Zeina Durra’s wry, distanced “The Imperialists Are Still Alive” opens with a shot of full-frontal nudity (adorned only by a face-covering Arabic scarf) with Élodie Bouchez (“The Dreamlife of Angels”) playing Asya, a Paris-born “Jordanian-Lebanese, Bosnian-Palestinian” performance artist. It’s literally the film’s most revealing instant. She lives in a crumb-bum loft in Manhattan while mingling with the wealthy and disaffected bohemians of many lands. Durra’s comic pastiche, reminiscent of Whit Stillman’s modest filmography, is a put-on of stock figures of supposed urban sophistication; her greatest success in evoking the city may be the loving look of the 16mm images (by Uruguayan Magela Crosignani), especially in low-light situations. The story moves readily from money to muck in its provocations about the “War of Terror” and its effects on her cast of politicized hopefuls and cool-blooded cosmopolitans. They’re gadabouts who have no destination beyond an incessant circuit of openings and parties and clandestine clubs. “You’re not CIA, are you?” is a logical enough question, and “No!” the scowl in return. “Imperialists” is more ambitious than your random Amerindie entry: the post-9/11 possibility of violent xenophobia courses beneath the scenes. The title is taken from Godard’s “La Chinoise.” With José María de Tavira, Karim Saleh, Rita Ackerman, Marianna Kulukundis, Pierluca Arancio, Karen Lynn Gorney, Sophie Auster, Coati Mundi, and a cameo by, yes, Whit Stillman himself, while “Psycho Killer” plays brightly in a dim club. In English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Korean. 91m. (Ray Pride)
“The Imperialists Are Still Alive!” opens Friday at Facets. A trailer is below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.