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SHORT TAKES ON FILM
Ben Nyce | Via Latina

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Two films nominated for Academy Awards as best foreign film have been playing in San Diego. Though not very sophisticated in technique, they address burning issues (Russian kleptocracy and Islamic jihad) in passionate ways.

“Leviathan” directed by Andrey Zuyagintsev, dramatizes in small scale what Putin’s kleptocracy enacts in large. Putin’s rodent-like features look down from the walls of government offices. The central drama involves a small landowner Kolya who attempts to prevent a corrupt mayor from taking his property. Everyone is on the take: the courts, the police, the Russian Orthodox church. Kolya takes to drink; his marriage begins to suffer. His wife eventually commits suicide, and he is jailed for her murder. The mayor builds a church where Kolya’s house had been. Such a bleak story is, however, seasoned with mordant humor. At a drunken picnic, photos of former Russian leaders are used for target practice with the jocular explanation that the most recent will eventually be shot full of holes. Powerful, wide screen shots show a bleak, rugged landscape and a surging tumultuous ocean beneath lowering skies. No wonder the characters drink vodka like water. The film is banned in Russia.

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“Timbuktu” tells of the degradation of that famous trading city by jihadists enforcing Sharia law. Kidani and his small family live in a community of tents in the sand dunes on the edge of the mud-walled city. He’s a sweet-tempered man who loves to make music and adores his wife and his young daughter. He talks of moving away from the jihadists, but before he can he unintentionally kills a fisherman whose nets have been damaged by his cattle. The jihadists ban singing, dancing, even football (soccer). Can football be played without a ball? Well, the kids do it with spirit and flair. A wonderful singer is given ninety lashes. Tribal images and totems are destroyed by bursts from automatic weapons. As in “Leviathan” the sweeping images of dune landscape show what endures despite the destruction.

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For home viewing “To Live and Die in L.A.” William Friedkin’s take on the corruption of two cops in the overripe setting of Los Angeles. It’s got the best car chase in film.

Nyce taught literature and film at USD and authored “Satyajit Ray” and “Scorcese Up Close.”

 


 

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