I’ve been serendipitously dropped in Thailand just in time for the Bangkok Farang Festival Film Festival. Kick off was last Thursday with an invitation-only screening of Bad Lieutenant and runs until this coming Wednesday. I’ve still been fighting the same cold from Argentina, only this past week it ramped up to bona fide H1N1 proportions and wiped me out. All that to say, I didn’t get to see anything until Saturday evening. My three reviews from my first 2 days are below. Each cheesy synopsis is copied verbatim from the Bangkok Film Festival guide.

kynodontas-2009Dogtooth / Kynodontas (trailer)

Country: Greece
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Length: 96 mins
Acclaim: Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes
Grade: A-

Synopsis: “A father, a mother and their three kids live in a house in the outskirts of a city. There is a tall fence surrounding the house. The kids have never left the house. They are being educated, entertained, bored and exercised in the manner that their parents deem appropriate, without any influence from the outside world. They believe that the airplanes flying through the sky are toys and that zombies are small yellow flowers. The only person allowed to enter the house is Christina.”

Christina is introduced by Father (all characters are nameless) to perfunctorily satisfy the sexual drives of Son, and of course with the introduction of sex things start to fall apart pretty quickly.  In the world of Dogtooth, that old Baptist joke proves true: avoid sex, because it leads to movie-watching, which leads to dancing. Christina triggers a cataclysmic unraveling of the carefully manufactured world the children live in, all leading to an agonizing climax that could’ve been written by Flannery O’Connor herself.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a refreshingly bizarre piece of filmmaking. Everything about this movie is askew: its morals, its personalities, its reality, even its camerawork — though the cinematography (with tons of fixed camera shots) makes for a really beautiful-looking film. Very little is explained by Lanthimos, forcing viewers to piece things together on their own and provide their own interpretations (Why, for example, are the parents doing this? What’s up with the oft-discussed, never-seen, possibly-nonexistent 2nd Son? etc). Dogtooth is a masterful work of dark, black comedy with enough tragedy to make it stick. It’s hard to even pinpoint why such an crazy, off-center film is so damn riveting — right down to the killer last shot, a testament to the power of subtle horror.


The Perils of Sloganeering (healthcare edition)

There’s so much political stupidity on Facebook that I have to just ignore 99% of it. But yesterday I noticed a very conservative friend — known for his opposition to universal healthcare in any form — quip that “the city of Pittsburgh has more MRI machines then [sic] all of Canada…”

I took a particular interest in this bumper-sticker fact not just because I’ve previously spent a lot of time researching universal healthcare, but also because the claim seemed to be doing more intellectual work for these conservatives than it was doing for me. That is, I didn’t think such an isolated statistic was so thoroughly devastating to the case for universal healthcare… there had to be more to the story, right?

In looking into it I discovered that this quip — “Pittsburgh has more MRI machines than Canada” — has been turned into an endlessly quoted slogan that is rarely cited or examined. But here’s where things get funny: the origin of this phrase lies in a 2008 Forbes article by David Whelan in which this statistic is mentioned to show precisely what’s wrong with the U.S. healthcare system (oh, the irony!). Whelan’s point was that spending was out of control, and that advanced imaging machines (both MRI & CT) purchases were above and beyond what was necessary. What was a throwaway line by one journalist to point out the weaknesses of the U.S. system is now being brandished by right-wingers to point out the supposed superiority of the U.S. system.

Note, however, that Whelan doesn’t actually cite where he got this statistic. My best guess is that he was relying on a 2005 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article. The piece paraphrases Vic Panza — V.P. of National Imaging Associates and a man with a vested interest in high sales of MRI machines — as saying that Western Pennsylvania (not just Pittsburgh) has 160 total machines. However, according to the O.E.C.D., in 2005 Canada had some 183 MRI machines (and some 250+ by this year). So even if you trust Panza’s estimate, the whole statistic seems fairly suspect to me. (more…)