Documentary Film: Man From Plains

This 1997 movie by director Jonathan Demme follows the much maligned former president Jimmy Carter as he gets maligned further during his book tour for Palestine: Peace Not Apatheid. A supreme irony of it all is how Carter did more for the cause of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors than anyone else with the 1979 Israel/Egypt Camp David Accords yet is attacked by fervent supporters of Israel for suggesting the next logical and humane step towards reducing the nation’s conflict with its neighbors by ending West Bank occupation – about which he makes a compelling case for calling it apartheid – and Palestinian Statehood. (I identify with him as I experience a similar dismissal for making the same case even though I lived through the 1973 Yom Kippur War in Israel and love the nation plus support its existence and security.) What impresses me the most about Carter is his equanimity when under attack and the modest yet firm way the man sticks to his guns. And as we watch Carter contend with the controversy we get glimpses into his background, life in Plains, marriage and faith that all make a strong argument for his genuine greatness as a man, diplomat and humanitarian. I believe that history will eventually judge Carter fairly and well if also as something of a visionary, and this cinematic portrait is the first stage of his redemption.

TV Documentary: The French Revolution

Being mature (but I won’t say old) enough to recall the revolutionary strains within the 1960s counterculture and activism, this fairly cogent review of France’s 1789 overthrow of its monarchy and the aftermath provides a valuable cautionary about revolutions (and let’s not forget that what we call the American Revolution was in fact a war of independence). One can’t help but feel some comparisons between monarchist France and the growing US disparity between the rich and everyone else – a main skein in this year’s election – but it’s in the very nature of revolutions that they tumble from admirable spirit and purpose into the law of unintended consequences. Those who advocate radical political and social change must always keep in mind France’s Reign of Terror – and similar horrors in the wake of the revolutions in Russia and China.

Film: 2 Days in New York

Julie Delpy is best known as an actress (in films like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) but is also a talented screenwriter, director and singer-songwriter, all amply displayed in this utterly delightful comedy of manners and cultures clashing. Born and raised in France, she is the daughter of theatrical parents. Now a US resident, she makes much of the friction between the two national consciousnesses. The film finds her coupled with Chris Rock as an intellectual and artistic couple, Marion and Mingus, whose life together goes topsy-turvy with a visit from her father and sister and her tagalong boyfriend (who used to be Marion’s lover). Especially of note are Rock’s nuanced turn as an African-American alternative press journalist and radio show host with an Obama obsession and Delpy’s own father, theater director Albert Delpy, as her eccentric cinematic father. It’s a “small” movie rich with big laughs and touching but never mawkish moments, and one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen in ages.

Film: Bernie

Yet another comedy of manners and mores wrapped around an odd friendship between an ice cold wealthy widow (played by Shirley MacLaine) and a local undertaker (Jack Black) in a small East Texas town that turns murderous, based on a real-life case and directed by Rick Linklater (who directed Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.) Black delivers what may be his finest performance, bringing an all but literal physical light in the loafers quality to his portrayal of the nicest fellow in town who turns criminal and then carries on as if nothing happens until the town’s sheriff (Matthew McConaughey) finally finds proof of his murderous deed. Residents serve as a Greek chorus commenting on the story and characters with the realistic if archaic charm of rural Texans that only a Lone Star State native and resident like Linklater could nail with such accuracy.

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2012



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