Fear Eats the Soul: Fassbinder’s film is still relevant after 40 years

<em>Fear Eats the Soul</em>: Fassbinder’s film is still relevant after 40 years

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul has been re-released nationally as part of a retrospective at London’s BFI Southbank. Thanks to the MUBI streaming service I got a chance to watch again one of the great works of the New German Cinema that I last saw when first released in 1974. The film remains as extraordinary and – sadly – as urgent and relevant in 2017 as it was in 1974. Fear Eats the Soul is, without doubt, a masterpiece: a blistering  social and psychological examination of racism that has a tenderness rarely found in Fassbinder’s work. In addition, the idea of a film which treats the sexuality of a sixty year old woman in so matter of fact and sensitive a manner unfortunately remains as startling now as it was four decades ago. Continue reading Fear Eats the Soul: Fassbinder’s film is still relevant after 40 years”

Migrant tunes: a Klezmer-ish night out at the local synagogue

Migrant tunes: a Klezmer-ish night out at the local synagogue

A Klezmer-ish night out? Why not – especially when the venue is one of the most beautiful buildings in our neighbourhood. Klezmer-ish are a group of four musicians whose day job is with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. They play klezmer, but at the same time (thus the -ish) explore a wide range of music created by immigrants from all sorts of places around the world – from Argentinean tango to gypsy jazz and Irish fiddle music. Last night they were performing in the dazzling Princes Road synagogue.
Continue reading “Migrant tunes: a Klezmer-ish night out at the local synagogue”

Ian McKellen reads a passionate speech by Shakespeare, written in defence of immigrants (reblog)

Ian McKellen reads a passionate speech by Shakespeare, written in defence of immigrants (reblog)

I’m re-blogging this item from Open Culture because it deserves wide circulation in these times when migrants are told they’re unwelcome, when borders are manned and walls are being built, when the Dutch prime minister says, ‘Behave normally or go away‘, and when outsiders are attacked or vilified. And because today is Holocaust Memorial Day.

Little Englanders, Brexiters, Daily Mail keep them out and send them home types: these are the words of Shakespeare, our national poet and treasure. Worth a listen? Continue reading “Ian McKellen reads a passionate speech by Shakespeare, written in defence of immigrants (reblog)”

Angela Merkel denounces those who ‘have prejudice, a chilliness, even hatred in their hearts’

Angela Merkel denounces those who ‘have prejudice, a chilliness, even hatred in their hearts’

In the UK, with UKIP in the ascendant stoking up its anti-immigration message, we hear both Labour and Conservative politicians, running scared of a section of the electorate, tacking daily towards UKIP’s positions. But what if our politicians were brave enough to take on the racists and the narrow-minded?  That’s what the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has done in her new year address to the nation. Continue reading “Angela Merkel denounces those who ‘have prejudice, a chilliness, even hatred in their hearts’”

A tale of two villages: it could be a wonderful life

A tale of two villages: it could be a wonderful life

In Marinaleda unemployment does not exist. It is a collective project life, life for all

The path to utopia

Politicians and media whipping up anti-immigrant hysteria. Savage welfare cuts while the super-rich live high on the hog.  Deepening inequality and zero-hours contracts.  Rapacious banks and untamed corporations. Corporate greed gouging the common weal.  In these austere times, like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, one can easily become discouraged.  The joyous cacophony of community life in Bedford Falls can seem like a distant dream of the silver screen.

But wait: here’s a tale of two villages.  Real places, inhabited by real people who have taken a stand against profit and materialism, racism and fear.  Two villages.

One….

Spain has been one of the countries hit hardest by the banking crash.  At around 26%, Spain’s unemployment rate is the highest in the EU (and youth unemployment is nearly double that figure). In the wake of Spain’s property crash, hundreds of thousands of homes have been repossessed and half a million families have been evicted since 2008.

But, in Marinaleda, in impoverished Andalusia, the story is different.  Unemployment is zero, with most of the villagers working for collectively-owned enterprises (growing food, building houses, working in shops, and running sporting, leisure and other basic services).  Everyone works a 35-hour work week and earns a monthly salary of €1,128, at a time when the minimum wage in Spain is €641 per month.  Many villagers rent a house of 90 square metres with a terrace for only €15 per month – a house that they have helped construct.  Much of the land on which food crops are grown and houses are built is collectivised – once an estate owned by the aristocratic Alba family and awarded to the village by the regional government after a decade of occupations, strikes and appeals.

Sanchez Gordillo

Sanchez Gordillo, Mayor of Marinaleda

For three decades Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo has been Marinaleda’s mayor, after winning the mayoral election in April 1979 as a representative of the United Workers’ Collective, a communist farm workers’ organization that promotes government through popular assemblies and believes that Andalusia should be independent from Spain.  ‘I have never belonged to the communist party of the hammer and sickle, but I am a communist or communitarian’, Sánchez Gordillo has said, adding that his political beliefs were drawn from those of Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Marx, Lenin and Che.  In 2013, he drew international media attention when he and a group of the villagers entered a supermarket and seized food, which they distributed to the area’s food banks – an action justified by Sánchez Gordillo with these words:

We’re doing something new here: we’re insisting that natural resources should be at the service of people, that they have a natural right to the land, and that land is not something to be marketed. Food should not be speculated with either. It is a basic human right.

Workers at the farming cooperative in Marinaleda

Workers at the farming cooperative in Marinaleda

Marinaleda is a village which has known terrible hardship in the past.  But today the villagers grow beans, artichokes, peppers and produce high-quality olive oil. The workers themselves control each phase of the production while the land belongs to the community as a whole. There is a collectively-owned cannery, olive mill, facilities for livestock and a farm store. Gordillo says:

We have learned that it is not enough to define utopia, nor is it enough to fight against the reactionary forces. One must build it here and now, brick by brick, patiently but steadily, until we can make the old dreams a reality: that there will be bread for all, freedom among citizens, and culture; and to be able to read with respect the word ‘peace ‘. We sincerely believe that there is no future that is not built in the present.

escudo marinaleda

The village coat of arms: ‘utopia to peace’

Marinaleda, with some financial support from the Andalusian regional government, has been able to offer three things that much of Spain is desperately wanting: employment, affordable housing, and a more participatory democracy. ‘The most important thing we’ve done here is to struggle and obtain land through peaceful means, and to ensure that housing is a right, not a business, says Sánchez Gordillo. ‘And as a village we work together, discuss and collaborate together: that’s fundamental for any society, too.’

Utopia lies at the horizon.
When I draw nearer by two steps,
it retreats two steps.
If I proceed ten steps forward, it
swiftly slips ten steps ahead.
No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.
What, then, is the purpose of utopia?
It is to cause us to advance.
― Eduardo Galeano

Rocella near Riace abandoned sailing ship Kurds ashore 1999

The abandoned ship from which two hundred Kurds scrambled ashore in 1999 near Riace

Two…..

In another desperately poor part of Europe there is a village that has welcomed migrants with open arms.  Riace lies on a hill five miles inland from the coast of Calabria in the far south of Italy. Little more than two months ago, more than 300 African migrants drowned when their boat caught fire and sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa.  The tragedy resulted in many expressions of horror – from Italian politicians, the European Commission and the UN secretary general.  Pope Francis was appalled: ‘The word disgrace comes to mind. It is a disgrace. Let’s unite our efforts so that tragedies like this don’t happen again. Only a decisive collaboration of everyone can help and prevent them’.

Riace

Riace

In Riace, for more than a decade, the villagers have collaborated in opening their doors to migrants in a dramatic reversal of usual attitudes towards immigrants. Calabria is a poor part of Italy, where villages are dying as young people leave in search of work in the cities of the north.  So, after two hundred Kurds scrambled ashore in 1999 from their sinking boat on the coast near Riace, Domenico Lucano – another left-wing mayor – encouraged the Kurds to settle in his village replacing the people who had left and reversing his village’s decline.  Since then, more ‘people who come from the sea’, as locals put it, have been encouraged to settle in the village.

Riace donkey

Riace’s eco-traditional refuse collection

Instead of watching the sea-borne migrants get packed off to one of Italy’s grim immigrant holding centres, Lucano  offered them houses in the village that had been abandoned as the local population dwindled. After all, he said, ‘My parents always taught me to welcome strangers’.

In the last few years, following the Riace model, five small villages, have joined to offer immigrants arriving from across the sea a warm welcome along with homes in empty buildings.  In Riace this October, the Guardian reporter found two men leading two donkeys pulling carts through the narrow streets: Riace’s eco-traditional refuse collection. One of the men was Italian, a man whose ancestors built the village a thousand years ago; the other an immigrant from Ghana who, with his wife and two sons made the dangerous crossing to Lampedusa.

Before immigrants like this arrived in Riace, buildings were empty and falling into disrepair; Riace was turning into a ghost town. But the migrants from Africa rebuilt them fro their families. Their presence meant that the village school, threatened with closure, stayed open as well.

Riace school

Riace’s school was able to stay open because of the immigrants’ children

The immigrants – from Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan – do jobs that Italians no longer want to do: they look after old people, or work in the olive groves for the olive oil cooperative. A Somali has opened a restaurant, while others work as translators or in shops and workshops. One settler makes traditional Riace pottery decorated with fine coloured stripes – suggesting that immigration, rather than diluting local culture, can help the rural way of life and craft traditions to survive.

Riace neighbours

Riace neighbours

The financial aid that asylum-seekers receive also feeds the local economy because this money is mostly spent in local shops. Since these benefits often arrive late, Riace prints its own banknotes with pictures of Martin Luther King, Che Guevara and Gandhi on them. You can buy groceries and clothes with this currency. Every so often the retailers cash in their Gandhis for real euros.  When Mayor Lucano ran for election he had a slogan: ‘The poorest people in the world will save Riace and we will save them.’

Perhaps one day the world, our world, won’t be upside down, and then any newborn human being will be welcome. Saying, ‘Welcome. Come. Come in. Enter. The entire earth will be your kingdom. Your legs will be your passport, valid forever.
– Eduardo Galeano

Riace sign village of welcome

The sign at the entrance to Riace reads ‘village of welcome’

Riace Mayor Lucano with Refugee Family.

The Mayor of Riace eats with a refugee family

These days – to return to the seasonal analogy of It’s a Wonderful Life – we all live in Pottersville.  But the example of  these two villages suggests we can live a different way, adhering to less selfish, less materialistic values, less beholden to private profit.  Some may regard extolling the example set by the villagers of Marinaleda and Riace as misguided utopianism.  But I know where I would rather live.

Il Volo (Flight)

This YouTube video is a clip from a Il Volo, documentary dedicated to Riace in 2009 by the German film director Wim Wenders (no subtitles, unfortunately). This explanation is from the Mubi website:

Wim Wenders’ film Il Volo (Flight) documents an admirable example of a welcome that began over 10 years ago in Calabria, when a group of Kurds settled down in Riace, on the Calabrian coast. The German director’s initial project, a seven-minute short from an original story by Eugenio Melloni, turned into a 32-minute hybrid of documentary and fiction after Wenders met a young Afghani refugee. Il Volo became a firsthand account, with Wenders’ off-camera narration, of immigration as a resource. ‘What was happening to these people was much more important than the fiction I was making,’ said Wenders, in Rome to present the film. Commissioned by the Calabria Region and co-produced with the local Film Commission and with support from the High Commissioner of the United Nations, the film was shot in 3D.

AFP news agency report on Riace

Follow link to open in YouTube

See also

Marinaleda

Riace

It’s a Wonderful Life: previous posts

Sin Nombre: no heart

Sin Nombre

‘Sin Nombre’: ‘There’s definitely something missing – a heart, perhaps?’ (Guardian)

This afternoon, after attending the funeral of  the partner of a respected former colleague, I had my spirits totally crushed by mistakenly going to see Sin Nombre, a first film from American director Cary Joji Fukunaga. It was horrible – one of those films that seem so utterly pointless you wonder why or how it came to be made. None of the leading characters evoke any interest or emotional reaction (other than, for the female lead, ‘stupid child!’). Although dealing with a critical social issue – the poverty that drives migrants north from central America to the USA –  the film’s narrative provides no sense of the social or political context.

This review from The Times sums up my feelings:

Sin Nombre is one of those movies that you are supposed to love. It is written and directed by an upcoming American tyro called Cary Fukunaga. It is a festival favourite and a Sundance award winner. And in its story of the relationship between a Mexican ex-gang member called Willy (Edgar Flores) and a poor Honduran girl called Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), both travelling the treacherous immigrants’ route northwards towards the USA, it manages to touch upon Important Issues such as poverty, child violence and inequality in Central America.

And yet, for all its formal élan and gritty location shooting, Sin Nombre is a wearily hollow, morally specious movie. It thrills giddily, for instance, before the gang cultures it depicts, revelling in their violence and in the sight of skinny pre-teen children shooting tramps in the head. It cares little for social or political context, using the gangs as glamorous tattooed henchmen who propel the story forwards and bring it to a bloody climax. The film is being pitched as part of the Latin New Wave that gave us Amores Perros, Central Station and City of God. But it has little in common with these. Instead Sin Nombre, in the nicest possible way, is an old-fashioned Hollywood posse western, a B-picture gangster movie and a cons-on- the-lam thriller. Which is great for Fukunaga, who is currently developing several projects with Universal Studios. But not so good for the underclass of Central America, upon whose problems his movie so slyly subsists.

The Guardian agreed, branding the film ‘a twisted sort of poverty porn’.

Sin Nombre: trailer

See also