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The Belgian movie Black draws its audience into the unknown and often cruel world of Brussels´ migrant neighbourhoods. Reminiscent of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the filmmakers have adapted the novels of Dirk Bracke and created a film that is a mixture between thrilling action and bitter reality. The young directors Abdil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have made an astonishing film that is timely as it considers the issues of migration and globalisation.
Photo: © Bio Illusion, courtesy of Miloslav Šmídmajer
Young talents Petr Šimčák and Jan Maršal in Pojedeme k moři
Cafe Cinema is returning to Sixth Sense! In the first edition of this new run, E&M's Frances Jackson reviews Pojedeme k moři, a ground-breaking Czech film written and directed by actor Jiří Mádl.
At a time when many critics have been despairing of the state of Czech feature films and finding only documentaries to their taste, there comes along a film that not only bucks the trend, but also seems to have re-written the rulebook.
Pojedeme k moři (English title: To See the Sea) was released in April of this year and quickly became one of the biggest hits of the summer, bagging a number of domestic and international festival prizes along the way. Both young and old have flocked to the cinemas of the Czech Republic to watch this unconventional comedy, which tells the story of Tomáš, an 11-year-old scamp with bold ambitions to become the next Miloš Forman.
Armed with just a digital camera – a birthday present from his parents – and a nose for intrigue, Tomáš sets out to produce his own documentary about life in the southern Bohemian city of České Budějovice. With the help of his equally mischievous best friend Haris, he uncovers a number of mysteries and comes to appreciate that all is not as it seems – particularly when it comes to relationships.
True love can only exist between men. Micky Limun, main character in Serbian director Srđan Dragojević's new movie "Parada," a veteran from the Bosnian war and owner of a Judo gym, would probably agree without hesitation, having met friends for life on the front lines. Micky is a Serbian war hero, a macho, a hooligan, a petty crook – and highly homophobic. Thus, he is not amused when his fiancée's wedding planner offers his services only in return for him protecting a gay pride parade in Belgrade. Not an easy task in today's Serbia.
The last actual Gay Pride in Belgrade took place in 2010. 5600 policemen had to protect about 1000 activists against 6000 right-wing extremists. More than 100 people got hurt. For the last two years the parade has been cancelled due to security risks. The movie meets its viewers exactly at this point: in a macho society where the majority have resentments against homosexuals, and gays and lesbians are confronted with hostility and exclusion.
With a heavy topic like this, one would expect a niche film, a drama for intellectuals. Instead "Parada" is a comedy, and with more than half a million viewers in the Balkan states and several international awards, it is one of the most successful recent movies in the region. Being a Serbian-Croatian-Slovenian-Macedonian-Montenegrin co-production the movie seems to touch a common issue in the otherwise divided ex-Yugoslavian countries.
The recent protests, and especially those of the Occupy movements in numerous American and European cities, have gained a vast presence in the media and in many cases popularised radical alternatives to the current democratic system. This process brought back situationist initiatives such as the 90's "Reclaim the Streets" that were envisioned as a model for the contemporary manifestations. Along with the protesters' demands came symbols of civil disobedience, such as Guy Fawkes masks, a human microphone, tents in a cityscape, or the calls simply to "occupy everything." The last of these didn't just remain in the symbolic sphere. Patterns of communication and cooperation that were adopted in the occupied spaces effectively appealed to the public imagination and thus formed a "poetics of protest."
Tapping into the feel of these movements, Jay-Z and Kanye West released a video for their song "No Church In The Wild" last May. The video was directed by a young Greek, Romain Gavras, who is known for his violent yet elegant aesthetics, a coldly tinted imagery and daring narrative themes. This time, Gavras had a go at the spectacle of a riot scene.
The video quite clearly strikes the viewer as glamorous. When a protester lights up a Molotov cocktail in the opening sequence, it is difficult to resist an association with French New Wave cinema chic. On a fiercer note, for Salon's Natasha Lennard the video is unmistakably "riot porn," "capturing particularly dramatic riot scenes - the sort with fire, tear gas, charging police horses, careening masked crowds and, often, a hardcore backing track." "Riot porn" might also earn its name because it shows scenes of passion staged especially for the camera. Indeed, the video's striking beauty is disturbing and alarming when we realise the familiarity of the images and our consent to watching them paired with some rather decadent rap.
Even before they had a practical purpose, clothes were meant to have a message. They mark, differentiate, ennoble, humiliate, include and cast out; in other words, they talk about the person wearing them. If there is one statement that definitely applies to fashion, or clothing in general, it is that it has always functioned as a language. Before fashion became fashionable, clothes represented stability: changes appeared slowly and the meanings of clothes where obvious. In the first decades of the century, Coco Chanel violated this familiar language. After throwing away corsets, dressing women like men and making clothes from unusual fabrics it was hard to say who was who.
Her experiments with couture were called a revolution and ranked her on Time magazine's list of the most influential people of the 20th century. A century after her debut in Parisian salons, she remains an icon in the ephemeral world of fashion and beyond it. Only in the last years the legend of the French couturière was revisited several times in cinema ("Coco before Chanel", "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky", "Coco Chanel") - a feast for fashionistas and fashion victims and a rare occasion for fashion historians. The contemporary look at the European legend of fashion presented in these films might be a good opportunity to ask questions about contemporary fashion itself.
Today, the two C's stand as much for the label as they do for the image of Coco Chanel herself; a self-confident, determined and scandalous personality – an ideal character for cinema. What may seem surprising now is that Coco wasn't the only provocative designer at that time, she wasn't even the only woman designer. But she was the one to opt for a democratic turn in fashion. In times when functionality and comfort did not go along with elegance and the elitist idea of fashion, Chanel tried to create clothes that would be suitable and affordable for all women. Coco turned fashion into a popular entertainment and laid foundations for what was to become the dynamic modern fashion industry.
Cinema is a narcissistic art and we love it for that. Somehow, some of the best films in history have been films on films. That's also the case with this year’s Academy Award winning (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design) "The Artist."
Michel Hazanavicius is known for his talent for remakes and reinterpretations such as his spy movie parody series "OSS 117" or "La classe americaine" - a TV movie made entirely from extracts from old Warner Bros. films. In his newest production the French director boldly approached the silent cinema genre. The film, based on the well-known theme of fading silent movie stars and the rise of talkie celebrities (see: "A Star is Born", "Sunset Boulevard", "All about Eve" and "Singing in the Rain") is full of references and quotations from classic cinema. At the same time, it's far from being a hermetic homage to cinema meant for movie freaks.
The success of "The Artist" seems especially spectacular if we take into account that this season the big screens hosted two films referring to early cinema history. "The Artist"'s rival was Scorsese's "Hugo"; a 3D production set in Paris at the times of Méliès. Both building on the enchantment of old cinema, the films opted for entirely different types of narration to create an image of silent cinematography's charm. While Scorsese's film assumes and makes use of all the benefits of film technology and special effects in order to revive and visualise the magic of cinema, "The Artist"'s minimalist form praises cinema for its ability to generate poetry through realism.
The success of "The Artist" lies precisely in the fact that the film is not what it seems to be; it's not an imitation. Making a classic silent black and white movie in the era of 3D would simply be a pretentious anachronism. But "The Artist" is not a silent movie, it's a pastiche, and a very intelligent one. Pastiche variations on earlier works can serve as creative platforms for writers and artists to confront the past and the present in intertextual games; in "The Artist" this confrontation occurs in the particularly paradoxal construction of a silent film on the rise of sound films.
Who are today's nomads? Tourists, artists, gypsies, students, seasonal workers, or immigrants? The many conflicts that still arise in today's Europe between states and nomads like the Romanies should incline us to take a look at what nomadism really is, how the European community perceives it, and what our national borders and policies do to it.
Tony Gatlif, an Algerian-born French director of Romani ethnicity dedicated his artistic life to portraying Europe's biggest and oldest nomadic community. The Romani people (otherwise called gypsies, tsigans, gitan, halab, bohemians) are said to have left India in the direction of Europe around two thousand years ago. In "Latcho Drom" ("Safe Journey," 1993) Gatlif begins a journey retracing the paths of those nomads who later became Romanies. Wandering through the lands of India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, France and Spain, the silent camera participates in the journey and the musical traditions of today's nomads.
Devoid of any dialogue or articulated comments, the film's strong images nevertheless carry an explicit political message. The story starts in the deserts of Rajastan in northern India, where certain communities still live a traditional nomadic life in the wilderness. One cannot help but see these images as an artistic celebration of the idea of nomadic freedom. These young, graceful and beautiful nomads travelling through a timeless space, practising mystic rituals, are presented as the semi-mythological prototypes of the Romanies. Gradually moving towards Europe, the images lose their abstract and idealistic sense. On their way to Europe, the travellers encounter hunger, accommodation problems and prejudice. The film shows the nomads' journey out of India as a road towards poverty, eternal exile and struggle with western urbanisation. The film ends in Spain where a Romani community is just being evicted. As the scene takes place, the famous flamenco artist La Caita sings: "Why does you wicked mouth spit on me? / Sometimes I find myself envying the respect you give to your dog."
France's biggest Mediterranean city - Marseilles - is going to become European Capital of Culture in 2013. For this occasion, a new museum of European and Mediterranean culture (MuCEM) is being built. The project follows a long history of museum initiatives on the part of French presidents. French politicians know best that apart from being places for people to spend their free time, the primary role of museums is to act as ideological platforms for political discourses, and centres for collective memory. Recently, French Minister of the Interior Claude Gueant said in a meeting with students that all civilisations are "not of equal value." Seems like a good moment to ask ourselves how different cultures are represented in European museums and what that tell us about our perception of our countries' identities and values.
Chris Marker and Alain Resnais approached this subject in their classic documentary Les statues meurent aussi (Statues Also Die) (1953), in which they proposed a critical look at the "primitive art" exhibitions of the no longer existing Parisian Musée de l’Homme, the Musée du Congo Belge in Belgium and the British Museum. Marker's and Resnais' critique is directed at the modes of exhibiting and perceiving non-western art, which keeps their documentary relevant even today. Their film was an early step towards modern post-colonial studies.
The symbolic and political value of museums has been visible in Europe since the French revolution triggered the creation of national museums by turning the Louvre into a national museum. After that, many countries followed the trend of opening private collections to the public. From the beginning, they faced the challenge of creating sites for a common and unifying understanding of history, which was especially urgent for instance in the cases of German and Italian unification in the 1800s. As powerful political instruments, national museums were and still are often initiated by country leaders and France is a perfect example of a country that has systematically followed this tradition for centuries. Just take the most recent French history: the Centre Pompidou was initiated by Georges Pompidou. Valery Giscard d’Estaing committed himself to the development of Musée d’Orsay. Jacques Chirac opened the Musée du Quai Branly and now it appears to be Sarkozy's turn to build up the MuCEM as his project.