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The Violence in LA CIVIL and ANNETTE
by Karen Schollemann

Violence has almost become a household word in Mexico, especially in northwestern Mexico where the strongest drug cartels prevail. This is of course where Teodora Mihai’s film, LA CIVIL takes place. It is a brutal violence comprised of gang wars, kidnapping, rape, killing and extortion---all for the sake of money and power. Normal people, like Laura and her mother in LA CIVIL, can easily become entangled in their lethal web. This is a very visible violence of greed and want of power that has the whole country in its grip. The cinematography of Marius Panduru skillfully amplifies the atmosphere of violence in LA CIVIL, such as in the nighttime scenes on the dusty, spooky roads of Mexico, as they are lit up by only the headlights of lonely cars or by homes under a siege of bullets.

In contrast, the violence in ANNETTE is a very personal and,at first only psychological, violence aimed at family members and friends. This starts out verbally as Henry (Adam Driver), a successful standup comedian, starts lamenting his wife’s (Marion Cotillard) waxing success in contrast to his own waning popularity. Henry uses a very provocative humor to transmit his frustrations and tension to his audience. At first this is loved because of its bizarre and shocking character, but later when he states that he killed his wife that morning, his “humorous” lyrics are not just bizarre but aggressive and cruel. Unfortunately, his words (choral texts) transform into physical violence when he actually drowns his wife while on a boat trip. What adds to the psychological violence is the arrival and presence of their daughter, Annette, at first portrayed as a wooden puppet. She knows her father killed her mother and this in itself is definitely a form of psychological domestic violence for her. The director, Leos Carax, may well have also used the pop operatic form to increase the emotionality of Henry and Ann’s love in the beginning as well as to emphasize the effects of family violence which crescendo to a deadly climax at the end.

The lasting impression that the two films left me with were quite different: the film LA CIVIL with all its cartel violence frightened me because it is truly a situation that exists in Mexico today with no answers or solutions. However, it gave me a ray of hope for, as Mihai stated in an interview about LA CIVIL, “I believe that this is a contribution towards, hopefully, some positive change.” Like Mihai, I have the same hope since I remember visiting Mexico with my parents as a child and it was beautiful, friendly, colorful and full of music, dancing children and positive vibes. Today I would not want to spend even a few days there, and until people in Mexico and across their borders stop buying drugs at horrendous prices, I’m afraid there will be no change. However, I still have hopes that there will be a crackdown on drug and human trafficking someday, and then Mexico may return to the Mexico I knew as a child.

In contrast the film ANNETTE left me with an empty, haunted feeling, even though it certainly had its merits as a piece of art. At the end there was nothing left of love, of the good in Henry. He had not only destroyed his wife, career, and love from his daughter, but also, he had destroyed himself! He was only left with a prison cell haunted by his dripping wet wife’s ghost and a broken wooden puppet on the floor. Perhaps, he can join the “Tragic Hero Hall of Fame.”

Whatever type of violence—domestic, cartel, war, etc. --- it is too much! We will never obliterate it completely, but these two films are a warning. Will we listen?