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Author: Ela Bittencourt

Neïl Beloufa’s OCCIDENTAL: Poking fun at cultural politics

Two gay men—a blond hunk, Giorgi (Paul Hamy from João Pedro Rodrigues’s Ornithologist) and Antonio (Idir Chender)—check into a hotel in Paris under aliases. Who are they and what is their purpose? The action takes place sometime now while the décor smacks of the ‘70s. The hotel, though located in the capital, feels like a minor resort-town spot, with incongruent tropical accents and rustic-cabin chairs in the hallways. The stylistic disorientation is of relevance; “where are we” becomes not just a question of location but also a cultural marker. In his third feature, Occidental (2017), the French-Algerian artist and...

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Dispatch From Locarno: Motherhood Horror

(Warning: some spoilers) There is a lovely scene at the end of Freiheit (Freedom, 2017) a second fiction feature by Jan Speckenbach. Middle-aged Nora (Johanna Wokalek), a dedicated wife and a mother of two has just had dinner with her family. During it she seemed restless and distanced, her reactions hinting at quietly growing doubt rather than a sudden realization or outburst. The camera stays close on her face during the meal. Afterwards she asks her husband, Philip (Hans-Jochen Wagner), if one can truly love. The camera follows her in the apartment as she changes into a dress—we recognize...

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Cinema And Politics: The Reagan Show

President Ronald Reagan signs the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, Rancho del Cielo, CA, 1981. As seen in The Reagan Show, directed by Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill. Photo credit: Karl Schumacher. Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. (Gravitas Ventures & CNN Films) There’s a common Brazilian saying that if we saw how sausage got made, we’d probably never want to eat it. Much the same can be said about politics, or about how political news gets made and disseminated. The White House, viewed as a creator and disseminator of images, dictating the public conversation, is...

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Cinema And Politics: Peter Nestler

After the Peter Nestler retrospective at Tate Modern, in 2012, now American audiences have a chance to appreciate the major German documentarian’s work, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, in a retrospective presented in collaboration with the Flaherty Seminar. The retrospective title, “Vision of Resistance,” is apt. Post- WWII Germany of Nestler’s films is a land of the defeated, the dispossessed, and the weary. It is almost as if the clock had turned, and time cycled back to the Depression Era Germany of economic woes that had made Hitler’s rise possible, in the first place. “Resistance,” in this...

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Cinema And Politics: Living At Risk

Much is being said about the aesthetics of documentaries. Particularly when it comes to social documentaries, we can never be reminded enough that the act of mere renunciation won’t do, at least not in cinema. Yet I’m also reminded just how rich documentaries can be in connecting us to the moment—in their political, social engagement. It seems that the 1960 and 70s particularly were a moment when filmmakers of all stripes, from practiced documentarians to predominantly fiction filmmakers, such as Jean-Luc Godard, were picking up their cameras to contribute to the political debate—from less successful efforts, such as the...

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