2 posts categorized "Agitprop"

March 21, 2018

MANDERLAY — CLASSIC FILM PICK

ManderlayLars von Trier’s second installment in his Brechtian trilogy of American culture stays true to the stage bound theatrical setting of his first installment (“Dogville” 2003) even if his protagonist heroine Grace seems not to have kept any continuity from her traumatizing experiences in Dogville, i.e. multiple rapes, torture, and various humiliations, including being enslaved before ordering the massacre of a small town. After all, murderers are humiliated by their own bloodlust.

Perhaps that is as it should be. That was a lot of baggage. Bryce Dallas Howard takes over the role that Nicole Kidman portrayed in “Dogville,” just as Willem Dafoe fills James Caan’s shoes as Grace’s gangster father this time around.

Under von Trier’s fluid handheld camera there is no mistaking the parable aspect of his rigorous dramaturgy, this time dedicated to a slave plantation operating 70 years pat the abolishment of slavery. If you do the math you know that it’s Depression Era 1933. You don’t have to ponder long to realize that slavery in America continues albeit under a transmogrified state of incremental genocide glossed over with pretty words such as democracy, freedom, and capitalism.

Manderlay2

So it is that our minimalist tale of colonialism, best intentions, and hidden agendas comes into microcosmic view when the headstrong Grace arrives at Manderlay in the company of her smarmy dad and his gun-toting henchmen and lawyers. A slave (Isaach De Bankolé) is strapped to a grate, about to be whipped by one of his white masters when Grace intercedes and takes the whip away from the brute with the aid of her dad’s goons. The plantation matriarch Mam (Lauren Bacall) appears from her mansion with shotgun in hand, but put in her place by Grace. Mam wasn’t long for this world anyway as it turns out but she does leave behind a book (“Mam’s Law”) which includes a “code of conduct” for the plantation. Most appalling, if informative, is the book’s dilatation of seven slave character types with titles such as “Proudly,” “Clownin’,” and “Pleasin’.”

Grace decides to stay on at Manderlay in order to oversee the slaves’ transition to freedom. She keeps her father’s lawyer and a few of his guards. Under von Trier’s seven remaining chapter headings, Grace learns the hard way the unseen forces and brutal tactics that undo her naïve attempts at leading the slave community to any form of holistic equality.

MANDERLAY

Not since Ingmar Bergman’s trenchant Cinema has a filmmaker so efficiently tackled universal truths of human behavior that predictably veer toward duplicity, greed and the lowest common denominator of groupthink that priests, politicians, judges, and corporate CEOs wield under the guise of democracy. “The lesser of two evils” is still immoral, n’est-ce pas?    

Grace

Not rated. 139 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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September 30, 2014

PRIDE

Undone by Broad Strokes
Historic LGBT Battle in the UK Goes Soft

PrideAll attempts fail at forcing a by-the-numbers narrative template on a fact-based story about unlikely bedfellows uniting against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's mid '80s reign of anti-union and anti-gay rhetoric and public policies. Newbie screenwriter Stephen Beresford plays a game of hide-the-protagonist that further distracts from a diluted "feel-good" movie that should have by all rights been a slam-dunk.

London, circa June 1984, is the site of a Gay Pride march where 20-year-old Joe (George MacKay) is inadvertently lured into joining the parade in spite of his meek efforts to avoid holding a sign that reads "Queers — Better Blatant Than Latent." Still insecure about his own gayness, shy Joe comes out of his shell after being welcomed into the fold of a local gay rights group, home-based in a cozy neighborhood bookstore called Gay's the Word. Sidelining his culinary studies to be a pastry chef seems a fair exchange for Joe's sudden decision to follow his other passions.

Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) is the charismatic gay rights firebrand whose impromptu mid-parade decision to represent a group of striking miners, as equally despised as the gays by Thatcher's vindictive regime, sounds a clarion call that eventually rings through in the UK's corridors of power. Mark rebrands the group from "Gay Liberation Front" to "Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners" (LGSM).

After taking up sidewalk collections, Mark transports his small but passionate alliance to the South Wales coal-mining town of Onllwyn to donate the monies to the miners' poorly articulated cause. Running with the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, LGSM recruits the help of Onllwyn's able-bodied community club spokesperson Dai (Paddy Considine) to introduce them to the miners. Although the town's National Union of Mineworkers take seething umbrage at receiving support from such a group of "perverts," they don't turn down the money.

The film's neglect of the cause and nature of the miner's strike is a glaring oversight that also weakens its potential as serious work of agitprop cinema.

PRIDE1Rocks thrown, rather than the personalities of the bullies throwing them, express the era's cultural reality of intolerance. The film's broad comic tone undermines the seriousness of the sometimes-violent drama at hand. A perky musical score and colorful set designs that border on the garish exist at odds with the vital nature of the story. At times the movie feels like an Ealing comedy on steroids. Nevertheless, its use of Billy Bragg's version of "There is Power in a Union" plays all the right chords when it finally arrives.

Four too many subplots splinter the film as Mark's motley group of gays shuttle between London and Onllwyn's Dulias Valley town while drumming up more financial aid for the miners. Confusion arises about which character the filmmakers intend the audience to invest most of its interest in. Strong supporting performances from Dominic West, playing the first UK victim of the AIDS virus, and Bill Nighy, as Cliff, a retired miner who happens to be a closeted gay, help keep the film entertaining even if the movie doesn't add up to the sum of its parts. Even Imelda Staunton's feisty portrayal of Hefina, a community organizer in Onllwyn, gets lost in the shuffle.

However chuckle-inducing its use of broad comedy might be — witness a gaggle of little old Welsh ladies pouring over gay porn and admiring an oversized dildo — the movie puts too much weight on the comic side of the scales to achieve its ostensible purpose, namely putting the audience squarely inside an essential chapter of the LGBT movement's battle for cultural equality in the UK.

Rated R. 120 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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