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Film Festival Day 10, 04/08/2013

The only downside to a Penthouse day is that you can’t actually get a meal there, unless you go for cabinet food – the gaps between films are too short. In fact, the wee laptop I have with me would have taken most of the time between movies just to bring up Windows, so I didn’t get any writing done, either. Oh, the first world problems, they are so tragic. 😉

I bumped into a bunch of people up here – my team lead, someone else from work, and my ex-girlfriend’s parents. I had a longish chat with all of them.

Film #47: The Spirit of ’45

This film was an unabashed celebration of the election of the Labour government in Britain after the Second World War. They talked a lot about the unemployment and casualization of workers before the war, as well as the condition of slums. (They showed the state of the typical blankets in those houses, which were literally crawling with insects. I mean, Three Sisters also had the girls picking lice out of their clothing, but it looked significantly worse than that.) It’s a little weird to think that Churchill lost the country after winning the war, but as the film points out, he was a Conservative leader of a Labour administration, and the party itself was associated with appeasement.

I have mixed feelings. I think that the NHS is an unabashed good – allowing your neighbour to get sick is just dumb, since infections don’t respect the colour of your credit card. But I remember someone at work complaining how hard it was to get anything done through the old government-owned Telecom. It feels like a variation of the Tragedy of the Commons: how do you minimized selfish exploitation?

There were many good points made – for example, that privatization of functions often appeared to be driven on idealogical grounds. If you outsource cleaning, you’re not just moving a wage bill from one place to another – you’re also introducing a layer of administration, and bringing in a player whose objective is to keep their costs down, rather than keep an environment clean. And if you’re a hospital, the cost of a single additional infection is likely to wipe out any nominal savings made by moving cleaning outside the institution.

(On the other hand, a quest for autarky is generally a bit of a fool’s game. I can certainly believe that, in some circumstances, it might end up making financial sense to outsource something like cleaning, if your needs are sufficiently standardized that there are savings that the people you’re hiring can make based on size. But what’s true of an office isn’t necessarily true of a hospital.)

There’s also the point that the government has been keen to sell off the profitable bits of various services like Royal Mail; conveniently, those are also the bits that companies want to buy. But that means that the unprofitable (by socially important) bits suddenly cost money, since they’re no longer subsidised by the profitable bits… which may end up being a good excuse to shut them down, if you’re suitably Machiavellian.

It was a good documentary, but not especially balanced.

Film #48: We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks

One of the major points of this documentary is that Julian Assange has managed to tie WikiLeaks quite firmly to himself, and that there’s a weird conflation in many people’s mind between the charges against him in Sweden, and those against Private Bradley Manning. I mean, I agree that the vigour with which Assange has been pursued is interesting, and I’d like to know if there are any other men with similar charges pending that have rated Interpol warrants. (I kinda hope they have, ‘cos it’s not a trivial thing he’s accused of, and letting these women have their day in court seems like the right thing to do.)

For what it’s worth, I hope that WikiLeaks is seen as a proof of concept, a model rather than the only game in town. The well documented fact that various groups will use “national security” or “commercial sensitivity” as a figleaf for “we’ve done something embarrassing” means that whistleblowers are an important check; but those who publish things do need to take their responsibilities seriously as well. However, if it’s seen as okay to punish and call out small actors like WikiLeaks in a way that governments wouldn’t go after established newspapers, that’s a bit of a problem.

Film #49: Fill The Void

In a conservative Jewish community, a woman dies in childbirth. The dead woman’s mother wants her other daughter, who is starting to think about marriage, to marry the bereaved son-in-law, so that her grandchild won’t move to Belgium.

It is a little less coercive and creepy than it sounds.

We’ve seen the prospective pair joking with the sister before her death, though neither of them are keen on the idea initially. This isn’t a movie about challenging societal norms – the prospective bride is worried about losing the chance to grow with her husband, and what her sister would have thought, not about whether or not she wants to marry at all. (Apparently there’s normally a short interview process so that couples can ask each other a few questions before they marry, but otherwise there’s very little contact between the sexes.) In fact, I think that most of the movie was more about how the women interact with each other, and how they see themselves.

I liked it, but I’m not sure we got the happiest possible ending.

Film #50: Blancanieves

A weird retelling of Snow White as a black & white silent movie, where the king is replaced with a famous and rich matador, the evil queen is a nurse who meets him while he is being operated on, and the dwarves… well, they’re dwarves, but they’re a travelling troupe of entertainers that fight bull calves for villages. All this is told in an exaggerated style, with elements fading in over the top of the main picture, and a mythic sensibility. I liked it a lot until the last ten minutes, where I felt it veered into exceedingly creepy territory.

So… I don’t know. It’s still pretty neat, but the end didn’t work for me.

Film #51: My Sweet Pepper Land

Basically a Kurdish Western about corruption and attitudes to women. A former fighter for Kurdish independence has turned policeman, and volunteers to work in a community on the border near Turkey and Iran. The other stranger in the village is a young woman, only daughter of a man with twelve sons, who has been assigned to this remote outpost and lives alone in the school – but the local warlord doesn’t want her there. Rumours start about the two almost immediately, bringing out a weird dichotomy – a woman living by herself is seen as a moral problem, but allowing a warlord to smuggle and break the law is not.

The new sheriff (because that’s what he basically is) is unwilling to turn a blind eye to what the warlord sees as his ancestral rights, and it’s obvious that conflict is inevitable. This is exacerbated by the appearance of a group of female Kurdish freedom fighters.

There’s some unexpected humour. For example, the police station isn’t finished yet, but there’s a row of portraits of former police chiefs… and their guns and hats. And the woman plays an instrument I’d not seem before, called a “hang”, which has a pretty neat sound; I’d assumed that it was traditional, but apparently it’s very new, having been developed recently in Germany.

Anyway, it wasn’t the strongest film I’ve seen, but I liked it.

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