B.I.F.F Day 4

I had a pretty mixed experience yesterday at the Bangkok International Film Festival. I only saw two movies, one shitty and one great, but mostly kept wishing I could re-watch I Killed My Mother. Tonight is my final film, Mammoth, which will probably play to a very packed house. It’s been really fun to attend a major film festival, and a cheap one at that (ended up being ~$2.60 per film).

Jamila and thre President - Poster4Jamila and the President / Jamila dan Sang Presiden

Country: Indonesia
Director: Ratna Sarumpaet
Length: 97 mins
Grade: D

Synopsis: “Jamila is a prostitute serving a life sentence behind bars. She surrenders herself to the authorities after admitting she killed a high-ranking minister, and refuses to be represented by any lawyer or request a plea to ease her sentence. The controversy spreads all over the nation, followed by a reaction from a militant group forcing the government to give the death penalty to Jamila. The prison slowly reveals Jamila’s story: she is a victim of child trafficking, a crime that has become a custom in many places. Jamila represents millions of children who has been sold in the name of poverty and the lack of education.”

Weighty, important subject matter does not necessarily mean a weighty, important film. Jamila and the President is overwrought, daytime soap opera material. Good production values can’t hide the fact that there’s nothing at its core except a poor script overacted by melodramatic people. Sarumpaet adapted the screenplay from her own theater play and this is very obvious in a few key scenes that don’t translate well to film at all. Most characters act illogically and unrealistically, and by the end I cared little about or for any of them. My bad experience with this movie was not helped by subtitles that were poorly translated and written in large, Comic Sans font.

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Dangerous Knowledge

I guess I’m on a philosophy film kick. The latest was the BBC’s Dangerous Knowledge, a documentary on mathematicians Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing — four geniuses whose neuroses drove them fatally mad. It’s debatable the extent to which their respective theories made them insane — the film obviously plays this up for dramatic purposes — but it’s an intriguing film and not overly technical.

One of the ironies here is that I learned of this film via some people with deep antipathy towards postmodernism, despite the fact that these four helped unravel the modern project and clear the conceptual space for postmodernism. For me, it’s impossible to ignore the links between these mathematicians at the turn of the century and the postmodern philosophers at the close of the century. The key is recognizing that the quests for certainty, universality, and totality that were under assault in science & politics — climaxing in the existential refutations that were World Wars I & II — were being assaulted in logic & mathematics via Cantor & Co.
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The Reader in the Striped Pajamas

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is celebrated every January 27th. The day often re-ignites discussions over what should be done with the old Nazi death camps: should Auschwitz and Dachau be left to rot, reclaimed by nature, or actively maintained as a memorial to victims of the Holocaust? Survivors, whose opinions here should trump all, have weighed in both sides of the debate.

It’s not hard to imagine which side Hollywood comes down on, given its perpetual fascination with mining others’ tragedies for financial profit. Imaginary Witness (2004) ably explored Hollywood’s storied, controversial relationship with Nazism and WWII, but a virtual deluge of Holocaust films in the last few months has re-ignited the debate: what right do privileged bourgeoisie have to exploit unspeakable genocide for box office (and Academy Award) success? (more…)