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Sandra Kogut

     Rarely are there are titles explaining where we are in the world in Sandra Kogut's splendid, mirthful globe-hopping videos. That's the celebratory McCluhanesque point: everywhere on earth is sort of the same, the universal village of media images. Kogut is the perfectly tuned global citizen, a Brazilian who speaks English and lives in France, and who has Hungarian-Jewish grandparents and Hungary-residing relatives.

     A vagabond tone is set with A Hungarian Passport. The Paris-based Kogut decides to take advantage of Hungary's coming EU membership, applying for a Hungarian passport. Her qualification is Hungarian grandparents, who, prescient of an invasion from Germany, emigrated from Budapest to Brazil in 1937. As Kogut investigates her family history, including an ebullient dinner-table interview with her glowing grandma, Mathilda, she uncovers an ugly trail of 1937 anti-Semitism. It starts with the Hungarian official who allowed her grandfather's exit so there'd be "one less dirty Jew" and ends with a secret Brazilian government circular stopping Jews from disembarking there, sending them back to Hitler's Europe. (Kogut's grandparents, different from unfortunate Jewish passengers, got off their ship in Brazil through a well-placed bribe.)

     In today's Budapest, the same: an aging Hungarian man can't believe that Kogut, who attracts his eye, can be more than partly Jewish. I'm completely Jewish, she tells him. "Well, you can always deny it," he chuckles.

     A Hungarian Passport is also a broken-field jog through bureaucracy, jumpcutting among desk-bound slugs from France to Brazil to Hungary. After a year of commuting among consulates, Kogut receives a kind of passport, joining a low-rent, new-citizen celebration in a government hall in Budapest. That's the video's priceless anthropological scene, gawky and endearing like early Milos Forman.

     Passengers of Orsay is a commissioned video for Paris's Musee d'Orsay, following random patrons through the huge museum until they arrive at their favorite painting or sculpture. Kogut turns her camera to others in the galleries: i.e, a condescending lecturer to his flock, "This is a Manet, not Monet." Adieu Monde, or Pierre and Claire's Story, offers a whimsical trip into the Pyrenees, where a chorus of very colorful townsmen each tell part of the legendary, perhaps-true, chanteuse romance of beautiful Claire, and Pierre, a shepherd with, alas, wanderlust.

     Parabolic People is a many-screen, multiple-voice, prose poem built from images of people in countries around the globe devoting thirty seconds each to doing whatever before a video camera. Some bounce, some sing, some make faces, some say solemn prayers. Kogut spins this stuff into a buoyant "We are the World" video party. Finally, Here and Thereis a fictional short in which Brazilian actress Regina Case, an earthy Anna Magnani type, portrays Tuquinha, a Rio blue-collar girl deciding whether to join her sister, who has moved to a hoity-toity suburb. The answer seems easy: though impoverished, Tuquinha enjoys a bouncy, zesty life, with friends in the community and dancing and singing in the Rio streets. Typical fun in the sweet, spirited video universe of Sandra Kogut.

(Boston Phoenix, May, 2003)


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