& The Agronomist
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
Aired 5/18 and
the past few months have been great for movie lovers. First
there was the brilliant Canadian film, The Barbarian Invasion.
Next came the wonderful Scottish film, Wilbur Wants To Kill
Himself. That was followed by the superb Russian film, The Return.
And now, playing at The Delmar Theatre and The Nickelodeon in
downtown Santa Cruz, two extraordinary films: Osama, and The
First, a few words about Osama.
This film was made in Afghanistan, the first feature film to
come from that beleaguered nation since the overthrow of the
Taliban. Osama is set in the time of the Taliban and tells the
story of a girl with one foot in childhood and the other about
to step into puberty.
Most of us have read and heard about the Talibans repression
of women and children, but to watch this film is to have the
sense that we are witnessing these crimes in the actual moment.
This is a work of fiction that feels like a documentary.
Shot using borrowed and donated equipment and supplies, Osama
cost less to make than the average tank that many suburban American
families use for the daily shopping less than $25,000,
according to the production notes.
Its really remarkable what can be done with little more
than imagination, determination, resourcefulness, and talent.
The emotional impact of Osama is stunning. Imagine that your
mother, or your daughter, or you yourself could not walk on
the streets unless accompanied by a male. That could sound like
merely an inconvenience imposed on over half of the population
by male bullies under the imprimatur of religious zealotry.
But when it translates into slow starvation and constant humiliation,
its easier to see it as a whole culture gone mad. I found
myself in the uncomfortable position of beginning to hate the
Taliban. Only by catching myself in the act of hating was I
able to back off a bit and view the movie with a larger eye.
First time feature director, Saddiq Barmak, does not romanticize
his story. But for all the truly awful and inhumane behavior
of the Taliban, Barmaks lens is wide enough to capture
the improvisational survival skills that surface from time to
time among persecuted people. Its a small miracle that
a shred of humanity survived the reign of the Taliban. And its
a small miracle that Saddiq Barmak was able to make this movie.
Do not miss it.
Im left with little time to say much about The Agronomist.
If Osama is a work of fiction that feels like a documentary,
Jonathan Demmes film is a documentary that feels like
a work of fiction, in that its a portrait of the life
of a man who seems too large, too heroic ever to have actually
existed. The Agronomist in Demmes film is Jean Dominique,
who was born of well to do parents but whose heart, from an
early age, was with the peasants of his native Haiti.
Jean Dominique was trained as an agronomist but eventually found
himself with the opportunity to purchase a radio station in
the capital. He called his station Radio Haiti Inter and from
it, he and his wife and colleagues challenged a series of brutal
dictators with the truth. Frequently he was forced into exile.
When the political climate changed, even temporarily, he would
return and pick up where he left off. Funny, restless, brave,
heroic even, Jean Dominique and his wife Michele became the
stuff of legend. Jonathan Demme has done the world a service
by making us aware of this indefatigable man.
For KUSPs Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.