Thursday, March 03, 2011

French Rendezvous ’11: Think Global Act Rural

Remember how we were supposed to beat our swords into plowshares? Well, forget it. Any such application of wartime technology constitutes “weaponizing” agriculture and “making war” on the planet. These are just some of the New Age platitudes fobbed off as insight in Coline Serreau’s polemical Think Global, Act Rural (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2011 Rendezvous with French Cinema.

Western capitalism has undermined third world economies and adulterated the world’s food supply. We know this because Serreau calls a parade of talking heads repeatedly tell us so in no uncertain terms. However, they do not offer any compelling facts or data to back up their claims, just ardent belief. At one point, we are told Africa ceased being self-sufficient after WWII because greedy capitalists began selling their farmers heavy machinery and fertilizer at usurious terms. Of course, one might just as easily blame the end of European Colonialism—the timelines certainly match. Indeed, much of Rural could be used to advocate for a return to Imperialism and even Feudalism.

Though we hear from plenty of economists, Rural does not have much of a grasp of economics. We are asked to feel for the plight of hardscrabble Indian farmers, who have been committing suicide at an alarming rate. However, the film also advocates greater reliance on locally grown crops throughout the developed world, which would help Indian farmers exactly how? The truth is comparative advantage is a reality. Not every person or economy is cut out for agriculture. Take for instance, most of the film critics at Rural’s press screening.

Historically, man has a deeply ingrained love-hate relationship with agriculture that Rural prefers not to plumb. The French economic historian Fernand Braudel persuasively argued the hemispheric staple crops of rice, maize, and wheat profoundly affected the development of Asia, Latin America, and Europe, respectively. A labor-intensive crop like rice was metaphorically enslaving for Asia, whereas the high-yield, low-effort maize allowed for the more literal form that produced Latin America’s great pyramids. However, a crop like wheat required considerable work, but was hearty enough to survive days lost to Europe’s bad weather, also providing down time for people to get ideas of their own. Yes, many farmers feel a traditional tie to the land, but city life seems to hold an instinctive pull. Yet, like feudal lords, Rural’s experts want to keep the common man tied to the land.

Essentially, Rural is a logic free zone, but at least it does shrink from the sight of panchagavya (the five elements of cow: milk, curd, ghee, dung, and urine) being mixed for fertilizer purposes. Metaphorically, it perfectly represents the substance of the films claims. Easily the silliest selection of what is overall a very strong line-up, Rural screens tomorrow (3/4) at the IFC Center and Sunday (3/6) at the Walter Reade as part of this year’s French Rendezvous.