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Thread: I AM GRETA (Nathan Grossman 2020)

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    Jul 2002
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    I AM GRETA (Nathan Grossman 2020)


    He just followed around a girl who spurred a global movement: what's so great abut that? Perhaps rather a lot.

    A for-subscribers' review by Mike D'Angelo two days ago drew my attention to this little documentary about the teenage Swedish climate activist with Asperger's who has drawn a global following and been the electrifying lead speaker at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York. D'Angelo can be hard to please. In his Patreon review, he explains he was sure he'd stop watching this Hulu film after ten minutes. But he was won over when he realized that Grossman indeed captured a miracle. He began filming Greta Thunberg sitting in front of the Swedish parliament in Stockholm with her now famous sign Skolstrejk för klimatet ("School Strike for Climate" - which a year later became a worldwide slogan) when no one was really paying much attention. D'Angelo didn't want to believe the filmmaker had "lucked into witnessing/documenting the birth of a massive global movement, just on the basis of Thunberg seeming potentially interesting." Yet he found that was exactly what happened. Indeed that is one of the things that a documentary filmmaker needs to do: stick with things to see what will happen, and if you get lucky, and Grossman got very lucky, you get a great documentary.

    Yet most reviewers seem not to think this is a great documentary at all. Many climate deniers especially, loathe and detest Greta, and that is something the film shows us. But that's something else. Or is it? Possibly discomfort with causes and passionate devotees makes the material hard to take for some even professional viewers. The reviewers claim the film ought to have delved more deeply into the mysteries and complexity of the girl's life. Instead they think Grossman "seems content with just following Greta around."

    If you apply the standard rules, that may be so. But that's still a dubious claim, because Grossman has, as D'Angelo says, "extraordinary access," all we need to see Greta close and in the round. My feeling is that Grossman does exactly the right thing in remaining passive and stoical, because that's the best way to capture the obsessiveness and asceticism of Greta's life. It seems to me very telling that toward the end, when Greta has spoken at the UN after her rapid but arduous trip from Plymouth, England to New York by zero-carbon racing boat with her actor father Svante, and is back, her famous opera singer mother speaks with tears of joy about Greta's new ability to be with other people, and eat with others as she could never do before. One might go further and say that for all the stress, we have seen her heartily enjoying her new fairytale life. If you do what your heart tells you must be done as she does, that's pretty good for whatever messes with your mind. And she sticks to rituals, as Asperger's requires: she still sits out demonstrating every Friday.

    So it's not true we don't learn about her; we learn quite a lot. We also learn about Asperger's, which she constantly alludes to. Her cruder detractors types (Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro among the worst of them), use that to say she's just "sick." This is one more thing they don't understand. Greta points out 70% of world leaders are woefully ignorant of the basics of climate. She has a near-photographic memory (which can come with Asperger's) and loves to study, is a "nerd" on climate (using the word even to Emmanuel Macron), so she knows whereof she speaks.

    Asperger's made her so obsessive, and for years she was depressed and wouldn't eat, but after dedicating herself to the cause of global warming in a way she calls "laser-focused," typical of Asperger's, she has a mission and is uniquely fitted to pursue it. This includes observing the restrictions on diet, clothes, and travel that observant environmentalism requires. Let's also note that she's quietly brilliant, and speaks English with a perfect fluency that would be remarkable anywhere.

    Glimpses of Greta's earlier life also show a sometimes happy girl, and throughout we see not only her solemn, calm determination, but the ability to laugh and dance, her delight in her two dogs and horse as well as the stoicism to withstand the rudeness and indifference she endured from other young people before her fame. And despite the autistic person's discomfort in social gatherings and inability to make small talk, her new leadership role has taught her to be friendly, exchange greetings, and shake many, many hands in a crowd.

    This story, Greta would say, isn't really her story but the story of a movement, primarily of youth that only needed a tipping point. Young people now learn and communicate faster, on levels their elders never knew. Still the rapidity with which the movement grows is dazzling. Indeed all Grossman needs to do is follow Greta and Svante.

    You will learn more about autism, hopefully, because this is a crash course. If nothing else you should learn (more or less ) how to pronounce "Greta Thunberg" the Swedish way (something like "Gray-etta Tourn-burrye"), because it's the way she begins every speech; and be amused at Greta's constant variations on the simple, effective lines of her speeches until she comes to the UN Climate conference and explodes: "How dare you! You have stolen my dreams!" Not enough focus on Greta? No, on the contrary, the title, I Am Geta already shows the focus is all wrong, because it should be on collective action, the global movement, the role of youth, and the over-and-over ineffectualness and the meaningless "selfies" of the likes of Angela Merkel with Greta because they wand not to do something, but to look good. Peter Bradshaw, one may add, is not wrong when he points out in his Guardian review that - for all the serendipity D'Angelo admired and eloquence that strikes me "doesn't entirely work" first because it talks too much about Greta and now about climate change, and then because it doesn't look enough into her father and mother, who indeed "must have been important in making Greta what she is." We see little of Greta's mother, Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman, who once represented Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest. But when you consider that Swedish filmmaker Nathan Grossman shot the film virtually single-handed over a two-year period under often very hectic conditions, and he did an excellent job of showing her as she is.

    The other, impossible, question is, what are we going to do? When the very planet is at stake and the lives of nations and well being of the poor countries of the world, how can we go on with our customary lives? This succinct and eloquent film makes us pose to ourselves that question. What is disturbing to us that it doesn't give us the answers. Nor do we end knowing if the world is any better off as a result of the global movement Greta Thunberg sparked and inspires.

    I Am Greta, 97 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2020, showing at at least 13 other international festivals including Toronto, Zurich, Hamburg, Cologne, the Hamptons, and Chicago. It was a rare film in the time of the pandemic to play movie theaters - in Europe, North America and Australia on Oct. 16, ahead of its release on Hulu in the U.S. on Nov. 13. Metascore 69%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-24-2020 at 12:57 AM.


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