Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sang Papier and The Kind Ones Address Non-Western Immigration

Two recent short horror films address the subject of non-Western immigration. Intentionally or not, their messages are ambiguous, even discomforting, rather than simplistic and politically correct.

Short horror films from Canada tend to be comedic rather than dramatic horror, and often incorporate social or political satire. Make of it what you will, but the most politically correct films over the years have come from Canada. In the French Canadian Sang Papier (aka Night Crosser), the political satire focuses on the illegal influx of immigrants from non-Western cultures into the West. But what makes the film provocative, rather than heavy-handed, is that one can read multiple messages into it.

Grigore (Alexand Fournier) is a Romanian vampire trying to enter Canada. But first he must get past suspicious immigration officials. (Spoilers ahead.) Grigore fails to hide his vampiric nature. Having been caught, he faces deportation. But then an immigration official reveals that she too is a vampire, having infiltrated the immigration service. She kills her human colleague to protect Grigore's secret. She turns out to be Grigore's aunt (Marika Lhoumeau)! She advises her nephew on how to suppress his bloodlust and pass for human, and thus assimilate into Canadian society.

How to interpret Sang Papier? One can come away thinking that Trump is correct. (The nationalist or populist position.) The West is being infiltrated by dangerous foreigners. By vampires who form secret networks within our governments and undermine our laws. Vampires who can and do murder humans.

Or perhaps the message is that non-Western immigrants, though they might look odd, are harmless if unthreatened, family oriented, and desire only to assimilate. (The progressive or libertarian position.) Grigore comes across as timid and inept, rather than savage. He is fond of his aunt. Had he not been discovered, his aunt would not have killed her colleague. She did try to dissuade him from pursuing Grigore's shady background.

One can even come away thinking that immigrants should want to assimilate. (A traditionalist, non-multicultural position.) That the aunt's advice on how Grigore can suppress his bloodlust, and his desire to do so, indicates that he will be a good Canadian citizen, and thus justifies granting him entry.

Sang Papier supports all positions, depending on how one interprets the film.

The Kind Ones is another short film about the perils of non-Western immigration. As in Sang Papier, the immigrants are East European. In this case, a married couple who've taken in an American foster son, Timothy (Taishi Hosokawa). Although Mr. and Mrs. Byleth (Brandon deSpain, Gjilberta Lucaj) now live in America, they are raising Timothy according to their old country traditions. This includes beating the boy as a means of education.

This doesn't go over well with Timothy's teacher, Mrs. Andrews (Angela Trotter), who confronts the Byleths. The father explains that "Our culture is different from yours." Mrs. Andrews retorts "I don't care what your culture is. In this country, in America, our children's safety comes first."

Demanding that immigrants assimilate to American culture is a position generally associated with the political right. The Kind Ones is interesting in that Mrs. Andrews argues for assimilation from a progressive perspective. She embraces multiculturalism in that she teaches about Kwanzaa in class. But patriarchy is one cultural artifact that immigrants must ditch. They can keep their holidays. But no traditions that support violence against women or children.

Of course, the Byleths are not as they appear. No, they're not vampires. Closer to werewolves. And unlike the vampires in Sang Papier, these werewolves have no wish to assimilate. In the end, it's the American Timothy who adopts his foster parents' cultural and culinary traditions -- much to Mrs. Andrew's final regret.

Earlier, Timothy tells Mrs. Andrews, "You're a kind woman," adding, "My parents like the kind ones." Well, of course. Werewolves appreciate easy prey.

The Kind Ones offers some discomforting observations about immigration. That while progressives generally welcome immigrants, immigrants don't necessarily welcome progressive values. And that some immigrants, far from assimilating into the host culture, will instead spread their foreign customs into the native population.

Sang Papier and The Kind Ones are both currently doing the film festival circuit.


For more information on interpreting horror films, see Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating the Visual Language of Fear. This blog represents a continuing discussion of my views on horror, picking up from where the book left off.

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