Watch "Azor" this weekend
New halogencore just dropped
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What I’m watching: Azor, dir. Andreas Fontana
Do you like: smart political thrillers? Do you like: movies heavy on atmosphere and light on exposition? Do you like: dramatized depcitions of the global transition from the postwar settlement to the neoliberal era? If you answered “yes” to any two of those three questions, I cannot recommend enough Azor, a quiet mystery-thriller about a Swiss private banker moving among the Argentinian elite in 1980 (which is to say, in the midst of a brutal campaign of political mass killing following a U.S.-supported right-wing military coup), which premiered on the streaming service Mubi this week. I think it’s probably my favorite movie I saw all year.
Mubi has a free trial through its website, so you can sign up and watch it this weekend (and The Fog, too!) and cancel before you get charged, if you’d like. (Though, if you want to help a guy out, signing up through this link gets both of us a free month.)
A couple years ago I came up with the dumb name “halogencore” to describe a quasi-genre, or really a set of tropes that characterized a bunch of movies made in the last few years that I’d enjoyed — Michael Clayton, Margin Call, and The Assistant, to name three. I made a list and wrote a little bit about the genre here; here’s the one-paragraph definition:
Halogencore movies are stories of corporate intrigue and malfeasance, told from the point of view of characters on the "outside of the inside" — low-level apparatchiks, functionaries, subordinates, and middle managers, navigating crisis from the periphery of real power. They usually take place over a short time frame — day, or a night, or a weekend — and against a ticking clock. They are not stories of lasting change, stunning revelation, or dramatic reversals of fortune. They are stories of beaten-down people acquiescing to or negotiating compromise with power. The "victory" of a happy ending in a halogencore movie is not that power has been toppled but that our compromised hero has manage to survive inside the machine without being crushed.
As the name suggests, halogencore movies feature lots of flourescent lighting and nighttime city shots. The action is largely officebound.
Halogencore movies are heirs of the 1970s paranoid-thriller tradition: movies like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View, which share with the movies listed above a certain sensibility and affect. These are movies whose main moods are dread, paranoia, and pessimism, the sense of always being a step behind, of always having arrived a little bit too late, of knowing too much but at the same time not quite enough. The main difference is that paranoid thrillers are about journalists and detectives uncovering corruption, conspiracy, and wrongdoing; halogencore movies are about well-to-do professionals learning to ignore it.
Azor, I think, is a kind of bridge between the two styles. The movie concerns Yvan De Wiel, a Swiss banker, who’s traveled to Argentina with his wife, Ines, to meet with clients of the private bank, founded by his grandfather, that bears his name. De Wiel’s partner, Lamar Keys, had been the bank’s main point of contact with its rich Argentine clients, but sometime previously to the events of the movie, he’d beaten a hasty and unexplained retreat from the country, and much of the movie’s plot concerns De Wiel unconvering the reasons for Keys’s departure as he travels from hotel to pool to private club to ranch.
Just as the balance of power within Argentina has shifted and the political economy of the country and the world is changing, so too is De Wiel’s business. His clients want to explore new avenues for financial speculation — maybe the best scene in the movie is a conversation between De Wiel and a hulking priest, a powerful monsignor who wishes to do some currency speculation, against De Wiel’s conservative instincts — and they are considering moving accounts out of private banks like De Wiel’s and into larger commercial banks. De Wiel must change the nature of his business in order to survive.
De Wiel is uncovering and coming to understand the scale of repression and state murder taking place, as the hero of paranoid thriller might, and simultaneously learning how to navigate it as a banker to the country’s wealthiest citizens, as the hero of a halogencore movie must. The paranoias that drove the thrillers of the 70s — corrupt governments, venal elites, out-of-control security services — are transforming into the realities that drive halogencore movies: how can you live with yourself in an impossibly corrupt world? De Wiel’s wife, Ines, gives the answer: “Azor,” a bit of banker slang meaning “Be quiet. Careful what you say.”
If you like the movie, I recommend this interview with the director, Andreas Fontana, as well.
A small encounter with our weird future
What I’m reading: “Black to the Future,” Greg Tate in conversation with Mark Dery
Greg Tate, the critic, died this week. I won’t embarrass myself by trying to express how much I admired him or his writing; you can get a sense of how much he meant to generations of writers from Marcus Moore’s Pitchfork obituary and Hua Hsu’s 2016 New Yorker appreciation. I went back and reread Tate’s interview with Mark Dery, where the term “afrofuturism” was coined; despite Dery’s own shortcomings, it’s such an incredibly sharp and thought-provoking conversation with Afrofuturism’s greatest critic and thinker. “Where does science fiction end and black existence begin, in America?” Tate asks.
“Any class called The History Of Afro Futurism and Black Science Fiction automatically begs the question "Well, what isn’t futuristic about being Black in America?” The entire history of Black America can be seen as a fundamentally futurological and science fictional enterprise a perpetual biding on hope and struggling for change endeavor that frequently employs far flung visions of tomorrow and other more oblique speculative stratagems in pursuit of outcomes barely foreseeable in the near-present.“
I wonder if anyone out there has the syllabus for it. If you do, please let me know!
Real estate listing of the week
Careston Castle, originally built around 1582 and set on 345 acres in the county of Angus, Scotland, is asking around $3.8 million. But what of the stonework, you ask? “The detailed stonework is believed to be some of the finest in Scotland and it is thought to be based on the work of French designer Jacques du Cerceau.” Well then!
What I’m listening to: “Ever New (Reworked by Joseph Shabason & Thom Gill),” Beverly Glenn-Copeland
Isn’t that lovely? The whole album of Glenn-Copeland reworks is out next week.