London Film Festival 2019 – Part 2

MI6 v. democracy, FBI v. democracy, community self-defence, cultural tourism, and buddies


Mossadegh demo
Mossadegh demo (image:

Coup 53 (2019)
Director: Taghi Amirani. Featuring Walter Murch, Taghi Amirani, David Talbot

Close involvement with the coup that toppled Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mossadegh in 1953 has never been acknowledged by a UK government. Taghi Amirani’s documentary lays out the historical background to Mossadegh’s government, and its challenge to the oil companies, especially British Petroleum. Coup 53 also definitively exposes MI6’s prime role in preparing for and staging the coup, using impressive sources.
Although Iran was never a formal colony of the UK it was treated in a similar manner to its colonies in the 1940s. The mantra of ‘UK interests’ was transparent code for ‘UK profits’; it still is. Through this prism, if the new Iranian government under Mossadegh was intent on nationalising BP, then that was an attack on the fabric of the profit system itself. This was enough justification in UK imperialists’ eyes to do down Mossadegh and nascent Iranian democracy.
But this was 1953 and the USA was top imperialist dog now, having bailed out the UK in World War II and afterwards. Therefore, it was the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency that gave the go-ahead for undermining and removing the Mossadegh government. The CIA’s role in 1953 is now officially acknowledged by the USA’s highest authorities, something that is included in documents of state. What is also in those documents and unredacted documents from the 1985 End of Empire UK television documentary production team bears witness to perfidious Albion once again.
Taghi Amirani is to be congratulated on exposing so thoroughly and painstakingly the actions of MI6, bent on keeping the UK safe for its class rulers and their profit-based social system. Ralph Fiennes adds immensely to the documentary’s impact by speaking the recovered interview responses of MI6 officer, Norman Darbyshire, whose testimony had been thought long lost. Darbyshire’s words form the clincher that confirms the deservedly sordid reputation of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service.

Seberg points fingers like a gun

Seberg (2019)
Director: Benedict Andrews. Featuring Kristen Stewart, Anthony Mackie, Zazie Beetz, Jack O’Connell

Jean Seberg is well-known for her leading roles in St Joan (1957) and À bout de souffle (1960), though she had a film career lasting until 1976. Seberg covers Jean’s time in the USA in the late 1960s, having moved from France for work, and her involvement with the black liberation movement, including the Black Panthers and others influenced by Malcolm X. She was also an opponent of the US war against Vietnam.
During the civil rights campaign, the purpose of the then-secret COINTELPRO campaign of the FBI was to disrupt and discredit anyone and any group seen as a threat to capitalist rule. Kristen Stewart gets full marks for a brilliant evocation of how Jean Seberg was affected by the state’s full-on attack upon her, for she was in the FBI’s crosshairs as soon as she gave support to the Panthers.
The FBI smeared and lied about Jean Seberg using Los Angeles gossip writers to spread their foulness. As an individual, she was always going to be vulnerable to such attacks, no matter her wealth. Orders from on high were to skewer her thoroughly. And once the state’s lice got going, she was nearly eaten alive.
Fred Hampton, murdered by the FBI and Chicago pigs in 1969, was less fortunate, but as he had said, ‘You can kill the revolutionary, but you can never kill the revolution.’ Though little appears in the film about movement organisations as such, there are passing references to the Black Panthers and the need to arm against the depredations of the state. Organised self-defence is no offence when armed bodies of the state are intent on repressing those struggling for liberation.

Bacurau funeral
Bacurau funeral (image:

Bacurau (2019)
Directors: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho. Featuring Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Wilson Rabelo

A politician comes calling for votes in Bacurau, a small town in the southern Brazil wilderness. After his distinctly unwelcome reception, matters become fraught. What he seems unaware of is the intransigence of the population, mistaking tranquillity for timidity.
When two garishly dressed motorcyclists arrive, apparently trail biking, they provoke a little suspicion. Their true role is revealed later, when their paymasters exact a high price in return for their excessive zeal.
The townspeople rally around, bringing in a nearby self-styled bandit and his small group of followers to bolster their defences. Everyone has a role based on recent historical experience, and the town looks more than ready to repel boarders. The outcome is surely welcome to the outside observer, if harsh in parts.
An illustration that local democracy works, if taken to its fullest logical extent in the example given here. Organised, disciplined self defence perhaps shows in microcosm how the state can be superseded, though what follows were the story to go beyond the closing credits we can only surmise. Stimulating on such questions, Bacurau lives!

Yoko goes filming alone
Yoko filming alone (image:

To the ends of the Earth (2019)
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Featuring: Tokio Emoto, Atsuko Maeda, Ryo Kase, Shôta Sometani

A treatment of cultural difference, as Japanese television reporter Yoko (Atsuko Maeda) comes up against different customs and expectations during a shoot in Uzbekistan.
Visiting bleak countryside and the fascinating cities of Samarkand and Tashkent, Yoko and the television crew go through a fairly mundane series of setups. Yoko clearly wants more, and gambols off on her own, knowing none of the Uzbek language and (literally) running scared as she gets lost in back alleys. However, she makes it back to base. Starting out the intrepid reporter, she ends up like a lost child.
Yoko persuades the director and crew to include more interesting setups, but it does not go according to plan. There is obviously more to organising filming in another country than scattering local banknotes willy-nilly. The film is a mild rebuke against cultural tourism and its mistaken expectations.
In Tashkent, Yoko is pursued by local cops with avuncular, understanding personas, jarring somewhat with the fact of Uzbekistan the authoritarian state (however, the film is a Japan/Uzbekistan co-production and the Uzbekistan tourist authority gets a credit). So maybe even more mistaken expectations might derive from what is on offer here.

Tyler and Zak sit on the beach
Tyler and Zak (image:

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
Directors: Tyler Nilson, Mike Schwartz. Featuring Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen.

A buddy-cum-road movie, featuring two mismatched young men on the lam for different reasons. Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) has been filching other fisherman’s catches, but missteps badly when he escalates the conflict. He flees with haste to escape retribution. Zak (Zack Gottsagen) absconds from a care home where he is the youngest person by several decades, kept there by Down’s Syndrome and without relatives to care for him. Fate throws them together.
Hard-bitten Tyler learns through Zak that he might find more in life. Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), pursuing Zak on behalf of the care home, might just complete their odyssey. And a Huck Finn raft bears this threesome toward nirvana … or at least toward resolution of their problems. Though Tyler’s past is catching up with him, going off into the sunset looks possible.

Jim Moody