Friday, October 11, 2013

Argo see a Costa-Gavras film

So I had a chance to see the Oscar-winning [!] Argo recently. After hearing such good things about it, I was unpleasantly surprised and a bit angry. Assuming I couldn’t be the only person with that response, I googled. I had to do searches specifically related to racism and imperialism, but I found a few posts from the time it was in the theaters and the Oscar lead-up by people who had a similar reaction:

Argo, F—k Yourself: This year’s worst Best Picture nominee,” Kevin B. Lee, Slate:
…Perhaps my disgust wouldn’t be as intense if it weren’t for the potentially great film suggested by Argo’s opening sequence: a history of pre-revolutionary Iran told through eye-catching storyboards. The sequence gives a compelling (if sensationalized) account of how the CIA’s meddling with Iran's government over three decades led to a corrupt and oppressive regime, eventually inciting the 1979 revolution. The sequence even humanizes the Iranian people as victims of these abuses. This opening may very well be the reason why critics have given the film credit for being insightful and progressive—because nothing that follows comes close, and the rest of the movie actually undoes what this opening achieves.

Instead of keeping its eye on the big picture of revolutionary Iran, the film settles into a retrograde “white Americans in peril” storyline. It recasts those oppressed Iranians as a raging, zombie-like horde, the same dark-faced demons from countless other movies— still a surefire dramatic device for instilling fear in an American audience. After the opening makes a big fuss about how Iranians were victimized for decades, the film marginalizes them from their own story, shunting them into the role of villains. Yet this irony is overshadowed by a larger one: The heroes of the film, the CIA, helped create this mess in the first place. And their triumph is executed through one more ruse at the expense of the ever-dupable Iranians to cap off three decades of deception and manipulation….
“Argo: film review,” Andrew Schenker, Slant:
…[T]he film becomes an increasingly blinkered tale of the heroic C.I.A. versus the Muslim menace, exactly the narrative that today's hawkish politicians love to propagate. It's astonishing how easily the film is content to give into what critic Jack Shaheen might call Reel Bad Arab syndrome, in which every Iranian face is either filled with hatred or suspicion. Granted, in post-revolutionary Iran, people were indeed filled with anger and hostility toward Americans, but Affleck's decision to portray this sense of fury—quite vividly evoked despite the director's distracting penchant for whip pans and arcing shots—not only seems increasingly misguided in a moment when mainstream outlets like Newsweek run headline stories unhelpfully declaring the phenomenon of "Muslim Rage," but seems to play exactly into the simplified us-versus-them narrative of the war on terror….
“‘Argo’ as Orientalism and why it Upsets Iranians,” Juan Cole, Informed Comment:
…“Argo” could have been a moment when Americans come to terms with their Cold War role as villains in places like Iran. It could have been a film about what intelligence analysts call “blowback,” when a covert operation goes awry. Instead it plays into a ‘war on terror’ narrative of innocent Americans victimized by essentially deranged foreign mobs.

…The film tells but doesn’t show some of the US atrocities in Iran. It shows the plight of the hapless US diplomats. In making that key dramatic decision, and then in Orientalizing the Iranian protagonists as angry and irrational, the film betrays its subject matter and becomes propaganda, lacking true moral or emotional ambiguity….
Lacking true moral or emotional ambiguity is putting it mildly. It takes the ax for the frozen sea within us, breaks the handle over its knee, and shapes the head into figure skates. A disappointing imperial thriller from Affleck.

Not to try to draw too stark a contrast, but Amy Goodman just interviewed director Costa-Gavras about his history of filmmaking and his new work, Capital:

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