“GUILTY PREJUDICES”— Love, Death and Memory

 

“GUILTY PREJUDICES”

Love, Death and Memory

Amos Lassen

Jean-Phillipe Transvouez’s “Guilty Prejudices” is not an easy film to watch but it is an important one in that we are reminded that homophobia still exists in the world today. Léon (Antoine Mournes), 22, and David (Sebastien Belier), 27, are getting ready to celebrate their first  anniversary together. On that same evening, David is savagely stabbed and Leon is accused of the crime. At the police station in police custody and in a cell, interrogation is heavy homophobia. Behind closed doors, Lieutenant Fred Darrieu (Alexandre Triaca), an atypical and mysterious policeman, Léon relates his memories and tells his story, a “story of a mourning to do, a thwarted love and evanescent memory…”

“Guilty Prejudices” is a drama without a label that wants to be optimistic and we spend an hour and a half in two temporalities: past / present.   Léon is a young 22-year-old dynamic guy who lives a mundane student life, between college, his roommate Laura, and parties; he’s in love with David who is dark and reserved.

Their love story is carefree, filled with dreams of the future in their heads. That evening when David is taken out on a stretcher, Leon finds his hands covered in blood without knowing what happened. He ends up at the police station, being interrogated. He remembers nothing, but everything seems to accuse him of his friend’s assault. Through the perseverance of Lieutenant Fred Darrieu, he is  offered the hope of understanding what happened. As Leon searches his memories, he shares his story.

He speaks of the first kiss that he and David shared and the beginning of their relationship and is reminded that it is not easy for two boys to love each other. Society and their parents are disdainful of such relationships and they face rejection. Yet, Leon and David struggle to hold their heads held high.

There are  secrets— little things that we all prefer to keep to ourselves but which, during the investigation, come out without warning. Lieutenant Darrieu does everything to discover this truth, against the advice of his police colleagues who are already convinced of how the case will end.

We hear family stories, misunderstandings and realize that there are unspoken words. Leon’s story is filled with emotions and during the 48 hours of interrogation, we are taken on a journey through time. Police custody will allow the various protagonists to better understand each other, or even to know each other for some. 48 hours allow us to discover the terrible, but banal truth about the drama that has taken place. (Can I be more elusive? Now you really have to watch the film).

“Guilty Prejudices” is premiering exclusively on the GayBingeTV streaming service on Thursday August 13th. GayBingeTV is a subscription service for gay movies available worldwide online and on Roku and Fire TV. GayBingeTV is the out and proud streaming service for gay men. Watch unlimited gay movies and LGBT films for a low monthly price. Only $3.99 USD/month after free trial. Available worldwide.More info:http://www.gaybingetv.com

“Eli’s Promise: A Novel” by Ronald H. Balson— Betrayal and Justice

Balson, Ronald H. “Eli’s Promise: A Novel”, St. Martin’s, 2020.

Betrayal and Justice

Amos Lassen

Ronald H. Balson’s “Eli’s Promise” spans three eras―Nazi-occupied Poland, the American Zone of post-war Germany, and Chicago at the height of the Vietnam War. It examines explores the human cost of war, the mixed blessings of survival, and the enduring strength of family bonds.

In 1939, Eli Rosen, his wife Esther and their young son in live the Polish town of Lublin. His family owns a construction company. Because of the Nazi occupation, Eli’s company is “Aryanized” and appropriated and transferred to Maximilian Poleski―a profiteer with no principles sells favors to Lublin’s subjugated residents. He forms an alliance with the Rosen family to keep them safe if Eli will manage the business.

In 1946 Eli and his son are in a displaced persons camp in Allied-occupied Germany hoping for a visa to America. Mrs. Rosen has been missing since the war. There is a man walking around the camps selling illegal visas and he might know what has happened to her.

In 1965, Eli rents a room in Albany Park, Chicago. He is on a mission and goes through unfamiliar streets and dangerous political backrooms, searching for the truth.

I became so involved in the plot that I began turning pages as quickly as possible hoping to learn what was happening to the Rosens. Balson writes with wonderful historical detail and brings us unforgettable characters.

The book begins with Hitler beginning his war and the genocide of the Jews. We a look at a young family and their attempts to be  human in a world that treated them as nothing more than prey. In the second part, camp survivors have been rescued and misplaced throughout several US temporary camps, most of them only wanting to get US visas to try and start anew. The third part moves to Chicago in the 60’s. All the while Eli promises to find vengeance, justice and answers.  We also read about corruption in Chicago as we follow the characters from Poland, to France and then to the America. 

Here is a prominent Jewish family that is stripped of their lives by the Germans. Promises of protection were made and sold to those who were desperate to find a way to live but to the Germans and to profiteers, it was just a game.

“CREATING A CHARACTER: A The Moni Yakim Legacy”— A Teacher

“CREATING A CHARACTER: A The Moni Yakim Legacy”

A Teacher

Amos Lassen

Moni Yakim was born in Jerusalem and began his career as performer himself, taking part in classics like Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man,” but it is not his background is only a small part of the film. His heroes are Étienne Decroux, who created mime, and Stella Adler, who believed that actors must master techniques beyond their own knowledge and experience in order to portray a variety of characters. Moni became a teacher who gives over much of his teaching time to having his gifted young actors imitate mime and spends most of the class time in getting them to twist their bodies every which way. These gymnastics are the focus of the movie. We see his students yelling gibberish, or crawling on the floor learning the necessity of freeing the body. Yakim puts 90% of his energy into the physical work. He takes students beginning in their second year while his wife Mina works with the freshmen.

We have interviews with alumni such as Jessica Chastain, Michael Stuhlbarg, Oscar Isaac, Kevin Kline, Laura Linney and Anthony Mackie. We see former student Alex Sharp who went on to win a best actor Tony for his lead role in “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time” when he was  a young man working in Moni’s class.

Moni Yakim has taught movement at the Juilliard School since 1968and is a guiding force for many actors, some of whom make brief appearances to celebrate their former teacher. The reunion between Yakim and Kevin Kline is very moving as the two embrace and talk about acting challenging each other in a game of pantomime. We feel the real, mutual affection and admiration between the two. Watching Yakim and Kline discuss and actually perform, takes us below the surface of Yakim’s core philosophy of acting: Movement is the most important tool an actor possesses.

This is a straightforward biography of Yakim’s professional life—starting in Israel, learning the art (and shunning the shallow entertainment) of pantomime in Paris, and coming to the United States to run his own company (with his wife Mina) before being recruited to teach at Juilliard. As intriguing as his life has been, the biographical part of the film shows us his central thesis about acting.

Yakim is, above all, a teacher whose legacy is the the success of his students and with this film we can see the actual theory and process of his teaching.

“RAPTURE IN BLUE”—Finding His True Self

“RAPTURE IN BLUE”

Finding His True Self

Amos Lassen

Writer-director Ryder Houston’s “Rapture in Blue”follows a young man’s journey to find his true self. After Jason (Bryce Lederer) tries to use his childhood home for a steamy rendezvous with his girlfriend Valerie (Sarah Greenfield), they discover it has a new resident, Sebastian (Tanner Garmon), who quickly warms up to Jason.

Jason is filled with unfulfilled desires that he has tried to push aside and his girlfriend. With her sensual advances gives him feelings of unease and dread. When he receives an “impossible” photo of him embracing Sebastian, Jason realizes he needs to confront the craziness that surrounds him.


We are taken on Jason’s journey to fully discover his true self as he facesthe reality of who he is and we see that his inner struggles come with the realization that social norms denounce the legitimacy of gay sexuality.

This is an exciting film filled with the mysteries of being true to oneself and is beautifully presented and with strong performances.

“FIRE BIRDS”— The World’s Most Exclusive Club

“FIRE BIRDS”

The World’s Most Exclusive Club

Amos Lassen

When an eighty-year-old man’s body is found with three stab wounds to the chest and a number tattooed along his forearm. Amnon, a police detective and second generation Holocaust survivor, is assigned to the case. As the plot moves between the past and present, stories unfold.

Two plot threads develop. One of them is about the cop who has been disgraced in the past but who now has a chance to redeem himself by solving a mystery. His wife has also thrown him out and would like to return to her and to his daughter. The other plot thread is unconventional and we see some of Israel’s finest actors. Neither plot thread winds up resolving itself expectedly, but it’s hard to decide if some ultimately unresolved and undeveloped plot points reflect the modern tolerance for uncertainty in narratives or if something is missing.

 This is a black comedy about a man who is determined to crash “the world’s most exclusive club” of wealthy Tel Aviv widows who are Holocaust survivors. I find it fascinating how we laugh and cry at the same time and while the idea of a comedy about Holocaust survivors sounds strange, it really works here.

Director Amir Wolf and his two co-screenwriters Orly Robensthein Katcap and Itzhak Wolf play with complex timeframes. In the present tense,  detective Amnon (Amnon Wolf) is ordered to investigate the death of an old man found dumped in the Yarkon River. The body had an Auschwitz tattoo, and Amnon, the son of two Survivors, does not want this assignment, but because he is on probation,  he has no choice.

Amnon’s investigation is cross cut with the story of how “Amikam” (Oded Teomi) spends his final days. Amikam (if that is really his name) runs afoul of two widows: a famous actress named “Zissy” (Miriam Zohar) and a retired surgeon named “Olga” (Gila Almagor) who are also survivors as were their now dead husbands. In one scene, Amnon takes his young daughter to visit his elderly parents. “Danielle” (Sarit Vino-Elad) so she can interview them and learn more about her family history. However, Amnon doesn’t want her to know about any of the “things” he learned as a child. So in answer to the question “Where did you and Zayde meet?” his mother (Aliza Rozen) describes a camp on a chocolate river filled with marzipan. “Every day we had tea with Mister Himmler!” Danielle is entranced and here is an example when tears and laughter come together. 

I realize I have really not said much about the plot but to do so would be to spoil the film. You just have to see for yourself.

“Never Turn Your Back on the Tide: (Or, How I Married a Lying, Psychopathic Wannabe Murderer and Kinda Lived to Tell)” by Kergan Edwards-Stout— The Ideal Life or So He Thought

Edwards-Stout, Kergan. “Never Turn Your Back on the Tide: (Or, How I Married a Lying, Psychopathic Wannabe Murderer and Kinda Lived to Tell)”,  Circumspect Press, 2020.

The Ideal Life or So He Thought

Amos Lassen

As a writer shares his life during the AIDS crisis, Kergan Edwards-Stout also writes about his husband’s double life in this memoir, “Never Turn Your Back on the Tide: (Or, How I Married a Lying, Psychopathic Wannabe Murderer and Kinda Lived to Tell”. It is just the book I needed to get me through the dark days we are going through.

As Edwards-Stout reads his “civil-union” husband’s (aka Eyes) email in 2001, he learns that he was about to be left for  someone else. Then we move in a different direction. We read of the author’s growing up in Southern California as a gay man in the 1970s and hoping to find a career as an actor. He writes of the people he met including Loni Anderson, Jennifer Beals, and Darren McGavin, Mariska Hargitay and Jack Black. Becoming an activist, he worked for AIDS Project Los Angeles as the epidemic raged. He took care of his lover Shane while he died from the disease in 1995 and these words are hard to read with dry eyes. The writing here is sensitive and poignant and beautiful.  It does not take long before the mood shifts again to some of the funniest writing I have read in a long time in whch Edwards-Stout shares what he learned on his journey through life thus far.  We read about Eyes and what was going on with him.

 He was having affairs and lying about his health. What we have really are two different novels in the same book. I thought I would be reading about a no-count liar; a psychopath so I was surprised to be part of the emotional roller-coaster of remembering what we suffered during AIDS.

Most of us who lived through the epidemic had experiences with dealing with someone who was dying and I firmly believe that this is something that we should not be allowed to forget. (Neither do I want to forget the way this memoir reminds us of that terrible time. It is part of who we are today).

While accepting his sexuality was easy for Edwards-Stout, it was his time in Hollywood that really made him awareof the intolerance toward gay people. He saw his gay friends die of AIDS and especially felt the pain of losing Shane. The care for Shane was beautiful but unfortunately, it was not replicated in his relationship with Eyes and it took him a long time to realize that his relationship was, to say the least, one-sided.

The two men adopted a son yet even with the happiness that a child could bring, his years with Eyes and afterwards were filled with distrust and heartbreak. He became the father to another adopted son and we see what a wonderful and caring father that he is.

I doubt that I can put down on paper how much this book means to me. I laughed, I cried, I cursed and I beamed as I read. Edwards-Stout has developed a beautiful style that was becoming evident in his previous books but that now completely took me to a new place. I am so glad that, of late, we are getting more gay memoirs since it is so important to remember from where we came in order to reach where we are today. There is gorgeous sincerity here. By bringing together the horrors of AIDS with the suffering on an untrustworthy husband, we really get to know the writer and want to give him the biggest hug possible.

“Before You Go: A Novel” by Tommy Butler— Answering Big Questions

Butler, Tommy. “Before You Go: A Novel”,Harper, 2020.

Answering Big Questions

Amos Lassen

Tommy Butler’s “Before You Go” is a life-affirming exploration of “the most perplexing questions of existence: purpose, the pain of loneliness, the desire for happiness, and the price we pay as we search for fulfillment.”

Elliot Chance is just a boy, and knows that he doesn’t feel at home in this world and really wants to escape. This desire becomes more pressing as he becomes an adult when he finds no way to relieve the emptiness that he feels. He is desperate and lost. He comes upon a support group on the edge of Manhattan. There he meets two other drifting souls—Sasha, a young woman who leaves coded messages in the copy she writes for advertising campaigns, and Bannor, who writes detailed depictions of the future that make Elliot think he may have actually been there. With these two unlikely allies, Elliot begins to lie and is determined to be happy in spite of himself. He learns that is not easy to repair his feelings.

We are taken on an imaginative journey into the ache and wonder of being human, and the journey to find a meaningful life. In lyrical and beautifulprose, Butler shares his beliefs  on the value of life. This story of a young man struggling with depression alternates with chapters about an unorthodox version of heaven.

Butler discusses life, finding its purpose, death, dealing with pain and many more issues of the entire existence of human beings.  The story starts with the making of mankind where the manufacturers leave a void in the hearts of humans by mistake. That emptiness  makes them feel incomplete and lost.

As a young boy, Chance feels lost in this world. He thinks that he doesn’t belong here and attempts to leave the world in many ways. He wants to believe in magic and an entirely different magical world but people around him constantly confront him with the hard truth and as he grows into adulthood, the more he wants to take his own life.  Butler has a deep sense of understanding a lot of unanswered questions about the pain we experience. 

I would not say that this is an easy read. It’s slow and philosophical but it is rewarding. Even with their problems, the characters are likable. All in all, the novel is very real and painfully so. It is speculative literary fiction, that tries to give  answers to questions beyond even those of life and death. In exploring human longing through desire, curiosity and ambition, we learn to keep moving forward.

“To the Boys Who Wear Pink” by Raven Badingham III— A Dark Experience

Badingham III, Revan. “To The Boys Who Wear Pink”, Riley Palance, 2020.

A Dark Experience

Amos Lassen

You do not always have to like the characters to have an enjoyable reading experience and we see this in Raven Badingham III’s “To Boys Who Wear Pink”. We have a bevy of unlikeable characters— some are overweight, engage in drug use and excessive drinking, practice self- harm, and involved in rape being. We get their personal histories that are shared in fascinating and interesting ways.

Told from many different perspectives that do not always make sense, we cannot help but question their existence.   The plot is a character-driven and explores the lives of several gay friends who have come together for a reunion party. During the course of the evening, we learn about them through flashbacks and what brings them together. We ultimately learn that they are brought together by a tragic event and we learn little by little what that was. 

Each guy gets his own chapter and we follow what he thinks and how he acts, both in the present and the past. Some of the characters are likeable and others are detestable. These are dark stories coming together into an even darker whole.At the party, they argue, physically fight, get drunk, take drugs, sell drugs and have sex as they share their pasts. Each person is experiencing rough time in their lives yet some of the stories are inspiring. They are all different yet they all have flaws. They speak about how they are now and who they once were. This is most certainly not a fun read but it is a fascinating one.

The night seemed never to end but there are twenty-four stories to be told and a lot happens. I am sure I will be thinking about this for a very long time.

“CAMERA TEST SUBJECT”— Facing the Camera and Himself

“CAMERA TEST SUBJECT”

Facing the Camera and Himself

Amos Lassen

In  director Sean Meehan’s “Camera Test Subject, in less than three minutes, we take a look at a short existential film that says more than movies fifty times as long. An actor (Timothy Cox) questions why he has shown up for a camera shoot on the New York streets. He knows that he is being watched as he walks yet he knows that he is good at what he does and really has no reason why he is coming for the shoot. He does not need to say a word since we see how he feels through his facial expressions and the way he moves and Cox is, as usual, brilliant at portraying his character. Cox is an “everyman” reflecting the way an actor feels when he is being tested by the camera.

We see the actor through the lens of the cameraman who is never seen but is obviously quite present. As the actor is before the camera, he not only acknowledges it but also stares, acknowledging that he is present. The camera follows him and films him in a shop and then follows him home, refusing to stop shooting. The camera operator is really in control and when we are being controlled by someone else, we act differently. I could not decide if the film was about the actor or the cameraman and it is stunning to see how much we have in such a short time.

What is with the actor who does not fully grasp when he has been chosen to the be the camera’s subject and neither do we. He becomes quite frustrated when he s told to do this or that. It does not take long for him to wonder if he has everything together and even questions the presence of the camera. Could he be losing “it”?

Filmed with crisp cinematography with a hand-held camera, we see a fascinating New York that is atmospherically filmed late at night and into early dawn. What seems to be a simple idea—“A peek inside the mind of an actor in the throes of something truly terrible: a camera test” becomes an intense viewing experience. Watching the actors “thoughts” gives us something of a look inside ourselves when we know we are being watched.

Cox is the narrator of the film and he shares what he is thinking to a degree but it is what we see that really makes this such a cinematic experience.

“The Death of Vivek Oji” by Emezi Awaeke— Understanding a Child

Emezi, Awaeke. “The Death of Vivek Oji”, Riverhead, 2020.

Understanding a Child

Amos Lassen

On an afternoon, in Aba, a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother finds at her front doorstep,  her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric. Following this we have a family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Vivek, the child had been raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother and suffers from disorienting blackouts and moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As he matures from teen to adult, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the boisterous daughters of the “Nigerwives”, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. His closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence hides a very guarded private life. As their relationship deepens, Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis and this gives way to a “heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom.” 

This is the story of family and friendship that challenges expectations, faces loss and a kind of transcendence that is incredibly moving. It is a work of social criticism, and a story filled with suspense. It revolves around an actual death, but also around the mystery of the dynamic of human relationships.

 Vivek Oji is the beloved son of a Nigerian father and an immigrant mother from India, and we learn in the first sentence that he dies. The question of how and why drives the narrative. 

The story is told in alternating chapters by an omniscient narrator, Vivek’s cousin Osita and Vivek himself. Vivek was born with a mark on his foot that looks exactly like a scar his grandmother, who died the day he came into the world, had. Vivek also suffers from an enigmatic “illness” which drives him into a deep depression. Not only Vivek queer, he is gender-variant and doesn’t know how to live his truth. He also Vivek senses a strong, mystical connection to his deceased grandmother. 
We seehow the people around him struggle with Vivek’s shy attempts to show and speak himself, including his feminine side. There are complicated relationships between friends and family, their love, their friendship and their sexual relationships, both straight and queer.

A subplot is based on the concept of “otherness” and we see this through the Nigerwives, foreign women who are married to Nigerian men and their stories show the challenges they face as immigrant wives. The Northerners who live nearby have different clothes and customs than the people living where Aba is found.

At one point in the novel, Aba asks why people are afraid of something different than what they are used to. They do not understand themselves but loving him is enough. We do get a hint that there will be a better future for those who are gender non-conforming.

I see the major themes are identity, belonging and sadness. We get a look at Nigeria and its culture as we move from small city to rural village and read about the variety
of cultural and religious traditions, daily life and conflict and intolerance. The large issues of gender identity and sexuality are present throughout the novel. Vivek is at the center of the novel even though he is dead in the first sentence.