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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.

Posted in Chinese cinema | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Film Festival, Turkish film | 1 Comment »

The “Anti-Semitic” abuse.

Posted by keith1942 on June 7, 2018

An earlier post detailed the responses to an article of mine criticising the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir. Now I have had a second brush with a Zionist/fellow-traveller over an article defending the British film-maker Ken Loach from the slurs of “anti-Semitism’” and “holocaust’ denier”. This appears to be part of the shenanigans around the Labour Party and the campaign by Zionists and fellow-travellers to strike two birds with one stone – attacking Jeremy Corbyn and sabotaging support for the Palestinian Struggle in the party. Like parallel campaigns this is abuse of language, dishonest and reactionary. One critic makes an important point,

“Partisans of Israel often make false accusations of anti-Semitism to silence Israel’s critics. The ‘antisemite!’ libel is harmful not only because it censors debate about Israel’s racism and human rights abuses but because it trivializes the ugly history of Jew-hatred.” (Handleman, Scott, “Trivializing Jew-Hatred,” in The Politics of Anti-Semitism, ed. Alexander Cockburn, 2003)

To which should be added that the Palestinians are Semitic too in the original meaning of the term, [see Edward Said’s seminal study on ‘Orientalism’, 1978). It seems to me that, like many other terms tossed about in varied discourses, “Anti-Semitism” needs to presented in inverted commas [as is done with “race”] to protect our use of language.

Ken Loach: honoured and pilloried

This post should celebrate Ken Loach receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. I am not really sure what purpose Honorary Doctorates serve but I do admire Ken Loach’s film output and I am happy to see it celebrated. But this event has become clouded because of charges of anti-Semitism against the film-maker. Of course he is in good company: a host of committed supporters of the Palestinian National Liberation Struggle have been subjected to this type of smear. It appears that some media, including The Guardian newspaper, The Tablet weekly and the BBC, are happy to offer space to a dubious campaign protecting Israel from criticism. The Guardian has printed a number of articles about the problem of so-called “anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party and the BBC regularly reports on the issue. Yet I have yet to see or hear a report in the paper or on the radio about the Al Jazeera series that exposed collusion between staff at the Israeli Embassy and the Labour Friends of Israel, The Lobby.

It seems that Ken wrote a riposte to one of his accusers, Jonathan Freedland, but that The Guardian declined to print it. The Jewish Voice for Labour has kindly done a service by publishing it online.

It is ironic that the problem is usually that the right-wing film critics attack Ken’s films. Those on The Wind that Shakes the Barley were prime examples. Now we have critics, supposedly liberal or left, attacking him, though in similar fashion they are low on specifics. We had an example of the failure of Zionist supporters to argue about the actual words, images and meanings when I posted on Waltz with Bashir. There was a series of critical comment on my article but we never heard anything from the writer on the actual film.

There is a long tradition of vilifying artists and writers who support resistance to oppression. We still await a film version of Trevor Griffith’s study of one great advocate, Tom Paine. Nearer our own times Jean-Luc Godard was among a number of French artists pilloried for criticising the French settler occupation in Algiers, Le petit Soldat (1963). Daniel Ellsberg was labelled The most dangerous man in America  by Henry Kissinger for exposing the lies and deceit around US aggression. The misuse of “anti-American” for the criticism of US foreign policy parallels the misuse of “anti-Semitism”. Such critics would be better occupied critically viewing video film of Palestinian unarmed civilians shot in the back outside the borders of Israel.

Comments:

April 29, 2018 – 8:46

Ruth Baumberg

What an intemperate rant! Anti-Semitic – conspiracy theories, holocaust equivocation, etc. Wake up and look at some genuine history This is not about Israel; it is about anti-Semitism ensconced in the British Left. I despair about politics in the UK – anti-Semitism on the left, racism against black immigrants on the right.

Reply

keith1942

This comment seems typical of Zionists or their fellow-travellers. M/s Baumberg should check the meaning of ‘rant’ before misusing it. Some of the synonyms give a sense of the word:

“diatribe, harangue, tirade, …..’

She makes no mention of Ken Loach himself, nor of the debates around the Labour Party. Nor is there any reference to the excellent Al Jazeera ‘Investigation’, which I assume she has not watched. This would provide her with some relevant information. As would the excellent series on ‘Al Nakba’ or the footage screened in the channel’s ‘news hour’ showing the Israeli Defence Force shooting unarmed civilians.

I wonder if she has watched any of the fine Palestinian films on the occupation of their homeland.

There is Elia Suleiman’s excellent historical study The Time That Remains ; the film record of Palestinian resistance, Five Broken Cameras ; and a drama depicting the brutal treatment of Palestinian women imprisoned by the Israeli’s for resistance, 3000 Nights / 300 Layal / 3000 Layla.

Fortunately supporters of the Palestinian struggle [among other activities] organise screenings of these films. We are promised another Leeds Palestinian Film Festival late in 2018. An opportunity to be properly informed on this anti-colonial struggle for which Britain bears the primary responsibility.

Further comment:

May 18, 2018 – 3:30

Ruth Baumberg

Well! Zionist as a term of abuse! – I wasn’t talking about Israel and I did indeed make reference to the Labour party, though it sounds as if you are well to the left with your neo-marxist colonialist analysis. There are plenty of other films giving a different view, in particular, have you seen “In Between” – an excellent Palestinian directed film from 2017 made in Israel about 3 flatmates in Tel Aviv.

Ken Loach, though I like most of his films – Daniel Blake in particular – has indeed got a reputation as an antisemite as does that embarrassment to the Labour party Ken Livingstone. And antisemitism does exist in the Labour left without reference to Israel/Palestine and has done for many years. Just ask any of the Jewish Labour women MPs – Louise Ellman, Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger, Margaret Hodge, etc

I wouldn’t use Al-Jazeera as an independent voice as it is a partisan view. You might like to listen to Simon Schama this morning on Radio 4 on Israel at 70 for a balanced view.

Reply

May 19, 2018 – 1:39

Roy Stafford

In Between was reviewed on this blog which has discussed several significant Israeli films. The main contributors to the blog have long experience of anti-racist work as teachers. We are interested in exploring all forms of resistance to colonialist actions which include the actions of the Israeli state in its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. In that we are supported by many Jewish Israeli citizens. Smearing campaigners against the colonial actions of the Israeli state, like the film-maker Ken Loach, is completely unacceptable.

This is not a blog to discuss the inner workings of the Labour Party in the UK.

As a film and media educationist I don’t see a major difference between the BBC, the Guardian and Al Jazeera. All are partisan commentators, just as we are.

This discussion is now closed.

IN BETWEEN, (aka BAR BAHAR, aka BAR BAHR, aka LO PO, LO SHAM), poster, from left: Sana Jammelieh, Shaden Kanboura, Mouna Hawa, 2016. © Film Movement /Courtesy Everett Collection
Reporters / Everett

The Editor’s final comment is valuable, though I would want to add to it. I should note personally that I am more upset at being labelled a ‘neo-marxist’ than being accused of an “anti-Semitic rant”. I regard myself as a Marxist in the classical tradition. Marx and Engels came to recognise that colonial occupations were a barrier to freedom for both the occupier and the occupied., especially in their writings on India and Ireland.

At least M/s Baumberg goes one better than her predecessor, she actually references one film. But her choice is worth noting. I added a critical comment to the review of the film on ‘The Case for Global Film’. In Between is more obviously critical of Islamic masculinity than Israeli racism, though the latter does figure in a minor way. I put this down to the film being partially funded by Israeli institutions. It would seem that is is less upsetting for a Zionist or fellow-traveller than the more explicit Palestinian films that I mention. And the other film references, I, Daniel Blake, is actually one of Ken Loach’s less political films: a point made in my review of that film.

This is part of a wider critical discourse which dislikes overt political and didactic films. In British criticism ‘didactic’ is nearly always a negative term. Serious political representation, not just in Palestinian films but in the Ken Loach films I referenced, are seen as problematic.

Two of the Labour MPs mentioned belong to he Labour Friends of Israel, the subject of the Al Jazeera exposure. And Simon Schama is on record as arguing that ‘anti-Zionism’ has equivalence with “anti-Semitism’. He also attacked John Berger’s support for the Palestinians and, in a familiar trope, drew a a false parallel between attacks on Jews under the Third Reich and attacks on Israel.

I also notice that Ken Livingstone’s name is added to the diatribe. Livingstone’s comment on Hitler and Zionism was an exaggeration but was a reference to an actual agreement testified in the historical records. But what is more relevant is that whilst he has been disciplined for expressing an opinion which should be protected by the ‘right’ to free speech the actions by a number of Labour MPs documented in Al Jazeera’s The Lobby have been completely ignored.

Defenders of reaction frequently seize on one item or individual to buttress their arguments, regardless of how relevant. I had an example with the film journal ‘Cine action’. I wrote a letter criticising the film Kippur (Amos Gitai, 2000) and raising the issue of Zionist theme in Hollywood films; [we have just had another version of ‘Entebbe’ from the USA, the fourth]. The editor’s response was to attack me and include a reference to ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion! I had never read the document but it is available on the Internet so I checked it out. As you might expect from a document apparently produced in 1903 there is no mention of Hollywood, nor indeed of cinema at all. Clearly the function of the reference was not to inform the argument but as, what in colloquial English is called, an ‘Aunt Sally’.

Like my colleagues on ‘The case for Global Cinema’ I aim to research titles and to buttress critical comments with references to the actual film or article. Ken loach and his colleagues take an equally rigorous approach to writing the screenplays for the films that they make. What is noticeable about the Zionist critics is that they are low on this type of critical approach and rather prefer to make generalised comments along with outrageous claims proclaimed with shrill emotion. Fortunately, as a long-standing English children’s chant goes,

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’!

Posted in Palestinian films | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Hudutlarin Kannu (The Law of the Border), Turkey 1966

Posted by keith1942 on April 16, 2018

This is a Turkish film restored by the World Cinema Foundation and screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2011. It was recommended for restoration by Fatih Akin (the young Turkish-German film-maker), who introduced the screening along with one of the surviving cast members. The film is considered important because it featured a key director of the 1960s, Orner Lüfti Akad, and as writer and star, the now well known film-maker Yilmaz Güney.

Akin writes on the film:

“Turkish cinema in the Sixties took place in a dream world. The movies of that era refused to look directly at Turkish society. . . . This was the beginning of what would later be called ‘New Cinema’ in Turkey, with its powerful cinematography and its direct and realistic depiction of social problems”.

The film is set in the South-east border region of Turkey, thus part of the area populated by Kurds. The area is policed and controlled by the army. However, the poverty and lack of resources drive people to the ‘law of the border’, smuggling. The attempts to prevent such activities are draconian, including minefields along the border.

The key characters in the film are Hidir, (played by Güney) an expert in defeating the methods restricting border crossings. Standing against him is the new army lieutenant (his predecessor was shot), Zeki. However, the real conflict and violence is between Hidir and a rival smuggler Ali Cello. Their competition is aggravated by the actions of a local rich landowner, Dervis Aga. The conflict is also complicated by Hidir’s young son, Yusuf, and by a local teacher, Miss Ayse. Zeki is an enlightened officer, and he co-operates with Ayse to open a school in Hidir’s village, Deliviran. Because of his fears for his son’s future Hidir is torn between his success as a smuggler and the alternatives. One of these is a share cropping scheme, facilitated by Zeki. However, it depends on the landowner Dervis Aga, who is more interested in profits than in social action. His plotting with Ali Cello sets up a violent and finally tragic ending.

Güney’s Hidir is a powerful centre to the film. He was to become the most popular star in Turkish cinema. Zeki is a liberal officer who also represents progress. This applies equally to Miss Ayse, who is a modern woman wearing western clothing and even smoking on one occasion. This sets both Zeki and Ayse off from the milieu of Hidir, traditional and religious.

In introducing the film Akin had to explain the poor quality of the surviving materials used in the restoration. Apparently only one print survived a coup d’état in 1980: all other sources being seized and destroyed. The Foundation notes explain how they used these sparse sources to create a print, which is still marked by this wear and tear. It notes “some frames were missing”, but apparently this new version is more or less complete. Akin also remarked that the final film was a ‘compromise’ between film-makers and the army. The character of Zeki was presumably important in this respect. At the same time the sympathetic portrayal of what the establishment would regard as criminal and subversive presumably explains why the film was savaged later.

It took me a little time to identify the key characters and their different situations. However, once I had done this the narrative is relatively straightforward: the style less so. The film is clearly influenced by neo-realism: possibly also by spaghetti westerns, and it plays in many ways like a western, with a strong revenge motif. But is also uses unconventional techniques of other new waves, in particular the jump cut. One sequence of a shoot-out reminded me irresistibly of the work of Glauber Rocha.

There is extensive use of jump cuts, especially as the drama increases. The editing generally is often unconventional. I did wonder if there were missing sequences but it appears to be more or less complete. My wonder sprang from a series of shots inserted between scenes, which merely show characters and setting, then continue elsewhere. I assume these are intended as emblematic shots and form part of the visual commentary of the film.

By the film’s end, having got to grips with the characters and their conflicts, I found that it developed a really powerful feeling. And whilst downbeat, it is not entirely despairing, there is the possibility of a future. That is ironic as the border area continue to be a severe problem for Turkish society and the Turkish State. Specifically here the people are part of the Kurdish minority. I did not pick up a specific reference to the Kurds by name in the film but in Turkey the setting would have been obvious to audiences. Güney himself came from Kurdish stock. A film reviewed at the Leeds International Film Festival, Kosmos (2010), was set in the Bulgarian/Turkish border area, and here also there were border problems and the ever present military.

The film is worth seeing both for its quality and power, and also because so little of Turkish cinema is available in the west. It seems that in this period Turkish cinema was producing up to 300 films a year. Yet nearly all are little known, and there is little available English writing on Turkish film. Some of the later films that Güney directed are available, like Yol (1982). But largely it is another ‘unknown’ cinema.

Unfortunately the World Cinema Foundation films tend to turn up at festivals rather than getting a wider distribution. Some of the Foundation titles have appeared on DVDs but not all and the actual selection varies according to the territory: that old bugbear copyright. It is worth keeping an eye open for an opportunity to see this film. The was the last occasion which I was able to see a film by Yilmaz Güney. However the good news is that the 2018 Cinema Ritrovato is hosting a retrospective of Güney’s films. The actual titles have yet to be announced.

Hudutlarin Kannu / The Law of the Border

Turkey 1966. Director: Lüfti Akad.

Scenario, dialogue: Orner Lufti Akad, Yilmaz Güney. From the novel by Yilmaz Güney.

Cinematography: Ali Uğur. Music: Nida Tüfekçi.

Yildiz film studios. 35mm, black and white, 74 minutes.

Cast: Hidir – Yilmaz Güney. Ayse, teacher – Pervin Par. Yusuf, Hidir’s son – Hikmet Olgun. Ali Cello – Erol Tas. Bekir – Tuncel Kurtiz. Dervis Aga – Osman Alyanak. Abuzer – Aydemir Akbas. Zeki, First Lieutenant – Atilla Ergün.

Restored by the World Cinema Foundation at L’Immagine Ritrovato Laboratory.

Turkish version with French subtitles: English translation provided for screening.

Originally posted on ‘The Case for Global Film’.

Posted in Film adapted from a book, Turkish film | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Jupiter’s Moon / Jupiter hokdja, Hungary 2017

Posted by keith1942 on February 7, 2018

This site adheres to a definition of ‘Third Cinema’ as applying to anti-colonial films. But others also include films made in the advanced capitalist states which actually practice colonialism and neocolonialism. The manifesto ‘Towards a Third Cinema’ was ambiguous on this point: whilst defining this cinema as anti-colonial it included films made in [for example] European states. However, the writings of Franz Fanon, which provide the basis for the manifesto, clearly locate such art in the anti-colonial struggle. This is a boundary that is opaque, that has always been the case. And in the era labelled as ‘global’, with ever larger migrations to advanced capitalist states, the boundaries are even more ambiguous.

Citizens from oppressed peoples and nations attempting to take up residence in advanced capitalist countries fall into this ambiguous space. Consequently the films that dramatise their situations and journeys have a certain ambiguity. Mao Zedong distinguished between the struggle of Afro-Americans which was one of civil rights and Africans struggling against colonialism and neocolonialism. I would think that distinction is still valid but where particular examples fall is a matter of judgement.

Jupiter’s Moon is a good example. The film centres on a young Syrian refugee who ends up in Hungary. Like his many fellow refugees he faces the threat of deportation back to Syria. In Hungary his case is one of civil rights, with the state ignoring the internationally agreed rights of refugees. But if deported he will return to Syria where a civil war, fuelled and armed by neocolonial practices, will threaten him.

Our protagonist is Aryan (Zsombor Jéger) who, with his father Murad, is crossing a river that separates Serbia from Hungary. Surprised by security forces Murad drowns and, trying to escape, Aryan is shot, three times. In a fantastic transformation rather than dying Aryan finds that he can escape gravity. This new magical ability is the central driver of the film’s plot.

In a refugee camp Aryan is discovered by Doctor Gabor Stern (Merab Ninidze) who helps the young man escape. But he helps Aryan because Gabor, who already makes money by providing refugees with medical certificate that enable them to leave the camp for hospital, has realised Aryan unique ability can be turned to money-making.

Gabor is assisted by his girlfriend Vera (Móni Balsai), a nurse in a main Budapest hospital. But he and Aryan are pursued by László (György Cserhalmi), a camp security officer and the man who shot Aryan. This chase is complicated by the fact that another refugee had stolen the identity papers of Aryan and Morad. He turns out to be involved in terrorist activities but is thought by the police to be Aryan.

At first Gabor is successful in his exploitation of Aryan. But as the police chase gets closer and acts of violence scar the city the complexities increase. Gabor experiences a change of heart and tries to assist Aryan in his journey. The forces of migration, profit-making enterprise and state security come together in a violent but impressive climax,

One aspect that distinguishes the film is the complexity of the characters. All the main players are driven by fairly basic emotions but as the narrative develops their stances change as the action develops. Aryan remains the character closest to his original motivation. But his abilities to levitate place him in a distinctive situation in this new world.

The levitation sequences are very well done. A friend thought that they became repetitious. This is partly true but I thought mainly due the accompanying music which does tend to repetition. Visually the sequences are distinguished by well executed backgrounds and by changing the angle of the viewer’s perspective. Approaching the climax there is a fast and brilliantly exciting car chase: equal to the famous sequences in Bullitt (1968). The closing shot maintains the ambiguity: I for one was left puzzling over its significance.

The sequences of the river crossing and later episodes in the refugee camp are visceral. The sense of violence is maintained and the plight of the refugees graphically illustrated. This comments on the current situation in Eastern Europe. And the film is in no doubt that racism and xenophobia fuel this treatment.

But by treating the central character in a manner that mirrors magical realism the film essays a an unusual standpoint for what seems at times a genre movie. The opening credit explain the reference to Jupiter’s moon ‘Europa’ which is the smallest of four moons and the one likeliest to support life forms. As noted by critics at times Aryan seems a little like an alien visitor. So aspects of the film play into science fiction. Critics at Cannes suggested that the film has too many themes. There is a lot going on besides the plight of the refugees and the actions of terrorists. The hospital comments on a dystopian but contemporary society. At least one character is an un-outed gay. And there are a number of references to religion and to angels. I did think some of these felt obvious. But for most of the films the interaction of themes is stimulating.

The film was shot on 35mm film stock with the addition of some digital techniques and CGI. These different formats have been blended together really well. The cinematography by Marvell Rév is extremely well done. At times it is visually graphic and at others the cityscape is superb. The film editing by Dávid Jancsó is equally fine, varying from the visceral to the contemplative rhythms. The music by Jed Kurzel was, for me at times, too obtrusive, but I think my tastes here are out of current fashion. The cityscape is used extremely well and the production design by  Márton Ágh blends effectively a wide range of settings.

The film was directed by  Kornél Mundruczó who also wrote the film with his long-time collaborator Kata Wéber. I thought their prevision White God (2014) was both very well done and really interesting. This is the more complex, and I think, better film.

In Britain the film is circulating on a DCP. It is in colour and at 2.35:1. The dialogue includes Hungarian, English and I think Syrian and possibly Serbian. All are sub-titled in English in the British files, including the English dialogue. Solanas and Getino defined their oppositional cinema as one that

“directly and explicitly set out to fight the System.”.

This film fights one central aspect of the system rather than the whole though I found that partially implied. It does it mainly on behalf of victims of neocolonialism. But there is also more than that in the film.

Posted in Borderline films | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Three features by Elia Suleiman

Posted by keith1942 on January 5, 2018

He is an important Palestinian filmmaker. Born in 1960 in Nazareth he has a Christian background [Greek Orthodox] which feeds into his films, though centrally they reflect both his identity as a Palestinian under occupation and, for much of his life, also an exile. He commenced filmmaking whilst living in New York with two critical documentaries. In 1994 he returned to Palestine to teach at the Birzeit University, close to Ramallah. His main task was to develop a Film and Media Department with funding provided by the European Community. Here he wrote and directed several films including two features. In 2008 he took up a University post in Switzerland. Since then he has made another feature set in the occupied territories.

Suleiman appears to have taught himself about filming, starting with video pieces   . His work in the USA provided him with a grasp of the medium which at that time was not available in Palestine. His early films, whilst they followed on from the arrival of the Palestinian Authorities administration of the occupied West Bank, were made before there was any infrastructure for Palestinian filmmaking. And his films have all, to a greater or less er extent, relied on overseas funding.

Since 2000 an infrastructure for various arts, including film, has developed in the territories administered by the Palestinian Authority. It is now possible to write of an indigenous Palestinian cinema. There have been a series of films by Palestinian filmmakers produced within the partial Palestinian territories and circulated in other territories as ‘Palestinian Films’. Two titles, Paradise Now (2005) and Omar (2013) has even been allowed to be submitted in the category of ‘foreign-language film’ at the Hollywood Academy. Titles have won awards at major Film Festivals, including Cannes.

There are a range of films addressing the issue of Palestine, both features and documentaries, and produced both by Palestinians and by filmmakers from elsewhere. Recently quite a few of the titles have followed the conventions of international fiction features or documentaries. A few films have adhered more closely to the conventions of art cinema or modernist documentary. Suleiman’s work definitely falls into this area and feels quite distinct from many of the other Palestinian titles. His films are extremely ironic; he aims at a dispassionate tone with the occasional almost burlesque scenes. Some writers have drawn comparisons with the film work of Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati. He does tend to a ‘deadpan’ tone, but is really closer to a surrealist mode. It should be noted that surrealist art in Arab culture retains the political dimension of the original movement; not always the case with western examples.

Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996) was supported and funded by companies in Palestine, Israel, USA, Germany, France, and including the European Union Media Funds. The film was in colour and standard widescreen, with the soundtrack in Arabic, Hebrew, French and English. The film appeared at the Venice Film Festival where it was awarded the ‘Best First Film Prize’. It received fairly wide distribution in Europe and was released in the USA; but not seemingly in Britain.

The film has three segments: ‘Nazareth Personal Diary’, an intervening scene where Suleiman introduces his film to an audience, and then ‘Jerusalem Political Diary’. The first part of the film presents Suleiman’s return [as E.S.] to his home town after his exile in New York.. The opening shot is unsettling, an out-of-focus close-up which gradually comes into focus as the upper torso of  a man sleeping; [we realise later that this is E.S.’ father]. Initially we see the family home and also meet his mother and other relatives and neighbours There is one scene where his mother and women friends argue about the proper method to use in preparing garlic. The film then moves out into exteriors round Nazareth, the recurring settings are a bar, ‘The Holy Land’; a gift shop full of religious replicas; and, less frequently, men fishing in a boat [uncertain which waters]. Quite often what is occurring is unclear and not explained. We see other Palestinians passing the bar where Elia sits with friends and we hear the voices on an Israeli radio station. There are other sites including a garage/paint-shop and there is a journey by road. One gets a sense of people and place but not completely clarified or pinned down. Ellipses between scenes are signalled by captions on a computer screen, most frequently, ‘the day after’.

Following a caption , ‘I Moved to Jerusalem’ we see E.S. preparing to talk to an audience about his film. Then we move into the final segment, ‘Jerusalem Political Diary’.

This section is more overtly political and includes the control of Palestinians by the Israeli occupation. In a key scene E.S. observes three policemen stopping by a wall in order to urinate. There is a radio call and as they dash away to deal with the event one of the policemen drops his walkie-talkie. E.S. surreptitiously picks this up and we now regularly hear the conversation so the police. E.S. also uses the walkie-talkie to plant fake call-outs to the police resulting in their empty and confusing responses.

We visit an empty house which E.S. is renovating as his accommodation but we also return to the setting from part 1, including the bar and the family home. In the empty house E.S. watches a video of a Palestinian troupe performing a song of sadness. We see a small group who are either preparing violent acts or a drama about these. The film ends with a long shot as E.S.’s father and mother fall asleep watching Israeli television followed by a dedication

“To My Mother and Father and My Homeland’.

The portrait presented by the film is idiosyncratic and fairly subjective. This is very much the dominant mode in which Suleiman works. And his character, E.S. treats most events with a dead-pan response. But the subjective stance is deceptive because as we follow this selection of experiences and impressions there is a strong representation of the experience of Palestinians a as a community and as suffering under occupation. There is an absence of any representation of either the formal Israeli institutions of occupation or of the formal institutions of the Palestinian community. But the absence seems to suggest that neither really offer support to Palestinians: and in the period following the ‘Oslo Accords’ this can be read as a very critical standpoint.

Divine Intervention / Yadon ilaheyya , France, Morocco, Germany, Palestine, 2002.

In colour and widescreen and in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

The film had a wide international release including in Britain. It won several awards including the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. There was controversy overt the film and the Hollywood Academy Awards. according to some sources the film was barred from consideration in the Category of the Best Foreign Language Film because,

“Palestine is not a state we recognize in our rules”.

A spokesperson for the Academy denied that the film had ever been submitted for consideration. However, the claims would fit with the long-standing pro-Zionist stance of many Academy members.

The central character is again E.S. [played by Suleiman]. He is the central characters in a series of vignettes in what was now the ‘Occupied West Bank’. A frequent setting is an Israeli checkpoint where E.S., living in Nazareth;’, meets his girl friend {Manal Khader) who lives in Ramallah. Thus the Israeli occupation is more prominent in this film. The assignations provide opportunities for the observation of the Israelis. As in the earlier film events are frequent surreal and humorous. The best is when E.S. launches a red balloon carrying the portrait of Yasser Arafat. The balloon proceeds to ‘buzz’ the checkpoint to the consternation of the Israeli soldiers.

The finale of the film combines action with computer game techniques. A squad of Israeli military squad use a model Palestinian woman as a target. This turn into an actual female mujahidin and she proceeds to supernaturally neutralize the Israeli fire and then to eliminate the squad and a helicopter sent to their rescue.

The Time That Remains, Britain, Italy, Belgium, France, 2009.

The film is in colour, standard widescreen and uses Arabic, English and Hebrew.

This film takes a rather different approach from the two earlier features; it presents a series of historical episodes charting the occupation of Palestinian lands from Al Nakba in 1948. Suleiman does retains his biographical approach as the key characters are his father, mother and his younger selves.

The four episodes are 1948, 1970, 1980 and the present (2009)/ The film opens in the present. E.S. (Suleiman) returns to his homeland. He takes a taxi from the airport heading [presumably] for Nazareth. However, as storm threatens, the gloomy night closes in and suddenly we are in some never-land. The film’s title interrupts the sequence and we are in a flashback to 1948. This opens in the same café seen in the earlier features and a group of armed Palestinians are sitting and waiting. A place circles, the Zionist radio calls on Palestinians to surrender.

In a hillside house the Major of Nazareth surrenders to officers of the Hagannah. We see the Zionists military attacking civilians and looting houses. In a small workshop Fuad (Suleiman elder – Saleh Bakri) works at a lathe: it emerges that he is a skilled maker of weapons. A car carrying a family, including Fuad’s girlfriend, leaves. Fuad is taken into custody by Zionists and marched to an orchard where Palestinian fighters are tied and laid on the ground.

These dramatic scenes are intercut with more surreal, slightly humorous moments: a short Zionist soldier has to stand on a stone to fix a blindfold on Fuad, who is taller. The sequence ends when Fuad is thrown over a wall and the screen fades to black.

The following section is set in 1970. Fuad is now married and lives in a modern flat in Nazareth. Their young son Elia attends a Palestinian school which is under the domination of the Israeli state. We see a sequence were Israeli dignitaries visit the school and a choir of pupils sing the Israeli anthem surrounded by bunting of Israeli flags. However, the young Elia follows his father’s mould and we see him lectured by the head teacher for using the word ‘colonialist’. Later he is again lectured when he describes the USA as ‘imperialist’. In another scene the pupils watch a 16mm print of Spartacus. Presumably they are supposed to draw parallels between the slave army and Israel. However, in the intimate scene in which Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) and Varinia (Jean Simmonds] declare their love , dishabille, in  a pool the female teacher tries to block the ‘suggestive ‘ sequence by standing in front of the projector.

There are scenes with the family and their neighbours. One of whom, clearly damaged by events, is constantly trying to set himself on fire. And there are fishing trips by Fuad and his friends. Here Suleiman’s laconic observation repeats a sequence where an Israeli military jeep keeps stopping to inspect the fisherman. At another point Fuad rescues an Israeli driver from a burning truck and we then see the paid side by side in the hospital. Fuad’s humanity here reminded me of a poetry by Mahmoud Darwish.

Late in the episode the tone moves from ironic to tragic and the announcements are made of the death of Gamel Abdel Nasser. The episode ends when Fuad is arrested and once more taken off to an Israeli jail.

The film moves forward to 1980. Fuad’s wife writes to her sister. Fuad has had a heart operation, she has diabetes. Elia is now a young man and we see him with his friends at the ‘Holy land’ café. We see Elia with his father on another fishing trip. Then a ‘friendly’ policeman calls. Elia has 24 hours to leave Israel or he will be arrested. That night there are demonstrations and Israeli Defence Force fire at Palestinians. There is a typical Suleiman sequence as we watch a tussle between medics and Israeli soldiers over a wounded man on a trolley; filmed in long shot and a long take. This is the point at which Elia commences his exile in New York.

The final section return sup to the present. Elia arrives at the family flat. it would appear that his father has died in his absence, though the film omits Elia’s return to the territory in 1996. Part of the section presents his relationship with his increasingly ill mother, a relationship that is mainly unspoken. We visit some of the familiar settings and the pattern of life appears little changed. There is long sequence in a hospital which mainly involves waiting. And Elia at another point watches a confrontation between Israeli troops an Palestinian protesters. The section and the film end with Elia in his room, framed against a widows of in the background Nazareth.

Elia Suleiman’s film offer a distinctive take on the Palestinian experience. They are unlike all of the other films that I have seen from this quarter. There are however connections to other examples of Arab cinema. At times one is reminded of Youssef Chahine and the films have parallels with some of the surreal approaches in Arab cinema.

His films tend to the long shot and the long take. This offers a sense of the observational but they are not documentaries. The narratives are elliptical; quite often the relationship between segments is unclear or only achieves clarity well after the commencement. The films emphasise repetition in settings, incidents and characters. There is the sense that the pattern of life frames people’s experience. At the same time that experience includes frequent events that are not in any sense normal. The contrast contributes to the surreal sense. And in the centre of this is the character of E.S., as deadpan as the more famous Keaton. And that tone is as subversive here as it was in the silent comedies.

Little in the film is overly political in the usual sense of the term. Yet both in its representations and in its comparisons and contrasts there emerges a powerful critique of the way that occupation limits and oppresses Palestinian ,life. It is interesting that the most recent film, which is closer to a history than a personal portrait, offers the most explicit representation of Israeli violence. Al Nakba has been a constant in Palestinian life and culture since 1948. But there is a sense in which the unfulfilled hopes from the 1990s have made that memory more potent for Palestinians. Whilst it is only implied, that sense is as critical of Palestinian leadership as it is of the settler occupier.

There are a number of interviews with Elia Suleiman online, including quite an extensive one at the Sarajevo Film Festival. He lists among his influence Ozu Yasujiro, Robert Bresson and Hou Hsiao-hsien; not really any surprises but interesting, He also mentions John Berger, an influence and a personal friend; and the parallels re clear here as well.

He talks about his preparation of the films. He starts with observations, often the tableaux’s which appear in the film. In shooting the films he admits to be obsessive about every frame and image and the placement of the camera. And he takes equal care over the foreground, middle ground and background. He remarks that the sound is frequently ‘outside the image’, i.e. off-screen; a technique that constantly reminds viewers of a more complex world being presented. This is interesting because the films tend to suggest that the filmmakers have captured events as they happen but it is most carefully produced. I suspect partly that this is because of the parallels and connections that Suleiman wants to develop across a film. One becomes aware that small detail is very important, like the recurring settings.

Suleiman uses both professional performers and non-professional. The non-professional tend to improvise. He recalled one shot from The Time That Remains, a discussion by his mother and her friends regarding the preparation of garlic for cooking, where he just set up a fixed camera and left the participants to their talk and argument.

Since The Time That Remains Suleiman contributed a segment to 7 Days in Havana (2012) a portmanteau film set in the Cuban capital. His own film work, relying on varied international funding, develops slowly. We wait to see if he will produce another film and what will be his next contribution to the Palestinian struggle.

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