Category Archives: Film

Citizenfour

Citizenfour, directed by Laura Poitras, although dealing in arguments is not an argumentative, expository documentary film so much as a visual document. It’s a rendering, a recording of the moment in time when Edward Snowden met with three journalists in Hong Kong and blew his whistle. The recorded conversations between Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill that took place in that pivotal week are couched between snippets of computer Expos, court trials and the requisite still, landscape scenery present in so many essay-style films.

The film engages in that grand juxtaposition of the mundane and the grand, the fundamental and the extraneous. The issues at stake are obviously incredibly important in our present political order and touch on themes as old as social evolution itself. Yet they are presented in bland, disconnected scenes: daggy hotel rooms, official tribunals, lecture theatres. Citizenfour does not present entertainment nor polemic, it is simply a reminder that these leaks occurred, how they happened, and what it means for the public and the polity.

Since the film was created by one of the journalists involved in publishing the NSA leaks it can be seen as an attempt to reflexively assert control over the public narrative. This is discussed at length in the film: the public’s reaction to the leaks, the NSA’s tactics of damage control, personality, distraction. Interestingly Poitras does considerably indulge in the character of Snowden, perhaps judging that enough time has passed for his personhood to shine through in larger form. He comes across as very mechanical, with strong convictions and moral rules; wedded to the PC.

With Snowden still in Russia, Assange still in Ecuador, this particular chapter of post-2001 scandals and leaks is still playing out. Is privacy dead? Is privacy a synonym for liberty? No film will ever answer these questions and Citizenfour doesn’t try to. But it does offer a few compelling points of view and in a way embellishes the larger debate (which some would argue isn’t even occurring).

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

This is a delightfully enjoyable film. Black and white with Persian dialogue, it is set in the fictional world of Bad City, a barren, industrial town devoid of activity – especially at night, when most of the film takes place. There are, however, an abundance of corpses, especially in one particular aqueduct.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a measured, thoughtful vampire flick, nothing like most Hollywood vampire fare of late. Its images are striking and enjoyable, playing with gender, religion, and youth debates and cultures. Even so – they are not delved into with the depth they really deserve. The film pokes slow fun rather than making serous statements.

The narrative is simple, characters are few and dialogue sparse. A bleak tone permeates the story, which becomes predictable about mid-way through. Its a shame that this is the case, but ultimately it doesn’t detract from the experience too much, as the film’s conclusion is spot on. There is just enough narrative closure, but many questions are left unanswered. The film is also very funny. There are a few scenes in particular of high mirth – one involving a pimp with misplaced narcissism and one involving a cat that is, well, a cat.

Although restrained, sparse and a touch too long for its simplicity, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night treats the vampire myth with what it deserves: respect.

Worth watching.

Bitter Lake

Adam Curtis’ newest BBC documentary is long, diffuse and a little disappointing.

It is essentially a selective, modern history of Afghanistan, told from a Western point of view and through Curtis’ trademark style. The film wanders around a maze of archival footage, with some truly beautiful montages, some unsettling ones, and more than a few indulgent handheld shaky-cam scenes. It is a firmly visual rather than aural film, in that the majority of the footage is without diagetic sound. Instead a range of mostly electronic music plays over the combat, the faces, the dances. Dancing is a recurring motif in the film – traditional Afghan dancing – the viewer sees examples of it at least five times. They are each beautiful moments and ground the film emotionally.

This is where Bitter Lake does best. In its montage, its cinematic truth and concrete realities. Where it fails in my view is the choice of the historical narrative – too simple – and its bookend questions – too vague, too pointless. I agree with the majority of Curtis’ propositions but was frustrated that he did not tease out any of the premises further, nor add anything new. Given this documentary is over two hours long it could have done with more argument, more meat, and less repetition. It could have held a forceful position in debates on religion, secularism, imperialism, geopolitics, international relations, anthropology, any of these things – in addition to being what it is; at its heart merely a mesmerizing curation.

Super broad, but even so: worth watching. There are also a few laughs in there.