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Mixed media: Film

Real-estate evil in Ramin Bahrani’s punchy and passionate feature.

99 Homes (112 minutes) directed and co-written by Ramin Bahrani

A man in a crisp linen suit checks out the property he’s just repossessed. He’s hard-faced, foul-mouthed, and sneers at the expense and inconvenience of cleaning up after the mortgage defaulter who has shot himself.

He’s Rick Carver, a thriving Florida real-estate shark. Next on his list is Dennis Nash, a building worker who lost his job, and his last month’s pay, when his employer went bankrupt. His mom runs a hairdressing business in their bungalow; his son goes to the local school.

Carver tells them the bank now owns the property. They have two minutes to remove themselves and essential documents and possessions before his team transfer everything to the sidewalk.

Next morning Nash turns up at Carver’s office – the removals guys have stolen his tools, and he wants them back. He doesn’t get them, but he’s offered a job – $50 to clean out the shit from a repossessed house whose foreclosed owners had deliberately blocked the drains. He takes it.

Bahrani is a politically committed filmmaker whose previous films – Man Push Cart, Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo – show great understanding and empathy for migrants and outsiders. Now, with name actors, and a bigger budget and audience, he’s made a hard-hitting, fast-moving feature about the haves and have nots, the vicious consequences of government and business policy.

Dennis, hoping to earn enough to get back the family home, is drawn into Carver’s world. Carver is a memorable, iconic lizard-human, a Gordon Gecko 30 years on: ‘America was built by bailing out winners. The country is rigged.’ Punchy, passionate and deeply affecting – do not miss this.

★★★★★ ML

Just trying to help – the police chief (right) faces teenager, Do-hee, in July Jung’s A Girl at My Door.

A Girl at My Door (119 minutes) written and directed by July Jung

A police chief, to escape a sexual scandal, is transferred to a small South Korean coastal town. There, the police don’t do things by the book. Neither does the chief – if, for a year or so, she keeps her head down, her hands clean, she can transfer back to Seoul. But she’s challenged when she tries to help Do-hee, a local teenager who is beaten by her stepfather, grandmother, and classmates.

Her stepfather is a drunk who smuggles in illegal migrant labour, and is protected by the local police. He also has a hold over the chief – he’s seen her kissing her visiting former girlfriend. One night, Do-hee turns up at her door after a particularly nasty beating, and the chief takes her in. Some time later, when the chief arrests him for a particularly nasty beating of an illegal worker, the affronted stepfather accuses her of sexual abuse of his daughter.

Well made, acted and directed, it shifts in tone from amused, disinterested observation of the yokels, to an ambiguous and uncomfortable view. The film leaves a strong sense of the impact of violence on personality.

★★★★ ML

New Internationalist issue 486 magazine cover This article is from the October 2015 issue of New Internationalist.
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