Radical Empathy: Our Review of ‘Mur Murs’

Posted in Movies, Retrospective, Theatrical by - March 28, 2018
Radical Empathy: Our Review of ‘Mur Murs’

There are a few reasons to be jealous of Agnes Varda. The second item on that short list is that she experienced and immortalized Los Angeles as a City of Walls. All I got when I went there was a City of Cranes. I, a sheltered middle class Asian virgin, couldn’t drive outside of Venice, and yet she knew to go further. Varda gave herself permission to go to East LA and Compton. With these trips she made Mur Murs, which might be the first street art documentary ever. That do take nerve, making this movie about a city during a decade that demonized cities. Through her narration she does acknowledge the drug epidemic ravaging urban areas. However, instead of drug deals, she depicts colourful, lively celebrations happening in front of these murals.

Varda frames the unframable as the alternative to the alternative. She interviews muralists from different backgrounds, who discuss what they choose to paint. In turn they conjure up images of what should be instead of compromising with what already is. She interviews artists as a way of telling her audience to stop and analyze the images around us. One of these artists is Susan Jackson who tells her that the Panthers prefer that she paints fists and rifles. Instead she paints birds and flowers, things that live that she drew when she was a child. This is context, rebellion as civilized wordless conversation, essential art history. These murals are music in a desert city, a promised land that the chosen people chose for themselves. These murals show an idealized version of themselves.

One of the few spaces that Varda documents is Willowbrook Middle School in Compton. They have murals in hallways and cafeterias, some of which are Jackson’s works. Varda also talks to that school’s principal. He curated what goes on the walls based on gentleness instead of the anger in the streets. The murals remind me something. That the original The Last Supper is in the refectory of an Italian monastery. There’s the easy defense that these less popular murals are just as good as the one Da Vinci painted. There’s also a point that the local organizers make about this art. That art is for everyone, a sentiment that the artists share. This public art is Varda showing adults giving back to their own communities. And her audience is experiencing this nurturing cycle through film.

Mur Murs: Plays tomorrow night at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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