Sicario [2015)

When you are watching a film or a TV show in which the main character is FBI or CIA, you are watching propaganda.

But some propaganda reaches a height of artfulness which cannot be denied.

Such propaganda, then, in some respects becomes its opposite.

Sicario is one such brilliant enigma.

The main visual motif of this film is Emily Blunt sweating.

That may sound like a rather unglamorous device, but it too has crossed over into its opposite.

Emily Blunt gives a performance which approaches perfection.

But she is not alone.

Benicio del Toro is icy.  Frosty, as they say.  Timeless.

What is the template for Sicario?

You might be surprised, but it reveals itself quite early on to be none other than The Silence of the Lambs.

You must see Sicario to understand this parallel.

Nothing in the previews intimates this definite relationship.

But what else do we get?

Torture is good.

Torture works.

This is where Josh Brolin comes in.

His previous turn as the title character in W. is essential to the code of Sicario.

I must credit director Denis Villeneuve.

For propaganda, this gets in some pretty stellar body shots at the expense of the CIA.

But it is all for show.

The message is that terrorism works.

Terrorism?

Yes, terror.

It only depends which side of the battle you’re on.

Brolin’s character is a “DoD advisor”.  [More on that in the film.]

It’s strategy.

Get the straggler to come back to the hive.

We’ve heard that trope for a long while.

Regardless, Brolin is the quintessential consequentialist.

The end justifies the means.

Emily Blunt is the conscience.  And as that she is magnificent.

But propaganda needs a hero (or heroine) to knock down.

Perhaps you remember the disheartening ending of 1984?

The book.

Orwell.

Winston Smith.

It is quite correct that whenever America declares a “war on” something, the smartest thing is to consider failure a foregone conclusion.

Here we have that old chestnut the “War on Drugs”.

There have been several other lackluster “War on(s)”.

The main offender is the War “on” Terror.

But director Villeneuve gives away the secret a little bit (as the best propaganda does).

From Medellín to Mena, Arkansas.

Maybe Phoenix is no accident either.

Remember Ken Williams?

Sicario shows the FBI getting royally fucked.

In game theory, we might call them (full-on “meta-“) good cop.

The whipping boys…the ostensible sack of shit which acts as a catch-all flypaper of blame…are our bad cops:  CIA.

It is, however, significant that Brolin operates under the aegis of “DoD advisor” insofar as the US military then becomes the butt (ass end) of flipped propaganda.

To wit, much of this film is code…not for the drug war, but for the geopolitical ransacking of the past 15 years.

It is a comment.

Not particularly clever.

But perhaps accurate.

That methods have bled over (no pun) from the hinterlands to the “homeland”.

My final caveat is this:

Sicario is an absolute masterpiece.

 

-PD

Le Salaire de la peur [1953)

Only appropriate that we would reapproach France during these tense times with this film which is, believe it or not, more full of tension than anything I can recall in Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

Yes, The Wages of Fear by director Henri-Georges Clouzot is unlike anything I have ever seen.  More or less.

A parallel can be made to the Humphrey Bogart film They Drive by Night, but Le Salaire de la peur is of a different caliber altogether.

Believe it or not, Yves Montand actually out-acts Bogart in this here film.

From the bizarre beginnings, we hardly have any clue where this flick is going.

Where are we?  Tegucigalpa?  No, not enough oil.  Venezuela?  Perhaps.

D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous???

Mexico.  A fictional (?) town called Las Piedras. The stones.

Not to be confused with pies (feet).

Indeed, stones play an important part in this film.  And so do feet.

But initially we are disoriented by the Eisenstein-like montage reminiscent of ¡Que viva México!  A small child with a sombrero and no pants playing with cockroaches.

And as the film gets going we notice the multitude of languages.  Spanish, French, German (?), Italian…maybe Dutch?

The Dutchman in question is played by German actor Peter van Eyck (born Götz von Eick).

In fact, I thought for much of the film that I was watching Oskar Werner (much to my chagrin upon consulting the credits).

And so we have a hodgepodge of refugees in this one-horse town of Las Piedras, but the oil industry beckons…on the frontier.  It is a dangerous industry (and becomes infinitesimally more dangerous through the course of this film).

I do believe I have heard Clouzot described as the French Hitchcock.  After seeing this, that makes perfect sense.

Le salaire de la peur is such a pithy, visceral film.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a very powerful film which takes aim at corporate callousness.  But the real theme is danger.  Fear.  Anxiety.  The sickness of worry.

It reminds us that we shouldn’t judge our fellow humans too harshly.  We can never know the exact feelings or the exact situation.

One final thought.  Nitroglycerine plays an integral part in this film.

I pray that the Russian soldiers who died yesterday will not have died in vain.  May the leaders of Turkey and the other NATO countries come to their senses in what has been sheer geopolitical insanity along Russia’s border.  What restraint Russia has shown compared to the egregious stunt pulled by Turkey!  As with all actions emanating from the West, I wouldn’t be surprised if the incident was ordered to occur (giving propitious conditions) by a power residing much further west than Ankara.

May courage and wisdom be with the militaries of all nations, the soldiers of which are thrust into the most unenviable positions imaginable.  War for profit has hit its maximum potential.  If there be one true diplomat left on the planet, let him or her please stand up at this crucial time.

Don’t count too much on your simulations.

 

-PD

 

La Règle du jeu [1939)

I relate to Jean Renoir’s character.  Octave.  Fat, optimistic, and full of regrets.

Jean Renoir was, of course, the director of this film.

Likewise, he plays a very important dramatic role in the production.

I would argue that his role is the most essential of all.

In this film of rich, pithy characters, Octave sticks out like a polished stone.

Not a precious stone.

Simply a smooth, common rock.  A paperweight.  Our anchor.

And this is apparent on first viewing, yet La Règle du jeu necessitates multiple viewings to truly appreciate.

My language is not French.  Yes, perhaps it is my favorite language, but I am indebted to the subtitles.

And La Règle du jeu is replete with overlapping, symbolic dialogue.

But you don’t want to hear such boring play-by-play.

If you are reading, you want something special.

And I want something special when I watch a film.

Jean Renoir (son of the more well-known Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir) delivers a masterpiece here.

There is a Great Gatsby effect which may put off modern audiences of modest means (like myself).

To wit, who wants to hear about rich people problems?

All I can do is urge patience when watching this film.

It may not immediately come off as riveting, but it is well worth it if you stick it out till the end.

What should be pointed out is that Renoir was apparently making a statement about the upper classes which paints them in a not altogether flattering light.

More directly, this film takes aim at the elite and lets ’em have it (but in a very sneaky way).

And yet, it is not all about class warfare.

Far from it.

It embraces and repudiates.

Actions can be deplorable.  But those who commit deplorable actions are still humans.

We all have the capacity within us for unspeakable error.

Few among us truly stand out as regards vice.

But we are all touched by the world.

I estimate it quite unlikely than a truly monastic monk or nun is reading this post.

And if they are, I hope they are brewing up a nice batch of beer in Belgium.

The rules of the game.

The beaters.

Hired lackeys who whack the trunks of trees to drive the animal life out of the forest.

Moving like a line of riot police.

All for the rich to have their fun.

The hunt.

But Renoir is the true artist.

He makes it clear.

The rich aren’t all bad.

The poor aren’t all saints.

Both classes lean to the middle.

There are admirable actions from both sides.

Perhaps the class structure itself is suspect.

Perhaps it is a vestige whose time has come.

But reality is that rich and poor will wake up on the globe tomorrow.

Staggered in times.  Zones.

Rich at their leisure (we imagine).

Poor at the more brutal hours (no doubt).

The poor run around like rabbits chased out of the forest.

The rich sit in their hunting blinds and preach gun control.

The true hunt now is the techno hunt.  The bio hunt.

But a girl and a gun can still carry a movie.

And so, I have rambled enough about La Règle du jeu.  It is truly an indispensable film.

Something about it is almost impenetrable for an English speaker (monoglot) in the 21st century.

And so we hope the French haven’t forgotten their fondateurs like Jean Renoir.

Lessons.  Lessons.

It’s up to all of us to preserve these slices of history.

Yes, it is fiction.  Yet, real life was employed (implored) in the making of this fiction (which seeks to be lifelike).

An endless reflection.

In the hall of mirrors at Versailles.

-PD