|Too Early, Too Late
|Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet
|Come and See
|Paris Is Burning
|In The Last Days of the City
|Tamer El Said
Al-Makhduqun (The Dupes) was Saleh’s last great film, and a masterpiece. Filmed in Iraq and Syria in 1972 with funding from Syria’s National Film Organization, it’s a perfect adaptation of Men in the Sun (1962), by Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, spokesperson of the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (assassinated just after the film was made).
It’s about three Palestinians of different generations trying to get to Kuwait to achieve prosperity in the years after the 1948 war. With his striking imagery and visual metaphors, Saleh, like Kanafani, criticises the three for leaving the Palestinian struggle for money, but also denounces the reactionary Arab states, consumerist Gulf oil countries, sterile diplomacy and the brutal Zionist occupation.
Based on Shakespeare’s epic King Lear, Akira Kurosawa’s Ran follows the despair and agony of a Japanese emperor traumatised by the wars and bloodshed resulting from his favouritism towards one of his three sons, as well as from his own pride. While Lear was betrayed by his cold-hearted daughters, Lord Hidetora is driven into madness when his sons turn on each other in a dog-eat-dog manner. Kurosawa’s manages to glorify the agony of the old man, whose history of conquest and bloodshed comes to haunt him and divide his once strong empire.
The sons wage war on each other in epic battle scenes, which Kurosawa uses to emphasise the carnage of treason, plotting and conquest. Kurosawa’s brilliant management of thousands of extras playing soldiers and horsemen elevates Ran to the higher ranks of the category of best war films ever made. To see an army stretched for miles from the point of view of its rivals is really interesting.
Bab Al-Hadid (The Iron Door) is Chahine’s 11th film, acting as a brilliantly awkward and well-made piece of art in the director’s career.
Compared to previous films, such as the 1954 Struggle in the Valley and Struggle in the Port (1956), both of which portrayed straightforward class confrontations, whether between a feudal lord and farmers or between a pasha and a quasi-leader of sailors, Bab Al-Hadid’s noir plot takes a wider and more critical look at the very sophisticated and disrupting Cairo train station.
Between the rusty rooms, sweaty characters and noisy background, Chahine delivered the chaos and panic in the one and only Cairo train station, which the narrator describes at the beginning of the film as “the heart of the capital. Every minute a train leaves and another one arrives. Thousands meet to say goodbye, people from the North and the South, natives and foreigners, employed and unemployed.”
Spike Lee’s 1970s-set film Blackkkansman is both an optimistic and defeatist approach to racism in modern America, which follows the outrageous true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. A rookie in the force, he creates a mission for himself: infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). He later uses his colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to become an undercover agent. Stallworth soothes the Klan on the phone, while on the field Zimmerman interacts with the radicals.
We see and hear the violent and racist rhetoric of the Klan. The film, arguably Lee’s finest production since Inside Man (2006), develops as a police thriller, where an agent reaches a high level of intimacy with the infiltrated group and actually proves their violent intentions, against African Americans, Jews, women and communists.
However, Spike Lee wanted to argue that law enforcement is part of the system, and that while on the surface it advocates against racism, deep-down it turns a blind eye and refuses to act.
Many protagonists were deployed by Egypt’s New Realism cinematic wave to counter the infitah (open door policy) of the 1970s, but there was only one bus driver.
Atef al-Tayeb’s Sawwaq al-Autobees (Bus Driver, 1982) is not only one of his most mature works but also one of New Realism’s most radical examples. One scene explains it all. Hassan (Nour al-Sherif), a middle-class October War veteran, is a bus driver by day and a cabbie by night. He has travelled to Port Said to seek financial assistance from his sister and her husband in order to pay late taxes, which were ignored on purpose, to save the workshop his father (Emad Hamdy, in his last acting role) owns from being expropriated by the government.
Through symbolism, both the father and his once-prosperous workshop are no longer simply an owner of capital and a place of labour, but the homeland Hassan once defended as a soldier.