Political Film Review #472

Members of the Political Film Society chose the following films as the best in each of four categories:
DEMOCRACY: Kill the Messenger (directed by Michael Cuesta)
EXPOSÉ: Difret (directed by Zeresenay Mehari)
HUMAN RIGHTS: César Chavez (directed by Diego Luna)
PEACE : Diplomacy (directed by Volker Schlöndorff)

Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, but filmed in nearby Oualata, also dating back to the 12th century, Timbuktu begins by showing the peaceful lives of citizens of rural Mali—cattle farming, fishing, and an open market amid sand dunes and ruins of ancient structures. Arabic-speakers with weapons have arrived in the area. Their megaphones declare new rules based on sharia law: No music, no smoking, no soccer, women must wear gloves while selling food, veils to cover their heads, women and men must sleep apart, brides can be forcibly removed from their families, as portrayed in the film Difret. After a courtlike proceeding, the penalty is 40 lashes for minor crimes, death for serious crimes inflicted by gunshot or stoning, and material compensation for a family that suffers a human loss. Accidental death is not an acceptable defense for murder. The reaction of the Muslim leader of the local temple is to argue that such practices are contrary to the peaceful Islamic faith. Thus, rather than bringing order to the peaceful citizens, the outsiders (including the leader who smokes, violating his own edict) act as a colonial power, seizing territory and making citizens into subjects without rights. Citizens who do not flee choose defiance but suffer martyrdom. Based on an actual event, the film is perhaps the most eloquent critique of the hypocrisy of contemporary jihadism. Yet the film presents the paradigm of colonization—occupying and seizing power over new territory on a self-righteous pretext. Similar developments occurred when America’s native populations were subject to new rules backed by firearms, and they continue in other guises whenever those in authority abuse their power. The Political Film Society has nominated Timbuktu as best film of 2015 on the need to safeguard democracy, human rights, and a peaceful world. MH

Directed by Nick Powell, the film Outcast has a lot of combat, beginning with the Crusades, when Gallain (played by Nicholas Cage) is disappointed that his military student Jacob (Hayden Christiansen) has apparently killed women and children (though Jacob did not do so). Both leave separately, headed on different paths for China, where Shing (Andy On) has just led a victorious army and returns to claim the throne from his ailing father (Shi Liang). But the king has designated Shing’s younger brother Zhao (Bill Su Jiahang) as the heir to the throne and has assigned his sister Lian (Crystal Liu Yifei) to make sure that the future king’s life will be safe as they flee for their lives. Jacob, whose path crosses the prince and the princess, then protects them until they reach a mountain top fortress, where Gallain and his Chinese bride are holding out with family defenders. The king is assassinated by Shing, claims that Zhao has done so, and demands that the army bring Zhao to justice, which of course means another battle is inevitable. Although the film was partly financed by a Chinese company with government approval, the film was not allowed to be exhibited on what was to be the opening day last September. The reason is unclear but underscores the difficulty of working with the government to cash in on such a large film market. Among possible explanations are that there is a quota of foreign films allowed in the country at any one time; there might be scenes that need to be removed; or that the story involves Caucasians fighting better than Chinese at kung fu in the twelfth century, not an acceptable plot just before the national holiday during the first ten days of October. MH