Volume 76, Number 4 | June 14 - 20 2006

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

La Tropical (+)

At the open-air dance hall, La Tropical, located on the outskirts of Havana, 200 to 4,000 people, mostly blacks, regularly dance the night away. While the camera focuses on the dancers and musicians, interviews are conducted with some of the patrons. It is clear that a great deal of racism exists between blacks and whites, and a black interviewee makes clear his ill will toward whites. A mixed-race couple dancing at the club discusses their planned abortion because the young man cannot afford to raise a child. During the film, a young woman in charge of a Flamenco dance troupe talks to an interviewer about the African-Cuban heritage. She says that she is white, her family is from Spain, and she would never want to have a child with a black man. I suspect that Cuban society has more racism than Castro would acknowledge, but clearly his government is not racist.

This movie has a wonderful mood, and the salsa dancing is sensational to watch.  During one scene, the rain pours down on an elderly woman dancing alone who declines the entreaties of bystanders to come in out of the rain. However, the film is not as good as “The Buena Vista Social Club,” which centered on elderly Cuban musicians in Havana who were delightful in their musical abilities and delicious in their commentaries.

I believe the Untied States should establish normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, as we have with Vietnam. Cuba is no longer a threat to us, and it is an interesting nation that many Americans would like to visit without the hassles and inconveniences currently involved. (In Spanish and English, with English subtitles.)

District B13 (+)
This sparkling, violent French film is worth seeing. It is a searing attack on French society, based in part on the rioting that recently took place in the ring of low-income housing units around Paris that are overwhelmingly occupied by Arabs and Africans.

The movie begins sometime a few years from now in a District B13 housing complex walled off from the rest of the city. It is controlled on the inside by gangs of thugs and surrounded on the outside by heavily-armed cops, who make sure that no one escapes. We meet a resident of B13 named Leito (David Belle), Leito’s sister Lola (Dany Verissimo), an honest undercover cop, Damien (Cyril Raffaelli), and the degenerate drug user and mob boss, Taha (Bibi Naceri). 

Criminals from the district have stolen a small nuclear bomb which they want to sell to the highest bidder. The bomb, now hidden inside the district, has a timer which will go off in 24 hours. Unless moved, it will destroy the entire neighborhood but spare central Paris. 

Corrupt government officials are involved throughout but Damien, who believes in liberty, fraternity and equality, ultimately teams up with a suspicious Leito to save the people of District B13. Inside, Taha has kidnapped Leito’s sister, Lola, collared her with a dog leash and made her his “junkie bitch.”   

The action from the first frame to the end combines Kung Fu, American cartoon, and Mission Impossible stunts. Although the script is outrageous, the performances of the four main characters turn every moment into a shocker, and the special effects are dramatic and exciting. Apart from the superb acting of the principals, a secondary character who has his name shaved into his head, K2 (Tony D’Amario), is as good as the best of them. He deserves an award on Oscar night.

HS said, “I didn’t know that the French made movies like this.  It is definitely not noire.”

Believe me, no matter how ridiculous it all sounds, this movie is well worth seeing. (In French, with English subtitles.)

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