The new and the old. LFF 21 October

Saw two films yesterday, a sublimely poetical story about platonic love in Chioggia and the Venice Lagoon and a real-time political film of the McCarthy hearings.  Very odd seeing Robert Kennedy as a junior in the Attorney General’s office, though he took no part in the film he was to be seen listening and whispering to his seniors during the hearings.

Li and the Poet is an Italian-French co-operation with the director Andrea Segre.  It tells the strange story of a relationship that develops between two foreigners to Venice; one has been there 30 years, the other about 2 to 3 years.  Shun Li is a Chinese factory ‘slave’ who is working for the payment of her son’s passage to Italy; naturally she is completely in thrall to her ‘bosses’.  We first see her in a clothes factory sewing, but she is suddenly transferred to a cafe in Chioggia, an island in the Venetian Lagoon.  There she meets real Italians (mostly non-actors) and makes a tentative friendship with Bepi, played by Rade Serbedzija, a Yugoslav exiled from his country after the death of Tito.  Bepi is a retired fisherman and Li’s father is also a retired fisherman so they talk about shared interests and heritage.  But the Italians are suspicious and her ‘bosses’ do not approve of fraternising, so she is warned off.

This is a poem of a film, beautifully constructed and filmed giving a great sense of place, but essentially of seeing a place (principally Venice and the Lagoon) as a foreigner, especially as Chinese immigrants.  Li writes to her son describing her surroundings and making connections with home, but actually she and her co-workers have little or no connection with place – they live and work in highly controlled and segregated communities.  Many of the films in this year’s Festival have been made by documentary makers that have turned to narrative film making and the discipline bleeds into their work and the film benefits hugely from this translation, the way they present the story.

Point of Order is another remastering from the UCLA, funded by The Film Foundation and again there was an interesting and enlightening technical mini-lecture by Ross Lipman, dealing with the choices that have to be made when making a film from what was essentially a CBS TV programme of the highly controversial Army-McCarthy hearings which were beamed live to the USA audience.

There is not a great deal one can say about this film.  It is of immense historical importance, it represents the moment when McCarthy lost influence and in the subsequent election, his seat.  For someone not well versed in the nature of those hearings it might be difficult, if not impossible, to understand what was going on, since McCarthy attempted to dominate proceedings, bringing quite spurious evidence into play and refusing to say where the evidence had come from and other subversive arguments and tricks.

In the end we see the famous moment when McCarthy callously and rashly exposed a young lawyer as a Communist sympathiser for which he was roundly chastised.   History now knows he did himself no favours at this hearing.  The title comes from the many and varied ‘Points of Order’ brought by the parties involved, not least Robert McCarthy himself.

The McCarthy hearings, a small but significant part of them, was made into a film by George Clooney: Good Night, and Good Luck, but these are the real thing – Communism may be dead but at the time McCarthysim held sway and Reds under the beds was perceived by many people, persuaded by McCarthy, to be a pernicious and dangerous element in America.  Famously the film industry and media were deeply affected by the black listings.

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Filed under Modern History, Select Cinema

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