Monday, October 11, 2004

Film Reviews Allow Le Monde Another Opportunity to Blast America, Its Leaders, Its People, and Its Society

The gist of this weblog, and its sister weblogs, is to demonstrate that in France and Europe there is a deep newspond of what, in spite of claims to the contrary, can best be described as anti-Americanism, and this is something which pervades every facet of life. Some people think we must be exaggerating when we say this, but it can be found in the strangest places.

Since it is Le Monde's 60th anniversary this year, let us take a look at the independent newspaper's film reviews. It would seem that whenever the reviewers get an opportunity (whether with Hollywood movies or non-American ones), they take a potshot at America (or her leaders and their policies, if you prefer), even if the reviewers' speechifying has little, not to say nothing, to do with the director and/or the writer's intentions.

In that perspective, you may remember Samuel Blumenfeld gratuitously describing The Ladykillers as taking place in "a country being eaten away by corruption and bigotry, by finance and religion, a perfect metaphor for George W. Bush's America". This, in spite of the facts that the picture is a remake of a British comedy from… 1955, and that not once in the three pages of Blumenfeld's interview do the directors make any comments whatsoever about American society or any of their leaders.

Some reviewers spend a lot of ink on finding (sometimes obscure) links to the 9/11 attacks, something that is not all that unusual, perhaps, but notice how this always seems to be said in a condescending tone. As you read the following reviews from the newspaper of reference, please notice how simplistic assessments of American guilt is taken for granted, how condescending they are of Americans or their leaders, and how it is assumed that all of America's society, together, is supposed to make some sort of collective mea culpa.

"'Shot in Iraq on the eve of the American offensive' the press release proclaims proudly", purrs Florence Colombani in her film review of Zaman: The Man from the Reeds, apparently finding it chillingly exotic that Amer Alwan's Iraqi TV movie was made during the reign of the Rais. She ends by saying that "beyond the documentary interest, the film … doesn't have much to offer, due to the lack of a filmmaker who could impose a true viewpoint on the reality that he is contemplating." Well, what can you say, it's true that the régime at the time wasn't too inclined to let filmmakers (or anybody else) impose (or even have) any viewpoints at all. Still, Ms Colombani tells us, the film — which concerns the travails of Zaman seeking medicine to help his sick wife — managed to capture "the consequences of the [U.S.] embargo on daily life."

In the same paper (and on the same URL page), a review of Brooklyn Babylon notes that "love wins" in Marc Levin's Romeo and Juliet parable (between a black rapper and an Orthodox Jew) that is an "ode to freedom and […drumbeat…] peace between peoples", that perennial of European grandiloquent statements. When 13 Going On 30 was released, JFR (Jean-François Rauger?) wagged his finger at Gary Winick (and ultimately, at American society) for not letting his heroine go all the way (with her sexual experience), meaning the film lost all interest. Either because the director was sexually repressed, or because America is, or because the studio was, the film had not shown sexual freedom as it should have, and it could only be called a failure:

The scriptwriters manage to avoid in a cowardly and lazy way situations that are too sexual. She has a boyfriend but doesn't sleep with him! There is, behind the premise of the film and the way the story is carried forward, the very contemporary phantasm of a general infantilization of society. May we be preserved from that!
As for El Cid: The Legend, the "depressingly trivial script" of José Pozo's Spanish animated movie is castigated by a reviewer identified only by his initials. (Is "I.R." Ignacio Ramonet of Le Monde Diplomatique? It sure would seem so, judging from his wording.) "Blood-thirsty, devoid of any moral code, [the Moorish] warriors are dominated by a cruel and bearded chieftain, wearing a long black headdress, who is strangely reminiscent of another great Satan, much more contemporary. Might it be that the post-September-11-2001 context has again made fashionable the figure of the Moor as the enemy to kill? For a film that has won the Goya of the best animated movie in Spain, it is a question that needs to be asked." Let's just hope I.R.'s sneers and snorts during the projection weren't loud enough to disturb the enjoyment of the movie by los niños.

Oh, and then there is The Village. Thomas Sotinel informs us that the film is a "political film disguised as a fantasy film": "What with clear-cut elements, one might support the current idea: The Village, born in the torment unleashed by the attacks of September 11, has attained a universal dimension. The metaphor is crystal clear, sometimes extremely precise: the fear of the village's inhabitants focuses on one single threat, accepting that it conditions an important part of their existence. In the New York Times, A. O. Scott remarked that the orange banners planted at the outskirts of the village to keep the creatures away and the red marks that the latter leave behind during their incursions correspond to the antiterrorist alert codes."

The review is accompanied by Florence Colombani's lengthy interview of M Night Shyamalan, in which the director — who has made "horror" movies since at least 1999 — not once mentions 911, the antiterrorist alert codes, or even the name of George W Bush. That's when Sotinel adds, deadpan, "But it would probably be wrong to see in Shyamalan's purpose nothing but a denunciation of the politics of fear." Duh.

The post-911 "politics of fear" brings us back to Florence "Tch-tch" Colombani, whom we remember as the woman who told Viggo Mortensen — any American (or Hollywood-based) filmmaker, really — to avoid making movies in the Arabian desert, unless they were to include political commentary, (self-)criticism of American society, and/or a (damning) denunciation of the Bush administration's Middle Eastern policy. She has seen The Terminal, and she writes about it. With a vengeance.

She starts her film review by saying that no Hollywood film today can fail to make a political comment on (listen to how charmingly it is said) "a society obsessed by security and the institutionalized abuse of power". The Terminal fails to make the mark. Why? Not enough political commentary, not enough (self-)criticism of American society, and not enough (damning) denunciations of the Bush administration's Middle Eastern policy.

In addition, Mademoiselle (Madame?) Colombani suggests, the director is something akin to a racist. "[Steven] Spielberg strenuously invites the audience to make fun of the immigrant whose pronunciation mistakes lead to mistakes whose humor is dubious." Tch-tch. "It is easy for Spielberg to thus redraw our world: he ignores the elements that are truly problematic. [Viktor] Navorsky does not come from the Middle East, but from the East, from yesterday's enemies, with whom scores have been settled for years." In other words, for the film to have been a (critical) success, Tom Hanks should have played a Muslim and spoken with an Arab accent (well, not too much of an Arab accent, not enough to make people laugh), one who shamed the bad Americans into understanding that they are too stupid to understand the Arabs are human, just like us (and haven't Europeans like Florence Colombani been saying this for years?)…

"It is therefore at the expense of political reflection and, in the final analysis, of cinema [itself], that the film abounds with good intentions. In the final part, all that remains are syrupy feelings." Tch-tch. I myself thought that the head of the airport's Homeland Security section was a particularly negative character, but that is not enough for Florence Colombani. "Like Viktor, Spielberg wants to do nothing but bury the hatchet with George W Bush's America. He wants to please everybody…" Tch-tch.

Well, that piece of blogging just about did me in. I'm going out to get some popcorn…