Import/Export

Party hats on for the finale of Import/Export

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

7 February

 

 

Maastricht Treaty signed, 1992

On this day in 1992, the Treaty on European Union, aka the Maastricht Treaty, was signed by members of the European Community, in Maastricht, Netherlands. Its purpose, as its name suggests, was to create a union of Europe. It proposed and established three pillars of the Treaty –the European Community, a common foreign and security policy and a similar arrangement for justice and home affairs. In effect it formalised arrangements that had already existed, but it also extended them – the European Community was the continuation of the European Economic Community, with the “Economic” being dropped to reflect broader unificatory ideals. The Maastricht Treaty also in effect created the common currency, the Euro.

 

 

 

Import/Export (2007, dir: Ulrich Seidl)

Bleak but spiked with glittering flashes of jet, Ulrich Seidl’s drama looks at both sides of what used to be called the Iron Curtain and surmises that life at the bottom is pretty shitty whether you’re in the rich West or the poor East. The Import/Export tag is all about the to and fro between the two and is made flesh in two characters. We meet attractive single mum Olga (Ekateryna Rak) whose job as a nurse out in the Ukraine isn’t bringing home enough cash, so she starts working part-time doing webcam sex for the world’s online masturbators. Unable to handle the degradation, she parks her child with her mother and takes a bus to Austria (Seidl’s homeland) to start more lucrative work as a cleaner. Before you get the bunting out, things aren’t exactly rosy there either. Going in the other direction is Pauli (Paul Hofmann) an Austrian supermarket security guard who quits his job after being ritualistically humiliated by a gang of thugs in a subterranean car park. Which is why he ends up with his stepfather (Michael Thomas) humping aged Space Invaders machines into the old Eastern Bloc, where the glittery lights are expected to prise hard-won money out of poor workers’ hands – allegory for capitalism entirely obvious. This would be an unbearable film to watch if it weren’t for Seidl’s matter-of-fact eye for tough comedy – Olga is a hopeless internet camgirl, and Pauli and his stepfather’s cackhandedness getting heavy awkward machines into and out of their battered van will raise a grim chuckle too. As will Michael’s attempt to co-opt Pauli into an evening of appallingly tawdry sex with reluctant but cash-strapped girls out East. And there’s a scene late on at a geriatric ball, the oldsters all with painted faces, funny hats and winking bow ties, that is Fellini-esque in its surreality. Still, the “it’s all always about money, right?” observation makes Import/Export a tough though thoughtful journey to places most of us would rather not go.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Ekateryna Rak’s excellent performance
  • Seidl went on to make the Paradise trilogy
  • A clear-eyed counter to the stream of Ostalgia flicks at the time
  • Seidl’s technique of deliberately over-extending the most discomfiting scenes

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Import/Export – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Caligula

Malcolm McDowell and Mirella D'Angelo cavort in Caligula

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

24 January

Caligula assassinated, AD41


On this day in AD41, or 41BCE, the Roman emperor Caligula was assassinated.

His name was in fact Gaius Augustus Germanicus and Caligula was his nickname – meaning “soldier’s little boot” – picked up while he was a child accompanying his general father on campaigns.

Caligula arrived as ruler of Rome by a tortuous, intrigue-filled and bloody route and worked hard once in power to increase the autocratic power of the emperor. This did not sit well with those who still saw Rome as a republic. Nor did Caligula’s spending of huge amounts of money on lavish residences for himself.

Caligula became emperor in March AD37 and was initially popular but by October that year he had started on a series of politically motivated murders (first his cousin and adopted son, then his father- and brother-in-law).

The following year he reinstated democratic elections and embarked on a series of tax reductions designed to bolster his popularity. The year after that the money ran out and he was forced into a series of revenue-raising stunts from unorthodox directions – such as auctioning off gladiators at public shows.

A famine broke out, partly due to Caligula’s incompetent handling of Rome’s infrastructure.

He was a contradictory ruler – he built many roads, aqueducts, temples and huge ships and seemed to love audacious civil engineering projects. But it was when he started murdering members of the Senate – who had grown used to ruling alone after Caligula’s predecessor, Tiberius, had retreated from active life – that the conspiracies against the emperor started to flourish.

These only grew in number when Caligula started to dress himself up as a god and claim divinity. He ordered a statue to himself erected in the Temple of Jerusalem (orders wiser heads never carried out). Tales about Caligula increased further – sleeping with sisters, prostituting them, making his horse a consul.

In AD40 Caligula announced he was moving to Alexandria, Egypt, where he would be worshipped as a god. This seems to have provided the spur to the conspirators, who moved quickly to kill the emperor.

Led by Cassius Chaerea they stabbed him to death in an underground corridor while he was addressing an acting troupe. Keen to destroy his line, they also murdered his wife and daughter. They failed to kill his uncle, Claudius, who became emperor.



Caligula (1979, dir: Tinto Brass)

If you have not seen Caligula, I strongly urge you to do so. Not because it is a great film – it really isn’t – but because it offers the sight of illustrious names of film being made a total fool of.

Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud and Helen Mirren are among those lining up for a drubbing in a film ostensibly directed by Tinto Brass, and ostensibly giving us a straight version of the life of the infamous Roman emperor.

Malcolm McDowell plays Caligula, and you couldn’t ask for a better actor to play a megalomaniac going off his chump. The script is by Gore Vidal, prolific writer of lightly fictionalised histories of the American republic. The ideal man, you’d have thought, to tackle a story about the ancient empire all modern empires style themselves on.

As for director Brass… well, here’s where the smudging starts. A talented director, Brass operated at that time in the peculiar territory shared by arthouse and pornography – for reasons to do with censorship and economics most towns could afford one non-mainstream cinema, which had to do double duty.

The reason why I use the word “ostensibly” in relation to direction and plot is because the film is bankrolled by Bob Guccione, the owner of the soft-porn title Penthouse. And once Brass’s work was done, Guccione took control of the film, hired another director, Giancarlo Lui, to shoot hardcore inserts.

Thanks to constant rewrites, budget over-runs, arguments and walkouts, the film was probably already a mess before Lui and Guccione got to work, but what eventually appeared on the screens is through-the-fingers stuff – the continuity is shot away, the film makes no sense and keeps taking pauses so that people who appear to be from another film entirely can disport themselves pornographically.

When they got wind of what Guccione and Lui were up to, Vidal sued, Brass sued, some of the actors sued too (though it must be said that the sensible ones simply chalked it up to experience).

“Shameful trash” the celebrated critic Roger Ebert called it. He’s being kind. If you want to buy the DVD or Blu-ray (its soft of focus either way), make sure to check out the “making of” interviews made before it debuted and featuring Guccione, Brass, Vidal et al. The gap between their windy guff and the leaden reality is a whole new realm of pleasure.




Why Watch?

  • An eye-rolling Malcolm McDowell
  • The high tone cast includes John Gielgud (killing himself)
  • The glory that wasn’t Rome
  • ”Been there, done that” kudos



Caligula – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014