Monstrosity manifests itself when something that shouldn’t be exhibited, is. Between showing and sanctioning, the current cinema industry is at a breaking point, as shown in the latest Academy Awards ceremony. Taking us through the films awarded, Rafael Gumucio makes an ideological cartography of a desperately correct Hollywood.
The great star of the last prize awarded in the Oscars was precisely the least invited. While the nominations and awards were being announced the entire world thought of the absent and rotund figure of Harvey Weinstein, who was until recently a protagonist of this sumptuous annual ritual, and today a synonym of all the sins that Hollywood can exhale.
Weinstein, emblematic producer since the 90s, was the living example that to make it in the art of cinema you didn’t need to be an intellectual, more or less gay prude. As vulgar as a porn film producer, as busy as an owner of a giant studio, Weinstein was also —until his monstrous sexuality came out into the open— the last example that in Hollywood all dreams come true. After masturbating in public and bribing his stars to get more sex, he proved that none of those dreams would come without nightmares.
A couple of jokes by Jimmy Kimmel, the presenter of the Oscars, tried to relax the atmosphere but they didn’t manage to dissipate the impression that the world was still waiting to see how Hollywood would manage to process the shadow of its most beloved monster, with what style or lack of style it would manage to turn the page. It would not be coincidence that the award for the best film was given to a love story between a mute woman and an Amazonian monster, The Shape of Water, a film that is exactly that, all special effects, all emotions that have been chewed a thousand times. A fairy tale for adults only because it allowed itself the audacity to make the scaly monster —better looking than the director of the film, the Mexican Guillermo del Toro— consume his love with the girl with “special needs” who cleaned his aquarium.
In The Shape of water black people and mutes are good and ambitious white people are the bad. But this caricaturist division of the world is not part of a profound conviction but a simple narrative convention that allows the director to skip any problems of censuring.
It’s enough to listen to an interview with Del Toro to realize that there isn’t the slightest hint of inclusive conscience, nor preoccupation for the phallocentric patriarchy. He is an adolescent cinephile of over 40 years old that does not stop talking about his “balls”, and that conjugates the verb “fuck” in every possible way. What is most important is for the monster and the mute to float well on the screen, that any of the complicated composition planes stick to the retina of the common spectator. The muteness of the heroine is not an assertion of her “special needs” but instead a trick to be saved from the difficulty of making her reason, think, doubt in the words that Del Toro prefers to economise on, to spend more on gelatine and scales.
In some way the award for The Shape of Water could have been a solution to compromise for Hollywood’s inability to deal with its own monsters as well as humans.
In Dunkirk humans that die and suffer in the beach of Normandy are hardly more than an excuse to attain new sound effects, camera shots and stunts. The faces are muddled, names do not matter; what matters is reconstructing the atmosphere of the battle (which is done with singular success) but not the men who lived it.
The exact opposite can be said of Darkest Hour, which focuses on the other side of the same battle; the talent and mood swings of Winston Churchill, converted for the film into a mythological being larger than life.
Humans with two legs, two arms, doubts and love only appear in Call me by your name and Lady Bird. In the latter a girl rebels against a controlling mother and a school filled with limits. Se rejects her name, her city, and her appearance to invent a new identity that she prefers. She ends us up in New York finding that the real difference —that actually makes her unique— is precisely the name and the town, Sacramento, the dusty and forgotten town in the most glamorous state of North America. The scriptwriter and director James Ivory was awarded the Oscar for the Best Writing Adapted Screenplay for Call me by your name, a quiet drama that —in the splendour of the northern Italian landscape, between statues of mythological gods— hides its pathos so prodigiously that one of the most provocative sex scenes of contemporary cinema passed almost inadvertently by the critics and the Academy.
Love without a core
The politically correct is a system that allows you to see films without seeing them. Those that buy the Inquisition or Stalinism don’t understand that the politically correct learnt a basic law precisely from Stalin and the inquisitors: prohibiting only foments that which is muted. The politically correct not only coexists with a culture of scandal and permanent provocation, but it needs these to justify it.
The politically correct is not there to forbid anything but allows only some readings of them. It assures that the spectator only sees what he is prepared for, and to neglect the rest.
Call me by your name is the story of a 17-year-old boy sexually awakened by someone of over 25, under the complacent gaze of his parents. Seen under the parameters of the politically correct, a country is horrified when a singer’s nipple is exposed in the Super Bowl, but accepted without a flinch the sight of a boy masturbating to a peach. Anesthetised by the extreme beauty of the film, in the same way the public tolerates watching his lover ready to eat the peach filled with semen.
It is difficult to find a more beautiful image of this love without a core in which the two characters consummate and consume.
There is no guilt in Call me by your name, there is no sin, nothing is highlighted, nothing is exaggerated and this is perhaps the reason for which it could pass without grief or glory the censure and commissary of good customs, that expects the scandal to include violins and to be shown in close up.
It is also possible that the reason for the good fortune of this film had to do with the fact that its story was set in the mid 80s when homosexuality was still clandestine, disapproved of, invigilated, even in the happy Europe that is presented to us. These two men that love each other with a freedom that to this day would still be impossible, are also pioneers, heroes. They are on the good side, in the war that peeps through, far away in the streets and in the train stations where they can’t kiss. The politically correct asks for no more than that.
Perhaps it asks for even less than that. “Everything with the revolution, nothing against the revolution”, said Fidel Castro to the Cuban artists and intellectuals on the 30th June 1961. You can even be anti revolutionary in form, suggested Fidel, as long as you are on the side on the revolution. “He’s a son-of-a-bitch, but he is our son-of-a-bitch”, is the typical phrase of any revolution.
«The politically correct is not there to forbid anything but allows only some readings of them. It assures that the spectator only sees what he is prepared for, and to neglect the rest»
«Two or more scenes of Una mujer fantástica are enough to remind us that we should not believe or love this film, that we are only here to adhere to it, militate for it, to be on the good side»
A woman ready to fit in
No film has benefitted more of the politics of “us and them” than the Chilean Una mujer fantástica, by Sebastián Lelio, awarded the prize for Best Foreign Film.
From the title onwards, Lelio’s film does not dissimulate its didactic vocation. This character you see, blonde and humiliated, pretty and strong, woman from every angle, carrying a man’s name on her identity card and we assume, without certainty, a penis between her legs, is a fantastic woman.
She’s fantastic, the film highlights, because she’s brave, dignified, strong, and she is also fantastic because she represents a fantasy: the fantasy that was left out of the final montage, of being penetrated by a woman, of making love with a penis that is not masculine.
Marina, the fantastic woman, is fantastic because she doesn’t only sing tropical songs in a club but also opera at the Municipal Theatre. Very far from Jean Genet, Severo Sarduy or Pedro Lemebel, the fantastic woman is fantastic because she is a woman who on the street no one would suspect to be anything more. So conscious of her place in the patriarchal society, so ready to fit in that she accepts not with ease but without a challenge, that a fantastically intolerant family marginalizes her from the funeral of her ex lover.
The reason for her patience appears to be the promise of a trip to the waterfalls of Iguazú that, being frustrated made her try her hand at rebellion.
This is assumed in a confused script, acting on one continuous shot, without humour or dementia, but with beautiful music and beautiful photography and atmospheric work. This allows us to guess that the story is perhaps an allegory, that this blonde woman walking through the ruins of a city at sunrise is a symbol, that this woman, with the organs of a man under her skirt, is all the women in this rotten and machist corner of the planet.
We know this before seeing the film: that Chile is one of the most conservative countries in the world, that a transgender in a country like this is called to be a martyr.
We don’t care that this martyrdom is improbable or that the attitude of the woman is more cynical than heroic; two or more scenes are enough to remind us that we should not believe or love this film, that we are only here to adhere to it, militate for it, to be on the good side. “Everything with the revolution, nothing against the revolution”. }
The love, pain, doubts, and fears of Marina are said, highlighted, but it is difficult to guess in her face of perpetual discomfort some nuance, some inflexion, some truth. It isn’t necessary because we know that Daniela Vega (the actress) is real, because she isn’t acting as a transsexual, she actually is one.
The politically correct cannot be understood without the culture of the spectacle from which is born a kind of security that North Americans compare to a task, in the face of any journey. In the culture of the spectacle, from which the politically correct wants to be the invigilating conscience, the truth is that which can be reported, that which can be shown, that which can be verified. It is the truth of journalism that no longer needs fiction.
«In the culture of the spectacle, from which the politically correct wants to be the invigilating conscience, the truth is that which can be reported, that which can be shown, that which can be verified»
Una mujer fantástica is far from being the first film awarded an Oscar that treats the subject of transgender. In Todo sobre mi madre (awarded Best Foreign Film in 1999) the father is the mother. In El juego de las lágrimas (awarded Best Original Script in 1992), the shadow of a penis is interposed between the IRA clandestine terrorist and his mulatto lover. In Boys don´t cry (for which Hillary Swank was awarded Best Actress in 1999), a penis, this time made of plastic, allowed the guy that was a girl to sleep with a debutant Chloe Sevigny.
Although all these films approach the drama of transgender in a braver and more original way, none of them dared for their actresses to be transgender in civil life. The truth about Una mujer fantástica is not on screen but in the interviews in which Daniela Vega wastes charm and lucidity.
The politically correct, as the term indicates, is interested in the art of its political effects. It’s all the same that the story told in Una mujer fantástica is politically ambiguous; the voice of Daniela Vega off screen is a political achievement that anyone worried about the lack of diversity in Chilean or Latin American society, can nothing but celebrate. For the politically correct gaze of the world the film, its moral and its morality was therefore no more than the price to be paid for a new voice to burst into the public debate.
Films, as Cocteau said, are like cars, an industry that creates models, with motors and bodies and desire, above all desire, like the angel of the Rolls Royce and the strange cross of the Mercedes Benz. In this way no one can deny that Una mujer fantástica is, in spite of its defects, a great film, one that marks a before and after in the history of cinema.
The same does not apply to what is probably the most astute of the films competing in the latest version of the Oscars, the Machiavellian Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a history of friendship and revenge that makes perfect use of all the politically correct prejudices to give us its perfect mimesis. It is a film that simultaneously satisfies the moral superiority of the New York intellectuality and the brutality associated to the centre of the country.
In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a woman —that seems to be a fusion of Antigone and Medea— denounces the lack of diligence in the investigation into the death of her daughter using the marketing techniques of made in USA: the lit billboards in infinite highways. The idea of the Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, director and scriptwriter, is so provocative, so new, so astute that it gives the impression that he didn’t know what to do with the film after the first ten minutes.
As happens with publicity, the advertisements are repeated time and again as people who can hardly articulate the shadow of an idea repeat the conversation around honour and justice. The characters have no choice but to move, scream, hit, cry, burn and again repeat the three or four phrases they know how to say.
In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri things as important as revenge, death, loyalty and justice are part of the circus show in which characters waste the forces that they’re left with because they don’t know how to escape the model of the village in which they live.
«Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri implies that for those that were born on the wrong side, for those who live in red America, for the republicans, there is no forgiving or forgetting, only the shadow of a carnival in which they burn themselves»
“Everything with the revolution…”. We know from the beginning that this happens in the Middle America that voted for Trump, that the protagonists of the story are monsters that will not have, as in The Shape of Water, the right to be loved and redeemed by a good mute woman. For those that were born on the wrong side, for those who live in red America, for the republicans, there is no forgiving or forgetting, only the shadow of a carnival in which they burn themselves. Where women are as strong as men and police frightened as little girls, there is no place for the old, as they would say in the other film in which this is the chosen parody.
The European director McDonagh thought up the story as he travelled with his family on the highways of Alabama. Finally the film proved to be intensely touristic, a mixture of all the subjects that a middle aged European knows or intuits about Middle America. The strange mechanism with which the politically correct reads, or stops reading what he sees, made this caricature, which is insulting on so many levels, be awarded prizes by the Academy (Best Actress to Frances McDormand, Best Supporting Actor to Sam Rockwell).
Classic North American cinema, that of Ford, of Capra but also that of the Europeans, Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger or Douglas Sirk was the illusion that in the village that we speed past on a highway can be the setting for the myth of Oedipus, of Orestes, of Odysseus. The idea, daring but fertile, that a gas station or a farm can start the plot of a story. This faith in their own stories, before the dizzying political facts and even more dizzying social and sexual changes, result impossible to assume even for the Academy. Hollywood does not try to defend itself but instead without complaining accepts the accusations searched for in England (Dunkirk and Darkest Hour) the lost heroism, while showing without false modesty in Steven Spielberg’s The Post, how difficult and doubtful it is to always reveal uncomfortable truths in public.
It is perhaps the least expected conclusion of the 90th ceremony of the Oscars. Monsters can be seduced in their laboratories; sexual minorities can defend themselves in broad daylight. Only the average North American, the forgotten citizen at the centre of the country, the one that fills the cinemas, has no right to any redemption. North American cinema that for so many decades sang the loas of the normal man, can only find peace in the gardens of northern Italy, in the prejudice streets of Santiago de Chile, or in the muddy pools where an Amazonian monster is being bathed.