February Film Reviews

Je Suis Charlie: Controversies on Screen

The Bertha Dochouse, resident at the Bloomsbury Curzon in The Brunswick, gave us the opportunity to review ‘Je Suis Charlie,’ a documentary looking at the events in Paris of January 2015.


Lara El Kalamawy, BA Economics and Politics

Directors Emmanuel Leconte and Daniel Leconte pay tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in their latest documentary titled ‘Je Suis Charlie.’ The documentary starts with footage from the protests in Paris that were in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo after the attacks in January 2015, which initiated the slogan ‘Je Suis Charlie.’ It is a slogan which supported freedom of speech and freedom of opinion and that quickly spread all over the world. The documentary is powerful and moving and focuses on the victims’ struggles and regrettable fate. But I would argue that it ignores the negative connotations behind Charlie Hebdo’s publications. Even though the directors explicitly wanted to create a documentary that focuses on the human side of the tragedy and bring it solely back to the victims, the viewer cannot help but feel hostile towards Charlie Hebdo’s attitude towards other people’s beliefs and religions.

The scene cuts to footage from 2007 when Charlie Hebdo was put on trial by Islamic organisations for continuing to draw provocative caricatures of the Prophet. Cabu, one of the cartoonists who died in the attacks, describes what the situation was like in 2007. He takes the situation very lightly, and laughs throughout most of the interview. He claims that because he is an atheist, he was never aware that it was unacceptable to draw the Prophet or God. Viewers would find it hard to sympathise with his ignorance about Islam, let alone the fact that he laughs about it too.

Charb, another cartoonist who is interviewed, claims that when he draws the cartoons he is addressing extremists and not Muslims. What he clearly isn’t aware of is that depicting the Prophet in a contemptuous manner affects all kinds of Muslims, whether they are moderate orextreme.Furthermore,thecategorisationofextreme and moderate is another issue, as these are questionable and relative terms depending on whom you talk to.

However Charb also puts it perfectly when he says “you can respond to a drawing or words without declaring war or physically eliminating you detractors”. I completely agree, killing is never an answer. Once again we are brought back to the humanistic side the documentary tries to capture and the viewer automatically empathises with the victims and their families.

The rest of the documentary centres on the survivors who retell the disturbing story of how the killers penetrated the Charlie Hebdo office and the chaos that ensued, calling it “a battlefield”. Perhaps Coco, one of the cartoonists who survived, tells the most heartbreaking narrative of how she was forced to tap in the code that opens the front doors while a gun was held to her head. The cartoonists were then left to cope in the only way they knew how, which was to continue expressing their anxieties through their art.

Ahmed Merabet, a French police officer who was killed in the attacks, also makes an appearance in the documentary saying, “mad men have neither colour nor religion”. This phrase really resonates with the viewer and highlights the bigger problems of Islamophobia that continue to face the world today. Overall I believe the directors manage to strike a chord with the viewer and have indeed documented a great tribute to the victims of the attacks. However I would argue that they tend to ignore how big of an effect Charlie Hebdo had and continues to have on Muslims who despise their publications. Furthermore throughout the documentary I was constantly plagued by the questions surrounding freedom of speech and how far it goes when Charlie Hebdo continued publishing the same provocative cartoons after the attacks. This shows that they were not afraid and that freedom of speech would never die. Yet on the other hand freedom of speech never entailed hate, bigotry and prejudice.

What is missing from the documentary is the other side of the story and a more comprehensive backstory. Overall the documentary does capture how horrific the tragedy was and highlights the notion that killing is never justified on such grounds. That was the motive behind the documentary on the director’s part, as they believe that no one deserves to die because they voiced their opinion. They have succeeded to shift the focus away from Charlie Hebdo and their provocative publications to the invaluable price of human life in any circumstance.

The Colonial Undertones of The Revenant


Annemari de Silva, MA South Asian Area Studies

In a phenomenal adherence to traditional representational politics where minorities only ever play instrumental roles to the white protagonist,The Revenant has nature, the elements, and indigenous people (who are clearly just a mystical extension of the natural elements) combine forces to ensure the survival of the settler protagonist, a fur-trapper who is hell-bent on exacting revenge from his colleagues who killed his half-indigenous child and left them to die in the American Winter.

The movie is like Heart of Darkness on overdrive: white man falls terribly in love with an indigenous woman, begets a child, and is driven to insanity when someone kills his baby and he crawls 200miles to have his revenge. Heart of Darkness-type moral: sane settlers don’t do that because sane settlers don’t get emotionally involved with the natives. There is literally NO back story to the indigenous characters in this movie, no clue on how in the world Glass ended up marrying and living with this indigenous woman in a village that was then burnt by the English. He “heroically” kills the officer who kills his wife (Captain: ‘Is it true you killed an officer?’. Glass: ‘I killed the person who killed my wife’), painting him as a morally equitable man rampantly killing anyone who dares hurt his family.

The violence in this movie was ridiculous, contrived, and absolutely superfluous. In the final duel, of course they would both lose their guns so that they can spend 10 minutes trying to stab each other to death. There’s something positive to say about the cinematography though – it beautifully captures the landscape where this atrocity was filmed, including the artistic patch of blood leading to the river that Fitzgerald and Glass hacked each other to pieces.

And as for the women? The parallel but yet again instrumental secondary narrative was of Pawnee tribe that is desperately – and murderously, because what’s the point without more blood – trying to find the princess- daughter of the chief/elder/generic male leader.

Although the whole story revolves around the intensity of Glass’ love for his wife and this tribal chief’s love for his daughter, neither of the female characters have any story to complete themselves. Glass’ wife hovers in her dress and fluid hair in his dreams, above him, around him, everywhere, but only when she’s there as a symbol or warning. The daughter? Two cameos. One where she is raped (which was initially quite clearly suggested, there was absolutely no reason to actually see the rape itself), and the second where, once reunited with her father’s company, she leads them away from Glass so they don’t harm him (though just after they fulfill Glass’ desire for Fitzgerald to die, killing him so that Glass can be both morally perfect AND avenged, hooray!).

Fitzy’s blood isn’t the first on her hands though. When Glass helps her escape from her captor, she threatens to cut the captor’s testicles off, which incidentally she does – except we don’t see her do it, we only see the captor standing, screaming, with blood on his genitalia and legs. So, while the audience has a good long shot of her subjugation, she is relieved of the agency of violence when it comes to her turn – there is the subtle suggestion that she performed the castration, contrasted with the absolutely unsubtle confrontation of her rape.

For gore junkies or landscape junkies, I suggest you go watch this. For anyone else, an episode or two of Kath & Kim or Keeping up with the Kardashians might prove a more worthwhile investment of chill-time.

The Big Short

Harry Wise, BA Politics

Finance – one of the most over-talked and least understood topics of our times. Things used to be so simple in the old days. You’d take out a loan, and try and repay it the best you can. But as Ryan Gosling’s character Jared Vennett explains, that all changed and the world has been screwed up ever since. But not to worry, he’s going to make a killing.

An adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book on the Wall Street financiers who got rich out of the financial crash, the Big Short is a witty, testosterone-fuelled drama that is the moral schadenfreude of our times; is getting rich off other people’s misery ok? For Michael Burry, a shoeless heavy metal-obsessive hedge fund manager, it’s proof that he is the smartest guy in the room; the man who sees what nobody else seems to notice. He places a huge bet on the housing market crashing and he wins. So does Steve Carell’s short-tempered Mark Baum and two up-and-coming hotshot investors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), who enlist the help of retired ex-banker and bearded sage Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). It’s basically a movie where all the white guys are jerks who have a crystal ball. The movie is awash with unexpected twists.

Have you ever understood the intricacies of sub-prime loans? No! Well, think about Margot Robbie (playing herself) in a bubble bath, flute of champagne in hand, explain it in a way that’s both sexy and not all distasteful and tacky. You get the picture? It’s a masterclass in showing the juxtaposition of the sexy, high-paid, fast-paced world of banking and how that world of plenty is built on layers of confusion and deception.

Unlike Margot Robbie though, all the men have some weird personality disorder. They’re all douchebags, don’t get me wrong. But they’ve all got problems. It’s Christian Bale and Steve Carrell who stand out though. Their unhinged personalities both carry the film throughout although it’s Carrell’s Mark Baum who shines. His disgust at the corruption enveloping Wall Street as well as the tender nature that has taken over him as a result of his brother’s suicide show that not every Gordon Gekko is a total jerk.

The film is like one long lecture about disaster capitalism. It’s not the most exciting lecture you’ve ever had. But I sure left the cinema feeling more intelligent than when I went in.

Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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