Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Dancer Upstairs

John Malkovich was reportedly miffed when Britain's film censors threatened to cut out the exploding chicken scene in The Dancer Upstairs, because the bird in question looked "stressed". These were the same suits that had passed the nine minute rape in Irréversible without cuts, he argued, and nobody else had complained about the bomb-bearing animals in his film. After viewing it, we were both kind of wishing he'd strapped the dynamite to himself. Just the kind of gormless, pretentious directorial debut you would expect from Malkovich,V concluded. Huachaferias as the Peruvians say.

This is essentially the 'true' story of how Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán hid in the Lima home of Maritza Garrido Lecca, an upper-class former ballerina, and how this hide-out was uncovered by an honest copper called Benedicto Jimenez, who discovered Guzmán's empty tubes of psoriasis lotion in Garrido Lecca's garbage.

Except that the story has here been abstracted out of time, place and idiom in a way that robs it of almost all interest. You might say that this is the fault of author Nicholas Shakespeare, but on the page the result may have been less awkward; I haven't read the novel.

This is yet another in a rather long line of films about Latin America played by local actors (though usually featuring a Spanish lead) in their, at best passable, English. (Banderas in Of Love and Shadows was another pavo from this woeful category.)

Garrido Lecca (Yolanda in the film) was originally sentenced by military tribunal to 13 years in prison, but like many of the captured senderistas was re-tried by a civilian court. In her case, they put her back behind bars for a further twenty years. (Following the capture of 'Comrade Feliciano' in '99 the Shining Path persists today in a much downgraded form under the leadership of 'Comrade Artemio'.)

Benedicto Jimenez (Rejas in the film) attracted the wrath of one of Peru's dodgiest characters, Vladimiro Montesinos. Although he got a share of the $1m reward for Guzmán's capture, Jimenez was eventually posted to Panama as a police attaché as punishment for not having let Montesinos deal with the prisoner in his own way before the media got wind of the arrest. Malkovich's film does not show us the significant role played by the CIA in the investigation, led by an operative the Peruvians apparently dubbed "Superman".

Presumably the love-interest between Yolanda and Rejas is the major contribution of art to this tale, though interest isn't the state of mind it generally promotes here. The character of Rejas is English novelist as good policeman. He's a detached, idealistic sort of chap with a strangely lapsed career as a lawyer and a confiscated family farm, perhaps so that readers/viewers will appreciate that he's not the sort of common oik that you normally find in the middle ranks of the world's police forces!

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