Thursday, 25 July 2013

Power Poverty & Conflict FM4: La Haine & City of God Comparative Essay

I've posted this in light of my dreadful educational experiences at Oldham Shit Form College. To all the poor Film students out there who suffer such a carefree tutor as my own for 2 years, hopefully this will be of use to you (as it's supposedly A grade).

La Haine (Matheiu Kassovitz, 1995) presents a clear message of the world it represents to audiences. Kassovitz intended to present the reality of the banlieue – more specifically of the prejudice against banlieue residents in Paris, and also of African or other ethnic background. La Haine contrasts to the highly romanticised perspective of Paris that we are shown commercially in advertisements and films such as Midnight in Paris (2011) (Woody Allen)

La Haine’s message is explicit. That French society is in a freefall, and drawing attention to the social fracture in Paris, in particular for the people of the banlieue. This is reinforced with Hubert (Hubert Kounde) repeating 3 times throughout the duration of the film, “so far so good”, the notion that a man falling to his death is fine until the impact happens. This is reflective of how it is only a matter of time before there is a social ‘explosion’, in retaliation to the divide created by the French government.

In the Crossing Continents BBC Radio 4 series, it is known residents of the banlieues are often prejudiced against in employment, as their applications are immediately refused if they are seen to have a surname indicating African background, or have a banlieue postcode. This is illustrated specifically in how Hubert (Hubert Kounde) and Said (Said Taghmaoui) are beaten by members of the police but not Vinz – this seems to be specifically racial discrimination as Hubert has an African background, and Said is from an Arabian background. It is also known that a man interviewed from the banlieue was deported for setting fire to a bin in protest simply because of his background. The motive behind one of the three protagonists in the narrative, Vinz (Vincent Cassel) was to shoot down or fight back against the police with a gun retrieved from the implied riots before the film begins as Abdel, a youth, was struck down in police custody and in a coma. This reflects on as a story element, the high amount of deaths in police custody in France between 1980-1995 and also the injustice of the police towards residents of the banlieue in Paris. Said during the course of La Haine as a character comments on the difference of treatment between how a policeman in the city centre addresses him more politely as ‘sir’ in contrast to the brutality of the police in the banlieue. Politician Sarkozy, in reaction to the riots at the time (on which the film La Haine was based), addressed all the residents of the banlieue as ‘scum’, illustrating the reality of how the government and officials of Paris look down upon the banlieue and its residents.

The Bob Marley song used in the beginning sequence of La Haine, ‘Burning and Looting’, with the lyrics, “with uniforms of brutality” anchors the theme of police brutality which is one of the addressed issues in the film. We are aligned with the banlieue residents in a number of ways (seeing the perspective from the side of the rioters in the genuine riot footage from the Paris riots, and also following the story of three protagonists from the banlieue rather than the perspective of he police) as we are intended to sympathise with and see the lives and prejudices against the three specific banlieue residents Said, Vinz and Hubert, and how aimless their lives seem in the midst of unemployment that they suffer. Often up to seventy percent of people in the banlieues are unemployed, and it is a serious issue for the people inhabiting them. This issue also perpetuates crime – as shown through Hubert who dabbles in drug dealing, but the other two protagonists are shown as having very little to occupy their time.

In City of God (Fernando Meirelles and co director Katia Lund) (2002) the purpose of the film was to draw attention to the poverty and extreme violence in the favelas, the reality of life for its inhabitants and the entrapment they suffer, in contrast to the carnival-esque image projected of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro. There are 32 million people of the population of Brazil living in dire poverty and it is considered to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world. With the highest amount of homicide deaths yearly, and also holds infamy for being extremely dangerous for tourists – hold ups are rife for visitors. To help create a sense of realism for the film, the actors were employed from within the favela and trained in workshops, also the film was based on a novel of research based on the favelas. However, realism is a relative concept.

This film has a more ambiguous message than La Haine but illustrates the claustrophobic and highly violent general environment of the favelas, through both fast paced, panicked cinematography and close up shots. This is shown in City of God both in the initial chicken chase scene, and also during the disco scene where Bene (Phellipe Haagensen) is killed, portrayed in a very disorientating way for the viewer. The strobe lighting during the sequence where Blacky shoots Bene by accident emphasises the violence, tension, and the speed at which death occurs – how quickly people die in the favela, and also creates a sense of the audience knowing what is happening not really being able to see. The rapid style of cinematography is also reflective of the upbeat, fast paced samba music of Brazil (described as the ‘Heartbeat of Brazil’) and Brazilian culture.

The initial and ending scenes of City of God use a chicken as a parallel for Rocket’s (Alexandre Rodriguez) character and his trapped situation, between the police and the gangs – which is the case generally for the residents of the favela. There are many forces at work against the people of the favela – alongside the violent gangs of criminals and presence of guns ; the favelas are highly hostile, but what residents fear more than the gangs are the corrupt police force and also the militia (organised groups of right wing ex security guards and soldiers, for example, the Red Command) who intervene with the gangs and consider all residents the same. Bene as a character like Rocket, who wishes to escape, is a representation of how despite his eventual wish for an honest life, because of his ultimate involvement with crime and with Lil Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora) he ends up being killed, showing the difficulty of escape for members of the favela. To reinforce the sense of difficulty to escape from this lifestyle, most of the characters are linked together by crime. Shaggy, for example being a member of the Tender Trio from the sixties, who is the brother of Rocket, envelopes him in crime in a way, as he is related, although not necessarily involved in crime himself.

Like City of God, the worlds of the characters in La Haine and their poverty is shown through the settings of their homes – they are extremely cramped in their flats, how in the city centre of Paris ultimately they are socially excluded and not at home, as they are refused from nightclubs –which is very much a common issue for the people in the banlieue. The dichotomies shown thematically, for example the protagonists are only in Paris at night time, but are in the banlieue during the day, reinforces the sense of unwelcome.

With the two films’ purposes being to raise awareness of the situations they represent, both films put us as spectators in alignment with the people whom the film’s message is regarding. Both texts take an ideological stance, and we are implicitly placed on the side of those who suffer in society. We see La Haine from the perspective of the banlieue residents even in the initial scenes we are on the side of the rioters literally facing the police. As City of God is from the perspective of the favela gangs, the character of Rocket as a contrast - the figurative chicken on the run, emphasising how despite their difference in characters, their unity is the entrapment felt in the favelas.

In conclusion, although City of God draws attention to the violence in the favelas, there is no specific message. Only an illustration of the cyclical nature of the violence, and how it grows and feeds on itself. Especially from the end scene where the runts are devising a list of people to kill. There will always be a new, younger generation to perpetuate the conflict. La Haine ends with Vinz dead and the fate of Hubert or Said is unknown to us as viewers. Ultimately how the narrative ends in conflict, (like most of the interactions of the characters throughout the film end in conflict in how they are constantly socially excluded and refused from places in the city such as the art gallery and Asterix’s flat) there will be consequences.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Monsters University (2013) Review

Philosophical rant on the hardships of Mike Wazowski,  and how negative trials of life are being presented in growing frequency in children’s films. Initially intended to be a Monsters University review. An essay, by me.

Monsters University was watchable. No faults with quality of special effects, the animation was flawless. The plot was eventful enough and some aspects of MU were humorous. For instance, Art provided sporadic comic relief being a quirkily amusing and relatable character. As were the rest of Oozma Kappa. But I didn’t find this film light-hearted enough to be satisfying.

What concerned me were the underlying messages. MU seems to resound the idea that for societal outcasts, dreams will be unachievable. Particularly relating to physical appearance. And as an alternative to being brow beaten into submission, you can be cast out and go and work in a minimum wage job.

While this can be the case, as many unfortunate situations can be - who expects this sort of oppressive realism to be present in a children’s film? Even though mature undertones are ubiquitous in just about everything, I don’t believe this is a necessary message to be conveying. Life will guarantee you meeting fierce opposition on the path to what you strive to achieve. But perseverance does pay off.
The infallible positivity of Mike’s character is aspirational, but I think this personality trait should be sequentially rewarded throughout the narrative at least. Where is the archetypal happy ending?  Mike as a protagonist meets disappointment, underestimation and ridicule at every turn in his life, and it’s not a healthy projection of what to expect.

Of course, I reflect on this as an adult. Ultimately, the likelihood of the target audience taking such a profound observation is unlikely.

But where has the lighthearted nature of children’s animation gone?
In comparison, due to its realism and reflection on some severely negative aspects of life, Up has become the embodiment of a depressing children’s film. In the opening sequence, with the infertile mother and conclusively the loneliness faced by one partner dying and leaving behind the other.
Generally speaking, two worst case scenarios for many people.

Now, of course things don’t turn out idealised as we imagine in reality. While I acknowledge this… film is an escape. Where the enjoyment lies is in the fantasy, in this case, of everything working out fine and perseverance paying off. Not in being subliminally conditioned through our allegiance with the protagonist, to believe that we shall be alone and unsuccessful like them. Due to our own probable insecurities we already harbour and assume ugliness and alienation in regards to ourselves, thanks to mass media. It’s film psychology.

Yet in the context of a children’s film it seems just that more inappropriate.
Why can’t a children’s film project a positive progression through life? Encouraging people in that, although it will be a struggle you can achieve something great. Justifying why these characters ended up in a mail job was something of a grim journey, unnecessary to boot, and the undertones got me pondering philosophically far more than I would have liked a children’s film to do.


Author, Abigail Lewis
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Last Exorcism Part II (2013) Review

Lets begin with the illogic of the title? How can you have the last occurrence of anything twice? There's the Last Exorcism... which was supposedly this films predecessor. Now by the creation of this film, it's finality has been invalidated. Along with it's title... this film was pointless.

Given I've yet to see The Last Exorcism, I fail to imagine how much of an improvement it could possibly be on its unnecessary follow up, according to the general consensus of reviews. For one, the cinematography couldn't be better, as the Last Exorcism was a found footage film. And the family of found footage and demon related films surrounding Paranormal Activity fail to alarm me, even with earphones.

The undermining components were, first of all the length of the film vs. story substance. There was little to no plot worth elongating to 90 minutes. Even if all of the explanation as to why Abalam wanted Nell was included entirely in the first film, there wasn't really anything intriguing going on in the plot other than this same pursuit. The positive aspects I can define occurred within the first thirty minutes of the film. Incidentally, by the end of which period, one can discern whether the plot is taking an extensive amount of time to unfold. Which it was.

The cinematography was great. The slow motion sequence where Nell was wandering about Mardi Gras and observing the props was beautiful. Before watching I heard this was supposedly a b-movie, but there was no way you could easily identify this as one. Except for maybe the special effect fire, but even so.
Ashley Bell has incredibly dark eyes which attributes to her general creepiness. There wasn't really much else in terms of costume worth noting. She's got a naturally unnerving look to her, and her acting was convincing enough.

But, there was no exceptional frightening atmosphere about this film. Nor was there anything conceptually new. Which is expected to an extent, there's a whole genre nearly of exorcism/demonic possession related films. But surely you'd expect to at least see the demon's true form, like in The Possession. Or have some deviation on this genre other than purely seeing possessed women?

My biggest confusion lies with why Nell was avoiding Abalam in the first place. He turned out to be one hell of a nifty extension. Who wouldn't kill to have invincibility and unlimited fire powers? Seems difficult to believe anyone would waste the duration of two films trying to evade such a privilege.

Due to the success of the film's predecessor is the reason I assume why this tedious extension was spawned, but other than it's more refined execution there isn't much else to be contributed. To alleviate one's boredom, to the horror genre, or to films anywhere that aren't a complete waste of a bigger budget than the predecessor's. Which again, reinforces success and material quality is never determined by how much money you throw at a project.

Rating: 3/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Noroi: the Curse (2005)

Noroi follows the journey of now 'missing' documentary filmmaker Kobayashi, who took to uncovering paranormal incidents linked by the mythological demon Katagabu.

For a found footage film, this wasn't the worst of the bunch. The likes of Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield were enough to set a permanently low expectation bar for horror films of this subgenre.
Noroi was another film whose reputation exceeded itself, but I'd expect fans of that genre to get the most out of this film, as I wasn't left shaken by the ending. Although it was much more satisfying visually than the Blair Witch Project, in that we do actually see a ghost.

For the first hour or so Noroi remained fairly engaging. Or at least, Aluminium Hat Psychic Man was fun to watch. Definitely, there were a couple of intriguingly unstable characters in Noroi. However it seemed that the actress playing Marika was struggling to contain laughter throughout the entire film, which was a bit of an atmosphere obliterator. The horrendous Carved performance style of; unresponsively-standing-by-as-your-family-are-brutalised-by-monsters, struck yet again. Of course, if you were my beloved spouse I’d let you set yourself on fire and record it too. Realism at it’s finest…

The set of Junko Ishii's suicide attic was impressive, with the reams of eerie Katugaba masks, the linked circle chains strewn from the beams like psychotic birthday decorations. Such a shame these props made little sense, given there was no clear explanation as to why they were linked to the Katugaba ritual. Most of Noroi's disturbing events (for example, the group suicide at the park) and props are left up to the viewer's speculation as far as relevance goes.

In fact, there were many inconsistencies. Undoubtedly, as Papa Lazarou would say, this was a saga, and has a intricate plot to follow spanning the duration of about two hours. Noroi became an endurance test trying to follow the events, so as to join the dots. Why the particular characters were linked to the demon, other than their sensitivity to psychic/paranormal activity is still uncertain. Junko's purpose as a character was fairly obvious, she was possessed. But why Kana was chosen as the medium to the ritual, psychic powers aside, made no sense. There was no connection to her and Junko. And what about Junko's 'adoptive son'?
As they have no souls to consume, why are the aborted foetuses of any importance to the demon?
And what are the pigeons intended to represent? While I can acknowledge characters mention to beware the pigeons, is this the extent of how these features tie in? Tenuously at best. And tension or frightening atmosphere is not built well from ambiguity.

The lack of clear connections between characters and supernatural recurrences detracted away from any coherent storyline. From criticisms that I have read, it appears to be apparently part of the film's pros that many questions are left up to viewers' imaginations to answer. Which is justifiable if that equates to some events, not a great deal of them. And still, unfortunately does not excuse a plot with such little substance/continuity.

Rating: 4/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis