BlacKkKlansman review (2018)

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize in this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, has all the necessary elements to become a success and it will most likely receive several Oscar nominations. The film is relentlessly funny, it has an interesting story full of conflict and it deals with a subject that is more important than ever. Yes, it is a film about racism in America. But it sure is more than that. Spike Lee makes a very clear stance in his new film; he criticizes the deeply problematic core of the American society and its political situation, showing that even after so many struggles and movements for the black community, the country reeks of discrimination and injustice, unable to overcome its heavy racist past.

The film is loosely based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a rookie police officer, who is the only African American officer to work in Colorado Springs during the seventies, 1972 to be precise. His passion and ambition to become a good cop will lead him to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan by pretending he wants to join the organization. Not only will he manage to establish a relationship, over the phone, with the members of KKK, but he will become the leader’s (David Duke) favorite member. While Ron is creating trust between him and the KKK, his colleague, Flip Zimmerman is the one who goes undercover, pretending to be Ron. Flip will have to attend meetings and prove that he is a dangerous bigot, worthy of a KKK membership.

The story might be set in the 70s, however, its message expands to today. The film foregrounds KKK’s irrational racism only to create a continuum of unstoppable fanaticism that relates to what happens today. In the film, the past and the present are juxtaposed, while history and fiction are merged together with the sole purpose to show how America’s political and social realities have barely changed during the last decades. Instead, America seems to be moving backward, to old and dangerous political methods that jeopardize the country’s identity and well-being. The similarities the Trump administration shares with the KKK’s beliefs are too many to ignore, and are, frankly, very frightening. Spike Lee knows this very well.

While BlacKkKlansman is deliberately a funny movie, Spike Lee treats the important moments of the story with respect. Those moments are always foregrounded and they receive the attention and care that they deserve. For example, when Ron decides to infiltrate the KKK by making that very first phone call, Spike Lee uses a Dutch angle shot, only to maximize the moment’s dramatic importance. Similar foregrounding occurs when the black student association realizes their power for change, or when the KKK reveals its delusional racist schemes. The examples are countless.

BlacKkKlansman is electrifying and it has the ability to stir many feelings, mostly those of rage and disappointment. Let me describe one of the most powerful sequences in the movie: the KKK is having an initiation ritual that is followed by the screening of Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), an event that is juxtaposed with the gathering of the black student association where Jerome Turner, (played by Harry Belafonte) is telling the chilling story of the black man who was falsely accused and brutally murdered in the hands of the police. The juxtaposition of the two groups is so immensely powerful, that you will feel chills all over your body. I know I did.

As mentioned before, BlacKkKlansman is undoubtedly a hilarious movie. It consists of jokes, punch lines, and ridiculous representations of the KKK. It also includes a main character who, beyond his funny exterior, is capable of showing his deep identity struggle. During a scene with Patrice, the fearless president of the black student association, Ron starts a discussion about DuBois, the civil rights activist, and sociologist who first talked about the notion of ‘double consciousness’. This notion refers to how it feels to be American and black, two identities in one body that only collide with each other (double consciousness was a prominent concept in America during the 20s when the Harlem Renaissance thrived). While Ron and Patrice share their thoughts on the matter, they both feel different about it. Ron feels divided between his black identity and his American one, mostly due to his guilt of choosing to become a police officer. Patrice, on the other hand, doesn’t feel that way. For her, there is no double consciousness; to be black and to be American are one unified identity, exactly how it should be.

As said before, the film is penetrated by intense juxtapositions. Scenes with one group screaming ‘black power’ and the other group screaming ‘white power’, are strongly juxtaposed to show that hate can only divide the two groups. And hate becomes a threat when people act on it. However, the people who protest shouting ‘black power’ are the ones whose outrage is more than justified. The other group’s voice, though, represents an irrational racist attitude that still seems to be very popular these days. The KKK is ridiculed and its members are presented as caricatures, however, the film never forgets to show how dangerous they can become, always scheming sinister plans to undermine the black community. It is scary to see how similar the KKK tactics seem to be with the ones of the current American government.

Since, BlacKkKlansman‘s screening in Cannes and after its official distribution to the rest of the world, the heated discussion around the film continues. BlacKkKlansman has received mostly positive reviews, however, it has also received some serious criticism. Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, has strongly criticized Lee’s latest film. In his article on Aljazzera, professor Dabashi calls Spike Lee’s view on racism as “out of touch”, while he states that the director focuses on satisfying the liberal Obama audiences who can only laugh at the KKK caricatures, without recognizing how their own actions have led to the current Trump reality. The criticism towards the film expands further, calling the representation of the black community as “cartoonish” who “exude a fanatical obsession with the race”, a comment that, while it holds some truth, it is too polarized in its own totality. With a subject so serious and more timely than ever, that of racism, no one can ever be happy with how it is presented in a contemporary film. There will always be people who feel dissatisfied, offended, and even insulted by small or big things that don’t represent reality or don’t cover every possible side of a story. Let us not forget that this film is made for the entertainment business, that it aims to first entertain and then make a stance, the way Spike Lee felt was necessary. A film cannot solve the issue of racism in two hours or discover its roots, and the suggestion that it should is simply ridiculous.

Beyond the film’s criticism, Spike Lee’s ability to make Ron Stallworth’s story funny, witty, deeply political, and brutally critical at the same time, is striking. The film’s message is undoubtedly its condemnation towards the current American political situation. Lee has been very outspoken about the Trump administration and its (not so) hidden racism. But above all, the most important feature of BlacKkKlansman is the universality of its subject and its message that racism is worth fighting for.

Call me by your name (2017)

Summer of 1983, Northern Italy. Seventeen year-old Elio lives with his family in their summer house, when Oliver, his father’s research assistant arrives. Oliver will stay with them for the whole summer to work with Elio’s dad on Greek-Roman art sculptures. Elio will soon be intrigued by this new guest, whose magnetic presence will ignite something inside Elio, something new and undiscovered.

The new film by Luca Guadagnino is the big surprise of this year’s award season. With 4 Oscar nominations {Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)}, and already more than 40 other wins (including the recent Golden Globes), Call me by your name is a breathtaking love story between two young men set in the 80s. Written by James Ivory and Luca Guadagnino, the film is based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman and it is the final installment in Guadagnino’s thematic Desire trilogy, following I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015).



The story simple: Elio volunteers to show Oliver around the area. The two of them will develop a friendship that will ultimately expose their deep desire for each other. Elio is fascinated and at the same time irritated by Oliver’s infatuating personality. Oliver is intelligent, handsome and absolutely captivating; he flirts with women and knows how to enjoy life, while Elio is young, shy and inexperienced. Through the explorations of their surroundings, they also explore their own sexuality and consequently their own identity. What we witness on screen is a marvelous portrait of love and desire that unlocks new and wonderful possibilities. Elio and Oliver fall madly in love, while Elio discovers his sexuality and his own self through Oliver. What they have is effortless and natural; it is real.

Guadagnino has managed to create a film that looks effortless. The natural way with which everything flows is one of the film’s best qualities. The entirety of the shots are flawless: he uses intense close-ups to demonstrate Elio’s emotional state, while he foregrounds the relationship’s course and Elio’s sexual journey. The erotic atmosphere of the film is smooth and comes out naturally due to the impeccable chemistry of the two actors. Chalamet has righteously won all those awards, while he flirts with his first Oscar this year. His performance as the frustrated Elio who explores his sexuality through his relationship with Oliver is amazing. His body language conveys the impatience and desire of a young man and it expresses his character’s inner world with such an integrity that his performance becomes almost pure.

The Italian landscape and the carelessness of the summer create an environment that allows the audience to discover without haste the relationship of Elio and Oliver. When swimming and laying under the sun become priorities, then somehow the process of realizing yourself and your needs is unveiled. The amazing score is also contributing to experience the film as effortlessly and naturally as possible, since the music’s soft and restless notes reveal a romanticism that is comparable to Shakespearean love.

This film is a landmark of love, and particularly gay love; one that is unique, deep and universal. Elio and Oliver’s story is one that doesn’t happen every day. At one of the last scenes of the film, Elio’s father is openly talking to his son about love and desire; he talks with honesty and compassion about all those things every young person wants to hear from their parent. Truthful and inspiring words that place the film on a cinematic pedestal, one that is carved with beautiful and exquisite Greek-Roman details.

This is the type of film that leaves its mark on the viewer; it is the type of film which is above all an experience. You witness step by step the development of those characters and their relationship, you feel them, and along with them, you discover parts in yourself you didn’t know exist. Parts that talk about deep love and are authentic. Call me by your name is an intense portrait of love; a love that has the power to change, transform and shape one’s life. Elio and Oliver meet in Northern Italy only to discover that by loving each other, they ultimately learn to love and appreciate who they really are. And that is priceless.

(Photos taken from the web.)