Force of Circumstance. 1990. USA. Directed by Liza Béar. Screenplay by Béar, Craig Gholson. With Boris Major, Eric Mitchell, Jessica Stutchbury, Tom Wright, Steve Buscemi. 4K digital restoration by The Museum of Modern Art. Funding provided by The Celeste Bartos Fund for Film Preservation. Lab work by Metropolis Post. World premiere. 89 min.
Aptly described by Liza Béar as “an American foreign film,” Force of Circumstance returns to the Museum after its 1991 Cineprobe premiere in a new MoMA digital preservation overseen by the artist. The 1981 Casablanca bread riots—whose more than a thousand civilian casualties, victims of King Hassan II’s repressive regime, received only a passing mention in the New York Times —inspired this offbeat political drama. US-Moroccan relations are the backdrop for the crisscrossing intrigues of four characters pursuing each other across Washington, DC: a young Moroccan activist on a mission to deliver crucial documents to an American reporter; an envoy for the king tasked with securing a stateside estate for his royal boss; and the property’s owner, caught between the deal and his politically minded girlfriend. Extensively researched and impressively produced—with fine production design recreating a low-budget Casablanca shantytown—the film’s even-handed consideration of politics and personal ethics is uniquely informed by Liza Béar’s illustrious career in artist-run media (as cofounder of Avalanche magazine and producer of the Manhattan cable series Communications Update). Yet Force also shares in the deadpan style and minimalist sensibility of its Lower Manhattan artistic milieu, and delights with its memorable, sardonic, and humorous ensemble performances.