Film

China's first gay film

News of the Chinese Education Ministry’s ludicrous concern over the “feminisation” of Chinese boys brings to mind China’s first explicitly gay film, East Palace, West Palace, directed by Zhang Yuan in 1996. Homosexuality was legalised in the following year, but gays are still regularly harassed for supposed “hooliganism”. A-Lan, a gay writer, is attracted to a policeman, Xiao Shi, and intentionally gets arrested by him in a public toilet (the title refers to two toilets in Beijing where gay men meet). Xiao Shi interrogates A-Lan overnight in the police station. As he listens to the young...

Big issues, clumsy film

Deepa Mehta’s coming-of-age tale of a gay Tamil boy growing up in 1970s Sri Lanka, and in the post-1983 civil war between the country’s Tamil minority and ruling Sinhalese majority, is an ambitious one, aiming to wrangle with some heavy politicised themes. It opens with a group of children from wealthy families playing happily, amongst them an eight year old Arjie playing dress-up as a bride with makeup. The tense family dynamic is established instantly by Arjie’s father’s disapproval of Arjie. He warns his wife against encouraging this “nonsense”. He is set up as the oppressive patriarchal...

Kino Eye: Silences of the Palace

After last week’s article on Saudi women filmmakers, here is a Tunisian film: The Silences of the Palace (1994) by female director Moufida Tlatli. It is set in the 1950s, while Tunisia is still a French colony. Alia (Ghalia Lacroix), a cabaret singer revisits the place of her birth – a now deserted palace where her mother was a servant. As she wanders the empty building, she relives scenes from her childhood and particularly the sexual humiliations and drudgery endured by her mother. Due to her wonderful singing Alia breaks away but her visit brings back many poignant and often painful...

The Perfect Candidate

I’ve been wanting to watch The Perfect Candidate ever since watching Wadjda, by the same director Haifaa al-Mansour, last year. For far too long, the former was not readily available online: it finally is now. Haifaa al-Mansour is Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker, and one of the countries most well-known and controversial. Both films are set in Saudi Arabia; both follow outspoken, confident female protagonists, living within and struggling against the misogynist society they find themselves within. Wadjda, the 2012 movie’s title character, is a ten-year-old rebellious girl who desperately...

Kino Eye: Films from Cuba

Recent Solidarity articles on Cuba bring to mind the visually stunning film I Am Cuba (1964) directed by Soviet cinematographer Mikhail Kalatazov and Tomás Gutierrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment (1968). Alea’s film is no Castroite propaganda piece, but instead a measured study of the growing alienation of Sergio, a wealthy bourgeois intellectual who, unlike his family, has not fled Cuba. He stays behind not from any commitment to the revolution, but because of sheer inertia. Sergio wanders around aimlessly but cannot make up his mind what to do. Documentary footage shows the CIA-led Bay...

Kino Eye: Molotov-Ribbentrop and the Katyn massacre

There are probably no films (except documentaries) that directly engage with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. However, its devastating effect on Poland, when the country was carved up between Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, can be starkly seen in Katyn (2007) by Polish director Andrzej Wajda. As Polish refugees flee eastward from the Nazis they attempt to cross a bridge, only to meet refugees fleeing in the opposite direction from Russian troops. In the mayhem a reservist Polish officer is separated from his family. He joins his unit but is captured by the Nazis and handed over to the...

Kino Eye: Woody Guthrie on-screen

At the Biden inauguration, bejewelled Jennifer Lopez’s warbling and truncated rendering of the Woody Guthrie classic This Land is Your Land was a travesty of the real thing. Fortunately, you can go online and hear the original. There is also the semi-fictionalised film of Guthrie’s life, Bound for Glory (Hal Ashby, 1976), which covers the time from when he leaves his home in the Oklahoma Dustbowl and heads for California. Angered by what he sees in the migrant camps and the brutal treatment of migrant workers, he dedicates himself, through his songs, to fight their cause. It is rumoured that...

Brutality as beautiful

The Morning Star aspires to being a left-wing alternative to mainstream tabloids. Thus the paper includes sports pages, arts reviews, a crossword, a gardening column, and even a cookery spot (“The Commie Chef”). The paper’s boxing coverage is by one John Wight, a failed Hollywood screenwriter and well-known figure on the Scottish left. The title of his book This Boxing Game: A Journey in Beautiful Brutality gives a strong clue as to how he regards the “sport”. A recent Wight column in the Morning Star (“Boxing as violence”) purports to examine what he calls the “contradiction that many writers...

Kino Eye: Unionisation films

Great news that Google workers are unionising. Despite its long history, the theme of unionisation has not been so well-served by the film industry. Honourable exceptions include the British film Comrades (Bill Douglas, 1986), which shows an early attempt at organising a benefit society (an embryo union) at Tolpuddle, Dorset in 1834; Norma Rae (Martin Ritt, 1979) set in the Deep South of the USA, where a young woman enlists in a unionisation drive in a textile mill and eventually becomes its inspirational leading force; and The Killing Floor (Bill Duke, 1984), a tale of migrant black workers...

Kino Eye: American fascism on film

Unsurprisingly, here’s another American film. Tony Kaye’s American History X (1998) features Derek, a committed Nazi, complete with swastika tattoos and membership in the “Disciples of Christ”. He is sentenced to three years for voluntary manslaughter of an African-American. While imprisoned he begins to distrust the “Aryan Brotherhood”, the prisoners’ fascist network. Instead, he befriend’s Lamont, an African-American with whom he works in the prison laundry. On release he finds that his younger brother Danny has become a hard-line Nazi but eventually Derek persuades him to drop his views...

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