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Radical Chic: Madonna Unveils Short Film Secret Project Revolution

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Radical Chic: Madonna Unveils Short Film Secret Project Revolution
Radical Chic: Madonna Unveils Short Film Secret Project Revolution

In his 2004 film The Raspberry Reich, Bruce LaBruce declares that “Madonna is counter-revolutionary.” Of course, it’s one of many parodies of political sloganeering in the film; in the real world, the impact of the pop-diva doyenne’s work, particularly in terms of post-feminist sexual agency, is unmistakable. Notably, Madonna’s American Life album—which dropped a year before The Raspberry Reich and finds the singer posing on the cover like a cross between Che Guevara and Patty Hearst, two revolutionary icons who figure prominently in the film—proved that Madonna’s politics are best delivered with tongue in cheek. When she’s ventured beyond sexual politics (or, say, the Catholic church, her qualms with which are ultimately about sex and gender anyway), she’s stumbled perilously close to the brand of radical chic LaBruce satirizes in his film.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2013

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2013
Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2013

Among this year’s Human Rights Watch selection, six films bear witness to various strands of feminism, artistry, uprising, violence, and filmmaking itself as a tool for revolution. Many of them are accomplished; one may well be a masterpiece.

Iran’s entrenched gender inequality afflicts maker and subject alike in Going Up the Stairs: Portrait of an Unlikely Iranian Artist. Director Rohksareh Ghaem Maghami and Akram, the titular artist, were both married before the age of 10, each threatened by their husbands with horrific physical deformations should they disobey their strict wishes. Now 50, Akram claims to love her husband, Heidap, even while fearful of him, and remains illiterate after he forced her to drop out of school at a young age. Now she paints, channeling her dreams into beautiful, childlike visions ripe with hope and purity, and at the film’s outset, she’s been invited to an exhibition in France, organized by her daughter, Toopa, in hopes that her mother will be able to display her work to the world. Matter of fact in its coverage, save for a few decorative time-lapse shots, Going Up the Stairs doesn’t do much to explicitly examine the power struggles between husband and wife (Akram needs Heidap’s permission to leave the country, and despite telling him off regarding her creative process, she cows to the sexist policies of her homeland), but at this historical moment, the documentation alone feels like a blow to the system. The triumph of an artistic spirit conquering its invisible chains is potent in front of and behind the camera, particularly when an awestruck Akram tours art galleries in France and states, “I feel as if I’ve entered a jungle in which I’m a simple shoemaker.”

BFI London Film Festival 2012: Tomorrow

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BFI London Film Festival 2012: <em>Tomorrow</em>
BFI London Film Festival 2012: <em>Tomorrow</em>

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a complex place. Spanning 16 regions and across eight time zones, Russia is a country of dichotomy. It’s at once home to multi-billionaire oligarchs (whose wealth has been accumulated only since the fall of communism) and secret tribes practicing their own laws based on religious sectarianism. It was only in August that an Islamist sect of over 70 people, including 27 children, was discovered having been living in an underground catacomb for over a decade. Russia, as a country, is definable only by its contradictions. It’s a nation of massive cultural, economic, ethnic, political, and religious disparities—a modern-day feudalist state built of communities that are small, insular, and proud.

A pre-title card to Andrey Gryazev’s Tomorrow states that the events that follow may or may not have actually occurred in reality. Such an inherent and overt contradiction undermines the documentary’s claims to factual accuracy. Gryazev captures the intensely personal lives of his anarcho-libertarian subjects as they roam the streets of Moscow shoplifting, gleaning from trashcans, and attempting to overturn parked cars. This small group of civic revolutionaries reject money, ownership of property, the established governmental regime, and the hypocrisies of law enforcement. Co-founders and de facto leaders Oleg and Koza call their son Kasper “Russia’s youngest political prisoner.”