Political Film Society - Newsletter #111 - September 1, 2001

September 1, 2001


Born Under Libra
, directed by Ahmad Reza Darvish, is the latest of several films from Iran that focus on the absurdity of Khomeni-era restrictions in general and the plight of women in particular. Mahtab Peyman (played by Mitra Hajjar) attends a distinguished private university in Tehran where her authoritarian father is a prominent administrator. When he learns that she has a boyfriend, Danial Moshtaq (played by Mohammad Reza Foroutan), her father is so angry that he pushes through a regulation that men and women should attend different classes on the same campus. Students, in turn, protest the sudden sex segregation, which they learn is due to an unsubstantiated rumor that at least one male student has been fraternizing with one female student. Soon, the students organize a protest, with Mahtab eloquent in defying the authorities. However, Danial admits to the indiscretion and meets her father, who in turn slaps his face and orders his expulsion. After the student protest, Mahtab has a flat tire, so Danial assists. While he is changing tires for her, his briefcase is stolen by two boys on a motorbike, so he chases the boys in Mahtab’s car, and ultimately the two boys are seriously wounded. Police bring the two boys, Danial, and Mahtab to the police station, but soon her father arrives to bail out Danial and Mahtab, after which he slaps her face. At this point Danial and Mahtab decide to escape together to the south. At one point in their journey torrential rain causes a flash flood, and they are carried out to sea, landing at a deserted but fortified island containing many mines. In due course Danial dies from an exploding mine, and Mahtab finds her way back to Tehran after telling him that her Zodiac sign is Libra (the sign of someone who seeks social justice). Of course, the island of mines symbolizes the country, where a minefield of social regulations is destroying Iranians psychologically. As a film that raises issues about government control of society, the Political Film Society has nominated Born Under Libra for an award as best film on human rights and best film exposé for the year 2001. MH


Planet of the ApesIn 1968, Planet of the Apes emerged as one of the most profound films of all times, raising issues about racial discrimination and nuclear war. Now a retake (not a remake) with a roughly similar plot and a unique surprise ending, is again based on the novel La Planète des singes by Pierre Boulle. Directed by Tim Burton, the new Planet of the Apes starts in 2029.
Leo Davidson (played by Mark Wahlberg) is on a space station along with several caged apes; one chimpanzee has been trained to fly a Delta Pod, a small space vehicle. An electromagnet storm develops near the space station, so the ape is sent to get readings, but his ship disappears. Unauthorized, Davidson then tries to rescue the chimp and obtain information about the storm, but he also gets sucked into a vortex and soon his Delta Pod crashes in a rainforest on a planet sometime in the future. Soon, humans are running past him, so he joins, only to discover that apes are pursuing runaway humans, and soon he is among those captured. While most apes tolerate humans only for the subordinate roles that they perform, Ari (played by Helena Bonham Carter) believes that apes and humans can live as equals, but General Thade (played by Tim Roth) wants to exterminate humans. As filmviewers will expect, Davidson tries to lead humans out of captivity with the help of Ari, and a showdown between a few humans and a large army of ferocious apes occurs. Davidson discovers that the space station crashed on the planet before he did, so the apes on board evolved from the moment of impact, and the humans on the planet are descendants of those who once manned the space station. Before we see the outcome of the battle between apes and humans, however, the chimp who started the unusual pursuit unexpectedly makes a soft landing on the planet but dies soon after arriving. Davidson then gets into the undamaged spacecraft to fly back to earth, presumably to get help for the humans. When he lands, however, the surprise ending is that apes have taken over the planet (presumably, earth), a statue of Thade has replaced Lincoln at what is now the Thade Memorial, Davidson is captured, and we await the sequel to find out what will happen next. A few lines throughout are intended to titillate politically aware filmviewers, but those who bother to react will doubtless guffaw on hearing lines about the dangers of technological advances, the virtue of "extremism in the defense of apes," a Rodney King quote, and how specieism (cruel treatment of one species by another) demeans the dominant specie. In contrast with the sage political messages of the earlier film, the year 2001 version of Planet of the Apes is thus devoid of an original insight or a profound message. MH