30 January 2010

Ansel Herz is putting together video reports from Haiti utilizing the 'man on the street' interview. The 'man on the street' interview is worth watching on those rare occasions when you trust that the interviewer is not searching for people who state a certain opinion or looking for the generic uninformed person. People's wish for ongoing US military presence and the return of Aristide would seem to be in contradiction, but they are stated here by different people. What comes through clearly in these interviews, including his previous video, is a strong 'anyone but Preval and the UN' sentiment, suggesting, amongst other things, that the UN is taking the rap for doing little but help violently repress the Lavalas party, an ambition that is shared by leaders in the US, France, and Canada.

21 January 2010

The Dems losing a filibuster-proof majority would be very upsetting if only they had done a damn thing with a filibuster-proof majority, or if there was any indication that they were going to do a damn thing with a filibuster-proof majority. It's like someone complains that their subscription to the gym ended when they never went to the gym and don't know where their sweatpants are. The credit card legislation was bipartisan as was Obama's 700 billion dollar defense budget for the Afghan escalation. The Dems doing nothing with a filibuster-proof majority is better than W. and Cheney with 51, but nothing changes now in practicality. Health care bill? You have stock in a hospital company? They're completely ignoring what the public wants. I'm also sick of "What Obama should do, he needs to hang with a new crowd, Obama ought to.." If his speaking abilities are the only thing that allows you to tell him apart from the crooks in his cabinet, then maybe you were believing the speeches a little too much.

16 January 2010

Cathédrale Sainte Trinité is destroyed

Somehow the Hotel Oloffson of Graham Greene's The Comedians is still standing but much of the city's turn of the century gingerbread architecture is surely destroyed, and the people of Jacmel, birthplace of the poet Rene Depestre, are in grave danger at the moment amid the ruins of the 19th Century townhouses there.

A severe blow to art in our hemisphere is the destruction of Port-au-Prince's Episcopalian Cathédrale Sainte Trinité, which was decorated in the 1950s with murals by Philomé Obin, Wilson Bigaud, and Castera Bazile.

Drop the water now!

With all the money being donated to Haitian relief from people around the world, the failure to deliver clean water to the Haitian people through air drops is appalling and absolutely inexcusable.

"It seems to me that (air drops of water)'s a formula for contributing to chaos rather than preventing it," says Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "Without having any structure on the ground, in terms of distribution, that an air drop is simply going to lead to riots as people go after that stuff."

We're at the point where concerns of riots over water should be trumped by the fact that thousands are dying for lack of clean water. The Air Force is saying that it will be two days before it can distribute water if all goes as planned.

"The urgency was growing..: On a back street in Port-au-Prince, about a half dozen young men ripped water pipes off walls to suck out the small amount of water trapped inside.

"This is very, very bad, but I am too thirsty," said Pierre Louis Delmar.

..."And soon, it will be too late in any case.

"Beyond three or four days without water, they'll be pretty ill," said Dr. Michael VanRooyen of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in Boston. "Around three days would be where you would see people start to succumb."

"The next morning after the earthquake, as a military man of 37 years service, I assumed … there would be airplanes delivering aid, not troops, but aid," said retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who coordinated military operations after disaster struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.

"What we saw instead was discussion about, 'Well we've got to send an assessment team in to see what the needs are.' And anytime I hear that, my head turns red."

"In the first two days after Tuesday evening's quake, "we saw national media in, but we didn't see Air Force airplanes taking in food and water," Honore said. Nor were military doctors on the ground treating the injured, he said.

"..A rapid response unit such as the 82nd Airborne Division can deploy within 18 hours of an order to go, said retired general Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of staff."

Whatever the intentions behind the original decision not to air drop, in light of "a coordination failure among military operations and humanitarian agencies" the decision has to be changed.

You may be wondering, where is the Haitian government? Where are the Haitian doctors? The main medical school started by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was closed down during the coup in which US Marines flew him out of the country, during which Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch confirmed that systematic human rights abuses took place in the presence of UN peacekeepers. The practice of dispensing aid to NGOs rather than the Haitian government was accelerated in the past decade by the Bush administration's determination not to give any money to the Aristide government. The Haitian oligarchy has never paid taxes despite the fact that their profits constitute an overwhelming percentage of the GDP. The US, France, and Canada instigated an international embargo against Haiti up to the past few years over falsified charges relating to legislative elections. The country is still paying off debt accrued by the US-backed Duvalier dictatorship, almost all of which was embezzled.

Amid the total absence of government institutions and health provisions, the 95th anniversary of the first US military occupation in Haiti will bring a new US occupation for an undetermined length of time, bringing a soldiers-to-civilians ratio higher than the current US occupation of Afghanistan. There will apparently be no unconditional provision of the world's donations of water, food, and medicine, so Haitians will have to accept this occupation in order for the survivors to eat and receive emergency medical aid.

The "hearts and minds" of Haitians will process the facts of their misery much more clearly than anything I can surmise. Aristide says he wants to return to the country, but the US military's control of the airport has already been accompanied by the US State Department's statement "the last thing that we need is to have someone land and put an additional burden in an already-stressed situation," despite the fact that Secretary Clinton is landing there. A Haitian presidential election year looms in which President Preval can't run for reelection, Aristide's Lavalas party has been forced in to exile and assassinated by the Haitian National Police amid the presence of the UN, and the continued presence of the US military is likely. Though it's unclear whether the constitutional prohibition of three terms applies to someone who has begun two coup-shortened terms already, Aristide has a legal right to enter Haiti and should do so to see to it that the will of the Haitian people and the compassion of people around the world is acted upon.

Bay kou bliye, pote mak sonje. The giver of the blow forgets, the bearer of the scar remembers.

05 January 2010

Piri' Miri Muli's Top 30 Films of the Decade

I allowed one film per director, which wasn't as difficult to rationalize as it would have been in the 60's; other worthy 00's films by the directors are noted. It seems that two dozen films of the 60's would top this list, and though Piri' Miri Muli' is known to like American films, that hasn't been the case recently. I watch documentaries but they are not listed. (note: this post has been updated here and here)

1. Notre Musique (2004) d: Jean-Luc Godard. Sarah Adler, Mahmoud Darwish. Godard used to rank films at the end of the year for Cahiers du cinéma, which makes me feel a little better about this post. Groundbreaking opening montage, one-liners, Darwish addresses the screen.

2. Heaven (2002) d: Tom Tykwer. Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Alberto Di Stasio. One of the best scripts co-written by Krzystof Piesiewicz and the late master Krzystof Kieślowski, allowing itself its chase scenes and storybook romance, covering their impressions of Italy the way their Three Colors covers France. Performances and tech standards up there with Kieślowski's works.

3. Japón (2002) d: Carlos Reygadas. Alejandro Ferretis, Magdalena Flores. In the first decade without a new Tarkovsky film, some compensation. I also feel funny ranking this above Kiarostami's Wind, indebted as it is to it and Taste of Cherry, but Reygadas builds on various influences to create this stunning debut. Though Reygadas usually doesn't show 'round here outside Film Forum, I first saw this projected at a fest with no expectations and it gets better every time on the tube. Gets away from the Spanish-blood surgical female figure of the Mexican soaps but he's getting a little repetitive on this count. As with Heaven, utilizes Arvo Pärt for the soundtrack. Battle in Heaven is a more indulgent shockfest of nature and redemption, more great music; highly recommended. Mexican Mennonite vehicle Silent Light tacks a romantic plot onto his visual style with less effective results.

4. Y tu mamá también (2001) d: Alfonzo Cuarón. Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Maribel Verdú. I confess bias for Mexican road films, but the narrator's description of marginal social occurrances around an adolescent drive to nowhere makes perfect narrative sense while you're watching it, even if the anti-intellectualism leads logically to adapting PD James' political allegories (Children of Men).

5. Distant (2002) d: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Muzaffer Özdemir, Emin Toprak. Ceylan represents the different visual experiences of the two protagonists, a respected photographer withdrawing from the world and a factory worker from the country in Istanbul for the first time, something I've never seen done so deliberately and effectively.

6. Dogville (2003) d: Lars von Trier. Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, John Hurt. A neurotic view of America composed entirely of film genre clichés from someone who's never been here; altogether a great night at the movies. Trier's perception of America may be the 'boss' in the enjoyable The Boss of It All, and I watch the docu The Five Obstructions over and over, especially when I'm short of sleep.

7. The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) d: Walter Salles. Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo De la Serna. The best of the Che offerings soapboxes for South American unity in this decade of political change there. Closing montage is another pearl of the Latin American road pic genre, a tearjerking memento of the friendly resilience forgotten by no one that beholds it.

8. The Wind Will Carry Us (2000) d: Abbas Kiarostami. Behzad Dorani. Kiarostami's love of poetry and mastery of compositional elements gives the world this portrait of Iranian village life in which his meditations on life and death are almost drowned out by the roosters and livestock. ABC Africa is on my short list of best documentaries and Ten has its realistically rendered moments amid its very long dialogues, with his interviews on that dvd especially interesting.

9. Va Savoir (2001) d: Jacques Rivette. Jeanne Balibar, Sergio Castellitto. The romantic farce proves a good container for Rivette's stylistic tendencies. The Dutchess of Langleais was the only movie I saw in the theater in 2007 and didn't prove unworthy of that distinction.

10. Lorna's Silence (2008) d: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Arta Dobroshi, Jérémie Renier. After releasing two landmarks of contemporary neorealism in the late 90's (La Promesse and Rosetta), the Dardennes continue to provide some of the most authentic new film experiences: The Son, L'Enfant (which I had the pleasure of seeing projected), and this, which came out today on dvd and I just saw for the first time.

11. Saraband (2003) d: Ingmar Bergman. Börje Ahlstedt, Julia Dufvenius, Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson. Like his other masterpieces, family drama made for TV pulls no punches and serves up Ullmann, Josephson, and Ahlstedt.

12. The Idiot (2003) d: Vladimir Bortko. Adaptations messing with classics rarely make them better, and the loyalty of this 9-hour TV version is most admirable.

13. Sexy Beast (2000) d: Jonathan Glazer. Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane, James Fox. Perhaps the best of the heist comedy genre that was fashionable at the time.

14. La Petit Lili (2003) d: Claude Miller. Robinson Stevenin, Ludivine Sagnier. I don't usually get excited about 'modern versions,' but this conjuring of The Seagull, my favorite Chekhov play, holds up to repeated viewings amid its winking, tacked-on ending.

15. A Christmas Tale (2008) d: Arnaud Desplechin. Chiara Mastrionni, Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos. Arguably Desplechin's best since his Paris-Nanterre romantic hijinx My Sex Life (How I Got Into an Argument), he benefits from a working relationship with great ensemble actors. Here he comes up with some of his best female roles, with Mastrionni emerging as a romantic lead, at the continuing expense of the emotional stability of Amalric's turns. Kings and Queen, Esther Kahn.

16. Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
d: Béla Tarr. Lars Rudolph. The beauty of Tarr's ongoing collaboration with László Krasznahorkai comes out most emphatically in that opening scene and the ensuing images, even if Western viewers (like myself) resort to a thumb-on-FF strategy for sitting through it.

17. California Dreamin' (2007) d: Cristian Nemescu. Armand Assante, Jamie Elman, Răzvan Vasilescu, Maria Dinulescu. Also called Endless (Nesfârșit), some of the scenes seem a bit endless because they were shot and assembled for coverage, and then the 27-year-old director tragically died in a car crash. In some scenes you find yourself saying, "OK, I get the joke/point" and they could/would have been halved in the editing room. Subversive political comedy of the age of NATO peacekeeping written by Nemescu, Tudor Voican, and Catherine Linstrum and a promising directorial career cut short.

18. Lumumba (2000) d: Raoul Peck. Eriq Ebouaney. Straightforward but well-written Pascal Bonitzer biopic screenplay that Frank Carlucci (Project for the New American Century) calls 'tendentious, false, and libelous.'

19. Sweet Sixteen (2002) d: Ken Loach. Martin Compston. Loach adds to neorealism this teen drama completely devoid of sentimentality or political prompting. Muslim/multiracial A Fond Kiss is one of the decade's watchable romantic dramas, The Wind that Shakes the Barley is an indispensible historical polemic, Bread and Roses enjoyably brings the organizing drama to LA's custodians.

20. Goya in Bordeaux (2000) d: Carlos Saura. Francisco Rabal, Verdú. Saura is always on his game, so Vittorio Storraro's cinematography is never wasted on him.

21. Reprise (2006) d: Joachim Trier. Anders Danielson Lie, Espen Klouman-Høiner. Writers as characters are often props to make horrible scripts seem interesting, and I was a little wary about the topic tackled by skateboarder-turned-director Trier, but this is quite well rendered by a quality ensemble.

22. Intimacy (2001) d: Patrice Chereau. Kerry Fox, Mark Rylance. Opera producer Chereau's entry into hardcore and the English language becomes a delicate statement on the psychology of acting, with Fox turning in another performance. Gabrielle, Persecution (haven't seen it yet).

23. Goodbye Solo (2008) d: Ramin Bahrani. Souléymane Sy Savané. Bahrani completely rips off Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry to reinforce his message the immigrants are more adaptable to current America than natives, with Ivorian flight attendant Savané stretching his acting resume by playing a Senegalese guy who wants to be a flight attendant. The movie is wonderful so all is forgiven, as is Chop Shop and Man Pushes Cart.

24. Exiles (2004) d: Tony Gatlif. Romain Duris, Lubna Azabel. Gatlif's great taste in music takes him to Algeria.

25. Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) d: Mike Leigh. Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan. Leigh's improvisational style often leads to two hours of filler, but Hawkins and Marsan's character development keeps this focused and enjoyable.

26. Waltz With Bashir (2008) Reviewed previously.

27. Morvern Callar (2002) d: Lynne Ramsay. Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott. Ramsay effectively pairs Morton with thick-accented Scottish first-timer McDermott for this buddy road film with standout cinematography by Alwin Kuchler and editing by Lucia Zucchetti.

28. The Circle (2000) d: Jafar Panahi. Engaging film depicts the everyday plight of Iranian women. Panahi holds the distinction of being arrested, handcuffed and manhandled at JFK Airport after 9-11 and arrested in Tehran during the election protests of 2009, parallel events that speak volumes about the state of world cinema today. Crimson Gold.

29. Don't Look Down (2008) d: Elisio Subiela. Leandro Stivelman, Antonella Costa. The Argentine Subiela, whose wonderful scripts have involved putting Mario Benedetti poems in the mouths of characters, brings us this homage to tantric sex.

30. The Lady and the Duke (2000) d: Éric Rohmer. Lucy Russell. Rohmer utilizes his strength of portraying dialogue within a changing friendship to evoke the feeling of living during the French Revolution, with a computer-generated background of 18th Century Paris adding more specificity of place than a random set piece. The Romance of Astree and Celadon follows up with an enjoyable evocation of the 6th Century. Both are uncharacteristic works of Rohmer's and it's better to start with the early stuff.

Saw only nine of these on the big screen: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 13, 19, 28.
Haven't seen: 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis), 2046 (d: Wong Kar-wai), City of God (d: Katia Lund, Fernando Meirelles), Coffee and Cigarettes (d: Jim Jarmusch), The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (d: Cristi Puiu), The Departed (d: Martin Scorsese), Faat Kiné (d: Ousmane Sembène), The Informant! (d: Steven Soderbergh), My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (d: Werner Herzog), The Royal Tenenbaums (d: Wes Anderson), Secret Sunshine (d: Lee Chang-dong), Two Legged Horse (d: Samira Makhmalbaf), Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (d: Shōhei Imamura), The World (d: Jia Zhangke), others..