Author Archives: Amos

“PARTY HARD, DIE YOUNG”— An Austrian Slasher Movie

“PARTY HARD, DIE YOUNG”

An Austrian Slasher Movie

Amos Lassen

Julia (Elisabeth Wabitsch) is  a young woman out for a fun time of partying with her friends in Croatia.  As they party, friendships are strained, alcohol leads to illness, and there’s a masked killer out to ruin everything.  For any standard slasher movie you need. “Party Hard, Die Young” is well-paced and has all requirements for a good slasher movie— a killer with a decent mask, an assortment of disposable characters, some decent kills, and a backstory that reveals some tragic past incident motivating the killer. Director Dominik Hartl gives us intriguing elements and style that keeps us watching. He uses technology in an effective way. 

Unfortunately, the foundations are not as strong as they need to be to hold the entire structure. For Julia and her friends their graduation trip turns into a horror trip. They arrive at X-Jam in Croatia for days of relaxation and intoxication. They can blow off steam before heading to cities such as Vienna or Munich for their next level of schooling. Their days are spent beachside while night transitions into multiple “secret” events, all overseen by “Gang-X” volunteers such as Leo (Michael Glantschnig). It’s a Garden of Eden for these untethered teens until Julia’s friends start disappearing or turning up dead, suggesting there might be an ultimate party crasher on the loose. We have tricks, treats, and live-and-let-die attitudes as we watch the characters living life to the maximum, but complete moral abandon is a recipe for disaster.

Once Julia’s friends start going missing and Julia begins receiving strange photos from her missing friends’ phones, it becomes evident that what began as the “greatest party of their lives” has morphed into one of survival. In order to save their lives, the characters have to figure out who is killing them and why.

Elisabeth Wabitsch brings a certain innocent, yet scream queen kind of flair to the screen that none of the other supporting characters have. But there are lots of clichés and no one really looks scared being chased by a masked killer.

“THE VINYL REVIVAL”— The Whys and Hows

“THE VINYL REVIVAL”

The Whys and Hows

Amos Lassen

“The Vinyl Revival is a documentary that explores the renaissance in all things vinyl. It looks at the revival of vinyl over the past several years and explores the whys and hows with industry pundits, artists, record shop owners, vinyl fans and many more.  

Directed and produced by Pip Piper, we hear from new record shop owners as well the established die-hards who a still going and thriving. The film discusses the importance of the record shop and vinyl as a whole. We learn the why’s of vinyl’s revival, the human need for belonging, the love of history and the stories of how little record shop has shaped so many lives.

Record collecting has become a pursuit of the most fashion-conscious consumer and we wonder if it is a fad or it will last.  Are we in danger of another record shop decline? Why must we support these bastions of culture?

The DVD features an 8 page booklet chronicling the making of the film, with contributions from director Pip Piper (Last Shop Standing) and author Graham Jones.

The film has interviews from Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), Philip Selway (Radiohead), Ade Utley (Portishead), Joel Gion (The Brian Jonestown Massacre), The Orielles, CASSIA and many more.

 

 

 

 

“THEIR FINEST HOUR”— Britain at War

 

“THEIR FINEST HOUR”

Britain at War

Amos Lassen

 “Their Finest Hour” is now available on Blu-ray for the First Time in North America in a set that has over five hours of bonus programming, Including the Documentaries “Colditz Revealed,” “617 Squadron Remembers,” “The Making of The Dam Busters,” John Mills Home Movie Footage, a 24-page booklet with Essay by Film Writer and Curator Cullen Gallagher and More!

The set brings together five British wat classics, digitally restored and available for the very first time on Blu-ray. Titles include the Ealing Studios-produced, Graham Greene adaptation “WENT THE DAY WELL?” (1942) along with Michael Anderson’s Oscar-nominated “THE DAM BUSTERS” (1955), as well as three box-office hits starring John Mills – “THE COLDITZ STORY” (1955), “DUNKIRK” (1958) and “ICE COLD IN ALEX” (1958).

“WENT THE DAY WELL?” (1942)

Based on a story by Graham Greene and directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. Bramley End, snug and safe, seemed far away from the perils of World War II. Little did the villagers suspect the grim events that would arrive at their doorsteps. Surprised by the lorry loads of Royal Engineers that rolled onto their village green, they had no reason to believe that these soldiers were disguised German paratroopers, and even less reason to be suspicious of Oliver Wilsford (Leslie Banks), their trusted town squire. A.O. Scott of The New York Times, said this Ealing Studios wartime production “contemplates some pretty grim stuff, but with equipoise, discipline and a sense of humor that embody exactly the virtues it sets out to defend. Apart from its considerable historical interest, this is a movie about how civilization survives.” 

“THE COLDITZ STORY” (1955)

The Nazis believed that no man could break out of Colditz Castle. A medieval fortress located in the heart of Saxony and situated 400 miles from any neutral frontier, it was the prison where the most contentious Allied POWs were held. Determined to find a way out, a British officer (John Mills) hatches a plan to navigate the castle’s subterranean tunnels towards freedom. Based on the best-selling book by actual Colditz escapee Major Pat Reid and brought to screen by four-time James Bond director Guy Hamilton. Nominated for a “Best Film” BAFTA Awards, “THE COLDITZ STORY” was called “Easily one of the best prisoner-of-war yarns to come from any British studio” (Variety).

“THE DAM BUSTERS” (1955)

Based on actual events. Convinced that the war can be shortened by attacking the German industrial nerve center, Dr. Barnes N. Wallis (Michael Redgrave) develops a “bouncing bomb” that can be used to destroy the Ruhr dams. Facing seemingly impossible odds, the 617 Squadron, led by Air Ace Wing Commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd), is then tasked with carrying out the dangerous night raids to complete the mission. Adapted by R.C. Sherriff from the book by Paul Brickhill and featuring innovative special effects photography by Gilbert Taylor (cinematographer of Star Wars: A New Hope), The Dam Busters would become a major influence on George Lucas in his storyboarding and filming of the Death Star attack sequence. James Dennis of Screen Anarchy called the film “a triumph of British ingenuity [that] served to highlight the best of the war effort in a wonderfully celebratory fashion.” Nominated for a Special Effects Oscar, as well as Best Film, Best British Film and Best British Screenplay at the BAFTA Awards, THE DAM BUSTERS was directed by Michael Anderson.

“DUNKIRK” (1958)

It is early May 1940. London is lulled into an atmosphere of false security, but war correspondent Charles Foreman (Bernard Lee) knows better. As the Battle of France takes a turn for the worse, he joins the Merchant Navy and volunteers for Operation Dynamo, the greatest rescue mission ever mounted. John Mills and Richard Attenborough star in this Leslie Norman-directed cinematic retelling of the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk, produced by Ealing Studios. James McAllister of The London Economic said, “Those who thought Christopher Nolan’s shattering summer spectacle could have benefitted from greater historical context, need look no further than [this] epic wartime classic.”

“ICE COLD IN ALEX” (1958)

The year is 1942. Along the barren North African coast where war has turned towns into smoking ruins, Captain Anson (John Mills), a commanding officer in the Royal Army Service Corps, is tired and thirsty. Separated from his unit while evacuating to Alexandria in a military ambulance, he takes on several passengers but soon realizes that one of them may be a German spy. Nominated for four BAFTA Awards and winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1958 Berlin International Film Festival. Lou Thomas of the British Film Institute says, “Sixty years after its release, director J. Lee Thompson’s desert epic still stands up as an essential war film.”

BONUS FEATURES

THE COLDITZ STORY 

  • Colditz Revealeddocumentary
  • Restoration Comparison

THE DAM BUSTERS 

  • The Making of The Dam Busters
  • Sir Barnes Wallis documentary
  • 617 Squadron Remembers documentary
  • Footage of the Bomb Tests
  • The Dam BustersRoyal Premiere
  • Restoration of a Classic featurette
  • The Dam Busters75th anniversary trailer

DUNKIRK 

  • Dunkirk Operation Dynamo Newsreel
  • Young VeteranEaling Studios documentary (1940)
  • Interview with actor Sean Barrett
  • John Mills home movie footage

ICE COLD IN ALEX

  • Extended Clip from A Very British War Movie documentary
  • John Mills home movie footage
  • Interview with Melanie Williams
  • Steve Chibnall on J. Lee Thompson
  • Interview with Sylvia Syms

About Film Movement

Founded in 2002 as one of the first-ever subscription film services with its DVD-of-the-Month club, Film Movement is now a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide.  Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci and Ettore Scola. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

 

 

“The Prisoner’s Wife” by Maggie Brookes— Based on a True Story

Brookes, Maggie. “The Prisoner’s Wife”, Berkeley Trade, 2020.

Based on a True Story

Amos Lassen

“The Prisoner’s Wife” by Maggie Brookes was inspired by the true story of deception that pushes a courageous young woman deep into the horrors of a Nazi Prisoner Of War camp to be with the man she loves.

In the dead of night, Izabela, a Czech farm girl and Bill,  a British soldier travel through the countryside. Izabela and prisoner of war Bill have secretly married and are on the run. Izabela is dressed as a man and the two manage to evade capture for as long as possible but then, they are cornered by Nazi soldiers with tracking dogs. 

As they flee, they are assumed to be escaped British soldiers and transported to a POW camp. This is just the beginning of what they go through. Their living conditions are appalling and they deal with constant fear of Izzy being exposure. Then they were lucky enough to become friends with a small group of fellow prisoners. Together they became a family and all were willing to jeopardize their lives to save Izzy from being discovered and shot.

This is the story of how our deepest bonds are tested in desperate times and of love and endurance during horrible hardships. While this is a fictional story, writer Brookes engaged in extensive research to write this book. She actually visited the sites she writes about here. Her descriptions of the conditions are realistic and harrowing.

Beginning in 1944, we meet Izabela as a Czech teenager whose family has torn asunder by war. Her father and older brother were fighting with the resistance against the Nazis and her  mother was left short-handed to run the family farm. Izabela yearned to join the fight and set off on an adventure of her own. The Nazis were supplying several POWs to help with manual labor on the farm. Izabela fell for Bill King, the handsome musician and now prisoner from England. They secretly marry and ran away to support the rebel fighters but were captured by the Nazis. At this time Izabela was disguised as a male. The guards thought they brought in two young male captives—a British man and a mute teenage boy named Algernon Cousins.

Izabela’s survival was dependent upon her ability to keep her secret going and it was only because of  fellow prisoners who came together to protect Izabela from the worst that she was able to survive.  This is a powerful love story as well as a look at courage and strength of the human spirit.

 Izabela risked her life and suffered the dangers of living as a man in a POW camp to stay with her husband. The detail is very real and potent.  It will keep you turning pages as quickly as possible and make you believe again in the goodness of humanity.

 

“TOKOLOSHE: AN AFRICAN CURSE”— Possession

“TOKOLOSHE: AN AFRICAN CURSE”

Possession

Amos Lassen

Richard Green’s “Tokoloshe: An African Curse” is based on the legend of the Tokoloshe, an urban myth in which the Tokoloshe is a sinister creature that haunts people’s dreams and possesses them to commit evil acts. Here we have Arish Verma, a successful writer novelist who is being pressured to write a novel that will become a hit. He takes his family to an abandoned hotel in the Transkei, South Africa, having no idea that a demon lives there. Strange things start to happen and the dark past of the hotel is revealed. Many murders took place at the hotel since its establishment in 1808. There are rumors that this evil stems from the land being cursed since it was stolen from its native people. In the hotel isan ominous door which the family is afraid to enter. The writer becomes possessed and begins to terrorize his wife, Angela and their adopted African daughter, Ntombi. A local woman with supernatural visions tries to help them defeat the Tokoloshe.

In a nearby city, Thembi, a high school teacher, is experiencing strange visions and dreams that connect her to a gruesome past at the same hotel. Something seems to be pulling her back to the Hotel for unfinished business. She seeks the professional help of Dr. Richards a well-known psychologist. She hopes that his interventions can help her.

The idea of demonic possession seems to exist in every country and place in the world and throughout history. In this version, which was written by Richard Green and Arish Sirkissoon, we meet a family that is totally unaware of this legend and that where they are staying is demonically possessed. The demon eventually enters the writer’s psyche who then begins to terrorize his wife and daughter and a local woman with supernatural powers must help the family defeat the Tokolshe before the souls are stolen forever.

This is a film that keeps the audience on the edge of its seats throughout. It is filled with an eerie atmosphere and while the entire idea is fantastic, the film feels that it is very real. It was filmed in Africa and has a lot of local talent in it but the culture of the place was very obviously missing. The pace of the film grows on the viewer and is a fascinating take on an old story. The narrative is non-linear making it a totally different cinematic experience.

“I AM HUMAN”— A Focus on People

“I AM HUMAN”

A Focus on People

Amos Lassen

“I Am Human” is an optimistic documentary about neuroscience and brain medicine that is totally refreshing. It is made up of three narratives about people who are trying to overcome serious physical limitations with cutting-edge brain science. Directed by Taryn Southern and Elena Gaby, it is an accessible look at a complicated subject. The film follows its subjects through their daily lives and medical procedures, supplementing their stories with talking-head interviews from the doctors and researchers involved. There are also appearances from high-profile commentators, including Tristan Harris and Duke University ethicist Nita Farahany.

Bill was left paralyzed after an accident, Anne struggles with Parkinson’s Disease, and Stephen lost his sight because of a neurological condition. Each gets the chance to try an experimental high-tech treatment, and they all decide to go through with their operations but with varying levels of hesitation. In each case, the results are deeply meaningful — even if they’re small or temporary.

The film looks at the ways science is finding out about the mysteries of the brain and using them to solve huge problems in people’s lives. The three characters describe the things they’ve lost: Anne has had to put her art on hold, Stephen doesn’t feel confident leaving the house, and Bill dreams of being able to eat a plate of food on his own. The film emphasizes the positive results of technology.

We also look at several transhumanist questions: “How far should we go in augmenting the human mind and body? If brain-computer interfaces become commonplace, do you really want Facebook in your head?

“I Am Human” explains some of the new advances on technology in a clear, detailed way. At the end we understand the idea that “there’s an inevitable, near-term jump between treating paralysis and sending email with your thoughts The filmmakers were in a great position to contrast the difficult reality of brain science with the predictions and the lack of skepticism here feels like a missed opportunity.

The film investigates the real-world possibilities of brain-computer interfaces as it follows the three characters as they pursue experimental brain treatments, (opening their skulls to insert electrodes in the hope of regaining what is lost—movement, eyesight, control of their bodies)and reclaiming some sense of freedom. For each of them, the journey both medical and philosophical and it gives them command of their biological reality. The documentary also looks at the promises of neurotechnology to push the limits of what humans could accomplish by putting in their brains.

We also follows  number of scientists and entrepreneurs who believe that neurotechnology will soon give us all superpowers. This is a science documentary, with lots of information about the human brain and recent excitements in neurology. Several neurologists bring viewers into their labs and demonstrate the technical challenges in creating hardware for inside a human skull. By the end, though, the film’s central question is really an existential: “What makes us human? And how can technology evolve our species—both by helping us reclaim what’s been lost, and by pushing us past what’s been possible before?”

“As we look at new ways of interfacing with the brain, I think these will become interesting new options for humans as well,” says director Southern. “I find this idea of expansion—expanding our abilities and senses beyond what we think is normal—as very interesting.”

“MIDNIGHT FAMILY”— Ambulances in Mexico

 

“MIDNIGHT FAMILY”

Ambulances in Mexico

Amos Lassen

Director Luke Lorentzen’s “Midnight Family” is a cinema verité documentary about the Ochoa family in Mexico City. They are trying to eke out a living by running a private ambulance service in the city’s wealthiest areas.

There are less than 45 public ambulances in Mexico City and the total population is nine million people. The private services are numerous but the private services are not guaranteed payment causing them to have trouble staying afloat. We see an urgent institutional crisis health services of the city.

Fernando is the head of the Ochoa household, but it’s his 17-year-old son Juan who is really the family’s leader. The family youngster, Josué, is a teen school truant, who would rather ride on the ambulance than get an education. Every night, the family waits for a call in the ambulance and when a call comes through, they must race through the big city’s busy streets and try to beat rival EMT services to the scene. At the scene, they strap the patient into stretchers and load them into the back of their van. When they reach the end of the ride, at the hospital, they have to haggle with the patient for payment, and are often rejected because the patient is either too poor or unwilling to pay. Additionally, the corrupt police often give them citations for fines as harassment or to shake them down for bribes. 

In one ambulance call, the ambulance travels at high speed to get a teenage girl to the hospital in time.  We see that she fell down the stairs and has a brain injury. They use their loudspeakers to clear traffic and the girl’s frightened mother sits up front with the men. Unfortunately, the girl didn’t survive despite the driver’s best efforts yet they must awkwardly ask her mom to pay the bill.

It is important note to state that this is only an observational film and gives us critiques about the corrupt system but does not show how it can be saved. We see a mix of the humane and the calculating and this is where the power of the film is.

The film opens with the statistic that in Mexico City that around 45 public ambulances serve a population of over nine million people. Private ambulances, such as the one owned and operated by the Ochoa family, pick up the slack. Lorentzen follows them over several nights as they pick up patients from accident sites, provide immediate medical service, and deposit them at various hospitals. Every element of this process is a negotiation, and we see many damning and haunting details. Following the family, the documentary is an intimate portrait of a country’s wide-reaching healthcare crisis.

For Fernando, and his 17-year-old son, Juan, the ambulance is a business and a means of survival. The Ochoa ambulance roams Mexico City looking for customers. We see the chaos of the accident sites and in this chaos, Fernando, Juan, and others enter with a kind of cleansing purposefulness They also have to watch out for cops who are looking to shake them down for pay-offs. (The legality of private ambulances is somewhat vaguely rendered here; the Ochoas may or may not have the right paperwork, though they definitely need official license plates.)

While saving lives, the Ochoas have to focus on means of payment. Their next meal, and their ability to keep the vehicle running, depends on being paid night-by-night  and this is threatened by the police as well as rival private ambulances. Since the Ochoas run a private business, patients can refuse to pay them without recrimination from the government and this happens often because their largely uninsured clientele live in poverty.

Lorentzen captures the despair as well as the adventure of such a way of life. Fernando places a poignant amount of trust in young Juan, who daringly drives the ambulance, cutting off other vehicles with various improvisations of navigation. This establishes a sense of immediacy and danger that is thrilling.

There are some very private moments here— carnage, need, poverty, corruption, and love. While this is a rich and textured film, it stints on an auto-critical answer. I would have liked to see some kind of paperwork on file since the corruption brings even more questions than answers.  It’s almost as if this becomes a moral dilemma as one keeps asking the hard questions.

“MY HINDU FRIEND”— Fighting Cancer

“MY HINDU FRIEND”

Fighting Cancer

Amos Lassen

Diego Fairman (Willem Dafoe) been fighting cancer for a decade. The chemo has helped keep it at bay but is no longer working. The only thing left for him to do is have a bone marrow transplant but Diego doesn’t want to die in a hospital. His doctor warns him that to do nothing means things will happen very quickly and we will be gone in months. Diego is a talented film maker who has alienated a great number of his friends and family during his ten year battle with cancer. He somehow manages to stumble into a relationship and he marries quickly. Having found the will to live in a beautiful woman, he goes to Seattle to face treatment.

This is writer-director Hector Babenco’s own story in My Hindu told by a  character with another name. “My Hindu Friend” looks at what makes life worth living meaning love, art, and how the two are different words for the same thing. It is quite a frank and raw assessment of one’s life and the meaning we give it when it’s facing death.

 

Diego does what he feels needs to be done and marries his long-term girlfriend Livia (Maria Fernanda Cândido), puts his affairs in order, makes a huge donation to his estranged brother (Guilherme Weber) and undergoes bone marrow treatment. While undergoing treatment, he starts to have weird dreams and visions, including several run-ins with death himself (Selton Mello), who’s actually quite a likeable guy and a wage slave to a higher order. Diego’s life is really hanging on a thread when he meets a young Hindu boy (Rio Adlakha), who’s undergoing the same treatment as himself, and having the young one as a brother in pain, he finds hope again, as well as strength to pull through and to pull his friend through with him.

Once the treatment takes positive effect, Diego soon becomes a minor celebrity just for being a survivor. Five years pass until he can be declared in good health again, and at the end of this his life he seems more shattered than ever: Livia leaves him as she’s fed up with just taking care of him and not having a life of her own, he can no longer perform sexually and he continues to have weird visions, just like when he underwent treatment. There’s no Hindu boy to help him through it all …

Babenco tells his story as a factual revue using associative and at times non-linear storytelling to make the emotional undercurrents palpable and to give depth to the on-screen goings-on. Together  with beautiful cinematography and Willem Dafoe at the top of his game supported by a very solid cast, we get an unusual film.

When finding himself at a crossroads, Diego meets a young Hindu boy who is undergoing the same treatment as him. The two soon bond and Diego begins to undergo a change in his attitude. Telling his stories to the young boy, Diego begins to realize that should he survive, he will have to begin treating those who have been with him a lot better.

The film was originally meant to be in Portuguese but when Babenco decided to cast Willem Dafoe in the lead role, it was decided that it would be mostly in English with some Portuguese mixed in. Babenco shares his own experience when he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1994.

Willem Dafoe is excellent as Diego. He blames himself for what has happened in his life—  as if he blames himself for having cancer. Perhaps it is this self-blaming that causes him to be spiteful towards those close to him. Even at his own wedding, he manages to incur the wrath of a fellow director by trashing his last film.

The first half of the film is where we see Diego at his worst. However, it is when he meets this young Hindu boy, played by newcomer Rio Adlakha, that Diego sees life for the better. From telling him stories to having a fun adventure with him as they play pretend when they believe they are getting chased by police, we see Diego’s better side. And that leads to seeing a more likable Diego in the second half despite one small misgiving that ultimately proves to be forgivable by the end—- a very erotic rendition of the classic “Singin’ in the Rain”. This is a beautiful and realistic look at a directing legend’s final film, a semi-autobiographical film about a life changing experience.

“Nine Tenths of the Law” by Claudia Hagadus Long— Two Sisters

Long, Claudia Hagadus. “Nine Tenths of the Law”, Kasva Press, 2020.

Two Sisters

Amos Lassen

Zara and Lily, two sisters live in contemporary New York City. They are trying to get back a menorah that once belonged to their family and was stolen during World War II. During better times, the menorah was part of a display at the Jewish museum where Aurora, their mother recognized it. She was afraid to say anything about it. She had been a teenager, living in Warsaw, when the Nazis rose to power and murdered her family. She was able to survive because she was pretty but she was scarred forever because of what she went through.

Zara and Lily want the menorah back with them where it really belongs and so they plan a way to do so but as they do, they have to face their own demons from the past. While Zara seems to have repressed her mother’s story, she still has terrible visons over which she has no control. Lily deals with her demons head on through promiscuity and sheer nerve. The sisters remain close as  they move forward in life. However, the menorah is elusive, making the plot complicated. In order to get the menorah back, great trials must be faced head on.

Granted what I have written here does not seem to be upbeat but I assure you that this is not a dull read and the humor we have is wonderful. Lily and Zara share a sense of humor with each other and with the readers. You might wonder how humor fits into a story about Nazis and stolen art so you will have to read the book to see how that works.

We are reaching that point in history where there are few Holocaust survivors alive so we must hear their stories before it is too late. Writer Claudia Hagadus Long’s mother was a survivor but would not speak about it. Her mother’s trauma has been passed on to her and it is her stories that are the basis for the book.

“Apeirogon: A Novel” by Colum McCann–Love, Loss, Conflict and Life and a Plea for Peace

McCann, Colum. , Random House, 2020.

Love, Loss, Conflict and Life and a Plea for Peace

Amos Lassen

An apeirogon is a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. It is also the name of Colum McCann’s new novel about  those living through the conflict between Palestine and Israel as told through two families whose outlooks and lives were changed when the lives of their two daughters were taken. It all began on a regular kind of day but ended with two families dealing with the grief of loss. Through sharing their stories of the loss of their daughters, they were more able to see the infinite sides to each other’s story and this led which led then to understanding and a friendship. 

The novel is based on the lives of real people, Rami Elhanan, an Israeli and his daughter, Smadar, and Bassam Aramin,  a Palestinian and his daughter, Abir. When Abir was ten years old, a rubber bullet ended her life. Smadar was thirteen. The focus here is on their fathers, how they met, and how they helped each other find some degree of peace.

Moving back and forth through time and memories, we get the story of the characters. These memories and stories differ in length and some of them come with photographs and some have few words; some are political while others offer varying perspectives. We get a view of the ways these lives were personally affected and that the journey here lead to a  beginning of a sense of personal peace. The reader gains a broader view of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Rami Elhanan had served his obligatory military term as a youth. His service had been during wartime when he had to shoot to kill. Now he just wanted to live a regular life –working at his career in graphic design and enjoy his home with his wife and four children. But that was not to be.  In 1997, Rami’s 13-year-old daughter Smadar was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber as she was walking in Jerusalem with a friend. Rami’s initially felt hatred and wanted revenge. He remained like this for a year until a rabbi invited Rami to the Parent’s Circle (a support group for both Israeli and Palestinian parents who had lost children). Rami went reluctantly and there he first saw a Palestinian woman holding a photograph of her dead daughter. He realized that his was the first time in his life he had thought of an individual Palestinian person as a fellow human being. As he dealt with his hatred and vengeance, it disappeared and he eventually sought out the organization, Combatants for Peace, where he would meet Bassam Aramin; a Palestinian man who would teach Rami what life is like in Occupied Palestine.

Bassam grew up on the West Bank  that was controlled by Israeli security forces. The area was subject to house raids, humiliating checkpoints, and armed soldiers on patrol. Bassam and his friends liked to raise the Palestinian flag at their school even though it was outlawed and when soldiers would come to take it down, they would throw rocks and run away. As a teen, Bassam and his friends found some grenades, and threw them at a convoy causing him to be labelled as a  terrorist and sentenced to prison for seven years when he was just seventeen. In prison, Bassam became quite radical, but while watching a documentary on the Holocaust, he found himself thinking of the Jewish people as fellow human beings for the first time in his life. When released from prison, he  cofounded Combatants for Peace, and two years after meeting Rami for the first time, Bassam also became a member of an organization that no one wants to join, the Parents Circle,  when his own ten-year-old daughter, Abir, was shot in the back of the skull with a rubber bullet that was fired by an eighteen-year-old Israeli soldier from the back of an armored jeep while Abir was buying candy for herself and her sister. The two fathers, Rami and Bassam, suddenly became Joined forever in grief. Now they meet meet times a week and are as close as brothers.

Writer McCann goes into the struggles of two fathers left mourning their young daughters who are determined to prevent these tragedies from happening again and again and again… The depiction of violence here is explicit and without compassion. The stories are complex but the reward for reading this is great— a better understanding of what is going on in the Middle East.

Even though Rami and Bassam had been raised to hate one another,  when they learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss it connects them. Together they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace start to permeate what has for generations seemed an impermeable conflict. McCann met the real Bassam and Rami on a trip with the non-profit organization Narrative 4 and he was moved by their willingness to share their stories with the world. They felt that if through their hope they could see themselves in one another, perhaps others could the same.
 
With their blessing, McCann began to write and uses real-life stories to begin another story— one that “crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature, and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. The result is an ambitious novel, crafted out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material, with these fathers’ moving story at its heart.”

Over the course of the day, these two men’s lives intertwine as they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace. Through telling the men’s stories via short vignettes, McCann goes from the present to the past, sharing the lives of these men, the lives of their daughters, and their experiences.  McCann writes with emotional accuracy, sensitivity and beauty. I often laughed and wept on the same page.