Jorge Luis Borges once noted that camels are never once mentioned in the Koran, which proves it is an authentically Arabic book. Anyone who isn’t from the Middle East writing a book set there would feel compelled to mention camels, whether it was necessary for the story or mere tokenism. Reading that Borges essay has given me a critical eye for set and setting, and now any details in a work I examine whether I think they were there organically or to remind you of the setting.
It’s truly astounding how whenever characters go to New Orleans it just so happens to be Mardis Gras or at very least Mardis Gras is gratuitously mentioned, similar with Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. No matter what city a film takes place in, you can guarantee that whatever landmark it is known for will make an appearance. In Ratatouille the Eiffel Tower is present pretty much whenever they are outside, even Linguini’s shitty apartment had a clear view of it. That’d be some prime real estate. I’ve been to Paris and I know first hand the Eiffel Tower isn’t omnipresent, I didn’t even see it on my first day there because my hotel room wasn’t anywhere near it.
When I was in France I had the fortune to visit a few of their famous caves. Like any other tourist in Dordogne, I visited Lascaux II. While Lascaux II faithfully reproduces most of the great art of the original, it is painfully obvious you’re in a tourist attraction the whole time. I also was able to visit Font-de-Gaume, a lesser known cave which has original paintings and reliefs. Mammoths, bison, horses and reindeer are all found throughout, though most of them require you to look hard to notice them. We had a tour guide who pointed each one out and gave us background about each work. Voices echoed whenever spoken.
Reaching Font-de-Gaum requires a laborious hike up steep stairs to the top of the hill. It was well worth it and I was conditioned for it, I had been in the Parisian Catacombs and climbed to the roof of Notre Dame just a few days earlier.
The pictures are not my own, they don’t allow tourists to take photos:
I guess it’s a good opportunity to post some pictures of my trip to France back in May. Here are some pics from the Musee d’Orsee, Musee Cluny and Notre Dame.
I have recently viewed Z, directed by Costa Gavras. Z is a political thriller about the assassination of a Greek presidential hopeful named Grigoris Lambrakis who was running on an antinuclear and Nonaligned platform. Lambrakis was a real Greek politician though the story told in Z is highly fictionalized; interestingly it begins with a disclaimer saying that “any resemblance to real persons or events is intentional.”
The opening dialogue discusses methods used to prevent mildew in French vineyards, and it is revealed to be a lecture given by a general to several other uniformed officers; the general goes on to explicitly link this with preventing the spread of Communism in Greece. I knew what he was getting at from the first mention of mildew. This sets the stage for the rest of the film. Before Lambrakis even appears, several of his campaigners are shown preparing for a rally and are inform that someone is out for him.
Much of the suspense of the film is whether he will be killed, and when he is killed then the focus on just who was responsible. Was it the Communists? Nationalists? Army? Police? Random act of mob violence? Unfortunately even before seeing the film I knew that it was the military responsible. A group of street thugs are followed and shown instigating riots, and it is later revealed that they were planted by the military, which reminded me of all the other examples of astroturfed resistance against democratic leaders like Arbenz and Mossadegh. Interestingly absent from Z is the USA and USSR. Both are mentioned on numerous occasions and Lambrakis made it clear he opposed either side having the bomb and that he would make Greece neutral, but no Americans or Soviets are anywhere to be seen. I really liked this because it helped to focus in on Greece, which is portrayed as being heavily partisan.
Not only does this movie give an excellent look at pre junta Greece, it is also an excellent film on an artistic level. The cinematography is naturalistic, not obviously staged like most Hollywood films. Because it depicts contemporary events, the clothes seen are totally authentic and not costumes. One thing that interested me is that many of Lambrakis’ young supporters are shown wearing clothes very similar to those worn by the mods, teddy boys, and beats of Britain. Filming was done in Algeria, though I couldn’t tell it wasn’t Greece. One thing that annoyed me was that all of the dialogue is in French and not Greek, and signs and documents shown are written in French and English. Not using Greek really distracted me from the fact it was supposed to be Greece and somewhat took away from the realism. Other than that the film is excellent storytelling.
The impression I got from Z was a cynical portrait of Greece as a heavily troubled place where people got killed for not being extreme enough. The sympathy of the film is definitely given to the Left, but it hardly glamorized them. Admittedly I know little about Greece during this period, but I feel that after seeing Z I understand the situation much better. All of the significant factions that vied for power are present, and their interactions are entertainingly shown. Overall I would say that Z is an excellent work that succeeds on all counts.
Today my political science class viewed the film The Battle of Algiers. The movie is fact based account of the Algerian War, where the National Liberation Front rebelled against French colonial rule and resulted in Algeria’s indpendance. We watched the movie because we are currently discussing terrorism and what causes people to resort to terrorism in the first place. Despite wholeheartedly siding the the FLN, it is made clear that there activities fall neatly within the confines of terrorism. Numerous bombings, murder of police officers, and various other acts pf terror are shown. That is balanced with by depicting the human rights abuses carried out by the French as well. The FLN is clearly made to be heroic, but the French are hardly villinized even after it was established they resorted to torture. So rather than reduce the Algerian to a simplistic black and white tale, The Battle of Algiers makes it clear how complex the conflict was; meanwhile it is still an easy to follow film.
Another thing that makes this film expeptional are the artistic merits. Almost no proffesional actors were cast. Instead the FLN members were all played by real life members, and many of the French soldiers were played by actual French veterans. Such an approuch gives so much authenticity, and it took advantage of an opportunity not always present. The cinematography is stunning, it was filmed on location in Algiers and the decision to film in black and white was executed beautifully.
The Battle of Algiers is a film I recommend to everyone. It is ranked fairly high in “all time greatest film” lists, so that is a concensus. It is especially relevant to modern American viewers as many see parallels between France’s struggle and America’s involvement in the Middle East. With Syria’s future in the balance watching it now is esspecially timely.