Couch Potato Briefing: Are Palestinians from Mars?

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Global Spin’s weekend rental movie recommendations to keep you up to speed with world events, by Tony Karon and Ishaan Tharoor

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

We start this week with Francesco Rosi’s lovely screen adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”. Why? Not simply because it features the sultry pairing of Rupert Everett and Ornella Muti, but because it has something to tell us about the past week’s news about Iran. In Marquez’s story, the brothers Vicario, Pedro and Pablo, set out to kill Santiago Nasar, the man who allegedly claimed their sister’s virginity and ruined her marriage plans. The point, however, is that the Vicario brothers spend most of a day telling everyone they see of their plan to kill Nasar, hoping that someone will stop them or inform their intended victim to allow him to evade their attack. Nobody does, and hence the “death foretold.” Israel, in the past week, has renewed the “foretelling”  of its intention to attack Iran, hoping that someone will stop it by adopting harsh new sanctions that might persuade the Iranians the abandon their nuclear program. The problem, of course, is that the Israelis’ threats could paint them into the same corner in which the Vicario brothers found themselves on that fateful morning in Cartagena. – T.K.

Landscape in the Mist

There is no finer chronicler of the plights of modern Greece than Theodoros Angelopoulos, and a week when Greece is once again in the headlines — this time for equivocating over a German-authored bailout package for its ailing economy — seems a good time to revisit one of his masterpieces, Landscape in the Mist. A believer in letting scenes play out in real time, Angeloplous’ movies are long, and long on symbolism. And the point about  Landscape in the Mist is that Germany has a kind of “promised land” status in the minds of its protagonists, two runaway Greek children heading there in the belief that their father is living there. It’s the sometimes heartwarming, sometimes harrowing story of the childrens’ journey across Europe, which includes some of the most dazzling images of contemporary cinema. Just the thing for a moment when Greece has lost its illusions about Germany, and of the price its people will have to pay to remain part of the European Union. – T.K.

Divine Intervention

The Palestinian leadership caused a stir this week in the United Nation’s cultural arm, Unesco, by applying for membership (a symbolic accoutrement of statehood) and winning it by an overwhelming margin. In “retaliation”, Israel announced  the expansion of settlements  in East Jerusalem, while the U.S. cut all funding to Unesco. Stepping aside from geopolitical ructions, though, why not use the opportunity of this moment of cultural recognition to check in with Palestinian cinema? A good place to start would be Divine Intervention, Elia Suleiman’s surrealist comedy about life under occupation in the West Bank. And we mean surrealist: Yasser Arafat returns to Jerusalem as an image on a party balloon; people bicker; Santa Claus lies bleeding by a tree outside Nazareth, that sort of thing. Put Dali and Jim Jarmusch at a checkpoint in the blazing sun for a few hours and you’d be amazed at what they might come up with. – T.K.

Viva Riva

Some great African auteurs have won deserved respect in the West — we flag one eminent here — but, too often, Africa gets passed through Western filters to emerge simply the same old dark continent of famine, poverty and war. The resource- and conflict-rich Democratic Republic of Congo is a ground zero for these stories, with the focus now particular on grim reports of mass rapes carried out by warring militias. But Viva Riva is as Guardian writer Hannah Pool suggests this week, an example of Africans “telling their own stories.” The film, Pool explains, is a “gloriously trashy, fast-paced gangster flick by Congolese director Djo Tunda Wa Munga. It’s great entertainment, and a world away from the stereotype of worthy African cinema.” But it’s certainly worthy enough for the Couch Potato. — I.T.

Total Recall

In Moscow Nov. 4, a team of astronauts emerged from 520 days “locked away in steel tubes” in a bid to simulate a human voyage to Mars. Their fake spaceship had no windows and any communication between the astronauts and the outside world endured the lag that such messages would likely face during a real mission to the red planet. The mission was test case for how humans will cope when embarking on the journey to and eventual settlement of Mars. Let’s hope they have an easier time of it than what befalls Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall. — I.T.