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Archive for September 16th, 2015

zero-for-conduct

by Aaron West

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

Zéro de conduite is the most fully revealed of Vigo’s “social cinema.” Even though his anarchist politics were complicated, Zéro de conduite helps clear them up. In some respects it is a blueprint for exactly the type of anarchic revolution that Vigo longed for, yet it takes place in the unlikely setting of a young boy’s school.

The children in the boy’s home are characters that many can relate to. They push the boundaries of authority, and try to get away with whatever they can. They are into hijinx, practical jokes, and overall misbehavior. They are not a peaceful bunch, and they give it to their teachers at every opportunity, whether to their face or behind their backs. The only exception is Monsieur Huguet, who they find as an ally and a character that understands them.

The other teachers are impatient for any mischievousness, and they rule with an iron fist. “Zero for Conduct” is the punishment for any transgression. It means that they are not given their freedom on Sundays to visit family or friends, and instead are required to stay in school at detention. Furthermore, the teachers dole out the punishment arbitrarily and unfairly. Vigo is intending to portray this as a totalitarian state where the lower class’ (or children’s) rights are being impeded.

The children may be the goats, but they also get to be the heroes. With some assistance from the friendly teacher, they lay out plans for rebellion. The planning is carefully orchestrated and is not put into action until the authority tries to compromise one of the oppressed. It begins with an expletive, continues with a rowdy food fight, and the revolt is in progress. The children hoist their flag and march with exaltation. The sense of freedom and liberation is palpable, just as Vigo expects that it would be in reality. Even though the film is of revolution, it is combined with the exuberance of childhood merrymaking. (more…)

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miami-vice-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      The films of Michael Mann glow and growl with extreme sensual punch in the service of enveloping the viewer within a realm the likes of which most folks have never visited. On seeing one of these insurrections, most of the more or less attentive visitors have things to say—pro and con—with regard to this retailing of a species of Impressionism (also courtesy of a series of very fine cinematographers like Dion Beebe and Stuart Dryburgh). Though the works do include often highly detailed narrative content, few viewers ever reach the point of crediting Mann as being more than a perfunctory writer, and most see him also as an onset of vaguely annoying repetition of story lines that were not much good even the first time around.

I want to, first of all, get down to refuting that latter misconception at the outset of examining one of his most physically impressive films, namely, Miami Vice (2006), because it is crucial to establish (in the face of that context) that this filmic output is much more than a full-frontal feast for the eyes and ears and nerves. Mann is very much a rad ride designer, no doubt; but he’s not a midway engineer and to choose that he is is to lack any trace of what his films are about. A production like Miami Vice, I hope to convey here, is much more about cosmic failure than regional success. And such an imbroglio cannot be effectively disclosed without a degree of discursive articulation crackling to life from out of those fiery cauldrons. We are not merely touched by vividly beautiful and exciting endowments of primal kinetic phenomena offset by close- and restricted-range ugliness that is readily discounted and consigned to brighter days or eons ahead. Those ambushes of violent idiocy take place as crucially fortified by long-standing institutional facilitators and as such they carry the same intensive weight as cosmic inspirations—only, whereas the latter tend to be fleeting, the former tend to be massively entrenched and opportunistically versatile. The players in Mann’s films—so often struggling within and without specific crimes—do reach moments of articulating at some level the storm system driving them nearly crazy. Those moments point to dimensions en route to effective but maddeningly difficult combat with exponents of infinitely entrenched cultural viruses. (more…)

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