Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Goodbye CP (1972)

Kazuo Hara's controversial documentary about a group of Japanese people afflicted with cerebral palsy is as raw and disturbing as films come. Its intent becomes clear early, during a long sequence where the CP patients are on the street soliciting donations for the charity they've set up; overlaid on the sequence is a series of interviews where a man (presumably Hara) asks people in the crowd why they donated. More often than not, the answer is a variation on "I felt sorry for them," and the subsequent footage is a ragged roar of anger against that sort of guilty fake sympathy. Pity, the act of feeling sorry for someone, is in essence a belitting move, the idea being that it reduces the object of pity to less than human; Hara shows us what we're pitying and asks us if that is indeed what we feel. The CP patients in this film are complex beings just like any other human, their minds trapped in bodies that don't obey their wills and mouths that can't always express what they want, and Hara is willing to show them just as that -- as three-dimensional beings capable of hatred, anger, lust, vice and such. There's a scene where the group goes and picks fruit; this is then followed by an extended discussion of the males and their loss of virginity, including one fellow who admits to rape. Hara isn't letting anyone off the hook, not even himself; the centerpiece (and possibly the most scathing, troubling bit of the film) is also a bit of a self-reflexive bromide, as well as an implicit middle finger to the Wiseman-objective school of documentary thought: Yokoto Hiroshi, a poet and the default main character of the film, is presiding over a meeting of the group when the subject of his wife's disapproval of the film project comes up. His wife, who is in the house at the time and is also afflicted with CP, enters to voice her feelings, which then escalates into a screaming argument. Hara is at the ready filming the whole thing, even when Hiroshi's wife demands he stop. Goodbye CP is a brutal film, an uneasy and queasy film, but it's also necessary as possibly the most affecting and effective tirade against uncaring and/or ineffectual societial policies I've yet seen. When Hara brings the film full circle by getting Hiroshi on the street again, this time to perform his confrontational poetry, the indifference and rejection of the crowd says volumes; this then is followed by one of the bleakest endings in documentary history, wherein we learn the limits of art to effect change. The infamous nude shot says it all: Hara wants you to stop looking and truly see.

Grade: A


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