Political Film Society - Newsletter #221 - March 1, 2005

March 1, 2005


Among the many films nominated for Political Film Society awards for 2004, the following were voted the best:

DEMOCRACY Silver City John Sayles
EXPOSÉ Kinsey Bill Condon
HUMAN RIGHTS Hotel Rwanda Terry George
PEACE Tae Guk Gi  Je-Gyu Kang

Turtles Can FlyTurtles Can Fly (Lakposhtha hâm parvaz mikonand)
, a joint Iranian-Iraqi production directed and written by Bahman Ghobadi, begins just before Gulf War II at a refugee camp in Iraq's Kurdistan. The principal actors are children, and the fictional story represents a slice of the lives of those who survive under desperate circumstances. When the film begins, fifteen-year-old Agrin (played by Avaz Latif) is contemplating suicide, and within a minute or two after establishing the setting she indeed jumps to her death. Both the attempted and actual suicide are fastforwards to the end of the story, however. Flashbacks, which occur much later in the film, serve to illustrate what produced the refugee camps: Saddam Hussein's soldiers not only drove Kurds from their homes but raped Agrin, who gave birth to her now two-year-old son Rega (played by Abdol Rahman Karim). Nevertheless, most of the film centers on Kak, a thirteen-year-old Kurdish boy nicknamed Satellite (played by Soran Ebrahim) because he procures and installs satellite dishes for Kurdish communities. In demand for his unique technical skill and very limited knowledge of English, he not only provides employment for some of the refugee children, who collect defused landmines to exchange for cash or goods. He also serves as the de facto leader of the community in which he lives. Agrin's armless brother Hangao (played by Hiresh Feysal Rahman) is clairvoyant, correctly predicting when a dangerous explosion will go off, when the Americans attack Iraq in 2003, and when the war ends. Satellite then announces the actions that others should take in response to the predictions. Whereas the political context dominates the major events in the film, there is a human tragedy as well. Hangao very much loves Rega, but Agrin does not; she wants to abandon Rega. One day, Agrin ties up Rega in a remote location, but he breaks free and tries to return to the refugee camp. When someone in the camp reports that Rega is in an area with unexploded landmines, Satellite rushes to the rescue but a small landmine goes off, wounding his foot. Although Satellite is soon up and about with crutches to observe American troops passing by, he is unable to prevent Agrin from jumping to her death. Why she does so is perhaps the most tragic part of the film. Returning to the political aspects of the movie, the subtexts are very powerfully stated. The title itself is a metaphor for liberation from death, as the community is living in shells (tents), hoping for a way out while along the border with Turkey; they are boxed in by barbed wire, landmines, and sentry posts. Clearly, the Kurds are portrayed as having every reason to want Saddam Hussein overthrown. Although they are allowed to watch television, several channels are forbidden until the Americans march through, though the response of older Iraqis to the tasteless fare that attracts teenage Americans on MTV is to turn their heads away in disgust. The conquering Americans first leaflet the tented community, using helicopters, to announce honorable intentions and then appear as gallant conquerors, presumably en route to Baghdad or perhaps to the oilfields in Iraq's Kurdistan, but their only apparent contribution to the community is to watch the forbidden channels with those whom they have liberated. That the Kurds are divided between Iran, Iraq, and Turkey is mentioned in a matter-of-fact manner, but the story of human tragedies befalling the Kurds does much to provide legitimacy to the possibility of an independent Kurdistan; the director is an Iranian Kurd. The sight of Americans marching heroically through the refugee village may also send a message to Iranians who increasingly have drawn the conclusion that the current regime is no better than the one under the Shah, but the fact that some landmines are of American origin suggests that profits motivate Washington more than ideals. The sight of an armless boy defusing a landmine with his teeth is perhaps the starkest image presented of a country with millions of landmines and thousands of orphaned children, many of whom have fewer than four limbs. The depiction of all aspects of a refugee camp, where hundreds of children are doing the work to keep the community alive, prompts the Political Film Society to nominate Turtles Can Fly as best film exposé of 2005.  MH


DownfallIn Downfall (Der Untergang), director Oliver Hirschbiegel presents a vivid docudrama of the last ten days of the Third Reich, mostly inside Hitler's Berlin bunker surrounded by the luminaries of the Nazi state. To achieve historical accuracy, the script relies on Joachim Fest's Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich and Traudl Junge's Until the Final Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary (both translated into English in 2004). A touching interview with Junge from an earlier documentary film ends the film, and Alexandra Maria Lara, the actress playing her part in the film, provides a voiceover prologue, which points out that she naïvely agreed to be Hitler's secretary from early 1942 to April 30, 1945, when Hitler (played by Bruno Ganz) committed suicide. The film provides many events that are familiar to historians and some grisly details that filmviewers may not want to know about. We observe Hitler's interactions with his top officials and generals, including a confession by Albert Speer (played by Heino Ferch) that he disobeyed the Führer's order to destroy the architecture of Nazi Berlin and second-in-command Josef Göbbels's (played by Ulrich Matthes) steadfast devotion to Hitler as the latter refuses to believe military intelligence briefings when the end is near. There is a marriage ceremony in which Hitler and Eva Braun (played by Juliane Köhler) exchange vows, and Göbbels is impassive as his spouse Magda (played by Corinna Harfouch) poisons all their children so that, in her words, they would not grow up in a world without National Socialism. While Russian artillery draws closer, Hitler is still giving out medals for bravery and ordering the execution of traitors. Around him, alcohol is increasingly consumed, and there are even two wild parties. The surreal representation asks a familiar question: Why did Germans, especially those who knew that Hitler was detached from reality, continue to support and to obey him? Although broad academic theories focus on such factors as national culture and state terror, the film suggests several particularistic answers. (1) The primary explanation appears to be groupthink, that is, the human tendency to fear the social consequences of nonconformity. Even though military officers close to Hitler know that he is treating German civilians as well as military personnel as expendable, nobody wants to take responsibility for contradicting Hitler or forming a cabal to kill him. (2) A second factor is paternalism, as the women in his life are so infatuated by him that they give no credence to reports about imminent doom. (3) Along with other uncritical adherents of Social Darwinism, Göbbels and Hitler believe that they are doing the world a service by liquidating Jews and so-called inferior peoples, and Hitler is even willing to have all Germans die as a race because he believes that they are being proved inferior when the army is incapable of withstanding the Allied military onslaught. (4) The strength of a code of militaristic ethics can be inferred from the unquestioning obedience of Nazi officers and officials, who follow orders blindly and prefer suicide to cowardly surrender. (5) There is a complete absence of democratic norms; according to Hitler, the discipline of the Bolsheviks will prevail over effete democracies, and no character in the film suggests that decisions should be deliberated within a group before being promulgated. (6) Cognitive dissonance theory certainly applies, as Hitler responds to unpleasant intelligence briefings by giving orders to nonexistent armies and by condemning as traitors those who recognize military realities. In any case, the film cannot be fully deconstructed. The mysteries will never go away, even though the film ends by revealing what happened later to the main characters in the film (who were mostly incarcerated by the Russians, later released, and are now dead). Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Downfall for best film exposé of 2005, best film raising consciousness about the superiority of democracy, and best film demonstrating the lunacy of war rather than peace. MH

Amazon.com Music

Inside Hitler's Bunker : The Last Days of the Third Reich
Joachim Fest, Margot Dembo (Translator)

Details Hitler’s increasing mental and physical disintegration during the final days of WWII, when he was secreted underneath the battle-ravaged streets of Berlin with a last core of supporters.

Amazon.com Music

Until the Final Hour : Hitler's Last Secretary
Traudl Junge

Detailed, efficient and humorless memoir of the three years Traudl Junge spent as Hitler’s secretary.