Coco Green and Ola Magdziarek review a couple of cinematic highlights from 2017: Maria Sadowska’s “Art Of Loving”, which tells the story of Polish sexologist Michalina Wislocka who fought for her book to be published in the late 1970s, and Jordan Peele’s “Get out”, in which Daniel Kaluuya’s African American Chris Washington visits his white girlfriend’s parents. A series of bizarre, unsettling events ensues.
“Art of loving” (Sztuka Kochania), Polonia 2016, Dir. Maria Sadowskav
Have you ever wondered how sex was officially perceived under the communist regime? Apparently it was in dire need of a revolution, girl-style. In 1978, Michalina Wislocka took Poland by storm with the guidebook, ’The Art of Loving’. Dr Wislocka, renowned for her contribution to sexual education in Poland, was very progressive for her time. As a medical doctor, she upheld the idea that sex is a form of entertainment, a source of pleasure and, most importantly, a way of showing affection to the one you love. And, if there’s no one else you love, she explained how sex is a way to love yourself.
Director Maria Sadowska, who first made her name in the music industry, follows the struggle of Dr Wislocka to publish her book in a country ruled by our typical ‘white middle-aged men’, although the oligarch is protrayed as more comical than scary or authoritarian. Subsequent to her ideology being rejected by all three pillars of power: first the government, then the church and, lastly, most of the press; the doctor finally finds an ally in a female editor, who understands the paradox of having a male medic advise on women’s health. The film gives us an insight into the impetus behind her determination to overcome all authorities and to finally publish her work.
Despite the film’s inspirational nature, it is not a faithful potrayal of the woman’s life; which gives an opportunity for the right-wing media to attack the film. Avoiding Dr Wislocka’s controversies takes away from understanding more about this figure and the times, but may have been necessary to tell the story of the book, advocacy and women’s health. However, we do gain a sense of the Dr’s personality, such as her love for clothes made of patterned curtains, and the atmosphere of Poland, in scenes set in a rural spa in summer. Nevertheless, the protagonist is an extremely likeable person and a role model to new generations of women trying to make their way in science. The director sneaked in a hint on difficutlies for a woman to follow a medical career while having children, and a critique of delegalising abortions.
A topical film in a country which is currently under strong far-right rule, facing a threat of introducing the strictest abortion law in the world, ‘The Art of Loving’ warns us from turning back on history and reversing all the progress in women’s reproductive rights. Although surprising, and scary, is that not much seems to have in the politics of progress. On the whole, without reading into the context, the film is good entertainment and gives an opportunity to delight.
“Get out”, USA 2017, Dir. Jordan Peele
In short, loved it. In long, ‘Get Out’ is everything you’ve heard and more. Consistently, whether I’m in book club, the bar, in a secret black people meeting at work, people who’ve seen it want to see it again. And those who have seen it twice offer to go with me to see it for a third time. The only thing armchair critics are wrong about is that the film is scary. Not sure who billed it as a horror film, but know that it is suspense and and social commentary. This film is a meet the parents story, with black Chris, and his white Rose, off to meet her parents, in a post-Obama colourblind American, in which Rose, to Chris’s consternation, doesn’t even need to tell her parents that he’s black. Although Chris is Rose’s first black boyfriend, she’s not worried about her parents; they voted for Obama after all.
But ‘Get Out’ does try to reassure audiences early on that Rose is not naïve. When confronted with what she believes is over racism directed at Chris, she is vocal in her opposition. But the question remains, what happens when the racism is covert? Can Rose recognise microagressions and what does she understand about white privilege and interracial relationships? And what is expected of her on all of these fronts?
The film works primarily because of the suspense/science fiction element, which is also a refreshing change from the slapstick, dramas and documentaries that aim to tackle similar issues. This also taps into the concept of black anxiety and pessimism, in which Chris is justifiably wary and not used a reconciliatory character to alleviate white fears that there are grounded, smart, monogamous black men out there.
Peele, who also wrote the screenplay, lulls you with recognisable comedic dialogue before taking a sharp turn to incongruous objects or reactions, then violence.
‘Get Out’ is also timely in a number of ways. After viewing, what immediately came to mind are representations of blackness. One trope is that ‘positive’ media representations are necessary to counteract the bad, so that a thug can’t represent black people in general when you have a doctor starring in a series, too. However, I would argue that positive representations can be just as dangerous when they neither speak truth to power nor reflect inner truths or knowledge created in subjects racialised as black. Then, of course, is the question of authenticity: who has the right to tell black stories? Glad to not ask if director Jordan Peele is really black, what should be asked is what is he telling about black manhood, masculinity and desire when that body is in a white, progressive context? But I’m not sure I will ask that either, because the film does such an excellent job of moving the body and story away from institutions and into the home of liberal white America.
A surprising revelation in the film is an uncomfortable element of a particular form of multiculturalism in which racial diversity is welcome, as long as you’re Christie. Characterised as Barbie’s black friend, she is essentially chocolate Barbie with brown hair. She doesn’t have a different world view, history or smaller pool of romantic partners due to deindustrialisation and ghettoisation. In this brand, diversity is bringing something desirable to the dominant group which, ironically, strengthens and legitimises their culture. All the more better if it’s beautiful, delicious or entertaining. It’s also convenient: one can absorb the most accessible parts of a culture without ever having to share power or recognise the more toxic elements of that culture that results from structural inequality. It’s blues without the pain, passion without the heart.
So please, go see “Get out”. See it twice.