Posts Tagged ‘Doc’

Navalny (2022) Oscar | Best Documentary Feature | Tribute

Dir.: Daniel Roher; Documentary with Alexei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, Dasha Navalny, Zakhar Navalny; USA 2022, 98 min.

When Canadian documentary filmmaker Daniel Roher met Bulgarian investigative journalist Christo Grozev, they had different agendas in mind. But the poisoning of Alexei Navalny (*1976) on 20.8.2020 in the Xander Hotel in Tomsk, changed everything. Suddenly Roher was sitting opposite Navalny to discuss a film that could be his epitaph. And it has turned out to be for the dissident politician who languished in a Russian penal colony on bogus charges, and has now sadly died.

Navalny had led two different political organisations – “Russia of the Future” and the “Progress Party” – and neither were permitted to run in the 2018 Presidential Elections on account of “Corruption charges” as well as accusations of “Embezzlement”, according to Putin-controlled jurisdiction.

But Putin and the FSB (a new name for the old KGB) were not finished with Navalny. Agents of the FSB poisoned his boxer shorts with the nerve agent novichok (known as LP9 Love potion No. 9 in the FSB handbook). On the flight from Omsk to Moscow Navalny suffered convulsions. His life was saved by an emergency landing in Omsk where he was treated in hospital where Roher and his crew met the dissident and his wife Yulia. They declined to be photographed preferring to maintain the image of a strong and healthy politician in the public imagination. A few days later Novalny was flown to Berlin for further treatment, where the novichok diagnosis was confirmed. The recovering Navalny could only laugh about the attack: “How stupid, they can’t be so stupid”. But they were.

At home in his Black Forest retreat Alexei, his family and the film team discovered, with the help of hackers, the names of the four FSB operatives involved in the assassination attempt. In late December, Navalny put a call through to them, impersonating a leading officer of the FSB, wanting to discuss “what went wrong” during the ‘operation’. The first three agents declined to talk to Alexei, one even pointing out he knew the real identity of the caller. But the forth member, Konstantin Kudryavstev, was only too willing to talk, and confessed that without the emergency landing in Omsk, the victim would have died. A few hours more in the air, without help and the antidote “would have done the trick” according to Kudryavstev. “He is dead, the poor man is dead”, exclaimed Alexei after the end of their phone conversation. He has now shared the same fate.

On January 17th 2021, Navalny was back in Moscow. At Vnukovo airport, huge crowds gathered to welcome back their hero and his family. The authorities quickly diverted the plane to Sheremetyevo, and even though supporters crowded round the disembarking politician, the authorities prevailed and Alexei was arrested on arrival.

His original punishment for the alleged embezzlement and contempt of court was two years and eight months. But since then Putin’s regime has come up with a nine-year sentence, to be served in a maximum security prison. All the organisations Alexei belonged to have now been declared “extremist” and are therefore illegal. Despite all this, Navalny started a hunger strike, only ending when he was on death’s door. After the start of the Ukraine invasion by Russia, he sent out messages from the penal colony, condemning the war.

DoP Niki Walti uses his often handheld camera to great effect, particularly in the scenes when Alexei engages with the corrupt FSB agents. Perhaps, Roher could have forced Navalny more on the extreme nationalist part of his coalition. But overall his film is a coup extraordinaire: the audience bearing witness to living history: to a man’s courage, and the cowardliness of the murderous organisation known as the FSB. Echoes are already sounding in Ukraine on a daily basis. A remarkable document and a worthy winner at the year’s Academy Awards 2023. AS


Victory of the Faith | Der Sieg des Glaubens (1933)

Dir: Leni Riefenstahl | Germany, Doc 64’

One gets a sense of déjà vu all the way through this trial run for Triumph des Willens, as so many of its images were deliberately recreated by Leni Riefenstahl a year later for the more famous film, which also reuses Herbert Windt’s music; although sadly there is no zeppelin in Triumph des Willens.

In addition to being almost exactly half the running time of the interminable ‘Triumph’, it’s the mismatches and the occasional moments of spontaneity that makes Der Sieg des Glaubens the more endurable of the two films. The presence throughout of Ernst Röhm is naturally the most remarkable feature; usually at Hitler’s side but otherwise not unduly prominent (the film overall contains mercifully far less speeches – and marching – although there do seem to be rather more shots of Goebbels this time round).

After years of being accustomed to seeing the aerial view of the threesome of Hitler, Himmler and Lutze (Röhm’s tame replacement as head of the SA) approaching the Ehrenhalle in ‘Triumph’, the sight of just Hitler and Röhm giving the salute comes as a jolt. The presence of Vice-Chancellor Papen (soon to be sidelined by the Führer until collared by the Allies in 1945 and brought back to Nuremberg as one of the defendants) reminds us that this is still very early days for the New Order, and Riefenstahl occasionally cuts to a suitably overwhelmed looking Italian delegation.



image coutesy of @wikiwand.

Two amusing moments depicting the Führer caught slightly off-guard are early on when he immediately thrusts a bouquet of flowers two little girls have just presented him with in Rudolf Hess’s direction; and the unaccustomed slouching posture he adopts while the leader of the Hitler Youth, Baldur von Schirach, attempts to quieten them down so that he can begin his address.@Richard Chatten


Letter to Jane: An Investigation About a Still (1972)

Dir: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin | With Marlon Brando, Moshe Dayan, James Dean, Maria Falconetti | Doc, 52′

Letter to Jane is a 1972 French postscript film to Tout Va Bien directed by the same duo (under the auspices of the Dziga Vertov Group). It came as quite a surprise to me to realise that I had until recently never actually seen this much-discussed polemic from Godard’s radical phase. The fact that the commentary was delivered by Godard himself and Jean-Pierre Gorin in English was another surprise, as I had no idea that Godard spoke English.

As the film progressed I became angrier and angrier at the fact that Godard & Gorin never drew back to let us see the whole photograph for ourselves. Early on in the film (before we’ve had time to get our bearings), a slightly fuller version of the picture appears as part of the original ‘L’Express’ article in which it appeared; so we know that the picture extends further than Godard & Gorin subsequently permit us to see – but we never see the picture in anything approaching its entirety ever again.

Instead Godard & Gorin show us only what they want us to see, while on the soundtrack they didactically ramble on and on; mercilessly bludgeoning the audience with egregious digressions, non sequiturs and name-dropping. It’s as if some officious bore were sitting opposite you holding an 8 by 10 copy of the original picture which they insist on describing to you in great but selective detail; but every time you try to get it off them so you can have a look at it for yourself pulls away and never lets you have it.

This sort of stunt might have worked during the seventies when you were seated in a cinema and couldn’t replay any of the film on DVD or YouTube. But thanks to the internet, as soon as I got home after the screening I was able to immediately look up the full uncropped picture on Google Images; and the enormity of Godard & Gorin’s offense was revealed. Godard & Gorin go on and on AND ON in a wildly speculative fashion (confident assertions beginning “In fact” or “We couldn’t help observing” or “We have proved” rubbing shoulders with frequent caveats like “We think” and “In our opinion”) about the man in the white shirt in the background with his face grainily blown up to show only him; and yet almost completely ignore the man in the pith helmet in the foreground that Fonda is actually concentrating upon. Furthermore, nobody watching Letter to Jane ever sees that on the right of the original photograph there is in fact another woman listening; and only at the beginning of the film can we see that Fonda is holding a camera.

So it’s a bit rich of Godard & Gorin to sanctimoniously accuse ‘L’Express’ of deliberate lying and manipulation while they themselves are throughout wilfully withholding information from the viewer. Richard Chatten

LETTER TO JANE is available in US/CANADA on The Criterion Channel 

A Glitch in the Matrix (2021) Dogwoof

Dir.: Rodney Asher; Documentary with Nick Bostrom, Erik Davies, Emily Pothast, Chris ware, Jeremy Felts, Philip K. Dick; narrated by Baffy Visick; USA 2021, 108 min.

After analysing sleep paralysis in his Shining spin-off Room 237, director Rodney Ascher has taken on a much grander project: convincing us that everything on this planet is the work of super-advanced computers who have built this super Matrix, perhaps for the enjoyment of equally advanced creatures to watch us earthlings toil on in his never-ending soap opera – a little bit like The Truman Show on an universal level.

To this avail he has summoned four eye-witnesses who have come to believe that humankind is at the mercy of programmers, and who write the narratives we call ‘life’. These ‘believers’ of a world in the permanent process of simulation are suitably dressed, face and torso transformed into video-game avatars, in front of a webcam. A fifth witness, Joshua Cooke could not be present since he is serving a prison sentence until at least 2043 for killing his parents – a result of his obsessions with the Matrix series. But at least he can warn others with this bizarre life story.

The simulation theory is not that new: Plato and Descartes are among many other creative souls who believed in the theory of sleeping humans whose whole lives are just computer-assisted dreams. Here a vast network of AI forms the background of all our life stories, including the vast army of non-player characters. It all feels like a secret message from some liberated creatures – Jehovah’s witnesses or other religious cults who have studied the vast conspiracy so you can eventually join them. But like all religions it’s a question of belief. Nick Bostrum, a Swedish academic, sounds most anchored in some form of reality: “We are not in, what ‘believers’ call, a ‘base reality’ but “in one of countless simulations, its inhabitants have been programmed”.

Much time is given to SciFi writer Philip K. Dick (1928-1982), author of Blade Runner fame , who had written 44 novels (the majority being adapted for feature films) and 17 short story collections. He visited his disciples in Metz, France in 1977 and gave a talk about the counterfeit worlds in his novels.

This how he describes his obsession with these worlds: “My fictional work is actually true, particularly the novels The Man in the High Castle, and Flow my Tears, The Policeman said. Both novels are based on fragmentary, residual memories of such a horrid slave state world.”

Dick also claims to have remembered past lives, and a very different present life; confessing these mystical experiences occurred after dental surgery in 1974. He goes on: “We are living in a computer-programmed reality, and we only realise this when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs. Those alterations are felling like a deja vue. An alternative world branched off”.

All complex stuff, but fascinating if it appeals to you. There is much more: Elon Musk and the Mandela theory among others, but we will have to wait until we find out who is in charge of this giant conspiracy. Until then we’ll have to make do with our status “ALIVE BUT NOT LIVING”. AS 


Waiting for the Carnival (2019) | Berlinale 2019 | Panorama

Dir.: Marcelo Gomes; Documentary; Brazil 2019, 86 min.

Writer/director Marcelo Gomes has studied in the UK and his – mostly documentary – features show the influence of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. In contrast to his last Berlinale film Joaquim which explored Brazil’s national hero, Waiting for the Carnival, is a personal journey into his past: His father, a tax collector travelled with young Marcelo in the north eastern Agreste region of Brazil: poor and dominated by agriculture. Father and son spent many days in the sleepy town of Toritama, where “people were waiting for time to go by”. 

Today Toritama is the “Jeans Capital” of Brazil. Twenty million pair of jeans, or twenty percent of the national output are produced in this town of 40 000 inhabitants. Apart from the big factories, local workers have founded their own ‘factiones’, where the owners have taken neo-liberalism to heart: they work round the clock – from six a.m. to ten p.m. with generous meal breaks. They all own their own machines, producing up to 1500 jeans a day. Often, family members help,  even the children. For example, you get paid $1,000 to sew zips into the fabric. A far cry from the pay structure Marcelo’s father was used to half a century ago, when local workers earned a mere three to four US$ a week, working on the land, dominated by sugar cane, or pulling out tree stumps, as one elderly worker remembers.

When Gomes challenges the workers mildly for ‘self exploitation’, he is sternly rebuffed: “There are people in Africa starving to death”. Nobody starves to death in Toritama today – flat screen TVs and fridges are part of every household. Huge advertising boards proclaim the industry’s dominance, but not everyone is happy with the way things are. Pedro is building a house for his friend. As a reward, he will have a work place in the ‘factione’ to be established in the new building. But Pedro misses spirituality, he dreams of becoming a prophet, but is resigned to the fact that he won’t reach his goal, largely due to alcohol. Meanwhile, an old goat herd still lives the life Gomes experienced as a child. The man is adamant that the younger generation have sacrificed everything for consumer good. He reminds the director of times gone by, when the pavements were full of people in their rocking chairs – today the same pavement is used to clean the threads. Young women model jeans, and then there is “Gold Man”, a jeans manufacturer, who produces ‘luxury’ jeans, costing exorbitant amounts of money. 

But when the Carnival arrives it’s a different story. Everyone who can, sells their TVs and fridges, to spend a week at the beach. Then Gomes is left alone in the city, as peaceful as he remembers it in the past. His father called Toritama “land of happiness” – and for one week a year that’s how it is. Afterwards everything is geared to “365 days to Carnival time”.

Pedro Andrade , Gomes shows a clash of two different cultures divided by half a century –  held together by the yearly festivities. The director might not like the new way of life, but it is here to stay – until something new comes to town. As



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