Jessica Hagedorn, Toxicology

Toxicology - Jessica Hagedorn's latest novel - is vintage Jessica Hagedorn. Her prose pulls you in, and as you arrive in the world of that prose, Hagedorn leaves you alone to piece the narrative together. It can be daunting task for readers new to her style, especially in her first novel Dogeaters, which is a feast of personalities and multiple plots that tries to imagine the Philippines. And Hagedorn's novels after that novel have, more or less, tried to paint an image and idea of that place, through perspectives inspired by distance, in exilic life. Still, the Philippines is alive in Hagedorn's recent novel, but as a sort of ghost, apparition that hovers above and through the life of artists in New York City, a carnival of grit, sarcasm, desire, sex, pop-culture, and drugs. Once again, it's a feast, but this time a feast of toxic elements, or even a study of toxic personalities trying to coexist the best way they can.

Cannes Lars von Trier still win? Lars Von Trier has been Cannes-ed.

At the 64th Cannes Film Festival, the controversial nazi comments Lars Von Trier had said during a press conference for his competition-entry - Melancholia - was the height of that conference session; but it may also be the height of the festival itself, in terms of the attention it received this year. Von Trier's comments were made just a few days away from the festival's closing ceremonies. Thierry Fremaux, the festival's General Delegate, gave a brief press announcement to distance the festival from Von Trier's comments, even though the director meant to be funny. Thus,on 19 May 2011, festival officials declared Von Trier persona non grata.

Now before Von Trier made those comments, the conference was sailing somewhat smoothly. In some ways, the exchange of questions and answers was lively, peppered with jokes by Von Trier himself. However, there were moments his jokes verged on crossing certain lines, especially those directed to his female cast-members: Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Around the middle of the conference, his jokes about doing a porn-film with these cast-members in his next film-project received shaky laughter. Funny, somewhat funny, mocking, sarcastic, insulting, and, in some ways, sincere. Perhaps this is Danish humor?

Towards the end of the conference, the marriage of those descriptors above gained a less appealing momentum, when Kate Muir from The Times of London asked:
"Can you talk a bit about your German roots, and the gothic aspect of this film? And also, you mentioned in a Danish film magazine also about your interest in the nazi aesthetic, and you talked about that German roots at the same time. Can you tell us a bit/more about that?"
A great question, I think. Muir's question was more provocative than the question hurled at this year's competition-jury president, Robert De Niro: "Did you f— my wife?" Had that question been directed to Von Trier, his press conference, no doubt, would've ended with a less depressing note. And so, to answer Muir's question, Von Trier gave a long answer:
"The only thing I can tell is that I thought I was a Jew for a long time, and was very happy being a Jew. Then later on came Susanne Bier and suddenly I wasn't very happy about being a Jew. No, that was a joke. Sorry. It turned out that I was not a Jew, and even if I'd been a Jew, I would be a kind of a second rate Jew because there are, kind of, a hierarchy in the Jewish population. But anyway, no, I really wanted to be a Jew. And then I found out that I was really a Nazi. Because my family was German, Hartman, which also gave me some pleasure. So I'm kind of a, what can I say? I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely! I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end. But there will come a point at the end of this. No, I'm just saying that I think I understand the man. He's not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him and I sympathise with him a little bit. No, but come on! I am not for the Second World War! And I'm not against Jews - Susanne Bier? No, not even Susanne Bier, that was also a joke! I'm of course, very much for Jews, no, not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass. But, still, how can I get out of this sentence? No, I just want to say about the art of the, I'm very much for Speer, Speer I liked, Albert Speer I liked. He was also maybe one of God's best children, but he had some talent that was kind of possible for him to use during - OK, I'm a Nazi!"
Press Conference for Melancholia, Cannes, 2011;from Wikipedia,
But while Von Trier was banned in the festival, his film was not taken out of competition. In fact, it won in the Best Actress category: Kirsten Dunst. In her acceptance speech, after receiving her Prize from Edgar Ramirez, Dunst said:
"What a week! My thanks to the Jury, this is a real honour. I'm grateful to the Festival for keeping the film in Competition. And I'm grateful to Lars Von Trier for letting me play the role with such freedom."

Cannes Pedro Almodovar win this time?

It's a very short trailer, but says a lot about the story. And some calculated shots in this clip, I think. For example, Almodovar puts Banderas in front of a big painting, of a naked woman, and the woman Banderas is looking at stands on a red circle, a target. On the other hand, Almodovar directing Antonio Banderas in this film must feel like a reunion of their earlier films. Banderas looks much older now, of course. But he does have that look from his earlier films with Almodovar, when he tries to play someone inebriated with anger. It's hard to tell if Almodovar will win this time. Terrence Malick is in the festival's 64th year, including other notable names.
Heading South (Vers le sud)
Directed by Laurent Cantet, 2005;
Haut et Court/Sévile/France 3/Studio Canal;
108 minutes, French and English

Video-Clip Source: SodaPictures

Coming For Colonialism
Michael Caylo-Baradi

Read Full-Text at Latin American Review of Books

LAURENT CANTET’S Heading South (Vers le Sud) is a film about sex tourism, with the sex tourists in this case citizens from the north, specifically Canada and the US. The setting is Haiti under Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in the late 1970s.

The sex-tourists are not our usual suspects but white women, over 40 and the objects of their desire are young men from Port-au-Prince.

At the heart of the story is a love-triangle between two of the women tourists and a young man; the “bitch[es] in heat” are Ellen, played by Charlotte Rampling, and Brenda, played by Karen Young. The young man these women are crazy about is played by non-professional actor, Mènothy Cesar as Legba.

To cushion the cat-fights between Ellen and Brenda, Cantet uses the French-Canadian Sue, played by Louise Portal, as occasional referee. Sue seems to know when to move out of the way, when the cat-claws are out, and since Sue has her own young man, Neptune, she safely admires Legba from a distance.

Ellen and Brenda’s rivalry starts to evolve upon the latter’s arrival from Altanta, Georgia, in Petit Anse Resort. At 48, Karen looks slim, somewhat attractive for her age, and ready for a good time; but she had met Legba three years before, when he was 15. It was then that Legba gave Brenda her first orgasm, at the age of 45. Legba, therefore, defines a milestone in Karen’s life as a woman - he is Brenda’s orgasm. Legba bookmarks Brenda’s life, before and after her first orgasm experience.

But now Legba is 18 and the most desired escort among the women tourists. Outspoken and aggressive, Ellen does not hesitate to let Brenda know Legba’s status in the resort: that he is meant to be shared. But the memory of Brenda’s first sexual encounter with Legba heightens her advances towards him. When Ellen realises that Legba responds to these advances, Ellen notices, and foresees complications, because she understands her desire for Legba has found a rival in Brenda.

The competing desire for Legba among these two women is our window into the strength of their characters. Brutal, this clash propels the story; it is the Caribbean “hurricane” or calamity that spins Legba’s fate out of control, even though he projects calm demeanor to save his masculinity from being castrated by hysteria.

Besides being a resort escort, Legba has another life outside the hotel complex. The film reveals that he has relations with other women in Port-au-Prince, especially those from rich families. But his life outside clashes with his life inside the resort. On the day Legba takes Brenda around Port-au-Prince, a four-door Mercedes Benz tries to run him over and then its driver chases him with a gun. Later, when the resort and its patrons have gone to sleep, a Benz dumps two naked, dead bodies in its grounds: one of which is Legba’s. Ellen and Brenda are shocked and confused, that they are not in paradise after all.

After talking to local police about apprehending Legba’s assassins, Ellen talks to the resort’s manager, Albert. A son of resistance fighters, Albert has inherited his parents’ brutal and unapologetic views of white people and when he listens to Ellen, he merely listens as though anything he would say to comfort her is useless because words are inadequate to explain the Haiti that exists beyond the borders of the resort.

Soon, Albert takes Ellen to the airport for her flight back to North America, and home, and she can, at least, anticipate consequences when things happen. But for Karen, the resort is only the first leg of her journey into the Caribbean; the names of the places she wants to visit fascinate her: Cuba, Barbados, Martinique, Trinidad, Bahamas. She seems ready to put Legba behind, although he, no doubt, serves as a reference point for what she expects in Caribbean men, in her sex tours.

Layers of Poverty

Cantet’s realism, in this film, is convincing and can be nauseating; it feasts on the melodramas, pornographies, and dynamics of sex tourism to a point where the facade of tourism disappears and what we see is unapologetic desperation to satisfy basic human needs: food, sex, money, and love. Desire binds these elements together as Haiti: Haiti as state of distress, need, and eroticism. Here, the narrative interrogations of desire take place in familiar terrains that often highlight concerns in post-colonial and neo-colonial social-relations: poverty, labour, and race.

Read Full-Text at Latin American Review of Books

Adoring Adorno & Aesthetic Theory

Indeed, displacing the senses from its habitual consumption of things that exalts consumerism is refreshing. It aspires toward states of alterity that can be viewed as necessary alienation from consumerist habits, a sort of negative space that nourishes aesthetics not administered and controlled by exploitative hierarchies in structures of culture. And in many ways, it is tempting to view that space as an escape 'back' to nature, perhaps nostalgia for something simpler. However, one's entrance into that space is already burdened with the idea of departure from certain states and conditions: consumerism, culture, ideology. Thus, it's convincing to argue that this space, which is dialectic, is not 'also' or 'new' nature, but nature itself, located in moments of displacement.