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Mitt Liv sum Hund/My Life as a Dog (Lasse Hallström, 1985)
El Abrazo de la Serpiente/Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015)
Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986)
La Pianiste/The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)
Amy (Asif Kapadia, 2015)
Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
Biruma no Tategoto/The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa, 1956)
Cléo de 5 à 7/Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994)
Cloclo/My Way (Florent-Emilio Siri, 2012)
Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996)
Dobermann (Jan Kounen, 1997)
Free Fire (Ben Wheatley, 2016)
Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972)
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)
Güeros (Alonso Ruiz Palacios, 2014)
Il Postino/The Postman (Michael Radford, 1994)
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)
Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
Jesus Christ Superstar (Norman Jewison, 1973)
Jésus de Montréal/Jesus of Montreal (Denys Arcand, 1989)
Hable con Ella/Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002)
La Battaglia di Algeri/The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo , 1966)
La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995)
La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)
La Vie de Jésus (Bruno Dumont, 1997)
Le Fil/The Son (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2002)
Leningrad Cowboys Go America (Aki Kaurismäki, 1989)
Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse/The Gleaners & I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
Le Voyage dans la Lune/A Trip to the Moon (Georges Méliès , 1902)
L'important c'est d'aimer/That Most Important Thing: Love (Andrzej Żuławski, 1975)
Lust och Fägring Stor/All Things Fair (Bo Widerberg, 1995)
Molière (Laurent Tirard, 2007)
Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau, 2011)
One of Our Aircraft is Missing! (Powell & Pressburger, 1942)
Peter & the Wolf (Suzie Templeton, 2006)
Popiól i Diament/Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958)
Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989)
Spalovac Mrtvol/The Cremator (Juraj Herz, 1969)
Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
Sur Mes Lèvres/Read My Lips (Jacques Audiard, 2001)
Swingers (Doug Liman, 1996)
The Fall (Tarsem Singh, 2006)
Vagabond (Agnès Varda, 1985)
Went the Day Well? (Cavalcanti, 1942)
Werckmeister Harmóniák/Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2000)
Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1987)
Z (Costa-Gavras, 1969)
From A Field in England: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzLnRXtHO0M
On Primo Levi: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/07/wiesel-primo-contrasts/
On London's privileged in the wake of Brexit https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/25/london-separate-city-state-leave-voters-class
We are life which wills to live in the midst of life which wills to live.
Fortunately some are born with spiritual immune systems that sooner or later give rejection to the illusory worldview grafted upon them from birth through social conditioning. They begin sensing that something is amiss and start looking for answers. Inner knowledge and anomalous outer experiences show them a side of reality others are oblivious to and so begins their journey of awakening. Each step of the journey is made by following the heart instead of following the crowd and by choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance. Henri Bergson
Writing comes partly out of being wounded by life. Something has had to have been bruised and shaken you a little bit; otherwise, why do we ask questions? It's very rare that people who have lived perfect lives become artists because the need to create art is connected to a need to heal something that is imperfect. Ben Okri
Africa is not only a continent in exile but also a land where people emigrate to.
The impetus is northern but the theft is local, done with our complicity ... I strongly oppose the idea that Africa's key characteristic is poverty. She is the victim of her riches. I would rather we talk about pauperisation than poverty. In talking of pauperisation you pinpoint the mechanisms (of poverty) ... I say that the West has created and imposed two fears on itself: terrorism and immigration. We must stop presenting the problems' causes as the solution ... Everything can be bought or sold ... pay or die. That's the West's lesson that we inflict on ourselves. Being a writer doesn't mean I don't have a certain experience at dealing with aggressive stances in an open debate or on issues that I experience from the inside ... Why should the fate of people depend on their ability to produce and sell abroad? Today we see Africans who opt for emigration, who are economic refugees, arrested, handcuffed, deported, humiliated and sent back home. Our countries are not imploding today because, on a domestic level, the women play an important role. That is why they must refuse to be imprisoned within the conventional interpretation of the situation that says they are victims of their culture, society and men.
Madame Traore during the trial of the World Bank and IMF in Bamako
I want to tell you a story. It's a Jewish story. Jacob was alone in a valley. And there he met a stranger. They started to fight. They fought and wrestled through a long, long night. But as dawn broke Jacob realised he could never defeat the stranger because the stranger was an angel. Or God. Or perhaps, all along, Jacob had simply been wrestling with himself.
Sally Potter from The Tango Lesson
After an unjust death, there's nothing to say. Nothing at all. As will become plain below. From the branch of an olive tree there hung a tiny chrysalis the colour of an emerald. Tomorrow it would be a butterfly, freed from its cocoon. The tree was happy to see his chrysalis grown but secretly he wanted to keep her for a few more years. So long as she remembers me. He'd shielded her from gusts, saved her from ants. But tomorrow she would leave to confront predators and poor weather alone. That night, a fire ravaged the forest and the chrysalis never became a butterfly. At dawn, the ashes cold, the tree stood still but his heart was charred, scarred by the flames, scarred by grief. Ever since then when a bird alights on the tree, the tree tells it all about the chrysalis that never woke up. He pictures her, wings spread, flitting across a clear blue sky, drunk on nectar and freedom. The discreet witness to our love stories.
The Tree and the Chrysalis by Bachir Lazhar from Monsieur Lazhar
Out of Ireland have we come, Great hatred, Little room, Maimed us at the start, I carry from my mother's womb, A fanatic heart.
WB Yeates from Remorse for Intemperate Speech
I feel that the balance between fiction and reality has changed significantly in the past decades. Increasingly their roles are reversed. We live in a world ruled by fiction of every kind - mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the pre-empting of any original response to an experience by television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. It is now less and less necessary for the writer to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality.
In the past we have always assumed that the external world around us has represented reality, however confusing or uncertain, and the inner world of our minds, its dreams, hopes, ambitions, represented the realm of fantasy and the imagination. These roles, it seems to me, have been reversed."
In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realized, through it all, that… In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.
From my favourite author Joseph Conrad:
All a man can betray is his conscience.
Being a woman is a terribly difficult task since it consists principally in dealing with men.
I can't tell if a straw ever saved a drowning man, but I know that a mere glance is enough to make despair pause. For in truth we who are creatures of impulse are creatures of despair.
They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything.
Go into the arts … The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practising an art no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow … Do it as well as you can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
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The desert is the star
This is a taut film for most of its (short) screen time and the chase reminds me of Spielberg's Duel. This is a sad films in terms of the political and racial truth it reflects, not just of the USA but the current western attitude to migrants. The closing song by Woodkid is fitting. What is stunning about the film is the desert; it's beautiful and vast and it destroys predator as well as prey. Surviving the desert is a survival of the fittest.
There is a brief scene of huge significance in the film where the American hunter meets a US police/patrol officer. Each eyes the other, takes stock and then parts with whispers of contempt to the other. Law enforcement is at breaking point and the Wild West and citizen's rule is returning, literally and figuratively. A clever and sinister moment.
In conclusion, the desert is a place of karma for transgressions of all kinds including illegal migration and murder.
God's Country (1985)
Ordinary people living unremarkable lives
Makes for interesting viewing when a wry and empathetic eye captures their lives. On commission from PBS to make a documentary in Minnesota, Malle and his team drove through Glencoe. Along the way they spotted a beautiful garden tended by an older lady whose age we discover was 85 in 1979! She didn't look it at all.
Malle and his film team stay in Glencoe and become acquainted with the small town and its folk. The documentary seems to amble without much directed narration but Malle is exploring what makes Glencoe the place it is and who are its people. He asks some probing questions about race and sex/homosexuality but mostly lets the people tell their stories. It's quite clear from things Malle says that he likes Glencoe and becomes close to some of the inhabitants. But even without saying such things his camera evidences his fascination with Glencoe.
There are some really poignant moments; e.g. Glenhaven, the elderly care home. Malle meets one of its folk shuffling along a path. He tells Malle that he wants to die. This is our introduction to Glenhaven. Malle films the recreational room in which 10 or so elderly people, most in wheelchairs sit aimlessly whilst the TV blares in the background. The TV adverts are so incongruous given the audience that it makes for a very funny moment. But then Malle focuses on one female resident who stares at the camera. She stares and stares and Malle stares back. What she's thinking is anyone's guess but her eyes suggest many things. This elderly woman is a strong contrast to the woman we meet at the beginning who tends her beautiful garden and who in 1986 at the age of 91 was still going strong, canning vegetables from her garden as she goes rather than deteriorating in a soulless care home.
Another funny moment occurs when Malle's camera pans up into a shot of a female's bottom. The female turns around and Malle introduces her formally at this point for the camera but of course the camera's already met her!
Steve was the most eligible bachelor in Glencoe in 1979 and a man who inseminates cows! Who knew that Malle could be quite so irreverent of his subjects whilst so generous with them at the same time?! When Malle returns in 1986 Steve is still single and still inseminating cows. As Malle remarks to Steve "too busy with your cows".
There are moments of heat in the documentary regarding race, politics, who controls America's finances (the Jews declares one of the farmers), young marriage and sex. But it's all part of the richness and complexity of the society. Of every society. It leaves me imagining how I might be documented in such a film were one to be made of my community.
Les sauteurs (2016)
Abou Bakar Sibide (slight spoilers)
Abou is from Mali. He left Mali in 2013 and travelled via the Sahara to Morocco. There he, like so many other young men from West Africa, settled in a temporary camp in order to try and cross the land border between Morocco and Melilla, a Spanish territory -one of two - on Morocco's northern coast. The border consisted of four barbed wire fences, many metres tall, under video surveillance and protected by the Moroccan and Spanish police with brute force.
This film is the project of two former film students who are from Germany and Denmark. Their joint interest in Mount Gourougou and its migrant camp led them to make contact with Abou via a Meliilian photographer. They decided to let Abou make the film of life for the migrants so that it became a story from them rather than another about them. This film is the result of filming over an 18 month period whilst Abou tried to make it onto Melilla's Spanish soil, which he did in 2014. He is presently in Germany as an asylum claimant whose case has yet to be decided.
The film that has been edited by the three parties is compelling footage. It shows many facets of the migrant life on Mount Gourougou, which is raided on an almost daily basis by Moroccan police. The men scavenge for food. They have little personal effects and these are risked in police raids which result in everything being burnt by the police. The assaults on the fence result in death for some, as happens in the film to Abou's friend Mustapha. Yet the men have energy and enthusiasm for football. They sing songs about their experiences and dance. They are joined in the camp by stray dogs and some errant donkeys, including a foal who loves jumping around the camp - a poignant moment. The men find water for washing. They trade, barter and pray. In short, they do not stop being human because they have become "migrants" in a camp.
The film is very much on Abou's side; how could it be otherwise when it is filmed by him. It does not preach though and Abou and his compatriots are stoic and philosophical, if angry, about their predicament. It is fascinating whatever your view on the many migrant crises around the world where wealthy countries tighten borders to keep migrants out resulting in more migrants and more organisation to find passage.
NB Not all of the information in this review is in the film. Some of it was shared by one of the directors (Mortiz Siebert) in a Q/A session at the London Film Festival.
Life, death and Mount Fuji (slight spoilers)
Presented at the London Film Festival as an experimental film, this is an art house feature of great beauty and poignant reflections on life and death. Using photographs collected from members of the public, director Fiona Tan shows us Japanese society, reflecting human society, with the omnipresent Mt. Fuji. Against this we hear of two lovers, the woman - narrated by the director - and Hiroshi, who is ascending Mt. Fuji. We learn early on that the woman's conversation is part of her grieving process as Hiroshi is dead. Hiroshi is very much alive in his part of the conversation but, having reached the mountain's summit, his descent is curtailed. Was this when he died? We are left to wonder.
The film is seductive and simple in presentation whilst rich in ideas and thoughts that are undercut by powerful feelings and take in Japan during and post-WW2. The photography is sublime and, according to the director, not digitally enhanced. The film needs to be seen more than once because it is so full. My favourite thought, and a romantic one, is that "when you cannot sleep at night, it's because you are awake in someone else's dream".
Dancer ... or an ethereal form of celestial fire?
Without doubt Sergei Polunin is one of the most amazing dancers ever with a body that is strong, powerful and light. When he dances his movements are incandescent. He possesses something that goes beyond nurtured talent.
Documentaries are sometimes the best form of film because they take something true, which is either remarkable in itself, or the context in which they present the truth is remarkable. This documentary is evidence of the former.
Sergei was born to a family of modest means in Southern Ukraine and as a baby was hyper mobile, which lends itself to gymnastics (his first enterprise) or ballet (his second as chosen by his mother - which is significant). By the age of 8 Sergei was destined for a ballet career for which his family made enormous sacrifices; his father and one of his grandmothers (maternal, I think) emigrated to work in the EU to support financially his ballet studies in Kiev. The cost of this to Sergei emerged when he was an adult and, sensationally, quit the English Royal Ballet where he was a Principal dancer.
In his teens Sergei joined the English Royal Ballet and by 19 he was a ballet sensation in the UK and gained notoriety a few years later because of his use of cocaine, self-harming and tattooes. I was curious about this young man psychologically; he danced like fire but was troubled. My one disappointment with the documentary, which prevents it being perfect, is that only the surface psychology of Sergei is presented. To be fair to the director he arrived in Sergei's life when the latter was at his most cynical and least trusting. The film took 5 years to make but to know Sergei probably takes a lot longer. Nonetheless the niggle remains.
What the film gives in abundance is footage of Sergei dancing and Sergei filmed by his mother and then the English Royal Ballet as he grows up. The visual impact of Sergei's body with tattooes and scars is an aesthetic marvel. My favourite piece of the film was Sergei on-and-off stage whilst dancing in Spartacus in Siberia where we see the man suffering for his art and his damaged feet. There is private footage too, which is endearing as Sergei's warmth, sense of fun and sincerity abounds.
If you love dance, you will like this film. If you marvel at what the human body can do physically, you will like this film. If you want a very human story of sacrifice in the quest to improve the lot of the children, you will like this film. If you love, like or are remotely interested in Sergei, then this is a film for you. With his dance Sergei has gifted the cinematic world a unique form. He has abandoned ballet, by which he felt constrained and which was not his choice but that of his mother's, but is continuing to dance.
Isabelle sings ...
And that is what matters.
This is an unapologetic 'feel good' film, which could fall into being saccharine but for Isabelle Huppert's fine performance as actress and chanteuse. The film wishes to recall the musicals from Hollywood's classic era in a decidedly modern way. e.g. with mobile telephones.
The premise is that Liliane (Huppert) was once a rising singer, whose stage name was Laura, until her marriage to her manager fell apart. Afterwards she withdrew into such obscurity that no one would guess a pate packer was once a rising star who represented France in the Eurovision song contest.
Enter a young man, Jean, who is considerably younger than Lilian but who remembers Laura because his dad was a devotee and Jean knows all her songs. When he confronts Liliane she denies being Laura initially but eventually she admits her former existence. After a one-off performance for Jean's boxing club, Liliane - and Jean - find it hard to return Laura to obscurity and so begins a tale of desire, unlikely love and lost ambition.
The story all makes sense when viewed through the eyes of a 1930's audience whose desire for wish fulfilment would be unconcerned with plausibility. To enjoy the film it helps to place realism to one side and follow fantasy and yearning especially when it beckons in the form of Huppert singing love songs with specific hand/arm choreography and costumed in resplendent dresses.
Isabelle Huppert did her own singing to music from Pink Martini and lyrics co-written by the director and producer. Her moments on screen singing are some of the best. Is there nothing this woman cannot do? The best way to enjoy this film is when you need a tonic, a pick me up because life is being punchy. It is, as the director said, a "Sunday afternoon" film.
Un homme qui crie (2010)
A man screams whilst his country cries
This is the last of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's feature films that I have watched; not with intent to view this director's filmography but because I have a strong interest in African cinema and his films have intrigued me. This is the most satisfying of his four films. It is nearly perfect.
Every detail of the protagonist's life - Adam - stands for Chad's struggles: Tension between the new age of technology and the older perspectives that are seen as unnecessary to a brave new world that includes colonisation by stealth from China in the form of business investments. From factional fighting that would destroy the country and its young men while making refugees of the rest of the population. To questions about the wisdom of the elders and faith in God. It is not just Adam who screams but Chad. I will not elaborate on the story because other reviewers have fulfilled that role. The story is only one element of the plot as there is the political subtext as well as personal suffering that the director serves hence the film's epilogue.
Youssouf Djaoro is the tall, charismatic actor who plays Adam in all his complexities. His is a fine and nuanced performance. The decisive moment in the film where father betrays son was artful as the camera moves in slowly towards Djaoro's inscrutable face. It is a profound betrayal of much that Adam and so Chad, were invested in. It is terribly sad as is the consequences of the betrayal; again delivered in an acutely poignant manner.
The film is slow and still. It requires attention to the little that is said, to how things are portrayed and to what is unspoken and unexplained. It features the young actress and chanteuse Djénéba Koné, who, I have just discovered, is missing and presumed dead having disappeared in Mali in 2011. Discovering this after seeing the film has deepened my sorrow and is a cruel, if not poetic, footnote to the film.
Oedipus Rex (spoilers)
In recent years French cinema has been wooing American audiences and this TV series courts an American public, somewhat unsuccessfully it seems from reviews and comments.
Initially Marseille was unsatisfying; playing as brief scenes consisting of a series of lines here and there before jumping to another scene. The political story has been seen before and combined with its twitchy format, the series seemed unremarkable. Once the emotional heart of the series was exposed - a battle between father and son with obvious nods to the tragedy of Oedipus Rex - there was a change and the merciless skulduggery was given depth and edge by son trying to destroy father.
The acting was hindered by the format with good actors like Depardieu and Magimel playing caricatures of roles they have played in earlier and better days. Only Pailhaus, as the mayor's wife, had screen time to embody her character and her suffering, as befits a good tragedy. As the story line morphed into the father-son dance of death the acting improved somewhat although Magimel remained stifled.
Overall it was enjoyable and if they make a second series I will watch. I hope that if there is a second series and as big revelations were revealed in the first, more time is devoted to characterisation so that the quality of the actors is allowed to shine and where there is more mood than pace.
L'important c'est d'aimer (1975)
Man is "the ugliest things he can do" (spoilers)
I thought that Pasolini's film "Salò o le 120 Diornate di Sodoma" was the best portrait of depravity I would see but this film exceeds "Salo". It is entitled "The Important Thing is to Love" because love is the sole good thing one can do amidst a world of utter ugliness where the sum of a man is "the ugliest things he can do".
Żuławski has created a film replete with sadness, melancholy, grief and misery and it is crafted so well that it is dazzling and, at times, beautiful. He is well assisted by his cast of actors, including his three beautiful leads, and the film's composer Georges Delerue, whose signature tune haunts the film as a discordant plaint.
The film depicts the relationship of a married couple to a man who becomes infatuated with the wife. They share the world of acting, film and pornography and each is a 'prostitute' in their own way. The husband, Jacques, is suicidally depressed and finds himself outside of life and not willing to enter life and engage. His wife, Nadine, is a broken personality who feels that Jacques saved her and she desires an acting career whilst making money as a porn star. Servais is a loner with a broken father; he has become involved with a porn/sex wheeler dealer, Mazelli, who is a gangster of sorts. All yearn to break free from the world they inhabit and Servais's plan, paying to have Nadine cast as Lady Anne in an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Richard III", seems a possible means of release. Like Richard III, the film's characters are somewhat deformed yet they are less ugly in their deformities than the superficially glamorous world they inhabit.
Of course Servais's plan fails. Words attributed to Rimbaud, which are the final words of Servais's late friend who died from liver failure, capture the tormented pains of the characters:
"Turmoil originated your poetry/ Immense forces served you/ Your entrails burst, death menaces/ Chosen City!/ Consume your shrieks In the deaf trumpet."
The film's themes seem clearer than the characters and their dense opaqueness. It is a series of brief, fast changing scenes that I found jarring, perhaps the intent to underline discord and distress. It is like one long howl. It is powerful and almost perfect.
Mon pote (2010)
Likable film (slight spoilers)
With a basis in truth this film tells the tale of two men from different social worlds whose chance encounter at a prison lecture changes both their lives in unexpected ways. So unexpected that it is hard to believe and I waited throughout the film for there to be some sort of fall, especially for Bruno, the ex-con.
Leaving aside the slightly wild tale of serendipity and golden fortune, one's enjoyment of the film hinges on the authenticity of the friendship between middle-class magazine editor, Victor, and Bruno, a car thief who hails from one of Paris's notorious banlieue. Playing these respective characters are two fine French actors - Edouard Baer and Benoît Magimel.
Baer plays the sanguine Victor with an urbane ease and it would be easy to assume that Baer plays himself, such is the comfort of the fit. The film does not permit us greater access to Victor whose charming existence is undercut by money worries. Magimel plays Victor with a deft touch easily mixing light with rough. Another character fitting his actor like a glove. When Victor and Bruno laugh together it is easy to believe this is Baer and Magimel laughing together. The matches are that seamless.
The film seems weightless and easy without much to offer. It does offer us optimism and a tale of friendship. There is a subtle theme of loyalty running throughout the film. Ultimately what really pays is not crime but loyalty.
Black & White & Sex (2012)
A story of women (spoiler)
First of all, this is a beautiful film to watch. The black and white photography is sharp enough to carve out details in the skin of the actresses who all play a single sex worker called 'Angie'. At important moments the black and white is soft and casts shadows. It is erotic as Angie is never coloured in and slightly elusive in her shadows. A screen for projection yet the black and white illuminates her fleshiness.
The plot is straightforward but the content is not. 8 different actresses speak of their experiences of sex, using the 'f' word that IMDb will beep out were it to be written here, in front of a male director who can be heard but not seen - aside from the odd shot of the set and crew. The conversation begins as an interrogation from the director to Angie. She rejects this quite quickly and becomes provocative and challenging; taking control of the interview. Angie gets the director to strip naked and masturbate.
After this point the conversation relaxes into a nice to and fro that sees Angie soften and both she and the director share confidences. The film culminates, aptly, with Angie masturbating to orgasm. This ending fitted the conversation but I was not satisfied. Some important boundary seemed to have disintegrated for me.
I found watching and listening to the different actresses compelling. I found what they had to say witty and at times, very illuminating. My favourites were Angie 4 and 5, I think; an older blonde woman who sported a black mac and an Asiatic woman wearing a satin night gown. Their dialogue was the most interesting as they discussed fantasy and reality and then what sex is for women and the role pain has to play. I was riveted and felt I was learning something about my own sexuality. This is one of the gifts of film.
D'ailleurs, Derrida (1999)
Writing is a betrayal
This short, dense film tries to show us Derrida as man and philosopher. His philosophy made him one of the Twentieth century's pioneering thinkers who was disliked and reviled within his own philosophic community as much as he was respected. Revulsion is a place he knows because he is an Franco-Algerian Jew.
Using his philosophic tropes of sign, trace, mark, inclusion and exclusion, Derrida strives to make sense of his own circumcision and a broader circumcision that affects the body and/or mind in terms of wounds and scars. Wounds and scars are particular types of traces and marks that gather to themselves a desire for reconciliation, which is a meeting with an Other. They are also the family heritage and culture that is within us always. His fleshy circumcision is a psychic inheritance of being Jewish.
We follow him around his Algerian home, his Parisian flat, the lecture hall, the desert and by the sea. We hear about his mother's death, see him with cats and the sepulture he has created in his Algerian garden for the cats who die. We hear him muse on a painting (The Burial of Count Orgaz), talk about Lorca's 'Blood Wedding' and its connection to sexual repression. We meet his friend and colleague Jean-Luc Nancy, learn about Derrida's brief imprisonment and the friendship and respite from prison violence he found then. He drives, he has a piano and a print of Charlie Chaplin, he walks around museums with ancient artefacts and discusses the unconscious whilst the camera lingers on early instruments of operation, for circumcision. All of this current figure is in the context that he is old now and readying himself for death as he wonders if his view of his life and its meaning will be what he finds at the point of death.
With camera following him Derrida remarks that the film process is like writing a text; in the process of making a mark there is a movement of inclusion that excludes too. This process of exclusion is the very betrayal at the heart of writing; it is the price paid for using language, being able to make marks.
The film maker uses the environment to enhance Derrida. An attempt to lessen the exclusion although decisive choices are implicit. Derrida begins discussing sexual repression of women and we see an old tree whose trunk has been bifurcated and from which two thick branches that jut in different directions. Derrida discusses the fantasy of identity and we see him walking through well tended grounds reflected in a large, immaculate glass window. Derrida discusses secrecy and a large wooden door with metal detail appears on our screen. It is so subtle and so clever and a constant reminder of subject and context.
As to the film's title: "Elsewhere, even when near by, is always beyond a certain limit. But within yourself there is elsewhere Elsewhere, here. If it were elsewhere, it wouldn't be an elsewhere." (Derrida) The illusion is of a me who is nowhere to be found, who is ever elsewhere. It is an affront to our Abrahamic discourse that believes identity is present when in fact we are absent the moment we make a trace or mark.
"What is tragic about existence is that the meaning of what we are living is only determined at the last moment the moment of death".
Love him or loathe him, or fall betwixt, here was a man concerned most profoundly with the process of life. This film is worth more than one viewing to appreciate how the film maker portrays Derrida's abstractions. Trying to capture the thoughts in images. It is a folly of humankind to try and capture, to make present. It is a need that does not need us. It is desire and it is love. It was no surprise to learn that the film maker is an Egyptian poet.
La cour de Babel (2013)
Children are children no matter their situation (slight spoilers)
I like films that focus upon the migrant experience in a host country. This documentary follows a Parisian reception class for migrant children over the course of an academic year. The children are aged about 13 and come from many different countries with multiple reasons bringing them to France. The reception class enables them to master the French language sufficiently in order to study other subjects in a regular class. Their aim at the end of the year is to move into a regular class with children of their own age and make a success of their education.
The children are respectful in class and towards their host country even though they express mixed feelings about migrating. The film feels observational but the discussions we see the children engaged in illustrates the film maker's agenda which is to examine what it is like for children on the verge of young adulthood being uprooted and sent to a country whose language they do not know and whose value system differs from what they have lived thus far. The film is poignant and does not sentimentalise the children but there moments of pain. For example we learn that Xin, a Chinese girl separated from her mother aged four and reunited 10 years later is not happy but does not want to return to China. The other pupils find this conflict hard to bear. Then there is Kessa, from Guinea, who is distressed at being separated from her mother but whose distress is minimised as "acting out" by her female relative.
What is most clear is that these children are like any children of their age. Their wants are ordinary as are their needs, although some need comfort and stability more than others. It is clear that the children want to integrate and be accepted even though they are made to feel outsiders in the way they speak French, for example.
The bonds formed amongst the class make for sad feelings at the film's end as they part; some move on and up, others must repeat their year. Their teacher is moving on too and the attachment that some pupils form towards her illustrates the power of education. Learning things, learning facts, learning about relationships and how to become a person. These features do not change because you are a migrant.
One of the myths connected to the Tower of Babel is the belief that the world's multiple languages originated within the tower. This myth is an apt image for class in the film where there is enormous diversity of languages. I was astonished at the many different countries and languages represented and the end credits provide further comment on this as the children are listed alongside their nationalities. If you have an interest in pedagogy and language then this film is a must.
Nebesnyy verblyud (2015)
The celestial camel
Bayir is on the periphery of being a teenager. He is the eldest of three children in an agricultural family living on the Kalmyk steppe. His mother is expecting a fourth child and so his father sells the baby camel that his adult female gave birth to recently. This camel calf, Altynka, is believed by the family's Kalmyk tradition to be a celestial camel whose arrival heralds luck with the rain needed on the steppe. Bayir is appalled that his father is selling Altynka but cannot argue with the financial needs of the family.
Altynka has been sold to a film director who requires a white camel having lost his last one to an on-set fire. Altynka's future does not seem kind in the hands of the director.
When Bayir's parents depart for the hospital after his mother goes into labour, he is left in charge of his younger siblings and the animals. Unfortunately Altynka's mother, Mara, escapes. Her escape is a disaster as she is used to source and pump water for the family's flock of sheep. Bayir leaves his younger siblings in chase of Mara, who is following Altynka's scent across the steppe.
What follows is a road movie during which we meet various characters who share the arid steppe. We are acquainted with Kalmyk life and folklore and during the process Bayir starts to come of age.
The camels in the film are amazing and their scenes with Bayir very touching. The film is mostly very beautiful aside from contrasting dirty, industrial scenes where we see Altynka out of place and mistreated. The people that Bayir meets, the tales and folklore, the landscape and open spaces are wonderful. The film plays with the polarities of tradition versus modernity, magic/superstition versus pragmatism and relationships based on liking or need versus those purchased by money. You might guess which ones are valued within the film.
There is no doubt that life can be as harsh and arid as the steppe but one is left with a sense of happy equilibrium as people occupy their space at one with its nature and animals. This film is highly recommended for adults as well as children.
Hot topic (spoilers)
Never has a tale of an African migrant crossing the Mediterranean sea from Tripoli to Southern Italy been so timely. Daily reports of large numbers making the perilous journey abound and this path of migration into Europe and the EU is one of the many routes being used.
This tale looks at what happens to those African migrants who survive the journey and arrive in Italy seeking work to provide for their families back home and establish a life in their host country. This film is set in the present but it harks back to a riot in 2010 when the migrants protested their treatment by the local population in Rosarno. Rosarno is a town at the toe of the boot that is Italy on maps. This film is the biography of real life migrant Koudous Seihon, who appears in the film playing himself under the character name of Aviya. It is Aviya, a new arrival from Burkina Faso, that we follow and it is his perspective on events with which the film is concerned.
Aviya travels with his friend Abas from Burkina Faso to Algeria and then across the land border into Libya before crossing the Mediterranean. Along the way we witness Aviya being a chameleon who adapts to his situation and makes the best efforts to get ahead regardless of what is happening around him. He sells shoes to his fellow migrants for the desert crossing. He negotiates his friend's seat for the journey. He is a survivor.
There are lots of details during the journey that are not lingered on but inform the attentive viewer that surviving is a feat in itself. People are robbed and shot. People are sea sick and, when the boat's motor ceases, people cannot swim. Those who can and make it to a temporary sea refuge from which to hail for help are not strong enough to hang on. Bodies, lost lives and with them hopes and needs litter the way.
Upon arrival in Italy Aviya and Abas discover that living conditions are somewhat worse than they left in Burkina Faso. Home is a make shift hut with no insulation, a burner for wood and a thin quilt. There is no running water, rats occupy the same quarters and food is as and when. Nonetheless the migrants are not giving up; a market of sorts has emerged in the shanty town and there are locals willing to do trade. Work is not readily available and when it is, it is back breaking, potentially dangerous and low paid. Aviya sets himself to cultivating relationships with dealers, with local employers, with their families and with his other migrants. Abas rebels, angered by the way they are being treated. When one considers the challenges and traumas of their journey Abas's anger and contempt are understandable.
Tensions culminate in a spontaneous riot after two migrants were shot by police. During the riot Abas is beaten to a pulp and he seems unlikely to survive. Aviya survives and takes stock of his situation. Initially he wants to return home; emotional, tired and defeated he cannot see how to survive. Then a Skype conversation with his sister and young daughter ignites the last of his resolve and it appears he stays. The film leaves open Aviya's ultimate decision and fate but Koudous Seihon did stay. He was present at a Q/A conducted at the London Film Festival and in the company of the director, Jonas Carpignano and the actor who played Abas, Alassane Sy.
In spite of its bleak story this film is a pot-pourri of feelings: There is anger, hatred, racism, aggression and love, desire, fun, laughter, lots of humour and grief, sorrow and longing. The film was made on location in Southern Italy and Rosarno. It has the support of the residents of Rosarno and it is an important document for the European populace. The film does not attempt any answers; it shows how it was for one man. If migrants are not dissuaded from making the journeys then Europe and the wider Western world needs a better policy and response to those who survive.
La Mujer de Barro (2015)
Backwards in time, returning to mud (slight spoilers)
This is a difficult film to review as most of the narration is done through inference, symbol, by what is not said and by the thoughts the viewer brings when watching. The plot is embedded rather than explicit: A woman, Maria, has a young daughter who is doing well at school and the woman wants better things for her daughter than she herself achieved. She sends her daughter to live with friends whilst she journeys across the Argentine border into Chile to join itinerant workers picking grapes. She has taken this employment in the past a long time ago. She is startled to encounter a man she worked with before; each recognises the other but the recognition is not amicable. She explains she has not returned sooner because she has a daughter. We watch the female workers as they cut the grapes from the vines and package them for onward sale. They work in hot, dry conditions where water is scant. Important communications are done by a man carrying a particular flag and, as we see, are missed at critical times.
Maria forms a bond with one of the women, Violeta, who is somewhat rowdy but well intentioned. They make plans together for employment and a holiday after they finish fruit picking. The plans are disrupted by Violeta being injured during the course of work. Maria has been injured too in a sharp and brutal scene. The brutality is visceral rather than visual. Maria covers herself with mud, which was discussed earlier with Violeta as a beauty treatment. She walks as a "mud woman" around the lake where she had been injured and then plunges into the water. She does not resurface and there the film ends.
Most subtly the film looks at class issues and the plight of single women who are exploited. In this way it is deeply political. The image of a mud woman remembers also the Incas and the film feels like a psychological regression. The photography of the film is beautiful because the arid landscape is beautiful. The dialogue is scant and this is a bare film about a bare existence.
This is a wonderful documentary that focuses on Mali's rich music and considers the effects on it after the insurgents attacked Northern Mali in 2012. A Sharia law state was established by the insurgents in two of the main cities, Gao and Timbuktu, and one of their dictates was to ban music. Musicians fled and radio stations and live performances ceased. This film follows four of Mali's performing artists who escaped: the Songhoy Blues, Kharia Arby, Fadimata "Disco" Walet Oumar and Moussa Sidi. The Songhoy Blues and Kharia are from Mali's dominant social group; Disco and Moussa are Touareg. It was the latter group's desire for a separate territory that underpinned the 2012 insurgency. It is important that the film included representatives from both groups as each has suffered and continue to do so. They cling to their hopes for peace and the film's ending seems to conclude that music is an enabler of peace, may be the most important enabler.
The film's background is the musicians' accounts of what happened to them during the conflict; the foreground is their music and how it might promote change. What seems clear is how few of the Malian people want an Islamic state or the jihads in their country, who live still in parts of the Northern territory. This film is an important document therefore in showing another face of Muslims and of Africa itself because any easy and pejorative generalisations about either are challenged by what we are shown. It is hard to be unmoved by the plight of this country and her people and the wonderful music they produce. The moments when we see the artists performing, whether formally at a concert or in private, are amongst the best.
The film brings attention to the desire to rout the extremists out completely. This may not be so easy as a political attempt at reconciliation between the Touaregs and others in 2015 has not settled matters. But where politics fails, music might succeed.
The film will be playing film festivals and hopefully it will attract the attention of distributors. The Songhoy Blues are re-releasing the album, whose music they were creating, recording and performing in the film, next month. Go watch, listen and then buy the music.
Film Kteer Kbeer (2015)
A witty action caper from Lebanon
This is an exciting and funny film that ends ambiguously. A trio of brothers - Ziad, Joe and Jad(o) - are involved in a fight that goes awry. Ziad shoots their foe with the latter's gun and a murder enquiry ensues. The youngest brother, Jad, decides to confess to the murder pleading manslaughter. Although the police are sceptical of his confession, Jad is sentenced to a reduced prison term for manslaughter and serves 5 years.
Ziad and Joe continue to run their father's pizza take away and become involved with a local drug lord who uses their delivery service to supply cocaine. To make reparations to Jad, Ziad wants to stop their criminal activities in favour of purchasing a restaurant that he can run with Jad whilst Joe continues with the take away. The drug lord, Abu Ali, does not agree to Ziad's proposition and appears to set up Ziad's murder as a consequence.
In revenge Ziad takes Abu's drug consignment and intends to market it himself in order to provide for the restaurant. He learns that cinema reels for development are not subject to the same security procedures when being freighted abroad and decides to use this as cover to sell his illicit merchandise. He recruits an associate, who is a budding film director, to help him and much hilarity ensues as they embark upon making a real film as legitimate cover for the drug exports. This allows for many wry digs at film makers and production.
Meanwhile Abu Ali and his henchman, Hussam, are planning their own revenge on Ziad and realise from Ziad's exploits that there is limited time within which to act. Cue explosions, the media and a kidnapping. All merry mayhem that seems unlikely to end well.
The film explores fraternal relationships, Christian-Muslim relationships, Lebanon's recent violent history and film making and all under two hours! The script is witty, the acting superb and set and location edgy and evocative.
The ending is very ambiguous and can be interpreted in one obvious way. The director, who was present at the London film festival's screening, declined to fix the interpretation of the ending, leaving to up to viewers to decide the line that leads to Ziad's final act. It is clear that this film is deeply symbolic and represents Lebanon and its politics as much as any domestic action drama.
If you have the opportunity to see the film then take it. As I write it is making film festival rounds in the hope of achieving distribution. It had yet to be screened in Beirut and there was a nervousness about how it would be received, if at all, given the director eschewed the Lebanese guidelines for film production.
The Endless River (2015)
Not bad ... (some spoilers)
Set in the Eastern Cape of South Africa and taking in sights along its famous 'Garden route' is this tale of murder and grief. Gilles is a French émigré whose family are brutally murdered. Tiny has been reunited with her husband Percy on his release from prison after four years. He was a member of a gang but is determined to start afresh under pressure from Tiny and her mother. Gilles's family's murders are associated to a local gang and Percy is suspected of involvement. When Percy becomes a victim of what appears to be another gang murder, Gilles finds solace with his grieving wife. They embark on a journey together but the beauty of their trip conceals something dark.
The film is photographed well and the acting is good; Nicolas 'Nico' Duvauchelle delivers as always and so do the supporting cast. Unfortunately the film's soundtrack is too dramatic as are some of the expressions of grief. Raw, physical sorrow does not sit well with the slow and despairing pace that is the film's main tempo. The characterisations are quite good but the script is banal. The ambiguous ending comes across as ambivalent suggesting there was no idea how to close the tale.
All in all a mixed bag but the film was good enough to hold my attention.
La mujer de los perros (2015)
Life and gleaning (slight spoilers)
In the semi-darkness of dawn a woman and her dogs are hunting birds and rodents for food. There is no human conversation only animal sounds. So begins this enigmatic film.
La mujer is the woman. We learn little of her biography during the film. She is shown with her 8 dogs and how she survives living wild, foraging and gleaning in order to survive. The idea of gleaning is new to me; I became acquainted with it via the wonderful Agnès Varda who explored this way of life in one of her films. La mujer gleans everything and we see the use to which she puts her found items and food.
La mujer's life is not all about utility; she loves her dogs and the parrot she feeds. She marvels at the city which she has cause to visit to see a doctor and visit an old friend. She marvels at the young people gathered for racing one spring day and she enjoys amorous activity with a local farmer.
Stripped of the institutions and mechanisms that humans have developed, life is hard. But it is peaceful as well, La mujer sits in still peace and enjoys the spring sun after the harsh winter. An abandoned dog is the strongest sign of despair that might lie at la mujer's heart and be the reason for the way she lives. La mujer tends the dog; she does not adopt it and we never know why. The dog's fate is sorrowful but treated without pity or time.
In terms of storytelling this film is highly original. There is barely any dialogue and little background music. It is quiet and contemplative and challenging.
Censored Voices (2015)
The creation of profound hatred between Arab, Palestinian and Israeli
Israel's 1967 war against three invading Arab armies was hailed a triumph as they fought to victory in spite of seeming like David battling Goliath. The people and media celebrated the success, which was a reaffirmation of Zionism as Jerusalem was reclaimed as an entire Israeli city.
Yet in the kibbutz were young men returned from fighting in the war who were not triumphant, who did not feel that Zionism was justified in its actions and that some of the actions by Israel during the 6-day war offended Judaism. They gathered to speak about their experiences and its effect upon them. Their conversations were recorded. Then the conversations were suppressed by the Israeli army. Only 30% of their interviews were released for publication until now.
Mor Loushy has brought the young men, now old men, to listen again to their comments and conversations, revealed in their entirety to others for the first time. These are spliced with footage of the war and with film of the men listening to their young selves. At the end each man delivers his verdict on the legacy of the 6-day war for Israel. It is not positive.
I wondered how a documentary built around recorded interviews would work as a cinematic affair. The use of original footage, of which there is plenty, helps support the voices we hear from the past. Each young man entered the war believing it a just and right battle to preserve Israel but each was left disturbed in its aftermath. It is such an interesting contrast to see the men now as they are listening to their thoughts then.
Ultimately the film's verdict as it is delivered from these old men is dispiriting and sad. Well worth seeing to hear Israeli views as they are without propaganda and defensiveness. The comments of some of the men then echo prophetically with events since. One has to admire the perspicacity of those young men as they rued their country's actions in 1967.
L'ombre familière (1958)
Estrangement (slight spoilers)
This eerie film captures well the feeling of estrangement in the midst of life that was central to Camus's novels. A young couple's friend commits suicide. His death leads to a crisis for the couple as the husband finds it increasingly difficult to work as a painter.
The wife recalls their last meeting with their doomed friend, Alexandre, when all three visited a deserted swimming pool in the middle of a forest being cleared slowly for the building of homes. The same forest where she met her husband years before. The three of them explore the pool before walking its length like sentinels of a dying humankind. Eventually recovery comes when the husband decides to make a film with the swimming pool as his setting.
The film reflects on many existential concerns such as living and dying and their dynamic relationship to one another. Also creativity, authenticity and falsehood. The film reminded me of La Jetee as it shares a similar dispassionate despair about people and humanity.
Round Trip (2012)
An Arab road movie (spoilers)
As of today I am the first female to vote for this film on IMDb; I've not seen such a set of voting stats before. It is sad that this film's voters are only males, for the film has much to say about female sexuality and emancipation, or lack of it, in the Islamic cultures of Iran, Syria and Turkey.
Walid is a taxi driver and has moved to Damascus from his village. Souhaire is an urban, young, middle class woman who is Walid's unofficial girlfriend. She is independent and free-spirited, which Walid appreciates, but she conceals this from society though she pushes the boundaries at times.
Most of their relationship is conducted in Walid's taxi cab, which he drives to remote spots for the lovers to enjoy one another's company. But even then society, in the form of other drivers, interrupt their solitude. Souhaire decides to make a long promised visit to a female relative in Tehran and encourages Walid to join her so that they can enjoy time together away from the many constraints. It becomes obvious that Souhaire's female relative is privy to Souhaire's plans for she leaves them an empty apartment for their brief visit.
To reach Tehran from Damascus the pair travel by train to lake Van in Eastern Turkey, from where they cross by ferry to a waiting train that continues onto Tehran. The director uses the shifting landscape to mirror the interior developments in Walid and Souhaire's relationship. We leave bright, sunny Damascus with its yellowy buildings and dust and head through a desert landscape before arriving in a snowy and wintry Turkey. From then on the winter weather continues but the landscape becomes more grey and industrialised as the train heads through rural Iran towards Tehran.
During their journey Walid and Souhaire occupy separate cabins because they are unmarried. Neither is meant to to visit the other, but they do and, with the assistance of the sympathetic train guard, who is a symbol as well as a character, they unlock the connecting door between the two cabins allowing them access to one another without drawing unwanted attention. This creates some tense moments; when the couple arrive in Turkey where they are checked by a customs officer and again in Iran where the police board with a female official in tow who roots through Souhaire's luggage and handbag.
When they cross lake Van to Iran, Souhaire has to adopt a head scarf. She does not have one so Walid buys her one, it is red. The red scarf blows away on the boat, much to their amusement but its replacement, bought in Iran, is grey. This moment is pivotal and signals a change in the relationship; where it was playful, it becomes serious and weighted with unwelcome thoughts about sexual relations for unmarried women. What begins as a journey of unbridled passion becomes cool and reflective and, as the film ends, we are left uncertain that the relationship will continue.
The film has enjoyed success in Dubai and the actress who plays Souhaire has drawn special mention. It is a short film at 76 minutes but well conceived; direct in its statements but nuanced in its handling of the characters and their affair. It comes recommended.
Stunning film (some implied spoilers)
Montse has hidden away many things, including herself, inside a run down apartment where she lives like a shrew in her nest. Her younger sister, whose name we never learn, lives with her and leads a relatively normal life under the care of Montse even though the latter is subject to rages and hallucinations. When the younger sister reaches 18 a crisis ensues in the sisters' relationship as Montse is aware that her influence over the girl is diminishing. Desperate to cling to the life she has established, the frail and violent Montse kidnaps her neighbour, Carlos, after he seeks her help following an accident. Some of the events are reminiscent of the film Misery.
A stylish film that evokes the period well, the plot and reveals are predictable but the characters and the acting more than keep the film alive and engaging. Montse is played by an actress who looks as frail as her character's mental health. The younger sister is delicate but robust and Carlos is handsome and seductive. A supporting role for Luis Tosar as Montse's father is well done and Tosar lends a name to a relatively unknown cast.
This film is the debut for the directors and it is a finely drawn psychological drama that borders on horror. Although the film is punctuated by moments of humour and beauty, the pathos of Montse's fate makes this a very poignant film. The reveal about Montse's relationship with her sister and the final scene underline how sad and heavy is the fate of both sisters.
If you have the opportunity to see this film then take it. The film was delayed in production by Spain's financial woes. I hope these woes do not prevent the film getting international distribution.
Illegal migration (spoilers)
Two days before I watched this film 35 people were found concealed inside a freight container in the UK; one had died. This is not an isolated incident nor the worst tragedy to befall illegal migrants.
The Dupes is about three Palestinian men forced to migrate, illegally, to Kuwait in order to survive. They are refugees following the establishment of Israel, living in difficult and impoverished conditions. Abou Kaiss is a middle-aged family man with two sons to support. His land and his trees from which he earned his living as a peasant have been requisitioned by Israel. After much agonising he decides to try and get to Kuwait where he has heard money can be made even though he cannot imagine money as better than trees. Assad is a young man engaged to be married without any economic future. He flees after being accused of a form of treason. Marwan is the youngest of the migrants. His eldest brother was working in Kuwait and had been sending money home to his family, but this ceased when his brother fell in love. His father, in despair, walks out on the family leaving Marwan, the next oldest child, with the burden of supporting his mother and four younger siblings.
Each man journeys to Iraq ready to cross from there into Kuwait. The price the established smugglers seek is too high for Abou Kaiss and Marwan. Assad, having been duped by the smuggler who brought him to Iraq, is suspicious of the Iraqi smugglers and reluctant to pay their price with the conditions they attach. By chance Marwan meets a fellow Palestinian called Abou Kheizaran. He agrees to take Marwan for a much lower price if the latter can find some other men to make the risk of human smuggling economically viable for Kheizaran. Marwan persuades Kaiss and Assad, whom he has met at the same hotel, to join him. Together they embark on a perilous journey by water truck under the charge and care of Kheizaran.
Kheizaran is another Palestinian exile living and working in Kuwait for a wealthy employer. We learn that Kheizaran was badly wounded fighting for Palestine and his wounds cost him his manhood; whether this means his penis or testicles is not made clear. We know only that he is impotent. He is embittered and has sold his soul to money and, as he repeats, the more he makes the more he wants. He has a religious conversation with Assad on the road and they debate if he is an angel to the 3 men or not. Assad concludes that angel or not Kheizaran is their chief.
The film is full of religious images and fatalistic philosophy. The traditional Palestinian world rubs up against the modern world dominated by war and money. In such a world men are reduced to being rats; the big rats prey on the smaller ones and so on. There is little honour or trust between men; relationship are replaced by pecuniary interest. The land is forsaken and "a man without a homeland will have no grave in the earth".
So the four men embark on the drive from Bassra into Kuwait during which Kheizaran must smuggle them through two checkpoints. The journey is undertaken in the morning when the traffic is less and the scrutiny of vehicles reduced because of the rapidly increasing temperature. Kheizaran has calculated how long it will take him to negotiate each checkpoint and the calculation is to the minute. The 3 men must hide in his water tank at each crossing and the tank, which is empty, is a furnace in the desert heat. The difference between life and death in such circumstances is seconds as the average human can survive for 3 minutes without air and up to 10 minutes with air in extreme heat.
The first crossing works according to Kheizaran's plan but even then the men are shown to be suffering horribly. At the second crossing Kheizaran is delayed by a bureaucrat interested in the spurious stories he has heard of Kheizaran's amorous adventures in Bassra. The tension during this scene is as fierce as the sun; it is almost noon and the delay costs Kheizaran a minute or two. But this extra minute or two is too long for the 3 men. Kheizaran opens the water tank as soon as it is safe to stop after the check point. I held my breath. A bead of sweat from Kheizaran's face fell onto the tank and fizzled so hot was the outer surface of the tank. From within the tank there was no sound or movement; the men were dead.
The final scene was wrenching as Kheizaran dumps their bodies on a rubbish tip and, as we see the arm of Abou Kaiss reaching upwards, distorted and grotesque, the opening lines about a man without a homeland having no grave in the earth are repeated with the most ominous effect.
The Dupes/Al-Makhdu'un reminds me of The Wages of Fear/La Salarie de la Peu in terms of its structure - a long slow build establishing characters before a nail biting climax that ends in tragedy. The two films are similar in theme too; the perils men will face in order to make money to survive. The film is a tour de force even though its slow beginning taxes the viewer. Made in 1973 it is contemporary in its concerns about the Palestinians, illegal migration by economic refugees and the risks they have to endure to make their journeys. The film is a salutary reminder that whatever the cost illegal migrants are to their host countries, the costs are sometimes much higher for them and those who never succeeded in their journey.