Thursday, May 31, 2007

What is Bee-hind the Colony Collapse?

Is it Cell phones, is it genetically engineered crops or insecticides?
Bee-fore you get all buzzed up, read this interview with bee experts discussing "who killed the honeybees". Bee-ware!

Who killed the honeybees? A round table of experts answer all our pressing questions about the sudden death of the nation's bees. What they have to say has a bigger sting than we ever expected.
By Kevin Berger/
May 29, 2007

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Pharmaceutical Giant Pfizer Faces Criminal Charges in Nigeria

Officials in Nigeria have brought criminal charges against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for the company's alleged role in the deaths of children who received an unapproved drug during a meningitis epidemic.

read more | digg story

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hitchens vs. Hedges; Atheist vs. Believer Clash Ignites Audience

Former socialist Hitchens (photo, r.) and presently an ardent atheist, author of "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" takes on the devout Hedges, author of "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" in a pitched battle of wits and intelligence in Berkeley, a most secular place, yet an epicenter of American belief in free speech.

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Our Time of Troubles as seen from Ken Loach

The Wind That Shakes the Barley by Ken Loach.
(Loach, r. accepting the Palme d'Or, May 2006)

(note: I viewed this film earlier this year, from a European print, and will admit I was underwhelmed, in fact, disappointed, upon the first viewing. But, I watched again. Because I like Ken Loach. I needed a second viewing. I've always been affected by the Irish history and diaspora. I have an Irish background, albeit by adoption after birth, on my father's side. His family immigrated here during the Potato Famine of the 1840's, if I'm not mistaken. He worked every day of his life, yet had little joy, always seemed reconciled to life's travails, almost beaten down, with hardships his entire life. His two older brothers died during the Influenza epidemic right after WW I. His mother died a couple years later, when he was still under 10. His father died from a suicide, when he was in his 30's. Yet, he seemed to understand the troubles was just part of being "Irish". He wasn't melancholic; he possessed other Irish qualities: a gift of gab and story telling, loved the women, and the whiskey, too. This film reveals the heartache of brothers and families pitted against each other in the conflict with the British. When, as a child even, I would ask my father why do the Irish and Brits fight against each other, he'd only say "The English have just always tried to dominate everyone, and pit one against each other. " He would then urge me to "Always question authority." Loach's film looks closer, and reveals how deep the conflict goes.

I highly recommend you see The Wind That Shakes The Barley. For a first-rate interview, with Loach by Damon Smith, go to the Bright Lights Journal, May 2007 edition, which can be read here: The BLJ is an exceptional film resource which I also urge you subscribe to. Many thanks to Gary Morris, editor and publisher at BLJ and the entire staff for their outstanding work. - MS

Monday, May 28, 2007

Trust and Betrayal

Memorial Day is our national day of honoring the nation's military and the sacrifices they have made, and in the midst of what is being universally regarded as the worst foreign affairs disaster in US history with the NeverEndingWar in Iraq. Not fully grasped is the impact of the US military having officially 737 bases world-wide, which omits the estimated 250-300 more "secret" ones, the garrisons, bunkers, phantom Pentagon-speak "lily-pads,” and the failed civilian leadership that has designed it.

We are a global empire, and the full cost is not being truthfully conveyed to the citizenry. One doesn't have to subscribe to Jane's Defence Weekly (,
unless you are weighing options for contractors and assessing corporate "risk", to see the vast scope and penetration as a juggernaut for a perverse "growth" industry. More like a cancerous and out of control abscess. According to the National Priorities Project, as of February this year, the cost of just the Iraq war to Key West's 25,000 residents is $44.2 million, almost $1800 per person. For the urban core of Miami-Dade the cost of war soars to $3.3 Billion. $25 Billion for Florida. For the nation, it's over $11 million Per HOUR. The cost is only going to accelerate as long as the current policies of the Bush Pentagon remain unchallenged.

This is just for the war machine, not the entire Pentagon. If only we could claim the cause of national security. Yet, the most ironic cost of the War is national security. The human cost is nearly beyond comprehension, especially when couched in patriotic flag-waving like "defending democracy" or "the front on the War on Terror" (ignoring the fact that its invasion made it a central front, where pre-war there was an estimated 3,000 AlQaeda insurgents, now 70,000 are believed present), or whatever the new goal posts are, each more incredulous. The war's cost is greater than just our dollars. It represents lost opportunities. Every dollar spent on destruction can't be invested in our future. The current leadership for the Pentagon is actually weakening the military and we sense its vulnerability puts the whole house of cards at risk.

The US has now sent well over One Million soldiers, many with more than one tour of duty to the region and we have a crumbling world, not a rising one. General Patton famously said "America loves a winner, and will not tolerate a loser..." Right he was. The Bush catastrophe in Iraq and now around the world is inescapably a losing proposition. Regarding Vietnam, Senator George Aiken, R-Vermont, uttered his famous solution: "Declare victory and get out." It makes about as much sense as anything the derelict leaders in the political cloakrooms have said so far. The great tragedy was LBJ, either too willful or worried about history's judgment, would not yield. Instead, it destroyed his presidency and the country. A similar judgment awaits Bush. The sacrifices of our brave soldiers pale compared to the audacious betrayal from our current political class today. -MS

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Best European Film Award at Cannes

A low-budget British film about the late JOY DIVISION frontman IAN CURTIS (photo, l.) has won the Best European Film award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The film, entitled Control, was directed by famed Dutch still and music video photographer Anton Corbijn and stars former warehouse worker Sam Riley (photo, r.) as troubled Curtis in the years leading up to his suicide in 1980.On granting the award the Cannes jury said, "This is a very impressive and assured debut from a renowned photographer, but he never allows the look of the film, beautiful though it is, to detract from the powerful story and character development."The performances are all excellent, not just the leading characters. We feel that this is a film that will strike a real chord with audiences around Europe, and not just with music lovers."

Cannes is also...a Film Market, and it's Magnifique!

A Successful Film Market

While the high profile of films in "competition" captures the limelight at Cannes, not as well recognized by the general population is the huge film market that is the industry and business of Cannes. There may only be 20+ films in "competition", but there are thousands of other films and/or titles in production, all seeking buyers, distribution, support for their projects. Little known, too, is the huge landscape where the films are screened for audiences as well as agents for studios and financiers. Reported here are the details of just how vast the Cannes Market is, direct from the Cannes Film Festival. - MS

The Marché du Film, held from May 17 to 26 within the framework of the Cannes Festival's 60th-anniversary celebrations, was a great success. A large turnout and an offer of thousands of films kept the market bustling and business booming for all of the participants.
This year, credentials were provided to 10,491 professionals. They came from 92 countries. Emerging film markets were noted in Africa and Asia. This number represents an overall rise of 4% over last year.

Latin American participation also continues to grow (+28%). Chile, in particular, brought a delegation of 33 professionals, as compared to 14 in 2006. Likewise, the Asian market continued to thrive this year, in particular with China and its 114 professionals (as compared to 82 in 2006). The United States and United Kingdom both increased their participation by 7%, i.e. 3 percentage points over the average
4,082 companies registered with the Film Market, an increase over the figure of 3,797 for 2006. Production, distribution, and international sales are the principal businesses represented. 5,157 titles were offered (against 4,569 in 2006), 2,250 of which are in development or in production. This confirms a trend towards presenting projects still in preparation, well upstream of completion, at the Film Market. These films came chiefly from Europe (45%), the US (30%), Asia (12%), and Latin America (6%).

1,565 screenings of 889 films took place in Market screening rooms: 551 of them were world premieres. The ongoing growth of the Market over the past several years has made it necessary to set aside additional space for it, and it now covers a total area of about 150,000 square feet.

Mungiu's "4 Months..." Wins Palme d'Or

Here is the first of the closing action from the 60th Cannes Film Festival. First, from Indiewire!

"4 Months..." Awarded Palme d'Or.

Cristian Mungiu's (photo, l., by Eugene Hernandez, indieWIRE) "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" from Romania won the Palme d'Or as the 60th Cannes Film Festival came to a close on Sunday night with winners taking their bows. The prizes were presented prior to the closing night screening of Denys Arcand's "L'Age Des Tenebres," marking the end of the 2007 festival. Selecting the winners in the '07 Cannes competition were jury president Stephen Frears, along with fellow jurors: actress Maggie Cheung, actress Toni Collette, director and actress Maria de Medeiros, director and actress Sarah Polley, director Marco Bellocchio, writer Orhan Pamuk, director and actor Michel Piccoli, and director Abderramane Sissako.
"This is the best event that has happened to a wave of Romanian cinema that (already) began a few years ago," director Cristian Mungiu said after winning the Palme d'Or for "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," thanking his fellow Romanian filmmakers and adding, "Without (them) I wouldn't be here." Mungiu said that the prize in Cannes was even more important to him than winning an Oscar, saying that it validates his work as a filmmaker.
A fellow Romanian, Christian Nemescu, won the award for best film in the Un Certain Regard section for "California Dreamin'." Nemescu, only 27, died earlier this year in an accident, before completion of his film.
This year, the jury awarded a special prize to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Festival de Cannes, presenting a special award to Gus Van Sant for "Paranoid Park." "We wanted to give the prize to someone whose film we admired in this particular festival and also (to someone) whose body of work was incredible," explained juror Toni Collette during a post-ceremony press conference. On the same topic, Abderramane Sissako reiterated, "We also gave the prize for the whole of his cinema."

Naomi Kawase, winner of the Grand Prix runner-up prize this year for "The Mourning Forest" (Mogari No Mori), won the Camera d'Or at Cannes in 1997 for "Suzaku." During a post-ceremony press conference she said she had struggled for ten years to make movies in Japan. Asked what sort of message she hopes to send to filmmakers and audiences back home, she said, "The mesage that I try to get across is that the invisible is as important as the visible and I'd like this message to be perceived across the whole world, and I hope that this (award) will help this message get across."

(l.) Julian Schnabel, winner of the best director prize in Cannes.
"I didn't make this movie to get a prize," Schnabel said, after winning his award for best director, explaining that he was hardly disappointed at not winning the Palme d'Or. "I am very happy that everybody included me in this club...before I ever directed a movie, I was a movie fan. I love movies and there are a lot of people that I have a lot of respect for who have walked up these stairs and showed their movies here..."

Talking with journalists inside the Palais des Festivals after the ceremony, Mexican director Carlos Reygadas, director of "Stellet Licht," said his Jury Prize (shared with "Persepolis") supports a particular type of cinema and admitted that his film may not be for everyone. "It will help us to open up the path for Mexican cinema, for Mexican authors and for my colleagues throughout the world who are interestegd in cinema which doesn't necessarily follow the laws of total clarity in cinema [and] to use resources and means which are not usual in the cinema."

Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen, winners of the Camera d'Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Expressing excitement at winning their Camera d'Or prize for best first feature, Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen (photo, r., Eugene Hernandez, indieWIRE) called the experience "a dream." The directing duo also won the SACD prize in the festival's International Critics Week section. Playwright, theater director and actress Geffen summed up the excitement in Cannes Sunday, "It's like a in a movie."

The complete list the 2007 Festival de Cannes winners:
Palme d'Or: "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," directed by Cristian Mungiu
Grand Prix (runner-up): "The Mourning Forest" (Mogari No Mori), directed by Naomi Kawase
Prix de la Mise en Scene (Best Director): Julian Schnabel for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon)
Prix du 60th Anniversaire: Gus Van Sant, director of "Paranoid Park"
Prix du Scenario (Best Screenplay Award): Fatih Akin for "The Edge of Heaven" (Auf Der Anderen Siete)
Camera d'Or (For best first feature): "Meduzot" (Jellyfish), directed by Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen
Camera d'Or Special Mention: "Control," directed by Anton Corbijn
Prix du Jury (Jury Prize) (tie): "Persepolis," directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud; and "Stellet Licht," directed by Carlos Reygadas
Prix d'interpretation feminine (Best Actress): Jeon Do-yeon for "Secret Sunshine" directed by Lee Chang-dong
Prix d'interpretation masculine (Best Actor): Constantine Lavronenko for "Izgnanie," directed by Andrei Zviaguintsev
Palme d'Or (short film): "Ver Llover," directed by Elisa Miller
Special Mention (short): "Run," directed by Mark Albiston
Special Mention (short): "Ah Ma," directed by Anthony Chen

Winners of main prizes were selected from the 21 film competition that includes: "My Blueberry Nights," directed by Wong Kar-Wai (opening film), "Auf Der Anderen Siete," directed by Fatih Akin, "Un Veille Maitresse," directed by Catherine Breillat, "No Country For Old Men," directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, "Zodiac," directed by David Fincher, "We Own The Night," directed by James Gray, "Les Chansons D'Amour," directed by Christophe Honore, "Mogari No Mori," directed by Naomi Kawase, "Breath," directed by Kim Ki Duk, "Promise Me This," directed by Emir Kusturica, "Secret Sunshine," directed by Lee Chang-dong, "4 Luni, 3 Saptamini Si 2 Zile," directed by Christian Mungiu, "Tehilim," directed by Raphael Nadjari, "Stellet Licht," directed by Carlos Reygadas, "Persepolis," directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, "Le Scaphandre et le Papillon," directed by Julian Schnabel, "Import Export," directed by Ulrich Seidl, "Alexandra," directed by Alexandre Sokourov, "Death Proof," directed by Quentin Tarantino, "The Man From London," directed by Bela Tarr, "Paranoid Park," directed by Gus Van Sant, and "Izgnanie" (The Banishment), directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

Also taking prizes at the 60th Festival de Cannes:
Prix Un Certain Regard - Fondation Gan Pour le Cinema: "California Dreamin'" (Nesfarsit), directed by Christian Nemescu

Prix Special du Jury Un Certain Regard: "Actresses," directed by Valeria Bruni-TedeschiJury Coup de Coeur: "Bikur Hatizmoret" (The Band's Visit) directed by Eran Kolirin
Premier Prix: "Ahora Todos Parecen Contentos" (Now Everybody Seems to Be Happy), directed by Gonzalo Tobal (Universidad del Cine, Argentina)
Second Prize: "Ru Dao" (Way Out), directed by Chen Tao (Beijing Film Academy, China)
Third Prize (shared): "A Reunion," directed by Hong Sung-Hoon (The Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA), South Korea) and "Minus," directed by Pavle Vuckovic (Fakultet Dramskih Umetnosti, Serbia)
Directors' Fortnight: Prix Regards Jeunes (Young Eyes Prize): "Control," directed by Anton Corbijn
Prix Art et Essai: "Garage," directed by Lenny Abrahamson Label Europa
Cinéma Prize: "Control," directed by Anton Corbijn
SACD Prize for Best Short Film: "Meme pas Mort," directed by Claudine Natkin
International Critics' Week: Grand Prize: "XXY," directed by Lucia Puenzo
The SACD French Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Award: "Meduzot," directed by Etgar Keret Shira Geffen
The Canal + Grand Prize - Best Short Film: "Madame Tutli-Putli," directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Sczerbowski
FIPRESCI - Official Selection Prize: "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days," directed by Cristian Mungiu
FIPRESCI - Critics' Week and Directors' Fortnight Prize: "Elle s'appelle Sabine," directed by Sandrine Bonnaire
Ecumenical Jury Prize: "The Edge of Heaven," directed by Fatih Akin
Youth Prize: "The Band's Visit," directed by Eran Kolirin
French National Education Administration Prize: "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days," directed by Cristian Mungiu
Prix France-Culture (career achievement): Rithy Panh

Cannes Closes with Days of Darkness from Arcand - It's A COMEDY, folks!

Cannes Closes on Light Note With Comedy
The Associated Press

Sunday, May 27, 2007; 1:39 PM
CANNES, France -- After a 12-day lineup of weighty films, the Cannes Film Festival came to a close Sunday with a movie called "Days of Darkness" _ despite its title, a comedy. French-Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand, (photo, l. with actress Diane Kruger) who won best foreign language Oscar in 2004 for his funny, moving, "The Barbarian Invasions," has a thing for over-the-top titles.

"They're big titles, and the films are small films," he joked in an interview with The Associated Press. "It started when I did 'The Decline of the American Empire.' I did this film which was basically about sex, about couples cheating on one another and stuff like that, and we didn't know what to call it ...

"I came up with the title and everybody said, that's ridiculous, and it worked perfectly," he said.
"Days of Darkness" (L'Age des Tenebres) tells the story of Jean-Marc (Marc Labreche, photo, r., with Diane Kruger, at Cannes), a civil servant with a house in suburbia, a boring job, a high-powered wife who does not listen to him and two daughters who do not look up from their video game when he walks into the room.
The one thing he does have is an active fantasy life.
Jean-Marc dreams of a gorgeous actress (Diane Kruger) paying him visits in the shower. When his tough, sexy, boss berates him, he imagines her being carried off by men in loincloths and tied up. He dreams of himself as a famous author, a Roman emperor and a prince charming (played by singer Rufus Wainwright in a few gorgeous opera scenes).

The film closes the trilogy that started with "Decline" and continued with "Invasions," an alternately merry and melancholy story of a dying man's reunion with his estranged son.
Though "Days of Darkness" criticizes the isolation and aseptic blandness of modern life, and though the main character's aging mother is dying in a hospital, it is a much lighter film than "Invasions." Arcand says it is the first time he has included elements of slapstick comedy in a movie.
The film is screening out of competition at Cannes. Arcand points out that comedies tend to be snubbed on awards nights anyway.

"Charlie Chaplin, all his life, never won an Oscar (in a major competitive category like best picture or best director) ...
"Somehow, juries or people who vote, take themselves extremely seriously. Comedy ... says something about the world: 'We are all ridiculous.' And people who take themselves seriously don't want to hear that."

FRED On Everything

(This blog is from Fred Reed, "a keyboard mercenary with a disorganized past, who has worked on staff for Army Times, The Washingtonian, Soldier of Fortune, Federal Computer Week, and The Washington Times.
He has been published in Playboy, Soldier of Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Harper's, National Review, Signal, Air&Space, and suchlike. He has worked as a police writer, technology editor, military specialist, and authority on mercenary soldiers. He is by all accounts as looney as a tune."

He is also a professional carmudgeon, and if you see him coming (you won't) you will long remember what hit you. I highly recommend your reading his rants, as he is now an expatriate living in Mexico, and is the future, at present. - MS)

A New Improved America
The Coming of God Knows What

Something is wrong with the United States. I think most of us have noticed it. There is a mortal rot in the country, made manifest by many little rots that are hard to integrate mentally yet are, I think, somehow related. The change is grave, accelerating, probably irreversible, and fascinating. Things are not as they were.

(1) The United States is the most hated country on the planet, followed by, to the extent that there is a distinction, Israel. So far as I know, there are no other contenders. You can say “Who cares?” as many will say, or “Screw’em if they can’t take a joke,” or “I’d ratherh be feared than loved.” All very droll. Still, it is an interesting datum. No country ever lives up to its own PR, but there was a time when America was widely admired. Now, almost universally, it is seen as a rogue state. And is.

This carries a price. The US consulate in Guadalajara is part fortress, part prison, with barriers and cameras and bars and rentacops, and they take away a woman’s lipstick if she is going to enter. Maybe a country that fears lipstick needs to think. The French consulate around the corner is wide open, like all others that I know of. The French, Chinese, Japanese and so on aren’t hated. The US government now lives in its own, strange, insulated world.

(2) The United States is the most militarily aggressive country on the planet, followed closely by Israel. I am aware of no other contenders.

Some of this combativeness is obvious—attacking Iraq for no good reason, occupying Afghanistan, threatening Syria and Iran, attacking Lebanon by proxy, bombing Somalia, putting troops in the Philippines to hunt Moslems. The US is also looking for trouble with Venezuela, threatening North Korea, moving to “contain” China (Doesn’t a container need to be bigger than its scontents?), embargoing Cuba, pushing into Central Asia, increasing the military budget, and pushing NATO ever closer to Russia. (How stupid can you get? Very. Stay tuned.), And the Pentagon now has Africom, African Command. Africa is now America’s business.

(3) Powerful domestic hostilities grip the United States. Maybe you have to be outside of it really to see it. I live in Mexico. You can go for…well, five years and counting, without hearing angry talk about this or that group. In America, women hate men and men are getting sick of American women. Blacks hate whites hate Hispanics. “Affirmative action” engenders intense hastily that doesn’t go away. It isn’t the normal friction found in any country. It is serious antagonism quashed by federal force.
And the black-white-brown thing has very real potential for getting nasty. This we don’t talk about.

(4) A curious state fear prevails in America, but it is a governmental creation, a calculated manipulative Disneyland. Perhaps soon we will have Terror Mouse.
Recently I was in Washington. Everywhere there were the artificialities of fear. The steel pop-up barriers in the roads, the stop’em-bombs steel poles on sidewalks, the endless warnings to report suspicious behavior on loudspeakers in the subway. The searches of everything, the metal-detecting doorways even on buildings of country governments, of schools. (Schools, for Chrissakes. What is wrong here?) And of course the confiscation of shampoo at the airport. This is nuts.

(5) The bullying of people entering the US. Any country has the right to determine who enters. Fine. If you don’t want them to enter, don’t give them visas. If you issue a visa, try to be courteous.
Violeta had a visa, issued by the consulate, both times when we went to the US. Still she got bullied by the border Nazis. It was ugly. I am obviously not a Mexican, but I get the same hostile questioning as to where I am going, why I was in Mexico, and so on. It is none of their business where I go in my country. Or shouldn’t be, but there are no limitations on governmental powers now. A friend, married to a Mexicana, again with a visa, got separated from her, and both got abusive questioning. She came out crying.
America was not like this. Now it is.
Compare this with the real world. I land in Beijing—evil commie Beijing, right? Maybe twenty seconds to see whether my visa was valid, clonk of stamp, thank you, no baggage search, into a taxi. Vi and I land in Paris, en route to Italy. Glance at passport, yep, it’s a passport, no stamp, no nothing, on we go. Italy didn’t even look at our passports. Grown-ups.
I am not ashamed of the United States. It is a hell of a country. Been there, done that, loved it. In two weeks in DC with Violeta, although she is clearly not American, she was everywhere, always, treated with perfect courtesy and friendliness, whether on Cap Hill or Farmville, Virginia. Americans really are good folk. The government isn’t. It’s the gravest problem we face, both internationally and domestically.

(6) The Constitution really is going away, or has gone. It never did work as well as it should have, but few things human ever do. Habeas corpus is dead, right to an attorney, congressional right to declare war—it’s not even worth listing the list. Joe iPod in the burbs doesn’t care because it doesn’t affect him, yet. Git them Hay-rabs, ain’t no draft, plenty sushi. Urg.
(7) The increasing, detailed, intrusive regulation of life, the national desire for control, control, control. Everything is the business of some form of government. Want to paint your shutters? The condo association won’t let you. Let dogs in your bar? Never. Decide who to sell your house to? Racial matter. Own a dog? Shot card, pooper-scooper, leash, gotta be spayed, etc. Have a bar for men only, women only, whites or blacks only? Here come the federal marshals. What isn’t controlled by government is controlled by the crypto-vindictive mob rule of political correctness. This wasn’t always in the American character.
Add the continuing presence of police in the schools, the arrest in handcuffs of children of seven, the expulsions for drawing a picture of a soldier with a gun. Something very twisted is going on.
How much of the public knows what is happening, or even knows that something is happening? I don’t know. But I don’t think that it’s going to go away. In ten years it will be an entirely different place with the same name. Almost is now.

Cannes honours film star Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda given career Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival
The Cannes Film Festival brought Jane Fonda to town for a gala dinner paying tribute to her late father, Henry Fonda - then gave the actress a surprise award of her own.
The Cannes Film Festival screened Henry Fonda's "Twelve Angry Men" on Saturday night, then brought guests to dinner at a nearby luxury hotel, where Jane Fonda was honoured with a career Palme d'Or, or Golden Palm. Festival President Gilles Jacob recounted Jane Fonda's career highs and lows, and her controversial trip to North Vietnam in 1972, joking that he never thought the festival would honour someone who had been "spied on and hounded by the FBI". At one point, Jacob seemed to criticise Henry Fonda for not doing as much as his daughter to uphold the humanist values he defended in his movies. "He had a sense of duty but not political courage, while you, you have the unshakable stubbornness of someone who has figured out where justice lies and how to defend the oppressed, and who follows through," Jacob said. "He played that in his movies, you did it in life." Jane Fonda, visibly moved, put the focus back on her father, responding in excellent French, "For my father, his films were his way of representing justice, quality and democracy."She added her hope that one day, "the United States will again become the country that he stood for".

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007

When Democrats Collapse

After Jimmy Carter caved to the Republican noise machine and took back his blast at President Bush, it's no surprise the party wimped out on the war.
By Bill Maher
May. 25, 2007

New Rule: Jimmy Carter must be shipped off to Guantánamo, stripped to his tighty-whiteys and "waterboarded" as an enemy combatant. Last weekend, former U.S. President and current al-Qaida operative Jimmy Carter launched an unprovoked attack upon democracy, America and our troops in the field by telling the Arkansas Pennysaver that the Bush administration has been "the worst in history." And then he threatened President Bush by saying, "I'm going to get on a plane and fly out there and straighten your ass out."
As usual, we've been sucked into a phony controversy about who said what and how it hurt George W. Bush's feelings. Because when you hurt George W. Bush you hurt America's feelings, and when you hurt America's feelings, you hurt the troops. And when that happens, Tinkerbell's light goes out and she dies.
The Republican outrage machine is always invoking secret rules that liberals didn't know they broke. And apparently when you get to be president, they give you an employee's handbook titled "So You're Leader of the Free World -- Now What?" It tells you about the nuclear codes, where your parking space is, and to not talk smack about other presidents. But I was up all night on Wikipedia doing an exhaustive study of former presidents, and while other presidents have sucked in their own individual ways, Bush is like a smorgasbord of suck. He combines the corruption (Teapot Dome Scandal, which was all about payoffs inside the Republican administation over oil leases-MS) of Warren G. Harding, the abuse of power of Richard Nixon and the warmongering of James K. Polk.

I mean, who would you rank lower than George W. Bush? Nixon got in trouble for illegally wiretapping Democratic headquarters; Bush is illegally wiretapping the entire country. Nixon opened up relations with the Chinese; Bush let them poison your dog. Herbert Hoover sat on his ass through four years of calamity, but he was an actual engineer. If someone told him about global warming, he would have understood it before the penguins caught on fire. Ulysses Grant was a miserable drunk, but at least he didn't trade booze for Jesus and embolden the snake handlers -- he did the honorable thing and stayed a miserable drunk. Grant let his cronies loot the republic, but he won his civil war.

For some inexplicable reason Republicans have taken to comparing Bush to Harry Truman -- a comparison that would make sense only if Harry Truman had A) started World War II and B) lost World War II. Harding sucked, but he once said, "I am not fit for this office and never should have been here." So at least he knew he sucked. He never walked offstage like Bush does after one of his embarrassing press conferences with a look on his face like, "Nailed it." Bush still acts like every failure is just a friend he hasn't met yet.

Now, is it possible for a future president to perform as badly as Bush has? I suppose, theoretically, if we elect someone totally off the wall, like R. Kelly, or the reanimated corpse of Ted Williams, or Rudy Giuliani (art by Robert Lederman, r., below)... But let's be honest, we would have been better off over the past six years if the Oval Office had been occupied by an orangutan with a Magic 8-Ball. And that's why it's so depressing that when the right-wing noise machine pretended to get upset at what Jimmy Carter said, he did what Democrats always do and backed down. He said his remarks were careless and misrepresented and the sun was in his eyes and his hearing aid went out and he was molested by a clergyman.
They confronted him, and he took it all back. Which is what Democrats do. Why couldn't he have just said, "No, I meant what I said. And speaking as the first citizen of Habitat for Humanity, let me take out my toolbox and build you a house where we can meet and you can blow me." If a Democrat who's out of office and 100 years old can't speak out, what chance do we have for the ones who are in office? Like the ones who are in Congress now who, emboldened by widespread public approval of their plan to bring the troops home ... this week abandoned that plan. You see, you don't get to become the worst president ever without a little help from the other side.
-- By Bill Maher

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Schnabel Triumphs at Cannes

On the day after his big triumph here with "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," Julian Schnabel (actress Anne Consigny with Schnabel at the Cannes Film Festival. Photo by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE) received a small group of reporters poolside at the Hotel Martinez, probably the most deluxe of all the overpriced hotels along the Croisette. He wasn't wearing his trademark bathrobe. It was pretty hot for that here on Wednesday, so he was just in pajamas. Schnabel is a theatrical, larger-than-life character who invites a degree of dislike and ridicule, and even seems to thrive on it. He stays in fancy hotels (while rarely dressing in actual clothes), makes and spends large sums of money, and has become a controversial but unavoidable artist in two different media. When the hordes of paparazzi and gawkers outside the fence began screaming at some celebrity entering or leaving the Martinez during our interview, Schnabel stood up and called out at them, "Shut up! Fucking cocksuckers!" (Click here to listen to a podcast of the interview.) Earlier, he had told us that his wife had given him a Xanax before the Tuesday night premiere, so that he could barely stay awake through his own movie, and actually fell down during the 20-minute standing ovation that followed it. That's vintage Schnabel, following the urge to play the buffoon at the apex of his directing career. During the interview, he recalled a memorable critic's quote from the '80s, when his oversize, crockery-encrusted paintings first made him famous: "Julian Schnabel knows how to make garbage out of garbage." ("I thought that was pretty good!" he crowed.)

Whatever you make of Schnabel as a painter or a self-invented celebrity -- his previous jobs have included short-order cook and New York cab driver -- it's time to consider the once-unlikely proposition that he's a really important filmmaker. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," based on a remarkable memoir of severe paralysis written by the late Jean-Dominique Bauby (photo, l.), formerly the editor of French Elle, is definitely not garbage out of garbage. It's an exhilarating, heartbreaking, wonderfully visual big-screen translation of an inherently uncinematic premise: a man so trapped in his own body he can only control one eye. Many of the things one could say about Schnabel's film border on hackneyed phrases, but the movie itself never does. It's about the prodigious mystery of being alive, and about facing the terror of death with honesty and integrity. It's about the impossible, alchemical magic of artistic creation, and about the ways all of us, like Jean-Do (who is amazingly played by elfin French actor Mathieu Amalric (photo, r.), are trapped in our own subjectivity and yearn to communicate with the world outside.

Bauby's title ("Le Scaphandre et le papillon," in French) stemmed from his realization that while his body had become a prison, like a deep-sea diving suit in which he was permanently trapped, his imagination and his memory could fly wherever he wanted to go. Schnabel and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski begin the film from Jean-Do's stringently limited point of view as he wakes from a three-week coma, unable to move his head and seeing the world through one blurred eyeball. He begins to talk to his doctors, only to realize: They can't hear him! Gradually, as Jean-Do comes to grips with his radically transformed body and self, and with the fact that his interior monologues can't come out, the movie opens up like a newly sprouted plant finding the sun.

There's a severe kind of poetry to Jean-Do's long struggle to communicate, thanks to a special alphabetic system devised by his speech therapist (played by Marie-Josée Croze, photo, r.). But we've seen that kind of thing in other films dealing with severe disability. Schnabel balances Jean-Do's nearly unbearable diving-bell reality with his colorful dreams, fantasies and memories, which assume an explosive, liberatory, sometimes terrible power. As in Schnabel's earlier films, "Basquiat" and "Before Night Falls," he's put together a wonderful soundtrack, ranging from Nino Rota's classic film scores to U2, Tom Waits and the Velvet Underground.

Many people here have asked Schnabel why he chose to make this film in French, thereby reducing its commercial prospects by many orders of magnitude. At first it does sound like some kind of egotistical Europhile stunt, an attempt to establish his own cosmopolitanism on a grand scale. When a reporter from Boston asked him about this at the festival's official press conference, Schnabel made a point of answering in perfectly capable French. At the Martinez he stuck to English, but insisted that casting Amalric and shooting in France was a question of integrity. "Nobody wanted me to make this movie in French," Schnabel told us. "When the people from Pathé [the French studio] spoke to me, I said, 'I want to make a French movie.' They said, 'We want you to make an American movie!'"

After visiting the hospital in Berck-sur-Mer, on the bleak but impressive coast of Normandy, where Bauby spent his last year, Schnabel decided he could only shoot the film there. "You can't manufacture a landscape like that, and architecture like that," he said. "This man sat in that place, and when the tide went out, it looked like he was sitting on the moon. To try to reconstruct that in California somewhere, or to send Americans and English actors to France and have them speak with a French accent -- and then have French people watch the movie with subtitles -- that seemed absurd to me." Even when Johnny Depp was attached to the film, Schnabel says, the idea was that "Johnny was going to be with me in France, and we would have surrounded him with French people." When Depp apparently decided that a third "Pirates of the Caribbean" feature was a safer bet, Schnabel says that his producer, Kathleen Kennedy, had grave doubts about ever making the film. She was interested in other name actors, including George Clooney and Eric Bana. "Clooney has never had a role like that, and that could have been interesting," Schnabel said with underwhelming politeness. "He's a nice man." Much of the drama and comedy in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" arises from the group of women that surround Bauby before and after his accident: the still-loyal mother of his children (Emmanuelle Seignier, photo, l., Tony Barson, WireImage), the girlfriend who may be the love of his life (Agathe de La Fontaine) who finds herself unable to face him, Croze's speech therapist, the physical therapist played by Olatz López Garmendia, (photo, r., Tony Barson, WireImage) who happens to be Schnabel's wife. This almost farcical situation -- a group of attractive women clustered around a guy who can only move one eye -- becomes to some degree the film's central subject.

"Ultimately, I think I ended up making a film about women," Schnabel said. "There's something about Fellini's '8 1/2' here. I didn't think about that until I was casting the movie, and then I thought, 'God, there's a lot of women in this movie!' If people thought I was a homosexual when I made 'Before Night Falls,' with all those gorgeous guys in the movie, maybe they'll think I'm a sex maniac now. But I figured, why not? I made a film about a black man and his difficulty in the white art world in New York ['Basquiat'], and then about the Cuban revolution through the eyes of a homosexual person. So I might as well make a film about women from the perspective of a one-eyed paralyzed guy."

Schnabel also says that "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is his most autobiographical film, both in that it's about the inherent difficulty of all artistic creation -- Jean-Do's version of that problem being the most extreme you can imagine -- and that it's about confronting his own fear of death. Making films, he observes wryly, isn't his day job. "I can make more money in one afternoon when I make a painting than I did the whole year making this movie. I didn't do it for the dough. I did it because my father was terrified of death when he died, and I thought, if only I could have done something to help him."

I suppose there's something perverse or affected about sitting around the pool in Cannes talking about death with a famous painter in his pajamas (who's mooching cigarettes from his interviewers), but I'll tell you what, it didn't feel that way at the time. Schnabel's movie thrilled me, reduced me to tears, made me feel re-energized and profoundly grateful to be alive. It was as close to a life-changing experience as you can have at a film festival. So if Julian Schnabel wants to behave like a ridiculous character from a Hemingway novel, I say more power to him. Just make more movies, dude.

Jean-Dominique Bauby lived only about a year with his severe disability, but he was able to complete his memoir, which became an international bestseller. (He died just 10 days after its French publication.) As Schnabel (r.) observes, it was a book written by a man on the very edge of human life, almost literally a message from beyond. "What he was able to do -- he was kind of talking to us from the grave," said Schnabel. "That's unusual, because most people don't. He was able to talk about the things he regretted, and about how to grab onto the present and make something out of it. If I could have shown this to my dad, he might have thought, 'OK, you know what? I'm going to pass through this thing. I'm going to go back up into the side of the glacier and be part of everything. I'm not going to be so scared.'"

Olbermann Again Speaks Truth to Power

If you thought Keith Olbermann was strictly partisan from his persistent criticisms of George W. Bush, watch this special comment he made on his MSNBC nightly show. He spares no one in the Democratic party for their capitulation to Bush on funding the Iraq War. Incisive, spit-fire invective hurled at the Dem leadership, he will prove yet again to be prophetic as the NeverEndingWar continues to drain not only our national treasury, but our moral and ethical bearings continue to hurl further out of control for this unmitigated political collapse. - MS

The Edge of Heaven from Cannes

An utterly assured, profoundly moving fifth feature by Fatih Akin.

The point at which a good director crosses the career bridge to become a substantial international talent is vividly clear in "The Edge of Heaven," an utterly assured, profoundly moving fifth feature by Fatih Akin (photo, r.) Superbly cast drama, in which the lives and emotional arcs of six people -- four Turks and two Germans -- criss-cross through love and tragedy takes the German-born Turkish writer-director's ongoing interest in two seemingly divergent cultures to a humanist level that's way beyond the grungy romanticism of his 2003 "Head-On" or the dreamy dramedy of "In July" (2000). Robust upscale biz looks a given.

Pic opens and closes in Turkey during a bayram, the word for a festival or holiday regardless of national or religious differences. First seen tooling around the Black Sea coast, Hamburg U. prof Nejat (Baki Davrak) (photo, above, l.) is next seen arriving in nearby Bremen, where his father, sprightly septuagenarian Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz, photo, l.), still visits hookers as a cure for his loneliness.

Happening upon a no-nonsense Turkish prostie, Yeter (Nursel Kose) (photo, above, r.), he proposes she moves in with him if he matches her hooking income. Under pressure to quit her job by two fundamentalist Turkish thugs, Yeter agrees.

Turns out that, back in Turkey, Yeter has a 27-year-old daughter, Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay, (photo, r.), who thinks her mom works in a shoe shop. When Ali is hospitalized after a heart attack, Yeter forms a close relationship with the quiet Nejat, who accepts his father's patriarchal lifestyle.

However, viewers have already been warned, in pic's opening title ("Yeter's Death"), that tragedy is waiting round the corner. Sure enough, Yeter is accidentally killed by Ali in an argument. As Ali is incarcerated in a German jail and Yeter's body is shipped home, story shifts to Istanbul, where Nejat has bought a German-language backstreets bookshop. Between times, he's searching for Ayten, to finance her education as a form of reparation.

As another audience warning ("Lotte's Death") appears on screen 40 minutes in, we meet Ayten, a political activist using the alias Gul Korkmaz who's on the run from the authorities. Fleeing to Germany, she ends up penniless in Hamburg where she's befriended by college student Lotte, daughter of comfy, middle-class Susanne (vet Hanna Schygulla). Lotte and Ayten become lovers, setting in motion a complex series of criss-crossing events that changes the lives of the survivors for ever as the story shifts back to Turkey.

Pic has a lean, almost procedural style, in which every scene and line of dialogue counts. Akin doesn't try to hide the plot's coincidences or Swiss watch-like precision, which is given human resonance by the flawless playing of the six leads. Only one scene, a political face-off by Ayten and Susanne, rings awkwardly.

By the time the second seg segues into the final one (film's German title, "From the Other Side"), helmer's long-burn approach packs a considerable emotional wallop in a quiet, inclusive way.

Veteran Turkish actor Kurtiz, who's almost a national monument back home, dominates the early going with his frisky but deeply traditional Ali. Distaffers take over the running in the second half, with the utterly convincing Yesilcay (so good in the very different role of a quiet Moslem bride in recent Turkish pic "Adam & the Devil") and Ziolkowska (from Akin's "Solino") as the lesbian lovers. Schygulla's low-key perf grows more slowly, bringing a reconciliatory glow to the final reels.

Akin's cultural ease with both countries shows in the shooting, spread between Bremen, Hamburg, Istanbul and Trabzon. Good-looking but never gratuitously glossy lensing by Rainer Klausmann ("Solino," "Head-On," "Downfall") is an extra plus, as is the liberating score by Shantel (aka Stefan Hantel).

What's The Best so far at Cannes?

Everyone seems to agree that there have been quite a few fine films at the Cannes Film Festival this year. What they entirely can't agree upon is which films they are.
Entering the 60th anniversary edition's second and final weekend, the leading contenders for the Palme d'Or would still seem to be two films from very early in the fest, the Coen brothers' pungent bloody thriller "No Country for Old Men" and Romanian helmer Cristian Mungiu's bracing abortion drama set in the late communist days, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days."

But as heavyweight art fare bellied up to the bar in the days thereafter, critical opinions, as they are prone to do, started flying in all possible directions. Is Carlos Reygadas, whose "Silent Light" focuses upon a Mennonite community in Mexico, the second coming of Carl Dreyer, as a number of American critics suggested, or an "imposter," as the French paper "Inrockuptibles" insisted? Is Christian Honore, with his French "musical" "Love Songs," really the new Jacques Demy or a tone deaf wannabe? On the basis of "My Blueberry Nights" and "Death Proof," have Wong Kar Wai and Quentin Tarantino furthered their reputations as ultra-cool stylists or driven off the road?

More clear than ever is the dramatic divide between the views of the French critics and their international (mostly Anglo-American) counterparts. Not only did the French readily embrace "Love Songs," but they slammed a film generally regarded by English speakers as one of the better competition entries, Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." Was the French rejection due to prejudices formed by his earlier work, unspoken bias against an American with the audacity to make a French-language art film based on a French book, or strictly aesthetic matters? No one professed to know.

Going strictly by the critics' polls here, the top rated pictures on the Croisette in 2007 are "No Country for Old Men," "4 Months" and "Zodiac;" reaction to the latter confirms the view of some industryites that Paramount should have waited to premiere the film in Cannes and wait until September to release it.

The high-art side--that is, films restricted in interest to film buffs and critics and not destined to be seen by ordinary human eyes -- was repped by several pics: Ulrich Seidl's "Import Export," which belongs to the genre dedicated to the proposition that life is undiluted merde; Andrei Zvyagintsev's "The Banishment," a simple story (from William Saroyen) elaborated and inflated to death by grandiose proportions; "Silent Night," which to my eyes possessed the most extraordinary visuals in a festival full of exceptional camerawork and seemed sincere in its portrayal of religious devotion in the bargain, and Bella Tarr's "The Man from London," which epitomized what is known as a "festival film," i.e., one made for no known audience apart from the already converted disciples of a cult director. One version of hell for me would consist of being trapped inside the insular world of this film for eternity.

But the inclusion of such films is de rigeur for a festival such as Cannes and helps keep people talking and disputing. On the other side of the equation, the projection of "Death Proof" upon the giant screen of the Palais du Festival seemed audacious. In the old days, a picture devoted to kick-butt fighting chicks and car crashes, complete with scratches on the film, would only have been seen in the back streets of the market.

Somewhere in between all this are Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven," the highly anticipated follow-up to "Head-On" which some observers liked but I found exceptionally schematic and laborious in its structure; Gus Van Sant's "Paranoid Park," a look at a young skateboarder's denial of moral responsibility for a man's death that just seems too insistently limited in its view of the subject; "Secret Sunshine", South Korean helmer Lee Chang-dong's absorbing, well acted account of a woman undone by a domestic tragedy; the trifling by attractive "My Blueberry Nights" and "Persepolis," Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's animated version of Satrapi's graphics novel about her life in Iran and Europe, whose promising premise doesn't build satisfyingly either dramatically or visually.

There were the usual examples of films festgoers felt should have been in the competition rather than Un Certain Regard and vice versa and so on. But in a year fest organizers took particularly seriously, given the big anniversary, 2007 proved to be quite a lively year, and mostly in a good way.

Abel Ferrara has a ball at Cannes premiere with "Go Go Tales,"

Abel Ferrara has a ball with "GO GO TALES" a puckish and perpetually lively night out at a New York strip club that's faring no better than its sweaty, stressed-out impresario. Ferrara is in a wonderfully loose and comedic mood after the complex spiritual dramatics of "Mary," expanding his fascination with big American dreams and corrosive addictions while filling the screen with a wild panoply of characters. Given some star power and ample, undulating flesh on view, fest and market value are upward after Cannes midnight non-competish platform, though helmer's usual problems with Stateside theatrical play will continue.

Most definitely not a "King of New York," the energetically glad-handing Ray Ruby (Willem Dafoe), host and manager of Ray Ruby's Paradise, is feeling the pressure from all sides on a particular Thursday night. Prospects look bad for getting a packed house, since the tourists aren't showing up like they used to; but Ray, ever the optimist, is counting on drawing the right numbers in the $18 million lottery being announced during the evening, especially since he's bought a truckload's worth of tickets with the aid of his loyal accountant, Jay (Roy Dotrice).
No one's more aware than Ray that he's short of cash, but he tries as best as he can to ignore everyone in the club who's hounding him for money. Backstage, his ensemble of pole dancers, including Dolly (Shanyn Leigh) and the inconveniently pregnant Adrian (Bianca Balti), expected to have been paid yesterday, while the bullheaded and hilariously profane landlady, Lillian (Sylvia Miles), demands four months' back rent and threatens to sell the space as a future site for a Bed Bath & Beyond outlet. Later on, Ray's prime backer, his cash-flush hairdresser brother Johnie (Matthew Modine), arrives with the news that he's "pulling the plug."

If Ray doesn't win the lotto, he's screwed, but -- in true Ferrara fashion, where characters often go from bad to much worse -- even when he does win (in one of Dafoe's several explosive scenes), he's still screwed. Neither he nor Jay can find the winning ticket among the stacks and stacks of tickets they've bought and squirreled away for safe keeping.

Much less literally than in "Mary" (in which Modine played a film director whom Ferrara etched in unflattering autobiographical detail), the metaphor of filmmaking as a crazy capitalist gamble -- with the clear implication that capitalism itself is an arena of mad self-destruction -- comes through in "Go Go Tales" with spirited effervescence. Throwing all caution to the wind and encouraging his cast to improvise a large percentage of the dialogue, Ferrara has made a film of considerable risk and bolstered by a supreme confidence that all will turn out alright in the end, much like Ray himself.

Unlike the film that "Go Go Tales" most touchingly references -- John Cassavetes' "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" -- a more hopeful end for Ray is ironically proposed, until a smashing closing shot that once again brings the entrepreneur's fantasies crashing back to terra firma, and focuses in on Dafoe's drooping, suddenly frowning visage even as he holds a share of the $18 million check.

Surrounding Ray is a grand parade of characters whom the actors bring furiously to life. Bob Hoskins as club maitre d' of the Baron has a grand time, improvising up a storm and enjoying every moment of it. Modine continues to get a chance from Ferrara (as he did in "Mary" and "The Blackout") to play as bad and nasty as the material allows, as does Ferrara regular Asia Argento, summoning forth a stripper with a perverse stage act involving her pit bull terrier. Miles lets loose in a fashion unseen since her '70s heydays, releasing a comic verbal torrent that steals more than one scene. Dotrice provides plenty of tension and amusement in the club's dim backstage offices, and bits from Joe Cortese, Riccardo Scamarcio and Pras Michel complete an impressively vast group study of folks operating in this fascinating environment.

Club setting, with its modest seating area and stage, hallways, dressing rooms and offices, is brilliantly captured by Ferrara's constantly roving camera, its eye like an animal's looking in all directions at once. Lenser Fabio Cianchetti finds numerous means to enliven what has long been a cliched movie locale, and never shies away from observing the sensuous moves of the club's dozens of female bodies. Ferrara and editor Fabio Nunziata meet the challenge of keeping a film entirely contained in and just around the club constantly dynamic.
Cinecitta sets and a Rome street location convincingly sub for Gotham, and a closing credit finale with Miles singing is worth sitting through.

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (noncompeting), May 21, 2007. Running time: 105 MIN.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Competition Heats Up With Seidl, Van Sant, and Schnabel
by Anthony Kaufman (May 22, 2007)

Cannes may have kicked off last week, but the race for the Palme d'Or really only began to pick up speed on days five and six of the festival, with screenings of Ulrich Seidl's "Import/Export" (photo, r.), Gus Van Sant's "Paranoid Park," Carlos Reygadas' "Silent Light," and Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." While outside of competition, Michael Winterbottom has proven himself to be, once again, a politically astute and highly nimble filmmaker, even when working with superstar Angelina Jolie with "A Mighty Heart." (photo, l. with Pearl, Winterbottom, Jolie, and Futterman).

With "Import/Export," Ulrich Seidl, Austria's masterfully misanthropic director ("Dog Days," "Jesus, You Know," "Animal Love"), makes what is perhaps his most tender movie. But don't be mistaken: there's still profound humiliation, exploitation, a look at the most dire and decaying facets of society, and shocking dialogue ("Put your finger in your asshole!" yells the anonymous user of an interactive porn website.) The words are directed to Olga, a moonlighting Ukrainian nurse who is one of the film's two central protagonists. The other is Pauli, a macho, bullyish Viennese security guard who loses his job and self-worth after a group of thugs puts him in his place.
Seidl intercuts the two stories: The Ukrainian nurse goes to Vienna, trying to eke out a living as a cleaning lady (she eventually ends up at a hospital geriatric ward), while Pauli travels to the Ukraine with his revolting step-father. Both stories traffic in moments of profound degradation (humans and dogs are linked), but the narratives also show the characters trying to overcome their humility, particularly in Olga's story.

This being a Seidl film, we also get borderline exploitative scenes of real people: The elderly hospital patients, in particular, provide the movie's most disturbing and fascinating scenes. On a purely visual level, "Import/Export" enthralls, thanks to the strong, symmetrical compositions of cinematographers Ed Lachman and Wolfgang Thaler and an array of provocative locations (namely a trashed "gypsy" slum of Socialist-style high-rises).

Gus Van Sant's "Paranoid Park" is also a visual - and aural - feast, with lush cinematography by Christopher Doyle and loopy, evocative sound design from Gus Van Sant regular Leslie Schatz. Van Sant returns to the teenage milieu of "Elephant" with a simple story about a young skateboarder who is involved in a gruesome murder. Despite what it sounds like, Van Sant's film is significantly different from the work of Larry Clark ("Bully," "Wassup Rockers"). Instead of hanging out with skater-punks verite-style, we get a highly subjective experience of a young man's guilty conscience.

While Van Sant's expressionistic style may, at times, feel unmotivated and a tad indulgent, particularly next to the lack of depth in his pretty-boy protagonist, the mix of rich soundscape with slow-motion and 70s-style grainy skater footage is undeniably beautiful. And it may be a stretch, but the film might just have something larger to say about responsibility in the violent age of the Iraq War where denial and apathy have supplanted accountability.

Another elegant story of guilt, but not as successful, Carlos Reygadas' (photo, r.) "Silent Light" examines an adulterous relationship in a Mennonite community in Mexico. Opening with a breathtaking shot of the night-sky opening itself up to the emerging sun, the film focuses on a rarefied farming community, steeped in prayer and simple ways of life. Exceedingly languorous, "Silent Light" finally turns a significant corner a full hour and forty-five minutes into the film. (Until then, the movie offered sleepy Cannes attendees much-needed nap-time during long takes of corn harvesting.) But by then, it may be too late. While the last 30 minutes builds to a quietly startling finale, clearly influenced by Carl Theodore Dreyer's masterpiece (photo, l.) "Ordet," "Silent Light" lacks that film's profound humanity and catharsis. And yet, even though the bold young director of "Japon" and "Battle in Heaven" may have stumbled with "Silent Light," his exquisite sensibility still shines through.

If Reygadas' rigorous filmmaking divided viewers, artist Julian Schnabel's (photo, r.) affective, poetic and yet surprisingly conventional competition entry "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" should placate most audiences everywhere. A confident follow-up to "Before Night Falls," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" recounts the story of former French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who at the age of 43, suffered a massive stroke, losing control of his entire body with the exception of a single eye.
For extended parts of the film, Schnabel uses a first-person camera to insert the viewer into Bauby's claustrophobic point of view. As he slowly learns to communicate by blinking, the film offers flashbacks and fantasies, and touches on his relationships with his ex-wife, kids and lover. But Schnabel never gives a complete sense of who Bauby was before the accident. Was he a self-centered bastard, now getting his comeuppance, as is suggested? If so, maybe this elision prevents the film from being overly sentimental or preachy and lets the viewer more easily into Bauby's predicament. But it also overly simplifies the character and his plight.

In a festival that has felt surprisingly withdrawn from world politics (all of the above films are very inner-directed), Michael Winterbottom's gripping thriller "A Mighty Heart" feels like a refreshing blast from the real world. (What, no war films this year?) Despite the potential sentimentality of the subject matter - the film is told through the perspective of Mariane Pearl, the five-months pregnant wife of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl - "A Mighty Heart" tells a complex, suspenseful tale of political intrigue, Pakistani-Indian relations, journalistic ethics, torture and yes, the emotional turmoil of losing a loved one.
While Angelina Jolie's (photo, l.) Mariane Pearl occasionally loses her French accent, she makes up for the misstep with a sturdy, anguished performance that eventually succumbs to a volcanic eruption of grief. If the portrayal is already generating Oscar talk, it's also better than such fatuous plaudits. As Mariane Pearl emphatically said at the news conference on Monday morning, the film exists above-and-beyond Academy buzz. "It's not about us," Pearl said. "It's not about being famous and making more money or any of that. It's about a situation in the world that everybody is aware of."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Why Bush hasn't been impeached

In this sobering and incisive post from Gary Kamiya at Salon, he examines the case for impeachment and also why it probably won't happen, despite all the evidence to bring such indictment against George W. Bush. As Jerry Ford said about Richard Nixon, after Dick flew away from the White House lawn that fateful day in August, 1973, "the long national nightmare is over". In our current state of affairs, we can't make such a declaration. Not quite, and not soon enough. To the right, a flyer for a rally, today, to Impeach Bush, at the submarine yards in New London. - MS

Congress, the media and most of the American people have yet to turn decisively against Bush because to do so would be to turn against some part of themselves.

By Gary Kamiya /
May. 22, 2007 The Bush presidency is a lot of things. It's a secretive cabal, a cavalcade of incompetence, a blood-stained Church Militant, a bad rerun of "The Godfather" in which scary men in suits pay ominous visits to hospital rooms. But seen from the point of view of the American people, what it increasingly resembles is a bad marriage. America finds itself married to a guy who has turned out to be a complete dud. Divorce -- which in our nonparliamentary system means impeachment -- is the logical solution. But even though Bush cheated on us, lied, besmirched our family's name and spent all our money, we the people, not to mention our elected representatives and the media, seem content to stick it out to the bitter end.
There is a strange disconnect in the way Americans think about George W. Bush. He is extraordinarily unpopular. His approval ratings, which have been abysmal for about 18 months, have now sunk to their lowest ever, making him the most unpopular president in a generation. His 28 percent approval rating in a May 5 Newsweek poll ties that of Jimmy Carter in 1979 after the failed Iran rescue mission. Bush's unpopularity has emboldened congressional Democrats, who now have no qualms about attacking him directly and flatly asserting that his Iraq war is lost.
Some of them have also been willing to invoke the I-word -- joining a large number of Americans. Several polls taken in the last two years have shown that large numbers of Americans support impeachment. An Angus Reid poll taken in May 2007 found that a remarkable 39 percent of Americans favored the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. An earlier poll, framed in a more hypothetical way, found that 50 percent of Americans supported impeaching Bush if he lied about the war -- which most of that 50 percent presumably now believe he did. Vermont has gone on record in calling for his impeachment, and a number of cities, including Detroit and San Francisco, have passed impeachment resolutions. Reps. John Murtha (photo, r.) and (photo, l.) John Conyers and a few other politicians have floated the idea. And there is a significant grassroots movement to impeach Bush, spearheaded by organizations like After Downing Street. Even some Republicans, outraged by Bush's failure to uphold right-wing positions (his immigration policy, in particular), have begun muttering about impeachment.
Bush's unpopularity is mostly a result of Iraq, which most Americans now believe was a colossal mistake and a war we cannot win. But his problems go far beyond Iraq. His administration has been dogged by one massive scandal after the other, from the Katrina debacle, to Bush's approval of illegal wiretapping and torture, to his unparalleled use of "signing statements" (Bush, r., signing Patriot Act) to disobey laws he disagrees with, to the outrageous Gonzales (photo, below) and U.S. attorneys affair.
In response to these outrages, a growing literature of pro-impeachment books, from "The Case for Impeachment" by Dave Lindorff and Barbara Olshansky to "The Impeachment of George W. Bush" by Elizabeth Holtzman to "U.S. v. Bush" by Elizabeth de la Vega, argue not only that Bush's misdeeds are clearly impeachable, but also that a failure to impeach a rogue president bent on amassing unprecedented power will threaten our most cherished traditions. As Lindorff and Olshansky conclude, "If we fail to stand up for the Constitution now, it may be only a piece of paper by the end of President Bush's second term. Then it will be time to be afraid."

Yet the public's dislike of Bush has not translated into any real move to get rid of him. The impeach-Bush movement has not really taken off yet, and barring some unforeseen dramatic development, it seems unlikely that it will. Even if there were a mass popular movement to impeach Bush, it's far from clear that Congress, which alone has the power to initiate impeachment proceedings, would do anything. The Democratic congressional majority has been at best lukewarm to the idea. In any case, their constituents have not demanded it forcefully or in such numbers that politicians feel they must respond. Democrats, and for that matter Americans of all political persuasions, seem content to watch Bush slowly bleed to death.
Why? Why was Clinton (photo, with Lewinsky), who was never as unpopular as Bush, impeached for lying about sex, while Bush faces no sanction for the far more serious offense of lying about war?

The main reason is obvious: The Democrats think it's bad politics. Bush is dying politically and taking the GOP down with him, and impeachment is risky. It could, so the cautious Beltway wisdom has it, provoke a backlash, especially while the war is still going on. Why should the Democrats gamble on hitting the political jackpot when they're likely to walk away from the table big winners anyway?

These realpolitik considerations might be sufficient by themselves to prevent Congress from impeaching Bush. Impeachment is a strange phenomenon -- a murky combination of the legal, the political and the emotional. The Constitution offers no explicit guidance on what constitutes an impeachable offense, stating only that a president can be impeached and, if convicted, removed from office for treason, bribery "or other high crimes and misdemeanors." As a result, politicians contemplating impeachment take their cues from a number of disparate factors -- not just a president's misdeeds, but a cost-benefit analysis. And Congress tends to follow the cost-benefit analysis. If you're going to kill the king, you have to make sure you succeed -- and there's just enough doubt in Democrats' minds to keep their swords sheathed.
But there's a deeper reason why the popular impeachment movement has never taken off -- and it has to do not with Bush but with the American people. Bush's warmongering spoke to something deep in our national psyche. The emotional force behind America's support for the Iraq war, the molten core of an angry, resentful patriotism, is still too hot for Congress, the media and even many Americans who oppose the war, to confront directly. It's a national myth. It's John Wayne. To impeach Bush would force us to directly confront our national core of violent self-righteousness -- come to terms with it, understand it and reject it. And we're not ready to do that.
The truth is that Bush's high crimes and misdemeanors, far from being too small, are too great. What has saved Bush is the fact that his lies were, literally, a matter of life and death. They were about war. And they were sanctified by 9/11. Bush tapped into a deep American strain of fearful, reflexive bellicosity, which Congress and the media went along with for a long time and which has remained largely unexamined to this day. Congress, the media and most of the American people have yet to turn decisively against Bush because to do so would be to turn against some part of themselves. This doesn't mean we support Bush, simply that at some dim, half-conscious level we're too confused -- not least by our own complicity -- to work up the cold, final anger we'd need to go through impeachment. We haven't done the necessary work to separate ourselves from our abusive spouse. We need therapy -- not to save this disastrous marriage, but to end it.
At first glance it seems odd that Bush's fraudulent case for war has saved him. War is the most serious action a nation can undertake, and lying to Congress and the American people about the need for war is arguably the most serious offense a public official can commit, short of treason. But the unique gravity of war surrounds it with a kind of patriotic force field. There is an ancient human deference to The Strong Man Who Will Defend Us, an atavistic surrender to authority that goes back through Milosevic, to Henry V, to Beowulf and the ring givers, and ultimately to Cro-Magnon tribesmen huddled around the campfire at the feet of the biggest, strongest warrior. Even when it is unequivocally shown that a leader lied about war, as is the case with Bush, he or she is still protected by this aura. Going to war is the best thing a rogue president can do. It's like taking refuge in a church: No one can come and get you there. There's a reason Bush kept repeating, "I'm a war president. I'm a war president." It worked, literally, like a charm.

And many of the American people shared Bush's views. A large percentage of the American people, and their elected representatives, accepted Bush's unlimited authority to do whatever he wanted in the name of "national security." And they reaffirmed this acceptance when, long after his fraudulent case for war had been exposed as such, they reelected him. Lindorff and Olshansky quote former Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker, who justifies his opposition to impeachment by saying, "Bush obviously lied to the country and the Congress about the war, but we have a system of elections in this country. Everyone knew about the lying before the 2004 elections, and they didn't do anything about it ... Bush got elected. The horse is out of the barn now."

To be sure, the war card works better under some circumstances than others. It is arguable that if there had been no 9/11, Bush's fraudulent case for war really would have resulted in his impeachment -- though this is far from certain. But 9/11 did happen, and as a result, large numbers of Americans did not just give Bush carte blanche but actively wanted him to attack someone. They were driven not by policy concerns but by primordial retribution, reflexive and self-righteous rage. And it wasn't just the masses who were calling for the United States to reach out and smash someone. Pundits like Henry Kissinger (photo, r.)and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman also called for America to attack the Arab world. Kissinger, according to Bob Woodward's (photo, l.) "State of Denial," said that "we need to humiliate them"; Friedman said we needed to "go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something." As Friedman's statement indicates, who we smashed was basically unimportant. Friedman and Kissinger argued that attacking the Arab world would serve as a deterrent, but that was a detail. For many Americans, who Bush attacked or the reasons he gave, didn't matter -- what mattered was that we were fighting back.
To this day, the primitive feeling that in response to 9/11 we had to hit hard at "the enemy," whoever that might be, is a sacred cow. America's deference to the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later approach is profound: It's the gut belief that still drives Bush supporters and leads them to regard war critics as contemptible appeasers. This is why Bush endlessly repeats his mantra "We're staying on the attack."

The unpleasant truth is that Bush did what a lot of Americans wanted him to. And when it became clear after the fact that Bush had lied about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, it made no sense for those Americans to turn on him. Truth was never their major concern anyway -- revenge was. And if we took revenge on the wrong person, well, better a misplaced revenge than none at all.
For those who did not completely succumb to the desire for primitive vengeance but were convinced by Bush's fraudulent arguments about the threat posed by Saddam, the situation is more ambiguous. Now that his arguments have been exposed and the war has become a disaster, they feel let down, even betrayed -- but not enough to motivate them to call for Bush's impeachment. This is because they cannot exorcise the still-mainstream view that Bush's lies were justifiable and even noble, Straussian untruths told in support of what Bush believed to be a good cause. According to this line of thinking, since Bush and his neocon brain trust really believed that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous tyrant, the lies they told in whipping up support for war were, while reprehensible, somewhat forgivable.

In Elizabeth de la Vega's book on impeachment, framed as a fictitious indictment of Bush for conspiring to defraud the United States, she argues that from a legal standpoint it doesn't matter that Bush may have believed his lies were in the service of a higher good -- he's still guilty of fraud. In a brilliant stroke, de la Vega compares the Bush administration's lies to those told by Enron executives -- who were, of course, rightfully convicted.
The problem is that the American people are not judging Bush by the standards of law. The Bush years have further weakened America's once-proud status as a nation of laws, not of men. The law, for Bush, is like language for Humpty Dumpty: it means just what he chooses it to mean, neither more nor less. This attitude has become disturbingly widespread -- which may explain why Bush's illegal wiretapping, his approval of torture, and his administration's partisan purge of U.S. district attorneys have not resulted in wider outrage.

This society-wide diminution of respect for law has helped Bush immeasurably. It is not just the law that America has turned away from, but what the law stands for -- accountability, memory, history and logic itself. That anonymous senior Bush advisor who spoke with surreal condescension of "the reality-based community" may have summed up our cultural moment more acutely than anyone else in years. A society without memory, driven by ephemeral emotions, which demands no consistency from its leaders but only gusty patriotism, is a society that is not about to engage in the painful self-examination that impeachment would mean.
A corollary to the decline of logic is our acceptance of the universality of spin. It no longer seems odd to us that a president should lie to get what he wants. In this regard, Bush, the most sanctimonious of presidents, must be seen as having degraded traditional American values more than the most relativist, Nietzsche-spouting postmodernist.

All of these factors -- the sacrosanct status of war, the public's complicity in an irrational demonstration of raw power, the loss of respect for law, logic and memory, the bland acceptance of spin and lies, the public unconcern about the fraudulence of Bush's actions -- have created a situation in which it is widely accepted that Bush's lies about Iraq were not impeachable or even that scandalous, but merely a matter of policy. Just as conservatives lamely charged that the Scooter Libby (photo, r.) case represented the "criminalization of politics," so the conventional wisdom holds that distorting evidence to justify a war may be slightly reprehensible, but is not worth making much of a fuss about, and is certainly not impeachable.
The establishment media, which has tended to treat impeachment talk as if it were the unseemly rantings of half-crazed hordes, has clearly bought this paradigm. In this view, those who want to impeach Bush, or who are simply vehemently critical of him, are partisan extremists outside the mainstream of American discourse. This decorous approach has begun to weaken. A recent U.S. News and World Report cover read, "Bush's last stand: He's plagued by a hostile Congress, sinking polls, and an unending war. Is he resolute or delusional?" When centrist newsweeklies begin using words drawn from psychiatric manuals, it may be time for Karl Rove to get worried. But it takes time to turn the Titanic. The years of deference to the War Leader cannot be overcome that quickly.

For all these reasons, impeachment, however justified or salutary it would be -- and I believe it would be both justified and salutary -- remains a long shot. Bush will probably escape the fate of Andrew Johnson and the disgrace of Richard Nixon. But he's not home free yet. The culture of spin is also the culture of spectacle, and a sudden, theatrical event -- a lurid accusation made by a former official, a colorful revelation of a very specific and memorable Bush lie -- could start the scandal machine going full speed. Even the war card cannot be played indefinitely. If Bush were to withdraw the troops from Iraq, and the full dimensions of America's defeat were to become apparent, all of his war-president potency would backfire and he would be in much greater danger of being impeached. Congress and the media both gain courage as the polls sink, and if Bush's numbers continue to hit historic lows, they will turn on him with increasing savagery. If everything happens just so, the downfall of the House of Bush could be shocking in its swiftness.