Metta Via: a story of personal transformation with a strange power and attraction

Warren Flanagan, “Metta Via” (2017)

Visually stunning and ambitious in its concept, this Canadian short work is possessed of unusual power. Superficially it lacks an obvious plot and for all I know it may actually be a proof-of-concept work for a movie inspired by existential themes. In a temple-like spacecraft, a young woman, Evelyn (Stacey Armstrong), awakens as if having been birthed in an artificial womb. Around her, strange machines with flashing coloured disks that may reference the concept of chakras (focal points of energy in the human body in Tantra Buddhism or Hinduism) communicate with one another in an equally odd alien language. These machines clearly expect something of this young woman; they detach the life support systems that have sustained her and push her gasping onto the floor. Apparent memories flash in front of her and for a short while, her earliest memory – of living on a farm in picture-postcard-perfect Switzerland as a small girl, being beckoned by a white-clad figure (Armstrong again) to follow while all around spaceships bearing the symbols of the machines that have kept Evelyn alive hover in the sky – holds her spellbound. Presumably other memories come to the fore, stay a while and flash back into her unconscious mind. Evelyn seems to come to a decision and strides towards a blinding white light, her physical body falling away and the life-force that maintained it becoming pure energy. As she enters through the Blankness, the machines behind her roar approvingly and ask her if she is still present within. Evelyn affirms that she is, and moreover there are others like her within.

The plot is so vague that many meanings and interpretations can be placed upon it. The woman may be in a grey zone between incarnations and her entry into the white Blankness may be her passing into a new universe where she will take up her new body. Only her consciousness will retain anything of past lives in previous universes. Alternately Evelyn may be ascending to another level within the current universe: a level we humans cannot understand, but one where Evelyn and others who have ascended before may look back or look down on us, and perhaps try to intercede to shape a particular direction to global cultures so we humans don’t destroy the planet through our foolish and thoughtless actions. At the very least, a personal transformation is taking place, one from which a person cannot return to a previous state of existence.

The spacecraft settings are lavish yet at the same time rather alien-looking, eerie and reminiscent of ancient pagan temples where animals might be sacrificed and their various organs offered to the gods or used in a divination ritual. A debt is owed to past inspirational films like Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”. Actor Stacey Armstrong, having no monologue or dialogue to express, conveys all the wonder, the surprise, the fear and the determination her character needs in undergoing what might be a traumatic birth or rebirth, or simply coming out of a long period of aestivation, into another state of existence. The animation and special effects are impressive, and one does get the feeling of a mighty alien space civilisation capturing human children, somehow bringing them up and maturing them into adults, and then once those adults have become conscious and aware, using that conscious force for its own ends. Do the machines that bring Evelyn awake have an altruistic agenda in doing so? Or are they planning to use Evelyn and any abilities she may have to persuade her fellow human beings to submit to their power?

Perhaps it is the film’s capacity to be all interpretations while not favouring any one in particular that gives it its power and attraction.



The Masseuse: how to be human and to have free will in an oppressive society and culture

Tan Ce Ding, “The Masseuse” (2018)

An intriguing film set in a not-too distant dystopian future in Kuala Lumpur, “The Masseuse” poses questions about the nature of free will, and what it means to be human, in an apparent police-state society where it seems that rebels against that society are just as tyrannical, brutal and unfeeling as the enemy they oppose. IT technician Loong (Koe Shern) comes to a brothel to fix an ageing robot in the form of a young woman masseuse (Candy Ice); after rectifying a few little wires in her neck, the robot masseuse seems as good as new and expresses interest in Loong. After some conversation and the beginnings of an unlikely friendship, Loong goes home to his father, who turns out to be a former secret terrorist who fought against widespread automation in society before an accident that has left him permanently disabled. The father punishes Loong severely for not getting rid of more robots and viewers get an idea of why Loong became an IT technician: so he could continue his father’s work by secretly sabotaging robots.

Despite this, Loong continues to see the robot masseuse under the pretence of checking that her circuits are working properly. She has a child-like view and joy of the world, and wants to know what dreams are and what it must be like to able to dream. Loong is drawn to the robot and takes her on outings outside the brothel (presumably the madame there allows her robot assets time off) so she can see the world for herself. Yet his loyalty to his father and what his father has sacrificed for him, and the mission he feels has been entrusted to him, cast a tense dilemma over his relationship with the robot that he must resolve sooner or later.

The acting is well done, especially by Candy Ice; Koe Shern seems more wooden and even a little robotic which perhaps is intended that way, the robot masseuse demonstrating more innocent emotion and feeling than do the shuttered, put-upon humans do in the oppressive society they live in. Kuala Lumpur seems an impersonal city, full of gates and other prisons, physical, emotional and cultural alike. His loyalty to his father, the weight of Chinese cultural tradition that demands respect for one’s elders, the legacy of his father’s fight against the authorities and the impersonal, inhuman society they have brought to Malaysia: all these imprison Loong and ironically stop him from being a full human being to the extent that the robot masseuse is able to achieve when she is with him.

Viewers can see from a long way off that a cruel twist will come, and a very devastating one it is too, in a film of longing and attempts by two lonely figures, hampered by their respective prisons, to connect with one another and become truly alive. Instead Loong becomes truly dehumanised by his actions and that perhaps is the worst twist. In its own way, this film is a perfect illustration of the human existential condition in a society where politics, the economy, culture and personal and family loyalties can threaten to make a human being less than human.

What if Wendy: a sparse and painful character study of denial and grief

James A Sims, “What if Wendy” (2017)

Here is a sparse and minimalist character study of a woman in denial about her grief at the death of a child, and how she might use futuristic technological advances to continue to hold her emotions at bay only to come up against the limitations of those technologies and how they keep her trapped physically as well as emotionally. Dr Mara Stevens (Meredith Patterson) is a case manager / counsellor for a genetics engineering firm that specialises in advising couples on how to have genetically perfect children, living a secluded life and throwing all her energy into her work. However one day certain incidents force her to admit to herself that her long-dead daughter really is no more, in spite of the various holograms she creates using some of her daughter’s preserved DNA: among them, the day happens to be the day her daughter would have turned seven-years-old; and her ex-husband contacts her unexpectedly to let her know his new partner Stephanie is pregnant. Trying to celebrate the child’s seventh birthday with one of the holograms with a small cake, the doctor finally realises, as though invisible scales have suddenly fallen from her eyes, that the hologram cannot blow out the candle.

The film gives Patterson an excellent opportunity to portray a character slowly and gradually falling into pieces, which she does very well. She manages to maintain her character’s dignity when doing so, up to the climax of the film. The character’s home surroundings – she does not leave home until very late in the film – is sparingly furnished, mirroring the emptiness in her life. Music is used quietly and sparingly until the last few minutes when it becomes dramatic, paralleling the confusion and anguish of the doctor as she races out of the house and later gives in to her grief. At the point when she breaks down, all sound is removed from the film and this helps to focus viewer attention on the character’s face and make her raw emotion all the more painful to watch.

The film gives no indication that Dr Stevens will seek any help or counselling to guide her through her trauma. One can imagine the doctor slowly pulling herself back together, recovering that stoic, unemotional composure, and carrying on with life as if nothing had happened … until the daughter’s eighth birthday comes along. Perhaps this is the horror behind this short film: that it is all as self-contained as Dr Stevens’ life is. Not even the news that her ex-husband and his partner will soon start a family afresh and be able to come to terms with the memory of a dead child can move her. Dr Stevens’ use of hologram and genetics technologies is sure to keep her stuck in a self-made hell instead of allowing her to grieve and then perhaps to pick up the pieces of her life and forge a new direction.

A whistleblower’s insider knowledge and shocking revelations in “MH-17: In Search of Truth”

Vasily Prozorov, “MH-17: In Search of Truth” (UKR Leaks, December 2019)

Currently gaining a lot of attention on alternative news websites is this minimally made and straightforward documentary by Ukrainian ex-SBU security officer and whistleblower Vasily Prozorov. The documentary plays like an extended news report with one shocking revelation after another about what really happened to the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 on 17 July 2014 while flying over eastern Ukraine. Initially the English-language dubbing which has a strong Slavic accent is hard to follow but after some minutes of being accustomed to it, listeners can follow the narrative fairly easily.

The first half of the documentary concentrates on dismantling the lies and disinformation that has built up around the Boeing passenger jet’s shoot-down almost as soon as it hit the ground. Apparent leaked recordings of Donbass rebel fighters rejoicing over the shoot-down came out almost straight away on social media, in itself suspicious as such information, if true, would have been classified information by the SBU straight away and not released for a long time. Considerable attention is paid to demolishing Ukrainian government claims that the Ukrainian army did not have any military units, especially units with BUK missile delivery systems, in the area close to where MH-17 fell. Prozorov also points out evidence suggesting that Kiev was planning a provocation in the area that would be blamed on the Donbass rebels, in particular noting that the airspace over eastern Ukraine was not closed to civilian air traffic and that a radar station in Artemovsk in the east was shut down a month before the shoot-down. He considers he may have been privy eavesdropping into a conversation in which a Ukrainian Defense Ministry representative and a security official were discussing possible Russian military intervention in the Donbass region to assist the rebels there and the security official tells the other fellow that something will happen which will stop the Russians from interceding; nine days later, the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet fell from the sky. Prozorov also shows how Western governments assisted Kiev in shaping its narrative of the Donbass rebels having brought down MH-17 by (the US) refusing to release satellite images of the area on the day the plane fell; and by (the Dutch) cherry-picking evidence provided by the Donetsk People’s Republic from the crash site and not showing any interest in collecting the actual wreckage from the crash site for several months.

It’s in the later half of the documentary that Prozorov delivers the most shocking evidence of British and possibly Australian intelligence involvement in setting up the scene for the shoot-down and British intel agents’ close association with two men whom Prozorov regards as the main plotters of the shoot-down, Lieutenant Colonel Vasily Burba and Major General Valery Kondratiuk. Prozorov also fingers Bellingcat (partly funded by The Atlantic Council and the National Endowment for Democracy among others) as a disinformation agency working with British intelligence since the so-called citizen-journalism organisation was founded a few days before the shoot-down and after the incident quickly became the main source of supposed information about the disaster for Western mainstream news media.

Prozorov summarises the main points of his documentary by showing how they fit into an apparent framework of a plot by British and Ukrainian intelligence agencies to create a provocation and distraction that would smear Russia and prevent that nation from militarily intervening in the civil war in eastern Ukraine, and to control and shape the narrative and distort the information about the investigation of the incident.

There is a lot of information to absorb from the documentary and some parts are very detailed and probably not entirely relevant to Prozorov’s investigation. Prozorov does not pursue the theory that two Ukrainian fighter jets shot down the Malaysia Airlines jet though he does refer to Ukrainian eyewitnesses’ accounts of having seen two fighter jets flying very close to MH-17. (At the same time, those eyewitness accounts didn’t include any mention of a BUK missile system, the launch of an SA-11 missile and the noises and characteristic trail of jet-stream smoke such a missile would have left behind.) The role of the US and its agencies (in particular the CIA, the US State Department and other organisations such as the National Endowment for Democracy and The Atlantic Council) in overthrowing President Viktor Yanukovych back in February 2014 and encouraging neo-Nazi extremism in the government that replaced him gets short shrift. Prozorov says nothing as to why a Malaysia Airlines jet should have been shot down when it is known that an Air India jet and two Singapore Airlines jets passed within half an hour of the Malaysia Airlines jet in the same airspace corridor.

Nevertheless this is a very valuable documentary on MH-17 from a former Ukrainian intelligence officer with much insider knowledge of how the SBU operated in 2014, and of some of the personalities involved in the plot to bring down a civilian jet.

Iteration 1: a dystopian human future equivalent to a maze teaching flatworms to learn from experience

Jesse Lupini, “Iteration 1” (2016)

Made for a Canadian film festival in which the objective was to shoot a film and complete its post-production in the space of 8 days, “Iteration 1” is a very good-looking work that perhaps mirrors how AI bots learn or how flatworms are trained to find their way through a maze. In a dystopian future where she might be a prisoner, Anna (Katherine Isabelle) gets up out of bed and has 60 seconds to find her way out of her minimalist-styled prison or get zapped dead if she makes a mistake or time runs out. The next time she is born, she has to go through the whole process of escaping her prison within 60 seconds again. Viewers can see where this is going so there is no point of trying to count the number of times Anna becomes aware and being zapped before she is eventually able to escape her bedroom prison, only to enter another prison where she is surrounded by balloons of which she must break one to find a key that will allow her to escape the second prison … into a third prison where there is a huge tree and a small axe. Each time she wakes up, her attitude changes (indicating that she is learning from past experiences) and previous incarnations assist her so perhaps yes, Anna is indeed some kind of AI bot. In every incarnation, Anna is warned by an unseen supervisor (France Perras) speaking to her through some sort of PA system whenever she makes a mistake.

Viewers may think there is no plot or story, and certainly there appears to be no ending, but the plot itself is a series of endless repetitions which might symbolise the journey of life for individual humans or humanity as a collective … the purpose of humankind, individually and collectively, is to achieve and overcome obstacles, and learn from such experiences, to advance the species and enable its survival. What the end goal from such a series of quests is, remains elusive.

For a film quickly put together, the sets are very good, the acting is impressive without being excessive and the special effects are also spot-on and well done.

The Candidate: a suspenseful film of a sociopath caught in a spider’s web of control

David Karlak, “The Candidate” (2010)

Entirely driven by character and dialogue, this interesting character study of a corporate middle manager, ambitious and not a little sociopathic to boot, who falls victim to his own greed and ruthlessness – with not a little help perhaps from a cosmic joker – is tight and suspenseful. Burton Grunzer (Tom Gulager), a middle-level marketing executive in a large and rather faceless corporation, chafes at being partnered with fellow exec Whitman Hayes (Thomas Duffy) who wastes time while giving marketing presentations but is nevertheless valued by his senior managers because he has the human touch. The Big Boss (Vyto Ruginis) offers friendly advice to Grunzer that he ought to be thankful for having Hayes on his side but Grunzer is incapable of the insight necessary to accept such advice.

Lately Grunzer has been pestered by emails and letters from a Carl Tucker of the secretive Society of United Action and one day he decides to accept a visit from Tucker (Robert Picardo) when his secretary (Meghan Markle) opens a handwritten and delivered letter from that fellow. From then on the film becomes a showcase of Picardo’s acting and the suspense the actor draws from his monologue as Tucker explains to a bemused Grunzer the origins of the Society of United Action and its goals. The SoUA is devoted to killing off various targeted people by an apparently legal if underhanded method – it is a version of what indigenous Australian people known as the Arrernte call “bone-pointing” in which a person is willed to die – and Tucker wants to know if Grunzer is interested in this method. By this point in the film, the viewer is well aware that Grunzer dislikes Hayes and would not stop at getting rid of his marketing partner permanently if he can avoid the legal consequences.

The film’s premise might appear hokey to some – how does the SoUA come to know about Grunzer’s character and personality? – but it turns out to be very plausible thanks to incredible acting from both Gulager and Picardo respectively building up their characters as the repellent Grunzer and the affable Tucker. By the time Picardo appears on the scene, the viewer already knows what a nasty piece of work Grunzer is. Picardo playing a fast-talking sales representative with a homely, friendly manner effectively conceals the sinister agenda he offers to Grunzer. Grunzer’s own ambition and character flaws make him an ideal fellow to fall into the secretive organisation’s clutches, and this scenario in itself might say something about how the mysterious workings of the universe find opportunity to ensnare people through their weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

The bland surroundings of the corporate office environment might be enough to send any latent sociopath completely off the edge so much kudos is in order for those in the production crew who found the place or created it. The film’s pacing – and Picardo’s own pacing – build up the suspense very effectively. Its structuring into two halves, the first half setting up the character of Grunzer and forming the framework for the second half, is very tight, so tight that it is almost rushed.

The film could almost serve as a parable, the motto of which might be “Be careful what you wish for”, so universal is its message of wanting control and accepting the help that unexpectedly comes a person’s way – and which turns out to be a veritable spider’s web of control in itself.

The Truth: where lies and deception are as important as truth in keeping families together

Hirokazu Kore-eda, “The Truth” (2019)

Ironically truth is the one thing going missing in this gentle French comedy about a family whose members use lies and deception to get and hold onto what they want and to smooth their relationships with one another. Lumir (Juliette Binoche), her husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and daughter Charlotte (Clementine Grenier) fly to Paris from New York when her mother, legendary French acting icon Fabienne Dangeville (Catherine Deneuve) publishes her memoirs. The threesome end up staying with Fabienne when the actress’s private secretary quits his job, apparently miffed that his employer hasn’t mentioned him in her book. During their stay, Lumir and her family accompany Fabienne to her latest movie shoot, a sci-fi number in which Fabienne is one of three actresses to play a character who is visited by her mother every seven years from outer space: the mother had originally gone into space as part of a treatment for an unspecified disease, and the treatment has the side effect of slowing down the ageing process so she remains youthful and young while the daughter ages back on Earth. The mother is played by Manon Lenoir (Manon Clavel) who greatly resembles Fabienne’s old acting rival Sarah Mondavan, whom Fabienne once cheated out of a coveted role in a film by sleeping with the film’s director.

There are many sub-plots in this film, each of them revolving around some form of deception which ends up (or nearly does) unravelling. Hank, a struggling actor, deceives Charlotte by telling her he is working on a film whenever he goes to rehab for his drinking problem. Fabienne tells Charlotte that the turtle in her garden is Charlotte’s dead grandfather: this story nearly falls apart when the grandfather unexpectedly turns up alive at Fabienne’s mansion. Lumir has long believed that her mother always put her acting career ahead of their relationship and Fabienne, at least in the early half of the film, seems to confirm this single-minded focus by suggesting that actors must always keep their eyes on the straight and narrow path of advancing their careers at the expense of everything else. Fabienne herself seems to envy Lenoir in much the same way she envied Mondavan to the extent of killing the latter’s acting career; a tension develops in the film as viewers are encouraged to look for signs of Fabienne trying to upstage Lenoir – and signs there are aplenty.

Surprisingly these sub-plots turn out quite harmless as the various characters resolve their issues or conflicts, several of which apparently turn out to exist only in their respective characters’ heads. Director Kore-eda is quite the master to invert these sub-plots and show them as little more than characters’ own self-deceptions and rationalising as a way of overcoming their inadequacies. It is easier to blame someone else for problems one should be overcoming. In the process of dissecting various characters’ issues and conflicts, Kore-eda does a fine job detailing how one particular family’s inter-generational dynamics operate and serve to define family members and put them in their niches within the family hierarchy. Lies and deceptions play an important role in preserving hierarchy and reputation.

The film can be seen as a character study and a vehicle for Deneuve to comment on aspects of her own career as an acting legend and of her personal life and relationships. It seems significant that the role of Lumir was given to Binoche and not to Deneuve’s real-life actress daughter Chiara Mastroianni: the two have been in a fair few films together as a mother-daughter pair acting out similar scenarios. Both Deneuve and Binoche dominate the film: Deneuve plays a queenly role, seemingly unperturbed by what trouble she creates and given to sudden petty actions when the occasion suits, yet capable of regret (which may or may not be genuine; the character is an actress after all) when others remind her of the mess she leaves behind. Binoche plays Lumir as a perfectionist and idealist shocked at her mother’s deliberate manipulation of what she, Lumir, believes to be true. Hawke is happy to play the laid-back subordinate complement to Binoche’s rather domineering wife. The rest of the adult cast does capable if not very outstanding work.

Viewers may find “The Truth” rather confusing in the way the various sub-plots are turned on their head. Memory proves unreliable and lies and deception turn out to be just as important as one’s memories in forming individual, family and other collective identities. Even the film itself may be very one-sided; for one thing, we are only aware of the sci-fi film within the film when we visit the set along with Fabienne and Family, and the sci-fi film may actually be about more than just a mother being blessed with apparent immortality while her daughter misses out. A lesson might be taken from “The Truth” in considering just how much people, organisations and societies depend on truth and on lies, deceit and manipulation in defining themselves. In this, “The Truth” is very much of a piece with Kore-eda’s more notable work “Shoplifters”.

On / Off: a film on identity, memory and the consequences of inattention

Thierry Lorenzi, “On / Off” (2013)

This short space-exploration thriller film had been doing the film festival circuit for a number of years before DUST channel featured it in 2019. The story seems straightforward until the unexpected twist comes which explains quite a few puzzling aspects earlier in the film. Out on a lonely spacecraft in the near future, astronaut Meredith (Carole Brana) has a panic attack before she is supposed to set out on a space walk? The panic attack is severe and she just manages to inject herself with some clear-liquid horse tranquilliser; she then sets off on the space walk despite having a headache and the concern of her colleague and supervisor Cid (Arben Barjraktaraj) for her well-being. Quite what the space walk is for is never made clear. While Meredith floats about and goes off into a dreamy reverie, Cid goes off on a trance all his own in zero-gravity conditions while he’s supposed to be monitoring Meredith’s walk and making sure her lifelines are not disconnected. (One wonders where everyone else on the spacecraft has gone.) Inevitably Meredith meets with trouble, her lines are cut and she quickly drifts away from the ship.

Just when you think Meredith is lost forever, she wakes up to a stern lecture by Cid who has to explain (once again, I imagine) that she isn’t what she believes herself to be and that everything and everyone she knew has passed on. It seems that Meredith is fixated on the last things and memories she had just before some catastrophe, far beyond the scope of the film to explain (so it leaves out the disaster altogether), hit her, after which she had to be reconstructed completely – as a robot.

While the film may not look or play consistently or according to what most people would expect of human activity on a spacecraft – there should be more than two people on the ship for security reasons, people don’t go on space-walks by themselves without being monitored properly by the crew inside – it does put forward some intriguing views regarding the nature of identity and how memories and repeated behaviours define an individual. The way in which the real Meredith’s memories and behaviours have been collected along with her knowledge and experience and transplanted onto a database that is then placed into a robot which can then be exploited by the corporation or government that had previously employed the human Meredith may say something about how Western society regards people as commodities to be exploited. The horror that the climactic twist in the plot throws at viewers is in stark contrast with the serene and almost poetic images of Meredith during her space-walk. Viewers are left with an almost unspeakably cruel and horrific impression of what must have happened to the real Meredith that the robot Meredith is doomed to relive over and over.

Aeranger: a meditation on how duty, self-sacrifice and love of one’s people have far-reaching consequences

Anthony Ferraro, “Aeranger” (2019)

A twelve-minute film about an alien crash-landing somewhere in North America thousands of years ago when mammoths were still roaming the continent and humans had just entered it becomes, in director Anthony Ferraro’s hands, a meditation on self-sacrifice, duty and how one’s role in the scheme of things, no matter how small it might seem, has the potential to change history and even direct the course of future civilisations many aeons later. Alien visitor Kallelle (Bobbie Breckenridge) emerges out of her wrecked spacecraft and grabs a small metal container. Critically injured, she manages to make her way through the landscape – it’s a forest beside a small shallow valley – and finds a spot to plant a seedling. After sending a hostile earthling (Nic Kretz) on his way, she makes contact with an alien (Damo Sultan) back home and he asks her how her mission is proceeding. We learn from their terse conversation that their home planet is dying from an unimaginable catastrophe and many Aerangers like Kallelle have travelled far and wide through the cosmos trying to find new planets where her people can settle with no luck. Kallelle seems to have found the right place. Her contact piece seems to be on the verge of giving out so the alien back home tries to reassure Kallelle that her seedling will grow into the filtration system that their people will need thousands of their alien years into the future when eventually they can come out of hibernation and travel to Earth to settle. With this comfort, believing that her actions will benefit her people, the dying Kallelle completes her mission.

The film ends with a very surprising twist and posits the notion that should Kallelle’s people arrive on Earth, they will find that, like them, we are also on the verge of global environmental catastrophe due in no small part to our activities and our failure to act as responsible stewards of our planet’s resources. Whether they decide to wipe us out or deign to share their knowledge and solutions to the environmental crisis is a story for another film but Kallelle’s encounter with the human suggests that her people might regard us as savages who do not deserve to be saved.

The film would not have worked without Breckenridge’s acting: she portrays Kallelle with astonishing insight in an otherwise sketchy character who is at once vulnerable, hesitant and in great pain, yet determined and focused when the need arises. In her final moments, she looks at a picture of a loved one on her hologram gadget with tears in her eyes. The forest environment itself is a significant character, Eden-like in its immersive and serene quality, with a herd of mammoths travelling through the hills in the distance, yet not without its dangers hiding behind its curtains of trees.

With its themes of duty, self-sacrifice and love for one’s family and people, and how such qualities can have consequences extending far into the future, the film has the appearance of a parable.

Round-up of Films seen in 2019

Dear USE readers and visitors,

Where did 2019 go to? The year just seems to have whooshed by and already I am writing another round-up review of the films I saw in the past twelve months. I feel I’ve seen more films than I did in the previous two years but that may be because I’ve gone out of my way to see quite a variety of films from many different countries and cultures.

The more interesting films I saw at cinemas have tended to be independently made films from outside the mainstream culture or from individuals still committed to a belief system in which social justice and achieving it are important values. In this respect, the best films I saw are Michael Leigh’s “Peterloo”, Joonho Bong’s “Parasite”, Gallego and Guerra’s “Birds of Passage” and Gavin Hood’s “Official Secrets”.

Significantly the most overrated films, or the worst films I saw, happened to be British-made films. These days the British film industry substitutes for Hollywood – many if not most British films are made with American money now – and the culture that is reflected in most British films (apart from the ones made by socially conscious directors like Leigh and his compatriot Ken Loach) is an increasingly immature one with shallow values shot through with an obsession with identity politics and a concern bordering on neurosis with controlling a narrative about British culture and history. British culture is always to be seen as orderly, polite and civilised, and its darker aspects, while acknowledged, are portrayed as the doings of a few bad apples rather than inherent in the culture because they suit the needs and requirements of a controlling elite.

Of the documentaries I saw in 2019, these made the greatest impression on me:

Francis Plourde, “Operation Mr Chen: The Hidden Face of Quebec’s Golden Visas” – for the connection it discovers between Canadian Federal and provincial encouragement of foreign investment and money-laundering by Chinese billionaires leading to property speculation and bubbles in Vancouver and Toronto;

Caolan Robertson and George Llewellyn-John, “Borderless” – for its account of the refugee crisis affecting Europe and how some NGOs actually benefit financially from encouraging refugees to submit false papers;

Artyom Somov, “Dying Alone: Kodokushi, Japan’s epidemic of isolation through the eyes of a ‘lonely death’ cleaner” – for what it says about the fragmentation of Japanese society;

Jos van Dongen, “Victim of the World Wildlife Fund”  – for demonstrating how an organisation supposedly dedicated to animal conservation has a hidden sinister agenda of eugenics and racial hygiene that influences the way it deals with poor people whose properties it wants.

In recent months I have been watching animated short films by Gobelins animation students and science fiction shorts on the DUST channel. These have all been of mixed quality.

I don’t see that mainstream cinematic film culture will improve in 2020 – if anything, Hollywood will continue its slow collapse which it will try to stave off by importing more foreign directors and actors (at the expense of their own countries’ film industries that need them to tell their own stories to their own audiences), remaking classic (and not so classic) films of the past, and churning out more superhero films that require you to see all of them to understand their self-references. These trends all indicate a society in stagnation: as governments try to flog more consumer spending yet refuse to spend more money on education, healthcare and other public services, and impose austerity policies on the public, so the middle class continues to collapse and decrease. Poor people generally spend all their money on food, rent or mortgages, any other debt repayments and generally just trying to survive, and don’t usually watch movies at the cinema. Other countries’ film cultures are also struggling to survive even with government subsidies which may be dwindling. The quality of films is steadily getting worse and the culture they reflect is becoming more and more shallow, and obsessed with surface appearance.

Nevertheless I’ll continue to search for what I think may be potential gems even if I may not see as many films in 2020 as I did in 2019.

Thanks for reading my reviews and following my blog. Onwards we go into 2020!

Cheers, Nausika.