At times like this, with the whole world just inches away from total war and millennium hysteria seeming more and more like a reasonable state of mind, what better way to get away from it all for a few hours than some lighthearted non-Hollywood cinematic fare, right? Wrong. Pull your heads out of the sand. Uncle Sam and his groveling flock of Pan-European ex-pacifist hawks are just getting warmed up. Aggression is officially in, so you'd better get used to it.
Russia, of course, still has plenty of its own war demons from the not-so-distant past to exorcise (or at least digest, sanitize, and digitize) before it can involved in any new conflict with a suitably clear conscience. Thus, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that Aleksandr Rogozhkin, the guy who did those unbearably wacky Peculiarities of Russian Fucking movies, has swallowed a major serious pill in order to shoot his own take on the war in Chechnya, Blokpost (Outpost).
Unfortunately, I can't tell you a whole lot about this one, as I only made it through about 25 minutes before passing out cold (no reflection on the quality of the film, I assure you), despite starting with the best of intentions. I picked up a copy of the video at the end of a very ugly weekend, even inspecting the box vigilantly to ensure that all the proper logos were affixed to indicate a properly licensed cassette, everything nice and legal. I was already flashing in and out of consciousness by the time I popped the tape in the machine, so it was really only a matter of time before sleep did its worst.
Here's what I know for sure. The only apparent similarity with the Peculiarity movies is that Lebed lookalike, playing a gruff (what else?) general with a penchant for buggery (just joking... you know, shits and giggles). There's a bit of Apocalypse Now to the structure, with a young soldier providing unsentimental commentary and tersely introducing his brothers in arms in intermittent voiceovers. The dark uncertainty of the atmosphere is striking in that all the events occur in broad (but emphatically gray) daylight, the murky shadows deriving entirely from the grim desperation of the soldiers and the guerrilla civilians, both pretending they aren't carefully following every move the other makes. Whoa, did I just get really pretentious or what? I better come up with an exit strategy here before I drown in my own bullshit.
All I can say is Blokpost looks to be worth a view. After getting some real sleep I'll sit down again and give it another go, but I can't promise I'll still be all gung-ho about talking about it. You know how it is. NATO member Italy is also kind enough to give us a war film of sorts this issue, and a triple Oscar winner to boot. Everything I'd heard or seen about La Vita e Bella(Life Is Beautiful)--the painfully slow trailer, the footage of director and star Roberto Benigni climbing over chairs to claim his trophies, vague gushing praise from the usual idiots--led me to believe I would hate it. But alas, I did not.
The unlikely Oscar triumph was mostly the fault of Disney-indie Miramax, so it wouldn't be entirely equitable to blame Benigni for all the unfortunate hype. Slapstick isn't really my bag, baby, but I've got to admit that Roberto's shtick had me laughing on occasional in spite of myself. Which in itself is a
But mostly the film reminded me of an exchange some time back between Mark Ames and an irate member of the Jewish persuasion concerning some allegedly anti-Semitic statement in an installment of "Moscow Babylon."
"I suppose you think Auschwitz was funny," the reader snapped.
"I think Auschwitz is fucking hilarious!" was Mark's retort.
I'm too much of a white boy to get away with anything like that myself, but I dare say that a few scenes in La Vita bring this statement gloriously to life. No doubt there's something especially twisted about an inmate hamming it up in a Nazi death camp (even if only to protect his young son from harsh reality), but so be it. Benigni's mistranslation (his character understands no German) of the concentration camp rules is particularly comical, taking the sentiment of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" to somewhere it has absolutely no business being, stripping away the cynicism in the process. I can't remember ever being less offended by unfettered optimism.
This business of disguising the nuts and bolts of genocide as a child's game brings up (unwittingly, I think; at any rate, Benigni shows no interest in exploring the question) an intriguing philosophical question, one that is especially relevant now that the mobilization of wartime propaganda machines has turned the truth into such a scarce commodity. That is, are we entitled to the truth, as a lawyerly Tom Cruise would insist, or should it be the exclusive possession of a superior being who decides when and where it ought to be divulged? Now if I were running the debate, I'd want to know a few things about this superior being. For instance, is It an asshole (almost certainly yes if we're talking about anything remotely human) and, if so, is It my kind of asshole (probably not)? Whatever It is, I bet It looks a lot more like Madeleine Albright than anyone I'm on speaking terms with. But who wants to speak with a superior being anyway? They're always acting so damn superior all the time.
All of which is pointless rhetoric, needless to say. Even relatively harmless half-truths tend to be sufficiently unwieldy in their complexity and ugliness that most folks have already decided they don't have much use for the real thing. I guess that's why it's so easy for our good old superior being to hold onto the thing. That probably also explains why the Pepsi Challenge was such a flop. And why I keep getting those fucking headaches.
Something tells me this discourse could use a relevance injection, so let's see if we can't get a little closer to this Balkan issue I've been circling at some distance thus far. This will mean going back a couple years and a visit to Bobby Brown's (or that other place, if you must) to rent Welcome to Sarajevo, a peculiar turd-like creation that comes to us from the minds of Brits and was distributed (once again) by our pals at Miramax.
Based on a self-serving book by British journalist Michael Henderson and set during the war in Bosnia, this one has as much second-nature anti-Serb propaganda as you'd expect, but like the film as a whole this vilification is curiously inert. We are vaguely aware that the Serbs are solely responsible for
In fact, none of the elements of the disjointed story are given sufficient space and attention in order to come to life--a particularly ironic shortcoming given the message that more or less dominates the first hour or so. Before degenerating into its perfunctory one-man-making-his-little-difference conclusion, the film is primarily concerned with the lack of interest in the story shown by the folks back home. Perversely, the filmmakers seem intent on matching this indifference, devoting significantly more energy to a poorly scripted argument about the comparative merits of American and British sports than anything occurring outside the journalists' hotel rooms or the press corps' favorite watering hole. I just don't get it.
A much more vital portrait of the Balkans during this same time period (but one that I doubt can be found in these parts) is Macedonian-born director Milcho Manchevski's Before the Rain. As an expatriate Macedonian, Manchevski is able to examine the situation with relative objectivity from within and without. He finds neither right nor wrong, uncovering instead a
Still, we're being naive if we pretend that the United States is not running this fiasco, and having a good time in the process. War can be fun, after all, as long as its on someone else's property--a valuable lesson that America learned early on in its still-brief history. So in the true spirit of wartime fun, Hollywood gives us The Waterboy. An embarrassing is called for here: unlike the rest of the eXile staff, I did actually enjoy this movie somewhat. However, now is hardly the time to get into all the sloppy ins and outs of Adam Sandler's latest lowbrow sporting comedy. Instead, let's just take a moment to think about those who are now suffering through a barrage of U.S. "exports" that make even Mr. Sandler's retarded hijinks seem like good clean fun by comparison.
On second thought, is it too late to ask NATO to bomb the fuck out of Kinomir?