A deadly interest in film making
There has been a recent interest by Western film makers in looking at Europe’s psychic inheritance in relation to our responsibility for both colonialism and the effects of our retreat from direct colonial rule. The question can be posed as to whether this interest is anything more than superficial, using history as a hook on which to hang the plots of action movies, exploiting exotic backgrounds or notorious events for their dramatic impact. Haneka’s Hidden both in style and narrative form examines the consequences of the massacre of Algerians in Paris in 1959. Politics is at the heart of Hidden which is located in Paris as is Le Peron’s more recent Ben Barka movie.I saw Ben Barka get Killed – Serge Le Peron Fr /Morrocco/ Sp 2005 Charles Berling
Tyneside Cinema 5 11 06 ticket £6-20
A deadly interest in film making
There has been a recent interest by Western film makers in looking at Europe’s psychic inheritance in relation to our responsibility for both colonialism and the effects of our retreat from direct colonial rule. The question can be posed as to whether this interest is anything more than superficial, using history as a hook on which to hang the plots of action movies, exploiting exotic backgrounds or notorious events for their dramatic impact. Haneka’s Hidden both in style and narrative form examines the consequences of the massacre of Algerians in Paris in 1959. Politics is at the heart of Hidden which is located in Paris as is Le Peron’s more recent Ben Barka movie.
The opening sequence of le Peron’s film leads to the discovery of the narrator’s corpse lieing on the floor of a house whilst the police conduct a disinterested scene of crime routine. A full on ‘60’s style jazz score accompanies the next sequence which is a fast paced montage of 50’s archive film political in content which features images of Mao Castro Khruschev and scenes of political protest. I saw Ben Barka get Killed seems to be setting out its stall with a claim for political relevance, but this grainy montage footage represents the high water mark of the films commitment to either history or politics. As the montage moves from one political event to another, from Mao to Africa there are no explanations, no contexts: just images. For younger watchers the pictures may well mean very little. But the scratchy archival quality of the film clips and the situations that they record signifies protestation in general against the interests of the West. The archive montage works as a sort of posturing of the films political pretensions, a sequence in a film that never develops into anything more than a piece of stylised political posing. Like a haircut.
Ben Barka, about whom the movie’s assassination plot revolves, is not explained in any meaningful way. What did Ben Barka stand for? What interests ranged against him? The film is never clear on these basic underlying details. Instead Ben Barka is simply represented as a good man. Those who opposed him were bad men,. Ben Barka is a man unsullied by the corruption of the powerful forces which oppose him. Without adequate context Ben Barka slips away as a real person and becomes a summation of idealistic yearnings. But as Ben Barka slides into myth, it is clear that the film is not about politics it is about attitudes, a stylistic gloss on the early sixties that uses a political disappearance to justify a gangster movie. I saw Ben Barka get Killed (ISBBGK) is a mannered stylistic exercise whose use of politics is to provide a superficial retro glam background to what is a classy looking thiller….a thriller that works on its own terms. But apparently has an allegorical subtext.
Whilst ISBBGK doesn’t work as a film with political pretensions it does encode a moral allegory about the nature of film making. In the plot, narrated by the dead main protagonist , the film producer, both he and his subject – Ben Barka – end up dead, both murdered by a notional film that is never made. The film’s plot relates how a small time crook – with artistic friends – is set up as a patsy film producer in order to lure Ben Barka to Paris so that he can be murdered by his enemies. Interestingly the structure of the plot, and its use of the idea of film as a lure, opens up the field of ethical dimensions that underlie much documentary film making. Ethical and moral considerations that rarely see light. Many documentary films are the result of a collusive relationship between the makers and their subjects. The film makers want to make their films. That’s what they do; they have agendas and commit resources to their projects. They also desire to make films that arouse interest that have strong characters and outstanding characteristics. To achieve their production criteria they endeavour to take as much control as possible over the material they shoot; so that only they the film makers can decide its final form. Often this process leads to the film makers practicing a series of deceptions on their subjects. Deceptions can be more or less malign or benign but their point is to enhance the film by maximising the power of the producer. Subjects too have their own agendas. If they have the resources either in wit and intelligence or power and wealth, they can sometimes succeed in making their story into the film’s story. To accomplish this they also have to engage in the practice of deception, deception of the film makers. But whichever way the balance of power lies in the movie, many documentary films are the product of tacit understandings, of the desires in play, between the two parties involved during the making of the film. And of course these tacit understandings can return to haunt both parties. In the case of the Ben Barka movie the tacit understandings lead to the deaths of both the protagonists.
As a metatextual statement, ISBBGK works much better a moral comment on the nature of film making than it does as a political statement. This however does seem to be an oblique reading of the movie. Perhaps if Le Peron had brought this aspect a little further to the fore, he might have made a clearer political statement within the stylistic parameters that he wished to work. Film can be a deadly enterprise for all parties.