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Du musst unbedingt fortfahren: Filmanalyse von Compliance

compliance-poster01
Compliance movie poster. One of my favorite posters from 2012.

Ursprünglich veröffentlicht auf Letterboxdohne Likes.

Compliance
U.S.A. 2012
Regie: Craig Zobel

Das ist keine Land ohne Brot, but it’s still a pretty effective skewering of bourgeois morality.

I did some cursory research on the incident that “inspired” this film, incredulous that such a thing could possibly happen ? a man claiming to be a police officer convinces a fast food manager to strip-search an employee looking for evidence of theft; this eventually leads to a sexual assault. Apparently, it did happen, as did several other incidents with a similar MO. (A man was tried and acquitted for some of these crimes. That sounds like the real story.)

For the most part, the film follows the broad outline of what was reported to have happened and hits all the major events of one particular incident at a McDonald’s, including the rape. How Compliance depicts this strip-search scam has pissed a few people off, including during the Q&A after the film premiered at Sundance, and including someone here on Letterboxd in a fairly apoplectic review, calling some aspects of the film “inappropriate,” “wrong-headed,” “perverse” and “bullshit.” Whew.

I found the overall tone of the film to be rather cool and restrained, and shot resourcefully. Nearly every shot uses selective focus, making the interior of the ChickWich feel bigger than it is, but I never really got a clear map of anything behind the counter and cashier. The still lifes, in particular, and the single-shot macro work combined with rack-focusing beautifully established a sense of place and mood. The previously mentioned Danny Baldwin seems to think that using one’s filmmaking chops to tell a story is reason enough to hate this movie or suspect its motives. (Kathryn Bigelow gets a pass for Zero Dark Thirty, presumably because she won an Oscar.)

Compliance doesn’t so much have an undercurrent of class condescension, as it would have if this were a Coen brothers movie, but it does try very hard to manipulate the audience’s expectations. The characters in this film say and do absurd things, but still I think the degree to which you laugh at this movie or find the characters’ behavior funny rather than unsettling, reflects more on your own class allegiances than on the filmmakers’, or on your own feeling of superiority that it couldn’t happen to you. If you laugh, you’ve been caught out. If you get angry, you’re in denial. Compliance tweaks the liberal biases of certain audience members by provoking the denialists pretty effectively.

The weakest and most easily criticized choice that this film makes is the decision to cross-cut between what’s happening at the fast-food restaurant and what’s happening on the other end of the line as the prank caller thinks up new ways to play with his victims, all while snacking and feeling very pleased with himself. But again, if you identify with the caller in ridiculing the employees of the Chickwich, you’re revealing your own political and class biases. It’s a trap, sure, but one I can sympathize with.

Several reviews have pointed out the similarities between a psychological experiment conducted at Yale University in the 60s that tested subjects willingness to administer electric shocks to other people when they gave wrong answers to questions. Overwhelmingly, the test confirmed the power of authority. These results have been reconfirmed at different time periods and in different societies. Social and economic class seemed to have no bearing on the outcome. But you don’t have to conduct an experiment to confirm the power of authority in human societies. You just have to remember history. How often has sticking flowers in guns actually worked?

Aber letztendlich kritisiert und entlarvt der Film ein System der Kontrolle und die schwachen Menschen, die darin gefangen sind. Und sorry, ich werde alle Einwände gegen die Darstellung des Oben-ohne-Opfers als frauenfeindlich oder ausbeuterisch abtun. Der Stil der Dreharbeiten vermeidet jede Art von Aufreizung. Bei der ersten Aufnahme von Rebecca, die ohne ihr Oberteil verhört wird, duckt sich die Kamera hinter einem Regal, als wäre es ihr peinlich, und ich weiß nicht, wie viel vorsichtiger die erzwungene Oralsexszene hätte gedreht und geschnitten werden können, ohne dass sie unkenntlich geworden wäre.

The manager Sandra, who is almost immediately convinced of the authority of the crank caller, is played by a very resourceful, composed and committed Ann Dowd. There are a couple attempts to make this character into a pathetic figure, or at least as one isolated from the realities of her employees’ lives, and in this the film is less assured and convincing. However, based on my own experience with low-paid managers, the self-aggrandizement and the brand loyalty seem like pretty shrewd observations to me, if not unique ones. The film ends with a news interview with Sandra as she tries to explain her actions. The interviewer asks her if she’s a victim, too, and she eagerly agrees. The ways that she is and the ways that she’s not are the very interesting moral questions that this film raises.

Sandra from Compliance
Sandra listens carefully.
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