Wednesday, 26 March 2014

BLINDNESS (Meirelles 2008): A Co-Production that Looks to the Destruction of the National on Multiple Levels

(Beware of Spoilers)

Officially cited as a co-production between Canada, Brazil and Japan, Blindness also credits an impressive seventeen production companies as contributing, following which the screen reads “a very independent picture”. While the film never explicitly states the name of a city as its setting, iconic yellow cabs and busy streets indicate New York (despite the filming location being Guelph, Ontario). Clearly, much can be said about transnational film production in the age of globalization in regards to this film. Even more so however, the film seems to speak to the inevitability of the destruction of the National within a Globalized world.

When a mysterious plague referred to as the “white sickness” steals the eyesight of all but one woman, replacing it with only white light, chaos ensues. Within this narrative, the destruction of nation is literal. At first the government tries to control the situation by forcing the infected into quarantine, but with the number of the sick rising at a frightening rate, the quarantined find their quarters overcrowded, lacking in resources, and overrun by a select few patients. This is not a treatment centre nor is it a care facility. The only employees are heavily armed guards whose only concern is keeping the sick locked up and far from them. Shown in an extremely negative light, the guards are guilty of opening fire on the crowd, disregarding their basic human rights, and ignoring their pleas for help. If as government officials they represent the national, the eventual disappearance of the guards implies a combination of insignificance and powerlessness. They try to assert power by force in the beginning but eventually have to give up, presumably because the state of the world is out of control. 

Meanwhile, life inside the isolation facility quickly deteriorates until it itself becomes a representation of what we would consider to be the Third World, that is, the crowded, dirty, space seems unlivable by First World standards. Within the building are separate wards which come to stand in for different cities in this newly formed society, with each electing a ward representative. However, it is not long until people begin to challenge this imbedded desire to recreate democratic social standards, and instead revert to chaotic and violent means of asserting dominance to ensure survival. This results in one ward’s takeover, physical assaults (including sexual), and “war”.

Upon escaping the quarantine building, though, the characters find that the outside world they know has ceased to exist. Hopeful, and led by the only woman who can see, one group enchantedly begins to build a new life; a fresh start with less rigid social standards. In a beautifully sensual scene, the group feels the rain on their skin for the first time since being locked away, and their genuine happiness emphasizes the water as a symbol of rebirth. In a particularly telling scene, they all return to the home of their leader, where the women strip down and shower together. This communal shower, though not sexual, indicates a definite break from Western culture. Furthermore, the joy the women experience in this scene suggests a desired freedom from what used to be. This move away from what was expresses a break from concepts of national identity in a very positive light. Whereas within the quarantine people recreated a Third World experience, in the safety of this house, there is an expectation to build a new, utopian, world. 

Outside, people ravage one another in the streets in a ‘survival of the fittest’ plight, but when the narrator assures us with his final words that they will all regain their sight and that “This time, they would really see”, there is an implication that what the group has created inside the house will spread once the madness calms.

Not only is the film challenging the idea of national identity through the destruction of the functionality of the state and the social rules it abides by, but also through the characters themselves. The presence of multiculturalism is always the first way to problematize national identity since it suggests that people live in ‘hyphened spaces’. In other words, within a given nation there is a makeup of peoples who ‘belong’ to more than one culture. This immediately undermines the idea that they are responsible solely to one set of national policies and/or cultural standards related to one particular nation, and may in fact negotiate two or more opposing national ‘identities’. Within the film, this is portrayed through the use of two languages and many accents, as well as through racial tensions. Interestingly, it is suggested that racism will likely disappear in a world without eyesight. This takes place in a scene where a white man makes a racial slur about a black man. He does so without knowing the friend he is speaking to is himself black. When reminded by this black man that he cannot be sure of anyone’s race without his eyes, the man responds “I can tell from the voice”. Of course, he is wrong; the man he is talking about is shown to not be black. 

Another way that cultural specificity is questioned in the film is with its ambiguous relationship to religion. The question of whether divine intervention has had a role in the ‘white sickness’ is left unanswered, but a strong argument can be made. First, there is the fact that the people are plagued by a white light as opposed to blackness, which is what medical blindness is defined as. Meanwhile, white light has explicit associations to religion. 

Second, there is the church scene. Here, the woman with sight enters a church and finds that all the statues of religious (Christian) figures have been blindfolded. Reminiscent of the one religious scene in Meirelles’s earlier film City of God, high and canted angles are used, but the topic is not returned to and so the audience is left not knowing the significance of it. The characters do briefly speculate about what it might mean, wondering if the priest did it because he knew this plague was coming. It seems to me though that the blindfolds can be interpreted two ways, either this was a warning message to the people, or an attempt to keep God from seeing what people are really capable of in chaos. However, both interpretations imply the existence of God, as well as a confirmation of Christianity itself as the ‘correct’ religion. By not actually answering the question of divine intervention however, the film does not explicitly approve of this line of thought. Moreover, because of the film’s hostility towards national identity, the question of Christianity becomes yet another indicator of how complex such an idea really is; Christianity may be the ‘official’ religion of America, but because of the ‘melting pot’ representation of America, even this has to be problematized.

Blindness has a strikingly circular narrative structure. The film opens with a man going blind in his car. In the final scene, it is this man who suddenly regains his sight. The group celebrates for him and for themselves with the new found expectation they they too will see again.  At this point, the narrator wonders about the future of the characters. But the real question is what will their world be like now that the social standards have been destroyed along with the imagined security of national rights? Until the plague, national citizenship (in a First World especially) would have implied safety through government intervention and class hierarchy (a hierarchy that has historically had a relationship to gender and race as well). However, the white sickness not only took away this sense of security, but also broke down the hierarchies by forcing them to function without distinction of skin color and class. In a way, the sickness made them equals. 

Those who tried to recreate hierarchal systems were figured as evil and punished. Thus, the ambiguous ending of the film is flirting with the idea that in order to create a utopia, like the one pointed to in the house,  there has to first be a destruction of any system that is run on hierarchies, such as of class and race. Nationality is of course one of the strongest systems of this sort. By destroying peoples faith in such a system, the white sickness provides the first step towards a new world. In relation to globalization, this is very significant because in breaking away from national systems there is also a complete dissolution of borders, creating an open, globalized, world. Therefore, Mierelles seems to argue with this film that the only way to function efficiently and happily in a globalized world, with equality, is to destroy the national and live only in the global.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Top Fives: Canada on American Netflix

I have a secret about Netflix to share... There is far more Canadian content on American Netflix than the actual Canadian one.

Mind blown, right?

Both Netflix regions allow you to search Canadian content, in Canada it is listed under genres (odd but true), while to find this stuff on the American version, you must specifically search "Canadian movies".

These searches will yield 68 results on the Canadian, while the American list yields just over 200 titles! 

If you have access to American Netflix, I highly recommend you check out some of these, and to help you make your picks I've put together some Top 5 Lists.

As you may know, the Canadian film industry is often stereotyped as only having Docs and Horrors... But that is mostly true, so these will be my points of focus.

* * * * * *


1. Lost and Delirious (Lea Pool 2001)

4.5 Stars

Genre: Drama/Romance


Plot: A coming of age tale that explores sexual awakenings and young love at an all girls boarding school.

Starring: Mischa Barton and Jessica Pare

Location: Lennoxville, QC

2. Tucker & Dale VS Evil  (Eli Craig 2010)

4.25 Stars

Genre: Comedy/Horror


Plot: Two "Backwoods" guys have their weekend in the woods go terribly wrong when they are mistaken for psychotic killers by a group of vengeful college kids

Starring: Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk

Location: Alberta, Can.

3. The Whale (Chisholm and Parfit 2011)

4.25 Stars

Genre: Doc


Plot: Exploring the conflicts over Luna, a whale living off Vancouver Island

Starring: Ryan Reynolds (yup)

Location: Vancouver, BC

4. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (Dunn and McFadyen 2010)

4.25 Stars

Genre: Doc


Plot: Exploring the progression of Canadian Rock Band Rush from 70s rock to their new Heavy Metal sound

Starring: ...Rush 

Location: Toronto, ON

5. Goon (Michael Dowse 2011)

4.2 Stars

Genre: Comedy


Plot: The true story of how one sweet hockey fan, Doug Glatt, became a hockey legend... For his fighting skills.

Starring: Sean William Scott and Jay Baruchel

Location: Manitoba, SK

* * * * * *


1. Tucker & Dale VS Evil (Eli Craig 2010)

Netflix: 4.25 Stars

My Rating: 5 Stars


Gory and hilarious, this film subverts not only genre conventions, but stereotypes in general. The first legitimately good horror/comedy since Scary Movie (that I've seen, at least).

2. American Mary (Jen/Sylvia Soska 2012)

Netflix: 3.75 Stars

My Rating: 4 Stars


Gory, with a story to tell about life. With all the ups and downs, these characters prove that learning how to be you is of the utmost importance - oh and revenge, that's pretty high up there too.

3. Haunter (Vincenzo Natali 2013)

Netflix: 3.5 Stars

My Rating: 4 Stars


Suspenseful and dark, this film subverts the haunted-house narrative when a young girl must solve the mystery of her own demise.

4. A Little Bit Zombie (Casey Walker 2012)

Netflix: 3.25 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Looks great!)


A Zom-Com that looks to be along the same comedic lines as the original Evil Dead trilogy.

5. The Moth Diaries (Mary Harron 2011)

Netflix: 3.2 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Looks Chilling)


A Gothic tale - Boarding school, New Girl, Dark Secrets (That's probably enough said). 

* * * * * *

TOP 5 DOCS (Sad to say, I've seen NONE of these ones)

1. The Whale (Chisholm and Parfit 2011)

Netflix: 4.25 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Looks Heartwarming)

Confliction over Luna, the killer whale off the Vancouver coast.

2. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (Dunn and McFadyen 2010)

Netflix: 3.25 Stars

My Rating: N/A

A look at the 40-year career of Canadian Rock-Legends, Rush.

3. Reel Injun (Neil Diamond!! and Catherine Bainbridge 2009)

Netflix: 3.25 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Neil Diamond?!)


An examination of Hollywood's wildly inaccurate depictions of Native Americans throughout time.

4. 65_RedRoses (Lyall and Mukerji 2009)

Netlfix: 3.1 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Strikes me as a Must-See)


Following the life of Eva Markvoot, a young woman suffering from the fatal illness Cystic Fibrosis as she develops an online network of support, creating friendships with other patients across borders.

5. Greenwich Village: Music that Defined a Generation (Laura Archibald 2012)

Netflix: 3.1 Stars

My Rating: N/A (Canada has a long relationship with beautiful Music-Docs, so it's fair to have high expectations)

Blending interviews and archival footage, this doc is a profile of the Folk Legends who put Greenwich Village on the map (so to speak).

* * * * * *

Well, I hope that helps spruce up your Canadian Film Viewing - Might as well take advantage of this freezing weather and stay in!


Thursday, 13 March 2014


Undoubtedly, the great success of Halloween (John Carpenter 1978) allowed the modern slasher to thrive in the 80s, but prior to this the genre had already taken form in Canada. Bob Clark’s 1974 film Black Christmas was the first of many to be produced and cherished in the North.

Everyone has heard the argument that Halloween changed the face of horror and created the slasher formula, with those to follow upping the ante by showing more violence and more nudity. What fewer people realize is that four years prior, Black Christmas set the stage for the better part of this formula. In fact, the film is even more graphic, with more blood and a higher body count. 

Violence and the Killer-Point-of-View :

While Halloween only boasts 4 on screen murders, and one extra body, Black Christmas features 3 on-screen deaths (all more gruesome than Carpenter’s 4), and 4 more bodies, 3 of which are shown for bloody effect. Moreover, while Halloween is so often credited as the first to use the killer-point-of-view, the truth is, Black Christmas did it first - perhaps even more effectively.

The film is set in a sorority house just as the holidays approach. Many of the girls have left to visit family, and the ones who stayed behind are festively celebrating, and drinking quite heavily. A point-of-view shot opens the narrative inviting the viewer to immediately identify with the killer, as he peeps into the windows of the house. This five minute opening sequence crosscuts between the killer-point-of-view as he sneaks into the attic, and the unaware girls and their party guests carrying on. Like Peeping Tom (an early example of slasher cinema from Britain), the film prioritizes the insidious action of looking as the main source of horror, bringing to mind Carol Clover’s statement that “eyes are everywhere in horror cinema”. At the level of narrative, she explains, either seeing too much, or seeing too little, is problematic. In this brilliant scene, Black Christmas reveals the danger of both. The gaze is positioned as dangerous since it belongs to a psychotic serial killing pervert. On the other hand, being ‘blind’ to the dangers around them, the girls’ lack of seeing is what will inevitably get them killed. Throughout the film the point-of-views will continue to shift back and forth, always keeping the audience privy to what the killer is seeing. This keeps the tension very high - and his heavy breathing invading the sound track keeps the atmosphere very creepy.

The Women (Spoilers):

The Final Girl is one of the most important aspects in a slasher film. While Laurie Strode will always be my number one, it must be pointed out that the concept was first developed by Clark in Black Christmas
Barb is the first girl introduced. Despite a subtle knack for observance when she yells at the other girls for leaving the front door open (ironically this is not how the killer enters), Barb is drunk and continues to be so throughout the film. The viewer learns very little of her, but it is clear that she has left an unstable home in the city to attend university in a small town. Likely on her own for the first time, she takes full advantage of the free-spirit of the sorority house, wailing “this is a sorority house, not a convent!” Not surprisingly, Barb’s irresponsibility is said to provoke the ‘moaner’, a name given to the killer by the girls for his perverted phone calls. Her character is a lot of fun (played by Margot Kidder - yes! Lois Lane!), but obviously, she is too wild to qualify as a Final Girl. 

Enter Jess. She is sweet and protective of her “sisters”. But she is also career-oriented and rational, and it is these “masculinities” that make her a great Final Girl (the idea that the Final Girl is masculine is still very popular in the scholarship although I find the concept outdated). She would rather not fight, but she will when backed into a corner. In fact, she is one of the few Final Girls to have actually killed someone. 

You may recall, even Laurie can only hold Michael off until help arrives.


Although Black Christmas does not feature any sex or nudity, for it’s time it is unmatched for crudeness. Barb gets all of her kicks from dirty jokes, from convincing a police officer ‘fellatio’ is a new telephone exchange, to dinner conversation about the mating habits of turtles. Meanwhile, the alcoholic House Mother traipses around cursing like a sailor and her efforts to appear stable only make her seem more ridiculous. This comedic aspect provides a much needed break from how incredibly scary the situation is. 

With no idea who the killer is, the viewer only knows he is in the house, and that he is taunting them over the phone while he knocks them off, one by one. Leaving them in poses (yes, like in Halloween with Linda and Annie) when he’s finished.

In an interview, Bob Clark was asked how he felt about Carpenter ripping off his film. But Clark is a stand up guy and while he admits that when his film was released he did spend some time with Carpenter who was eager to discuss the possibility of a sequel, he also gives Carpenter credit for his own masterpiece. Clark states, “John was a great fan of Black Christmas… He loved the movie and I believe he was influenced some by it, but he did not copy my movie and Halloween is entirely John Carpenter’s and it’s one of the Greats of its kind.” And, that it is!

Meanwhile, the slasher continued to make its mark on Canadian Cinema and the Horror genre with some of the most popular films being Prom Night and Terror Train (both 1980 featuring Jamie Lee Curtis), My Bloody Valentine  (1981) and Visiting Hours (1982). Also, many Canadian slashers have recently been subjected to the US remake (co-produced). Sadly, Black Christmas was one of these. 

It’s nothing against remakes in general - but really, take my advice, and stay clear of this one.

Friday, 7 March 2014

GFE: Girlfriend Experience (Ileana Pietrobruno 2008): Prostitution and the Blurred Lines of Reality

Daniel Loves his Prostitutes... Bad Idea

This is a familiar story. A story of passion and loss of control. A story of falling before you know you’ve tripped. A story of a damsel-in-distress, and an ordinary hero. Oh wait, no it’s not...
Let me try again: This is the story of a hooker/client relationship made complicated by the impossibility of creating a fantasy to live by.
This film might be best described as a “behind-the-scenes” look at the Pretty Woman fantasy. It is a faux-documentary that attempts an exploration of prostitution from the point-of-view of a john. Rather than asking what drives a woman to sell her body, it asks what drives someone to buy it. The handheld camera and poor lighting allow the cinematography to represent the grittiness of the scenarios, but this documentary style of filmmaking simultaneously portrays the difficulty of losing oneself in a fantasy world. Daniel insists that he is aware of the falsities on which his relationship with Adrian are founded, but the film literally undermines this, constantly reminding the viewer that the lines between reality and fantasy are more difficult to distinguish than he would like to believe. 

“Hobbies are supposed to be fun!” Daniel belts out in frustration as he watches Adrian storm out on him. So when did the client position become so strenuous for Daniel? When did life with Adrian become so real? Who blurred the lines? 

When Daniel’s actual girlfriend admits to him that she has considered role-playing the hooker/john scenario for him to ease this desire to sleep with prostitutes, she also voices a profound revelation. She says, “you wouldn't be turned on, cause even though you say your prostitution world is all make believe and fantasy I think that you like your whores because to you they’re real.” 

What is undoubtedly real is how all-consuming his addiction to his so-called “hobby” is. 

By constructing itself like a documentary the film is able to explore multiple perspectives on the subject. In many scenes of Daniel’s sexual encounters, a split-screen divides the viewers attention between the sex and the reasoning, as a john (whose face will be hidden) discusses what he likes about prostitutes and why. Even though the film is fiction, it delivers some thought-provoking “interviews” and gives a voice to the other side. The trade has always been controversial, and the idea that it victimizes women always present. The men are always the big bad wolves. But from this rare perspective, it is them that seem pathetic. Not to mention defensive, with one going so far as to ask, “I’m paying. So, who’s using who?”

Whatever your position on the matter, I think this film has value. It does not glamorize prostitution, nor does it demonize it or the people involved. Despite its short 82 minute running time, it does manage a good amount of character development. Moreover, because the theme of blurring reality extends past the story through the use of documentary conventions, Pietrobruno maintains a sense of criticism throughout, forcing the viewer to think about what they see and hear. 

It’s an all-around smart film.