What I Peeped: Day Six

April 9, 2008 at 4:47 am 1 comment

I Just Didn’t Do It (Masayui Suo, Japan): Just as The Death of Mr. Lazarescu let you experience the near-real-time demise of a sickly man shuffled through Romania’s health care system, so does Suo’s insanely patient drama let you experience Japan’s criminal court system, what with its 99.9% conviction rate. After being mistakenly tagged for groping a 15-year old on a packed-to-the-gills subway car, a young man (Ryo Kase) insists on his innocence, even when a quick guilty plea would send him back onto the streets with a slap on the wrist. And so begins a lengthy and expensive trial, the joke being that innocence in Japanese courts is partly based on whether or not you actually plead innocent. The defense at one point states that the occurrence, which happened quickly and confusingly, requires a “deliberate and calm analysis.” That’s exactly what you get, with occasional slips into polemic (the judge is caught sleeping during final statements, etc.), but mostly remains a simulation of the frustration of a long trial, where the same already -answered issues – the jacket caught in the door, the not-terribly-incriminating pornography found in his apartment, why he got off at the wrong stop, etc. – crop up over and over again like weeds.

doesn\'t she look like Hanna Schygulla?

Alexandra (Alexander Sokurov, Russia): The latest from Russia’s experimental (or sometimes just plain gimmicky) Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark, The Sun) is his Statement on War, with a frail old lady (Galina Vishnevskaya) visiting her grandson at his base in the midst of the Chechen war. But apart from some unsubtle symbolism (Vishnevskaya is Mother Russia, looking out of place in war) and a couple not-so-offhand inquiries on why humans tussle so, it’s closer to a reverie than agitprop. Though Vishnevskaya, one of her homeland’s premiere opera divas, doesn’t sing – in fact, rarely rises above a barely detectable gutteral mumble – Alexandra remains very musical. Sokurov covers the film, nearly head to toe, in mournful classical music (mostly Mahler, I believe) and the film, with its minimal plotting and lightly forceful message, feels like a Mahler symphony – steady but bottomlessly mournful.

Secrecy (Peter Galison & Robb Moss, USA):
Calm, collected and not entirely partisan, this doc traces the history of classified information to its origins in the 1940s to its troubling rise post-9/11. Despite assembling talking heads from both sides of the debate, there’s never a doubt where Galison and Moss’s allegiances lie; one operative seems on hand chiefly to fill the stereotype of government officials as latent fascists. (Does this windbag say something to the effect that he supports a free press but wishes they weren’t so darned free? Sure does!) But even if Secrecy could stand to be more of a debate, it’s priceless all the same, asking troubling questions and often getting troubling answers. The disturbing, though oddly refreshing, frankness of ex-CIA Jerusalem bureau chief Melissa Boyle Mahle particularly raises the hair on the back of the neck, even when she’s not remarking that the real tragedy of Abu Ghraib was that the participants weren’t torturing people for intelligence purposes. Most of all Secrecy makes a gung-ho stand for accountability in government, if not for moral and ethical reasons then at least for practical ones. As one talking head notes, it was government secrecy that prevented people from connecting the dots before 9/11. After all, he says, there weren’t enough dots to connect.

Tomorrow (hopefully): In the Arms of My Enemy, I.O.U.S.A., Dust and whatever turns out be the “Mystery Film.”

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Entry filed under: Reviews.

Picks, Pans, All That – Day Six: Tuesday, April 8 Picks, Pans, All That – Day (Ulp!) Seven: Wednesday, April 9

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