Today’s films range from the mundane to the worlds of power and money. Documentaries are ways to mark points in time, to see life in new ways, and to broaden our knowledge. That happens in these films.
The HBO Documentary Series Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union premiered the first two episodes at AFI Docs. Directed by Peter Kunhardt, this series focuses on President Obama’s life with special emphasis on the role race played in shaping his life and his politics. Part One of the series covers his early life through his election to the U.S. Senate. Part Two overs his run for the Presidency in 2007-08. The film relies on archival footage and selected interviews with people who have known him.
This is a very conventional telling of the President’s story. It lacks an intimacy and personal understanding of the events in his life. The first part never really asks questions about the events in his life. In the second part, as he runs for the presidency, there are more insightful comments made about the tightrope of being a Black candidate and being a candidate for all the people. Questions of too Black or not Black enough come up. There are times that Black commentators critique some of the things he said in speeches as not resonating with the Black experience. The series will add another perspective for those seeking to understand the historic nature oif Obama’s election.
We (Nous) from filmmaker Alice Diop is a look at life in the Paris suburbs. There is no through story, just looks at the mundane world. We see a mechanic as he works on a car and gets a phone call from his mother in Mali. We see the filmmaker’s sister as she makes her rounds as a visiting nurse to elderly patients. We see kids in a park. We visit a Holocaust museum. There are no contexts given, we simply observe.
A title card at the end of the film the filmmaker mentions having learned “to see and love what is before my eyes.” That is very much what this film is about. It’s not about the narrative. It is about seeing these little bits of life as they happen.
Never mind “Antique Roadshow”. Suppose that old painting you have is really a Leonardo DaVinci. That is the crux of The Lost Leonardo by Andreas Koefoed. It traces the history of a painting found at an obscure auction in New Orleans, that was later restored and attributed to (not without controversy) Leonardo. The price paid at the New Orleans auction: $1175. The Price eventually paid at a Christies auction: $450,000,000. And, oh, by the way, you can’t see it because the current owner, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, refuses to exhibit it.
The painting, “Salvator Mundi”, becomes the focal point for looking at the art world and how it operates. It’s not just about art and collectors, but about finance and even global politics. The film brings in many of those who were involved in the story of the painting as it advanced through the art world, but also some outside people, who add knowledge about other aspects, including a former CIA operative. There is a sense in which what the film is about is truth. What makes truth? Can we know the truth? Does truth become just a matter of belief? Or does $450,000,000 buy truth? The Lost Leonardo will arrive in theaters in August.
Shorts for today include The Game, directed by Roman Hodel, that shows a bit of a soccer game. We see the crowds in the stand, the TV control room, everything is ready to go. But it’s not the game we watch, but the referee. Having officiated high school football in the past, I know that no one goes to the game to watch the referee, but he (or sometimes these days, she) is a key part of what happens. Another of the shorts is Eagles (Águilas), directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and Maite Zubiaurra. That film chronicles the work of volunteers who search the Arizona desert for immigrants who get lost, or to find their remains to bring peace of mind for their families.
Photos courtesy of AFI.