Sunday, 29 May 2011

Black Death

Black Death is a superb historical (horror) film set in medieval Europe.

It's rather clear what our fears revolve around now: terrorism, technological disasters (man made viruses, nuclear disasters...), illnesses... all of them are based on our undertanding (or lack of) of the current world, but, what were the main fears in medieval Europe?.

In the XIV century Europe seemed to be leaving behind The Dark Ages (a concept that is now discussed by many scholars), but suddenly, in 1348, hell descended on Earth as a terrible infectious disease that took the lives of nearly 50% of the European population. This is "a work of the Devil" and "this is God's punishment for our sins" were the main explanations that the illiterate population and their fundamentalist leaders could find (a rather convenien one for the latter).
Life was focused on religion, which makes sense if we think how horrible life was for most of the population, if your life on Earth is just misery and suffering, your only hope is trying to believe in the life after death promised by Religion. This made Religious leaders incredibly powerful, cause population would be willing to accept any crazy ideas thrown at them provided that would lead them to salvation. Don't think, just obey.
So, it's a pretty good decision that if you want to set a horror film on those times, you take Black Death and Religion as main characters.
Same as when we talk today of Islam in Saudi Arabia we're mainly talking about Fundamentalist Islam, talking about Christianism in Medieval Europe (well or in The Bible Belt today) means Fundamentalist Christianism.

And that's what makes of this such an outstanding film to me, it's one of the most fierce attacks on Religious Fundamentalism that I've ever enjoyed. Moreover, it makes a clear association between Paganism and Freedom and social progress.

Spoiler Warning starts
I absolutely love the moral of the story, the "crusaders" took the plague with them to that prosperous village, and it destroyed the whole population, but that plague was not just the physical illness, but also (and especially) that moral illnes called Religious Fundamentalism.
Spoiler Warning ends

The film is brutal, but not gratuitously brutal, it's just as that time was: hard, raw, dirty, cruel and senseless.
This film is so excellent that I'm not going to tell anything else about the story, just watch it and say thanks to the director :-) (that by the way, has also directed some other really good horror films like Triangle and Creep)

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Countess

Erzs├ębet (Elizabeth) Bathory is one of the most enigmatic female figures in history. Though known as one of the first serial killers (well, this claim is pretty unfair, almost any king or pope of those or previous times would easily beat her records), it's odd that her history/legend has not managed to reach such popularity as the history of Vlad the Impaler III. Well, I guess that's because there has not been a popular book loosely inspired on her life, like there has been with Vlad.

Long in short, common knowledge about Bathory says that she was a crazy blood thirsty bitch that murdered hundreds of young peasant girls to get bathed in their blood (thinking that it would keep her young and beautiful... what a bizarre beauty treatment...)
Until recently that was also my understanding about "the blood princess", but I found out about some different views on her story after reading the fascinating book Dracula The Un-Dead. I can't easily express how much I love this book, a page-turner that in an incredibly imaginative way manages to bring together 3 so praised "monsters" as Dracula, Jack the Ripper and Bathory (a pity they didn't add Frankenstein to the mix :-) Bathory is one of the main characters in the book, and though shown as a grotesque diabolic character, it outlines an early existence of suffering and despair that ends up throwing her into a life of perversion and hatred. I'm really longing for some intelligent director to take advantage of this book to do a new Horror blockbuster.

When I finished the book my interest in Bathory was well woken up, so I searched some more information about her and found out that first it's not clear that her attrocities were so numerous as it's popularly thought, and second, that some sources think all of it was a conspiracy against a wealthy, intelligent and powerful woman (3 qualities that obviously made her dangerous to other envious aristochrats). Well, if we think of the Inquisition in Spain, and how liberal women were tortured and burned at the stake across all of Europe accused of practicing witchcraft, this second take on her story seems plausible to say the least (well, things are not so different now, dissent and alternative perceptions are still stigmatized and punished, though in a less "visceral" way, manners have changed, but not the underlying thinking...)

A couple of months went by until I found this excellent film, The Countess. a romatic drama telling us Elizabeth's story. Yes, a romantic drama, maybe you were expecting something along the lines that scene in Hostel 2 acting as a perfect homage to Bathory's common myth (when a girl is hung upside down and bled to dead while a nude Eastern Europe woman baths in her blood...), this film has nothing to do with that (though as you can feel from my description of the scene, I would probably love a film like that).
The story depicted in the film follows the common interpretation of Bathory's life and explores the events that led her into her cruel habits. It's an interesting examination of how destructive love (or the absence of it) can be, and digs into our deepest fears, the fear of getting older, that process that can make us lose ourselves, and that so clearly reminds us of the certainty of our end.
Though as I've said the official story conveyed here aligns with the popular myth, just at the beginning we're warned about how uncertain our knowledge of past events is and how subject it is to manipulation, therefore leaving a small window open to alternative views:

History is a tale told by the victors
Who are the victors?
Barbaric warriors, mad kings and greedy traitors
Maybe most of our histories are made of fables fabricated by those glorious victors

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Does anybody remember Iraq?

Well, I admit the title for this post may seem a bit odd, what I mean is that we tend to get so used to both good and bad things when they last for too long and seem to remain static that we end up forgetting about them even if years ago they were at the very centre of our worryings, ambitions or obsessions.

I've watched a couple of outstanding films in the last month that have made me aware of how we've left a mantle of oblivion fall over the tragedy in Iraq. News about massacres, suicide bombers, clashes between factions... are no longer news, but routine, a routine that leads to indiference.

Back in 2003, even though I was a convinced leftist, my support of the Kurdish National Liberation and my natural mistrust of the Muslim world (it has increased over the years, but has been there since very early, maybe because I'm too young to have lived the hopes of the "Arab Socialism times" and old enough to have read news about Salman Rushdie, Jomeini and the attrocities of the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria) made me accept the Weapons of Mass Destruction theory and be in a dubious position with regards to the invasion. Of course, now I'm more than aware that this has been a total disaster that has destroyed a whole country and given justifications to the Fundamentalists...

The 2 films that I mention above gravitate about the same topic, the Weapons of Mass DECEPTION thing, how the USA government misled us all with fear and hope, fear of a the crazy Saddam attacking the West, and hopes of the new, happy, prosperous and grateful Iraq that would spring up after the invasion... and show us how fiercely the government tried to keep the lie secret.

The Green Zone is a political action film, starring Matt Demon and directed by the guy behind The Bourne, you can expect what it brings you: a good plot and huge doses of frantic action (the last 30 minutes are particularly intense) in the war-devastated streets of Baghdad. A honest American soldier begins to suspect that the reasons for war may be not the ones they had been told and starts off his search for the Truth.

Fair Game is another excelent film (I'm not sure how to classify it: thriller, action, spionage...), based on true (and kept rather hidden from masses) events, the story of Valerie Plame, a CIA agent, and her husband, a former USA ambassador. Two highly regarded people that will find out some dark clouds around the WMD story and will be attacked by their own people to keep them quite. Pretty interesting (and of course, having such a goddess as Naomi Watts as the main character makes it even more appealing).