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March 2005, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 15 Mar 2005 15:37:21 EST
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P.O. Box 461267, Hollywood, CA  90046
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March 1,  2005 
Among the many films nominated for Political Film Society  awards for 2004, 
the following were voted the  best: 
Category                           Film Title                                 
DEMOCRACY                          Silver  city                               
                 John Sayles 
EXPOSÉ                                    Kinsey                              
                       Bill Condon 
HUMAN  RIGHTS                       Hotel  Rwanda                             
            Terry George 
PEACE  Tae  Guk Gi                                             Je-Gyu  Kang 
Turtles Can  Fly  (Lakposhtha hâm parvaz  mikonand), a joint Iranian-Iraqi  
production directed and written by Bahman Ghobadi, begins just before Gulf War  
II at a refugee camp in Iraq's Kurdistan. The principal actors are children, 
and  the fictional story represents a slice of the lives of those who survive 
under  desperate circumstances. When the film begins, fifteen-year-old Agrin 
(played by  Avaz Latif) is contemplating suicide, and within a minute or two 
after  establishing the setting she indeed jumps to her death. Both the 
attempted and  actual suicide are fastforwards to the end of the story, however. 
Flashbacks,  which occur much later in the film, serve to illustrate what produced 
the  refugee camps: Saddam Hussein's soldiers not only drove Kurds from their 
homes  but raped Agrin, who gave birth to her now two-year-old son Rega 
(played by  Abdol Rahman Karim). Nevertheless, most of the film centers on Kak, a  
thirteen-year-old Kurdish boy nicknamed Satellite (played by Soran Ebrahim)  
because he procures and installs satellite dishes for Kurdish communities. In  
demand for his unique technical skill and very limited knowledge of English, he 
 not only provides employment for some of the refugee children, who collect  
defused landmines to exchange for cash or goods. He also serves as the de  
facto leader of the community in which he lives. Agrin's armless brother  Hangao 
(played by Hiresh Feysal Rahman) is clairvoyant, correctly predicting  when a 
dangerous explosion will go off, when the Americans attack Iraq in 2003,  and 
when the war ends. Satellite then announces the actions that others should  
take in response to the predictions. Whereas the political context dominates the 
 major events in the film, there is a human tragedy as well. Hangao very much 
 loves Rega, but Agrin does not; she wants to abandon Rega. One day, Agrin 
ties  up Rega in a remote location, but he breaks free and tries to return to 
the  refugee camp. When someone in the camp reports that Rega is in an area with 
 unexploded landmines, Satellite rushes to the rescue but a small landmine 
goes  off, wounding his foot. Although Satellite is soon up and about with 
crutches to  observe American troops passing by, he is unable to prevent Agrin from 
jumping  to her death. Why she does so is perhaps the most tragic part of the 
film.  Returning to the political aspects of the movie, the subtexts are very 
 powerfully stated. The title itself is a metaphor for liberation from death, 
as  the community is living in shells (tents), hoping for a way out while 
along the  border with Turkey; they are boxed in by barbed wire, landmines, and 
sentry  posts. Clearly, the Kurds are portrayed as having every reason to want 
Saddam  Hussein overthrown. Although they are allowed to watch television, 
several  channels are forbidden until the Americans march through, though the 
response of  older Iraqis to the tasteless fare that attracts teenage Americans 
on MTV is to  turn their heads away in disgust. The conquering Americans first 
leaflet the  tented community, using helicopters, to announce honorable 
intentions and then  appear as gallant conquerors, presumably en route to Baghdad or 
perhaps to the  oilfields in Iraq's Kurdistan, but their only apparent 
contribution to the  community is to watch the forbidden channels with those whom 
they have  liberated. That the Kurds are divided between Iran, Iraq, and Turkey 
is  mentioned in a matter-of-fact manner, but the story of human tragedies 
befalling  the Kurds does much to provide legitimacy to the possibility of an 
independent  Kurdistan; the director is an Iranian Kurd. The sight of Americans 
marching  heroically through the refugee village may also send a message to 
Iranians who  increasingly have drawn the conclusion that the current regime is 
no better than  the one under the Shah, but the fact that some landmines are of 
American origin  suggests that profits motivate Washington more than ideals. 
The sight of an  armless boy defusing a landmine with his teeth is perhaps the 
starkest image  presented of a country with millions of landmines and 
thousands of orphaned  children, many of whom have fewer than four limbs. The 
depiction of all aspects  of a refugee camp, where hundreds of children are doing the 
work to keep the  community alive, prompts the Political Film Society to 
nominate Turtles  Can Fly as best film exposé of 2005.  MH 
In Downfall  (Der Untergang), director Oliver Hirschbiegel presents a vivid  
docudrama of the last ten days of the Third Reich, mostly inside Hitler's 
Berlin  bunker surrounded by the luminaries of the Nazi state. To achieve 
historical  accuracy, the script relies on Joachim Fest's Inside Hitler's  Bunker: The 
Last Days of the Third  Reich and Traudl Junge's Until  the Final Hour: 
Hitler's Last Secretary (both translated into English in 2004). A touching 
interview  with Junge from an earlier documentary film ends the film, and Alexandra 
Maria  Lara, the actress playing her part in the film, provides a voiceover 
prologue,  which points out that she naïvely agreed to be Hitler's secretary from 
early  1942 to April 30, 1945, when Hitler (played by Bruno Ganz) committed 
suicide.  The film provides many events that are familiar to historians and some 
grisly  details that filmviewers may not want to know about. We observe 
Hitler's  interactions with his top officials and generals, including a confession 
by  Albert Speer (played by Heino Ferch) that he disobeyed the Führer's order 
to  destroy the architecture of Nazi Berlin and second-in-command Josef 
Göbbels's  (played by Ulrich Matthes) steadfast devotion to Hitler as the latter 
refuses to  believe military intelligence briefings when the end is near. There 
is a  marriage ceremony in which Hitler and Eva Braun (played by Juliane 
Köhler)  exchange vows, and Göbbels is impassive as his spouse Magda (played by 
Corinna  Harfouch) poisons all their children so that, in her words, they would 
not grow  up in a world without National Socialism. While Russian artillery 
draws closer,  Hitler is still giving out medals for bravery and ordering the 
execution of  traitors. Around him, alcohol is increasingly consumed, and there 
are even two  wild parties. The surreal representation asks a familiar question: 
Why did  Germans, especially those who knew that Hitler was detached from 
reality,  continue to support and to obey him? Although broad academic theories 
focus on  such factors as national culture and state terror, the film suggests 
several  particularistic answers. (1) The primary explanation appears to be 
groupthink,  that is, the human tendency to fear the social consequences of 
nonconformity.  Even though military officers close to Hitler know that he is 
treating German  civilians as well as military personnel as expendable, nobody 
wants to take  responsibility for contradicting Hitler or forming a cabal to kill 
him. (2) A  second factor is paternalism, as the women in his life are so 
infatuated by him  that they give no credence to reports about imminent doom. (3) 
Along with other  uncritical adherents of Social Darwinism, Göbbels and 
Hitler believe that they  are doing the world a service by liquidating Jews and 
so-called inferior  peoples, and Hitler is even willing to have all Germans die 
as a race because he  believes that they are being proved inferior when the 
army is incapable of  withstanding the Allied military onslaught. (4) The 
strength of a code of  militaristic ethics can be inferred from the unquestioning 
obedience of Nazi  officers and officials, who follow orders blindly and prefer 
suicide to cowardly  surrender. (5) There is a complete absence of democratic 
norms; according to  Hitler, the discipline of the Bolsheviks will prevail over 
effete democracies,  and no character in the film suggests that decisions 
should be deliberated  within a group before being promulgated. (6) Cognitive 
dissonance theory  certainly applies, as Hitler responds to unpleasant 
intelligence briefings by  giving orders to nonexistent armies and by condemning as 
traitors those who  recognize military realities. In any case, the film cannot be 
fully  deconstructed. The mysteries will never go away, even though the film 
ends by  revealing what happened later to the main characters in the film (who 
were  mostly incarcerated by the Russians, later released, and are now dead).  
Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Downfall for  best film 
exposé of 2005, best film raising consciousness about the superiority  of 
democracy, and best film demonstrating the lunacy of war rather than  peace.  MH

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