Movie Review: Elysium

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★★★ | Ben Kenigsberg

August 9, 2013 | ☄ 21 Print Page
In a summer of antiseptic effects spectacles, “Elysium” stands out for its grime and intensity, as well as the bluntness of its class allegory. The movie won’t win many points for originality or logic. But when the blockbuster competition wants only new ways to repackage Wolverine and Superman, it’s weirdly refreshing to watch a film that seeks new ways to repackage “Mad Max,” “Blade Runner,” “Robocop,” and elements from Kathryn Bigelow and David Cronenberg.

The film is set in 2154, when the planet has been ravaged by disease, pollution, and overpopulation. The wealthiest now live on a space station called Elysium, which can be seen in the clouds from Earth below. Max (Matt Damon) has grown up watching Elysium from his rundown, largely Latino L.A. neighborhood. A reformed car thief now working in a grueling factory job—he’s lucky to have it, he’s sneeringly informed—Max is trying to keep things together in a society openly rigged against the poor.


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2 reviews of Transit by Anna Seghers

transit

European Refugee Lit: Anna Seghers’s “Transit” Reviewed
By Joe Winkler On May 2, 2013

Transit
by Anna Seghers; translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo
NYRB Classics; 280 p.

Anna Seghers, one the most respected and important German authors of the 20th century, wrote perhaps the earliest account of the Nazi concentration camps. That book, The Seventh Cross, tells a similar story to her own time in a camp. Now, NYRB Classics has released a sequel of sorts. Transit tells the story of a lesser-known component of the Second World War, the displacement of millions of refugees. While it pales in comparison to the genocide, the displacement of millions of refugees signified its own traumatic experience which ended up changing the map of postwar Europe. Seghers’s unnamed narrator escapes first from a concentration camp in Germany and then from one in Rouen, France. He finds his way to Marseilles, a port city, which in this era of refugees desperate to leave transforms into a bustling town of the lost. The narrator feels a sort of modernist ennui until he finds himself a hustler in the shady business of visas and departures. There, he begins to create a glimpse of a solid life while remaining on the precarious ground of a displaced person. He loves, he attaches himself to a family and friends, all with an awareness of the inherent transience of his situation and consequently life in general.

The book begins with talk of a downed ship of refugees, and then the narrator proclaims his manifesto:
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Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies – A Doctor’s Journey among Migrant Farmworkers

Editor’s Note: After spending two years among indigenous farm workers in Mexico and in labor camps in the United States, medical anthropologist Dr. Seth M. Holmes documents how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment and racism undermine their health and access to health care in his book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. He spoke to NAM Health Editor Viji Sundaram.

NAM: Did you set out on this project as a purely anthropological endeavor, but which later changed into something more?

Holmes: Yes, as I said in my book, I set out as an anthropologist to do the classic field research method of participant observation with migrant farmworkers. I wanted to learn about indigenous Mexicans who come to the United States to work on our farms, about their health issues, and about how this group of people is perceived.

NAM: So how closely did you observe the indigenous farm workers?

Holmes: I started this research in rural Washington State, living in a labor camp and picking strawberries and blueberries along with them. We next moved to the Central Valley of California, to Madera, where we first lived homeless for a week in our cars, until we found a slum apartment willing to rent to people without a credit history. In Central California, we were not able to find much work; we pruned vineyards very intermittently. After California, I moved with them to their home village in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, and lived in a partially constructed concrete home built piece-meal with money sent by relatives in Madera and Washington State.
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Don Bartletti on “Enrique’s Journey”

Don Bartletti wants to be invisible. He wants you to see through him and his art, to fix upon the images he has created and to ask: “How can such things be?” He credits this vision of photography to the late documentary photographer, Dorothea Lange. “I don’t want readers to necessarily dwell on how I did it,” he says. “In documentary photojournalism, I believe the subject, not the photographer, should be the number one author of the photo.”

Nowhere is this vision clearer than in Bartletti’s photos for “Bound To El Norte.” A boy loses his mother and sets out on a perilous journey to find her. In the vast movement of people from Central America and Mexico, Enrique is one of 48,000 children who come to the United States alone each year. Many are looking for their mothers, who went north seeking work.

Bartletti’s opening picture cries out: How can this be—–a lone boy on top of a rolling freight train? It is dangerous and a little eerie. All lines of sight—the train, the tracks, the power lines, the youngster’s vision, and Bartletti’s camera—are focused on a single perspective: the future. What does the future hold? It’s not at all clear. There is fog ahead and a curve.
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Country without Parents: Labor Migration from Moldova

“Whose parents are living in Italy?” asked the teacher as she stood in front of a first grade class in Cirpesti, a small village in southeast Moldova. With a mixture of pride and embarrassment about 20 of the 30 children raised their hands. I was shocked. I knew the statistics on labor migration and remittances. But the lives behind the numbers were staring me in the face as I stood in a cold, leaky classroom and learned that it had been years since most of these six-year-olds had seen their parents who were working 2,000 kilometers away as cleaning ladies or harvest helpers. This experience and others inspired me to continue my photography in Moldova. My images aim to look behind the statistics to reveal the impact of migration on families and society and ask how high a price parents and children pay for it.

Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. Forty percent of the people live below the poverty line. Meanwhile, more than one-third of the adult working population has left the country. According to official estimates, at least 690,000 of the 4.3 million Moldovans are living and working abroad—mostly in EU countries and in Russia—although the actual number varies according to different sources and probably exceeds one million. That makes Moldova one of Europe’s leading countries in labor migration.

The remittances that the migrant workers send home are a major factor in preventing the economy from collapsing. Yet labor migration has many downsides, including a “brain drain,” in which Moldova’s most active and educated people search for better economic opportunities abroad. Although many wind up working as unskilled laborers for low pay, this work still brings more than what they could earn at home. Migration also contributes to the disintegration of families and has torn the social fabric of Moldovan society. Whether in cities or the country, there is hardly a family in which at least one parent is not working abroad. In many cases, the children remain in Moldova and live with relatives, acquaintances, or even on their own. They often don’t see their parents for months, or years.
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