Sunday, July 08, 2007

Debunking Third-World Myths

With stats and neat graphics!

French Movies that Don't Suck

Inch'Allah Dimache. This one's about an Algerian woman and her children who rejoin her husband in France in the early 70s when the north Africans who've come over to work are finally allowed to bring thier families over. The language moves from Arabic to French and back again, and they do some great things with the wife, Zouina, using French more and more instead of Arabic as she makes her decision to try and assimilate.

She spends much of the movie - the Sundays her husband and mother-in-law are away - to look for the only other Algerian family in the neighborhood because she and her children would like someone to spend the holiday of Aid with. What she finds is a woman who's lived in France for the last 15 years, still primarily speaks Arabic, and calls her shameful for listening to the radio and kicks her out of her house for sneaking around without her husband's permission.

Both women are servants, kept subserviant by tradition and religion, and dying a little inside every time they try to break away. Mikkala, the second woman, throws Zouina out of her house when she realizes Zouina has not told her husband of their meeting and is going about in public without him, and as Zouina sobs and grieves outside, there's a shot of Mikkala, too, on the other side of the door, pounding her chest and grieving.

Zouina's husband does beat her, but he does so in ways and for reasons that are completely supported by Islam. He does not beat her excessively, without reason, and he is genuinely good man concerned about his children. His actions are all very much supported by even liberal readings of the Koran. Everyone acts within the traditions they've been brought up in (the mother-in-law is the only one that sticks out as a real stereotype as the overbearing mother-in-law vying with her daughter-in-law for her son's affection). As Zouina makes non-Algierian friends, there's talk of "that book by the French woman with sex in the title," and how maybe being divorced is better than having your body owned by someone else, but this movie doesn't turn out quite the way I thought it would, and it's all the better for it, because it's far more believable than the ending I would have written...

It's a film that speaks to something that Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks about in her book Infidel, as well: there are two kinds of immigrants, the kind who take the good things from both of their cultures and make them work, as Zouina is doing (but certainly not without huge amounts of grief and loss), and the kind who try and insulate themselves as much as possible from the culture of the country they're living in and refuse to learn the lanaguage, adapt to the customs (and I mean "customs" like a woman going out to buy groceries on her own), and continue to live in a bubble.

Nobody's life here - Mikkala's or Zouina's or even the native-born French woman's next door - is presented as the happiest, best sort of life, but they do present a variety of choices for how we live our lives, and some of the harsh realities we have to deal with if we want to change our lives.

Creepy European Movies

Netflix has this great thing where, in addition to your snail-mail movies, you can choose 14 hours of free movies a month to watch on your PC. They tend to be older movies and/or B movies, but there's some decent stuff on there and a few classics.

Since I've been working on my French a lot more lately, I decided to use this feature to watch French movies, and the first one I picked was "Une femme de menage" (The Housekeeper).

What's up with this weird male fantasy of having sex with your housekeeper? I mean, I might make a joke about how nice it would be to have a young guy named Enrique clean the house topless, but I don't really mean that. Forming a relationship with my housekeeper isn't something I find terribly sexually appealing. When I look for relationships, I look for people I respect and admire and who I can talk to about stuff we both find interesting, you know, somebody you could actually partner up with; somebody cool. A housekeeper who never talks to me, has nothing in common with me and has boredom sex with me just doesn't sound all that sexy, so matter how physically attractive the rest of the world says they are.

See, the perfect marriage-type situation, for me, isn't being with somebody who cleans my house, makes me dinner, initiates no-strings-attached sex, and is so much younger than me that we have nothing in common and they need me around to take care of them. This is only the perfect living situatino if you're looking for a slave.

In the end, the housekeeper initiates the sex, cleans the house, and then when they go on a long vacation, ends up leaving him for another man (who happens to be her own age). She does go so far as to rebel against the idea of going back to Paris after the holiday because, "In Paris I'm just your housekeeper."

Well, yeah, a beach loving sugar daddy sounds great to me, too, if the alternative is life as a housekeeper and boredom sex in Paris.

But of course, our hero doesn't say, "Of course, you didn't want to be my slave in Paris," or even, "Yes, you probably have more in common with someone your own age," (because him and this housekeepr have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IN COMMON BUT LONELINESS AND NEVER TALK TO EACH OTHER). Instead, he says, "Oh, he's young." Well, YES, he's young. But you two don't even like the same music. The most she has going for her in your eyes is that she cleans your house and has sex with you and likes to pretend you're married and you get off on having somebody like you that much. You don't even love her.

In the end, the point seems to have been that she was using him for a meal ticket and is now dating someone her own age, and he is old and alone, but it serves him right because it's his fate to be old and alone. What I find even more funny is that somebody categorized this movie as a "comedy/drama/romance."

I think this movie was confused about what it wanted to be, too.

And maybe that was the whole point: both people are kind of selfish and lonely and know what they're getting into but try and pretend it's more than it really is because it makes them feel better, and then they try and act suprised when it all falls apart because really, if you're in love, aren't you supposed to be surprised when it ends? But they aren't, and it isn't, and then the guy nearly drowns in the ocean right before the credits roll and somebody mistakes the woman for his daughter - the movie seems to say: ah, yes, all is as it should be!

I did not feel particularly sorry for either of them.