Political Film Review #607

QUEEN & SLIM TRACES FUGITIVES FROM POLICE MISCONDUCT

A blind date arranged from a social media website brings together two African Americans, nicknamed Queen (played by Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya), in Cleveland, Ohio, one evening to dine at a restaurant. She found him attractive on the website, eats little, and wants to return home without sex. Slim decides to pretend to grab her while driving, and the car takes an unusual turn. Reed (Sturgill Simpson), a White police officer, suspecting that the turn is a sign of drunk driving, has them stop and begins interrogation, though interrupted by Queen, who declares that she is an attorney. The police, with evident racial bias, then asks Slim to get out of the car and open the trunk, with Queen objecting. The officer shoots at Queen, and Slim begins a tussle to defend her. After they both fall to the road, Slim finds the officer’s gun nearby and shoots the officer in apparent self-defense. The officer is killed. Later in the film, someone on social media displays the entire incident, as recorded on tape by an unidentified bystander, but the couple is unaware until later of an organized protest on their behalf. The film is not based on an actual event but intended to be archetypical.

The film then focuses on how the couple respond to the incident. The most cautious approach would be to call 911 for a police officer to obtain their testimony and collect forensic evidence. But Queen believes that the authorities will not be fair to them. What then begins is a modern-day underground railroad from Cleveland southward to another state, with a flight to Cuba as an eventual destination as they pass through waystations en route to Florida. When they run out of gas in Kentucky, a helpful White sheriff stops to help, but they reject his kindness, use his gun to put him in the trunk of their car, and hijack the sheriff’s vehicle. Evidently news of the incident emerges in the media along with a police pursuit of “cop killers,” as the couple find assistance from several persons along the way, including even a White couple in a house that appears to be in Savannah. There is also a large award for information leading to their capture, yet they avoid arrest at every stopover up to Florida.

Directed by Melina Matsoukas, Queen and Slim lasts about two hours and ten minutes. Most of the time is devoted to the personalities of the couple, particularly the agony of their experience as they evidently suspect that they will eventually lose their freedom. Rather than smart editing, the film drags on, decreasing the suspense needed to prompt filmviewers to stay in the theatre in order to learn how the incident ends after they enter the Sunshine State.  MH

A HIDDEN LIFE SHOWS THE EFFECTS OF NAZI CONTROL OF AUSTRIA

The Austrian Alps are a cinematic paradise where farmers work hard but happily. The Anschluss changed the situation, as depicted in A Hidden Life, directed by Terrence Malick. At the center is Franz Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl) and his family in St. Radegund. Briefly recruited into the Austrian army for basic training in 1940, presumably for the German invasion of France, he receives a farming exemption and returns with a cane. But he has acquired a new perspective on what he later calls an “unjust war,” as he has learned that his role in war would have been to kill innocent persons. When soldiers later ask him to contribute crops for the war, he quietly declines, and he refuses a cash subsidy for his farm, puzzling the local mayor, priest, and bishop who urge obedience to the fatherland. In 1943, he is recruited again but refuses to give allegiance to Hitler unlike his fellow recruits. His conscientious objection to the war ultimately lands him in a prison in Berlin, more humiliation, a trial, and execution. Meanwhile, his wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner) has to suffer opprobrium from others in the farming community.

Mostly relying on voiceovers, presumably read from correspondence exchanged with his supportive wife, the slow-moving film, which lasts nearly three hours, gives filmviewers a taste of the agony, as there are many places where scenes could easily have been cut. Based on true events, Jagerstatter was beatified by the Catholic Church in 2007, a step on the road to an official declaration of sainthood. The Political Film Society has nominated A Hidden Life for best film promoting human rights and peace in 2019.  MH