The Wild Child
War is peace. Ignorance is knowledge. And the torrent of argle-bargle coursing through V for Vendetta is a transgressive, liberating discourse set loose within the most eye-popping thrill-ride of the year!
Your attention, please, for the latest exercise in double-think by the Wachowski brothers, authors of The Matrix Revolutions and other masterpieces.
The Future! England grovels before a huge televisual image of John Hurt, his unfortunate dentition (even nastier in IMAX) forever issuing spittle-flecked decrees. This is the face of a fascist new order, which rules (as you might have guessed) by the old order's usual methods: propaganda broadcasts, manufactured fears, police violence, shadowy prison camps. Who, or what, can challenge the regime? Not a man, surely, but an idea incarnate; a masked, wigged and caped avenger, with cool knives and karate moves; a living reminder of the spirit of Guy Fawkes and his Gunpowder Plot; in a letter, V.
Or, more prosaically, Hugo Weaving, here done up in a cheap Halloween costume, spouting alliterative nonsense and Shakespearean tags in the voice of Keane the Elder.
Now, into V's hands falls one Evey (Natalie Portman), a lovely but apparently dim-witted young thing who wanders the streets after curfew and accepts invitations from masked men she's only just met. She will hate V. She will love him. She will sigh, in voiceover, about the impossibility of kissing an idea, and yet she will tenderly press her lips to the plastic of V's mask. I don't think she knows what she wants.
But if you want simulated knife-throwing, chaotically edited fight scenes, ponderous musical cliches (the 1812 Overture, Beethoven's Fifth), wholesale borrowings from 1984, strained allusions to the Bush Administration and Fox News, lengthy and yet inconsequential protests against the ostracism of gays and lesbians, a muddled girl-in-peril plot and some gee-whiz production design, V for Vendetta is the movie for you. Never mind that the Wachowskis' characteristically logorrheic script defeats at every turn first-time director James McTeigue, who has been asked to make a comic-book movie but can't possibly keep it going. V for Vendetta is about the idea of a comic-book movie, you see, and the idea of liberation.
Some liberation. By dint of his heroics, V gets England's narcotized citizenry to abandon their television sets, gather in the streets and become--an audience, passively watching a sound-and-light show. The cops, being just ideas of themselves, do nothing. The bombing of the Houses of Parliament--what an excellent target, for someone striking back at a dictator!--is also just an idea, and therefore can be very pretty, for a wanton act of destruction. And should all these big ideas give you a headache, Evey will explain that this blow for freedom has been struck by (I quote) "the Count of Monte Cristo."
Revenge is liberty. I can't recall hearing that particular idea from Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama or the makers of Batman Begins. But, as the Wachowski brothers would say, that's another paradigm.
Documania: Though unable to do justice to the many extraordinary documentaries now in release, I might at least summarize a few.
Shakespeare Behind Bars, directed by Hank Rogerson, takes you into the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in Kentucky, where theater director Curt Tofteland is beginning his seventh season of volunteer work with a company of inmates. Each year, he directs them in a play by Shakespeare, the choice this time being The Tempest. A prison is like an island, Tofteland reasons, where the inhabitants have time to think about the theme of forgiveness. In description, this may sound like Waiting for Guffman in striped uniforms; but on the screen, Shakespeare Behind Bars is absorbing, illuminating, wrenching and provocative. You get to know half a dozen of these Calibans--killers, armed robbers, child molesters--who do think hard about forgiveness, as they struggle to find the truth of themselves within Shakespeare's truth.
Toro Negro (Black Bull), by Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio and Carlos Armella, is a portrait of the young bullfighter Fernando Pacheco, whose performances at festivals and fairs in Yucatan have earned him the nickname El Suicida. You will see him gored and trampled (a consequence of his complete lack of technique, not to mention his alcoholism), and you will see him pass the idle hours by alternately cuddling and brawling with Romelia, an older woman who has taken him in. The domestic fights end when someone from behind the camera appeals to Fernando to stop. The "bullfights" end when he's carried off, or else stabs clumsily at a half-starved beast until it collapses. This is harsh, intense, yet artfully shaped filmmaking that continually takes you one step further than you thought you'd go.
The Devil's Miner, by Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani, is an extraordinarily powerful account of two brothers--14-year-old Basilio and 12-year-old Bernardino--who risk their lives in Bolivia's mines. When on the outside, Basilio goes to school (he hopes someday to escape the mines) and prays to Jesus. When on the inside, he works twenty-four-hour shifts on a nearly exhausted vein and gives coca-leaf offerings to a clay idol of Tio, the devil who controls the mine. A Human Rights Watch title of First Run Features, The Devil's Miner will be broadcast by PBS following its theatrical release.
Mardi Gras: Made in China was screened in the 2005 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, before Hurricane Katrina had wiped out half of filmmaker David Redmon's subject. The other half--a wretched factory in China, where Mardi Gras beads are made--is presumably standing and deserves your attention. This is one of the best films I know about real (as opposed to op-ed) globalization. Please welcome it to the theaters.n