Monday, March 30, 2009

Lost Island of VHS...

I'm starting a column of films that are not available on DVD in R1 but are available on VHS if you can find them.

Stage of Siege - Costa-Gavras - 1972
State of Siege is political cinema at its most potent and [some would say] heavy handed. It's both dynamic and talky but never less than engaging and is frequently suspenseful. The setting is Uruguay and the time is the 1970's when Leftists were fighting well-funded right wing dictatorships.
A group of underground leftists have create a 'state of siege' whereby they kidnap a few key political figures. One of them is a diplomat played by Yves Montand. While kidnapped he is taken to a dark hideout where he is questioned by hooded guerrillas who know everything there is to know about him. But he holds his own with questions with a right leaning reasoning as to why things are the way they are.
Much like some of the films of Francesco Rosi the film starts with the death of the main character [Montand] and then goes back in time to show us what lead to the death. Stylistically I was struck by the editing choices and use of zoom shots, which were common the in the 70's. But here the zooms serve a narrative function rather than just add an aesthetic mood. Whether zooming in on the action as vans kidnap people or on a pair of eyes that stare at yet another diplomat walking off a plane to try and control the social and economic future of another South American country.
The film's message is that even though the guerrillas may not win they are watching, they are planning and they will not compromise their position. Costa-Gavras empathizes with them. In this regard, the film is not politically correct to the world we live in today. In fact, I don't think a film like this would be made today unless - like Marco Bellochio's Good Morning, Night [on DVD] or Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst [not in R1] - the message was about the folly and mistakes of such far left groups. Still it is hard to find fault with Costa-Gavras' criticisms of the atrocities of Latin American dicatorships.

I watched this on an old VHS tape that was full-frame and dubbed[!]. It was one of those heavy ones and it seemed it would fall apart at any moment. Fortunately, it held up fine.
Z is coming soon and Missing was released by the Criterion Collection recently so let's see if they will put this out too.

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