The Dog Days of August

That's the title of an album by the excellent blues duo Cephas and Wiggins and it sure sums it all up.

Edward Yang, Ousmane Sembene, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni. Well, as John Garfield says at the end of Body and Soul, "What can you do, kill me? Everybody dies." I must say that this has been a deeply dispiriting summer in our house, and I can't wait for Labor Day and the hope of beginning something better. I wish I had something cogent to add to the discussions of Bergman and Antonioni. I stand by what I wrote earlier -- Bergman is a brilliant director of actors who had no affinity whatsoever for film as a medium. Antonioni is a brilliant director of decor and a master manipulator of screen space who has little feeling for human beings, but that makes him a voice uniquely well-suited to the changing face of Italy in the wake of the 'economic miracle' of the late '50s-early '60s. If you combined them, you'd either get a brilliant but very bleak filmmaker -- someone whose vision of fucked-up modernity would make you weep -- or you'd get a ponderous, brainless jerk who can't tell a story, can't elicit a decent performance, doesn't know where to put a camera, and who preaches in your ear at the top of his lungs. (In other words, Stanley Kramer.)

I'm sorry if that sounds too flippant. I wouldn't trade Sembene for either of them, but there are moments in the films of each that are indelible, remarkable, moving.


The upside of August is that the studios have exhausted their supply of comic-book crap and a few good films manage to sneak through the haze. A case in point, Julie Gavras's delightful Blame It on Fidel. given that her father is Costa-Gavras, I don't know how much of this film about growing with committed revolutionaries as parents is autobiographical; certainly the source material, an Italian novel by Domitilla Calamai, plays like the story of people who would have watched all of her father's movies. The film is set during his heyday, the early 1970s, and focusses on the effects of the couple's dedication to the Allende regime and other progressive movements on their nine-year-old daughter (Nina Kerval, in a sterling performance) and her younger brother.

Gavras is very smart about the tensions between the personal and political in this period -- I lived through this stuff myself and although I was in the States the entire time, I recognized many of the types -- and her sympathy for both the embattled parents and their barely comprehending children is poignant and effective. All in all, an excellent debut and a film well worth seeking out. (In New York it's at the Cinema Village. They're also showing Pascale Ferran's Lady Chatterley, so prepare for a long but very satisfying day.)