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Beasts of No Nation, ‘A stunning cross between “Peter Pan” and “Apocalypse Now”’

from The Economist

Netflix’s first theatrical release deserves to be watched at the cinema

by N.B. | VENICE

CARY FUKUNAGA’s “Beasts of No Nation” is the most controversial film in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival, but not because of its subject matter. The controversial part is that it is being distributed by Netflix, making this the first time that the internet-streaming service has put its name to a theatrically released film. But it’s the phrase “theatrically released” which is the problem.

In March, Netflix announced that it would be offering “Beasts of No Nation” online to its subscribers on the very day (October 16th) that the film was going into cinemas. Exhibitors—that is, cinema owners—were not pleased. Four American chains announced that they wouldn’t be showing “Beasts of No Nation” at all, their argument being that, if cinemas are to survive, they must be allowed exclusive access to new films for several weeks before they are available elsewhere. If Netflix wouldn’t go along with this practice, they said, then its film deserved to be boycotted. The fact that the Venice Festival went on to select “Beasts of No Nation” as one of its competition entries must have felt like a kick in the teeth. People everywhere are opting to watch movies on laptops rather than in cinemas. If the world’s oldest film festival won’t discourage them, then who will?

A more pertinent question is whether festivals have an obligation to support exhibitors at all. Venice’s Biennale is officially designated a “Mostra Internazionale D’Arte Cinematografica”, which suggests that its remit is to celebrate films rather than the buildings where they are shown. If a film ends up being viewed on a screen that’s 15 inches wide rather than 50 feet wide, then so be it. “Exhibitors have got to wake up and smell the coffee,” as one publicist said to me in Venice. “Things are changing and they’re not about to change back.”

The story gets more complicated when you see the film itself. To put it mildly, “Beasts of No Nation” is quite something. Adapted from Uzodinma Iweala’s novel, it is an immersive fable about a boy in an unnamed African country whose family is executed in front of him during a civil war. Fleeing into the jungle, he is adopted by a charismatic commandant (Idris Elba), and brainwashed into becoming a guerrilla fighter. There are times when he enjoys the summer-camp cameraderie he shares with his fellow child-soldiers. But he also has to machete innocent strangers, submit to sexual abuse and drug use, and watch while his new friends are gunned down. The horrors of war have rarely been catalogued more horrifically.

[ click to continue reading at The Economist ]

Posted on September 12, 2015 by Editor

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