Category Archives: Film

“”ANOTE’S ARK”— What if your country was swallowed up by the sea?”

“ANOTE’S ARK”

“What if your country was swallowed”by the sea?”

Amos Lassen

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati is one of the most remote places on the planet.  It is far-removed from the pressures of modern life and yet it is one of the first countries that must confront imminent annihilation from sea-level rise. Kiribati president Anote Tong tries to find options, from mass migration to building underwater cities. But the water grows higher, and citizens are fleeing the island, leaving behind 4000 years of Kirabati culture.

“Anote’s Ark” captures the shifting dynamics of climate change while at the same time give us  a portrait of the Kiribati people that reveals their strength as they face the waters head on. At first, director Matthieu Rytz’s documentary  seems like it’s going to be yet another climate-change film, created in hopes that the right people see it and start to set us on the right path before all is ruined for future generations. It does tackle the subject of climate change, but it focuses on a real-world situation that can be witnessed right now. 

This isn’t a film about whether climate change is real; it’s a film about an island nation of 100,000 people that is on the verge of oblivion due to rising sea levels. It is punctuated with beautiful drone shots and hypnotic native music and follows the life of the president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, as he pleads with the world’s nations to adopt environmental standards in order to halt, or even just reverse, the damage that has been done to our planet. Tong istrying to work with countries like Fiji and Australia on creating an escape plan for when his people are forced to leave their homes after the ocean swallows them up. Two villages on the islands have already been devoured, and as it stands now – by the end of the century – the entire country will be no more.

We get a fascinating look at this small country, the dedication of its people and its president, and the positive steps for change that become laid out due to the Paris Agreement. The film was msde before Trump was elected as the U.S. president and attempted to leave the agreement and just before, as the film states preceding the end credits, the Kiribati president elected after Tong’s term began working to undo all the progress he made. 

Director Rytz spends a lot of time around the island, showing its amazing beaches and tranquil landscapes and introducing us to its people – connecting us on a personal level to Kiribati, which lies on the equator and straddles both hemispheres.

We see President Anote Tong doing his best to tell the world about the problems in his country – not so people will stop driving cars or change their way of life to stop climate change – in hopes that other countries will help when the time comes. At the Paris Climate Summit in 2015, President Tong’s government negotiates with New Zealand to allow some Kiribati’s citizens to purchase land and emigrate each year. 

These are pro-active things he CAN do, because he cannot hold back the ocean. We also see these changes through the eyes of Sermary, a mother who wins one who emigrated to New Zealand. Currently, when a storm comes, the ocean floods into her house. She is glad it happens during the day because she worries they might not have been able to get the children out in time had they all been sleeping. These aren’t the kinds of fears most mothers have to face. Worst of all, due to high airfare cost, Sermary must emigrate to New Zealand alone; leaving her 6 young children for 6 months in order to raise the money needed to bring them over.

With drones we are able to see the Earth from above thus showing us what we’ve been doing to it – how we’ve been changing it, without regard for natural processes. Being able to sweep over the ocean and see these islands from above made me realize how small they are.

Imagine if you were  given this kind of news: “Your entire country will be completely uninhabitable within this century due to rising sea levels. All your countrymen must find new homes and new livelihoods in foreign lands. Your culture, history, and your spiritual connection to the land will become echoes of the life you once knew. Now, imagine if you were president of this country. This is the reality faced by Anote Tong, the president of Kiribati, and the main character of Anote’s Ark.

Kiribati (pronounced ‘Kiribas’) consists of 33 atolls that span about the same width as the United States, and is just about a meter (3.28 ft.) above sea level. Anote served as Kiribati’s President from 2003 to 2016 (the maximum term limit) and now continues to search for a solution for all 100,000 residents of Kiribati who are destined to become some of the world’s first climate change refugees as their islands are inundated by rising sea water. Anote also appeared on the Sundance Institute’s panel “The New Climate” along with other leaders of indigenous peoples whose way of life is currently being disrupted by the effects of climate change.

 “It’s too late for Kiribati,” says Anote in the film. “For a long time I thought there was nothing I could do. It was this depressing feeling I had to get over.”

The film follows Anote as he travels to U.N. negotiations, the Vatican and the Paris Climate Agreement talks. The film also explores some of the solutions he’s envisioned for his community. The very core of Anote’s mission is to maintain his people’s dignity by preventing them from becoming victims of global catastrophe, and being pro-active about the writing on the wall–or–water on the horizon.

The film’s cinematography is a breathtaking tour of a paradise on earth. A single raft bobs in the waves, isolated and at the mercy of the sea. There are scenes of tribal celebrations, life in low-ceilinged woven huts, young children playing. Early scenes show Sermary — an important secondary character of the film and mother of six — and her husband preparing a meal for their family: laughing and splashing each other as they catch fish in the daylight, clean and cook the fish, and finally feast on their hard-earned meal by nightfall. Life on Kiribati appears simple and happy.

The ocean and the land become characters too, as Rytz’ juxtaposes footage of the paradise-like land with footage of the brutal, furious typhoons that tear the island homes to shreds. Tong hopes that with this film that there are people who will actually be affected by what they see here

“MOYNIHAN”— A Man of Ideas And Deeds

“Moynihan”

A Man of Ideas and Deeds

Amos Lassen

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) did not just live in the twentieth century, he spanned it as a colossus of ideas and a man of deeds. He was an influential intellectual and sociologist, policy specialist, ambassador and long-serving senator. In an age of rigid ideologies,  Moynihan was a man who embraced the contradictions and complexity of public policy who never despaired of the role of government in the lives of its citizens. Now, fifteen years after his death, as the nation falls deeper into hyper-partisanship and politics has become dominated by social media, the first feature length documentary about his life captures Moynihan as never before.

He was a New Deal Democrat, but he was also one of the Ford Administration’s best appointees when we look at him from a conservative perspective. As America’s UN Ambassador, his plain-spoken defense of the American democracy and our shared values shook Turtle Bay, especially his withering rebuke of the notorious resolution equating Zionism with racism. Directors Joseph Dorman and  Toby Perl Freilich show us the political career and scholarship of the longtime New York senator.

Moynihan was smart, flamboyant, and capable of working with the other party. His first major government job came under Johnson, helping shape the initial conception of the “War on Poverty.” Much to people’s surprise, especially his wife’s, Moynihan also served as Nixon’s domestic policy advisor (and later ambassador to India).

Dornan and Freilich’s many interview subjects make it pretty clear the administrations changed, but Moynihan and his commitment to fight poverty never wavered. His passionate term at the United Nations made Moynihan a folk hero. I found it refreshing and invigorating to watch this film at a time of such partisan polarization, because a healthy percentage of the talking heads are politicians and commentators associated with the conservative movement (or at least they were in the pre-Trump era), including Norman Podhoretz, George Will, Michael Barone, Trent Lott, and Suzanne Garment. It is fitting, because much of Moynihan’s work, particularly his influential and maligned “Moynihan Report” on persistent unemployment in the African American community, often cut both ways.

 

The documentary also reminds us of a time when the less extreme candidate could still win a party primary, although in the case of Moynihan’s “whopping one-percent” victory over New Left firebrand Bella Abzug was quite close.

The filmmakers and their interview subjects spend a good deal of time on Moynihan’s dry wit and his way with words and definitely take a great deal of time and effort to codify Moynihan’s standing as a liberal, which he was. It is too bad that they did not spend more time on his UN tenure, because it had a unifying effect on American society and across party and ideological lines. This is a thoughtful look at a man whose belief that “if you have contempt for government, you will get contemptible government’ sounds especially valid today.”

“JIHADISTS”— Extremist Islam

“JIHADISTS”
Extremist Islam
Amos Lassen
Banned in France (as ‘Salfistes’), the film , “Jihadists” looks at the Salafi movement and reveals the inner workings of extremist Islam.
Two Western filmmakers, Lemine Ould Salem of Mauritania and François Margolin from France were granted unparalleled access to fundamentalist clerics of Sunni Islam who proselytize for a “purer” form of Islam–including jihad of the sword and they do so in Mali, Tunisia, Iraq and Afghanistan. We see their theoretical interpretations are juxtaposed against images and footage from recruitment videos showing the hardline application of sharia law. The film, gives us  a stark look everyday life under jihadi rule.

An earlier version of the film was released following the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris where it was mistakenly interpreted as an empathetic portrayal of jihadism. If you have ever wondered what indoctrination by an extremist group would be like, you can find out by watching this.
We see “a context-free series of interviews with hardline fundamentalist clerics and believers from sharia strongholds in Mali, Tunisia, Iraq and Afghanistan, interspersed with propaganda videos of varying levels of queasiness and horror”. We hear from ultra-pious adherents who want to turn back the clock  and the result is an uncritical presentation causing the film to almost being  banned in France because it sounded like propaganda.  We see reality including everyday violence, unapologetic defenses of cruelty, killing and hatred wrapped in soft-spoken praising of God.
 What we see is an observed lesson that reveals the inner workings of a vocal minority. To know what’s out there is valid and director Margolin says we should “fight with ideas.” In 2016, France restricted  the documentary “Jihadists” (there called “Salafistes”) over fears that it provided a platform for Islamic extremists to spread propaganda.

This version is updated and re-edited and features interviews from over several years with militants and extremists in Mali, Tunisia and Mauritania. Co-director Margolin tell us about the importance of listening to them. “They are not crazy,” he says, as if madness were the sole reason for withholding a soapbox. “They have not escaped from psychiatric wards. However, it is not clear what Margolin thinks is educational about showing unfiltered extremist ideology. In an early moment in Mali, Oumar Ould Hamaha, a militant allied with Al Qaeda who was murdered in 2014  claims that there has been no more theft “since we started stonings” and “cutting off thieves’ hands.” As the film proceeds, subjects praise the Sept. 11 attacks and the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015 and inveigh against women, gays and Jews
Those interviewed openly discuss their ideology and have no shame in admitting that homosexuals anyone who doesn’t agree with and obey their laws and ideologies are killed. The jihadists appear brainwashed, simple-minded and cruel. The filmmakers are quite courageous and bold for risking their lives to bring attention to these people and their twisted ideologies that fuel ISIS. Anger toward such hatred, bigotry, extremism and evil.
What the film does not do and should is look at the nature of evil and if it is banal or not. This, however, is very difficult to do and I can tell you first hand that my own experience in teaching courses on Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil have proven that to me and that we really are at a loss to define the word evil as a stand-alone noun. We tend to see evil as the opposite of good and there is so much more involved.
 “Jihadists” is an alarming and controversial film especially when it  describes plans for taking on the President of the United States. During its brief 75 minutes’ running time, you will be accosted by words that will make you shudder, encourage you to shelter yourself and your small children. After agreeing to cut some of the scenes that went too far over the top—such as images of a police officer killed in France—the French Ministry of Culture lifted the ban. There are those who wonder whether this film is an apologia, or defense, of ISIS ideology and it is indeed possible that watching  it might sway people to the cause because those who are interviewed appear mentally fine. They explain their positions calmly, as though implying that they would be perfectly willing to debate the opposite side but as equals.

Specifically “Jihadists” deals with the Sunni Islam extreme sect of Salafistes, the spokesmen—all men by the way—lecture us without a smile or laugh on their faces. And that’s a good thing because if they came across as entertainers they could influence far more people than they have done to date. We see one guy whose hand is amputated for stealing and we see two homosexuals tossed from the roof because their “crime offends God” and makes them “no better than animals.” In one unexplained strip of film, a couple of jihadists drive by in their car gunning down people with automatic weapons and we are not told why.
The film ends with a final scene of an elderly gentleman smoking his pipe despite criticism from a passing ideologue. He demanded and received the return of what gives him pleasure saying that his health is not anybody else’s business.
The film is in French, English, Arabic and Bambara with subtitles.

“HAGAZUSSA”— The Humanization of Evil

 

“Hagazussa”

The Humanization of Evil

Amos Lassen

 In 15th Century Austria, a woman takes cares of her young daughter, Albrun, in a cabin in the Alps. The two suffer regular harassment from nearby villagers, but generally seem to have a safe and happy life together. One winter day, the mother collapses in the snow and some doctors are called. They discover that she has the plague and quickly disperse, leaving Albrun to care for her mother alone until the inevitable horrible death. Years later, Albrun has her own cabin alone in the woods, and cares for a newborn. She again suffers harassment from some nearby villagers, but one kind woman and the spooky local priest reach out to her. To say any more wouldn’t be fair to the movie as a narrative or concept but the plot only matters insomuch as it drives gorgeous and methodical exploration of character.

“Hagazussa” is an atmospheric tone poem and though horrifying in its own way, director Lukas Feigelfeld aims first to give us a portrait of a woman. Filmed with loving artistry and sadistic commitment, this is a vivid fable with clear disinterest in popular acceptance. It touches explicitly on every dark implication of Witchery in Medieval Europe, yet it remains steadfastly sympathetic to its  heathen. Feigelfeld turned this thing in as a graduation film.

Sound is vital to this picture, and though dialogue is limited, Feigelfeld uses meticulous sound mixing to pull the audience into his characters’ world. W ordless interaction is more revealing than pages of dialogue.

We see long, lingering shots of dead or eviscerated animals, human suffering, bodily decay, and there are disturbing. This is the story of a 15th Century goat herder and her mother, who live alone in the woods, isolated from the local villagers. At once, we can tell that something’s not right with the mother, who doesn’t cast spells, but does fall prey to fits.

Time goes on, and the mother dies from disease, but the daughter still hears her name being called. As she grows up, she bares a child as well, another girl doomed to be taunted and cast aside by the villagers, who don’t seem to understand much outside their own lives. The daughter believes she has made a friend and so are we tricked into believing that things might be okay. A series of events pulls out the worst in the woman we follow, and she begins a furious but quiet vengeance that takes out her tormentors.

“Hagazussa” is hard to review since it has little dialogue and little  plot structure. We remain in an abstract void as visceral and unforgiving terrors happen. It’s a hard watch that is photographed beautifully. There is beauty to behold in these little deaths.

“Working Woman”— A #MeToo Film from Israel

“Working Woman”

A #MeToo Film from Israel

Amos Lassen

“Working Woman”, a new Israeli film explores the problems surrounding a grey area of sexual harassment at work. Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) recently started working in the real estate business.  The work place seems to be good at first.  Unfortunately there’s more than meets the eye with her married realtor boss, Benny (Menashe Noy).  Instead of being a respectful person, Benny soon starts pressuring Orna into having sex. Like so many other men, he can’t see to keep his hands to himself.

As for Orna, her husband, (Ofer), has been working hard to start a restaurant business.  They have three children so they badly need the money if they want to live comfortably.  The restaurant struggles over the course of several months so Orna feels pressure to continue working for Benny.  It is because of the struggles, it’s Orna who must bring home the check.  All the while, she continues to pay the unwanted price in emotional

We see the film through Orna’s eyes and we see that director Michal  Aviad is not afraid to take a risk in telling this story.

There’s a few things going on for “Working Woman”.  One of which is the aforementioned issue of sexual harassment in the work place.  The other of which are these young families who are struggling to live financially.  If one does not have the money to afford a family, should they wait?  This seems to be another understated angle that director seeks to explore in the film.  It’s surely an issue affecting religious families more so than secular.

It was only a matter of time before we started to see the serious effects of the #MeToo movement be reflected on the big screen.  Female filmmakers are no longer afraid of having to keep their voices silent.  It’s in the best interest of the filmmaking industry, both Hollywood and foreign alike, to have this stories be told.  We are reminded that sexual harassment happens in the workplace, too.

With the current climate surrounding the #MeToo movement and women bravely telling their stories of harassment and assault, this fictionalized account (which feels all too real) is more than topical.  In fact, it could easily have been headlines.

Lead actor Shlush is well cast in her role as Orna and she is able to easily portray her character’s clear discomfort in her body language or even just a tense facial expression.  In contrast, Noy is introduced as a charismatic individual, likeable and charming until he begins to abuse his power.  Together this dynamic helps to bring this story to realistic life, and the seriousness of Orna’s emotional journey is well handled.

Orna becomes so traumatized and falls apart leaving her job,  eventually confessing to her husband why she is so distraught. The only weak part of this very compelling story comes now as  Orna fails to explain the circumstances properly to her husband and he therefore directs his anger at her and not Benny.

“NAZI JUNKIES”—  Was Hitler a Junkie?

 

“NAZI JUNKIES” 

Was Hitler a Junkie?

Amos Lassen

“Nazi Junkies” came into being as a result of Norman Ohler’s revelatory book, “Blitzed: Drugs In The Third Reich” and it reveals how both Hitler and Nazi Germany were heavily addicted to drugs. The recently unearthed journals of Hitler’s personal doctor, Théodore Morell, suggest that the Führer was a full-fledged addict, using an assortment of drugs including cocaine, opiates, steroids. At the same time, the entire nation of Germany was binging on speed. This was especially prevalent on the battlefield, where the drug was systematically distributed to soldiers in order to transform the military ranks into seemingly unstoppable fighting machines. 

The film features testimonies from historians Norman Ohler, Antony Beever, Richard Evans, Roman Toppel, and others and never-before-seen archival footage. The film gives us quite a different look at history than what we were previously taught. It also makes an important case for the “importance of the exploration of this subject toward a more complete historical understanding of the Third Reich and the Holocaust.” and effectively captures Hitler’s pathetic dependence on his doctor. “

“Nazi Junkies” unveils the depths of German addiction in surprising fashion. It is divided into two episodes:

EPISODE 1: HITLER THE JUNKIE

Cocaine, opiates, steroids… Hitler consumed an assortment of drugs as he ruled over Nazi Germany. The secret journals of Dr. Théodore Morell, Hitler’s personal physician, have suggested that the Führer was a full-fledged addict. Archival documents and testimonies from historians, scientists and World War II specialists reveal new evidence showing the true extent of his addiction. But will an examination of Hitler’s skull uncover the ultimate proof of his drug habits?

EPISODE 2: NAZI JUNKIES

The year is 1939. Hitler plunges Europe into war. In a few weeks the Wehrmacht brings Poland to its knees and crushes the French Army. Nothing seems to be able to stop the Reich, and yet only two years later, their armed forces are destroyed in Russia. How can such a collapse be explained? Nazi Germany was an entire nation binging on speed, and on the battlefield the drug was systematically used to keep soldiers awake and to maximize their endurance and stamina.

“THE LONG GOODBYE”— Death, Grace and Dignity

“The Long Goodbye”

Death, Grace and Dignity

Amos Lassen

Kara Tippetts is a wife and young mother who is dealing with terminal breast cancer. She explores dying with dignity and grace. She struggles through each new breast cancer diagnosis, ending with her untimely and hard to understand death. Her honesty and courage have inspired hundreds of thousands of fellow moms to follow along with Kara through her suffering and eventual death. All one has to do is watch Kara for 30 seconds to realize she was an amazing person with a God-given purpose. Anyone who has experienced loss, pain, or disappointment will relate to Kara, and she will uplift and encourage anyone who dares to watch. No one will be the same after watching this film and hearing her story.

Kara lived fully by giving fully of herself. The film looks at how we live, how we prioritize, how we give and how we withhold who we are. As Kara challenges herself, she challenge others to see past what we hold up as important and find the core of human dignity in living out love. Kara’s courage and authenticity allow her to face her fears.

BONUS FEATURES

  Ann Voskamp Interview

  Joni Eareckson Tada Interview

“VENGEANCE: A LOVE STORY”— Manipulating the Law

“Vengeance: A Love Story”

Manipulating the Law

Amos Lassen

On the Fourth of July, Teena, a single mother is brutally assaulted by a local gang in front of her 12-year-old daughter Bethie. Despite Bethie’s ability to identify the attackers, the defense hires a local hot-shot attorney who manipulates the law to their advantage. When the criminals are set free, Gulf War veteran and detective John Dromoor (Nicolas Cage) is dismayed at the lack of justice and plots revenge against the men on Teena’s behalf.

 “Vengeance” is a vigilante thriller that’s straight to the point.  John  is a cop in the Niagara Falls area and he has watched the area’s decline. After his partner is killed, John, also a widower, is left an empty shell, only to find purpose with the case of Teena (Anna Hutchison), a young mother to Bethie (Talitha Bateman), who was gang raped by a pack of local brutes while walking home through the woods late one night with her child. Bethie is the only witness and the burden of identification is put on the young terrified girl. As Teena emerges from the hospital, she’s promptly put on legal display, with her lawyer, Dixon (Kara Flowers), looking to put the perpetrators behind bars. However, one of the perpetrators’ mothers, Irma (Charlene Tilton), hires slick legal ace Jay (Don Johnson), who proceeds to tear Dixon apart in court, changing the course of the case. John, frustrated with the unfairness of the justice system, elects to be proactive about punishment, becoming judge, jury, and executioner. 

Niagara Falls is seen as a cesspool of drug addicts and violence in “Vengeance,” adding an intriguing geographical perspective to the tradition of injustice and revenge. “Vengeance” becomes a legal drama that highlighting a corrupt system with a biased judge who’s openly hostile to anything Dixon attempts, clearly favoring Jay and his smooth, practiced ways. The severity of the crime isn’t respected in “Vengeance,” and it’s clear scenes have been cut to streamline the story.

John becomes a dark angel of sorts, using his police skills to deliver righteous justice for Teena, a woman he saved and also enjoyed a flirtatious interaction with in a bar. This is a dark look at human behavior and our fractured legal system. The movie takes a deliberate, fairly realistic approach and while the vigilante element is of course somewhat of a reach, some explanation is offered there.

The movie has an intense rape scene but it is more violent than sexual in nature. The camera sees the assault from a distance and breaks from the attack often, to reinforce that the victim’s daughter is a witness.

Cage is intense as well and he is counterbalanced by an equally as good Johnson. Director Johnny Martin pulls no punches and the film offers an interesting ambiguity to nearly all of the characters involved. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it’s a thought provoking piece with some great performances. It hits us hard.

“THE VAULT”— Saving a Brother

“The Vault”

Saving a Brother

Amos Lassen

Two estranged sisters are forced to rob a bank in order to save their brother. The heist begins smoothly, but when the bank manager sends them to the vault in the basement, things go awry and this is the latest film from genre writer-director Dan Bush who says that his vision for this film was to make a movie where ‘Heist meets horror’. He couches this ambition in a story dealing with sibling loyalty and conflict.

When Michael Dillon (Scott Haze) gets into trouble with a vicious gangster, he has to come up with a great deal of money very quickly in order to save his life. His two estranged sisters, Leah (Francesca Eastwood), an ex-con, and Vee (Taryn Manning), who has spent time in the military, come up with a plan to recruit some heavies who will help them rob a nearby bank. Everything begins according to plan until the robbers discover that the bank holds only a small amount of cash and the defiant bank manager refuses to help them any further.

The day had begun like any other for the weary assistant bank manager Ed Maas (James Franco),  he had his coffee and felt despondent about his job  but he certainly did not expect to be staring down the barrel of a gun and dealing with two volatile sisters, their nervous brother, and their heavies who were frustrated by the small amount of cash at his bank.

The plan descends into chaos. The bank manager is knocked unconscious and staff hostages are injured. Maas, the assistant manager of the bank who has been held in a separate room, declares that he can give them information that will get them a lot more money, and that he is willing to bargain with this for the lives of the hostages.

Members of the gang are disgruntled and panicking, the clock is ticking and the authorities are onto their crime. Leah decides to take Maas up on his offer. He tells them that there is a forgotten, old vault under the bank, dating back from the 1980s. Rumor has it that it still contains takings that may number into the millions. He is extraordinarily helpful, informing them how to override the security systems which will give them passage down into the dark, lower levels.

However, he doesn’t tell them that down there they will find more than they bargained for – something else is down there too. The tables are turned when the criminals unlock the true secret of the vault. Soon the robbers are faced with a choice  as to whether to confront the heavily armed police and FBI who arrive outside, headed up by the tenacious Detective Iger (Clifton Collins Jr) or go down and face whatever resides with the money in the vault below. This is a movie that starts off in one genre and then takes off into another. It takes family loyalty as its premise for the heist, placing the siblings in a situation in which long-felt animosities and conflicts heighten the tension of a situation already fraught with danger and promising further impending horrors.

Nevertheless, The Vault is an entertaining horror offering, gory enough for those that like that kind of thing. It gets itself a little tangled in its ambition yet there are many very good things about the film and while it is not great, it is interesting (and that is a  compliment).

“MELO”— A Doomed Love Triangle

“Mélo”

A Doomed Love Triangle

Amos Lassen

Master director Alain Resnais adapted “Melo” from Henri Bernstein s classic play about a doomed love triangle in 1920s Paris. Pierre (Pierre Arditi) and Marcel (André Dussollier) are both celebrated concert violinists and lifelong friends, despite their differing temperaments. Pierre is modest, sensitive and content with his lot; Marcel is hungry, driven, and pursues a solo career that takes him to the four corners of the world. After spending years apart, the two friends reunite when Pierre invites Marcel to his home for dinner. It is then that Marcel first meets Pierre’s wife Romaine (Sabine Azéma)  and thus begins a passionate affair that can only end in tragedy. “Melo” is a hidden gem in Resnais celebrated body of work waiting to be rediscovered.

The film is set behind a proscenium arch and has a classical music background and boasts excellent nuanced performances from the three leads..

Marcel has a dinner-date with his old friend from their days at the music conservatory, Pierre, a contented second-rate orchestra musician who lives in a suburban cottage, in Montrouge just outside Paris, this led to Pierre’s falling in love with Marcel’s attractive pianist wife Romaine after she’s captivated over hearing him tell his life story. She chases after the wealthy, suave and talented violinist and they have a passionate affair. When Marcel goes on a tour, the tormented woman commits suicide when her plans to poison her good-natured husband are interrupted by a nosy doctor. The last act has Pierre calling on Marcel and the two dance around the death of Romaine, with a depressed Pierre reaching out to somehow forgive his friend who will still not admit he cheated with his best friend’s wife. Pierre’s purpose of the meeting after many years of not seeing his friend is to retain his wife’s good name, whom he still loves despite later learning of her disloyalty, as he will not allow for any mention of the illicit affair.

This is an elegant and well-crafted drama that wrestles with broad ideas of love, honesty and drama. We see pain from among the Brahms’ sonatas, and melodramatics that were dated long ago. I am a great fan of Alain Resnais whose famous films quite often revolve around doomed love affairs. “Mélo” is a story of adultery where the cards are all shown, a melodrama that shares all its secrets and displays the consequences of each.

Set in 1926, we meet longtime friends who both play the violin professionally and who did not expect the love affair to happen. The seduction of Marcel is one of many great scenes in “Mélo” and one where Azema truly shines. She plays every trick: she is knowing and open, but also coy and demure; shameless, yet protective. She invites, then denies, and then accepts Marcel’s advances when he finally propositions her as if it were his own idea. What begins as a lark quickly becomes heavy, however, and when Marcel is due to go on tour, large promises are made. Romaine vows to end her marriage with Pierre before Marcel gets back, a task easier said than done when Pierre grows gravely ill. It is here that Resnais, who also wrote the screenplay, gets tricky, letting the melodrama veer into more pulpy territory, making suggestions of what the true cause of Pierre’s illness is with just a few well-placed–and ultimately unexplained–hints. He even plays with the paradigm of good woman and bad, making Romaine the reluctant femme fatale in contrast to her more virtuous cousin (Fanny Ardant).

Resnais plays up the theatrical origins of “Mélo” by shooting long portions of the scenes as single, uncut takes, and dividing them with the image of a red curtain, a filmic fade-in/fade-out.  The opening credits are printed in a playbook, the pages being turned on screen. Amazingly, though, the film does not become overly stagey. Even as the actors talk, he moves the camera around them, never settling longer than makes sense on a single shot, choosing when to stand still, pan, or cut based on the emotional tenor of the script. His control of the film is remarkable. Each moment appears spontaneous, but the spontaneity that only careful planning can inspire.

As the film  progresses, the secrets grow more pronounced, and the thrill of romance gives way to rash decisions and great despair. Sabine Azema as Romaine is the driving force throughout, but both male actors are excellent as the men driven to distraction by desire for  her. All the performances are compellingly physical despite all the scenes being confined to a single space.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS 

  Brand new 2K restoration of the film

  High Definition Blu-Ray (1080p) presentation

  Original 2.0 Stereo soundtrack

  Optional English subtitles

  Newly-filmed introduction by critic Jonathan Romney

  Archive interview with director Alain Resnais

  Archive interview with producer Marin Karmitz

  Archive interviews with actors Pierre Arditi and André Dussolier

  Archive interview with script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot

  Archive interview with set designer Jacques Saulnier

  Theatrical Trailer

  Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork

  FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Bilge Ebiri