Author Archives: Amos

“MUSIC FOR BLEEDING HEARTS”— Three Hearts About to Break

“MUSIC FOR BLEEDING HEARTS”

Three Hearts About to Break

Amos Lassen

In modern Sao Paulo, three hearts are on the verge of being broken. Ricardo has a steady boyfriend but is smitten by a new co-worker. Isabella (Mayara Constantino) has taken a break from her boyfriend and from Ricardo (Victor Mendez) who is her best friend. Felipe (Ciao Horowicz)is a hopeless romantic who finds himself caught between Ricardo and Isabella. The three of them have big dreams of passion but they are certainly not ready for what is to come.

Rafael Gomes, the director of the film, observes the various changes and what remains eternal in matters of love, his central. He has adapted how relationships are affected by the transformations of the digital world, including Instagram and other social networks as an integral part of today’s lovers’ flirtation and suffering.

The script and editing embrace a parallel narrative when following the trio that guarantees dynamism throughout the film while suppressing important details to understand the development arc of the characters. While presenting a youth suffering from a need to be in love that supersedes the very construction of a relationship to actually experience this love, the film brings romantic clichés in prose and verse.

Gomes gives us a philosophical ballad to love that looks at its bewildering complexities. The three main characters are  the personifications of the three [main] types of love. Vulnerabilities are worn on the sleeve, hearts are torn apart, guards are put up and pulled down. We see that love changes as we mature.

The performances are excellent all around but this s a director’s film. On a tiny budget, he has produced a credible film with might, force and gentility. Music is important here and Cazuza, Orlando Silva, Gal Costa, Tim Bernardes, Clarice Falcão, Fafá de Belém, Marcelo Camelo and Milton Nascimento are some of the artists whose songs add to the diverse sequences of the film.

Isabela suffers because of her recent break up with Gabriel (Ícaro Silva); Felipe wants to fall in love and hopes to do so with Isabela and Ricardo is platonically in love with Felipe. The first half of the film builds the characters who are with their individual love lives. They are carefree and intelligent.  They seem to have catchphrases and aphorisms ready to be introduced in any conversation, they wander in a pedestrian philosophical language and display a frightening egotism. There areconstant references to Shakespeare’s ultimate love story “Romeo and Juliet”. We become constantly aware of, is how we Social Media and the Internet are used to closely monitor the lives  of others, as well as our own.

“SAINT NARCISSE”— Mythology, Religion, Self-Obsession and Sex

“SAINT NARCISSE”

Mythology, Religion, Self-Obsession and Sex

Amos Lassen

 Bruce LaBruce’s “Saint Narcisse” brings together mythology, religion, self-obsession and sex in in 1970s Quebec. He takes the myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in the water, seems like quite an obvious move and filters it as a 1970s cult movie and adds to it with a pair of lesbian lovers who have gone off the grid; a young monk who is a cigarette-smoking, volleyball-averse lookalike of the protagonist; and an abusive gay priest who is obsessed with Saint Sebastian. LaBruce balances retaining the anarchic, B-movie-influenced aesthetic of his earlier films with “a new level of finesse in terms of how everything has been put together.”

The film opens with a shot of the Dominic (Felix-Antoine Duval) the  protagonist’s crotch. He’s at a laundromat and after taking a bra out of the drier, he begins talking with the only other customer there, a beautiful young woman explaining to her that the piece of lingerie is his grandmother’s.  to whom he apologetically suggests the item is his grandma’s. The two have sex almost immediately after this as people on the street watch what is going on in the laundromat. At the end of the scene, we see that Dominic is confused, thinking that he saw someone who looks like him in the group of watchers. LaBruce has suggested something about his main character’s inner state.

When Dominic goes home, we see that and he lives with his French-speaking grandmother (Angele Coutu). She is the starting point for a series of revelations about Dominic’s family that leads him to the Quebec countryside, where he meets two women (Tania Kontoyanni and Alexandra Petrachuk). They are lovers and also a key to unraveling Dom’s family history.

Dominic also meets another attractive young guy named Daniel, who looks just like him (Duval and some body doubles). He’s tied up in the family tree, too, though he’s had a very different upbringing. Daniel grew up in a monastery run by Father Andrew (Andreas Apergis), who is obsessed with both Saint Sebastian and Daniel.

The film’s  use of mythological and religious allusions and recent props like the camera that draws a line from Greek mythology all the way to the present without breaking the early 1970s illusion. Dominic is self-obsessed and the film suggests that self-obsession has always been there and that it is quite normal that people want to know who they are and where they come from.  We begin to wonder how much obsession with oneself is too much and whether there should there be boundaries. We do get something of an answer to these in the film’s final scene.

The film cuts back and forth between places and timelines without ever losing the viewer and we realize that we are on a journey that is a lot of fun and intellectual at the same time. LaBruce manages to have twins (or doppelgangers), incest, a cabin in the woods, nuns and/or monks, a motorcycle driver, lesbians living in the wild, and a sexually abusive priest all in one movie. “Saint Narcisse” is an homage to 70’s Quebecois cinema is LaBruce’s most traditionally narrative and dramatic film to date.

LaBruce has said that “Narcissism has obviously become the default psychological state, the ideological white noise of the new millennium, evidenced by selfie culture and social media solipsism. So I thought it was high time for a more contemporary reinterpretation of the Narcissus myth.” What he gives us is a bizarre drama that reveals a family secret, forbidden love and a long-lost twin brother who Dominic discovers has been raised by a twisted monastery ruled by the domineering Father.

“Truthtelling: Stories, Fables, Glimpses” by Lynne Sharon Schwartz— Looking at New Yorkers

Schwartz, Lynne Sharon. “Truthtelling: Stories, Fables, Glimpses”, Delphinium, 2020.

Looking at New Yorkers

Amos Lassen

Let me start by saying that I am not much of a short story reader but with that said, I have to say that I totally enjoyed Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s “Truthtelling” and not only because of her wonderful prose but because I read them at a time when we are all looking for hope. So many of us are facing a new way of life in which dreams have been shattered and we face new kinds of problems every day. Reading how others deal with this made me see myself differently. I found compassion within myself that I was unaware even existed anymore (I thought I was “compassioned” out). We all make decisions that are not the best and it is always easier to see that in others than in ourselves.

I do not want to go into details about each story because that usually means that I have to choose a favorite and they are all my favorites. We see how decisions influence our lives and even change them. Through the stories we escape, for a while, at the sad and scary realities that we are facing yet we also see that we are all alike.

“If I Remember Him” by Louis Flint Ceci— Everything Changes

Ceci, Louis Flint. “If I Remember Him”, Beautiful Dreamer Press, 2020.

Everything Changes

Amos Lassen

It is 1935 and a catastrophic tornado changes the lives of those in the tiny town of Croy, Oklahoma forever. Lerner Alquist a wealthy resident of Croy becomes obsessed with building a library as a memorial to his wife, Ada, a victim of the tornado.  By 1952, Croy has been rebuilt along with its many secrets. Andy Simms, the church music minister, is dating Pastor Matthew Jacobs’s daughter, Susan, but he is in love with a man, a Sikh artist Sundar “Sunny” Singh Sohi. Virginia, Alquist’s neglected daughter, is secretly married to Harry Edom, a Chickasaw handyman. When the library is finally finished and dedicated, things come to an ugly head.

All of this occurs on a town that is religious and populated by residents with prejudices and at a time in history where being straight white and Christian was the way people lived. But that was on the outside only. Writer Louis Flint Ceci shows us  the hypocrisy of those who claim with the confines of their religion but who at the same time treat others in ways that are opposed to what their faith teaches them.  We really see this in Alquist’s prejudices and that these feelings cost him all that he holds dear. Any of us who have grown up in a small town or within the confines of overbearing religion will see ourselves here.

It is easy to get lost in the plot but even easier to enjoy the author’s gorgeous prose and the characters he has created here. Perhaps we do not need to be reminded that sexual bigotry still exists in this world but when depicted by Ceci, it makes for a wonderful read. We see clearly what bigotry and prejudice can do.

Alquist wanted the library to preserve the history of Croy and to be a shelter should they have to face another tornado. (If you have lived through an act of nature such as this, it is easy to see why he thinks a shelter is so important). It was not an easy idea for the town because the land for the library would have to come from places where his tenants lived but he was so obsessed with it and preserving the memory of Ada that he saw it as a necessity for the town. It took seventeen years for see his dream completed. The idea of a statue of Ada takes us to the artist Sunny Sohi, who has never been accepted in town because he is Asian. Soon music minister Andy, is fascinated by Sonny who got the job to sculpt the statue but it is seen by the town elders as controversial. They also saw the whole library project as controversial and especially that an outsider was to create the statue. There are tensions in the town and things come to a head and we see clearly that everything is not what it seems. Yet this is also a love story as much as it is a story about prejudice in mid-20th-century Oklahoma.

“The Big Tow: An Unlikely Romance: An Unlikely Romance” by Ann McMan— A Different North Carolina

McMan, Ann. “The Big Tow: An Unlikely Romance: An Unlikely Romance”, Bywater Books, 2020.

A Different North Carolina

Amos Lassen

I began reading Ann McMan some ten books ago and I continue to do so not only because she is such a fine writer but because each book is a surprise. McMan’s wit and plot lines are always intelligent and fun to read.

In “The Big Tow” we meet Vera “Nick” Nicholson, an overtaxed and underpaid attorney living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and feeing that she is  killing time while  working at Turner, Witherspoon, Anders, and Tyler (TWAT) where she sees little chance for career advancement. But then she get a special assignment—- to recover the missing high-priced luxury car belonging to one of the firm’s top clients. She is to find and recover the car and its contents but without any help from the local police. It is then that we meet Fast Eddie and his men at The National Recovery Bureau, a repo agency in the town of K-Vegas. 

Suddenly Nick’s job and Nick are furloughed at the law firm and she decides to join Eddie’s gang and becomes an agent and is teamed with Frances “Frankie” Stohler, a third-grade teacher who has taken the job to supplement her income. Frankie’s parents have been members of the society of Winston-Salem and they know everyone and everyone knows them.

What follows is a visit to the very strange world of repo and a trip into a North Carolina that most of us have never seen before and where nothing seems to go right. But this journey also brings Nick and Frankie both together and the financial independence that they both seek. It was not an easy road to travel but the result was well worth it.

I could not help myself from laughing aloud as I read and the humor is intelligent. I never knew what to expect from page to page and I was kept reading, finishing the book in almost a single session. The characters are wonderfully drawn. I really love that you never know what is in a book until you experience it and I do not use the word “experience” lightly. “The Big Tow” is so much more than a read, it is a total experience.

“LIBERTY”— Total Perversion

“LIBERTE”

Total Perversion

Amos Lassen

Albert Serra’s “Liberte” is totally perverse. In 1774, fifteen years before the French Revolution Madame de Dumeval, the Duke of Tesis and the Duke of Wand came together somewhere between Potsdam and Berlin. They had been expelled from the court of Louis XVI and were hoping to gain support from the Duke of Walchen, a German free thinker and notorious seducer. He was alone in his country, a place where hypocrisy and false virtue was the way of life. The three French visitors wanted to being their  libertinage to Germany. It was a philosophy that was based on the rejection of morality and authority and they needed to find a place so that they continue their sexual activities.

The film is pornographic that is shocking. It is also boring and monotonous. There is no entertainment here even if you are into sexual fetishes. Serra shows humanity at its most debauched and depraved.

“NO ORDINARY MAN”— Rewriting the Past

“NO ORDINARY MAN”

Rewriting the Past

Amos Lassen

Directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joyntrewrite the past by correcting the story of jazz musician Billy Tipton through voices he inspired. 

The film confronts the often-circulated but incorrect narrative that Tipton was a woman who passed as a man to enjoy a musical career during the 1940s and ‘50s. The film honors the musician’s life and music by reminds audiences that Tipton was a transgender male who took a courageous path while pursuing his passion. We see the importance of considering the duties and responsibilities entailed within telling a story that is not one’s own.

Interviewees reflect upon Tipton’s story, their own transitions, and the pervasive erasure of transgender experiences from the mainstream. Audition scenes let the diverse cast members perform an idea of Billy Tipton and further expand the boundaries for trans-masculine representation. Ironically, by queering Tipton’s story the film straightens out the past.

“GOOD JOE  BELL”— Gay Teen Suicide

“GOOD JOE  BELL”

Gay Teen Suicide

Amos Lassen

“Good Joe Bell” follows a father, Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) coming to terms with his son Jadin’s (Reid Miller) suicide. He undertook a walk across the United States to raise awareness of bullying following the suicide of 15-year-old Jadin.

The film moves between Joe’s inspirational march and the tragic homophobia that Jadin experienced. The real Joe Bell was killed after being hit by a car just 8 months after the death of his son, but his family was closely involved in the project. 

Along with homophobia, Jaden suffered visible embarrassment at home from his father”, and thus “Joe could have been permanently broken by regret, but instead sets out on a mission.”  Joe loved his children very much was a very complex man. Due to be released soon, this is one to watch for.

“FALLING”— Attempts at Reconciliation

“FALLING”

Attempts at Reconciliation

Amos Lassen

Homophobia is at the center of actor and director Viggo Mortenson’s “Falling”, a personal film. Lance Henrikson gives an abrasive performance as Willis who is experiencing his last days. His son has to deal with him one last time.

Willis is suffering from dementia and is a racist, sexist, homophobic guy who pushes everyone around him with aggressive slurs and emotional abuse. His son John (Mortensen) has brought him to California, which does not make the old man happy and allows for all kinds of cultural clashes, including ones with John’s husband Eric (Terry Chen). John’s sister (Laura Linney) is notas willing to not take Willis’ bait as her brother does. 

 The film’s melodrama  is repetitive and grueling. We don’t care about Willis with his off-putting hate.It’s a tough film to watch as it all hinges on healing rifts that cannot be healed. Willis is one of the most unlikable patriarch’s  ever and it is frustrating watching him bulldoze his way through everyone’s life as they constantly turn the other cheek. This is a film that’s hard to relate to unless you’ve had the distinct misfortune of suffering through a relationship with someone similar.

Divided between Mortensen and his older dad’s fractured relationship and scenes showing Henriksen as a young man (Sverrir Gudnason) and his tortured relationship with his wife (Hannah Gross) and kids. You never really get a sense of what’s made him such a horrible man, other than the fact that he assumes anyone with even the slightest sense of agency either seeks to dominate him or betray him. This is  aggravated later by the fact that his son has no choice but to take over his life as his health begins to fail.

We are voyeurs, watching horrible family dysfunction without it ever really amounting to much, other than the fact that there’s some grace to forgiveness even if its undeserved.

“SUMMER 85″— Passionate Love Between Teen Boys

“SUMMER 85”

Passionate Love Between Teen Boys

Amos Lassen

François Ozon’s “Summer 85” takes us in the footsteps of a passionate love between two teenagers. During that summer when he was just 16, Alexis (Félix Lefebvre), while out at sea on the Normandy coast, is heroically saved from the sinking by David (Benjamin Voisin), 18. Alexis just met the friend of hisdreams. But will the dream last longer than a summer? Alexis, who gradually gives in to his teenage passions, must hide his attractions within a family governed by a traditional father whose wife is ready to support him on the sly.

The first part of Summer 85 is about emerging romantic behaviors but Ozon’s feature film does not stop at this. He multiplies genres by taking a surprising turn in the middle of the film. The love of the two young people also looks at transsexualism through Alexis’ uncle disowned by his family and mourning is also an integral part of this romantic drama, including love presented as a way to heal wounds. The film owes a lot to the genius of its director and it owes just as much to its two main performers, Lefebvre and Voisin.

From the first minute of the film, we know from the voice-over of Alex / Alexis that there will be a death, and that is what it will be in the story that will be told. Alex will break the “fourth wall” by addressing the spectator to let them know that if he doesn’t want such a story he shouldn’t stay. We know that something… serious happened. “Summer 85” takes place in two stages: that of the narration and that of before the action.

Facts unfold in the present. They have to do with an “action” by Alex that involves the police, a psychologist, his literature teacher (Melvil Poupaud). He is a  teacher who inspires Alex to write a “what happened” account. Six weeks and a little longer later, David is “saved from the water” and when the fulfillment of a promise requires him write his life for a third party (and for the viewer). This is a story where the narrator will anticipate what will come to disturb a relationship (in particular the arrival of Kate, the young Englishwoman (Philippine Velge); because something happened, the fulfillment of a promise or a wish that the viewer discovers shortly before halfway through the film.

In the summer of 1985, thousands of men worldwide died of love. Most  died from AIDS and a few from an accident. From the first minutes of the film, it is clear that a youth is going to die. Ozon’s seems to want to put love back into 1980s homosexuality; to replace the AIDS and gender inequality that dominated the image of the time with passion and desire.

With a boring weekend at a swimming pool, a murder in a family mansion, or even a marriage that breaks anyway, Ozon knows how to turn this into a party time and again. In the opening scene, an innocent solo sail turns from a leisurely stretch to a life-threatening capsize in minutes, and in the same breath into a heroic rescue. Ozon does not want to offer you a real, but a remembered summer. He wants us to experience the sentimental pleasure and not look for the story.

The summer of ’85 is glorified by Ozon; even more than the thin thriller plot and the budding sexuality, the eighties themselves are the subject of the film as is the summer in which everything and everything is essential and vital for a seventeen-year-old. The summer we see is sentimental and endless. The boys are handsome, the widowed mother lascivious but no matter how interesting a mixture of adolescence, a sexual exploration and a dead eighteen-year-old, it is all silenced under sentiment in this southern French summer. The first half hour is full  of recognition for some of us but what is left at the end of the party is little more than sentiment.