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District 9

District9District 9
Neil Blomkamp :: South Africa :: 2009 : 1h50

The unlikely action hero Wikus works for a large international paramilitary organisation called the MNU. The company deals with the affairs of the almost 2 million aliens which were rescued from their stranded ship over Johannesburg, and grouped together in an area named District 9. After an uncomfortable status-quo of apartheid, Wikus is assigned the mission to move the aliens to a new district further out of town… and out of sight. The disorientated aliens are not wholly complying with the MNU’s wishes.

Amongst the things which go wrong during the eviction of the rundown township of district 9, Wikus is exposed to a unique alien matter which turns him into the most sought after man on earth. With the ruthless and the power hungry at the South African political helm, all means are deployed to hunt him down. There is but one hiding place he can think of: back to District 9.

This is not just science-fiction film. District 9 lets you into its world through its network of websites (see below). The film is presented as but part of the story you are thrown into through the websites, allowing you to live the film before actually going in. On the internet, you get to hear mock interviews with people on the streets criticising or supporting the aliens and the apartheid system. It is an amusing (if bitter) satire to surf through.

Once you get to the cinema, you will find the film both unconventional in its form as in its matter, despite having the general blockbuster structure. The aliens and the people are not scared of one another (although shockingly uninformed!), but find themselves in an abusive cohabitation. In normal human society, relations between different groups are usually determined by who controls either the economic means (capital) or the army – in other words, the wealthy dominate the poor or the stronger dominate the weaker. Politics can be a big part of the problem, or it can even out the propensity to abuse to create a more harmonious ensemble.

Here, the government is clearly part of the problem, hoping to maximise its power no matter the cost. When these two civilisations -alien and human- meet, the aliens objectively seem to have the upper hand: they have superior technology (read: weaponry), yet they find themselves oppressed. The aliens are not even particularly noble creatures either, making it all the more peculiar for them to be a civilisation armed to the teeth, flying far from home and be pacifist all at the same time. If they were that peaceful, surely they could have travelled without arms, as explorers? And also, why were they travelling with so many of them if they did not have the intention to settle down somewhere? On earth, they suffer under South African rule, and even within their limited scope for movement, they do not seem intent on making something of their lives (they must have been organised to get where they are). These story lapses matter because the film has the pretence of being true, offering a possible world as our own.

To get to that reality-tv approach, the film, as the websites, film the action in a messy and grainy way to give you the impression of being there. But as opposed to stringently sticking to a shoulder camera realism approach, the film sometimes lets you look at the action “on tv”, sometimes through “security cameras” and sometimes as if you are crouched at a distance looking in. This variation keeps the excitement in the film, without loosing the realism element – it is easy to stay in character with the film.

With so much emphasis on this story being potentially true, we are constantly reminded of the racial Apartheid law which ruled the country for so long. If we were to draw a parallel, then the government and its agents are accused of being (having been?) downright evil, blinded by a thirst for power. The human race comes off so badly in word and deed, that we can barely recognise ourselves. But that, is perhaps rather to our credit. //


Le Chant des Mariées

Le Chant des MariéesLe Chant des Mariées

Karin Albou :: France, Tunisia :: 2007 :: 1h40

We open into an engagement party for Nour and her cousin Khaled, Tunis 1942. Although it is an arranged marriage, Nour’s relationship with Khaled is one of a blossoming love as they get to know one another. Nour, 16, is denied an education, but had been taught to read by her best friend Myriam and receives books from the young Khaled. Nour and Khaled’s marriage is postponed several times as Khaled has trouble finding work in the German occupied city. Our attention is directed at the love and experience of the two girls discovering the world around them. The movie is roughly divided into two halves, with the first more on Myriam (and her relationship with Nour) and the second half concentrating on Nour’s development.

The girls had grown up together fantasising about romantic love and watch it grow between Nour and Khaled. For the girls, it is as if Nour is living her love story for the two of them. Myriam hopes she will have her own ‘Khaled’ someday, but fate, as directed by her mother, unfortunately sets her to be wed to an older man, the doctor Raoul. Her first meeting with him spells out their future… she does not like him. Raoul had come into the picture as the saviour from the German occupiers’ cruel laws affecting Myriam and her mother. His generous offer to help, in exchange for Myriam in marriage, came at a bitter price as they find out he labours in collaboration with the Nazi’s. Khaled, who seemed the bright young fiancé, turns out to be quite somebody else when pushed under the occupying force, to the disillusionment of Nour and Myriam.

The sensual awakening of the young girls is contrasted with the onslaught of propaganda and fear perpetuated by the German occupiers. The movie shows not only the girls’ vulnerability but also the dangers of a lack of education to be able to judge and defend themselves. Nour may have been taught to read by her friend Myriam, but it is not enough to arm her against the propaganda pouring into their house (radio and brochures) and the fear through the window (bombs and soldiers marching). Neither of the girls really know how to deal with the situation they were thrown into, but it is clear that Myriam had the advantage of seeing clearer through the ideological disinformation.

Visually, the movie is very intimate. As we see the world through the eyes of Myriam and Nour, the men are mostly cut out of the visual field. Most of the movie is indoors, in their house, where they live. The war is heard outside, and through their shared radio, which had now become an auditive wall between the families. The occupying force is never shown with faces, soldiers are like robots which are heard marching. The girls’ love for one another is shown with the proximity of sisters, with their intimacy as their shared good. Love is not so much an emotion which is described as it is an emotion to be felt, with the stroking or the holding of the other. A physical southern Mediterranean feel dominates, as the heat lingers in the tight social construct in which they live. It is a flawed society, as all are (here specifically the position of women), but it is their world, the world of Myriam and Nour.

Parallels can be made with La Petite Jerusalem, with its emphasis on sensuality and vulnerability, for the mixture between modernity and tradition, for the almost exclusive female look on the world, or for the potential clashes between Muslims and Jews. Ms Albou’s first film was more focussed than Le Chant des Mariées, which takes on more subjects than it can realistically handle. This is unfortunate and weakens the film.  The director is still young, and with a talent like hers, she will have more than enough opportunity to pass on any point she wishes. Karin Albou is clearly a very gifted filmmaker and one to watch out for. Even if too many elements in a movie stomps off thought and confuses the viewer, we can consider ourselves blessed with such a beautiful performance. Do not hesitate to go in, Le Chant des Mariées opens doors to a world normally hidden from sight, and does so admirably.

Dossier de presse (The Wedding Song)