Notes on Cinema 02.

For all the promise of Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile was a let down all round — the implausibility of the story, the performance, the disappointing denouement, the cringe CGI. The ensemble of A-list actors was not stirred nicely, not like in Dune or The French Dispatch. But Kenneth Branagh was impressively at the centreof things again as Hercule Poirot — the genius detective with adorable OCD. Sir Kenneth Branagh is some accomplished actor and director, with an Academy Award, four BAFTAs, two Emmys and a Golden Globe. It is some list. You must remember him from Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk? Oh, you must remember Andrei Sator, the antagonist in Tenet.

The film, Belfast, is a semi-autobiographical comedy drama based on Kenneth’s childhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was the son of working-class Protestants who moved to England to escape The Troubles. The Troubles was a nationalist conflict that plagued Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to 1998. Unionists (who were mostly Protestants) wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom while Irish nationalists (who were mostly Catholics) wanted to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland. Both sides could have “WWJD?” and prayed over their differences. Instead, they fought.

Belfast tells a pleasant, airy story that would be just that if there wasn’t looming war in the background. Kenneth’s parents have a difficult choice to make — to stay in Northern Ireland and risk the violence on the streets or to leave for peaceful England. Kenneth’s father is bent, his mother is hesitant. The entire family has only ever known Northern Ireland and until the war, it was enough. They live in a closely knit, self-supporting community of awfully similar people.

I am one of those who think that art lacks real, intrinsic depth. Somewhere, the intention of the creative and the perception of his audience meet. I have never experienced civil war but I could relate to Branagh’s film in telling ways. Particularly, I think about the many Nigerians who have had to leave their home country, not because they wanted to see the world or experience new cultures, but because Nigeria does not work. We do not talk about the eerie sadness beneath that announcement of a new dispensation.

These people are often born in the same place as their parents; a place where everyone looks, thinks and speaks like them. Only to be thrown into the rigor and uncertainty of new beginnings, isolation, racism and so on. When you move, you must know that you might never see some friends and family ever again. Or that you will miss phases, versions of their being, because we are different people at different times. I am told about the excruciating loneliness immigrants feel; the sense of being lost, detached, distant; doing so much but feeling so little. I hear about the difficulty with finding a partner because the demography is so diverse and no, you do not want to constantly explain the cultural motivations behind your actions to some clueless foreigner.

They must be on different spectrums — the mental health of the indigene and that of the immigrant. I do not know if facetiming for emotional support has the same effect as showing up at a doorstep for it.

In the end, Kenneth’s parents decide to leave. His grandfather passes shortly before they do so and they leave his grandmother behind. Migration is for the young, strong and hopeful. The old have their own painful decision to make — to keep their young ones close and underachieving, or to watch them excel from afar. In the last scene of Belfast, Kenneth’s grandmother watches the rest of her family leave in a bus, from the door of the house they once shared. She smiles defiantly and mutters, “Go. Go now. Don’t look back. I love you, my son.”

Every time somebody moves, another is left behind. Although it brings tightness to the throat and tears to the eyes, the message is often the same. Save yourself. Would you rather we sink together?

At the mention of Ridley Scott, Lady Gaga and House of Gucci come to mind. The director’s second film of 2021 gained more traction than his first, even though I did not enjoy it. One review from Rotten Tomatoes said House of Gucci was “long and poorly paced and plays too loose with the facts”. I do not follow snobby reviews but that one was spot on. House of Gucci was disorganised — like a bad game of Tetris. And oh, the accents.

Scott’s first film (of 2021), The Last Duel was remarkably well done even though it bombed at the box office. It tells a striking, thought-provoking story about systemic misogyny and the disregard for women’s place, desires and worth. In three separate chapters, the film unravels one story from three different perspectives — the perspective of a French knight named Jean de Carrouges; the perspective of Jacques Le Gris, Jean’s friend and fellow knight; and the perspective of Marguerite de Thibouville, Jean’s wife.

The summary of the story is that Jacques rapes Marguerite so Jean challenges Jacques to a duel and ultimately kills him. Yup, that’s it. But a lot happens in between. Importantly, the three version of events are not the same. Marguerite’s perspective is offered last and when you see it, it dawns on you that both men were somewhat deluded, in a way that men, sadly, often are.

Jean erroneously believes that he is an honourable, dutiful man and husband. He believes that he is patient and kind. He is not; he is brash, arrogant, and insensitive. He marries Marguerite because of her dowry. When she tells him that Jacques raped her, he violently interrogates her, before concluding that Jacques violated her to insult him. He then insists that she sleep with him immediately so Jacques will not be “the last man that knew her”.

Jacques, on the other hand, rapes Marguerite because he thinks that she loves him. She is only decent, friendly. Jacques is tall, elegant and wealthy. From his conceited perspective, all the women love him.

Jean accuses Jacques of this rape at the courts. It is a long, gruesome process that leaves Marguerite gaslighted and abandoned. Her friends choose disbelief, convinced that she is hiding an affair with the desired Jacques. Jean’s mother insists that she drops her accusations because her plight is not special or unknown to other women. When Jean challenges Jacques to a duel to the death to determine the case, he does not mention to his wife that she would be burned alive for perjury if he loses.

Marguerite does not want Jean to fight, Jean does not listen. Even though she is the one who has primarily been wronged, her opinion on the matter does not seem to matter. He must fight to protect his honour. The story reaches its disturbing zenith when seconds before he meets a certain death, Jacques insists that he never raped Marguerite. He did, in fact, rape the woman. Violently. Until the end however, he does not agree. He believes, like many other men of his time, that women’s protests are preliminary, performative, ignorable.

Are these errors, delusions only peculiar to medieval France? What is the case today? How often do men mistake decency or kindness for flirting? How often do people refuse to believe a rape accusation because “How could he? He is so rich and good-looking, he can have any woman he wants!” How many men are deluded as to their value and virtue? How many men are the only ones who consider themselves honourable? How many men, who cannot find a clitoris, consider themselves gods at lovemaking?

How often do men do fatally egotistical things, to “protect” the “honour” of women. The Last Duel draws attention to something I now call the politics of emotion. It is a deep dive into idiocy, isn’t it? This talk about how men are the logical gender. Men feel emotion as strongly as women. When women display emotion, or any motivation men misunderstand, it is called emotion. Every foolish man I know resorts to “let’s be logical” whenever he argues with women.

Meanwhile, when men act brashly on ragingly clear emotion, it is not called emotion but something else. A man loses his temper and inflicts pain, he calls it “discipline”. A man feels small so he begins a war, he calls it “ambition”. A man feels insulted so he challenges another man to a fatal duel, he calls it “honour”. And when ascertainable, regular men do shockingly vile things, it is said that they are animals, or that they are not “real men”. It is such a subtle way to gaslight, apologize. Who is a real man? What does he do?

Above is a picture of Doctor Strange from that wedding scene in Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness. It is one of the two scenes in the movie where he is not caped. My use of the picture is deliberate — I often want to pettily point out to naysayers that a lot of normal, relatable things happen in superhero movies.

Comic book adaptations (or superhero movies) are overlooked by movie critics for reasons unknown to me. They often have screenplays, directing, editing and acting as good as whatever you find in other genres. I think Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War are masterpieces. I think Black Panther belongs in a museum. I went over the Guardians of the Galaxy movies the other day and thought Michael Rooker’s performance of Yondu was one of the most compelling things I had ever seen.

Some critics say superhero movies are implausible, unrealistic. You know, they are not biopics, or tired retellings of social injustice. People erroneously tend to believe that art is more valuable, meaningful when it is gloomy. I disagree. No subject is intelligent or meaningful intrinsically, what we should consider intelligent is how that subject is portrayed by specific people.

Also, in my opinion, the best superhero movies are often plausible. They are realistic within the rules of science and magic they create for themselves. We, the fans, understand. It is explained to us, concretely. Yes, there are aliens, superheroes, gods, eternals, celestials. But in the end, they are still people, whose motivations are relatable. I often ask “what Marvel superhero am I?” I think I would be Doctor Strange or Star Lord. Yes, those are the two parts of me. I see these characters, I understand them.

On another note, the most impressive thing in the world is good storytelling. Oh I am completely in awe of these minds that create entire universes for their stories, endowed with new life forms, ecosystems, language, cultures and conflict. Decades after a Stan Lee or George Lucas finishes their original work, new chapters can still be developed because it is so robust. I wonder what it takes to accomplish that. Uncommon genius? Great patience? Both?

Creatives are the closest to God. They bring to life. And it doesn’t matter whether their creations are real. All that matters is that for an ecstatic moment, however fleeting, we believe that they are. For as long as I have had intelligible thoughts, I have wanted to create. I cannot imagine a life where I have no creations — no articles, books, songs, movies, paintings, pictures.

Thanos is dead, the Marvel Universe is in its third phase. Some could not imagine a world without Robert Downing Jr and Chris Evans but here we are. We live in one world, the Marvel Universe lives in many at once. It is incredible, enthralling, this multiverse of madness.

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