Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Black Earth Rising’ and ‘Trepalium’

black earth rising

‘BLACK EARTH RISING’ (NETFLIX)

Pulling inspiration from the Rwandan genocide, there’s no way the series “Black Earth Rising” was going to be light entertainment. But there’s always a danger that such a depiction could cheapen the massive tragedy in a quest for thrills. That’s not what happens here, though, as writer/director Hugo Blick, who did such an amazing job with “The Honourable Woman,” builds fictionalized aspects around the genocide to create a complicated portrait of how the west preys upon Africa, and how Africa must combat the interference.

At the center of the story is Kate Ashby (Michaela Coel), a genocide survivor who was adopted by a renowned British prosecutor (Harriet Walter) and who is pursuing an international crimes case against a Rwandan general largely considered a folk hero. Ashby is a clerk for family friend Michael Ennis (John Goodman) and following a tragedy, is guided by his knowledge and past in uncovering truths about a cover-up by the current authoritarian regime in her home country.

The series depicts political corruption within Rwanda, but with a direct criticism of the interference of European countries, raising the specter of colonialism in ways both subtle and overt, and allows white-dominated countries to manipulate Africans with behind-the-scenes economic ploys. But it achieves this complex narrative through the human stories involved at all levels.

The series employs animation for some evocative, haunting sections that take us outside of the present, but it’s the acting that makes the show so compelling, particularly Lucian Msamati as the Rwanda president’s adviser. Coel particularly shines here. Intense, raw, and alternately vulnerable and fierce, it’s not the typical television performance, and her work here is so remarkable I can’t imagine she’s not on a path to even stronger, more affecting work.

‘TREPALIUM’ (AMAZON, APPLE, SHUDDER, SUNDANCE)

Walls are typically sold as a way to keep undesirables out, and the collective memory of humans tends to forget they are also ways to imprison and to divide. No one builds a wall without all three purposes in mind and the French dystopian series “Trepalium” portrays a society that decided a wall was its only solution, forgetting that they are destined to become prisoners of their own defense.

It’s a fairy-tale setting of sorts, this French city where only 20 percent of the population is employed, and those people are kept cloistered on the supposed nice side of the wall, while the poverty-stricken remainder of the population is left to fight for their own survival on the degraded, decrepit side known as the Zone.

The prime minister, Nadia Passeron (Ronit Elkabetz), decides to promote peace between the two sides by allowing in hand-picked special workers from the Zone. One worker, Izia (Leonie Simaga), hopes to make a better life for her son and herself, but her placement takes a strange turn of events when her employer’s wife turns out to be her doppelganger — and when the wife disappears, Izia is forced to take her place by her employer.

There are several plots in action around Izia’s story — a burgeoning rebellion, the prime minister’s conniving family, the political machinations behind the new workers program, the cut-throat world of the workers and much more. Together, they blend into a horrible truth — that the world of the employed might actually be more nightmarish than the world of the unemployed, though neither is a desirable place to live.”Trepalium” has some odd affectations, like its retro-futuristic wardrobe on the workers’ side of the city, but it speaks to modern situations with insight, providing great drama and suspense, and applicable to the situation in Israel, as well as the one we’re attempting to create in the United States.


Originally published at www.berkshireeagle.com.

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