Racial attitudes inspected in a tough documentary, in a bit of history and a biting satire
I don’t remember this happening before. Here we are almost on the eve of the Academy Awards, and the expected love fest for La La Land, and three contenders have only just arrived in town.
A fourth was also scheduled but has now been postponed. They’re not front runners but they are full-length features. Two are animated, one is foreign language and one is such a powerful documentary I hope it wins. My reviews start with the three that are here.
I Am Not Your Negro: 4 ½ stars
My Life as a Zucchini: 4
The Red Turtle: 3 ½
A United Kingdom: 3
Get Out: 3 ½
The Girl With All the Gifts: 3
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO: In these days of Black Lives Matter, this Oscar-nominated documentary resonates powerfully. It examines the U.S. racial troubles through the insights of James Baldwin, the writer, speaker and intellectual who died in 1987 but whose words are pertinent even now. “White is a metaphor for power,” he wrote. He cited his “hate and pity” for “American blindness or cowardice” and for “moral monsters”. And going further he charted a psychological profile of both whites and blacks. His thoughts are part historical analysis, part anticipation. The film attached scenes from Ferguson, Missouri to underline that.
Before he died Baldwin wrote 30 pages of notes towards a book on black history as seen through the stories of three friends: Martin Luther King, Malcom X and Medger Evers. All had been murdered. Samuel L. Jackson reads from those notes and Baldwin himself is seen in clips from talk shows and speeches. Plus, the film is lively with clips from the news and the movies. In one, Bobby Kennedy predicts a black president in maybe 40 years, just about right for Obama’s election. From the movies, which Baldwin loved but eventually felt lied to him with its white heroes and subservient blacks, there’s a lot of John Wayne but also a startling clip from a 1930s movie in which a school girl is exposed as passing for white. There’s also a ham-handed cut from a swooning Doris Day to a photo of a lynching. That’s a rare misstep in this film by Raoul Peck which everywhere else is fiery, reasoned and articulate. (At two theatres: VanCity and International Village) 4 ½ out of 5
MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI: Like many films for children this one concentrates on the yearning for family. It’s quite a bit more realistic than usual though, despite it animation format and papier-mâché characters with big soulful eyes. These kids are tossed into a group-home orphanage (Zucchini, as his mother called him and he prefers over his real name, after he accidentally kills his mother). The children talk about sex and get into fights and little power plays. A nasty kid named Simon, whose parents are both junkies, takes a confrontational stance with Zucchini but also articulates reality. “We’re all the same. We’ve got nobody left to love us,” he says.
The film builds its emotional terrain gradually. Zucchini falls in love with a new girl who has a dark history and an aggressive aunt. He becomes friendly with a policeman but is adoption possible? Should he and the new girl go? How would the other kids feel, including spiteful Simon? The film understands well the bonds that can build up even in severe environments like orphanages. It’s from France and will be shown in two versions: subtitled and dubbed (by voices like Ellen Page, Will Forte, Nick Offerman, and Amy Sedaris). Visit viff.org for times. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
THE RED TURTLE: Here’s another animated film unlike most you see these days. It’s calm and quiet; there’s not even any talking, but it’s brilliantly sound-designed and beautifully drawn. And it’s allegorical and open to a variety of interpretations. I see it as a metaphorical portrait of a man’s entire life.