File Under Miscellaneous (2010)

*. File Under Miscellaneous is a short film with a sharp political message. But I wonder if there’s something even  more going on under its skin.
*. The moral of the story is hard to miss. A young Mi’gMaq man enters a seedy-looking plastic surgery chop-shop in an attempt to get a new appearance that will allow him to pass for white. He gets what seems to be a total-body skin transplant and, in the most gruesome scene, has his tongue pulled out and replaced.
*. The removal of his tongue symbolizes the loss of his language. At the beginning the narrator speaks in a Native language, but after the operation the voiceover is in English. In his new language the man will now tell racist jokes to his white friends, and is all set to join them in their mission to “burn the land with our whiteness.”
*. All of this is pretty basic, and is effectively realized. However, what I find curious is this matter of language or, as the politically-sensitive style it, the appropriation of voice.

*. In the first place, the film is said to be adapted from the Pablo Neruda poem “Walking Around.” I wasn’t sure what to make of this, since Neruda’s poem is more about setting a grotesque mood of weltschmerz than it is about advancing a specific political agenda. What did writer-director Jeff Barnaby see in it, aside from the image of intestines spilling out of buildings?
*. I think Barnaby’s bigger debt is to Ridley Scott. His vision of the future is that of the now traditional dark, dystopic city of Blade Runner, a place where the sun never shines. And the giant screen with the face of the Great Leader is also derived from Scott, blending Blade Runner‘s video billboards with his famous 1984 Apple commercial.
*. What does it mean that a film about the loss of one’s native language is told in borrowed words and a borrowed visual style? Does that reinforce the point, or undermine it?
*. To add another element to the mix, the narrator specifically references becoming Aryan, and the Great Leader speaks not in English but in German. This is an obvious cultural reference to Nazis and racial cleansing, but doesn’t it undercut the idea of a monolithic whiteness? Shouldn’t the narrator have gotten a German tongue put in?
*. Similarly, while being a member of the dominant group obviously has its perks, the blandness of a monoculture is underwritten by the bar codes tattooed on the heads of its citizens. But doesn’t that make the in-group slaves, or something even worse?
*. I don’t think these questions can be answered with an easy yes or no. File Under Miscellaneous is a film that makes a strong statement, but not a simple one.

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