Author Archives: Amos

“DIVEST!: The Climate Movement On Tour”—- A Celebration

“DIVEST!:The Climate Movement on Tour”

A Celebration

Amos Lassen

 

“DIVEST!:The Climate Movement on Tour”

A Celebration

Amos Lassen

As the countries of the world work on meeting the aspirational limit of 1.5°C of global warming agreed to at COP21 in Paris, a new campaign that targets the fossil fuel industry by trying to withdraw its social license to operate is working hard. “DIVEST!” follows 350.org’s ‘Do the Math’ bus tour across the United States in 2012 as it launched the fossil fuel divestment campaign onto the national and international stages.

Each night of the tour, Bill McKibben and special guests laid out the findings in his  “Rolling Stone” article ‘Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math’ and gave the moral and historical case for divestment. Just three years later over 500 institutions who represent over 3 trillion dollars in assets had committed to divest. The campaign is winning but as we all know, time flies and we do not know if the victories add up enough to matter?

The film features Naomi Klein, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, Josh Fox, Terry Tempest Williams, Winona LaDuke, Desmond Tutu and Ira Glass.

The film reminds us to be actively involved in the social issues for which we do research. It is not enough to just analyze social movements and criticize capitalist modes of production that cause environmental destruction because of the social devastation of those who are already marginalized and climate change. We need to make sure that our institutions move toward a world that is against injustices.

The road trip with McKibben, Klein and others goes all over America for the purpose of galvanizing people to control the fossil fuel industry so what we have here is not just a documentary but also a call to action.

The film is a powerful look at and testament to the “importance of withdrawing support from the fossil fuel industry” and an important and necessary step after the accord signed in Paris. We clearly see the need for action and the need to teach about the severity of the climate crisis. What this film really does is inspire courage and call for meaningful action. We see the juxtaposition of facts with energy as we get a look at how the movement in 2012 tried to mobilize America through music, science and speeches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“THE CLASS”— A Look at “Teaching”

“THE CLASS”

A Look at “Teaching”

Amos Lassen

François Marin (François Bégaudeau) starts teaching a class about the French language at a diverse group of high school students at the beginning of the new school year. Those students include Carl (Carl Nanor), Arthur (Arthur Fogel), Esméralda (Esméralda Ouertani), Khoumba (Rachel Regulier), Wei (Wei Huang) and Souleymane (Franck Keita) and others. Each student has some kind of complex personalities that slowly externalize and they never really become stereotypes. Wei, for example, seems like a well-behaved and diligent student. Souleymane, who’s originally from Mali, and often causes trouble in class. Arthur feels like an outsider with his Goth style while Esméralda behaves stubbornly and annoys the teacher. There’s more to these students than meets the eye and it’s somewhat interesting to observe how they change or don’t change by the end of the school year. Co-writer/director Laurent Cantet shot in  cinema vérité style that intentionally creates some chaos while creating dramatic tension that comes out of the interactions and dynamics between François and his students. There is always some form of structure and order to be found within chaos. It takes a while to get absorbed in the film amidst all the chaos while getting to know the students.

I suddenly realized that I had actually, to some degree, lived this film. When I first began teaching I was sent to a ghetto school in New Orleans where more than 70% of the students either were problems or lived in problem homes in the largest housing project in the city. I found myself in this film over and over again. The majority of scenes take place inside the classroom for a long period of time. More comic relief would have helped to lighten some of the seriousness and to alleviate some of the blandness. There  aren’t any scenes that feel forced or awkward and so I can excuse the above. The most moving and captivating scene occurs when Souleymane’s mother shows up to an important meeting at school with her son. It’s very rare when you get to meet the parents of students in a high school drama, so when you briefly meet them in the film, it becomes more realistic. 

I understand that François Bégaudeau’s has had a bit experience on television in France as well as experience teaching in a high school and these activities help to enhance his performance and make it convincing. The students who have not had any prior experience in acting, have palpable energy and  give believable performances.

Esmeralda Ouertani has been described by one of her friends as “like the Duracell bunny – she never stops.” is one of the stars of this film which is set in the Francoise Dolto High School in Paris’s 20th arrondissement, one of the city’s most culturally mixed areas. She is also a pupil at the school, as are all the rest of the film’s class.

“The Class” won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for best foreign language film at the 2008 Oscars. It is based on the book “Entre Les Murs” by François Bégaudeau. After graduating university, Bégaudeau spent a year teaching in this French high school and plays himself in the film. Director Cantet wanted to work with real people rather than trained actors, so the pupils worked on the film during their summer vacation, along with some of the real parents and staff of the school. Much of the film was improvised, resulting in an astonishing degree of realism. Teachers everywhere will give a smile of recognition.

In the classroom Francois (Bégaudeau) is teaching French grammar to his class of 14 year olds, being persistently questioned by Esmeralda and sulked at by Khoumba. Wei, the son of Chinese illegal immigrants, is probably the cleverest in the class, but has difficulty expressing himself in French. The arrival of a new pupil, Carl, threatens the delicate balance of personalities.

Francois uses the Diary Of Anne Frank as a starting point to persuade the class to write their self-portraits. This leads to a free-ranging discussion about shame in which racist and sexist sparks emerge, though alongside the abuse the kids are continually reassuring one another. Despite the playground taunts of “Mali man” and “Caribbean shit” there is a constant warmth and acceptance, encouraged by François with his tolerant and positive approach.

A poor choice of words leads to an exchange between François and the unwilling Souleymane, resulting in a disciplinary hearing, the message being that you can’t win them all. We see the limitations of even this very good teacher, and just a hint of self-doubt.

Plot is the least important element here. What makes this so watchable is the realistic interaction of the young students, the glances, the giggles, the slang. It is also a highly topical film, dealing with issues of integration and what it means nowadays to be French.

Begaudeau is creative and willing to take risks in the classroom to encourage learning. At the same time, he expends a great deal of energy trying to maintain order and foster respect. Although Francois tries to spur his students on with Socratic questions, they also piercing questions of their own. Esmeralda Ouertani seems to discern in her teacher’s wit a sharp-edged weapon; Khoumba refuses to read aloud from Anne Frank’s diary and then expresses her disdain for her teacher; Wei s very upset about his fellow classmates’ lack of shame; and Souleymane is a rebellious Malian Muslim who consistently causes trouble in the classroom. Souleymane asks Francois whether he is a homosexual and claims that he is only trying to find out whether the rumor is true or not. He refuses to do his homework but Francois does involve him in a project calling for a personal profile, convincing the young man to share photographs of himself and his family. It is a magic moment in the classroom when Francois praises Souleymane for his talent and creativity.

The tensions caused by France’s multi-racial society are reflected in the classroom. One of the teachers has a meltdown in front of his peers as he curses the savage and odious behavior of the students which he characterizes as animalistic. In the last segment of the film, Francois loses his cool and uses an inappropriate term which offends and angers two female students. This leads to further rebellion in the classroom led by Souleymane.

Special features on the DVD include a “Making-of” featurette and a commentary on select scenes.

“PROMISE AT DAWN” (“La promesse de l’aube”)— Chagrin, Suffering, Destitution, Pain, Discrimination and Hard Times During World War II

“PROMISE AT DAWN” (“La promesse de l’aube”)

Chagrin, Suffering, Destitution, Pain, Discrimination and Hard Times During World War II

Amos Lassen

I remember seeing the original “Promise at Dawn” in Israel soon after I moved there and I was totally impressed by the two main actors, Melina Mercouri and Assaf Dayan (the hottest Israeli male star at the time).It was directed by Mercouri’s husband Jules Dassin and for years I have wanted to own a copy. It never happened since it was released on DVD and the few VHS copies that are available are very expensive and poor copies at that.

Then I heard that the film was being remade and directed by Eric Barbier with Pierre Niney, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Didier Bourdon. For some reason, I could not find out who was disturbing and if it would ever be released (I have since learned that it was made from two years ago but negotiations for release were not going well. To my surprise I received a letter from the film’s publicist at Menemsha Films that it would American movie house screens on September 6. Even better than that, the publicist asked if I would like to review it and was able to get me a stunning DVD copy.

“Promise at Dawn” is the epic and beautiful autobiographical film about Romain Gary and it takes us into his amazing and extraordinary life. We are with him during his difficult childhood in Poland to his adolescence in Nice, to his aviator’s exploits in Africa during the Second World War and after. Gary wanted to live a thousand lives, become a great man and a famous writer and he owes everything to his mother, Nina. They shared a crazy love. Nina was an endearing and eccentric mother but she made him one of the major novelists of the twentieth century as he lived a life that was full of twists, passions and mysteries. However this maternal love became his burden for life.  

We go from 1920’s Poland to 1950’s Mexico and from the airfields to the African desert, from pre-war France to the bombing of London. Director Eric Barbier gives us all the fantastic aspects of the life of Romain Gary and we become immersed in the world of Romain Gary. Nina (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Romain’s mother, is eccentric and monstrous, filled with incredible energy and strength of character  and she totally adored her son (Pierre Niney). She wanted him to be somebody. Perhaps she pushed him too hard or sometimes suffocated him with her love but she dictated his life even if she was at times a bit controlling. There are double promises here that both has to hold. Were the promises ever kept? To find out you will have to see the film and I am going to try to make you want to see it. It has something for everyone including a eulogy of will, tolerance, heroism, melancholy and humor. Did either of them hold their promises? Well you will have to see this beautiful film.

It is  Charlotte Gainsbourg who owns the film and she is backed by a fine cast and a gorgeous story. “Promise at Dawn” is a look at chagrin, suffering, destitution, pain, discrimination and hardship suffered during World War II and as it pulls us in and we feel what the characters feel.

Gary was born Roman Kacew in Poland, where his mother had always believed in his future glory, even when they lived in near destitution. She shouted in front of racist neighbors that her son would become a wonderful and famous writer, a celebrity and a personality as well as a French ambassador. Because they were Jewish, Nina was the target of insults, targeted by raids and in danger of being exterminated with the other millions of Jewish people who have died in the Nazi death camps.

Nina Kacew has been trying to have her own business, a tailor shop where women worked for her, making clothes that were very appreciated, but often not paid for. Nina and Roman go to France, taking all of their possessions in the world, which Nina sells in antique shops. She poses as a Russian princess and the samovar that she displays is both precious because of the make, material, but also on account of its historical importance, convincing the owner of the antique store to form a partnership with her. He doesn’t buy the objects, but he says that he will provide accommodations at the hotels where Nina Kacew would pose as the aristocrat from Russia  and he was willing to advance some cash. This turns out to be successful and Nina starts another business venture with the only taxi driver that had accepted to take the family when they arrived at the station and other drivers refused the fare.

I have a hard time identifying my feelings for Nina. She truly loves and encourages Roman but she is actually there for every step he takes and she always has confidence and trust in him.

Roman Kacew experiences trauma and adversity and always manages to overcome every obstacle he faces. He changes his name to Romain and fights as a pilot in the British Air Force, facing the German enemy and he sees many casualties and some miraculous escapes. Roman keeps getting letters from his mother and they are letters of comfort, encouragement, support, and praise.

“Promise at Dawn” was filmed in five countries and it is visually gorgeous. The beautiful landscapes are accompanied by impressive computer effects to recreate the intense fighting atmosphere of World War II.

The characters carry emotional baggage from the very beginning to the end and thisremains with the viewer when the lights come up. At times the plot is hard to believe but so was Gary’s life. Gary’s destructive cycle of madness ultimately leads him to success but also to his death.  The film has adventure, anti-Semitism, first love , beautiful period restoration costume design and martial arts and these all come together to give us  a cinematic experience. It beautifully conveys Gary’s writing fervor. I fell in love with the film and its characters just as I did with the original film. This version is a tremendous improvement over the earlier film and I love the emotions we see and feel here. “Promise at Dawn” is a film that you do not want to miss.

“The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart” by R. Zamora Linmark— First Love, First Heartbreak

Linmark, R. Zamora. “The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart”, Delacorte, 2019.

First Love, First Heartbreak

Amos Lassen

When Ken Z meets Ran at the mall, his life changes and that is because he also met his first love. Ran introduces him to his first kiss but Ran is mysterious and he suddenly disappears. This makes Ken wonder why he should ever love if this is what happens.
With the help of his best friends, his haikus and lists, and  strange, surreal appearances by his hero, Oscar Wilde, Ken discovers that love is worth so much more than the price of heartbreak.

What a great imagination R. Zamora Linmark has. He has written a sweet story that is a celebration of diversity centered around a gay romance. We all remember our first lover and how that love affected us. When we first meet Ken Z, he is slowly figuring out who he is (with the help of his mentor: Oscar Wilde). 
One day he decides to go to the other side of the territory he lives in which is much nicer but stricter. He pretends to be an archeologist on a tight budget and gets to see how the other half lives. While he’s there, he meets Ran, who sits down with him at a restaurant and talks to him about Oscar Wilde. They become fast friends even with the distance between them.

They begin to visit each other and their bonds deepen, and Ken Z chats with his hero for guidance. Oscar Wilde takes him to the realization that they are more alike than they think. Ken Z and Ran fall in love fast and hard, until one day Ran went away. There was no warning and Ken Z was left grieving and began to push away from everyone in his life, including Oscar.

Unfortunately we never get to know the characters well enough. Aside from their common love for Oscar Wilde, we really know nothing about them.

“Le Mystereieux Correspondant” by Marcel Proust— Proust’s Gay Stories Are Coming To Us

“Le Mystereieux Correspondant”

Proust’s Gay Stories Are Coming To Us

Amos Lassen

Nine lost stories by Marcel Proust that were written in the late 1890s and not published and entitled “Le Mystérieux Correspondant” will be published this fall. Many think that they were not published is because is that Proust felt they were audacious. Proust was in his 20’s when he wrote these.

They were discovered by the late Proust specialist Bernard de Fallois, whose publishing house Editions de Fallois will publish them in French in October under the title Le Mystérieux Correspondant (The Mysterious Correspondent).

De Fallois has  said the stories are a mix of fairytales, fantasy and dialogues with the dead and in them we see where Proust got his ideas for “À la recherche du temps perdu” (“In Search of Lost Time”), which was published in seven volumes between 1913 and 1927.

The nine stories were secret and Proust never spoke of them”.  Most of the texts are about the awareness of his homosexuality and were written in a darkly tragic way.  Proust never publicly acknowledged his homosexuality, and actually fought a duel with a reviewer who suggested that he was gay. He wanted to make love to other men and he was determined not to be labeled as  homosexual.

Luc Fraisse, a professor at the University of Strasbourg, has annotated and edited the stories for the forthcoming 176 paged book which is being published to commemorate the centenary of Proust winning France’s most prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt, for “À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs” (“Within a Budding Grove”).

Proust was afraid that the stories could have offended a social milieu where strong traditional morals prevailed.  The main theme of the stories is an analysis of “the physical love so unjustly denied” that Proust writes of in his masterwork and to tell the public about  “Sodome et Gomorrhe”, the fourth volume of the series  and in which Proust explores homosexual love.

The stories are an intimate diary of the writer “The awareness of homosexuality is experienced in an exclusively tragic way, as a curse. We don’t find, anywhere, those comic notes introduced here and there throughout “In Search of Lost Time” which give the work all the colors of life, even in the darkest dramas.”

Proust had already, in the unpublished stories, found his “perfect mastery of expression”. While they are not as precise as “In Search of Lost Time”, but they help us understand it better, but showing us what from where it came.

Proust died in 1922 at the age of 51, after pneumonia became bronchitis and then he developed an abscess on the lungs. One of his obituaries described him as “very pale, with burning black eyes, frail and short in stature”. It also acknowledged that “of all idols and masters of present-day literature in France he is most likely to have won a place which time will not take away”.

“BY THE GRACE OF GOD” (Grace a Dieu)— A Sobering Look at Three Church Trauma Cases

“BY THE GRACE OF GOD” (Grace a Dieu)

A Sobering Look at Three Church Trauma Cases

Amos Lassen

Director François Ozon avoids sensationalism in his “ By the Grace of God”, his film  is based on the true events surrounding the Catholic Church’s coverup of a sex abuse scandal and the efforts of a group of adult survivors to bring the pedophile priest to justice. The film depicts the men of this group gradually coming together, through an epistolary device of letters exchanged between the men, and between the men and the church that are read in voiceover as the audience follows their quest for justice. After forming their association, the men weaponize archives and the media to force their abuser into the open and finally defeat him.

Though able to recognize the depravity of his deeds and willing to confront his victims, Father Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley) seems almost unaware of the extent of which he’s caused these men pain. When the priest is confronted at different points by Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud) and Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud), his apparent contrition is disarming. Ozon keeps the camera close to the priest’s face, so we can see his eyes dart around as he alternates between meeting the gaze of his accuser and avoiding it. There are times that Preynat seems almost sympathetic. Yet he refuses to admit full responsibility for his actions and hides behind the church. He insists that he’s gripped by a disease, and that he informed his superiors of it as if he had no responsibility in the matter.

The story comes to us with an almost journalistic sobriety. Ozon is  rigidly dedicated to the truth as his justice-seeking protagonists. Each section of the film looks one of Preynat’s victims—Alexandre, François (Denis Ménochet), and Emmanuel and the specifics and the differences in how each man was affected by their molestation and by his decision to speak out. Alexandre remains committed to the Catholic church and has the unflagging support of his wife and five children. The atheistic François, meanwhile, adopts a more vengeful stance, and is uninterested in sparing the church from his wrath. As for Emmanuel, he’s the most apparently damaged of the group, both mentally and physically. His molestation resulted in a deformity, and he is unable to manage his trauma.

As the three men, spurred on by Alexandre’s initial dogged pursuit of accountability within the church, seek out other survivors to build a case against Preynat, they’re halted by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin (François Marthouret), the archbishop of Lyon. Barbarin is the total embodiment of the church’s hypocrisy as an institution. He hides behind pious phrases and expressions of sympathy while continuing to cover the abuses. In one notable scene, he points to a wall and the famous photograph of a frightened boy in the Warsaw Ghetto surrounded by Nazis. Ozon lets the camera linger on the image and evokes the irony of Barbarin’s performed care for a child’s welfare and the history of another of the church’s major moral failings in its silence while Europe’s Jews were being sent to concentration camps.

Repeatedly, Barbarin and other members of the local church hierarchy rely on dogma’s emphasis on forgiveness as a shield thus deflecting the men’s complaints by urging them to forgive Preyart and to find inner peace through God. As the atheist in the group, François naturally has no patience for this and even the devout Alexandre recognizes this strategy of indirect disavowal for what it is. My little problem here is that once the three men decided upon their course of action, they pursue it by calmly discussing strategy and being open about their feelings.

Ozon gives us a detailed picture of a complex process—the collective battle against an intractable institution (an institution that should have lost all credibility when we were first aware of these abuses. At one point, when consulting with a priest who mentions pedophilia and homosexuality in the same breath, Alexandre outlines to the man why the two aren’t the same. I almost expected Alexandre to turn to the camera and remind us that he exists as much for the man’s edification as he does for our own.

Ozon represses all his directorial urges to tell how three men from Lyon have taken Philippe Barbarin, the Archbishop of the city, to trial, alleging he has knowingly sheltering Reverend Bernard Preynat, a self-confessed pedophile priest who abused them as children.

In actuality, nine victims of Preynat’s abuses have summoned Barbarin, but Ozon’s film looks at three of them. We begin in 2014, with 40-year-old banker Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud) learning in passing that the priest who abused him when he was a boy scout is still working with children.

Alexandre appears to have a perfect life, a beautiful wife and five children but his trauma runs deep. Poupaud plays him with an almost supercilious demeanor. He’s so calm and put-together that it’s all the more devastating the few times his façade breaks.

The story is told through the series of written correspondences Alexander has with the Archbishop and it becomes clear during the back and forth that the church would like to sweep the issue under the carpet. The film gains some heat with Francois who takes the baton from Alexandre to go public to the press about the cover-up. Francois also seeks out more of Preynat’s victims, one of whom is Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud), whose whole life has been tragically thrown off course as a result of the sexual abuse. Arlaud’s wiry, melancholic performance brings poignancy and we wish that we’d gotten to his character’s story much earlier.

“By the Grace of God” is a welcome act of solidarity with a group of men who have been betrayed and ignored by the very institution sworn to protect the helpless. I just cannot understand how anyone can remain a member of the Catholic Church knowing what we now on. Early on in my teaching career, I taught at a Christian Brothers boarding high school and what I saw there was sickening. Two of the brothers will spend the rest of their lives in jail. Even worse is that it continues.

“THE THIRD WIFE”— Coming of Age

“THE THIRD WIFE”

Coming of Age

Amos Lassen

Film Movement brings us “The Third Wife”, a  beautiful coming-of-age story; a tale of love and self-discovery in a time when women were rarely given a voice. Set in the late 19th century in rural Vietnam, fourteen-year-old May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My) is given away in an arranged marriage and becomes the third wife to her older husband. She learns that she can gain status and security if she gives birth to a male child and this becomes a real possibility when she gets pregnant. However, her life is filled with danger when May starts to develop an attraction for Xuan(Mai Thu Huong),  the second wife. As May observes the unfolding tragedy of forbidden love and its consequences, she must decide to either carry on in silence and safety, or create a way towards personal freedom.

At 14, travels up river to marry a man she has never met and start a new life on his family’s silk plantation. The household, which includes servants, her husband’s two other wives and their children, is a place where intimacy and cruelty can be hard to tell apart. It’s the center of a world rendered with pathos and somewhat prurient fascination. This is  Ash Mayfair’s debut feature.
May’s new home is in a steep valley filled with flowering trees and airy wooden buildings and it is both a paradise and a prison. May’s daily routines are governed by rigid, patriarchal customs and rituals but they also include time  for solitude and even pleasure. The two senior wives, Lao (Nguyen Nhu Quynh Le) and Xuan welcome her with big-sisterly advice about sex, childbirth and domestic politics.

At 14, May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My) travels up river to marry a man she has never met and start a new life on his family’s silk plantation. The household, which includes servants, her husband’s two other wives and their children, is a place where intimacy and cruelty can be hard to tell apart. It’s the center of a world rendered with pathos and somewhat prurient fascination in “The Third Wife,” Ash Mayfair’s debut feature.

The story, which follows May from the day of her arrival through a pregnancy, shows us her social and physical surroundings with a quiet clarity. The seasons of her forced transition from child to mother are seen according to the silk worms  which are a source of metaphorical as well as economic sustenance. Like the worms, the wives are part of a cottage industry that mixes beauty and utility, captives of their own productivity.

When May becomes pregnant, she prays for a boy, observing that Xuan, who has given birth to two daughters, holds a lower status than Lao, the mother of sons. She also observes the affair between Xuan and their husband’s oldest son, a relationship that brings conflict and tragedy to the family.

 “The Third Wife” gives us a look at a tableau of injustice from a perspective that feels both compassionate and detached. We see a male-dominated hierarchy that directly oppresses women and brings misery to some men as well.

The cruelty that May encounters is a fact of life, as is the solidarity she occasionally experiences with Lao and especially with Xuan. The possibility of freedom occasionally seems real and the  final scenes allude to  “desperate and defiant” acts of resistance.

Here is one of the great scientific injustices throughout human history. Women have been blamed for not producing a male heir, even though it is only the father who can supplies the determining chromosome.. As the junior-most wife of a wealthy Vietnamese plantation owner, May’s position depends on her ability to give birth to a boy. The dysfunctional family dynamics and her first stirrings of passion also confuse May.

May looks even younger than her fourteen years, so the idea of her marrying anyone is rather disturbing. Nonetheless, she fulfills her wedding night duties and is soon pregnant. She is probably rather fortunate, because the senior wives, Ha and Xuan are quite supportive and protective of her. She also makes fast friends with Xuan’s daughters.

Director Mayfair brings us a wonderfully lush and evocative film that is also very steamy. As May, Nguyen Phuong Tra My looks distressingly young and vulnerable, but she is also convincing when her character starts to make some cold, hard decisions. Other actors are also quite good.

The film is a visual feast to watch. is absolutely gorgeous. Cinematographer Chananun Chotrungroj uses the rain forest backdrop and luxuriates in the trappings of  the 19th Century. It is hard to watch the tragedy as it inevitably transpires, but Mayfair keeps the viewers on the edge of their seats and makes them want to be in this world, despite its social inequities. 

The scenes of sex and desire are treated with restraint, using juxtaposition to evoke mood so that silkworm caterpillars supply the disturbing emotion of May’s wedding night. The silkworm life cycle is returned to repeatedly through the film and we see that their busy existence is in many ways as futile and for the sole profit of others as that of the wives.

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. 

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”— “The Bigot Whisperer”

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”

“The Bigot Whisperer”

Amos Lassen

 “Where’s My Roy Cohn” is a new documentary from Matt Tyrnauer that takes its title from a quote that has been attributed to Donald Trump at a meeting with advisors where he expressed his frustration at the purported lack of loyalty among his staff. “Where’s my Roy Cohn?,” he asked and yelled, wondering why no one would back him in his favor against the injustice of the Russia investigation. Trump had once known the former aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy, meeting him when he, Trump, was new to the world of New York real estate and Cohn was a long-established fixture of member of the mostly mafia legal defense teams. Unfortunately for Trump, Cohn died in 1986, so Trump’s cry fell flat and without reply. What you will see here is Cohn, the self-serving narcissistic sociopath that he was.

Trump does not make appear in this film until near the end and even then only peripherally. Instead, the film is focused squarely on the life of Cohn from his birth in 1927 through his career-making prosecution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (Cohn actually colluded with the judge to push for the death penalty) to his association with McCarthy and beyond. He was a master manipulator of media who understood that one should never apologize for anything, ever and that he must never give up, never surrender. He was indicted numerous times for professional misconduct and was finally disbarred in 1986, mere months before his death from AIDS. Cohn was deep in the closet and known for his homophobic attacks on government workers.  His vicious hatred precludes any empathy we might accord to a gay man of his generation. Cohn mainly cared about Cohn.

We go through the main details of Cohn’s career until the end. This is the movie that Cohn deserves, it is slow and steady and gives facts but not much more. Tyrnauer uses traditional documentary techniques of voice-over narration, direct interviews, archival footage and photographic stills to expose Cohn’s malign influence and contextualizes him as a modern Machiavelli who influences our country today at the highest level.

He first came into the public eye as an assistant to J. Edgar Hoover and handled the prosecution of the Rosenbergs, a Jewish couple arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spying for Russia and securing Manhattan Project documents for the Russian government. Cohn,  was then a twenty-three-year-old fast-rising attorney who claimed to have not only persuaded the presiding judge, Irving Kaufman, to impose the death penalty but also to have had Judge Irving assigned the case. Cohn’s reward for the Rosenberg execution was an appointment as special counsel to the 1950’s American Senatorial disaster, Joseph McCarthy.

Tyrnauer provides compelling evidence that Cohn was responsible for much of McCarthy’s demagoguery and rise to power. Soon, however, Cohn would bring about his own and McCarthy’s fall from grace. During the Army-McCarthy hearings, direct questioning revealed Cohn had a “special relationship” with G. David Schine and pressured the U.S. Army to give Schine preferential treatment. Cohn resigned after he was humiliated by homophobic comments during the televised hearings. He, however,  claimed everybody wanted him to stay on but according to those who worked with Cohn, this was not the case.

From that, Cohn went on to be the personification of evil in 20th-century American politics. He was a mover and shaker “of dubious means”. He built his persona even though he was responsible for causing financial losses on his clients and family. We see the origins of the seditious right wing’s ascent, showing how Cohn, as  a deeply troubled master manipulator, has shaped today’s political world. He constantly defended himself by attacking his adversaries and utilized the press to generate sensational public sympathy for his plight.

Cohn refined his strategy over the years as the primary press leaker during his McCarthy days and gaining the friendship of the formidable press magnate, Walter Winchell, and other ambitious reporters. How Cohn had been able to pressure the judiciary was less clear. It seems that his political clout came from his wide social circle of wealthy, influential friends. Cohn was known for hosting lavish parties and mixing with almost every imaginable socialite of the day including artist, Andy Warhol, and he re-emerged as a New York power broker, mafia consigliere, white-collar criminal, and the mentor of Donald J. Trump.

Following Cohn’s lead, Trump began his flamboyant rise first on Cohn’s shoulders and then his back. Eventually, Trump became the master of personal attacks,  of sensationalism and hyperbole and using the press to get out in front of the story. The similarities between Cohn and Trump are uncanny and neither is the kind of person you would want to have dinner with..

“Roy Cohn was a corrupt lawyer, political dirty trickster, mafia associate and scumbag. He was a self-hating Jew who powered the engine of one of the worst anti-Semitic moments in American history, the demonization and execution of the Rosenbergs. He was a closeted man who refused to publicly identify as gay even as he was dying of Aids. He was so famous for being a mean bastard and there are not too many lawyers that can make such a claim.

Tyrnauer’s film is very standard collection of talking heads (including former protege Roger Stone) and news clips. We get an avalanche of facts. If there is a thesis here, it is that Trump ’s has been mentored by Cohn’s odious work.

Donald Trump was, for many years, a joke (though never a harmless one) but the damage he’s currently doing shames all because we laughed at him. The film connects Roy Cohn’s belligerent, boorish and obstructionist ways and our current President.

“ONE NATION, ONE KING”— (“Un peuple et son roi”) National Identity and the Emancipation of Women

“ONE NATION, ONE KING” (“Un peuple et son roi”)

National Identity and the Emancipation of Women

Amos Lassen

Pierre Schoeller’s “One Nation, One King”,  is a new look at the French Revolution. Political plebes topple their divine ruler while blowing glass, doing laundry and having babies. The film goes back and forth between the country’s king and its commoners. On July 14, 1789, the Bastille towers fell and we see the faces of the people at the bottom. a glassblower nicknamed “Uncle” (Olivier Gourmet); his buxom wife (Noemie Lvovsky); and the washing women Francoise (Adele Haenel) and her sister, Margot (Izia Higelin). Though of lowly station, they meet each evening to declaim their thoughts on the latest political events. 

Francoise, whose catchphrase becomes “There are no two ways to be free,” is especially vocal about the fact that the fight for equality should also include women’s rights. We see her again at the Women’s March in October of that year, when, during a rainstorm, a loud fishmonger from the Halles market (Celine Salette), leads a group of protesters to Versailles to demand bread, wheat and rights. Just around the same time, King Louis XVI (Laurent Lafitte), signs the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” which was one of the court’s many concessions designed to keep the monarchy intact and the republican fervor at bay, though the eventual outcome was, as we know, the opposite.

Political ideas are reduced to slogans and there is no sense of the extent to which either the workers or their sovereign really understand politics, in general, or France’s specific situation at that time. I did, however, find it beautiful to watch and the sets and the costumes are wonderful. Schoeller tends to supply broad overstatements rather than nuance.  The National Assembly is created and people such as Robespierre (Louis Garrel), Marat (Denis Lavant) and Saint-Just (Niels Schneider) take turns speechifying as the self-appointed representatives of the nation try to figure out what France wants to be and what it should do next.

There’s little sense of background or context here and the speakers come across as men in foppish wigs spouting big ideas in tiny speeches. Schoeller then reduces the mostly illiterate working classes, including Uncle and Francoise to rabid political groupies who attend each and go to every meeting of the Assembly. The spectators scream and shout throughout it all while not having a full grasp of what is even being discussed. 

It takes a while for Ulliel’s Basile to make an appearance. Basile has perhaps the most dynamic development of all the characters, going from being a convicted criminal to someone who is freed by a priest and who follows the king and finally ends up with the revolutionaries. But there’s little sense of any emotional dimension or psychological texture. 

The film cuts between different storylines for no apparent reason, culminating in the unlikely back and forth between a glassblowing apprenticeship and an endless roll-call vote in the assembly to decide on the fate of their royal ruler. Some of the interesting episodes, such as the women’s march, the planting of “freedom trees” or the massacre on the Champs de Mars, are treated hastily and superficially

Shot on many of the actual locations where the story happened, the writer-director manages to be authentic in terms of his visuals but without any palpable sense of emotion or more than a passing understanding of how politics influenced people’s thinking and behavior.

When the king finally walks up to the scaffold, a guard tells him to be “careful or you’ll slip.” The film captures the atmosphere of the time yet is unable to operate outside the most formulaic depiction of momentous incidents. It is trapped between a history and a generic sense of how to make those events “cinematic”.

Perhaps Schoeller got too caught up in the excitement of his subject, understandably overwhelmed by the scope of the Revolution and the way common folk rose up while craftier minds took charge. This is, I might say that this is a well-intentioned failure with a stellar cast, re-created speeches, production design and costume fabrics  that are as accurate as possible, but along the way forgot that moving between didacticism and tepidly-drawn fictional characters doesn’t make good cinema.

Schoeller’s script weaves incidents, from 1789 up to the king’s execution in 1793, around a group of earthy fictional characters who find their democratic voices (as well as love) in the tumult of the time. Probably Schoeller was overwhelmed by the complexity of the Revolution, and found the only way he could cope with the enormous amount of material was to render every event and scene far too superficially, while bathing it all in golden light. Julien Hirsch’s camerawork attractively captures the locations but without excitement and a sense of urgency. The actors go through the paces of scripted emotions but don’t inhabit real people, instead they come off as players in a historical pageant.

 The French Revolution is largely told to us from the point of view of the working men and women who fought for change and “One Nation, One King” is a sturdy, intelligent and occasionally stirring historical drama. Despite a great deal of talk, it may flummox those without a decent grasp of the shifting sands of this tumultuous moment in French history. Nevertheless, with its questions about national identity and emphasis on the women of the revolution, it feels like a timely film that may well chime with audiences.

The passion comes from the performances since the film involves very little action. The taking of Bastille is related after the event, the Parisian poor basking in their surprise success, and other riots and confrontations similarly take place off screen. There is one exception, in which continued disagreement about the king leads to a rally and the massacre of demonstrators ordered by the Assembly itself and it is a bitter pointer towards the schisms that  remain within the revolutionary enterprise.

For the most part, Schoeller’s film involves talk and debate. Here, the “people”, mean working class and the poor, and they are seen to be largely more inclined to drive the revolution forward until they win palpable rights and actual food on the table, than many of the privileged and periwigged classes who have assumed control of the assembly.

One member of the assembly states that “without Louis, the edifice crumbles,”  and he reveals the practical and emotional ties to the monarchy, particularly felt by aristocrats and others with more to lose. In contrast, the lawyer Robespierre is among those law-makers prepared to cut the tie, quite literally; and many of the working-class protagonists are with him.

At the same time, women, seen here as prominent forces on the front lines of the fighting, have no rights even to speak. Such contradictions ensure that the film has a nuance appropriate to a movement that was never a simple road to emancipation. The direction does not have with any of the panache associated with French period drama and this results in a certain stiffness and that is a pity because the poverty of the Parisian commoners is disconcertingly airbrushed.

The passion comes from the performances. The biggest impressions are made by women: Izïa Higelin, Céline Sallette (whose singing often rouses her character’s comrades and the film itself) and in particular Haenel, whose Françoise loses a child through malnutrition, speaks up for women’s rights and infuses her drifter-lover with her revolutionary fervor.

Garrel is a thoughtful Robespierre, Laurent Lafitte is a proud Louis, but in keeping with Schoeller’s agenda both characters are marginal.

“THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2”— A Limited Edition

“THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2”

A Limited Edition

Amos Lassen

In an isolated desert research camp that has been suddenly and mysteriously abandoned, an elite unit of soldiers tries to uncover the truth about the scientists who vanished. However, their attention is soon diverted by a distress signal coming from a distant mountain range and they quickly regroup and set out to investigate. What the soldiers don’t know is that these are the very same hills where the Carter family fell prey to a flesh-eating pack of hideously deformed mutants. As the number of soldiers in the cavalry unit  dwindles, it becomes obvious that their guns provide little if any defense from evil driven by hunger.

A motocross team on their way to trial a new super-fuel head out across the desert lead by Rachel, who, unbeknownst to the rest of the group, is a survivor of the cannibal clan which menaced the Carter family several years before. Choosing to take an ill-advised shortcut across the desert, the busload of youngsters drive straight into the path of the remnants of Rachel’s demented cannibal kin; Pluto and The Reaper.

The action takes place at a desert training ground for National Guard troops.Apparently, the few survivors from the original film did not bother to warn anyone about the cannibalistic clan, so it’s a total surprise to the soldiers when, two years later, they start getting picked off. Early on, when one of the hapless guardsmen gets torturously pulled through a small cave opening that he never should have fit through, we see that the army is up against formidable opponents. But retreat is not an option for these brave men and women and calling for reinforcements would have been cowardly.  

The film can be seen as a metaphor for the consequences of U.S. military intervention. Since the mutants are byproducts of Cold War nuclear testing turning against the government that created them, they’re kind of like the Taliban.

It seems like a perfect opportunity to give the mutants their due; it deploys a group of military people back to the scene of the crime. But it reduces the mutants to mine-dwelling freaks who murder and rape because, that’s what they do. 

The soldiers don’t realize that the mutants are luring them into various traps designed to kill the men and abduct the women for breeding purposes. It’s up to these unseasoned and often downright inept soldiers to fight their way out of trouble. 

The film has assembled a motley group of incompetents this side yet somehow misses the laughs. The film puts a heavy emphasis on disgusting makeup effects and visceral action sequences; whole characters are defined with little detail.

Bonus Materials

  • Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
  • Blood, Sand, and Fire: The Making of The Hills Have Eyes Part II – brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with actor Michael Berryman, actress Janus Blythe, production designer Dominick Bruno, composer Harry Manfredini and unit production ma
  • Stills gallery
  • Original Theatrical Trailer 
  • 6 Postcards
  • Reversible fold-out Poster