Archives for posts with tag: Politics

I have just bought probably my fifth copy of this wonderful book by Eduardo Galeano (translated by Cedric Belfrage). The other copies I could not resist giving away to friends and family. It is that sort of book, you want everyone you love to read and be similarly mesmerised and enriched by it.

From the very outset, as Galeano pays tribute to his longstanding friend and translator Belfrage, who had recently died, the author welcomes us into the intimacy of his world and self:

‘A part of me died with him.

A part of him lives with me.’

The Book of Embraces is largely comprised of short pieces and vignettes that embrace personal stories, parables, politics, dreams, and above all a wonderment on life and on being human.

In one such piece, The Function of Art/2:

‘The chief took his time, then said:

That scratches. It scratches hard and it scratches very well.”

And then:

“But it scratches where there isn’t any itch.” ‘

Few words say much with Galeano’s pen.

He speaks of Pinochet, of political prisoners and military dictatorships, the tragedies emphasised by personal narratives. He tells the story of Jose Carrasco, for example, a journalist who was dragged from his house following an attempt on the life of Pinochet:

‘At the foot of a wall on the edge of Santiago, they put fourteen bullets in his head.’

‘The neighbors never washed the blood away. The place became a sanctuary for the poor, always strewn with candles and flowers, and Jose Carrasco became a miracle worker.’

In a piece titled Forgetting/2, Galeano continues the political thread that suffuses the book:

‘Military dictatorship, fear of listening, fear of speaking, made us deaf and dumb. Now democracy, with its fear of remembering, infects us with amnesia…’

Divorces:

‘Our system is one of detachment: to keep silenced people from asking questions, to keep the judged from judging, to keep solitary people from joining together, and the soul from putting together its pieces.’

And politics and society in The System/1:

‘Politicians speak but say nothing.

Voters vote but don’t elect.

The information media disinform.

Schools teach ignorance.

Judges punish the victims.’

‘Money is freer than people are.

People are at the service of things.’

There is much autobiographical in the book, including Galeano’s reflections following a heart attack, when death was ‘clawing at the center of my chest.’ He spent the time while recuperating updating his address book, and as he transferred names from old to new, he experienced ‘a prolonged mourning for the dead who had remained in the dead one of my heart, and a long, much longer celebration of those still alive who fired my blood and swelled my surviving heart.’

He ends this vignette with my favourite sentence from a most magical book:

‘And there was nothing bad and nothing odd about the fact that my heart had broken from so much use.’

CQ

Alison Klayman’s film follows the artist Ai Weiwei as he prepares for autumn shows at the Sao Paulo Biennale and Tate Modern. Throughout the documentary, however, it is Ai Weiwei the political activist rather that the artist that is the dominant force.

Ai Weiwei’s absolute commitment to challenging injustice in China is extraordinary and humbling, particularly as he perseveres today, despite his 81 day detention in 2011.

His upbringing first acquainted him with repression. His father, the poet and political activist Ai Qing, was subjected to imprisonment for his beliefs.

Ai Weiwei was first celebrated as an artist outside of his native country. However, as his worldwide fame grew, the political regime in China decided to embrace this success and commissioned him to create the Bird’s Nest Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The artist’s relationship with Chinese authorities soon turned sour. The main catalyst for this was the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan. Thousands died, yet there were no officials figures, nor any official statements on what caused the earthquake and the deaths, which included many children. Ai Weiwei, with the help of volunteers, redressed this silence by painstakingly gathering and listing the names of those who died. His fellow activist Tan Zuoren also tried to get more information on the earthquake but was arrested for doing so. Ai Weiwei was due to testify at his trial, but was detained and assaulted by the police, which thus prevented him from appearing in court. The artist took legal action against the police, which predictably fails. But this very point seem to emphasise the motives behind Ai Weiwei’s actions –  it is not just about the outcome, but of challenging injustice whenever and wherever possible. Action outplays inaction.

The film includes interviews with fellow artists, who acknowledge and admire Ai Weiwei’s refusal to compromise, to comply with towing the only line permitted by the Chinese authorities.

The film briefly touches on the artist’s private life. We see his mother, who both admires and is fearful for her son. Ai Weiwei has been married to a fellow artist for many years, and has a young son by another woman, all of whom appear significant and important in his life. The artist has turned the internet, particularly Twitter, to his, and the Chinese people’s advantage, as he doggedly shares his views on the injustices he witnesses in his native country, to which he is deeply committed.

The film is captivating and unobtrusively gives some insight into the man, the artist, and most especially the political activist.

But, and this is a small but for an impressive and must-see film, I did leave the auditorium wanting more…

CQ

Sunday, July 22, 2012

This documentary film by the legendary exiled Chilean director Patricio Guzmán follows on from earlier work on his homeland, most notably The Battle of Chile, which focuses on Salvador Allende’s short period in office before the US-backed coup that put Pinochet in power. Guzmán’s cinematic legacy and vitalness is about not forgetting Chile’s history, most specifically Pinochet’s legacy.

Nostalgia for the Light is perhaps less overtly political than some of the director’s earlier work, yet the persecution of Pinochet’s regime, and the importance of remembering not forgetting the victims, strongly reverberates.

This is a beautifully meditative and melancholic piece. Chile’s Atacama desert, the driest place on earth, is central, both physically and metaphorically. It is here that the world’s largest telescopes that study the cosmos are positioned. Perhaps surprisingly scientists remind us that when we look at the stars we are actually looking back in time, backwards, into the past.

Thus, astronomy has much in common with archaeology, both mining the past, looking for clues. We see the Chilean women of the desert, such as Victoria and Violetta, 30 years later, still digging and searching the dry dust for remains of their loved ones who disappeared under Pinochet’s regime. Isolated human remains, bones, have been recovered, mostly too fragmented to piece together as an identifiable whole… The victims of the regime can never be quantified, as so many have never been found. The word ‘disappeared’ echoes loudly in the vast arid infinite open space.

The film underpins the myth of the present. There is no such thing. Everything, including the letters I am currently typing, is instantly in the past. Looking upwards to the sky and the stars, and downwards to the earth, the dirt, the sand…all is from before, not now. The power of the past is that it can always be with us, it can mould today. What Guzmán has achieved for Pinochet’s victims is a collective memory, a remembered past that constitute a present.

The BFI is concurrently featuring Guzmán’s other work, including The Battle of Chile.

Tonight I saw The Pinochet Case (2001), the story of bringing the dictator to judgement. Again, I was struck by the tenderness and respect that Guzmán has for the sufferers of the regime. The camera lingers tenderly, often in silence, and the director is as always unobtrusive. I found the film almost unbearably tragic and moving, desperately hoping for a positive outcome. But there can never be a resolution for Pinochet’s victims. As one commented:

‘People tell us it’s better to forget, but you can only forgive someone who has asked you for forgiveness.’

Guzmán states that The Pinochet Case is all about suffering and pain. Clearly yes, but what he has achieved with this, and with Nostalgia for the Light and his other work, and which is in itself uplifting, are works of art that signify the collective witnessing of a past that can be remembered today, and tomorrow.

CQ