Posts Tagged ‘Immigration’

Shots of different parts of the long cortege of a village near Arras, May 1940

A fine film very much worth watching just now. Christian Carion’s Come What May more or less uniformly condemned by reviewers is a beautiful intelligent anti-war film centering on an exodus across France, now forgotten, as villages fled the German invasion. The still below is one of the many black-and-white photographs that introduce, are scattered throughout the film, and conclude it. The film itself is in beautiful colors, accompanied by remarkable touching appropriate music by Ennio Morricone. Carion is telling a family story: he was born in this area; his mother had been part of this exodus; it is also crucial French history he feels. The film may be regarded as a coda to A French Village; there the people stayed put; here they went into flight. Our particular group turns round and heads back home. Interpersed is the story of three young men, Scottish (Matthew Rhys), German (August Diehl) and French (Laurent Gerra). A boy (Josioh Marion who stands for the thousands of children separated from parents), another Mayor, a cafe owner. Another bridge is blown up. And we have a goose who is really terrified of the sounds of the airplanes and passing tanks. A Review.

Friends and readers,

You owe this blog to my determination to tell whoever comes here that pace the reviewers of this film who disdained it, this is a very good film. They seem to have pushed it right out of the theaters with their obtuse disdain and distrust (I must call it) of any tender feeling, belief in some kind of responsibility in people, impatience at orchestra music. For all these characteristics, this is a fine film for our time. I urge my readers to watch it (streaming on Amazon prime, as a DVD from Netflix, as a good DVD with three feature to buy) and tell others. I find myself half-wondering if the reason it seems so hard to persuade people to act on their social instincts, to feel for others as themselves, is that a film like this is sneered at. As a result our entertainment is FX type fascist hard violence and Barbie doll strong genital sex; characters must be presented as mean, performative, competitive or we are supposed unable to believe in them.

I watched Come What May as a sort of short companion piece, a coda to A French Village (about which I have written three times, Scroll down and also click on the links).  In A French Village, mayor and people decided to stay put.  In Come What May, they tried to escape the power-hungry cruel Nazi and French collaborative regime. In type Carion liked the film to a western in genre: the landscape is a character with wanderers in its purview.


For a third time, last night I was just immersed in Christian Carion’s Come What May (En Mai, Fais ce qu’il plait). The first night I watched I was touched by the story, involved with the actor-characters, just loved the music, the quiet lyricism of the whole treatment, and then was astonished to discover that the reviews hardly covered what happened (like wikipedia can barely be bothered), or outright condemned it! At RogerEbert.com Odie Henderson resented it as “feel good” schmaltz — how this can be when two of the major male characters are killed, with many other unnamed minor ones, when we see a village fleeing in terror of the German’s desire for revenge (for WW1) and then turn around to go back after they’ve been hit hard twice (airplane bombing, tanks) and realize they will only meet more of the same at the coast. Far from one dimensional, the characters are suggestive presences within a larger group.

Another more complained it was not violent enough; people not sufficiently ravaged, not really a war movie at all. This is probably true, as the extraordinary composer who wrote the original score (beautiful, evocative, and uneasy), Ennio Morriconne says (in one of three features on the DVD) he agreed to write the music because the film is not a “movie about war, it is a movie during the war,” not filled with violence, speed, terror, but about the people who are enduring war, their experience, about a journey, flight, hardship, people behaving under pressure.

The first encounter of two of our heroes, the Scottish captain, Percy (Matthew Rhys) and the German communist, Hans (August Diehl) — Percy on his way to Dunkirk

The teacher who adopts Hans’s son, Suzanne (Alice Isaaz) and the Mayor, Paul (Olivier Gourmet) emerge as leaders

Propaganda film-maker (Arriflex)

The second time was when I watched this feature about the music, the orchestra, then the feature The making of Come What May, where we learn how this is a family story for Carrion: he came from Arras, his mother experienced just this exodus when she was 8, and he was hurrying to make the film before she died. Carion said his parents wanted to reach Canada but they never left France at all. His father was a mayor of a village. One of the extras hired was an 80 year old woman who had been four in 1940 and been part of the exodus; he brought along a goose because his mother said his family had had a goose and the goose proved to be expressive, hiding with terror during the sequences of passing planes and tanks:

The goose’s eyes would just peep out

For him the film also realizes a moment of crucial French history, where the gov’t made the wrong choices (capitulation because the people were so exhausted still from the horrors of World War One). Far from “sentimental” (another review found it mawkish), what Carion is showing us incident by incident is bleak history of savage senseless destruction, with storekeepers on the way seeking to charge high prices for water and food, complete indifference in the Germans to whoever they come upon; with aimless throwing of high powered fire weapons, wreaking death. Yes our sensibilities are not allowed the close-up thrill, the super-shock of barbaric exultation. No over-excitement, incessant noise and distraction. One German dies quietly banging his head against his tank, asking the boy to help him die.

Carion’s conscious method is to epitomize history by anecdote (that’s true) so the opening tells through a single incident how at the opening of the war 300,000 Germans fled Germany (communists, Jews, homosexuals) and came to France as the land of liberty; they were rounded up, put in camps and after the “armistice” was signed, sent back to Germany, slaughtered on the way or at the camps when they got there. I then watched with the voice-over commentary where Carion talked of how difficult it was to film this in the northern countryside, to traipse about with a couple of hundred people, animals: horses (exhausted and frightened at the bombs and high startling noises now and again), pigs, cows, and young babies too.

Percy and Hans, with the third hero, the French peasant farmer, Albert (Laurent Gerra) who is simply carelessly shot to death by the film-makers in order to intimidate a group of African soldiers — it seems this kind of scene of camaraderie especially offended the reviewers

The third time, stubbornly (I felt) just the movie itself now that I had enough to appreciate what I was invited slowly to experience. Then I concentrated on the famous actors and was affected by the serendipity of what happened. The film and performances had much quiet humor, as life does. The story proper begins (like A French Village) in May 1940, where a village is more exercised by its wind-mill and water pump than the coming Nazis. We see the important townsman in the local central cafe; the teacher adopts the boy of the German man they have turned over to authorities (Hans).

Suzanne and Max (Joshio Marion)

After the imposition of rationing and terror tactics from the air, the town decides to leave and we see them packing up. In these transition momemts Morricone’s music is especially effective.

Morricone: “I will make the music for the people to decide to live and find another place to be safe. To fine liberty, to walk with self-possession.”

Prisons are opened up — and Hans escapes. Hans meets in the countryside Percy; they both stumble upon Albert. Carion says he wants to pay tribute to types of people in the way. The English held out. Core scenes are where the men learn to be friends, learn to lean on one another to succeed.

Deserted family home

Carion says he now saw himself as John Ford as he filmed the landscape as another character; the people are resisting sorrow, drinking and dancing companionably the second night, dancing to radios happening. The teacher encourages Max to leave notes on the blackboard in chalk for his father. Max cries, but he write them, cheerful notes to Papa. But as the walk goes on, the atmosphere darkens; we see bodies along the side of the road (some killed), colonies of people shot up. The mayor joins forces with the cafe owner as they become a lead couple. There are a series of scenes at a store, and in a deserted farmhouse. Soldiers frightened, shoot to kill. The pass a village, and the thee young men are now close behind.

The cafe owner, who also drives one of the trucks is Mado (Mathilde Seignier)

Now an attack by the airplanes (computer generated and tough to pull off as really there, making the right sounds too), and as the bombs fall, Max flees. The teacher is forced to leave him behind. Hans comes next and thinks his son among the young children buried. There are scenes of the group passing bridges, and in one case it is blown up behind them — bridges are ever being blown up in war films (wars too). They see from afar or pass by other groups of (it seems) pilgrims. On the road, Percy captured.

In a final set of scenes, the film-maker seems to persuade Percy to play his bagpipes freely for the film; in fact Percy had seen the film-maker murder Albert and when the camera is finished, Percy shoots the film-maker directly so irritated is he by this phonyness — a self-reflexive sequence. Alas Percy then shot to death in turn. In a fantasia sequence, Hans finds his son Max.

You can take it as a dream, but it is meant to be real, for eventually Suzanne catches up and joins Hans and Max. The village has decided to turn back, but she will forge ahead. They are on their way to the north shore, Calais, with an address given them by Percy.

The last image we see is that of the three people, a new family walking into the horizon.

At the opening, throughout and again with the credits there are photographs from the 1940s of this real history exodus or evacuation.

Burdened with children and the aged

Man smoking

Another monumental woman

Don’t miss this film. It enabled me to forget for a while the nightmare circus of an aspiring dictator (Trump) ruining an election, spouting fantastic lies and distortions, fomenting racial killings to justify sending into “democrat cities” brutal police — in an effort to turn all into criminality and lawlessness where he thinks he can thrive on fear and imprisonment. What the people in the film are fleeing is an earlier Hitlerian-Goebbels arrangement (only Trump has Barr, Wolf, Pompeo, McConnell …)


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Cap Blanc Nez, looking down — the areas of the cliffs takes about 20 minutes by boat

The book

“I am at home everywhere, and nowhere. I am never a stranger and I never quite belong.” — George Simenon

“As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” — Virginia Woolf

Friends and readers,

I’m back from a trip I and my two daughters, took to the shores and town of Calais, France. We had a good time in the bnb, on the beach, relaxing and exploring the immediate environment around the ancient and now modern town of Calais (deep harbor, channel port on the Atlantic), and for others traveling as far as Paris and London, and then rather closer, Dunkirk, Lille, and the two cliffs across the way from Dover. I wrote about the trip on my Under the Sign of Sylvia II autobiographical blog.

The French coast line of cliffs seen from a distance

We also read, and, among other books, Michel Agier and his team’s important The Jungle: Calais’s Camps & Migrants. There is nothing like comparison and contrast to teach us, and the history of what happened in Calais, from 1997 or so, when the British closed its borders to all but a thin trickle of migrants, until October 2016, when all the townships and encampments which had gradually developed along the northern coast of France were evacuated, and all their structures destroyed, will teach us how such a situation comes about, and what are the results of humanitarian intervention, the results of brutal obduracy and intrusion (it seems the police engage in this continually, and no one including Agier is empowered to stop them) Anyone concerned over what has been happened at the US Mexican-southwest border, wanting to understand how the situation there has come about, and what can be done in humanitarian ways (as opposed to the depraved cruelty of the US ICE agency), and what are the mixed reactions of local populations, when their organizations are not ceaselessly destroyed, the people put in prison (for say, leaving migrants plastic large jars of water).

Children being moved

The framework to keep in mind is that most borders are inventions of local gov’ts seeking to control the mobility, kinds of inhabitants, and social and economic realities of the populations under their control. Once a territory is delimited, and the conditions on the ground are such that cause displacement (war, famine, epidemic disease, poverty), large numbers of people seek to cross the borders or move about globally to protect and build prosperous (or at any rate safe) lives. Special recognized spaces (or hidden or somehow marginalized ones) spring up; exceptions from definitions of belonging (as citizenship) are used by authorities controlling law and military; and exclusions from the normal customs of life by the local population are used to frighten and drive away the immigrants. A transformation, usually urbanization, and politicization goes on within the migrant communities once they begin to thrive. As a whole, given different groups living in close proximity, they might fight or cooperate with one another in a common world, or they struggle for space, movement, rights from the authorities who might and often do treat them with violence or unjustly — though not always.

In northern France (and elsewhere or other than the US), the existence of many organizations charity, philanthropic, humanitarian, doctors, lawyers, set up precisely to help refuges, enabled cultural worlds to emerge, while at the same time xenophobic, genuinely uncomfortable and anxious local people (about businesses, schools, money, property) might be ratcheted up to become angry and want to rid themselves of the burden, and work suddenly to demolish, deport, inflict suffering on the migrants and do all they can to prevent them moving further or assimilating.

One of the emigrant camps seen from a distance

This is a larger generalized picture which in Northern France was particularized by the local culture and the cultures from which the fleeing people were come: middle eastern mostly, Syria, Afghanistan, the Kurds, peoples from the horn of Africa; and the cultures of the people who tried to help or drive them away. Agier, Yasmine Bouagga Mael Galisson, Cyrille Hanappe, Matilde Pette, and Philippe Wannesson all show a crisis and change of attitude is occurring which makes for sudden mobility, and then, depending on conditions, useful behavior that make for solidarities, accommodate world-wide movements, or criminal, violent, and desperately exploitative behavior. It seems the latter was rare; such fights as occurred were nationalistic, ethnic, religious in origin. A logic of harassment and dissuasion went on continually, and the refuges were willing to put up with bad conditions because they wanted to be allowed in, to find aslyum; they did not want to be abruptly returned from where they had fled. As border are externalized, the immigrants pile up, crowd into smaller spaces, live as blocks of people. It seems the preponderance of the migrants were men; there was one encampment which was mostly women and children (Norrent-Fontes). In places where women predominated, few were seen outside the tents or houses as a regular thing. In all places the divisions of space within the houses resembled the divisions of space in the houses from the places these people had grown up and lived in.

The contrast with the American situation is once the borders were closed, no philanthropy or even knowledge of who these migrants are was allowed, not dissuasion but cruelty, humiliation in detention, and forced deportation were the weapons used against these people. If you try to help them, you can be put in prison or shot. No social organizations have been allowed in to see the people.

Room used for religious worship, a church

The first part of the book tells of how the situations were initiated (wars, closing of borders), and specific organizations, countries, NGOs and agencies involved — as well as volunteers. Always there are volunteers. The second part tells of how the migrants spread from Sangatte to Calais, and how the term jungle(s) emerged. Maps of their places and detailed descriptions of the living conditions, and places that were built are here, as in restaurants, schools, hospitals, family and ethnic enclaves. There were “no man’s lands,” and some people lived outside the commonality. Part 3 is sociological, part 4 anthropological. What was heartening was the variety of political expression, types of action, emergence of sub-communities. Spokespeople are identified, and they mobilized themselves or were mobilized by the outside organizations and volunteers. Attempts were continually made to stop disease spreading (showers provided, food, trade in clothing).

Through it all, though, there is push-back, and right-wing larger political and economic groups, always with the police on their side (apparently ever using violence) are succeeding in destroying now this encampment, now that. At the borders everything is being done to stop the continual efforts of individuals and groups to cross illegally and legally. Chapter 5 tells of the destruction, and dispersal of the people, and how some tried to return. Again as opposed to the US behavior, gov’ts with histories of socialism and liberal democracy attempted to move people in groups to where they could assimilate, and gov’ts which represented conservative and right-wing groups, deported, imprisoned (prisons take a variety of forms) but also dispersed people. People were dumped on roads and into places with no help; when all crowded together, there was serious dysfunction.


The authors deny that nothing is left. Memories of what happened are everywhere if not openly discussed in anything like explicit or truly neutral terms. The world is turning global because of the modes of transportation available, supranational and yet the old nationalisms are what are used to define and shape and control what is going on. If you become stateless, you are highly vulnerable. All over the world today we find camps, encampments, refugees.

The lessons for the refugee, according to Agier, is that it is possible (maybe not in the ferocious US southern border, and countries run by violent dictators, which use fascist techniques of putting huge numbers of people in isolated places, or simply massacre everyone they can) to inhabit sites. You must appropriate singly and collectively and that produces an informal and egalitarian (in its way) community. They must try to practice coexistence, and collaboration (Local networks), and form solidarities across countries as well as work with the organizations who come to help. A common world which politicizes itself (holding up posters, shouting slogans, demanding human rights) and reaches out to lawyers and the govt’s they find themselves living next to or among. Interlocutors are needed. The emergence of a common world, commonalty, a sort of commons with the different groups policing themselves (according to a “good code”) is ever precarious, with a conflict of meanings in different situations playing out.


Some of the particulars are fascinating. Access to space and privacy is at a premium. A housing market with huts for sale spring up. Access to places could be restricted by an entrance fee. There was lots of waiting time — these were jobless people who had to line up for food, documents, shower tickets. Children were put into schools, there was entertainment in the form of team sports; British theater groups came over. Religion is show to give form and structure to daily lives. The activity of trying to cross the borders and move on also gave a rhythm to daily life. It was an unstable society of shifting identities, there were rapes, assaults, murders, destitution, and prostitution by men as well as women of themselves for food, money, shelter. But at the height of the numbers and active volunteer organizations and NGOS, pervasive attempts were made to help children and minors and other vulnerable people, to set them aside, and provide more individual attention and help.

Potted flowers for a garden

Last month I read Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots where her second section on Roots and Nationhood is about a key political issue today: how geographical boundaries when reinforced by national gov’ts become people’s identity and an excuse to exclude and despise people outside those boundaries as different and inferior. She explains or gives a history of how money and the state came to replace much more natural attachments: local, and now the familial is a desperate resort. Nation replaced religion which was seen to be powerless to help you – only controlled you – for African-Americans it was the one place to turn to. She gives history of industrialization as a building of prisons (factories) with severe limits on people desperate for a means of survival – by money. Families break up and shame is used to silence people. Taxes are a totally arbitrary imposition by one of these totalitarian nation-state gov’ts – or groups of people sometime headed by a king. People learned to hate the state but then in an odd inversion worship the very thing in concrete forms (the country) that they hate in people forms (bureaucrats) because they are deprived by people who manipulate these gov’ts for sinister ends … See my previous blog on the exhibit about global displacement over the centuries in the Phillips Collection: The Warmth of the Sun.

Shopping market

Down with fences! In Peter Linebaugh’s book, Red Round Globe Hot Burning, on Colonel Edward Despard, he writes an introduction showing a global resistance to enclosures has been going on for centuries: across land, sea, against prisons. We have ever needed to fight the repressive apparatuses of the ruling class of whatever age. We need to embrace common right and share the world together. The amount of people Trump has managed to block up if dispersed could be easily fitted into US society; had he not illegally stopped people from obtaining asylum, had he allowed the slow movement of peoples north for jobs; they would be no harm done and much good.

They told me that I had five senses to inclose me up,
And they inclos’d my infinite brain into a narrow circle,
And sunk my heart into an Abyss, a red round globe hot burning
Till all from life I was obliterated and erased.
— Wm Blake

A group of volunteers


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Actor in British soldier costume, from Vertigo Sea

Griselda San Martin, The Wall

Friends and readers,

From my house in Alexandria (just outside Old Town) it takes an hour and one half to get to the Phillips Collection in Northwest Washington (a block away from Dupont Circle). My little mildly difficult trek (there is no Metro train stop at King Street, my “natural station” so either I take two buses and walk or a cab — guess which I chose?) was a comfortable secure instant compared to the journeys I witnessed records in all sorts of forms of many different emigrations, migrations by bodies of people and individuals from one part of the earth to another. Do not miss The Warmth of Other Suns — it will make you think of any journeys towards a new identity you have taken yourself. Here are two of mine:

On September 6, 1969 I traveled back to the UK from NYC to join Jim after I had gone home a month before, thinking I might never see him again. I came by car, plane, train, traveling from 9 one evening to 6 the following evening. I had telegrammed him once, we had spoken on the phone once (calling long distance was not easy to Leeds); we had forgotten to make a plan how or where to meet.  And yet there he was, at that train station, on the platform, waiting for me. He had in hand a document signed by his parents giving us permission to marry before October 3rd, for that was his 21st birthday. We set the bans the next day and were married a month later, October 6, 1969, at Leeds Registry Office at 1:30 in the afternoon. It took 5 minutes. I had a VISA whose validity was fast vanishing because it was a student Visa only good to the end of that September. So I was an illegal immigrant for more than a week. I became legal by the simple expedient (at the time) of marrying him; several weeks after the ceremony I had to go to the Leeds Police Station to be finger-printed, passport in hand, and was given temporary papers to stay and to work; and a couple of months after that, I got a document saying “all restrictions were lifted” and I was a British subject. I wonder what would happen to me today? I am white (in case you didn’t know), a native-born American citizen, was at the time nearly 23, with my divorce papers in hand (I had been divorced April 1967 in Spanish at a Juarez, Mexico court). Come to think of it both of us needed documents to do what we wanted to do.

A year and one half later I made the same trip in the other direction, with Jim this time, & after he had secured a green card & full permission to live as a resident in the USA. I had worked as a secretary, personal assistant for John Waddington (game and toy and package manufacturing company). For this green card, we needed more documents, and had taken at least two trips from Leeds to London, coped with much mail & document filling out; & my father had written a six-page document outlining his assets to assure the US gov’t Jim would not be a ward on the state. We had several suitcases, one vacuum cleaner, and the trip took two days: train from Leeds on day one, train to London airport, plane, car to my parents’ apartment on day two. I had thought I would stay in England, become English, but Jim could make 9 times as much in NYC, and the cost of living was nowhere near 9 times as much, and I had a place in a graduate school in NYC to do a Ph.D. in English literature. My parents had rented a one-room apartment for us, with a bed in the wall (not far from them). But we did not stay, and moved to Manhattan soon after. Chelsea.

People viewing De L’Aute Cote —

I was much moved by the exhibit – kept going back and forth between parts.  It was not as painful as the permanent history exhibit at the African-American exhibit where towards the end I began to cry (while I was in the tragic Emmet Till memorial), but I felt just indescribably upset as I went. I watched movies (two longish ones, several short), looked at paintings, drawings, sculptures of all sorts, installations, photographs (many many photographs), sculptures of all sorts, drawings using different media from oil or watercolor paintings (also there), documents too. The museum says 75 artists are represented; there is an emphasis on the most recent groups of victimized migrants on the US-Mexican border. The long film, by Chantal Ackerman (among many others), De l’autre cote (From the other side) is filmed all along the US-Mexican border, night-time, day time, rural and city. The conceit is she is interviewing the other side:

a elderly couple (in their 70s) whose son and grandson were killed in Las Vegas and were obviously very poor, still crying; a Mexican fourteen year old who had “crossed” more than once, one time trafficked, who said he wants to cross again to join his parents in New York in order to make more money and build a big house. Another girl said she wanted to cross to eat more, eat better. At the end of the film we hear the voice of a hispanic young man who has migrated legally and is now seeking his mother, a summary of his non-findings and her wanderings through jobs, places, rooms. The wall is filmed with the people on the both sides — it is made of different materials in different places. We also hear from a sheriff (appalled at the deliberate crisis and huge crowds created by Trump’s policies), two people who live on a farm, deeply anti-immigrant, a white man who owns a cafe near the border, watch a heavily armed ICE person or guard with flashlight seeking people on dark meadow — the other side.

It is not just about recent immigration, refuges, but goes back and forth in time. I found “myself” early on: a half a wall of photos of immigrants arriving in 1905-10 at Ellis Island. All four of my grandparents from Eastern Europe came in that way


There were artefacts from the Trail of Tears: the horrific 1830 expulsion of Native Americans from their lands, forced to walk hundreds of miles to barren places to start life again.

Trail of Tears

Dorothy Lange and other WFA photographs on the migrants and farm-workers of the US in the 1930s, underpaid in order to force them to keep moving to find more work; African-Americans trekking from the south to the north for decades (Jacob Lawrence’s art); Vietnamese escaping in boats; people from Africa and the Middle East walking, attempting a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean; also photos of The Jungle (denigratingly called), a huge immigrant camp that sprung up in Calais.

Delano – Florida migrants on their way to pick potatoes

Jacob Lawrence migration series

Full size statue of Middle Eastern woman

Liu Xiaodong, Refuges

The second long film, Vertigo Sea by John Akomfrah (and many others), took you back to eternal time: three screens often filled with the rushing sea, ocean, walls of ice (and expeditions). You were taught how strong, indifferent and dangerous is this medium for travel. Two of the screens at any time were showing fish and animals in large flocks, some surviving, some just living, others in bad shape; or individuals gunned down (I felt so for a polar bear with a man relentlessly pursuing him), dead and trussed up; one huge whale people were crawling around knifing, stripping. The third screen usually had people: Africans transported in terrible conditions,

thrown over board, stories told by narrators of a baby thrown overboard for irritating a sailor, from famous novels (Moby Dick), diaries, poems. Often one person (actor or actress dressed in upper class 18th to 20th century garb) standing out or sitting looking at the sea. Furniture thrown helter-skelter near the sea.

The exhibit fills up one of the two Phillips buildings. The overall impression is of a desperate struggle for survival (one floor is filled with abandoned clothing), a long ordeal of endurance and loss, much rightly to fear, where for the most part the attitudes of those inside the land mass the migrant is declared a foreigner to, where he or she or they have no relative, or friend, or prepared place or job to turn to, and no legal right to be there, ranged from indifference to hostility. You see early in the 20th century officials behaving with minimal decency, but this seems rare. Short films tell of this or that person’s acute misery in say a hotel that is like a prison, grief. Poverty, war as a cause of the flight, fleeing for safety, was most common. Much social and neo-realism, where we see stalwart families holding up, individuals looking out at us proudly or with thoughtful eyes, some famous 19th century engravings (one by Honore Daumier, The Uprising).

Admittedly the exhibit might be accused of being one-sided. In the US there have been periods where those seeking asylum have not been treated cruelly; individuals and families have gone with more belongings, documents and thrive: they quote Richard Wright: I was leaving the South to fling myself into the unknown … I was taking a part of the South to transplant in alien soil, to see if it could grow differently, if it could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns, and perhaps, to bloom (1945)

But the emphasis rightly is intended urgently to bring home to the attendee the new level of depravity the US present gov’t is inflicting on the vulnerable, and include a history of ruthless enslavement and settler colonial destruction against a tragic song of the earth and sea’s rhythms and animals and people displacement and death. You are prompted to re-think and see this general phenomenon in constructive — and generous — ways. Also historical, rational: a nation-state is an invention, it’s a group of people governing a place, often tyrannically; how has it come to be a religion so that borders become sancro-sanct and everyone outside is an “other?”  Alexander Betts and Paul Collier’s Refuge: Rethinking Refuge Policy in a Changing World is one of several books that are left on a table in a room at the end of the exhibit where you can “reflect” on what you’ve seen.


I was led to go because I’m just now reading towards a paper I’m going to give at a coming 18th century conference on Culloden and the highland clearances (as this Scottish diaspora and ethnic “cleansing” is called). A few words on my reading and watching (movies matter) thus far and then I’ll have done:

In general, Culloden literature (as I call it) resembles other literatures emerging from other diasporas. Most of the fiction tells an upbeat story (!): the community somehow moves as a group, or ends up sticking together through re-constitution and individuals finding their way back to “their friends.” The person who suffers badly is the person who falls out, does not obey all the norms & fit into the praised culture the others practice. It becomes hard to find a story of an individual at the crossroads of an existence where the ending and shape of the whole narrative is traumatic. This holds true for Hogg’s Perils of Women (often jocular –eeek!) and the truly tragic story (often a woman ostracized for pregnancy, and gang-rape), the calamity is an interlude got over; Naomi Mitchison’s Bull Calves, even Alistair MacLeod’s contemplative melancholy-lyric No Great Mischief.

You must go to the more thoughtful, less popular memoir, the raw found diary or journal, and good serious non-fiction. The outstanding best book I’ve ever read in emigration, refuges, diaporas is Christopher Hodson, The Acadian Diaspora: An Eighteenth Century History.

Hodson demonstrates that for individuals and family groups with only small or no property, no connections they can call on to enable them to overcome local exclusionary customs, and no military to support them, the ability to control their circumstances and future is extremely limited. He shows that “ordinary people’s safeguards” are long-standing and recognized commercial and familial relationships and also known and understood local economic environments that cannot be misrepresented to them.

Communities don’t survive almost intact; they don’t reconstitute themselves as a mirror image of what was — as we watch the Outlander characters do in North Caroline in Drums of Autumn — I grant she more includes more intermittent tales of desperate tragedies, calamities, cruelty than many such books; tellingly, most of these associated with enslaved people and low status gang-raped women. But what she’s not having is your identity changes and so does everyone else’s under the impress of need and a different world geographically and socially.

Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) in front of their tent – they will soon with Ian’s (John Bell) help build a magnificent log cabin (Outlander, Season 4)

For Culloden and the highland clearances, the recent best is T.M. Devine’s The Scottish Clearances: it’s been praised as showing that John Peeble’s powerful detailed Culloden and indignant Highland Clearances are wrong, unbalanced, far too hysterical, too tragic; in fact Devine ends up telling a similar story, only nuanced and occurring over generations and with many more bad and mixed actors. And I must say, if a literary masterpiece (especially endurable you are not reading but listening to it read aloud by the brilliant David Rintoul (who knew he is Scots?), Walter Scott’s Waverley is as distorted & misleading a book as you can find.

A friend is sending me a copy of Chasing the Deer (1994, much influenced by Peter Watkins’s masterpiece docudrama, Culloden (1965), and said to be a credible depiction of Culloden, with Brian Blessed and Iain Cuthbertson in lead roles.

As these films are mostly all men — male experience –, I’ll end on one of a beautiful cycle of poems on an emigrant’s life experience in Canada, Margaret Atwood’s re-creation of Susannah Moodie’s Roughing It in the Bush in her brilliant poetic The Journals of Susanna Moodie.

First Neighbours

The people I live among, unforgivingly
previous to me, grudging
the way I breathe their
property, the air
speaking a twisted dialect to my differently
shaped ears

thought I tried to adapt

(he girl in a red tattered
petticoat, who jeers at me for my burnt bread

Go back where you came from

I tightened my lips; knew that England
was now unreachable, had sunk down into the sea
without ever teaching me about washtubs)

got used to being
a minor invalid, expected to make
inept remarks,
futile and spastic gestures

(asked the Indian
about the squat thing on a stick
drying by the fire: Is that a toad?
Annoyed, he said No no,
deer liver, very good)

Finally I grew a chapped tarpaulin
skin; I negotiated the drizzle
of strange meaning, set it
down to just the latitude
something to be endured
but not surprised by.

Inaccurate. The forest can still trick me:
one afternoon while I was drawing
birds, a malignant face
flickered over my shoulder;
the branches quivered

Resolve: to be both tentative and hard to startle
(though clumsiness and
fright are inevitable)

in this area where my damaged
knowing of the language means
prediction is forever impossible

The front poster for the exhibit dwells on that little girl


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Hilen Mirren as Jane Tennison, around the time of Inner Circles and Errors of Judgement (1995-96), promotional or posed shot.

Dear friends and readers,

Another blog on the brilliant and uncloying Prime Suspect. I’ve just finished watching Prime Suspect Season 5 (Errors of Judgement) and 6 (The Last Witness). Although 7 years apart, the perspectives and dominating themes were continuous and developed further those of Season 1, 2 & 3 (“Walking Wounded”),and 4 (Scent of Darkness and Lost Child, and Inner Circles).

A feature accompanied the 6th. Mirren herself is interviewed and denies that she psychoanalyses or thinks about her character inwardly from any abstract point of view: she “plays” them. Not all actors think out what they do. She does have a conception of the series as a whole, what unites it. Prime Suspect evolves from a script each time, and each one aims to be “relevant,” “serious” and “exciting.” She is “aware” they are “edgy,” that her character and each story has a “dark edge” and this quality makes them different from other films focusing on women detectives.

Its director, Tom Hooper (yes, he did The King’s Speech and Daniel Deronda talked of the “immigrant problem” and how British people don’t have real understanding of immigrants.

They both wanted to help change that and also picture image the real today world of England — and the series throughout does just that. We are not in the mythic green and pleasant world of the southeast or west favored by tourists, but England’s cities and town’s typical streets.


As “The Street” (Steven Mackintosh) bullying and terrifying a reluctant young male member, Michael (Ray Emmet Brown) into murdering another young man in a peculiarly degrading way

Having just finished watching a great film adaptation (of Charles Dicken’s novel) by Sandy Welch, Our Mutual Friend, which also stars Steven Mackintosh, I’ll start with Errors of Judgement since I am filled with admiration for Mackintosh’s brilliance and intelligence as an actor. He’s just superb at wild killing anger 🙂 and makes this mini-series electrifyingly chilling.

Like Inner Circles, this is one omitted from Netflix. Jane has been re-assigned to another city, a very poor place up north and is a community officer investigating community crime, here specifically a drug ring. The center is Stephen Mackintosh as The Street, a frightening psychopath who beats, tortures, kills and Jane Tennison must somehow nab him as well as prove he has committed fearfully cruel acts to local people. We are in poor, bad alleys, watching women without husbands and no income, young boys growing up as their sons who are taken in by and become vicious through first emulation and then fear of “the Street.” Mackintosh’s is a symbolic name.

It left me trembling; the last ten minutes or so I was in a fever of anxiety lest The Street maim Jane in the way we have watched him maim all others who cross his path. I knew it wasn’t likely and The Street couldn’t kill her (as there were two more seasons) yet there I was intensely anxious.

The Errors of Judgement are Jane’s for having been fooled to think her superior officer, DSC Ballinger (John McArdle) was trying to capture The Street, and for having had an affair with him, and that Ballinger was working with, not against her. What distinguishes this one (each has a distinguished target, set of issues and world portrayed) and then next is police and gov’t corruption. DSC Ballinger is in collusion with the Street and it takes Jane nearly to the end to see that it is he.

This links these two to the other episodes (patterns are emerging) in that at the end DSC Ballinger gets back in his car and heads back to the office. Nothing is done, and if he has much less authority over the people he bosses, and it becomes harder for him to function, that’s the worst he’ll know. Again and gain in these programs a powerful corrupt person is left standing, unpunished, gets in a nice car and rides off. That was the close of Inner Circle and Season 3 (the one about the boys who are molested by the very person running the boys’s shelter, he protected by those supposed also supposed to protect and help the boys to better lives). In this case, Ballinger has allowed horrific murders to go on; his justification was that by doing this he could “contain crime,” control it. What a laugh. He’s doing no such thing.

He’s in effect upholding the order we see. So the other part of this episode that is its distinguishing characteristic is the poverty of everyone, the run down degenerate streets, the lack of jobs, how blacks are kept in the roles of thugs. Noreen Lafferty (Gabrielle Ready), the mother of the central pair of young people we are to care about, a white woman with presumably mulatto (to use the older word) children spends her existence on drugs. She has no future, no life, no hope. Janice (Marsha Thompson), her daughter, beautiful, good, is a waitress. When Tennison first comes she is to give pep talks to the students (who include these young people) and it is a useless endeavor, hypocritical. What do they want: law and order? because it’s safe, provides a minimum of peace for them to exist in.

This is what Ballinger only appears to give them. Offstage at any moment they may be tortured emotionally and destroyed by the man they sell drugs for. I had just watched DemocracyNow.org and couldn’t help seeing the parallels in our real world. Govts and their military flunkies and armed bands slaughtering people in streets far from those who watch TV, the reasons for this utterly misrepresented.

What the errors of judgement are also how to cope with the phenomena of poverty: young people give no future, no decent jobs, no education, a man who takes advantage of these people’s need to escape and for some money whom they all fear they won’t tell on him. Women as a specific group are marginalized in this program and yet provide its most poignant moment, e.g., when Noreen Lafferty finally takes her black son, Campbell Lafferty (Joseph Jacobs) from the prison where he has falsely confessed to a murder he did not commit. She is bringing him home in her car. Her son is brutally abducted from her by the Street and then murdered with a gun at point blank range by a friend of his (also black), his sister’s lover (Michael above) at the command of the Street. Michael is put in a pool area and watched by all as he runs frantically to escape the bullets. In the same pool area the Street had set fierce dogs on a previous victim he was displeased with and we listened to that young man torn to bits.

The actress’s face upon realizing her son had been taken was unforgettable. I don’t have a still of this, it moves too swiftly, only of a later moment when Janice, the sister, attempts to get Michael to confess to murdering her brother:

Is the horror and terror justified or just some titillation. I would say it is justified because it is embedded in the explicitly-explained story matter which asks you to connect what you are seeing to the drug trade in cities, to poverty engendered by political arrangements which keep a few very rich, to the criminals who are caught and we are encouraged by the media to blame. Michael rightly goes to jail, but nothing is changed or improved by that.

Ballinger (John McArdle) left in charge

The last scene is a still of the other police officers who know all the truths of their world watching Ballinger walk through their group to his car.

My one criticism of this mini-series is that the accents are done so expertly (North Yorkshire) that I had to turn on the subtitles to understand what was happening. It added to the reality of the experience, and my sense about how hard it is to understand this world, but many US viewers might not think to turn on the subtitles and grown tired of not quite understanding what’s happening.

I also surmised that between 1995 (Inner Circles) and this one the program-makers had had difficulty getting the usual cast to return, so necessity drew forth from the company this insightful turn north. My favorite line from “Inner Circles” (featuring the super-rich’s ideas about the poor in England) Jane’s “whatever happened to community policing?” Indeed: its disappearance and replacement by straight arrests and long prison sentences in the US has led to our present mass incarceration of black men (and their dienfranchisement).


Jasmine (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) in her work clothes

Last Witness is another mini-series focusing on, opening with a horrifyingly bruised body of a young woman, this time Serbian, twice tortured: cigarette burns all over her body. So again the vulnerable person’s mutilated corpse. Sometimes it is a man, then he’s young, a boy, poor or black or homosexual as in Story 3 or Inner Circles).

We then switch to an older woman having her body examined, bit by bit with the emphasis on reality of her skin. As it goes on, we realize this is Tennison submitting to an examination as part of a “interview” which is said to be there to help her keep up to the mark; it’s partly a pressure point to get her to retire. The emphasis on her body links her directly to that bruised body.

It’s Jane’s job to discover who she is and who killed her. To do this she discovers that the young woman had a sister now in hiding, Jasmine (above). She is presented as one of typical women immigrants at great risk from the Serbian Bosnian war. IN this episode Jane strides through see the upper rooms of restaurants, all luxury and then head downstairs to see where the people work in harsh impoverished conditions, filthy walls, low wages, demeaned.

The remarkable repeat images of “downstairs,” life from below, of this program, what I will remember best, is that of women in the hospital. Jane tries and fails to save the life of a second woman victim from Bosnia: her sister was tortured before killed, she is just shot through the head after she is found cleaning a toilet. The film is filled with women cleaning toilets, doing the most menial work in the bowels of modern buildings.

Mirren herself aging and now working for Mark Strong (DSC Larry Hall) who used to work for her. W see her bully men below her, threaten them too. Jane’s side-assistant, DC Lorna Greaves (Tanya Moodie) is a black woman I’ve now seen in recent films form the BBC — Tennison is pressuring her to leave her position since she spends too much time with her kids; the black assistant threatens to cry “discrimation” and really feels it is.

There are in the whole series many attempted firings of Jane, often at the opening of the program. Now it’s that Jane has completed 30 years; they are trying to get rid of her and she turns around and tries to get rid of Moodie as not committed to her job with her 2 children as not having enough level of commitment. Jane is depicted as perhaps jealous and all alone: she watches Lorna go down to her car where her man who is a house husband waits with her children, they kiss.

Tennison takes case from man when he cannot seem to stop papers from calling the dead girl a prostitute and using it as propaganda against asylum seekers and immigration. This is sensationalism Jane abhors.

Last Witness turns out – once again — to reveal at its close that powerful people have been covering up for the brutal sadistic murdering. This time the people are at the very top: people high in gov’t are content to protect Milan Lukic, a false name (the part played Oleg Menshikov) because he can at the same time feed them information about “terrorist’ and immigrant groups in the UK. At their behest knowingly Mark Strong takes Jane off the case towards the end of the story.

Lukic (Oleg Menshikov)

A mole. I was startled at how differently a mole was seen in this program; not only that Lukic was never called a mole. By no one. Surely the term was known to the writers. Avoding the term brought home to me how it trivializes the treachery which often allows the evils to go on, makes its somehow acceptable by the commonplace name. LeCarre’s stories (which have made the term famous) also displace the woman at the center so that we never hear her story from her lips — as we do in Prime Suspect most of the time.

Not only do we again have people in power colluding (a theme across all the films), again two important ones are women. One Lukic’s wife who is tricked into telling the truth by Jane Tennison when Tennison comes for an unofficial visit: the trick is to get the wife to defend her husband: her defense: he is supported by the highest people in gov’t.

Jane (Mirren), with Lorna (Moodie), defying DC Hall’s order to stay off the casem, confronting Mrs Lukic (Clare Holman)

The wonderful implication never stated is: so what? so what if these are supposedly numinous high ranking people. Does that mean they matter more than those who clean the world’s toilets?

The other is a police woman type played by Phoebe Nicholls who often takes on stereotypes as irritating women, crude and/or obtuse, narrow: Elizabeth Elliot in the 1995 Persuasion, Cordelia, super-religious in Brideshead. She is central for protecting him.

So, to the story: A woman Serbian who was tortured ten years ago, upon coming to England, she is murdered, found beaten, tortured at the bottom of a basement in a huge building site. So again we have the destroyed and maimed woman’s body, her real life existence a terror. Again the cigarette burns. The quest for DCI Tennison to find her sister who is in hiding has a comic motif. She is informed by a young black man who is the supervisor of the womens’ teams (and explains his low job by saying there is nothing else for him). Long sequences again of people who work downstairs in fancy places. Laundry maps. The real modern downstairs. Mostly brown people, paid poorly, they cannot afford a bus to the train daily. A black man who can get no better job.. At last Jane is enabled to track Jasmina down to her lair (poor apartment) where she comes up throught the floor. She fears similar torture and murder.

I was touched by their having a small black child in a child’s burka like scarf show Jane where the torture victim’s sister lives. Jane tells her to go back home. And she goes into a modern small make shift apartment and the sister comes up through the floor.

What motivates Jane to continue is that she promises Jasmine she will help and protect Jasmine if Jasmine will come out of hiding. Jasmine is then shot through the head (see above) while on her job.

The repeat motifs include an older woman’s body too: in previous episodes (Lost Child) Jane goes to find out if she’s pregnant and then has an abortion, this one early on has a long sequence of a doctor (this time a woman) is going over Tennison’s body, now aging — the words emphasize her age: have you been screened for breast cancer in last two years (we had her as checked before an abortion); do you smoke, drink, any pains. No no no. We see her smoking directly afterwards, drinking far more than 5 units.

The odd decent older boyfriend also recurs (Jane’s inner life kept more to the margins again in this mini-series): this time it’s Liam Cunningham and to me he’s as attractive as Stuart Wilson. He’s too busy for Jane, gets phone calls, she does not stay when someone else rings. He does accompany her to Bosnia; without him, she could not travel safely.

The bedroom scenes are kept away from us, darkened

Jane has defied everyone who tries to stop her. She breaks the law when she visits suspects; this time we see her break-up with her current boyfriend; but before that he agrees to go to the funeral of the sister in her place (women are not allowed at funerals of Bosnians still) and somehow this produces a crisis. Lukic is taken by some Bosnians who themselves are going to kill him. But before that can happen she manages to win out by tricking the wife and finding evidence of where a murdered body was buried, unearthing it and presenting it to her superiors.

The last witness is this body we look at. They can then not ignore her at least insofar as this particular murder is concerned. They put Lukic away.

But has Jane won? At the end of the piece we see her sitting there grim. She has seen justice done to the two sisters, one tortured to death, the other shot in the head while cleaning a toilet in the fancy hotels of the rich. But is anything changed at all? And Jane is aging …

Towards the program’s close Jane turns round to talk to someone


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