The Mommy Returns

Sent to the end of the world, a largely submerged New York City, where he is shocked—shocked!—to discover the reification of human relations that mechas represent, little David dives from the top of Radio City deep into the dream dump. For an unforgettable moment, I thought that Spielberg would really leave us with a bizarre, albeit truly despairing, image of eternity: Pinocchio frozen forever in a world where Jiminy Cricket is mute and Disney dead. Not to worry. The shamelessly milked miracle arrives 2000 (and one?) years later, replete with thunderous wonder, appropriate white light, and a symbiotic reunion so obliterating in its solipsism it could split your skull.

A.I. is a curiously divided work. As in a Kubrick movie, the humans are universally shown as vain, treacherous, selfish, jealous, and, above all, cruel. But Spielberg understands that, no less than robots, we have feelings too. There won't be a dry eye in the theater when, having been treated to his first-ever birthday cake, ageless David finally goes to "that place where dreams are born." Some eyes, however, may be be wet with tears of mirth.

"David, go to your womb": O’Connor programs Osment in A.I.
photo: David James
"David, go to your womb": O’Connor programs Osment in A.I.


A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Written and directed by Steven Spielberg, from the story by Brian Aldiss
Warner Bros./DreamWorks
Opens June 29

Directed by Raoul Peck
Written by Peck and Pascal Bonitzer
Film Forum
Through July 10
Opens June 29

As cliché-rich as it is compelling, Raoul Peck's passionate biopic of the African liberation martyr Patrice Lumumba is a movie of jungle mist and elegiac bugles. The spirit of Oliver Stone hovers over the proceedings, which begin at the end, with its doomed protagonist in the hands of his enemies.

Although a martyr of the old Communist world (Hungary's film studios were located on the boulevard called Lumumba utca) and a black nationalist namesake, the Congo's first (and last) democratically elected national leader is now barely remembered here. Peck provides a hectic tour through the waxworks: Lumumba mixing it up with future secessionist Moise Tshombe, meeting the young eventual tyrant Joseph Mobuto, participating in the independence tumult of 1959, being beaten by Belgian thugs in jail. The movie never gives a clear sense of the hero's origins or background. (In the American press of 1960 the Congo's leader was dismissively identified as a 35-year-old former postal clerk—which, to this child of a career city worker, actually seemed like excellent credentials to head a nation.)

Eriq Ebouaney has an uncanny resemblance to the tall, dapper, charismatic Lumumba. Not exactly a get-along guy, although he does try to keep up his alliance with the more phlegmatic Joseph Kasavubu, fiery Lumumba is cast by Peck as an idealist among gangsters. (Lumumba's third-worldist rhetoric and insistence on economic independence made him the African equivalent of Fidel Castro—and thus, from the U.S. point of view, a marked man.) The movie rightly emphasizes his angry rejoinder to King Baudouin's patronizing speech at the Congo's independence ceremony in June 1960. To fully appreciate its significance, though, it helps to know something of the Nazi-like savagery with which Belgians administered their prize colony.

Somewhat hampered by its protagonist's intermittent (posthumous) first-person voice-over, the movie hits its stilted stride dashing through the succession of crises that marked Lumumba's few months as prime minister. Peck orchestrates a series of chaotic scenes. The army revolts against its white officers and its black political leaders as Belgian tycoons conspire and foreign intervention provokes civil war. There are riots, racial massacres, and atrocities against civilians. The movie clocks in at just under two hours, but given the material, it could easily have been twice as long.

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