Janek Ambros’ 40-minute long documentary short “Money, Fascism and Some Sort of Acid,” opens with a frantically edited sequence from the anthology named “Closing Bell.” While this is my favorite segment from the entire film, it is a great way to establish what’s in store for us.
The sequence shows an agitated market trader during the 2008 market crash. As the person recounts the possible ways to come out of the crash alive, our introduction to the bailout bill and the government’s strategy to help out big businesses, while leaving half of in-debt Americans to fend for themselves is put into perspective.
If not anything, the first segment establishes what Ambros is capable of with his exceptional editing technique. The extraordinary audio-visual experience that the short gives you is never matched by the others, but it goes without saying that all of them have important things to say.
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The extreme cinematic high on “Closing Bell” is followed by the soothness of “May 15th in Paris.” Shot in black and white, the short consists of modern-day images of French citizens going on about their daily shenanigans. These images are double contrasted with the beautiful narration by Nathalie Simille as talks about the populist leader Napoléon Bonaparte.
In a definite nod to French New Wave, in particular to the films of Jean Luc-Godard, the short is slight but interesting in the way it shows how fascism can take more than one face value. Bonaparte became a dictator by first taking the poor and the middle class under his wing, thereby raging havoc of epic proportion.
The next short, titled “Red, Blue, and Purple,” is Ambros’ take on propaganda films or films that wobble in between with the message they are delivering. In a sequence that harkens back to his own film “Mondo Hollywoodland,” this trippy short makes use of the director’s visual sense to tell a simple truth about how art is tweaked by those in power, manipulating and disrupting the meaning of ‘what’s right.’
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The 4th and 5th shorts have to be my least favorite ones in Money, Fascism, and Some Sort of Acid. The 4th one titled “Son of Man” is set in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia and is an adaption of Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor. The last segment titled “Brexit” wishes to end the anthology with a crescendo that encapsulates all that the film is trying to say.
Featuring Winston Churchill’s infamous Finest Hour speech “We need the United State of Europe,” the segment wants to end the film on a note of unity, but frankly, anyone other than Churchill and his unsteady politics would have sufficed.
But then again, Ambros is not trying to align with anyone’s political views here. Money, Fascism, and Some Sort of Acid is trying to uncover how people over the centuries have been manipulated and forced into believing things, rather than empathizing and giving them the agency to think for themselves. The fact that all of this still applies makes this documentary short as urgent as it could be.