Political Film Society - Newsletter #190 - January 15, 2004

January 15, 2004


January 31 is the last day to narrow the number films nominated films for Political Film Society awards for 2003 in two categories--Exposé and Human Rights. Political Film Society rules require the number of nominated films to be reduced to five in each category. Accordingly, a ballot for both categories is on the Society's website. A meeting of the Board of Directors of the Political Film Society will convene at 8481 Allenwood Road, Los Angeles, on Sunday, February 1, 2004, at 2:00 p.m. to count ballots. A full ballot, with all four categories, will be circulated in the February 1 newsletter.

The Barbarian InvasionsRémy (played by Rémy Girard), a history professor in Montréal, is dying of liver cancer. How will he spend his last days? The Barbarian Invasions (Les Invasions barbares), directed by Denys Arcand, provides an upbeat scenario to answer that question. His spouse Louise (played by Dorothée Berryman), who has been living apart for some years because of his philandering, calls his son Sébastien (played by Stéphane Rousseau) in London, begging him to visit his father before his death. Sébastien, an arbitrage millionaire, dutifully responds, though father and son have not in the recent past been on friendly terms. Upon arrival, Sébastien realizes that his father is not receiving the best of care. In a critique of the Canadian health care system, he learns that his father is in pain, cramped into a room with two others, and attended by doctors and nurses who do not even have charts with his correct name. Although the hospital administrator cites various government regulations and union restrictions as reasons not to provide decent care, he nevertheless transforms his father's situation (and unhappy disposition) with wads of cash. Soon, his father is in a room of his own, surrounded by academic friends and former mistresses. As the pain increases, his son even arranges for a daughter of a friend to provide heroin for the dying man while police pay little attention. And, with the end near, he arranges to relocate his father from the hospital to a house by the peaceful St. Lawrence River. But the story operates on other levels. Rémy reminisces about his academic career, which he considers to have been a failure because he did not publish his thoughts for posterity, but his former colleagues help him to make light of the academic pretentiousness in which they all indulged. Some of his most profound thoughts are political. One observation is that more died in the sixteenth century than in the twentieth, since the Spanish are responsible for 200 million deaths in the Americas, and the other colonial powers added 100 million indigenous peoples to the death toll. He also notes that on 9/11 for the first time the "barbarians" got inside the "empire," albeit to slaughter much fewer than the 50,000 who died at Gettysburg. As well, he recalls all the women in his life, not only his flings but also the glamorous stars whom he loved from afar. Most of all, he laughs, and others with him, though the humor may be too subtle for many Americans. With only a few days left, he realizes that he loves life itself most of all. That he is dying, surrounded by so many loving friends, is a model for us all. MH

MonsterSerial killer Aileen Wuornos, who was executed in Florida in October 2002, has recently been honored by two films. Monster debuted in late 2003. Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer, came out in early 2004, an update of sorts of the earlier documentary Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992), which was released during the year when she was tried and convicted. All three films presumably were made to evoke some sympathy to her plight or at least opposition to the way in which the death penalty was a response more to media and public pressure, orchestrated in part by Governor Jeb Bush, than to the circumstances of her crimes. Aileen, convincingly portrayed in Monster by Charlize Theron, became a prostitute at age nine, and at age thirteen she was on her own when she was kicked out of home because she was pregnant. While other teenage girls were learning skills to enter the job market or attracting spouses, Aileen turned tricks for peanuts and thus acquired no employable skills and had no close friends. Then one day in 1989, at age thirty-three, Aileen meets Selby Wall (played by Christina Ricci), a beautiful, sensitive lesbian who is fascinated with Aileen's rough, strong persona. Although Aileen at first denies that she is a lesbian, Selby's steadfast devotion prompts her to transform her life. Selby's homophobic family has rejected her lesbianism, so she is seeking a strong female partner as her husband. To play that role, Aileen wants to change her life to be Selby's breadwinner. When she applies for legitimate employment, she is turned down for entry-level positions because she lacks a high school education, has no previous job experience, and has a criminal record. Before the two meet, Aileen is picked up by a man whose insistence on kinky sex is extremely brutal, so she shoots him in self-defense. Since Aileen seeks redemption from her sordid past, she shares her experiences with Selby, who is sympathetic and trusting. However, in her quest to provide for Selby, Aileen finds no option but to sell herself. Rather than accepting small payments, she now decides to rob her johns, but the only way to clean them out and leave no clues is to kill them, and six more die. According to some amateur psychology from Patty Jenkins, the director of Monster, Aileen's murders were a function of post-traumatic stress following the realization that any future john might assault her first, but alas no psychologist is called upon in the film to state a corroborating opinion. Billed as the Damsel of Death by the media, police go all out to track down Aileen and her companion. However, Aileen does not tell Selby about her multiple murders, so they split up soon after she learns the truth from a television news program. After Aileen is caught, Selby testifies against her to save herself, and Aileen is again friendless. Despite cinematic efforts to gain sympathy for Aileen, the facts are so stark that Monster nevertheless offers up Aileen Wuornos as the tragic poster woman for the death penalty. MH