Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Imperialists Are Still Alive!

This review was originally posted on the NewsGallery's website (see http://www.thenewsgallery.com/2011/02/imperialists-are-still-alive-according). The last two paragraphs feature an added dance anecdote specifically for this blog.

Rooftop Films screened director Zeina Durra’s debut film, The Imperialists Are Still Alive! at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan on Sunday February 13, 2011. The screening was a free, sneak-peak of the film (officially selected at the Sundance Film Festival last year) before its New York premiere at the IFC Center March 4. The Ace Hotel was an apropos location—a hangout spot one could imagine Durra’s heroine Asya (played by French actress, Elodie Bouchez) waltzing in, wearing her fur coat and heels.

Shot using a super 16mm camera, Durra mentioned in her brief Q & A after the screening that she was inspired by Scorsese’s cult classic, After Hours (1985), Stillman’s Metropolitan (1990) and 60s and 70s era film aesthetics. The feature achieved the grainy texture Durra desired, but the picture quality looked blurry and often times out-of-focus, leaving me to wonder if that was a deliberate choice, or an outcome related to inexperience. Stylistically, Durra’s ode to iconic eras was a theme carried over into costuming, as well as popping up in the film’s title—a line taken from Jean Luc Godard’s La Chinoise (1967)—which I’m not sure captures the story’s essence.

Durra’s film however centers on Asya, a successful visual artist and cultural hybrid of Palestinian/Bosnian/Lebanese/Jordanian descent, raised in Paris, but living in New York. The film is a New York portrait, but an international story--reflective of Durra’s own cultural heritage and upbringing. Sarcastic and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, Durra weaves together several vignettes of nightclubs, art galleries, loft apartments, Chinese restaurants and cab rides into a cohesive palette of vibrant colors.

Durra fought hard to prevent the producers from turning her script into a conventional story. She deliberately wanted to explore themes of rendition, imperialism, war, resistance, displacement and post feminism from a perspective closer to the milieu she grew up in. “The idea that Arabs or Muslims brought up in the West find themselves constantly torn between their roots and their "Western" lives has always annoyed me, since I have never related to that conflict,” Durra comments.

Sophisticated, independent, rebellious and cool, Durra takes viewers on a journey that has no resolution, but rather allows us to peak into the lives of wealthy international hipsters who fluidly transfer from Arabic, French, English, Spanish and more—navigating New York’s subcultures—simultaneously keeping one eye on the political conflicts in the Middle East. For Durra’s characters, “home” has a transient meaning and money buys freedom.

I wanted to post my review of The Imperialists Are Still Alive! on The Dance Anthropologist, because the film features too very funny dance scenes that unfortunately make dance the butt of the joke. The first takes a stab at conceptual dance when the main character, Asya, is taken by her boyfriend to his friend's "environmental dance" performance. The work is inspired by the choreographer's trip to the Amazon, and is basically a Mexican woman's horrifying portrayal of the dances she observed in a black box theater. With a troupe of contemporary looking dancers behind her, they roll around in leaves wearing tribal paint, chanting and screaming as Asya trys to conceal her laughter. Haven't we all been there?

The other dance moment comes later when Asya attends her cleaning lady's gathering to celebrate her son's graduation from the NYPD academy. There-she encounters the "Latin" male salsa dancer personified-dressed in a skintight black unitard with a plunging v-neckline, he seems to think he's the best thing since sliced bread as he tries to woo Asya with his "shines." Director Zeina Durra claims that her goal was to show Arab women from an alternative perspective sans stereotypes, but she can't seem to do the same for dance. Are there oodles of wretched contemporary dance performances, and a slew of dirty old men posing as salsa dancers in New York? Absolutely! I'm just disappointed that she couldn't come up with anything more original to get a good laugh...but then again, I can take a joke!

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