Tag Archives: poverty

El Lute I and II (1987 & 1988)

 Brutality, crime & poverty

The Spanish films El Lute I and II from director Vicente Aranda examine the life and times of Eleuterio Sanchez (Imanol Arias). Sanchez–a Spanish gypsy grows up in Franco’s Spain, and he’s already a young man traveling with his family when the film opens. The family live in the close quarters of a tatty caravan, and they are used to being constantly harassed by the police. The first scene establishes the dour tone of the film. Sanchez and his family are huddled around a campfire on the outskirts of town eating a meal. Meanwhile, Sanchez’s mother is inside the caravan dying. A couple of Spanish policemen arrive and demand that the gypsies leave–it doesn’t matter if they want to finish their meal, or if there’s a woman dying. The gypsies are treated with deliberate cruelty until they shuffle off.

el-luteSanchez meets a young woman, Chelo (Victoria Abril) at a gypsy encampment. Soon she is pregnant, and they try to scrape a living together. They end up in a squalid gypsy camp/ghetto with their small child. Again, they are beaten and harassed by police, and Sanchez finds himself with a jail sentence.

When Sanchez or ‘El Lute’ is released, he joins Chelo and their child in a squatter city that is composed of huts, but even putting a hut on some dump requires a bribe, and when Chelo and El Lute don’t pay it, they’re forced off the land. And this is where El Lute’s life takes a turn; he befriends a couple of men who persuade him to move near them, and El Lute embarks on a life of crime.

El Lute was a real person, and while the film is ostensibly about him, it’s impossible to avoid the greater social criticism of the impossible situation that surrounds him. Life is depicted as extremely harsh for the poor. This is Franco’s Spain of the 1960s, and yet at many points–thanks to the poverty and conditions endured by these people, it could be the nineteenth century. Both El Lute and Chelo are illiterate and incapable under the social structure from doing any more than just scraping a living and maintaining fringe-dweller status, at best. Somehow the film doesn’t milk the viewer for sympathy–perhaps this is due to the fact that in spite of raising our sympathies, El Lute remains not particularly likeable.

El Lute: Camina O Rievienta is the first film. Other titles are: Run For Your Life, Forge and or Die. The second film is Lute II: Manana Sere Libre. The early criminal career of El Lute is explored in the first film, and the second film continues El Lute’s story and his growing folkhero status for his legendary escapes and as an example of  a man who refused to bow to Franco. The films are in Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Political/social films, Spain, Victoria Abril

Heading South (2005)

“I always said when I was old, I’d pay young men to love me.”

It’s the 70s, and three single female tourists–all middle aged and white–make a habit of taking their holidays at a lush, private Haitian resort in Laurent Cantet’s film Vers le Sud (Heading South). Wellesley French literature professor Ellen (Charlotte Rampling) is 55, and she spends all summer at the resort and has done so for the last five years. Brenda (Karen Young) is 48 and she comes from Georgia. Brenda and her husband were on holiday at the resort three years ago, and it was during a stolen moment that Brenda had sex with local lad, Legba (Menothy Cesar), and she never forgot the brief liaison. The third woman is Sue (Louise Portal), a plump, uncomplicated and genial woman who can’t really seem to establish relationships with men.

When the film begins, Ellen and Sue are firmly ensconced in the languorous setting of the Haitian resort. They spend their days lolling on the beach, drinking exotic concoctions, and being the center of attention of a band of young, husky islanders. Brenda arrives, it seems, with the goal of reconnecting with Legba, and discovering if that moment they shared three years ago meant as much to him as it did to her.

In intimately confessional moments, each of the three female tourists argues her case for being at the resort and why they find it acceptable to whoop it up on the beaches while they feel constrained to behave differently in their natural environments. All three women bemoan the lack of suitable men at home, but none of them really question exactly why they feel so uninhibited in Haiti. To the viewer, however, it seems apparent that the relationships Ellen and Sue enjoy in Haiti bear no consequences. It’s just all fun and games–no responsibilities, and no nasty surprises. In addition, the white female tourists are firmly in the power seat here, and they are all divorced from the realities of Haiti–the ugliness, the corruption, and the grinding poverty. It never seems to occur to these women that the Haitian men pay them attention simply because they need to eat, and neither do any of the women question how the men survive when the summer’s over, and the tourists go home.

The plot plays with the idea of exploitation. On one level, there’s the issue of the white women tourists and their relationships with the native men, but on another level, these relationships are symptoms of the exploitive colonialism of Haiti. Tourists are on holiday to have a good time, and being face-to-face with starving people isn’t something tourists want to see. There are those who argue that tourism is a good thing for the economy of any nation, but it’s impossible to see that in Heading South. While the natives are turned into seasonal gigolos, the tourists are completely divorced from the morality of their situation, and ultimately the tourists are just passing through while the Haitians are locked into the turmoil of a disastrous social and political climate. Heading South is a morally complex film, and its depth resonates long after the closing credits. In French and English with subtitles.

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