ROSA ROSAE. A SPANISH CIVIL WAR ELEGY(2021)
There are many ways to bring the primal energy of war to the spotlight without exploiting it for just a few fragments. ROSA ROSAE by Spanish director Carlos Saura is one of the more humble and humane efforts at accessing an idea of wartime and its present residue.
That residual model is traced through a heartrending cancione(song) in the Spanish language, listening to which you realise profoundly that knowing a particular spoken tongue comes second to the emotional transference of vulnerability, survival and a passage to safety delivered through an art-form. Jose Antonio Labordeta’s sinuous voice is the narrative device and central motif here. It becomes powerful along with the smudged and distorted nature of these charcoal-coloured sketches, presented as visceral components of archived imagery.
A classroom, faces of children and dead army men trace a movement through history and individual recollection that becomes a collective scar. ROSA ROSAE is an elegy that’s universal owing to the manner in which it is presented in a runtime of just five minutes.
YOU’VE GOT BEAUTIFUL STAIRS, YOU KNOW (1986)
Agnes Varda’s prolific contribution to the miniature filmmaking canon includes this three minute ode to movielore, nostalgia and the enduring appeal of classics over successive eras. The site of homage is Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, a mecca for cinephiles. More specifically, Ms. Varda treats the stairway leading to this hallowed location as one directing us through the evolution of cinema- a constant and diverse form finding new audiences with every discerning generation.
The editing is crisp juxtaposed with shots of stairs occupying central imagery as in a feature starring Marlene Dietrich, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, among others. French icon Isabelle Adjani makes a welcome appearance here to preserve the local and global register of this effort.
Sweet and effective, the participants further recreate certain sinuous movements from these clips, including from a musical. These stairs hence are sites of memory, literally marking these footprints through the sands of time.
ROLL OF HONOUR
What’s common between Sacheen Littlefeather, Amber Midthunder and Grace Dove? It’s the distinction of representing Native-American voices through a cultural onslaught few have endured, even the best of males among them such as Honorary Oscar winner Wes Studi and the mythic hero he eulogised on-screen in the form of Geronimo; or the balanced portrait of Native roots sheared and then reclaimed, in a complex rigmarole of tradition and modernity, in HBO drama feature BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE.
The civilisational rot is in plain evidence as of 2022 but positive change in terms of ‘representation’ counts as huge strides are made towards progress. Representation with real intent and purpose beyond lip-service. Ms. Littlefeather, who recently passed away, tills our memories as a brave voice of reason who graced the Oscars stage in 1972, in a show of solidarity with civil rights long denied to America’s true-blue forebears. She was granted a long-overdue apology by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences ( AMPAS) before she completed her earthly sojourn.
She must be proud of her long fight because female agents like Amber Midthunder and Grace Dove are part of that legacy which reaps dividends simply by dreaming of a better future for consequent generations which then carries the baton forward by tapping its limitless potential.
Ms. Midthunder has made ample history as the lead protagonist in PREY, a modern update of the Predator franchise that gives her the reins to tackle toxic masculinity of an universal order besides an extra-terrestrial threat, taking as her armour years of training, her cultural precedents and a disdain for colonial supremacy to foil odds stacked against her people. It’s a testament to the way change can often arrive in a manner that feels earned and the Native voices which occupy the frames here, within the fantasy/drama hybrid, are all buoyed by a way of life they know and acknowledge as their own. That historical retrospective gives Amber’s commitment and the action in PREY a contemporary appeal.
Having watched it myself few days ago, I felt a surge of joy for her. Reinventing the wheel of time, after all, comes with unpredictable returns. When it does this way with universal acclaim to boot, it becomes a collective wish for better representation to carve its niche in as potent a medium as cinema.
Last but certainly not the least on that welcome roster comes the new ABC drama ALASKA DAILY that is able to seamlessly weave the journalistic ethic of the eponymous newspaper based in Anchorage as a distinctive quilt of local import. Its socially conscious style pivots towards the epidemic of missing indigenous women, making viewers aware of the specificity of that burning issue within an universal reckoning. The individual and investigative beats are done justice, clear in the four, weekly hour-long episodes aired so far.
For once, the focal point is the workplace and the myriad ways these journalists’ commitment to work gets integrated with local happenings like a legendary eatery closing down, corporate omnipotence & ecological terrorism.
The unifying arc is the investigation into the missing girls’ lost trail undertaken by Grace Dove and Hillary Swank, both feeding each other’s zeal. Dove holds her own naturally as a colleague against the legendary Swank, the latter playing a veteran in the field and also an Alaskan transplant from New York. The former’s sensitivity plays a crucial role here owing to her own identity as a Native American woman whose skills and acumen blaze a new path for others like her, both on and off screen, especially given the demographic of Native women still occupying marginal pods of victimisation and invisibility sanctioned by white hegemony. That tension is maintained here.
Based on the real-life journalistic series of the same nature and vividly echoing the horror stories of these disappearances, ALASKA DAILY bears the hallmark of creator-writer-director Tom McCarthy’s affinity to truth, as demonstrated most honorably earlier in SPOTLIGHT.
Grace Dove is the moral and practical conscience here, both with her representation of her community and its many unheard tales as well as by being a deserving candidate for the most important characterisation in popular culture with a purpose. She makes an impression because her authenticity and emotional investment cannot be blackballed against nor are in service to a manufactured narrative.