What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?

By Mark Peranson 

And now, a few thoughts on the occasion of attending the revitalized Marrakesh International Film Festival and the industry Atlas Workshops on African and Middle Eastern cinema that, you might be surprised to learn, was sponsored by none other than Netflix. Soon after arriving in Morocco I had the occasion to attend an unsurprisingly jam-packed conversation with Martin Scorsese, a regular visitor to Marrakesh. (This year he brought De Niro along, who had the luck to be interviewed onstage by Maïwenn, but alas I missed that one.) Most of Marty’s answers were predictable enough for anyone who has followed his career even tangentially (his discovery of Italian neorealism, Elia Kazan, religion, etc.), but things took a bit of an odd turn when he started ranting against the state of film criticism, with, as usual, the starting-off point being the annoying, hyperbolic snap reactions of that entity known as Film Twitter. (Never mind that his argument about the end of film criticism seemed to hinge on the fact that no one critic currently has the power of a Vincent Canby to destroy a Heaven’s Gate. Hell, that film critics don’t have the power to do stupid things anymore is fantastic.)

Exacerbated by the Cannes rescheduling of press screenings, Twitter has come to represent all that is wrong with film criticism in its entirety, for people of a certain generation—but these people are, frankly, living in the past. Conversely, one can say that for another interested subcommunity of the cinema world, the same is true about another bugaboo—and by that I mean Netflix, naturally. Of course, Scorsese didn’t have anything negative to say about Netflix, the studio that will end cinema distribution and production as we know it, because that same company just shelled out $140 million of its $8.3 billion in long-term debt to fund Scorsese’s upcoming The Irishman. I don’t need to say why Netflix has generally done its best to disrupt the way the business operates, but I believe I have also previously expressed the opinion that if they are giving money to filmmakers to realize visions, and if (maybe a big if) these films can be seen in cinemas, I don’t see the problem. (And if they keep funding industry programs in Africa, more power to them.)

Of course Netflix recently also made its big festival splash in Venice, winning the (likely fixed) Golden Lion with Roma, and is now poised to take home its first Best Picture Oscar (spoiler alert: it won’t). The latest entry in the illustrious recent genre of the Mexican cinema of the servant (see Reygadas and Pereda for examples, among others), Alfonso Cuarón’s universally praised film easily impresses in terms of its lavish accomplishment, but, for this humble viewer, also oppresses: content of the film aside, on an aesthetic level the sheer amount of detail Cuarón stuffs into his treasure trove of ’70s Mexico accrues to an infuriating extent. Clearly, this is not a film designed to be watched on Netflix, and there is something to be said for Cuarón’s cojones in taking the cash to do that—but as no films actually are designed to be watched on Netflix as far as I am aware, this line of argument only goes so far. (For an alternative view to mine, one that is far and away the majority opinion, see Robert Koehler’s review of Roma in the pages that follow; my Golden Lion, however, is Minervini.) But as it is the silly season and people seem to want lists, instead of a top ten of the year at this point (that unfortunate list will fall to the Cinema Scope editors for Issue 78), I instead present, off the top of my head, a Top Five Roma ranking (besides the top two, the rest are generally overrated):

1. AS Roma

2. Roma, Italia

3. Fellini’s Roma

4. Roma

5. (tie) Roma, DF; Tony Roma’s Place for Ribs; romaine lettuce

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