7. 7. 2008
RSS backend
PDA verze
Čtěte Britské listy speciálně upravené pro vaše mobilní telefony a PDA
Celé vydání
Archiv vydání
Původní archiv


Vzkaz redakci


Britské listy

ISSN 1213-1792


Jan Čulík


Karel Dolejší


Michal Panoch, Jan Panoch

Grafický návrh:

Štěpán Kotrba

ISSN 1213-1792
deník o všem, o čem se v České republice příliš nemluví
7. 7. 2008

What's politics got to do with it?

America and her Visitors

In general, politics is a tricky business. For this reason many people often decide to avoid it altogether. There are so many films from recent years that are charming and interesting, and remain firmly in the realms of the personal. And of course there is no reason to complain about that. This modern humanitarianism and pop-psychology is all very enjoyable and sells very well. At its best it can be extremely tragic and beautiful. But sadly, we can't limit ourselves to just this segment of life. Sometimes people in a country clash against each other, sometimes laws become problematic, sometimes the intimately personal is affected by international policy. And then, film-makers are inspired to step tentatively into this minefield that is politics.. In The Visitor, Tom McCarthy makes these steps.

McCarthy is a man with charisma. Like many American actors, he has a smooth, creamy voice, and a pleasant demeanour that makes you feel warm inside. Presenting his film, he joked, smiled, came off very well indeed. And it seemed to me that never would affable Tom compare himself to an activist like Michael Moore, but discussing this picture afterwards, my friends and I inevitably came to relate the two film-makers because of the way that they both treat their political pickles. I don't want to claim that they are the same, but, as will become clear, their films do have certain little things in common.

Cordial McCarthy would probably be puzzled by my introduction. He didn't mean this to be a political film. He told us that it was born from the relationship between his two main characters -- a suburbian and stagnating university professor and a lively and lovely young Syrian immigrant. Only when he came to research the story and discovered the detention centres where immigrants that are to be deported are held, was this film born. Out of indignation, McCarthy decided to make a film about the upsetting and turbulent way that immigrants can be torn away from their new lives and sent back to their own country for no apparent reason.

Let us begin with what Tom wanted us to -- the characters. Our Caucasian hero is called Walter Vale. He is a miserable, middle-class, middle-aged professor of globalisation and economics in developing countries at the University of Connecticut. His family has dissolved -- his son is in London, his wife -- deceased. He reluctantly travels to New York to present a paper which he has "co-authored" (read: hasn't written). Upon arriving at his New York apartment, he discovers that in his 25-year absence, other tenants have settled into the place. Enter Tarek -- the charming young Syrian, and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab. Out of the kindness of his heart, or perhaps out of white-middle-class guilt, he allows them to stay at the apartment until they have found new accommodation. They, of course, start to make friends, and so ensue many jokes about the awkwardness of white guys in comparison to the fresh friendliness of swarthy foreigners. (vis. such cultural clichés such as "White guys can't dance", etc.) Tarek starts to teach Walter to play the djembe (that's an African drum), and we see a charming cross-culture friendship start to flourish. That is, until Tarek is wrongly apprehended by some plain-clothes policemen, who are very rude indeed, and we discover that he and Zainab are illegally living in the country.

Here Tarek and Zainab become more than just charming foreigners -- they are the real-life embodiment of Walter's dusty academic studies. When Walter initially tells them what he does for a living, "economics of developing countries", Tarek jovially replies, "Hey, that's us! Syria, Senegal!" In the rest of the film, Walter, who had been descending into pointlessness and half-life, now realises that there is some energy in life -- there are lively people, groovy drum music.. He finds fresh air in the new cultures that he is discovering. They rejuvenate him, and in return he provides all the assistance he can to incarcerated Tarek and his forlorn family, even taking his mother on a date to see a Broadway show, followed by a lovely dinner. How nice.

It's clear that there are two motivations behind Walter's new-found philanthropy -- obviously he sees that they are in trouble and wants to help. But in addition to this, it is obvious that he gets personal gains from it all -- not only his moral impulse is fulfilled, but he is having fun!

We could condemn him for the tainted nature of his motives, but I think there is no need. Walter was uncharitable in the beginning, verging on miserly, and so it would be unconvincing if he had suddenly turned into a beautiful charity worker. Scrooge, too, was driven to change by fear of loneliness..

So, why is this political, then? We have here some very nice characters. The scenes between Walter and Tarek are all intimate and sparkling -- there is delightful humour in them, and it is clear that this relationship was the starting point for the film. However, these scenes also endear the characters to us and inspire empathy for immigrants, who, to some, can seem scary and intimidating. Now we can say, "Oh, poor them, they are so nice, why are we being so cruel to them?" Walter becomes deeply involved in it all, and experiences some very heartfelt indignation - "You can't just take people away like this!! Do you hear me? I mean do you hear me!!???", he yells at the security guards at the immigration prison. The film may be about the people, but the people become almost mere examples of the malfunctions of policy. And they are all so well suited to their task: Walter is a fuddy duddy, but impressionable. He is awkward, but he does have a sense of humour, and so we can relate to him. He becomes the rose-tinted glass through which we see all of this. And his 'visitors' -- they are so approachable and clean and lovely -- they are the friendly face of immigration. We are told that Zainab is a good Muslim, there are the occasional references to their own culture -- Tarek and his mother call their loved ones "habibti"... But there are not many others -- all in all, they seem fairly well integrated into American culture.

All in all, the film is very controlled. It is the work of a professional -- someone who knows what he's doing. The personal scenes are all very effective -- entertaining, well written, well shot, well acted. They are enjoyable. And the political aspect also is very well constructed. The characters are sympathetic, the events unfold in a very systematic, albeit slightly predictable, way. And here are the similarities with Moore. Michael Moore is a master of his trade. He knows exactly how to evoke certain feelings in American (and other) audiences -- every shot of his films directs our thoughts in a certain way. McCarthy too -- his film tells us exactly what to think about it all. It inspires this disgust at the unpleasant behaviour of American police and immigration officers -- all of whom are portrayed as boorish and simple. "I follow the rules, I have no other information, sir." And so it just seems too correct. There is no complexity -- neither in the characters, nor in the storyline, nor in the thought patterns that we are supposed to have. And the problem is that exactly - "supposed to". It would have been better if we had seen the other side. But then, that would have set off all the mines in this political field. And that's too difficult for entertainment.

The film is well made. McCarthy deserves praise for his sensitivity in portraying good banter. It is enjoyable in a light kind of way -- but dealing with such a problematic issue as immigration (it is relevant in almost every country in the world at the moment), he should not have tried to avoid a real debate. As a result, the film comes off as slightly flat. It makes you laugh. But it certainly doesn't make you think.

Obsah vydání       7. 7. 2008
7. 7. 2008 Ženy v ČR asi už brzo udělají revoluci, zatím točí velmi dobré filmy Jan  Čulík
7. 7. 2008 Amerika a její Návštěvníci Ema  Čulík
7. 7. 2008 America and her Visitors Ema  Čulík
7. 7. 2008 Smutek paní Šnajderové -- neuvěřitelná esence trapnosti Jan  Čulík
5. 7. 2008 Lidská společnost není k žití? Jan  Čulík
7. 7. 2008 Kvůli radaru 20 hektarů lesa padne, 85 hektarů prořídne, přiznal Bursík Štěpán  Kotrba
7. 7. 2008 Týden.cz: Studie o radaru jsou nepřesné, přiznal Bursík
7. 7. 2008 Setká se ministryně Riceová se zástupci iniciativy Ne základnám? Vladislav  Černík
7. 7. 2008 8. 7.: Podpis smlouvy, kterou občané nechtějí
7. 7. 2008 Od úžerníků k nadnárodním firmám Jakub  Polák
7. 7. 2008 Nesvoboda na úvěr Linda  Sokačová, Ondřej  Slačálek
7. 7. 2008 Dva filmy, které se moc nepovedly, a jedna dobrá francouzská "komedie" Jan  Čulík
7. 7. 2008 ČSSD: Stavba amerického radaru v Brdech je krokem nelegitimním a nebezpečným
6. 7. 2008 Jakubiskova Bathory: Typický "euroentertainment" Jan  Čulík
7. 7. 2008 Letní motiv Petr  Hrbáč
7. 7. 2008 Bez komentáře
6. 7. 2008 Pronikání do složitostí registračního systému Jan  Čulík
5. 7. 2008 Agresivní politika hotelu Thermal je zaměřena proti ženám
5. 7. 2008 Stručný pozdrav z Karlových Varů Jan  Čulík
4. 7. 2008 Jsou za odporem české veřejnosti proti radaru v Brdech ruské a arabské peníze? Jakub  Rolčík
7. 7. 2008 Kursk - 65 let od bitvy, která rozhodla o porážce Německa Richard  Seemann
7. 7. 2008 Prosazení Václava Klause byl moudrý krok Štěpán  Kotrba
7. 7. 2008 Je Amerika darebácký stát? Štěpán  Steiger
4. 7. 2008 Immanuel Wallerstein: Když se tvrdí hoši rozhodnou být diplomaty Immanuel  Wallerstein
4. 7. 2008 Polsko odmítlo nabídku USA na raketovou základnu
4. 7. 2008 Jak Cizinecká policie v Praze bojuje proti cizincům
4. 7. 2008 Imigrační politika státu není věcí Cizinecké policie Milan  Daniel
4. 7. 2008 Fronty před cizineckou policií jako odvrácená strana otevřené náruče Štěpán  Kotrba
5. 7. 2008 Tato xenofobie není přijatelná - ale dělejte si, co chcete, ovšem otevřeně Jan  Čulík
6. 7. 2008 Imigrace Petr  Wagner
7. 7. 2008 Triumf stredovekej mysle Philip  Ball
7. 7. 2008 Prognóza Gazpromu: Evropa bude kupovat plyn za 500 USD
7. 7. 2008 Věcně o nevěcnosti: když se kýč schovává za morální imperativ Zdeněk  Vyšohlíd
7. 7. 2008 Znovu o Palestincích a Izraelcích Pavel  Urban
7. 7. 2008 Vzdělaní a lopaty
6. 6. 2008 Hospodaření OSBL za květen 2008

Filmový festival Karlovy Vary 2008 RSS 2.0      Historie >
7. 7. 2008 Amerika a její Návštěvníci Ema  Čulík
7. 7. 2008 America and her Visitors Ema  Čulík
7. 7. 2008 Dva filmy, které se moc nepovedly, a jedna dobrá francouzská "komedie" Jan  Čulík
7. 7. 2008 Smutek paní Šnajderové -- neuvěřitelná esence trapnosti Jan  Čulík
7. 7. 2008 Ženy v ČR asi už brzo udělají revoluci, zatím točí velmi dobré filmy Jan  Čulík
6. 7. 2008 Pronikání do složitostí registračního systému Jan  Čulík
6. 7. 2008 Jakubiskova Bathory: Typický "euroentertainment" Jan  Čulík
5. 7. 2008 Stručný pozdrav z Karlových Varů Jan  Čulík
5. 7. 2008 Lidská společnost není k žití? Jan  Čulík
5. 7. 2008 Agresivní politika hotelu Thermal je zaměřena proti ženám