Week 48/2023

As one of the first Arab films to directly address the Palestinian question, Al-Makhdu'un [The Dupes] (1972) by Syrian director Tewfik Saleh provides a nuanced exploration of the complex cultural and political issues that arose from the 1948 Palestine war. Saleh’s subtle approach allows for ambiguity and doubt, challenging the binary and oversimplified perspective through which the West tends to frame developments in the Middle East. The film’s criticism is directed not so much at the Zionist movement, but rather at the behaviour of the Arab world towards the struggle of the Palestinian people, which led to its censorship in several countries.

The political dimension of Total Recall (1990) is less obvious. Hiding behind a thick layer of Hollywood entertainment, lodged in the corners of the narrative, and stitched together by Schwarzenegger’s one-liners lies a reflection on colonialism and tyrannical governance. Although it is set in a dystopic future in the year 2084, the plot about a colonial regime justifying the killing of oppressed civilians as a way of “[restoring] order with minimal use of force” deeply resonates with the present. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven masterfully bends the conventions of sci-fi, deliberately activating their satirical potential without flooding them with irony.

Verhoeven’s compatriot Johan van der Keuken uses documentary strategies instead of fiction to explore social inequality under western capitalism. Het witte kasteel [The White Castle] (1973), the second instalment of van der Keuken’s North-South trilogy, interweaves images of a community center in Ohio, two factories in the Netherlands and a tourist destination in Spain. What binds these places is their close entanglement with the free market economy, which runs through them like a conveyor belt, as van der Keuken puts it. Repeating the same sequences in slightly different ways and combinations, the carrousel-like editing explores every possible connection between the images. The shifting dialectical relationships gradually reveal new meanings that challenge our discursive understanding of reality.

This Week