Mirene Arsanios


Interview with Gabriel Abrantes

You reference Chaplin and comedy being a way to camouflage progressive politics. I live in the United States where the divide between so-called progressive politics and right-wing conservatism is so profound that no language can seemingly bridge it. Right-wing ideology and its lack of basic common sense (the refusal to wear masks for example) could almost be comedic if it weren’t so deeply racist and destructive. The US might be in dire need of good comedy, Chaplin style, but I also wonder if (progressive) humor only preaches to the converted, and if certain messages can only get through if one is inclined to receive them. In that sense, I doubt that cinema can achieve “more” than an experimental type of cinema (in one of your interviews, you mention that "Lena Dunham’s use-potential is far greater” than Chantal Akerman’s) because I’m not sure of what the “use-potential” of a movie could be.

The current moment is really strange for comedy. On the one hand, there is a current of sometimes overly cautious self-censorship in order to avoid offense, and, as Angela Nagle suggests, the right has all but fully appropriated the banner of free speech from the left. On the other hand, the news has by force of current events become so close to what used to be enacted as parody and satire, that it is hard for comedians to come up with fresh material that lampoons or exaggerates upon the already unfathomably grotesque caricatures that occupy current real world politics.

I don't agree with what I said about Dunham and Ackerman. I was exaggerating a contrast to make a point about why I was interested in cinema as a popular form and not as a rarefied elite cultural product, and hence juxtaposing Dunham as a “popular” director and writer with a broad audience with Akerman's more specific cinephile euro arthouse audience. Whether there is any practical use for cinema (and art in general) is debatable, but art moves me, makes me think, opens my mind, exposes me to the new and unexpected (even if it is just adding to my discourse and not necessarily “converting'” me or anyone else across party lines or anything, which I agree in today's increasingly polarized political landscape is seemingly impossible). I also think that films still function as a way to “move the needle” on public opinion: the writer of Milk (2008), the Harvey Milk biopic, said that that was his objective—to write scripts that could somehow nudge the needle of public opinion, and I think he succeeded. I definitely think that films are always nudging the needle. There are also movies that have a very concrete political or activist function—such as Thin Blue Line (1988), that got a wrongly convicted person out of prison for example.