Monday, June 29, 2015

A Marxist fable from France

Robert Guédiguian’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro (2011), on Netflix, is a textbook example of Marxist filmmaking. It stars the estimable Jean-Pierre Darroussin, who seems to be in every second French film I see, along with Ariane Ascaride, the two central characters - husband and wife Michel and Marie-Claire. Michel is a union steward in a Marseille dockyard, forced to draw names of which workers will face layoff. Michel, an ever so conscientiousness egalitarian, decides to put his own name in the mix. He draws it and, pushing 60, becomes unemployed with no prospects to be hired again. But he has his severance and pension and he and Marie-Claire enjoy a comfortable enough life in their small apartment with a rooftop patio overlooking the dockyards and Mediterranean. For their anniversary the couple are feted by friends and ex-colleagues and given a little treasure chest of cash donations and an all-inclusive trip to Africa, hence the movie’s name (and not to be confused with Henry King’s 1952 film based on the Ernest Hemingway story). One night the couple are playing cards when their home is invaded by gun-waving thieves who tie them up, steal their money (including the travel tickets) and raid their bank accounts with their debit cards. They also take a comic book that was Michel’s first childhood comic. Days later Michel is on a bus and notices a couple of kids reading the same comic book. He asks to see it and finds it’s in fact his, since his name was inscribed in it. He follows the kids home and discovers the home is also one of his fellow ex-worker's, who’s also lost his job, and was at Michel and Marie-Claire’s party. The assailant, Christophe (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), is soon arrested and faces 15 years in jail. Michel decides to visit him in captivity. The tables are turned. Christophe lashes out against the relatively more affluent Michel, compared to his miserable life, young and facing long unemployment without a pension. “What should I apologize for - being out of work, for dipping into (Michel’s) savings, his pocket money...going thousands of miles (to Africa) to ogle at the world’s poverty?” It turns out our armed robber is quite the theoretician. Michel, possibly a veteran of France’s New Left and the May 1968 Paris revolt (as per an early scene photograph), is induced in guilt. He wants to withdraw the charge. True, Christophe has a couple of young brothers who were abandoned by their parents and face being wards of the state. That tugs on Michel and Marie-Claire’s heartstrings. So Michel cashes in the ticket to help the kids and the couple decides to adopt them. In a near final scene the couple, sitting on the dock, don’t at all regret their decision. Indeed Marie-Claire blames the “bosses” for dividing the workers, and Michel puts the layoffs down to evil “globalization.” Regardless of the validity of this economic analysis the movie has an immoral core. It is justifying violence, indeed terrorism, and excusing it. The ends justify the means and all that. But it figures. Guédiguianis is a former Communist and staunch left-winger. So, folks, just so you know, here's a movie with a Marxist message shot through and through.

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