When Two Worlds Collide – a review

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Don’t mess with the natives…

When Two Worlds Collide is a film that shines a shockingly bright light into the murky shadows cast by the institutional forces that govern this world.

If you thought you knew how things were run and that they were run in a nice way then watch this film and think again. A story of greed, exploitation and governmental corruption and deceit, Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel’s powerful documentary reveals the two sides to the story surrounding the political crisis in Peru in 2009, which ultimately resulted in a chaotic and deadly clash in June of that year.

In a nutshell, the film presents the narrative that the Peruvian government, led by divisive President Alan Garcia, made trade deals with US corporations to bring commerce to the country by exploiting its abundant natural fossil fuel resources. However, the areas within which those natural resources reside are inhabited by the indigenous people of Peru, who oppose the sale of these lands to foreign business. Garcia and his government claimed that the resources belonged to all of Peru and that the natives were holding back the growth of their nation. The natives, led by talismanic Alberto Pizango, stated that passing laws to sell the land without consulting the indigenous people who inhabited them was unconstitutional.

What ensued was a war of propaganda culminating in a protest of civil disobedience by thousands of the native people, consisting of road blocks and picketing, lasting 65 days in 2009. The government refused to meet the demands of the natives, to repeal the laws, and finally had to send in military force to disband the protest and reopen the roads and refineries. What happened next was a tragic loss of life on both sides but it remains unclear who drew first blood. What is known is the natives had spears and the police forces had guns.

Brandenburg and Orzel try to present the facts with an even keel but, from the hypnotically sumptuous opening shots in the Amazon jungle, are firmly on the side of Pizango and the indigenous people. In a way, it’s hard not to be. It’s their land, where they live, and the government is deforesting and exploiting that land at great cost to the natural ecosystem and those who live there. A leaking crude oil pipe in the middle of the rainforest, rupturing acrid black death to any local wildlife and contaminating the water supply, clearly tells its own tale. But, as the film progresses and Pizango becomes more of a central figure, appearing on prime-time news and media broadcasts, a tense suspicion is felt all around him. Did he instigate the violence? Is he politically motivated or just doing what his people want? There is one moment where he clearly says that his people must defend their lands against a foreign invader, as is their traditional law. This could more than easily be construed as instruction to war. The fact that a mob mentality, in the face of and, possibly, in retaliation to the disproportional use of force by the police, led to utter chaos and a lack of control of the native tribesmen, was possibly more than he could have factored for but also maybe what he felt was necessary to ensure they were not lied to and walked all over again. The film cuts a fine line between taking sides but in so doing leaves an air of ambiguity hanging over the events of June, 2009, in Peru.

Maybe only a handful of people know the truth behind what really happened, who attacked first and why, on that fateful day but it is rendered largely irrelevant. The bottom line appears to be that the government would not listen to its own people and chose instead a road towards profit and gain allied to US corporate interests. They turned fellow Peruvian against fellow Peruvian and allowed, if not directly ordered, them to kill one another. All because of the exploitation of fossil fuels and the profits they can yield. How many times could that story be told around the world?

This greed for exploiting what can be found naturally occurring inside the Earth for short term financial gains, with no thought or pause for the long term impact that such an aggressive exploitation process may have, is not only outdated and unnecessary, but once you know these things to be true, insane.

Yet another sickening look at institutional capitalist greed. No conspiracy theory here. Just deceit and murder. President Garcia, as the closing credits tell us, is looking to run for the Presidency again. Alberto Pizango, by contrast, is currently standing trial and facing a life sentence for sedition. The little guy never wins. But you don’t expect him to be murdered in the process. When Two Worlds Collide isn’t just a documentary exposing the deadly consequences of standing up to government in South America, and by proxy Northern America and the indefatigable Western Capitalist Machine, but a scathing attack on the oil industry in general, and specifically its environmental impact, whilst also serving a stark reminder of class, wealth and political divide the world over. So, quite a lot packed into 103 minutes. And neatly done at that.

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Black – a review

And some Skittles...

And some Skittles…

A modern day Romeo and Juliet with a dark twist, Black is as hard as it is stylish.

Mavela (Martha Canga Antonio) and Marwan (Aboubakr Bensaihi) are from the wrong sides of the Belgian tracks, instead of the houses Montague and Capulet we have the Brussels street gangs of Black Bronx and 1080, and so they obviously have to fall for one another.

Co-directors Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi create a kaleidoscope of several genres here, smoothly blending them together. We have the tough street gang movie, the teen coming-of-age film and even flares of musical theatricality at times. This is work clearly made by film fans, proudly wearing their cinematic influences on their sleeves. And that doesn’t detract from what they’ve created in Black.

None of it feels original, the Romeo and Juliet love story, the tough-to-watch horrific rape scene, the balletic final confrontation, the moody shallow focus over-the-shoulder indie style cinematography, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Being original isn’t essential, indeed there’s an argument to say it’s increasingly impossible, but being good is. And this is good. Good acting (Martha Canga Antonio largely stealing the show with her transition arc), good writing and good direction. So, all in all, it’s pretty good.

In turns you feel like you’re enjoying a scene from West Side Story, then Romeo and Juliet, next La Haine, fused with aspirations of something a touch grander than merely a pic’n’mix of the filmmakers favourites. Whether it ever gets there is open for discussion.

A few sticking points. The worst being that tough rape scene. There’s nothing watchable about rape but it does happen in this world and so it shouldn’t be shied away from. However, if it’s to be included then it has to serve a purpose. Here, its necessity seems unclear. Yes, it shows that the gang are properly evil and bad to the bone but we already knew that so the protracted showing of this particular evil runs unfortunately too close to being gratuitous for it to serve its purpose.

Other issue are the film’s title and its conclusion. Apart from a few throwaway lines of dialogue hinting at race tension and the basic fact that one of the rival gangs is comprised of black men and women, it’s unclear as to what exactly the title refers. If it’s supposed to be symbolic and subversive then it fails. As for the conclusion: weak, predictable and cop-out are words that spring to mind. A real shame actually as it had built to its natural crescendo only to fizzle out somewhat, like the one dud firework at the end of a fairly decent display. 

So, overall, Black punches well above its weight. Whilst being unoriginal, both in content and style, in almost every way it still manages to be a good film (Hollywood take note). A worthy achievement but marginally let down by one incongruous scene, a weak ending and a general lack of thematic clarity.

If we were to write Fallah and El Arbi’s school reports for this term, they would read, ‘good but could do better’.
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