Chapati Review: Wristcutters, A Love Story

(Suggested listening while reading this review: click here; don’t bother to watch the clip, since it’s just a fan slideshow) The film version of Etgar Keret’s novella “Kneller’s Happy Campers” (which is also recreated in the graphic novel Pizzeria Kamikaze) has finally been released in the US (see the earlier review of Keret’s work here). Despite some major and possibly regrettable alterations to the setting and plot, it is still an excellent movie. The biggest disappointment is the location. The story takes place in an afterlife universe where people go after they have committed suicide. In the novella and graphic novel, this place is a city and surrounding countryside that bears a remarkable resemblance to Tel Aviv. The movie was shot in the Wristcutters: bleak landscapeUnited States in run-down parts of LA and somewhere near the Nevada-California border, which makes sense, since most cinematic universes are relocated to California. The characters are now mostly American, or recent immigrants to America. Choosing to make the whole movie American and losing the Israeli element of course robs the story of some of its original flavor, although in the novella the place is never named, and is only meant to resemble the lousy places where the suicides lived before they killed themselves. Suicide is not a culturally flat construct and in the context of an ironic Israeli tale it takes on an especially dark and provoking resonance. Goran DukicOn the other hand, the Croatian director, Goran Dukic, has done a superb job choosing the grimmest and most derelict locations imaginable, and this does make up for the initial disappointment that our hero is now from New Jersey and his life has probably improved quite a bit now that he is dead and living in California.
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Round Up VI

» Following last week’s military crackdown in Pakistan and the detention of hundreds of lawyers, the Harvard Law School Association has decided to award Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry its highest honor: The Harvard Law School Medal of Freedom.

» “Mentally and in my heart, I am not a dictator. In my heart, I have introduced democracy,” appeals The General during a recent sit-down with Sky News. The proof? He was not a dictator when he was commanding the army. The mind boggles at the logical contradiction buried in there. (Try imagining a democratic army). But, I am giving him too much credit if I say he is contradicting himself. He is lying. There is news that he has arrested key members of the leadership of Pakistan People’s Party in Punjab including Abida Hussain, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington. Democratic, no?

» I went to the sneak preview of Persepolis – based on Marjane Satrapi’s comic book (see this for background). It is a poignant film – amazing 2d illustrations, perhaps some of the best music I have heard in a movie recently, and lots of “applicability to our current situations” (as I heard one sage describe it on the way out). The story takes place immediately before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and follows Marjane through the early 90s. Especially notable is the nuanced portrayal of a child growing up and learning what it means to know who she is and how to live with integrity. History and memory weigh heavy on Satrapi, though I am sure she will flick her burning cigarette into my eye for such academic l33t speech. I also know that Satrapi did not write this to “explain” the Islamic Revolution or life under the Mullahs in Iran to the United States at the moment we are actively contemplating “liberating” that nation from its suicidal regime. But that is how the US media will see this movie. I predict lots of reviews about how factual or authentic the description of life under Islamic regime is; how she is an apologist for the mullahs or handmaiden to the Great Satan etc. etc. There is no denying that this movie is grist for the hard news-wallah’s mill.

16_01.gif» Nicholas Schmidle, reporting in TNR compares Musharraf and the Shah in Iran – with the backdrop of US support of a dictator. The comparison is mostly facile and the fear is not a new one. General Zia ul Haq thought as much in the immediate aftermath and went on to inject his Sunnification policies into the Pakistani bloodstream (often mislabeled ‘Islamization’). The Iranian example does provide one crucial point to ponder: the role of the cultural intelligentsia and their ability to know and predict what is going on in their own country. We are focused on the middle class and the youth but we need to guage where the country’s over all mood is tilting towards. Let us not get carried away and forget that two of the biggest states in Pakistan are effectively ungovernable by the Federal regime; that an incredibly ruthless adversary is currently operating in Swat; that the people of Baluchistan have long awaited justice and that the Pakistani people are just as scared and helpless to control the direction of their country as we have been in this country. I am hopeful that Musharraf and his uniform and his throne will part soon enough but we need to know what happens next.

In the meantime, we can take heart from Schmidle. After all, it did take two years of hanging out with nastiest Islamists around before he got spooked from anti-Americanism:

At least, not yet. After living in Pakistan for almost two years and traveling to all parts of the country meeting some of the nastiest Islamists around, I had my first encounter with visceral anti-Americanism on Saturday night, an hour after the State of Emergency was declared. I was walking from one side of a police cordon, back into a crowd of anti-Musharraf protesters, when a tall man with a long beard called out from 15 feet away, berating me and accusing me of being a CIA agent. “America is destroying a nation of one hundred and sixty million people to save one person!” he yelled.

I looked back at the line of riot police and wondered if they were going to come to my rescue. But I didn’t fault the man with the beard; even though the White House has criticized Musharraf in the last few days, they have spent the past six years telling Musharraf that he could do no wrong. I just wondered how many American journalists faced a similar barrage in the months before the Shah fled Iran.

» In some earlier post I mentioned Zakaria and his particular brand of “realism”. He now demands our attention with Pakistan’s Pinstripe Revolution. Pinstripe? The analysis is so off-base that it screams for a proper fisking – for which I have no energy. Can I just say that when so-called “liberal pundits” are proclaiming “Periods of transition are never placid” a la Donald Rumsfeld than we really need to re-assess the meaning of the word “liberal”. The meaning of the word “pundit” thankfully should remain what it is.

» Imran Khan finally came out – went to Punjab University – and was tossed un-ceremoniously into the hands of the police by the members of the IJT (student wing of the Jama’at-i Islami, the hardline mullahs). Imran Khan needs to be released, now. He has justifiable fears for his safety.
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Aliens!

Aliens in America premiers tonight on the CW. Can someone tell me what that poor kid is wearing?

P.S. Considering it was filmed in Pasadena and Vancouver, let’s not forget to keep a tally of inaccuracies about Wisconsinites as well as Pakistanis.

P.P.S. Alessandra Stanley places Aliens in the genre of imaginary friend comedies. As she wisely observes: “Wish fulfillment gone awry is the essence of many a comedy, and there is no wish as potent and deep-seated as the yearning for an imaginary friend.” Thankfully she clarifies this assertion later on in the review with this clarification:

“Aliens in America,” which begins tonight on CW, follows in the same tradition except that the wished-for best friend is a Muslim exchange student from Pakistan, not a supernatural creature.

P.P.P.S.
It seems that the Pakistani character is named Raja Musharaff.

Persepolis Hits the Red Carpet

Persepolis Movie posterJust what we’ve all been waiting for: the animated version of Persepolis is being screened at Cannes this week, and that means it should get a general release later this year. There are some great trailers on Satrapi’s MySpace page that include some pretty sweet air guitar and “Eye of the Tiger” renderings by the protagonist. As we mentioned in our Chicken with Plums review, there was a great article on Satrapi in the Independent last year, and more recently, a really good article about Satrapi in the NYT in January (behind the great wall, unfortunately), that has a lot of details about the production, including this bit:

Persepolis with smoke

The voices were recorded before the animators began work, with Ms. Satrapi coaching the actors one on one. (Aghast at the prospect of bossing Ms. Deneuve around, she said, she downed three cognacs before directing the actress, who turned out to be ”funny and intelligent and a big smoker.”) Ms. Satrapi allowed herself to be recorded while acting out the physical gestures for each scene, to give the animation team a physical reference.

”We could do any number of movements to coordinate with the words,” said Christian Desmares, the chief animator, ”but Marjane wanted to really personalize each character, to use precise Iranian gestures. And we don’t know how to do that.”

Ms. Satrapi interjected: ”I play all the roles. Even the dog.”

Persepolis prison sceneThe stills from the movie posted to the official website suggest an interesting mix of styles, with the characters drawn faithfully in the mold of the original comics, and the settings and backgrounds done in a more ‘realistic’ mode, perhaps to give the action some dimensionality to move around in. The look it produces seems almost like a visual joke about bringing cartoons into live action films (à la Spiderman, etc.).