Monday, August 26, 2013

Cinema of Resistance: Far From.... Afghanistan(2012) and Vietnam (1967)

As part of the Cinema of Resistance series at Lincoln Center the Film Society s running Far From Vietnam, a 1967 protest film put together by Chris Marker and directed by Alian Resnais, Claude Lelouch, Agnes Varda, Claude Lelouch, Willian Klien and others; and Far From Afghanistan, a similar film with a look at Afghanistan. I got to see the film early and here are my thoughts.
Johnson and McNamara

Far From Vietnam(1967)
Best described as a pure propaganda and a time capsule of a time not so long ago this film is essentially a series of short films by famous directors stitched together to form a long protest piece. While it is an intriguing film at times, it's also not something that I can imagine anyone wanting to see more than once. Its a protest piece for a war long over, and while it has reflections in our middle east entanglements the specifics muffle some of the echoes.

This is  a hard film to describe completely owing to it's fragmentary nature.We get lots of talk of Castro and Che, we see the construction of individual bomb shelters in North Vietnam, Jean-Luc Godard talks about his feelings toward the war, Resnais has directs a fictional piece about a writer talking about whether to write about the war, we see the family of an American man who set himself  on fire in protest for the war and an ex-pat Vietnamese woman in Paris talking about her reaction, we watch a parade in New York and New Yorkers trying to deduce what Napalm is. There is lots of intellectual talk and war footage. It is very much an intellectuals protest against the war. Its like overdosing on Vietnam protest films.

How is is it?

The answer to that question has a couple of different answers which of course depend on how one sees the film 45 years on.

First off it's not really history. The film is a manifesto of protest so it leaves a great deal out. You can't watch it to really learn history I mention this because the film is French and the French were tied up in Vietnam before America. The film only glosses over the French's role in the war and paints the US solely as the bad guy even going back to the late 40's and early 50's. It also doesn't mention the French torment over Algeria that had been raging at roughly the same time and which in some ways mirrored what they were protesting in Vietnam.(Its also been speculated in some circles that the violent French reaction to the American adventure in Indochina was a way of dealing with guilt over Algeria -but I digress)

The film also completely ignores much of the social upheveal that was going on in the US and the world. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements are mentioned but there is no context since the film was made for the audience in 1967 and not for now. There is no context and quite frankly how the war was perceived in actuality requires lots of context- god help you if you don't know the context (though I'm certain anyone interested in seeing the film will be aware of the context)

As history it's simply an artifact of a time gone by. Granted it is of historical importance and a means of getting into a mind set, but it's not straight history. Don't see this film expect to learn all you need to learn. (And since it's not even remotely trying to be fair in its presentation I'm not going to discuss how it paints the Vietnamese and anyone against the war as good, and those for it as knuckle dragging imbeciles.)

As an entertainment it's a tough slog. I made it through because the historian in me wanted to see the what the film was presenting, but some of the film, the intellectual droning on put me near sleep (Godard's piece had my eyes closing). There are some cool bits, the making of the shelters, the look at the social divide in America, Tom Paxton's protest song are wonderful, but there is a great deal of really dated stuff.

If you are interested in the war and the history of protest, not to mention any of the directors involved, by all means see it when the film plays for a week at Lincoln Center starting on the 28th, if not take a pass.

Far From Afghanistan (2012)
Mother and sick daughter.What this has to do with the war is anyone's guess

The one you really should take a pass on is Far From Afghanistan a modern day version of this earlier film. This two plus hour film covers all the bases anyone against the war would hit and does so so unimaginatively you wonder why they bothered.

I'm not going to lie, I walked out 80 minutes in. There was nothing I hadn't seen before and I had no patience to stay to the end. Worse there were several sequences that completely baffled me as to their point and reason for inclusion.

The film is a series of short pieces, some that have a point, some that don't. I'm still not sure what to make of the opening sequence about the girl with the swollen stomach needing blood. Its more something that belongs in a vampire film than a documentary. It's a sequence seems to mean something but never gets around to explaining what it is. This is included in a film about the war why?

The sequence that follows, with the scenes of serene American life with the sounds  and descriptions of the war, is cliche and much too long. Similarly cliche is the bombsite footage cut to Eisenhower's Military Industrial complex speech. The footage of the Afghan freedom fighters from the early 1980's is kind of chilling but putting the kicker of when it was shot at the very end removes any kick from the piece because we are left to ponder what we are watching. Hostory may repeat but at the same time unless there is a context you can't make the connection.

While some pieces work, say the piece on the dangers of girls going to school, they are at best weak versions of a TV news story without a point.

At no time did I connect to anything on after 80 minutes of this nonsense I went home.

I should probably say that the entire time I was watching the film all I could think of was the much better MY AFGHANISTAN which played at the Human Rights Watch Film festival a couple of months back. Given the choice see that instead. That film ill move you and will make you realize how poor this film is.

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