Politics. Films reviewed: Speaking is Difficult, The Measure of a Man
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Art, journalism and movies are discrete entities operating within self-sustaining universes that rarely cross paths. And in movies there are documentaries and there is entertainment. But with the rise of new media the lines between all of these are starting to blur. This week I’m taking a look at movies with political themes from France and the US. There’s an art-house drama about unemployment that reads like a documentary; and a documentary about mass shootings that looks like an art-house flick.
Speaking is Difficult
Dir: A.J. Schnack
Picture a schoolyard on a sunny day. A quiet calm feeling. An American flag, the Stars and Stripes, ripples in the breeze. And then the sound of gunshots rings out. Screaming, chaos, panic, despair. A voice calls out for help. Now picture this scene repeated over and over again: short glimpses of scenic American, beautifully-composed, in three-second takes. Schools, strip malls, bridges and movie theatres. The Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. A movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado.
Dubbed over the top of this calming new footage are grainy tapes of 9-1-1 callers. On many of them you can hear the shots still firing in the background as people, including the caller, run for cover. And each 20-30 second sequence is silently labeled with where it took place and how many people were killed.
It finishes with testimony before congress by Gabrielle Giffords who suffered a brain injury from one of these shootings. Speaking is difficult, she says. Indeed.
What the film never shows is the killers’ names (unlike the nightly news where “if it bleeds, it leads”). This is not an exploitation film meant to inspire copycat killers looking for their moment in the sun. Instead, it’s a visual memorial to the people who are killed in mass shootings in the United States. It happens every 78 days now, 2 ½ times more often than just 5 years ago.
Speaking is Difficult is a powerful short film. It’s part of Field of Vision, a new online documentary channel that combines the news – ongoing and developing stories – with cinematic directors. Pretty pictures mixed with hard-hitting stories. It’s co-founded by Schnack, Charlotte Cook and Laura Poitras. She’s the director who brought us Citizenfour, that great documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
All these films are free and available online on Field of Vision.
The Measure of a Man (La loi du marché)
Dir: Stéphane Brizé
Thierry (Vincent Lindon) is a taciturn man in his sixties. He has worked as a tool-and-die machinist for many years in a unionized factory job. He lives with his wife (Karine de Mirbeck) and his son (Matthieu Schaller). They’ve nearly paid off the mortgage on their nice apartment and own a modern mobile home to spend August at the beach. They still go out dancing as a couple, and have a caregiver who helps Matthieu, who plans to study science in college, with his disability. It’s the French version of the American dream with pensions and medical care all taken care of. Thierry’s happy family can devote its time to studying, hobbies and relationships.
Then, all of the sudden the company– the place he’s worked for most of his life — suddenly fires him without cause. The union objects and files a grievance, but Thierry is left rudderless without income and with few prospects at his age. And he soon discovers the vaunted French welfare state is fraying around the edges. They pay him for retraining, but in a profession with no jobs. They send him to low-wage interviews with condescending employers who don’t want to hire him. His banker tells him to sell his home and casually tells him to buy life insurance instead – implying he’s near the end. His union reps tell him to keep on fighting against his former employer in solidarity and testify at an upcoming trial… but can’t give him money.
His life is on a downward spiral, a race to the bottom. He finally gets a job in retail security, where he spies on customers with aerial cameras that zoon across the store’s ceiling. Treat every shopper as a potential shoplifter he’s told. He watches customers and staff accused of theft brought behind glass mirrors and humiliated. He tells them to hand over the missing 5 euros or misused coupons or suffer the consequences. But how long can Thierry be part of the system that ground him down?
The Measure of a Man is a realistic drama that feels like a documentary about the decline and fall of France’s working class. Except for Vincent Lindon, the entire cast is made up of non-actors, shot in real places not on a movie set. It’s heart-breaking in parts, but it still leaves you with a sense of hope about Thierry’s integrity and self worth. Lindon is fantastic in this film.
The Measure of a Man opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. And Speaking is Difficult just premiered on Field of Vision on theintercept.com.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com