Film Review: Big Boys Gone Bananas!

In 2009 Swedish director Fredrik Gertten’s documentary Bananas! was the most controversial Scandinavian import to America since I Am Curious (Yellow).  Forty years earlier Vilgot Sjoman’s 1967 film was seized by U.S. Customs because the X-rated film dared show sex acts and full frontal nudity (although after a hard fought battle against censorship in the ’60s, today’s American filmmakers have the right and artistic freedom to show nakedness onscreen, yet check out the shockingly indecent lack of nudity in contemporary Hollywood pictures dealing with romantic relationships, such as Ruby Sparks and Savages).  But Gertten dared to take on an even touchier (no pun intended) subject in his nonfiction film: corporate America.

Bananas! exposed Dole Food’s role in spraying poisonous pesticide on bananas in Nicaragua and exposing agricultural workers to DBCP, which allegedly resulted in sterility for some of the affected campesinos.  Gertten’s doc included footage of a Dole executive basically confessing on the witness stand during a lawsuit brought by the banana proletarians to using the pesticide in its Central America plantations.

The results of Gertten’s temerity were entirely predictable.  The multi-billion dollar multi-national banana bullies headquartered near L.A. went ballistic bananas, waging a heavy handed P.R. offensive against the director and documentary as it was about to debut at the L.A. Film Festival, wreaking havoc and movie mayhem at one of L.A.’s top filmfests.  The unfortunate LAFF brouhaha (which was no laughing matter), Dole’s aggressive publicity campaign, the corporation’s defamation lawsuit against the filmmakers and Gertten’s bold countersuit formed the basis for — what else? — a great sequel, in that grand cinematic tradition: Big Boys Gone Bananas! (Even Sjoman made a sequel of sorts to his hit: 1968’s I Am Curious (Blue).)      

Unlike retrograde reviewers who blithely reveal plot spoilers, your humble cinema scribe won’t ruin the fun for you.  Suffice it to say, in that great silent screen slapstick tradition, that Dole slips on a banana peel. In any case, Dear Viewers, if you see only one movie this summer, get thee to the Pasadena Playhouse 7 (and wherever else it is theatrically released and screened) pronto to see this epic David against Goliath saga of biblical proportions, as Sweden’s WG Film — with its four employees — go up against the wall, motherfuckers, fighting the $7 billion corporation that has 75,000 employees. Forget about Spidey or Batman — Gertten is cinema’s superhero, as he fights against all odds for freedom of speech (something U.S. journalists should take note of — especially those despicable pigs, media miscreants and Dole shills who stabbed Gertten in the back with pens).

The role David Magdael and his L.A.-based P.R. firm also plays onscreen and off is also truly inspiring — would that more publicists valued ballyhooing truth and artistic integrity over commercialism (but that would be a sci fi fantasy flick).  And those Swedes, who passed legal free speech protections way back in 1766, 10 years before our Revolution, can teach us a thing or two about freedom of the press and that crazy little thing called “democracy.”

Big Boys Gone Bananas! is highly dramatic and great fun (arguably a worthy successor to Woody Allen’s 1971 Bananas), with many twists and turns, and far more entertaining than most Hollywood features.  During his quixotic crusade Gertten fights back on a number of fronts, but most effectively, this veteran filmmaker, who also produced the stellar 2008 Oscar nominated doc Burma VJ, does battle with his mighty weapon of choice: a movie camera.  If you value a free press and enjoy stand up and cheer movies, don’t miss Big Boys Gone Bananas! Bravo!

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P.S. And, on a personal note, may I add: Mahalo nui loa, thank you very much, to the Dole family for the role your forebears played in overthrowing Queen Liliuokalani and the independent Kingdom of Hawaii and turning it into a pineapple and banana republic.

Sincerely up yours,

Ed Rampell 

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