Political Film Society - Newsletter #200 - July 1, 2004

July 1, 2004


Two Brothers Only 5,000 tigers remain in the wild today, compared with approximately 100,000 a century ago, according to titles at the end of Two Brothers, directed by Political Film Society awardwinner Jean-Jacques Annaud. The film is in effect dedicated to what titles call the "king of the jungle." The story begins in the 1920s, when hunting of tigers was viewed not only as lucrative but also as a way to protect human settlements from the hungry mouths of tigers. By now, humans have won the battle for control, but the film draws the moral that tigers deserve to be preserved today. After Aidan McRory (played by Guy Pearce) learns that the ivory tusks, which he harvested from African elephants, no longer interest a London auction house, he decides instead to go for a more salable commodity--Buddha statues and other artifacts from the jungles of French Cambodia. In his new quest, he encounters two tigers, which are shot, but rescues two tiger cubs, named Kumal and Sangha. However, McRory is arrested by the French authorities for illegally pillaging Cambodia of art objects. Corrupt colonial administrator Eugène Normandin (played by Jean-Claude Dreyfus) releases him from prison after taking a share of the artifacts. McRory then sells Kumal to a circus, where he is trained to jump through a fiery hoop, while Sangha is retained by Normandin's son (played by Freddie Highmore). One year later, a Thai prince (played by Oanh Nguyen) buys Sangha so that he can pit the two tigers against each other in an arena, where he charges admission and doubtless monopolizes gambling on the outcome. However, when the two tigers are placed into the arena, they realize that they are brothers and thus play rather than fight. Animal keepers try to goad them into fighting, but one leaves open an exit to the bleachers, so the two escape to the wild. McRory then is requisitioned to track them and shoot them, but Normandin's son tries to dissuade him from his assignment. When the two tigers are spotted amid temples in the Cambodian jungle, a fire is started in a circle around them. Kumal's training of jumping through fiery hoops thus proves to be an advantage in making his escape, though he must persuade timid Sangha to do so for the first time. The final scenes, in which McRory and Normandin's son come face to face with Kumal and Sangha are particularly touching. Clearly, the genius of the film is how film footage of some thirty tigers can be matched to the story, and the cinematography of Cambodian temples almost consumed by the jungle are especially spectacular. Although the film is about animal rights, the Political Film Society has nominated Two Brothers for an award as best film on human rights for 2004, as there would be no human rights without human responsibilities, and one of the responsibilities of humans is to protect endangered species, just as adults must protect newborn infants.  MH

Fahrenheit 911 Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is a propaganda documentary that aims to discredit the judgment and leadership of President George W. Bush by combining facts, often not well known by the American public, and emotions. The facts deal with how Bush was "elected," his passivity during and immediately after the events of 9/11 (when, we have recently learned, Vice President Cheney acted instead), the effort to fly members of the Bin Laden family and other Saudi business associates of the Bush financial empire out of the country while commercial flights for ordinary citizens were canceled, post 9/11- fearmongering about supposed terrorist threats, and then focuses on the absurdities and barbarities of the war on and in Iraq. The star of the film is not Moore but instead Lila Lipscomb, a Flint, Michigan, mother. Once proud that her sons had in the past engaged in military service, the recent death of her son in Iraq brings home the perception that he died for a cause that neither he nor she nor the American people nor even Moore can possibly admit--profits and votes for those who cynically make or allow war while sacrificing unemployed youth who are neglected by the American economy.  One week before Fahrenheit 9/11 was released, a more modest documentary, Control Room, began to present perhaps an equally powerful message with a narrower theme--how the American military has shamefully managed news about the Iraq war. The focus is mostly on the Al Jazeera television network, which is beamed to forty-million Arabic-speaking viewers, but also includes footage of the American media and media personnel. Insofar as a documentary seeks success, providing both sides of an argument may be a requirement. Whereas Fahrenheit 9/11 falls short on that test, Control Room succeeds. Perhaps the most startling revelation from Control Room, directed by Jehane Noujaim, is the fact that American bombing unapologetically targeted Al Jazeera filming locations, obviously retaliating against the network's coverage of news that sought to achieve objectivity by balancing the spin placed on news by the American military press office. The Political Film Society was established to recognize the courage of movie directors to raise the political consciousness of filmviewers via feature films, so documentaries have been excluded from consideration. Nevertheless, Moore's Roger & Me, a film that told a story of how Michael Moore tried to interview Roger Smith, General Motors CEO, fell between the cracks and was nominated for and won a Political Film Society award as best exposé of 1990. Both Fahrenheit 9/11 and Control Room certainly deserve serious consideration. MH