Let My People Go!
Teemu (Jarkko Niemi), a French-Jewish mailman, lives happily ever after in Finland with his boyfriend, Ruben (Nicolas Maury), but his life changes when he delivers a package of 199,980 euros to a neighbor who refuses to accept the package and gives it to Teemu. Ruben, however, doesn't believe Teemu's story about how the neighbor gave him such a large sum of money, so Teemu storms out of the house and flies to Paris to stay with his mom, Rachel (Carmen Maura), just in time for Passover. Cue Teemu's dysfunctional family each of whom has his or her own complicated issues that tangle the plot up. His sister, Irène (Amira Casar), is on the verge of divorcing her husband while Teemu's father (Jean-François Stévenin) introduces Teemu to his secret lover (Aurore Clément). Complicating matters even further, a rabbi (Jean-Luc Bideau), flirts with Teemu at a gay club and ends up having a one night stand before falling in love with him as his boy toy.
Let My People Go! has enough cartoonish characters and silly situations that will amuse and delight you because it never takes itself too seriously. Writer/director Mikael Buch and co-writer Christophe Honoré establish just the right comedic tone from the get-go, and take a few stabs at Jewish humor, sex humor and dark humor which, more often than not, generate some laughter. Not all of the humor is clever or witty per se, and you'll never quite be emotionally invested int Teemu or anyone else's problems, especially given the contrived ways that they're wrapped up. However, those are merely minor setbacks that don't take away from the film's entertainment value.
The casting director, Simon Jacquet, should be commended for picking just the right actors for this ensemble. Carmen Maura, in particular, is terrific as always and has a lot of fun with her role. Most impressively, Buch keeps the running time slightly under 90 minutes, the ideal length of a comedy. Had Let My People Go! been ten minutes longer, it would have overstayed its welcome and become exhausting.
My Best Enemy
Uprising charts the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 from its inception on January 25 all the way until the brave, enraged Egyptian civilians succeeded in overthrowing dictator Hosni Mubarek and his fascist regime. Director Fredrik Stanton briefly explores the event that became the catalyst for the Egyptian people's anger toward their government that led to the revolution: the police beating to death Khaled Said, an innocent young Egyptian man who merely posted a video of police officers sharing profits in a drug deal. Gruesome images of Said's corpse at the morgue were spread online, and soon many Egyptians became rightfully enraged. As one protestor explains, Said was the camel that broke the camel's back.
On January 25th, 2011, thousands of Egyptians joined the protest against Mubarak which they found out about through Facebook. They, along with journalists who dared to go against their own government, risked their lives day by day because Mubarak used all the powers of his police state to try to stop the protestors. The police killed and injured many of them, yet the protestors who remained alive continued to march on. One journalist explains how he was arrested and brutally tortured. Protestors describe the violence that went on around them as the police shot civilians and, in one instance, there was even violence between the civilians themselves.
Uprising unfolds much like a suspense thriller, especially for those who aren't familiar with the details of the Egyptian Revolution. Near the end of the protests, Mubarak shut down Egypt's internet and cell phone service in an attempt to close democracy even further. What happened next was something that the government did not expect: thousands of family members of the protestors traveled to the protests to search for their loved once and, soon enough, joined in their protests, so the revolution grew even larger. Protestors explain the energy, fear and sense of determination that they felt while protesting at Tahrir Square. The footage of the protests that director Fredrik Stanton manages to get ahold of captures the intensity of the revolution. You might find yourself even cheering the Egyptians on and rejoicing when you observe their victory. Stanton's interviews with former and current members of the government (as well as the U.S. government) aren't particularly revealing or surprising; it's the footage and interviews with journalists/activists that most compelling. You'll learn that it's much easier to lose democracy than it is to gain it.
Uprising could serve as an easy-to-follow guide for American citizens on how to successfully form and implement a revolution to overthrow their government if and when it turns into a dictatorship. History repeats itself if no one learns from it, so hopefully Uprising will be able to help Americans learn from that crucial part of Egyptian history. Otherwise, Americans might become just as complacent as the "good Germans" were during the Nazi regime.
Welcome to the Machine
This timely documentary tackles an issue that's quite complex the more you think about it: the relationship between humans and technology. According to pro-technology expert Ray Kurzweil, who developed a music synthesizer as well as a reading machine for the blind, technological advances will one day be used to increase our intelligence and perhaps even make us immortal. Our brain is like a computer and, according to Kurzweil, it's a very outdated computer. Other experts, like Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, admits that the effects of technology on human beings can be perceived in two basic ways: some technologies do things for us while others do things to us. She's not nearly against technology as David Skrbina who lectures on philosophy at the University of Michigan in Dearborn. Skrbina is a firm believer in the seemingly radical ideas of Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, who had written a manifesto about how modern technology causes human suffering, destroys the environment and essentially dehumanizes us.
Director Avi Zev Weider wisely intercuts the talking heads with three different examples of how the advancement technology is affecting human beings, including his own kids. Weider's triplets were born prematurely after his wife underwent in-vitro fertilization. Machines helped to keep the triplets alive. Technology also helps a man named Dean Lloyd to see via a retinal implant, Argus II. Meanwhile, soldiers in a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle site control war planes via a computer without even needing to risk their lives by being inside the planes. Some of the young soldiers are surprised that the experience isn't quite like using a traditional flight simulator. Weider, fortunately, doesn't interject his opinion about these particular technologies; in some ways, the benefits of those technologies speak for themselves.
Weider should also be commended for understanding that the topic of technology's effects on mankind aren't quite black-and-white; there's a spectrum of opinion ranging from Ray Kurzweil to Sherry Turkle to Kaczynski, whom he even exhanges letters with to try to grasp what he's thinking. Interestingly, none of the experts are honest or brave enough to simply say that they don't know what technology's impact on mankind truly is. They each claim to have their own perspectives, but what if these perspectives will change within the next few years? Perhaps Weider could follow up with them in five years or so to see if that's the case. Nonetheless, Welcome to the Machine nourishes you with an interesting variety of food for thought no matter where you lie on the spectrum between pro-technology and anti-technology.