#LLF2018 Recommended: Two Debuts Boasting Strong Political Satires


Among the most thought-provoking and boundary pushing films that we have seen this year, two completely different works: the debut feature of a young Scottish multimedia artist Rachel McLean, Make Me Up, exploring through a hyper-real, technology-ridden fantasy world the ways our society imposes ideals of beauty and perfection on women and their damaging consequences. The second is by former African-American rapper Boots Riley who uses a peculiar blend of comedy, social commentary and science-fiction to criticise the corporate-inducing precarization of the job market in Sorry To Bother You.

MAKE ME UP (Rachel MacLean)

This Scottish female filmmaker comes from an expanded cinema background. Her film work specialises on modern fables tackling contemporary anxieties and social contradictions. Her former one, Spit Your Face, represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale in 2017. MacLean’s debut feature, though still heavily indebted to her gallery exhibition origins and is very accessible, perhaps for the contemporary relevance in everyone’s lives of the subject she deals with, despite its experimental nature.

Creating a hyper-real, virtual reality game-like world, in which a group of over stylised -in the way manga cartoons, toy dolls or J-pop girlbands are-, infantilised, sexualised and ultimately exploited robotic girls are the contestants on a obscure quiz. They are named as current technological devices such as Siri, Cortana and Alexa. The master of ceremonies, performed by Maclean herself, lip-syncs her lines taken from Kenneth Clark’s 60’s TV series Civilisation or, at a later stage, Margaret Thatcher and many other historical figures of particular relevance on shaping the world the way it is Today.

The effect is that of a mysterious drag queen that will introduce questions of female representation through the story of art and explores how such concepts as beauty, virginity, perfection and negative attitudes to food, sex and self-confidence have been historically imposed to women. The vibe is like a feminist, techie, ADD inducing, sugar rushed, hyper-real fable or as if Black Mirror had dedicated an episode to a dystopian version of Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

‘Make Me Up’ has overwhelmingly colourful, advertisement-like, baroque-futurist aesthetics and its structure is shaped in the format of the different tests contestants have to pass in any game show. After every session the two remaining ones compete and after a sort of last dinner ritual, the winner is lifted surrounded in gold dust to a higher level where a shady old patriarchal figure will terminate or reconfigure her by repeating his signature question of “When is the world going to end?”

Make me up is crammed with good ideas and cultural references, shaping up a sarcastic, refreshing and, sometimes, vertigo-inducing showcase of its female identity and social nexplorations.★★★★

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (Boots Riley)

Also on his debut feature and also coming from other artistic discipline, Boots Riley, athe activist and lead singer of hip-hop group The Coup, jumps into the director’s seat with this already acclaimed, corrosive look at the state of Today’s job market. Blending, often puerile and broad but very funny, comedy and fantasy to denounce the increasingly precarious situation of the average working person in the States (and it’s not much different elsewhere), the African-American filmmaker has shaped one of the most unique films of the year. Riley has been already described as Spike Lee’s millennial heir, and although similarities are obvious he pretty much boast its own, very personal voice.

Set in a shady telemarketing company the protagonist desperately resorts to as he needs to pay his mounting debts to his uncle for living on his house’s garage, Sorry to bother you is named after the opening chat line for the company’s employees trying to make a sale. Spot on its ironic depiction of office politics and today’s capitalism system based in diminishing individual rewards and employment rights.

The first lessons he receives at work are that in order to get ahead you need to S.T.T.S (Stick to the Script); you need to put your white man’s voice (the kind of someone who never has to worry about paying his bills) to close a sale and, more important, that you need to beat everyone else to become a ”Power Caller”, the only way to earn the kind of money you can pay a mortgage with.

The film’s subplot is the rise of shady corporation “WorryFree” which, among rumours of slavery work and savage exploitation, people signs for life to in exchange for a never ending supply of work and a space to live. The machinations of Worryfree form ‘Sorry To Bother You’ most extravagant and preposterous subplot. One that looks into a dystopian near future in which corporations, science and technology have conspired to create a new race of slaves.

Despite the weird science narrative digressions and its wide appealing humorous tone, Riley’s political observations never lose their focus or whitewash their message. The cast, led by rising stars Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson, is full of familiar faces such as Armie Hammer as the corporate CEO villain; The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun as the telemarketer trying to unionize his colleagues or Danny Glover; as well as familiar voices such as Rosario Dawson and David Cross, all helping on the delivery of the film’s very timely core protest. ★★★★

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