritance. Some of the recurring motifs are clearly symbolic, and a little over emphasised. Thus there are frequent shots of cows being led to an abattoir: and also a flock of geese waddling down a street. But most of the motifs add to the atmosphere of the film and story: the recurring thefts from the shops: the café where only men drink their tea and talk: the scenes by the river, a fast-flowing icy torrent; a mist-laden square dominated by a statue, presumably Ataturk: all help to build up the enclosed world of the town.

Definitely a film to be seen and enjoyed: though it may take a little time to adjust to the film’s oddball flavour. Like Hudutlarin Kannu (The Law of the Border, Turkey 1966) this film studies the volatile border regions of Turkey. However, it is set in a rather differing area with different questions of ethnicity and it tends to the fantastic rather than the realist mode.

In 2.35:1 colour, with English subtitles. Written and directed by Rehan Erdem: this was his seventh film [see webpages. The film was screened at the 2010 Leeds International Film Festival.

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