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September Films

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This month with: Idiocracy, Mala Noche, Buongiorno, Notte, Todo el Poder, Goodbye Bafana, The Endless Summer and Naked Lunch.

Idiocracy

A number of people mentioned the film Idiocracy as a funny view on a future dystopia we might be sliding into. And it’s a fantastic comedy – starting off with some graphs detailing how smart people go all fancy on planning for the right time to have kids while stupid people are too busy fucking for all that. And thus, the world ends up getting stupider and stupider because stupid people just procreate more.

Then two ‘average’ people from our time get into that ‘future’ and are confronted with a world that looks and behaves like the most idiotic television we have today. Simple and dumb language, focus on swear words and bling, people and government totally taken over by corporate ‘sponsors’. No room for debate, relaxed shooting and people loving money and consumerism. A court hearing is considered entertainment, bad spelling is de rigueur and of course people wear clothes whose fabric has ads as patterns.

In fact, ads are quite cool in the film and they must have had great fun making those future ads by fiddling with today’s brand logos. Someone was good enough to put up a good collection of those on a web page. Go look at those if you haven’t seen them. It’s good stuff. I particularly laughed when seeing that the Fox ‘News’ logo didn’t need any change to feel at home in that future.

What’s odd is that the film manages to feel both completely unreal because it goes silly stretches to drive home its point. And on the other hand it feels like a realistic option for the future. Particularly after watching some television. It often seems that, yes, corporations don’t want us to think and they’d definitely put their ads everywhere, that, yes, our politicians would love to be hip-hop, TV or porn stars and sell whatever silly plans they came up with using that extra cred and that, yes, we will get less grammar, more police, barcodes tattooed to our wrists and so on. Uncharacteristically, I will give humanity the benefit of the doubt here and say we won’t end up like that. But luckily I’ll be dead in half a millennium’s time, so I won’t be around when people could prove me wrong. (Err stop, they couldn’t because they’d be too stupid to do that, so this is actually a fairly safe bet.)

Great scenes: Joe escaping from prison by telling the guards he was supposed to be leaving rather than going in and the usability of the bar code tattooing machine which will surely feel like a déjà-vu for anybody who suffered through automated ‘customer service’.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Mala Noche

Mala Noche (Bad Night) was the first feature film directed by Gus van Sant. Its story revolves about cornershop clerk Walt who fancies illegal Mexican immigrant Johnny, who in turn isn’t all that interested in more than a bit of hanging out. We see how Walt makes his approaches and can see his misery even while he stays reasonably upbeat in his less-than-glamorous life.

I thought the film was pretty amazing. Filmed in wonderful black and white (which in many stages mostly black) and apparently being rather low budget we get really close to the film’s few characters in its 80 minute run.

Two things the film curiously reminded me of were Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together for the dark and dirty look (though without the colour, obviously) and the wonderful Clerks for the poor existence in a cornershop setup. Admittedly those are rather weak similarities but it’d still be interesting to know to which extent Mala Noche was known or possibly inspiring at the times.

Shot in Supermarket from Mala Noche

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

And, sticking to the ‘night’ theme, but changing to another language I don’t understand…

Buongiorno, Notte

Buongiorno, Notte is a recent Italian film dealing with the Red Brigade there in the 1970s. There have been both factual and fictional German films on the political movements from that era recently. And it was interesting to see what happened in other countries. And it Italy it wasn’t much different.

The film shows the kidnapping of christian party leader Ado Moro in 1987. We see how the kidnappers are fairly normal people who set up an appartment for the kidnap, hide their plans from the neighbours and incarcerate their enemy.

The film contains bits of real media coverage from the days and actors playing the kidnappers and the kidnappee with the story being mainly seen from the eyes of Chiara who is with the Red Brigade and at times is moved between being convinced by their big cause and starting to feel a little sorry for their victim. Through clever scenes at her day-job in a library and the chats she has with her colleague there who obviously doesn’t know about her private interests but hits them spot on, this is highlighted in a clever way.

Interesting film between fact and fiction.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Todo el Poder

Crime and corruption are the themes of the Mexican film Todo el Poder (Gimme Power). Filmmaker Gabriel struggles to make a living and already became a victim of muggings and theft many times already. Always keen to find things out and capture them with his camera he tries to track down who stole the fancy car his ex-wife had borrowed him to drive their daughter around. Which leads to a bunch of little discoveries, all suggesting that the criminals and the police are working together quite well.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Goodbye Bafana

Goodbye Bafana is for some reasons a film listed as coming from countries throughout Europe, starring an American actor but still being, as the name suggests, thoroughly South African. We see the story of Mandela’s imprisonment told from the point of view of one of his guards. The prison guard got the job to spy on the prisoners because he learned Xhosa when grew up and could understand them. We see him start as a straightforward racist playing in the apartheid system (always, amusingly, encouraged by his wife to do the right thing and work on his career) and censoring the prisoners’ mail in Robben Island and slowly start wondering whether all he is doing makes sense.

While he doesn’t start to sympathise with Mandela and his friends, they leave enough of an impression on him to wonder whether the ‘crimes’ they are imprisoned for really are that dangerous. Whether it really is necessary or justified to treat them this badly. And whether the ANC’s agenda really is the same as what it is made out to be by the government. Over time a subtle friendship between him and Mandela begins and he’s proud to be around when Mandela is finally released.

A real story, a well made film, and many actors striving to speak a South African accent there. Which I found ridiculous because, just as in Blood Diamond, they always sound somewhat off and you wonder what’s the point of that bit of ‘authenticity’ as I’d be fairly sure that guards for political prisoners in the apartheid system would speak Afrikaans rather than English, so it has to be taken as a translation anyway. Finally, I thought that Dennis Haysbert (known as the presidential candidate from 24) wasn’t the best choice for Mandela. Somehow Mandela always looks rather small and friendly while, just physically, Haysbert looks much stronger, taller and much more threatening.

Mandela and guard in the film

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

The Endless Summer

When seeing Step into Liquid and Riding Giants two years ago I was told that the classical surfing film is 1966’s The Endless Summer which I finally managed to see now - even after having gotten my brother a film poster for christmas last year (have to check whether he actually put it up!).

And it’s quite a remarkable film. The simple idea being as romantic as it is wrong: Travelling around the world to follow the summer and just keep surfing. Logically, taking a route that circles the earth over the poles would be the right thing to maximise your time in summer I guess. But luckily circling the planet in another direction does the job as well, if you make sure to go to southern hemisphere.

And so we see these two presumably well-known surfer guys fly to Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii with bits about how great California is being thrown in all along. Back in the 1960s going to Africa must have been wildly exotic and it is certainly presented as such - possibly with a word or two falling off the politically correctness scales today. But in the end I found that the film manages to show a fair bit of surfing, stressing on the fun of doing it, showing a fair number of people dropping off their surf boards and also managing to give you the idea of the sea being forceful and dangerous at times.

The film includes a bit of sightseeing - hey Table Mountain, with so few houses beneath! - and quite possibly suggests that you go from Cape Town to Durban and then to Cape St. Francis, which isn’t particularly efficient, to say the least.

Of course from the style, the imagery the film belongs to a different time. And I have to say that I find the time more sympathetic than the current one which produced the two other films mentioned above. In a way, these new films reflect quite well how things are focusing on the more business like ‘fun’ we have today. They show surfing at places far out, there is no ‘luck’ involved, people need loads of gear to do what they do. Somehow what you see is far out and unattainable. While in The Endless Summer there’s certainly the special setup of the film and the skill of its makers. But it doesn’t look like there’s a huge team and loads of machinery working behind the scenes. Less mechanic, more fun.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Naked Lunch

Running on telly recently was Naked Lunch. I consider it impossible to turn Burrough’s book into a film that does it justice. But if there is a director fit for the job it’s Cronenberg - who luckily actually made the film. It’s a somewhat uncomfortable film and you may be unwilling to use your laptop on your lap after seeing it. And I still think it doesn’t really capture the book. But it probably is as good as such a film can get.

See you in Interzone.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

October 4, 2007, 0:01

Tagged as buongiorno notte, david cronenberg, endless summer, film, goodbye bafana, gus van sant, idiocracy, mala noche, naked lunch, nelson mandela, south africa, surf, todo el poder, william s. burroughs.

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