When Hollywood does not understand what is happening, it shows up badly

This article was published in Oasis 22. Read the table of contents

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A coach crammed with immigrants winds its way between soldiers patrolling the city, leashed dogs at their side and weapons in hand. At the station entrances, great cages hold humans like animals, to the indifference of passers-by. A loudspeaker hammers out its obsessive message in an apocalyptic urban landscape: “England supports you and offers you refuge. Do not back terrorism!” When, in 2006, Children of Men (directed by Alfonso Cuarón) came out in the cinemas, its images (just like the words chosen by P.D. James, on whose novel the film was based) referred to a possible future scenario in 2027. The Mexican director had used wide-angle and sequence shots, filming the fiction as though it were a documentary. Less than ten years have passed and the news presents us with analogous images. Indeed, often cruder, like the scene snatched at the reception centre in Röszke, Hungary, where police were hurling pieces of bread to hundreds of hungry refugees. And when reality resembles science fiction too closely, the cinema passes.

In actual fact, there has been no trace at the cinema of the strategy of terror that in recent years has expelled Christians from Syria and Iraq and has been spreading to Libya, Kenya, Nigeria and a good part of the Middle East. And such fact is not that strange, if one thinks that in the hundred years since the Armenian genocide, the films dedicated to the subject can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Images telling of ISIS’s feats are not lacking, on the other hand. There are the television news reports, with the thousands of migrants who are knocking on Europe’s doors every day. And there are the images produced “in-house” by the jihadists who have organized three companies to produce videos destined for the West, the Arab world and, above all, the web: al-Hayat Media, founded in May 2014; al-Furqan Media, present in Iraq since 2006; and the Syrian Al I‘tisaam Media. The types of communication that invade the web and private living rooms are different: there are the images of terror – the cut-off heads, the alleged spies who are executed in the most atrocious ways and the children who shoot prisoners – and then there are the seductive images. The former serve to enlist jihadists from all over the world, the latter to reassure. They learn quickly, these men of the “Caliphate.” They have understood that terror does not always pay and have passed from the early photomontages, showing huge executioners and bowed victims in chains, to today’s captivating and very, very “social” “Mujatweets.” Mini-spots made of close-ups and fleeting images snatched in little markets or amidst family celebrations and edited in a flash. Security, peace and wellbeing: these spots suggest an idea of happiness not so far off our own. And never mind if a Kalashnikov appears amongst the fruit and kebabs every now and then.

Hollywood is silent or, if it does speak up, makes a fool of itself, partly because it does not understand much about what is happening. Cinema’s Mecca has always supported Obama, taking his image to dizzying heights. And now, just like its president, it is the last to understand that American support for the rebels in Syria has not weakened Assad but has strengthened ISIS; that the presence of Christians in the Middle East is not irrelevant if for no other reason than that, in the eyes of the terrorists, they represent the whole West; and that a few drones striking at random is not enough to resolve the situation. There is a need to think about afterwards, and that also goes for the old Europe that promises air raids in Syria and can’t manage her own borders. The alternative is Sly: and, sure enough, some people held their breath when Sylvester Stallone, after announcing the title of his new Rambo film, Last Blood, on Twitter, revealed that “a few teams working in Syria and Iraq where ISIS has its strongholds” would be collaborating with the local population in order to realise a film realer than real life. The statement went round the world in a few hours and then, fortunately, was disclaimed, just before ISIS took it seriously.

Not that America has totally forgotten 9/11. People still talk about terrorism, at least in the series that are broadcast by Fox television. But the enemy has no name, no face and no substance: the Islamist terrorist is the baddie of the moment rather than the worrying protagonist of global history. Paul Schrader’s film, Dying of the Light, is a perfect example of this. There’s Nicholas Cage, a CIA agent who is almost in retirement. Tortured by fundamentalists years earlier, he now gets angry with the services’ cynicism. The terrorist who had ripped off half his ear is still alive and is continuing to create trouble between Romania and Kenya. In the final confrontation, they seem like two punch-drunk boxers in the ring: and the metaphor that would have Cage suffering from senile dementia and Mohammed consumed by thalassaemia verges on the ridiculous. For both of them, nevertheless, the time for defending their identity and values has passed.

In short, failure is in the air and a cul de sac looms also for those who seem, at first sight, to be the winners. In this case, cinema helps us understand that the will to power, an obsession with control and the choice to strategize do not guarantee a happy ending. At Venice, for example, Turkey was represented not only by Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel prize-winner banned for having talked about the Armenian genocide, but also by Frenzy, Elmin Alper’s film in which two brothers spy on each other, the State is powerless to fight its own domestic terrorism and irrational extremism is on the increase. These are the consequences that are paid, in terms of identity, by a country suspected of playing double and triple games on the international chessboard.

A perfect contrappasso also for Iran who, thanks to the nuclear treaty desired by Obama, has won a first round with the revocation of economic sanctions. It is enough to see the latest film shot secretly by Jafar Panahi, the director legally banned from film-making for 20 years, to see that the days of the dictatorship’s prestige are numbered. Taxi Teheran is splendid. Panahi made it with a mobile phone, smuggled it to Berlin on a USB pen drive and won the Golden Bear. It tells the story of a day’s ordinary madness in a taxi driving around the capital. Two passengers discuss whether the recent pickpocket hangings can serve to reduce crime. A pirate DVD-seller offers forbidden films: Allen, Kurosawa and Kim Ki-duk. Believing himself to be on the verge of death, a man injured in an accident records his last wishes and leaves his house to his wife who, by law, could not have inherited. The man survives but the woman will call the taxi driver several times, asking for the recording. One never knows. Finally, Panahi’s lawyer gets into the taxi. She’s going to see a girl who is on hunger strike in prison, where she has been detained for a hundred days for trying to get into the stadium with other female friends who love basketball. The lawyer has a beautiful smile and a bunch of roses: the film ends with the perfection of a single flower, captured just a moment before her mobile phone is stolen by one of the regime’s spies. A single shot of beauty in this desperate, upside-down world.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Oasis International Foundation

To cite this article

Printed version:
Emma Neri, “Cinema remains Silent if Reality surpasses Science Fiction”, Oasis, year XI, n. 22, November 2015, pp. 140-142.

Online version:
Emma Neri, “Cinema remains Silent if Reality surpasses Science Fiction”, Oasis [online], published on 28th January 2016, URL: https://www.oasiscenter.eu/en/cinema-remains-silent-if-reality-surpasses-science-fiction.