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Film Festival Day 14, 08/08/2013

Film #68: Hannah Arendt

This looks at the woman who coined the phrase, “the banality of evil” while covering the trial in Israel of the Nazi war criminal Eichmann, who had been snatched from South America by Mossad. She infuriated many people by claiming that not only was this monster just a boring bureaucrat who filled cattle cars with people not because he hated them, but because he had orders to follow and a schedule to keep; and far worse than that, she said that the leaders of the Jewish communities had made the situation worse and the death-toll greater by cooperating with the authorities. I’ve not read the New Yorker article or the book that followed, but I don’t believe that she was saying, “And so Eichmann is not guilty” or “And the Jewish leaders should have foreseen what would come from cooperation, and are just as guilty for the Holocaust as the Nazis”; but that is what some people seem to have taken away, especially at the time.

She was called a self-hating Jew, a Nazi sympathiser, and worse; her university tried to bully her into resigning (but she refused, which her tenure allowed her to do); and she lost many friends. But she refused to back down.  This was complicated by her association with Heidigger, who became a Nazi.

The movie was good, with many excellent female roles (and not a few good male ones). The switching between languages was fluid and believable, and the integration of archival footage from the trial was well done.

And as to the “banality of evil” — I hadn’t realised that one of the scariest psychology experiments from around that time (Dr Stanley Milgram’s series of experiments) was actually inspired by the Eichmann trial and the questions that Arendt raised.  And other experiments, like the later Stanford prison experiment (which showed how quickly people can start to abuse power, and the Robber’s Cave experiment (which showed how easy it is to foster inter-group conflict, and how hard it is to fix it) are also hard things to accept. It is a lot easier to believe in monsters than to believe in relatively ordinary people doing monstrous things.

Anyway, I liked the film, and it made me curious to read the original articles.

Film # 69: Mood Indigo

It’s a Michael Gondry film, with all the things he likes best in it – stop motion, projection, puns, a dreamlike logic, and a weirdly textured world. Oh, and there are a number of scenes where rows of typewriters travel along long desks, passing from one typist to another… and I thought, “Hang on a second, I’ve seen that room before!” And I had, in It Boy – it was the French Communist Party headquarters auditorium.

Anyway, the basic story is that a young man, on hearing that his best friend has fallen in love, declares that he will do the same. He does, it’s cute, they marry… and things start to go downhill.  Not in the relationship, but in the world.  There’s a constant weird menace in the background that grows as the film progresses, and for every swan bubble-car swung through the sky on a crane there is a series of factory worker deaths due to a supervisor boiling up impenetrable philosophy texts and dripping it into his eyes.

I enjoyed it, for the most part, but would not claim to understand it completely. I’d need some time before I felt like seeing it again.

Film #70: Much Ado About Nothing (& The Captain)

The short was a very strong contrast to the main film – Taika Waititi is an airline captain who wakes up drunk in the wreck of an aircraft, puts his jacket and hat on a corpse, and runs off. That’s pretty much it – the effects artists did an excellent job in creating the crash, so I feel kind of bad that they did so much good work in service of such a one-note nothingness.

The main attraction, on the other hand, relies on the conviction of the actors to drive the story. Shot in black and white, with Shakespearian language in American accents and contemporary dress, it all just works. Some of the physical humour is a bit broader than I would have preferred – Benedict’s jumping about while listening at the window as the others talk about Beatrice’s love for him, for example, though I believe that this was a reference to an earlier version – but in general, the performances drove the story along. And there were plenty of non-textual touches that worked really well – the bumbling lawmen locking themselves out of their car, for example.

This was a more successful translation than Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song, because I could always understand what they were saying. I liked both, but want to rewatch this one more.

Film #71: What Maisie Knew (& I’m Going To Mum’s)

This short was good – a divorced couple share custody of a kid, and their fighting spills over into how they dress him (because his mum believes his father is irresponsible about clothes). The kid decides to protest in the only way he can think of. The child actor is engaging, and you can feel how scary the adults arguing would be. I’m glad it was made.

The feature is apparently an adaptation of a much older book with a similar theme – the parents are getting divorced, and while they obviously love their daughter when they’re interacting with her, they’re also using her to hurt each other, and they’re very quick to drop her in someone else’s lap if something comes up in their lives. And this attitude extends to the other people who they’ve drawn into their orbit… both in their thoughtlessness towards them, and using them as tools in their fight.

The little girl playing Maisie is believable because of her reserve; she’s nervous around new people, and doesn’t give a running commentary on her inner life. She gets to act like a good-natured kid, and that means that the adults actions are made all the more heart-warming or horrible.

I liked the film.

Film #72: The Gatekeepers

The Shin Bet are the Israeli internal security service, making them to Mossad what the FBI is to the CIA, I guess… if the FBI were also responsible for an occupied Mexico. This documentary interviews six former heads of this service, intercut with archival footage.

The interviewer sometimes talks off-camera, and does ask hard questions, but his tone is not confrontational. The former heads of the service were open and blunt in their assessments, and often appeared to need no prompting. For example, one of them admitted to ordering the killing of two captured terrorists (who he claimed had been brutalised by the army before his people received them); when asked whether this was moral, he declared that there was no “moral” in the fight against terror, only effective or ineffective; and when asked if he would have done things differently, he said that he would have, because there had been a reporter there.

They admitted their failings – that they didn’t foresee the Intifada, or the assassination by a Jewish right-wing radical of the Israeli president intent on finding a compromise on the Palestinian problem. They talked about the arrest of the radical Jewish group who was determined to blow up the Dome of the Rock in order to trigger a war with the all Muslim states (as a prelude to the end times)… and the politics that meant that all those responsible were either not touched, or out of prison soon after they were found guilty. They talked about how targeted killings have become a problem, because they (and so many other things that Israel does) are used to achieve tactical rather than strategic objectives: it doesn’t matter how many leaders you kill if you leave the conditions that caused those leaders to emerge untouched.

The oldest of the former heads (and one who was described as “feared” by some of the other people interviewed) lamented the fact that the situation had trained the people of Israel to be cruel – not just to the conquered nation that they are holding onto, but to each other.

The film is very pessimistic about the future of the Israeli state.

This film is very good.

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