“DAYS” — The Need for Reciprocity

“DAYS”

The Need for Reciprocity

Amos Lassen

The great Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang has directed examinations of alienation, isolation, and the fleeting beauty of human connection for decades. His latest film, “Days”, is one of his best, sparest and most intimate works. Lee Kang-sheng stars as a variation on himself, wandering through the urban landscape and seeking treatment in Hong Kong for a chronic illness. At the same time, a young Laotian immigrant working in Bangkok, (Anong Houngheuangsy) goes about his daily routine. These two solitary men eventually come together in a moment of healing, tenderness and sexual release. is a This is work of longing filled with profound empathy.

 “Days” has visual language. It starts out by simply observing Lee—now in his 50s looking out a window at the rain. Running around five minutes with no action or dialogue, this initial scene a kind of meditative stance and rhythm that continues in subsequent scenes as Lee moves around his apartment, doing his daily chores, slicing vegetables for his meal, etc.

The scene shifts when he goes for a treatment on his neck and then the scene shifts again when we are with a young Laotian man in his apartment as he gives himself a bath. We are never told anything about this character, but he’s a certain type of sex worker who gives Lee an erotic massage that occupies much of the film’s second hour.

The film center on the quotidian lives of two unnamed men  and it reflects people’s unspeakable loneliness and alienation in a world lacking in reciprocity. In a series of tableaux, where the camera remains mostly still and sound is entirely diegetic, the uneventful days of the two men unfold.

Director Tsai warns us from the very first frame that the film is intentionally non-subtitled and almost nothing is said in it. During such moments as Lee’s character sitting in a chair and staring at an off-camera window for a long stretch of time, the film unfolds across his face. It tells a story of grief and regret, punctuated by a few loud screams, with the older man’s expressions changing with masterful restraint.

The characters seem driven to silence by the world. The older man tries to mend his aching body with a neck brace and by receiving a crude form of electrical stimulation therapy. He seeks the help of a masseur. That’s when both men meet for the first and only time. The younger one has been summoned to a generic hotel room, where he administers the oiliest of body rubs on the older one, which includes a happy ending—the only one either of them is likely to ever get.

After the massage, the older man jumps in the shower, and the younger man joins him without being invited, diligently lathering the other man’s body. Afterward, the older man hands the younger one his payment and, then, almost forgetting it. He reaches for something in his suitcase: a gift he offers to the masseur before he departs. It’s a small music box, which the young man, touched by the gesture, is quick to wind so he can finally listen to what he has to say, even if by proxy.

The film’s pathos slips through Tsai’s fingers as we listen to the melancholy song produced by the music box yet Tsai is quick to save us by having the young man wind the music box again and again and again, turning the prop into something else altogether. It is something that allows the unsayable in all of its banality to finally be expressed. 

 

“CIRCUS BOY” — What is Family?

“CIRCUS BOY”

 What is Family?

Amos Lassen

 

Lester Alfonso’s new documentary “Circus Boy” looks at reconciliation between mother and son. When Thomas and his husband, Michael adopt Ethan a boy that Thomas is training for circus school, he also seeks to mend the burned bridges with his mother who cannot accept his sexuality and life choices.

Thomas believes that the circus is accessible to all people, and he enjoys helping others find their potentials by developing circus skills. Through seventeen different circus disciplines for all age groups coupled with his love of the challenging Cyr Wheel, his goal is quite simply to make others think highly of themselves. Bringing Ethan into the men’s lives, reignites their love for each other but Thomas is nervous about introducing Ethan to his visiting mother, who wants to meet Ethan’s biological mother and speak to her. This is a look at an unconventional family that chooses an alternate way to love and parenthood. The film challenges our social norms and looks at inclusion showing how some can work out their problems through circus arts and gain acceptance.

With the ways that the term family is being redefined, a movie like this is so very important. Above all, we see that love rises above all else.

 

“BRINGING HIM BACK”— Coming Home

“BRINGING HIM BACK”

Coming Home

Amos Lassen

Moi (Ricardo Gomez) travels with his boyfriend, Biel (Eneko Sagardoy), to his family home after the death of his mother where Moi struggles to come to terms with his new reality. This includes a disconnect with Biel. When his sister’s boyfriend (Joe Manjon) surprises everyone with his arrival, the mood becomes tense. The film is an affecting look at loss, love and human connection that is driven by its characters.

Mio’s sister Mia (Bruna Cusi) has already returned to the house and the three twenty-somethings have idyllic days reminiscing about the past, going to the beach, and learning to adapt to the countryside. Mia and Moi’s lives are somewhat directionless so they are in no rush to leave the house but  it is clear that Moi is suffering from some deep trauma that affects his very being. This trauma intensifies once Mia’s sexy, rather antagonistic, ex-boyfriend Mikel (Joe Manjon) comes unannounced for a visit and a series of sensual series follows. 

Written and directed by Borja de la Vega, the full back story must  be pieced together from clues in the dialogue throughout the film and is fundamental to understanding the plot. I can’t say more than that however without giving the plot away. We are taken on a tender journey to some dark places with themes including family trauma, mental health, human connection, abuse, wound healing and loss. Dialogue is often minimal with the characters communicating through looks and silences, allowing us to imagine what is being thought.

Patience is needed to follow this movie. It is striking that contemplative or minimalist cinematographic language is used. This is a story of emotional stability and principles and the need for fraternal protection.

 

“ARREBATO”—Addiction and Fanaticism

“ARREBATO”
Addiction and Fanaticism

Amos Lassen

“Arrebato” brings together heroin, sex and Super-8  filmmaking and it looks at counterculture. Made in 1979, it was the final feature of cult filmmaker and movie poster designer Ivan Zulueta. It defies genre.

Horror movie director Jose (Eusebio Poncela) is lost in a sea of doubt and drugs. As he nears the completion of his second feature, he faces two events: the sudden reappearance from an ex-girlfriend and a mysterious package from past acquaintance Pedro (Will More)  that contains a reel of Super-8 film, an audiotape and a door key. At this point, the boundaries of time, space and sexuality cease to exist as Jose is pulled into Pedro’s world where together, they face the ultimate hallucinogenic catharsis.

Set in humid Madrid in the late-70s, the film follows José as his life unravels through a combination of the professional (his second film – a vampire story – seems headed for disaster) and the personal (he is in the grip of heroin addiction and his relationship with actress girlfriend Ana (Cecilia Roth) is mutually destructive). After a rough day in the editing room, José arrives home to find that Ana has moved back in to his apartment, and that he has received a package containing audio-visual material created by Pedro, a young man obsessed with the act of filming (and film watching). Much of the film plays out in flashback as Pedro’s recording causes José to remember both their first encounter and their second meeting a year ago (when Ana was also present). In the last section of the film, José goes to Pedro’s apartment to try to solve the mystery contained within the recording and accompanying film.

The title of the film refers to a state of being that the central trio – or at least the two men – seek. As Pedro explains it, they are pursuing the sensation that we have as a child, when we could spend hours focused on one thing and in our own little world. This state relies upon the act of looking (Pedro uses his own Super 8 films as a stimulant), but all three of them also use drugs as their way into the consciousness of rapture. The desire to lose oneself in something (or someone) is a common enough impulse, but here this ecstasy is tinged with horror and the suggestion that both cinema and drugs (the chosen routes into the sublime) are vampiric forces. The film is filled with moments of unsettling beauty alongside a feeling of claustrophobia.

This is a haunting film that is hallucinatory and hypnotic. Bringing together experimental tendencies with the tropes and trappings of genre cinema, Zulueta seeks to understand cinema by interrogating its constitutive elements. The film is a cinephiliac experience, that brings together an intricate web of interrelations with other films.

Zulueta establishes a three-way metaphorical equivalence between vampirism, cinema, and addiction. Cinema itself becomes vampiric as the mysterious blood red frames in Pedro’s footage proliferate seemingly at the expense of his health, and not viewing the footage he’s recently shot throws him into the equivalent of withdrawal.

In his taped instructions to José, which also function as a kind of eerie voiceover throughout “Arrebato”, Pedro advises José to consume his film and digest it. Little do either of them realize that the viewer can just as easily be consumed by cinema. The blurring of boundaries also plays up the presentation of polymorphous sexuality. Pedro admits to having sex with both his cousin (Marta Fernández Muro), an ex-girlfriend of José’s, and her husband. The film also elliptically hints that Pedro and José spend some time having sex together.

José and Pedro each seek to transcend the superficial realism of the film image; they want to escape the camera lens, the object filmed, and the projected image. Their endeavor seems inextricably tied to the heroin addiction which is implied to be a route beyond the existential being. José calls his project “hallucinema,” and Pedro sees it his to going through the looking glass and meeting the Other on the other side.

Today, the film is a time capsule of analog technology and culture.

 

“NOT KNOWING” — A Family Drama

“NOT KNOWING”

A Family Drama

Amos Lassen

Writer-director Leyla Yilmaz’s “Not Knowing” is a Turkish family drama that explores the damning effect of rumors as the sexuality of a high school student.

Young water polo student Umut (Emir Ozden) is a quiet and conscientious high school student. After he intervenes to stop the bullying of a fellow student, he shares an emotional moment with the victim that leads to rumors about his sexuality. Umut refuses to deny the allegation, apologies or explain himself. He faces further unsettling dynamics at home where he does not get the support he desires.

The screenplay keeps the audience in the dark about numerous narrative developments, keeping much of character’s stories behind closed doors. Umut’s sexuality and his parents, Selma (Senan Kara) and Sinan (Yurdaer Okur)’s relationship issues are not given literal explorations – yet with sensitive, emotional direction we get a sense of the struggles they face. Whether this be Umut’s internal struggles through Ozden’s performance of few words or the hints at an unhappy marriage in Selma and Sinan’s relationship.

The film captures the anxieties and fears faced by queer youth – particularly in an age of social media and within the context of high school machismo. Ozden captures the fear of ‘being outed’ when the footage of him consoling the victim is leaked by another pupil. His strength of character gives a sense of his admirable qualities.

Selma and Sinan’s inability to get through to their son or to understand his conflict are the focus of the film’s latter act as Umut goes missing. Whilst Yilmaz keeps things naturally engaging through the ‘will he or won’t he return?’, the film’s contemplative tone sees the couple reflect on their own behavior and relationship and its role in their son’s disappearance.

It is the film’s contemplative tone, naturally understated yet hugely emotive character dynamics and direction, and skilled performances that make this a must-see.

“GREENER PASTURES”— Moving to a Nursing Home

 

“GREENER PASTURES”

Moving to a Nursing Home

Amos Lassen

 

Dov, a widower (played by the wonderful Shlomo Baraba), is forced by his family to move to a nursing home – and there’s nothing he can do or say about it. The nursing home feels like a prison, and all Dov can think about is getting out, buy his old house back, and live there “till he dies”. 

 

When he notices that all his fellow residents smoke legal medical cannabis, he realizes that weed will be his salvation – selling it, not smoking it. When love, cops, and gangsters come into play, Dov finds himself at a crossroads: Will he risk it all to make his dream come true?

“DEEP RED”— UHD 4K Ultra HD Limited Edition, 2-Disc Limited Edition

“DEEP RED”

UHD 4K Ultra HD Limited Edition, 2-Disc Limited Edition

Amos Lassen

“Deep Red” is director Dario Argento’s highly esteemed 1975 Italian giallo film. It was released on 7 March 1975 in Milan and Rome.

David Hemmings is jazz pianist Marcus Daly, who witnesses the brutal murder of a psychic and then investigates a series of murders by a mysterious killer wearing black leather gloves. Macha Méril is a medium called Helga Ulmann, who can read minds and the thoughts of a murderer in her audience.

Argento was interested in pushing the development of the film’s graphic violence in the murder scenes so that the audience could relate as the agony of being stabbed or shot is outside the experience of most viewers.

One night, musician Marcus looks  up from the street below and sees the axe murder of a woman in her apartment. Racing to the scene, Marcus just manages to miss the perpetrator… or does he? He becomes an amateur sleuth and finds himself part of a bizarre web of murder and mystery where nothing is what it seems…

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  New 4K restoration of both the original 127-minute Italian version and the 105-minute export version from the original negative by Arrow Films

  4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentations of both versions in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)

  Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeve featuring originally and newly commissioned artwork by Obviously Creative

  Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Alan Jones and Mikel J. Koven, and a new essay by Rachael Nisbet

  Fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Obviously Creative

  Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproduction artcards

DISC 1 (4K ULTRA-HD BLU-RAY) – DEEP RED: ORIGINAL VERSION

  Restored original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks*

  Optional lossless 5.1 Italian soundtrack

  English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack

  New audio commentary by critics Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson

 Archival audio commentary by Argento expert Thomas Rostock

  Almost three hours of new interviews with members of the cast and crew, including co-writer/director Dario Argento, actors Macha Méril, Gabriele Lavia, Jacopo Mariani and Lino Capolicchio (Argento’s original choice for the role of Marcus Daly), production manager Angelo Iacono, composer Claudio Simonetti, and archival footage of actress Daria Nicolodi

  Italian trailer

  Arrow Video 2018 trailer

  Image galleries

DISC 2 (4K ULTRA-HD BLU-RAY) – DEEP RED: EXPORT VERSION

  Restored original lossless mono English soundtrack

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  Archival introduction to the film by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin

  Profondo Giallo – an archival visual essay by Michael Mackenzie featuring an in-depth appreciation of Deep Red, its themes and its legacy

  Archival interviews with Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi, Claudio Simonetti and long-time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi

  US theatrical trailer

*The English audio track on this original cut has some portions of English audio missing. English audio for these sections was never recorded for these scenes. As such, they are presented with Italian audio, subtitled in English.

“The Light Streamed Beneath It: A Memoir of Grief and Celebration” by Shawn Hitchins— A Modern Memoir

“Hitchins, Shawn. “The Light Streamed Beneath It: A Memoir of Grief and Celebration”, ECW Press, 2021.

A Modern Memoir

Amos Lassen

In The Light Streamed Beneath It: A Memoir of Grief and Celebration”, Shawn Hitchins brings us amodern gay memoir that looks at love, death, pain, and community— a story of love, loss, and recovery and human resilience. Due to sudden death, Hitchins loses two great loves, five months apart. He shares his life and gives a tender elegy that explores what it means to be alive alongside longing, desire, anger, grief — and healing he discovers when he lets his heart remain open. We feel his self-awareness as he deals with his past and being in the present. He confronts the stories that have shaped him and seeks connection in what he used to deflect with laughter  while being aware that death’s is always present.

There is grief, love, community, hope and celebration here. It is not just about loving what you want, but loving what you have. The main message that death is a phase of life and like life itself, Hitchins’ story is often disjointed. It is not only about hoping for the future, but also about living in the present. 

We need to appreciate the things that we have in abundance such as love, laughter, hope, faith and community.  Hitchins shares his life with us and this is what allows us to see the need  to appreciate what we have. This is an emotional reading experience and a breathtaking memoir of love and death, pain and healing. It hits hard.

“Can We Talk About Israel?: A Guide for the Curious, Confused, and Conflicted” by Daniel Sketch— A Primer

Sokatch, Daniel. “Can We Talk About Israel?: A Guide for the Curious, Confused, and Conflicted”, illustrated by Christopher Noxon, Bloomsbury, 2021.

A Primer

Amos Lassen

As a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, not a day goes by that I do not stop to think about the situation in Israel. After all, Israel was my home for almost half of my life. I willingly admit that I do not fully understand the situation. With the publication of Daniel Sokatch’s “Can We Talk About Israel?: A Guide for the Curious, Confused, and Conflicted”, things are much clearer yet I still am able to formulate my own conclusions… or am I?

Sokatch understands both sides the topic and brings us a primer on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He understands much more than we do but then he is
the head of the New Israel Fund, an organization dedicated to equality and democracy for all Israelis, not just Jews. He gives us thestory of that conflict, and of why so many people feel so strongly about it without actually understanding it very well at all. It has been a century-long struggle between two peoples that both perceive themselves as victims and, indeed, they are victims. He tries to explain why Israel (and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) brings about extreme feelings and “why it seems like Israel is the answer to ‘what is wrong with the world’ for half the people in it, and ‘what is right with the world’ for the other half. It is a topic about which so many intelligent, educated and sophisticated people hold passionate convictions yet know so little about it.

We look at the history and ideas of one of the most complicated conflicts in the world. No matter what we know, there is always what we do not now. I have studied the history of Israel during most of my life and devoted time to building the country in the early days and served in the Israel Defense Forces during both peace and war. I watched the currency change before my eyes and spent hours and days in bomb shelters. I have wept during victories and failures, I have voted in Israel’s elections and watched the government turn around and I have seen once persecuted minority groups achieve equality. I remember the jubilation after the Six Day War in 1967 and have cried learning the truth about what really went on behind the scenes yet I remain proud in saying that I am an Israeli citizen.

The country has taken a major turn to the right and that turn is brilliantly explained here.  I so needed this book to explain to me what was missing in my own mind. Sokatch not only knows what he is writing about, he knows how to share that knowledge. Dealing with politics is no easy task. We have no final or correct answers about the situation but we DO have a lot to think about.

Sokatch tries to give us answers and does so from his personal point of view along with the ideas of others. Unfortunately it all remains open-ended. We have two nations both convinced of their right to belong and they are not willing or unable to find a suitable compromise.  This is a fascinating look at Israel’s history, politics, and its relation with the land and the Palestinian people. It is s respectful look at everything involved.

Sokatch presents everything clearly even for those who have no previous knowledge on the conflict. We gain a better understanding and Sokatch is impartial and does not support one way or the other. Instead, he gives us facts and details, the good and the bad about the situation.  Divided into two parts, we first get a history, from Biblical accounts all the way to  the year 2020 in the first part and in the second we have a  discussion of why people get so excited when speaking about what is going on.

“ZIYARA”— To Morocco

“ZIYARA”

To Morocco

Amos Lassen

Director Simone Bitton takes us on acinematic pilgrimage to her homeland of Morocco, as she explores her Jewish roots through the sphere of the Muslim guardians of the nation’s Jewish memory that are centered around the tradition of “ziyara”.

In rural Morocco, the country’s youngest citizens have largely never coexisted alongside Jews, although their presence is still felt in symbols, old shrines, synagogues and cemeteries. Many Muslims still maintain and find beauty in these commodities, seeing them as a timeless connection to the word of God.

Throughout the film, Bitton looks at the tradition of ziyara, a shared tradition between both Muslims and Jews. Pilgrims take a few days off in order to visit the tombs of saints, not only to pray but more importantly to commune with nature, celebrate outdoors, meet new people and exchange. Bitton revisits her original identity through the eyes of maturity and tells the story of Jews and Muslims, as has been the consistent theme in her work for decades. She finds a story of hope.

Through intimate conversations not only with those old enough to remember sharing their land with Jews, but with a new generation of Moroccans inspired by their heritage, we are with Bitton. These deeply personal insights include everyday people and specialists, all of them modest and magnificent heroes in a relentless quest for modernity, dignity, and social justice.