Monday, June 19, 2006

Film: Feast of the Goat (Spain, 2005)

Another screening from the Sydney Film Festival, Feast of The Goat (La Fiesta del Chivo) is based on the eponymous novel by Mario Vargas Llosa. It is set in the Dominican Republic at the time of the dictator Trujillo and - unusually - it's a Spanish film shot in English, with Isabella Rossellini as the central character. Although the story’s strands - in depicting an archetypical latin american dictator and his eventual downfall - are not unfamiliar, the film is very well executed and thought-provoking.

What is your response to life under a ruthless, despotic dictator? Would you escape, fight back, or knuckle down? This story is about those who chose the latter path, and the ramifications of that choice - which are many and often involved compromising one’s very humanity.

The film revolves around a daughter’s return to confront her now immobilised father, who had sacrificed her at the dictator’s altar when young. This resulted in permanent damage to her, body and spirit.

Others compromise themselves - or others - in a variety of ways. One character is made to break off a wedding because his fiancee's brother is said to be a marxist. Later, that character is made to kill a "marxist", who turns out to be that brother. Elsewhere, a couple of men that are killed are smeared as being homosexual lovers. Reminiscent of the Malaysian Mahathir regime's smear on Anwar Ibrahim, the weapons of choice of despots become almost banal cliche. Nothing changes.

Why would you compromise yourself? If not fight, why wouldn’t you run? The reasons aren’t heavily explored here. In some cases, it was a lifestyle choice. In other cases, a small compromise is followed by a bigger and a bigger one, until one is swallowed whole by the enormity of the brutality.

The conspirators who killed the tyrant were those selfsame who had compromised their souls. Yet destruction of the regime doesn’t constitute redemption. Everyone is scarred.

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