Dirty Money…………………..Bullhead, Heat, Brother, Eastern Promise and The Lives of Others.
Thanks to my tutorial with Stephen Wilson last week I looked up a film called Bullhead about a Flemish farmer and illegal growth hormone trafficking. The main character has a complicated network of close personal relationships, long standing grudges and desires that lead him to self-destruct dramatically. Whilst this doesn’t sound in the least funny, the film is saved from being totally depressing by some hilarious caricatures whose roles highlight the ridiculousness of the national/racial boundaries of the regions in question. There was an element of Guy Rithcie’s Lock Stock characters here. The main character was never fully in control of his own destiny and seemed buffeted around by a combination of manufactured and naturally occurring testosterone. Is this what it is to be male?
Heat is a classic in our house anyway. Mostly, because of the shoot outs which are executed perfectly in accordance to SAS drills. I always find something different about the film. This time there is a sequence where Al Pacino’s character is investigating the first major crime scene with his team. It’s a fast-moving bloody scene which we are pulled into following a conversation with an investment banker and a criminal about trading dodgy bonds. The combination of the two described perfectly for me the problems of late capitalism. The characters on both sides of the good and evil paradigm could have been ‘saved’ from perishing if they had not had such a strong compulsion, almost and addiction to what they were doing. Is capitalism addictive?
Brother is about a young ex-serviceman in St Petersburg at the time just before the Berlin Wall came down. It is subtitled, and I found myself wishing I spoke Russian as there was obviously some subtleties in communication which were lost on an English luddite! The film tracks his transformation into a ‘violent entrepreneur’ and watches him shed emotional attachments in exchange for his quest for money and power. The scenes offer insight into the complex relationship between socialism/the state and the desire for freedom. A female prostitute character, who the lead falls in love with, cannot bring herself to leave her abusive husband, choosing to stay and nurse him after her lover has shot him and offered her release from the situation. What is the better alternative for her you wonder at this point? Does she represent Mother Russia? The main character leaves to pursue his loveless life, committing himself to his quest for power and riches in Moscow. All around him relationships are dismantling and becoming meaningless. Is this how some people felt during the regime change?
Eastern Promise is a British film set in London in the early nineties I think. The Russian family has illegal business interests mostly in smuggling and prostitution. The storyline is more of a conventional ‘Hollywood’ cop story really but it still generates an insight into the ‘Vor’ or vory v zakone. The tattooed criminal brotherhood originating from the penal system before the collapse of communism. These men whilst being extremely violent are also highly organised. This coupled with the military trained individuals who were suddenly jobless made for a potent mix of criminal minds who could accelerate their path to riches without the confines of the communist state. The story finds a conclusion that suits our democratic capitalist mind. I wasn’t left asking any questions about what the filmmakers might have experienced or were trying to find answers too. Maybe its because they didn’t really experience any of this themselves or they had sanitised it for transatlantic success?
The Lives of Others depicts the GDR (German Democratic Republic) or the Stasi and the surveillance of a group of play-writes, directors and actors. It’s a beautifully shot film with huge amounts of tension. It describes a possibility of individuals who may have subverted the surveillance and ‘saved’ people from the regime. It casts light on what it is to have civil liberty and at what point does state intervention become abusive. ‘What do you do when there is nothing to believe in or to rebel against’ is a statement made about the lead character who didn’t write another play following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Perhaps the old regime wasn’t that bad after all? How can that be right though?
The dilemmas in all of these films begun to have pertinence for me in our current time in politics in Britain and Europe. Will we see a rise in criminal activity if the country slowly slides off the economic scale and into world obscurity following Brexit as some people predict? Will London disintegrate like St Petersburg and Moscow when the Russian mobsters pull their money out? What will replace this? Or will it be as simple as robbing it from them when Theresa May’s government puts the bill through to seize their supposedly illegal money? Part of me is watching this and thinking this may have been the plan all along. Their greed made them vulnerable in the motherland of the most refined gangster culture of all. London. Slick are the investment bankers who shift the money around and swindle without violence. Will the situation in Salisbury enable NATO to roll into action and put Putin back in his box? Was it the excuse they needed? If so why then did a supposedly Russian organisation carry out the attack? Lots of questions about why this happened and invariably who was responsible. I for one will never know the ‘truth’ and will be living in a culture that seems somehow to be able to sanctify their own dirty money and not other peoples. An interesting dilemma that may have further reaching legal implications than we realise in the future.
What is visible or unseen, and how do the actions of the state and influential businesses effect us in our everyday lives? What are we prepared to tolerate and if not how can we enact change against such enormous powers? Does Art play a part in this or is it always controlled into be entertainment , or exploited to create a ‘market’?