2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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Saturday, February 08, 2003
I feel too exhausted to write something new, so I´ve decided to translate my article on the films in Rotterdam (I also wrote one on the exhibitions, which besides an interesting companion piece to the Pat O'Neill included a cool installation buy Guy Maddin and a way too small, but fascinating tribute to Tati). Films that I also saw and did not have room to mention there include: 3rd World Hero, a brilliant history-cum-film-satire from the Philippines; Deadly Outlaw: Rekka by Takashi Miike, which is in the Dead or Alive-mode very much, but the mixture of pathos and cynicism worked on me for the first time, maybe thanks to the soundtrack - an ingenious blend of Japanese 70s-Heavy Metal-impersonation and Morricone riffs on a cheesy synthesizer; the lyrical 70s Western Monte Walsh (mint copy); the minimalistic Italian mafia drama Angela (shades of R 'Xmas, but decidedly lesser, still small and muscular); many Maddin shorts (and the hilarious doc about him, Waiting for Twilight; Petter Metler's epic trance-essay Gambling, Gods and LSD; Les Diables (I'm not sure it's good - shades of the execrable Lilja 4-ever, but without its false sentimentality and a few grand Hollywood gestures thrown in instead -, it's certainly enormously powerful at times) - and of course every other Brisseau movie I saw (made all but three). Based on having seen only the middle entry, On the Run, of Belvaux' La trilogie, I declare it painstakingly elaborate and depressingly uninteresting craftsmanship. (It was like Melville without a soul, but what makes Melville, of course, is the soul).So it goes:

A small screening room, filled to the last seat. The film's over. Director Jean-Claude Brisseau, a bear of a man, rises, stumbles to the front. "I haven't seen this movie in 17 years", he says. In English, with heavy French accent, almost moved to tears, "it's a strange film, no?"
The Rotterdam Film festival honors three filmmakers with retrospectives: Indian humanist Girish Kasaravalli, who's been influenced by Satyajit Ray, Canadian silents-lover Guy Maddin whose eclectic and amusing oeuvre can be seen in Vienna this April, and Brisseau - cineastes whose works are too obstinate or remote to stand much of a chance in the hectic everyday operations of distribution (or major festivals).

Brisseau, especially, works in a territory close to madness - but not playful-melodramatic like Maddin, but with the monumental, no-nonsense impact of the obsessed artist:Un jeu brutal, his official debut from 1983 and above-cited "strange film", for instance explores the draconic education of a paralyzed girl side-to-side with a senseless murder spree of her dad (Bruno Cremer, Brisseaus alter ego in quite a few movies). Not as a thriller, though, rather as a perversly twisted coming-of-age-tale: Only when the girl realizes that her abhorred father is crazy - and she probably all too much like him - the girl becomes docile
Brisseau's new film Choses secrets daringly walks the line between sexual teasing and operatically enhanced comedy-cum-overheated-melodrama
Here, too, he portrays man in a state beyond grace: A stripper and a barmaid, both young and delicious, embark with relish upon a series of erotic power games with snappy power-manager types. It starts off like gender-reversed, better shot Neil LaBute, but Brisseau drops the masty act on the way and - with paradoxical grandeur - presents the human being as pathetic creature in the throes of desire and addiction.
In the finale it's only a threat of self-immolation from the orgy to a deadly shot. With opera music pitched at maximum volume. And always borderiing on camp. But Brisseau obviously believes in it; he is deeply honest. The defective happy end is just the ultimate perversion, not to mention the precise mise-enscène in the midtst of turmoil.
Brisseau, with his singular mix of classical French cinema d'auteur, formal exactitude and peculiar obsessions, probably only accessible via the entire body of work, is a director made for Rotterdam, a festival that easily brings avantgarde and Hollywood, art and commerce together.

Interestingly enough, there's still room to discover films that might go unnoticed at other festivals: Matteo Garrone's L'Imbalsamatore, a fascinating psycho-triangle, charting complex emotions in front of deserted Southern Italian holiday resort with an unsettling, unpredictable combination of black comedy and thriller echoes, is a case in point. Even Paul Thomas Anderson, who's here tpo present Punch-Drunk Love, a charming piece of artifice that has Adam Sandler collide with Emily Watson in the nirvana of modernity, gives the public nerd questions at the Q&A (Sandlerian) short shrift and preferrably resorts to recommending Hukkle, an almost wordless, amusing sound symphony from Hungary.
A symphony of quite different caliber is to be found in the avantgarde section: #18, Mahagonny, the mythical last film of legendary experimental filmmaker and folk music anthologist Harry Smith, has been restored.
The screen is separated into four images (originally, this was 4 16mmm-projections at the same time, orchestrated by Smith, the restoration puts all four screens on one 35mm-copy), some of which can be just black for a time. A universal translation of the Brecht-Weill opera was what Smith intended (understandable to Europeans and Eskimos alike). His opus fluctuates between hallucinatory, caleidoscopic effects and hermetic structuralism - and only Smith, who claimed to have listened to his "Mahagonny"-record for 20 years in a row, knew the code for the visual metaphors.
While Lotte Lenya sings as Jenny, toy blocks of all shapes pile up mysteriously or a dump gets recycled via the wonder of film wound backwards, then the film returns into big city symphony mode: New York, the Seventies. Alternatingly unnerving and awe-inspiring, #18, Mahagonny is as enigmatic as it was before its rediscovery

Not easygoing either, but a lot more accessible is The Decay of Fiction, a study by Pat O'Neill that manages to be mythological and very concrete at the same time. It consists of fascinating time-lapse shots of the Hotel Ambassador in L.A are being haunted by the phantoms of the past (in real time). The once fabled meeting point of Hollywoods society is empty, degenerated, but transparent figures float through the corridors, re-enacting movie scenes, providing eerie ambience or pointing to historical events (like the assassination of Bobby Kennedy).
O'Neills computer-generated camera moves are breathtaking, the demands of his movie interactive: narrative chunks only partly cohere, the feeling of decay is dominant even in the form. The Decay of Fiction is possibly the most arresting film in Rotterdam, not only because it keeps its secrets to itself, but also because of its decidedly unique mood: Where no living creatures are left whose hearts could be broken, a purely spiritual melancholy is all that remains.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

The Tall T

The Cinematheque Budd Boetticher retrospective continued with perhaps the best known of the Randolph Scott-Budd Boetticher-Burt Kennedy Westerns, 1957’s The Tall T. It is probably best known today because it is based on a story by the writer Elmore Leonard, who began his career in the 1950s by writing Western stories (that, and it wasn’t considered lost like the superior Seven Men From Now). The film is both similar to the earlier film, in terms of it’s moral universe (the Ranown Cycle of Westerns are often credited with introducing moral and sexual ambiguity, as well as an marked increase in the brutality, to the genre, thus paving the way for the revisionist Westerns of the 1960s and 1970s by the likes of Leone, Peckinpah, and Eastwood) and some stylistic elements (much of the movie takes place in one setting, an encampment in the New Mexico wilderness, which includes a crude hut burrowed into the side of some rocky crags), again clocking in at a lean, mean 77 minutes, as well as maintaining the even, unhurried, professional, somewhat austere tone.

One of the crucial differences is in the initial characterization of Randolph Scott’s character, who, in this film, is named Pat Brennan. There are several reasons for this difference: well for one, unlike Seven Men From Now, The Tall T does not begin in media res, and is much more upfront in the back story department, than the stingier Seven Men From Now. There is roughly 15-20 minutes of exposition before the film launches into it’s main plot, and during that time, we learn a lot of the character of Pat Brennan. For one thing, he’s quite talkative and genial (at least at first), unlike the driven, stoic Ben Stride, even going as far as to buy some stick candy for the stationmaster’s son (which leads to some rather comic moments, because in the first part of the film, this big, burly cowboy is continually holding a bag of candy, prompting some rather bizarre looks from the townspeople). We also learn that Pat Brennan has recently bought himself a stake, near the Sassapeake Creek (which is near the copper-mining town of Contention, where the railroads are encroaching, threatening to put the local stage coach line out of business; though never seen in the film, railroads are often seen as a sign of progress in Westerns, encroaching civilization; it must be noted that Brennan lives entirely alone, far from town, in the wilderness), to the consternation of his former ranch boss, 10-40, because, as we learn, Brennan was the best “ramrod” in the territory. But it is also in this part of the movie, that Brennan loses his horse in a bet with 10-40 over a bull, thus necessitating Brennan joining up with the chartered stage coach, which drives the rest of the plot.

Like in Seven Men From Now, The Tall T, also sets up a triumvirate of masculinity similar to the Stride-Greer-Masters triangle of the former film. In Contention, we are introduced to the dandyish Willard Mims, an extremely nervous and talkative Easterner, who looks faintly ridiculous in his light blue suit, especially when compared with the rugged, dusty Brennan (the old codger who drives the stage coach, Rintoon, notes that he is an “accountant,” saying it with bemused contempt). The morning that the film begins, Willard Mims has married Doretta, the daughter of a local copper baron, played by a plain jane, well actually Jane herself, Maureen O’Sullivan. Everyone knows that Willard married her for the money, and that if it wasn’t for him, she would be on the road to being an “old maid.” And while everyone else seems to think of her as rather plain and marmish (she dresses like a schoolmarm IMO), Brennan thinks she is pretty. The third part of the triumvirate is met later in the film, Usher, the leader of the three bandits that hijack the Mim’s chartered stage coach (which is driven by Rintoon, and carries a horse-less Brennan). Usher is another dark doppleganger, like Ben Masters, though the film is less explicit in making that connection. Still, the two of them share a similar moral code and a wary respect for each other (Usher spares Brennan from execution because he likes him; that and their shared fear of loneliness, has led many writers to comment on the homoerotic undertones of these relationships, especially since Randolph Scott was a closeted homosexual); if it wasn’t for a bad-break in Wyoming (which is alluded to, but never explained), Usher could have been as successful as Brennan, with his own stake, and vice versa (the film earlier hinted at Brennan potential dark side when he punched-out his replacement at 10-40’s ranch, out of anger and wounded pride). Usher is actually fairly envious of the life that Brennan has made for himself (though he is never spiteful, at one point, he asks Brennan to ride with him).

Usher is the leader of a trio of bandits; he’s the relatively normal one, actually claiming to never have shot anyone (though he’s ordered more than a few deaths in his time). The other two pretty much psychopaths, taking pleasure in the pain and death they bring, though they are not very smart. Billy Jack is perhaps the dumbest, and ironically virginal, while the unfortunately named Chink (played by Henry Silva, who apparently played every evil Asian role in the 1950s and 1960s) is the expert with the guns, quick and lethal. Usher confesses to Brennan that he not only doesn’t trust Billy Jack and Chink (wonder why), but he doesn’t particularly like them. When asked by Brennan why he rides with them, he replies that he doesn’t want to be lonely.

Loneliness is a constant refrain in the film, almost from the start. When Brennan rides up to the way station, the stationmaster confesses that he is lonely out in the wilderness, and that being lonely is no way to live. Characters constantly remark that Brennan lives alone at his stake, and while Brennan seems to shrug it off, you can tell that the loneliness is starting to effect him also. Other major characters are motivated by loneliness also, including the before mentioned Usher, as well as Doretta. She knew that Mims married her for her father’s money, but she would rather have been married to a man who didn’t love her, than be alone. It’s interesting that much of the film takes place in a virtual wasteland, with barely anyone in sight (the film basically becomes a 5-6 person chamber piece once the film moves to it’s main setting), the wide expanse of land, emphasizing isolation, reflecting the character’s psychology.

The plot of the movie is fairly simple. When the stage coach arrives at the way station, Brennan and the Mims are captured (Rintoon is shot dead by Chink); it is at this point, that the Randolph Scott character becomes more like his earlier Seven Men From Now incarnation, becoming more reserved, stoic, speaking only when necessary. Willard Mims on the other hand, becomes all blubbering, and in a bid to save his own life, confesses to Usher about his wife’s position, and the potential ransom. Willard’s actions earn contempt from both Usher and Brennan (as well as Doretta, once she finds out about his duplicity), but Usher agrees to go along with the plan, sending Billy Jack to accompany Mims back to Contention, to arrange the ransom (he is chaperoned because Usher doesn’t trust him to actually go into town and arrange the ransom; there is another great rhetorical question that is answered, when Mims asks Usher whether he is the sort of man who would sell out his wife, and Usher replies “Yes.”)

Usher and Chink take Brennan and Doretta back to their encampment to wait; knowing that certain death awaits him, even though Usher is letting him live, Brennan silently plots to keep himself and Doretta alive, as well as how to outwit the bandits, which isn’t that hard, considering the low IQs of Billy Jack and Chink. Usher is a different creature; in one of the more interesting moments of the film, Usher orders Chink to shoot the fleeing Mims in the back (this is after the arrangements for the ransom have been made; Usher just allows Mims the option of leaving; when the cowardly Mims does so, barely thinking of his wife, or Brennan, he seals his fate), Brennan protests (though not vehemently) noting that Usher went along with Mims’s plan. The angry Usher spits back “If you can’t see the difference, I ain’t explainin’.” And with Willard out of the way, Doretta begins to become smitten with Brennan.

The film is actually quite brutal for a film made in 1957. Just run through the litany of carnage that is the film:

*The kindly stationmaster and his young son (who is probably around 10) are brutally murdered, off-screen, their bodies unceremoniously dropped in the well.

*Rintoon goes for his gun, and is shot dead by a hidden Chink. As his body falls to the ground, Chink continues to fire, emptying his gun into Rintoon’s corpse. His body too, is dropped into the well.

*A fleeing Willard Mims is shot in the back with a rifle by Chink.

*After Usher and Chink go to collect the ransom, leaving Billy Jack to guard their prisoners, Brennan goads Billy Jack into entering the hut, telling him that both Usher and Chink have had their way with Doretta. It’s all a distraction, as Doretta, with her blouse unbuttoned acts seductively to keep Billy Jack’s attention away from Brennan. Then Brennan jumps Billy Jack and they struggle over a shot gun. It goes off, blowing Billy Jack’s head off. His body remains in a pool of blood for the rest of the movie (in Technicolor!)

*Brennan ambushes Chink, surprising and shooting him (he has Doretta discharge all six shots of her revolver, prompting Chink to come out of hiding). Chink spins around and falls to the ground, and attempts to crawl to another gun. Brennan continues to fire, shooting Chink in the back.

*After Usher returns to find Billy Jack and Chink dead, as well as an armed Brennan, he drops the ransom money and begins to walk away. Brennan warns him not to, but doesn’t try to stop him (this is actually a very tense, well directed scene, I half expected Brennan to plug Usher). Usher saddles up and begins to ride away, but after rounding a rocky bend, he pulls out a hidden rifle and charges back into camp. However, Brennan, expecting this, is ready, and shoots Usher in the face with a shotgun, putting out his eyes. A blinded Usher writhes in pain on the ground, blindly flailing for a weapon, before expiring in the dirt.

Of course, with everyone dead, except for Doretta and Brennan, the film ends on an ostensibly happy note, with the two of them embracing, walking off into the distance, presumably to ward off the plague of loneliness (everyone except for Doretta and Brennan who expressed thoughts about feeling lonely being dead) by living together at Brennan’s stake. All in all, the film was very good, but not as interesting as Seven Men From Now, with a better drawn doppleganger (and let’s face it, Richard Boone is no Lee Marvin), tragic redemption (for Greer anyway), and less upbeat ending. Still, The Tall T is an excellent Western, and I look forward to the continuing retrospective.

Elmore Leonard on The Tall T - The following is an excerpt from an interview with Leonard that appeared in Film Comment (interview conducted by Patrick McGilligan, March-April 1998):

How About The Tall T (57)?

That was a novella in Argosy, which sold to Hollywood fairly quickly. I found out later that Batjac, John Wayne’s company had bought it originally, and then something happened and he passed it on to Randolph Scott and [producer] Harry Joe Brown. They also added about twenty minutes onto the front end, which I thought gave it an awfully slow opening.

And again you had nothing to do with the people in Hollywood who made the movie?

No. I saw that one in a screening room with Detroit newspaper critics. I remember the film coming to the part where Randolph Scott has Maureen O’Sullivan lure Skip Homeier into the cave. Randolph Scott comes in and faces Skip Homeier, who has a sawed-off shot gun in his hand. One of the critics said “Here comes the obligatory fistfight.” But Randolph Scott grabs the shotgun, sticks it under Skip Homeier’s chin, pulls the trigger, and the screen goes red [Shroomy’s note: I don’t remember the insertion of red frames, I’m pretty sure they cut to Doretta]. They didn’t say anything after that.


Did you get to meet Randolph Scott?

Yes, he came to Detroit to promote the picture and we were interviewed together for radio. I remember at the end he said to one of his aides, “Do you think I should wear my cowboy outfit to the theater premiere tonight?” I said, “No! God, no!” But he wasn’t asking me.

Did he look askance at you?

I think he did.


Question of the Week

This question of the week was prompted by an article that appeared in the LA Times, concerning the current state of film critics, and critics in general, in today's culture. You can read it here. Whatever the merits of the author's arguments, I thought that the article could serve the purpose of generating some discussion on film criticism. So onto the new question of the week. Remember, this question is open to all blog members as well as readers. This week's question is....

What do you think should be the role of film critics in todays film culture? Why do you think that the role of criticism has seemingly diminished over time? And what is your relationship to film criticism, or how do you relate to a critic and his or her work?

Sunday, February 02, 2003
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp I have fallen in love with another Powell and Pressburger film. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp begins in 1943 with a message delivered to initiate an army exercise: "War starts at midnight." Rather than play by the rules, the gung-ho soldiers storm the Turkish baths several hours before midnight and capture the opposition, including its leader, Brigadier General Clive Candy (a/k/a Colonel Blimp). Athough the film was not actually inspired by the political cartoon, Powell and Pressburger got permission from Blimp's creator, David Low, to appropriate his likeness and name for the film. I had never heard of Colonel Blimp before viewing the documentary material on the Criterion DVD, which includes a number of Low's cartoons, but the image of an aging British military man with rotund figure, walrus mustache, and gruff voice is a familiar caricature.

The Turkish baths were a popular setting for the cartoon Blimp, and Powell uses it to wonderful effect at the beginning of Life and Death. After being told that he will be a prisoner of war until 6 a.m., Candy (Roger Livesey) enters a long pool at the baths and emerges from the other end 40 years younger -- a rambunctious officer on leave from the Boer Wars and honored with a Victoria Cross, so we know he's brave. He runs off to Berlin intent on countering anti-British propaganda, where he instead comes close to starting an international incident that can only be resolved by a duel and a faux romance with Deborah Kerr (who plays three characters in the film). Even if naive, the young Candy is heroic, zealous, well-intentioned and charming. His reluctant adversary, soon to be friend, in the duel is portrayed by Anton Walbrook, who is fantastic. He may be better here than he was in The Red Shoes. In a series of three acts, we watch Candy grow into middle age during World War I and elderly obsolescence in World War II. Both for Livesey's performance and the make-up (which beats the hell out of A Beautiful Mind), it's a remarkable transformation. The only time I've been more impressed by an aging job on film was the first time Jennifer Ehle's character appeared in old age in Sunshine, until I realized I was seeing Rosemary Harris.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was controversial when it was released in 1943 for its unflattering depiction of a British officer and its sympathetic portrayal of German soldier, as well as for its message that to defeat something as evil as Hitler and Naziism, it was necessary to fight dirty. Of course, we did fight dirty in World War II. Even before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bombing of civilian targets had become common on both sides. I'm not convinced that the fire-bombing of Dresden was necessary to defeat Hitler, but the film offered an interesting perspective in light of current events. Politics aside, Blimp's portrayal of an honorable man who foolishly clings to outdated traditions resonates on its own terms. During the middle age section of the film, when Candy brings his new bride to the London house he inheirited from his favorite aunt, she makes him promise never to change, "not till the flood comes." At the end of the film, she's dead, Candy has just been humiliated in the exercise gone wrong and his home has been demolished by an air raid. The footprint of the house is filled with water and Candy observes, "I didn't change. The flood came and I didn't change." Cynical irony may be today's filmaker's stock-in-trade, but not gut-wrenching irony like this.

There are several speech speeches in the film, but they are almost all delivered by Walbrook with such finesse that one barely notices the speechifying. In one of the film's most moving scenes, he tries to explain to an immigration official why he wants to return to England, a country he previously visited only as a prisoner of war. He broke my heart.

Livesey and Walbrook are both extraordinary in this film. Kerr is no Wendy Hiller, but she's fine and beautiful.

Some Short Thoughts on Francois Ozon's 8 Women

I am not sure that Ozon likes women, but he likes actresses - Catherine Deneuve

What to make of this film? Certainly, to me at least, it was a let down after last year's masterpiece, Under the Sand. But then again, I generally do not like excercises in irony, for irony sake, and as far as Neo-Sirkian films go, Todd Hayne's Far From Heaven beats this film hands down (even though this film directly references All That Heaven Allows early in the film). Born out of a frustrated desire to remake Cukor's 1939 film The Women (according to S&S the rights to that material are held by Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts), but instead adapted from some lesser known French play from the 1960s, 8 Women stars, well eight women, most of whom are luminaries in French film, that all have dark secrets and motives which may have led them to kill the only man in the house (who remains off camera for most of the film, and when we do see him, it's from the back). Ozon makes no attempts to hide the film's theatricality or artificiality, from the obviously painted winter backdrops, through the bizzarre musical numbers (where each actress sings some French pop song and does some basic choreography), to the final curtain call. That and the action is mostly confined to one, oppulent set, with characters that are immaculately coifed and dressed (with helpful color-coding, introduced in the credits; each actress name appears on screen, along with a flower, whose petals match their clothing). The increasingly melodramatic revelations (let's see, there was theft, infidelity, frigidity, lesbianism, vamping, prostitution, murder, incest, and that's just the start) pretty much shoots for absurdity straight out of the gate, allowing a level of bitchiness, catfighting, scheming, lying, conniving, shrewishness etc., etc. that would make the writers of Dynasty blush (actually, think of several seasons of Dynasty or Dallas compressed into a two-hour span). That these fairly horrible women drive an apparently good man to despair and suicide, only leaves a bitter impression with the audience, even if the entire thing is one big joke.

And while all the actresses give various degrees of mannered and campy performances, I wish they all would have pushed it over the edge like Isabelle Huppert, who played a character so manic and wound-up I thought her head was going to explode, and Danielle Darrieux (to a lesser extent) who played her miserly, lying, alcoholic, murderess with a sublime twinge of goofiness. Nope, I'm not really sure I liked this film, even if it did feature Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant making out (Virginie Ledoyen and Emmanuelle Beart, well that's another story, viva la France!)


Secret Ballot

A crate lands on a remote island off the coast of Iran. (I believe it’s in the Arabian Sea or the Gulf of Oman from the number of waves.) There is a strange structure which turns out to be a mattress with a sunshade above it. No sign of life. The viewer starts lengthening his attention span.

Finally a soldier finds the box and discovers that it contains a voting box and orders to wait for a government agent to come. He wakes up the man on the mattress and takes his place, shunting the guarding job to him. The two men are there to stop smuggling, so this second soldier is not too pleased to have to take time off from his job to help the agent.

Finally the government agent arrives, and, astonishingly, the agent is a woman. Impossible! The guard is shocked. But she finally convinces him. You see, in these remote areas, instead of having people travel to the voting booth, the government sends agents to take the voting box to them. Since the area is remote and may be dangerous, the agent needs a guard, especially since she is a woman, and, as we find out, that makes a big difference.

The film follows her and the guard around the island as they collect the votes of bewildered, confused, and reluctant voters. She has to be back at the beach at 5:00 to be collected or the votes will be void, but the day is mostly unhurried. That’s basically the whole movie; it turns into a travelogue. It comes close to being plotless, and for a while I thought it was. The plot is in the interstices.

This is an odd movie by western standards. We learn very little about the woman’s background, other than she is from the big city. We never even learn her name. She wears long, flowing robes and a black cloak, so that all we see is her face and hands. For all that she is a chatterbox, she really doesn’t give much information about herself. We realize that she is an idealist, that she has a naïve appreciation of the ability of people to improve themselves through the voting booth through their representatives, even if many of them don’t even know for whom they’re voting. (Pat Buchanan got 6000 votes in this precinct.) She is a walking challenge to stereotypes. We learn that a woman is not permitted to collect votes, a woman is not permitted to drive, a woman cannot enter a certain part of a cemetery, that a woman cannot vote for herself, that a woman cannot talk to a man unless her man is present, etc., etc. Except, of course, when the stereotypes are broken. We learn that women are veiled even when they don’t wear the veil. (Most of the women are not veiled in the movie.)

We also learn that at least one woman runs her own government in one part of the island. We also learn that, for an island that really doesn’t seem that large and is desolate, that there are a bewildering number of subcultures existing together. I remember how isolation is one of the creative forces behind the creation of species, and that islands are the home to many unique and strange species.

We learn how idealism compromises when faced with reality, and how practicality is transformed when confronted with idealism.

Secret Ballot is not going to be to many people’s taste. If you like a straightforward story, close to the surface, this may bore you. A sort of love develops between the soldier and the woman, but again it is understated. There are lots of little mysteries, like what a red light is doing in a crossroads in the middle of a desert. (I just realized the symbolism of that scene as I was writing that sentence—the plot is indeed in the interstices.) A lot of these mysteries are probably not mysteries if you’re Iranian. I spent a lot of the movie wondering what on earth the herd animals found to eat in this wilderness.

A word on an odd habit of the director. I mentioned that long first shot and how long it takes for something to happen. There are a number of scenes like that. For some reason, he likes to shoot some scenes from a long distance away, so that (at least on the DVD), the people are tiny and it’s difficult to see what’s going on. I assume this effect is intentional and I hope he (or is it she) gets over it soon.