Category Archives: Film

“CHASING THE MUSE”— A Film Diary About Porn


“Chasing the Muse”

A Film Diary About Porn

Amos Lassen

The French filmmaker Jean-François Davy’s documentary is a kind of film diary about porn casting, art and taboos. This is a film that shocks with its direct language and visuals. We hear philosophical thoughts about desire and pleasure and while once this might have been quite shocking it does have the same bite that it once had. We do see a lot of naked women but there is really not much sex that appears on film. This made me wonder why I would want to watch a documentary about sex when I could easily just watch the sex itself somewhere else.

Unfortunately the people we see (including the director) are average. I did find this to be in any way sexually arousing but that is my opinion. Everything seed rather mechanical, cold and certainly not erotic. I really wanted to like this movie but it just did not do it for me. Yet there is another feature on the same DVD by the same director that I found much more enticing even though it was made in 1975.

“Exhibition” is a documentary on the 70’s French porn industry and I learned something right away— there are generally two kinds of porn documentaries–those that actually take an insightful look behind the scenes, and those that are just an excuse to show a lot of nudity and XXX porn footage. This is actually somewhere in between. It’s generously seasoned with porn footage, but there are also a lot of (fully-clothed) interviews, and they even talk to the owners of porn theaters, some typical porn customers as well as a guy who makes promotional billboards for porn movies although he claims never to have seen one. And of course they also talk to porn directors and (usually naked) porn performers. The most interesting are the males who all cheerfully admit to bisexuality and demonstrate how they can “get it up” on camera with or without female help. Like many of their 70’s male counterparts in America, the male actors actually have some talent beyond porn. One Italian actor comes in singing an operetta, sits down for a long, cheerful interview, arouses himself for the camera, calls a female co-star to finish him off and then dances with her!

The females come off less well. Some are neophytes without much to say while others admit they’re only in it for the money. Claudine Beccarie, who was quite famous at the time, comes off very badly as she insults her male co-stars on camera during their (attempted) sex scenes. Soon after this doc was made, she would turn vehemently against the porn industry (but you get the idea it’s only because it didn’t take her where she thought she should have gone). Generally though, both the performers and directors seem much less delusional about their careers than their counterparts in America did during the heady 70’s “porno chic” days.

“A BRAVE HEART”— An Anti-Bullying Activist

a brave heartposter


An Anti-Bullying Activist

Amos Lassen

“A Brave Heart” is a documentary that follows the inspiring story of “26 year old, 58 pound Lizzie Velásquez and her transformation from cyber bullying victim to anti-bullying activist”. When she discovered that there was a YouTube video labeling her as “The World’s Ugliest Woman,” Lizzie began a physical and emotional journey and we are with her as she ultimately lobbies Congress for the first federal anti-bullying bill.  It all began when she was 16 years old.


Today Lizzie is a 26-year-old but was the victim of bullying when she was 16-year-old. She suffered with many daily imperious events just because she is physically different. She struggled a lot in her life and now she is an influential speaker who is very famous in the world. What a change—from having everyone ready to bully her, she is now being followed because she has the right attitude towards life. Lizzie has a disease that prevents her from gaining weight. She cannot weigh more than 64 pounds. When she was four-years-old she went blind in her right eye and she also has a weak immune system.

Lizzie was always encouraged by her family. She fought against the bullying and all those people who teased her, made fun of her and called her ugly. She found the best way to make herself better was by using the negative things as a ladder to climb up towards her goals. She proved that those who cannot recognize the true beauty that lies within the soul of the person right in front of them are the ugliest people in the world.


Through home movies and interviews with her family, we learn of countless surgeries and procedures Lizzie had growing up as her doctors tried to figure out what she is suffering from (an on-camera visit to a specialist late in the film explains some of it). The film is Lizzie’s story but what really is fascinating is how this lithe, articulate, and wonderfully soulful person changed a potentially crippling moment into a weapon against intolerance. We watch Lizzie transform herself into an international activist, meet with fans around the world and deal with her health issues and we feel, inspired and humbled.

Lizzie is an outstanding role model, and the film has many powerful messages for teens. Some parts can be upsetting, such as when the movie talks about bullying victims who’ve killed themselves (one mother is interviewed and gets very teary), when Lizzie reads hurtful comments about herself (and her friends and family members react with anger and sadness to her situation), and when Lizzie’s precarious health is discussed. This is an important movie for parents and kids to watch together; hopefully it will encourage everyone who sees it to stand up for themselves and others and embrace who they are. It has a potent and powerful message about one of humankind’s most foolish acts: bullying.

The Internet has made it possible to hurl piercing insults without any repercussions or a good old-fashioned ass kicking. Lizzie became a victim of relentless bullying as early as she can remember. Because if her condition, she was an easy target from adolescence through high school, and still as an adult from people without souls. Lizzie speaks from her heart, and even though she’s quite petite, her message is louder than a bomb. This is a movie that makes us cry but most of the tears come from how jubilant Lizzie is when she faces doctors, fans, and anyone else who comes across her path. Her infectious smile never leaves her side.


Instead of exploiting Lizzie and all of the bullying she’s endured, director Sara Bordo chronicles Lizzie’s triumph over adversity and we watch as she speaks at conferences in front of thousands all around the world. Lizzie’s current (and at times, stressful) life unfolds as the camera rolls. We see how she fights back with compassion. Lizzie is always calm in the film and in turn calms down the viewers.

THE PEARL BUTTON”— Mankind and Water

the pearl button poster


Mankind and Water

Amos Lassen

Director Patricio Guzmán elsewhere on this sight you will find other reviews of Guzman’s films) presents a “bold vision of the primal connection between mankind and water” and does so by presenting a daring and artistic visual history of indigenous Chileans and the eclipse of their population and culture by colonialism. “The Pearl Button” is a meditation on our own universal fascination with the natural majesty of Patagonia, the oceans and the heavens.

The ocean is the historian of humankind. It holds all of the voices of the earth as well as those from outer space. Water gets its impetus from the stars and then transmits it to the living creatures on the earth. The longest border in Chile is water (2760 miles) and those waters hold the secret of two mysterious buttons that were found on its ocean floor. Chile also has the largest archipelago in the world and its landscape seems supernatural. In Chile are volcanoes, mountains and glaciers and the voices of the Patagonian Indigenous people, the first English sailors and also those of its political prisoners. Some say that water has memory. This film shows that it also has a voice.


“The Pearl Button” presents Chile’s 78,000 km of ocean coastline with artistry and with this film, director Guzmán has proven himself to be an able documentarian and one who is happy to mesh fact with metaphor in order to bring forth an important retrospective glance at his nation’s heritage.

For Guzmán, water is the source of all life yet it seems to carry with it a mystifying and paradoxical association with death; he shows that the colonialists who wreaked havoc among the native peoples arrived via the ocean, and the victims of the 1973 coup d’état were infamously tied to pieces of railway iron before being thrown into it from helicopters, often still breathing. Guzman pairs the

the archipelago’s natives on the one hand with the Pinochet regime on the other and while this at first seems to be slightly contrived appears on the surface slightly contrived, Guzmán beautifully and artfully brings the two together.

the pearl button

Ever since the Chilean Republic was conceived some two centuries ago, massacre and death have been all too present among its people. By looking at two segments of Chilean history that are so removed from one another, the ubiquitous nature of these themes in the country’s past seems to have been just that. Guzman’s films are not always taken in the intellectual spirit that they are meant to be by his compatriots, yet they are important milestones in revisionist history.

We see imagery and water flowing through this film even when we look at the genocide or the fate of those who supported Allende who mysteriously disappeared under rule by Admiral Augosto Pinchoet.

The film opens with a drop of water that has been caught in a block of Quartz some 3000 years ago as if a tiny piece of history has been caught forever. The water adapted to its new home just as others in Chile, The sense of adaptability, movement and repetition are seen through the film.

In Western Patagonia, an archipelago of islands and fjords with around 46,000 miles of coastline, believed that all objects – including water – have a spirit and Guzmán considers this along with our place in the cosmos. He takes a poetic approach and moves seamlessly from “the wash and rhythm of waves to the balletic otherworldly synchronicity of scanners in the Atacama desert that turn simultaneously to look to the skies”. We see the glint and sparkle of light dancing to the movement of dark water and watch as the scene fades into a galaxy of stars and we are mesmerized by it.


Guzmán also suggests that even the universe of Chile goes largely unappreciated by its modern natives, who despite water flowing from the toe to the tip of the country, would rather look inward to the land than out to the sea. This was not, however, the case for the five indigenous tribes who originally made their home there and were so comfortable in canoes that they lit fires at their centre and thought nothing of paddling for days on end with their children in tow. Even though they were able to adapt to the harsh environment of the archipelago, with heavy winds gusting up to more than 100 miles an hour and its weather patterns unpredictable, colonialism brought with it other problems that were insurmountable — diseases they were unable to resist and animosity that they couldn’t possibly have seen coming.

Once there were some 8000 of these strong tribes while today there are only 20 left. Those that have survived now cherish their culture and languages that are both dying. We hear stories from them as to how it once was and they tug at the heartstrings.

The Button of the title holds a two-fold meaning. It represents the price that was paid to (or for) tribesman Jemmy Button by British sea captain Robert Fitzroy, who was intent on taking him back to ‘civilize’ him. The second button represents another crime as Guzmán considers the fate of those who disappeared by being sent to a watery grave.

Guzmán lets each wave of thought flow over the other and we see both the beauties of the cosmos and the horrors of man’s inhumanities to man. Guzman combines insightful interviews with poetic photography and metaphysical contemplation as he explores memory. The film and the thought are set in the space between fact and fiction, where repressed memories often seek refuge. Thus, this is a fascinating, yet traumatic route through Chile’s recent history and an existential mediation on the inherent horrors of mankind.


children poster

“Children of the Night”

Child Vampires

Amos Lassen

Set in Limbo, a secluded colony of child-vampires who are anything between 4 and 120 years old, Ivan Noel’s “Children of the Night” is about victims of adult vampires. Their leader is a religious ex-nurse whose goal in life is to find lost souls and bring them to this colony and watch them mature.


All of them were victims of ‘shameless’ adult vampires. She teaches them and has them attend religious rituals and every once in a while they are allowed to go to local towns to replenish their supply of blood. She believes that she is preparing them for what God had in mind for them: the replacement old the common and ‘deeply sinful’ human, and the creation a new race of men through ‘natural cloning’ (their infection by her children). However, they are not the only such colony in the world and they are not as set apart from outside threats as they think.

 The colony comes under attack from vengeful villagers after a journalist visits a secluded orphanage where children suffer from an unknown skin disease. This is how they were discovered. A band of men from a nearby village plan to destroy the colony and the children must defend themselves and their way of life.


What makes this film special is that it is an entirely new kind of vampire film that brings togetherrealism, surreal humor, and visual poetry.

It includes adult themes— apparent inter-generational love, and harsh criticism of blind religious and social intolerance of differences. Utilizing the ever-popular theme of vampires, it confuses the habitual good vs. evil dilemma and darkly blends various fairy tales, religious fanaticism, and takes what we know as social morality and social correctness as a basis for satire. The ending of the film, a cataclysmic and hilarious blood bath, is an amazing experience.


Bonus features include the director’s commentary, a making of featurette and a trailer.

“PS DANCE!”— “Dance for Every Child”

PS Dance


“Dance for Every Child”

Amos Lassen

In Nel Shelby’s new documentary, “PS DANCE!” we learn that are nearly four hundred certified dance instructors in the public schools of New York City. What we see immediately is that 1200 of the 1800 schools do not have dance programs and they are needed there. The film was two years in the making and it contains interviews with some 16 kids and we see more than a hundred others enjoying the dance program. The dance program influences their daily learning and we see that dance can be part of the daily core curriculum from kindergarten through grade 12.


We hear from dance ambassador Jody Gottfried Arnhold and dance education consultant Joan Finkelstein and they back up the above statement. We meet master dance educators Catherine Gallant, Ana Nery Fragoso, Michael Kerr, Ani Udovicki and Patricia Dye and watch as they demonstrate and discuss how a rich dance education develops artistic, social, academic and life skills in their students from elementary through high school. Of the four hundred dance teachers now in the system, 192 of them are certified by the state. There is a movement to build a new budget that will give support to the schools in order to have arts programs. Dance is now considered as a high-need subject area, and as you watch this film you will see why.


The film wonderfully shows us what happens when children dance because it is part of their studies. We see imagination, curiosity, hard work and discipline. It is almost as if a veil of gloom is lifted when we watch these children and we immediately understand why there is a movement to try to provide dance for every child. We see collaboration and joy in the middle schools and wonderful cooperation among high school dance students. They even say that dancing keeps in school and not on the streets. We become aware of the transformative power of dance and we how it inspires and connects people as well as gets a breeding round for discipline and hard work. It also teaches what our students so badly need to learn— respect. As one who has been in the classroom for over fifty years, the one thing that teachers seem to have lost over time is the respect they are due.


Paula Zahn narrates this film as it looks at how the lives of students have been transformed and changed by dance. I have never taught in a school that has had dance in the curriculum but as I watched this I certainly could see how it helps.

“Parents, educators and researchers have observed that studying dance boosts self-confidence, self-esteem, sense of identity, and helps children to develop an understanding of how to navigate the world as adults”.

“BABA JOON”— Israel’s Submission to the Oscars 2015

baba poster

“Baba Joon”

Israel’s Submission to the Oscars 2015

Amos Lassen

Yuval Delshad’s “Baba Joon” will be Israel’s submission for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. It won the Best Picture Ophir in Israel. Its world premiere took place recently at Toronto International Film Festival.

“Yitzhak runs the turkey farm his father built with his own two hands after they emigrated from Iran to Israel. When his son Moti turns thirteen, Yitzhak teaches him the trade, hoping that he will continue the proud family tradition. But Moti doesn’t  like working in the turkey barn; his passion is fixing up junkyard cars and bringing them back to life”.


“Moti’s mother Sarah tries to reconcile between the two, while his grandfather pushes Yitzhak to take a firm hand with his son. Yitzhak takes Moti’s refusal to work in the turkey barn as a personal rejection. Though he loves his son dearly, he makes it his mission to impose the family farm on Moti”.  


“The arrival of Darius, the uncle from America, sets off a chain of events that will undermine the familial harmony. Soon enough Yitzhak will learn that his son is just as stubborn as he is. The conflict is inevitable”.

“FIRE BIRDS”— One to Look For



One to Look For

Amos Lassen

Gila Almagor and Oded Teomi, two of the legends of Israeli cinema star in Amir Wolf’s “Firebirds”. The film has been nominated for 10 Ophir Awards, the Israeli equivalent of our Academy Awards and is now making the rounds of film festivals.


“An eighty-year-old man’s body is found with three stab wounds to the chest and a number tattooed along his forearm.  Amnon,  a police detective and second-generation Holocaust survivor, reluctantly accepts the case and struggles to bring it to a quick close. As the plot weaves between the past and present, their stories unfold.”


“In the weeks leading up to his death, Amikam (Oded Teomi), the victim, sought a ‘membership card’ to the most horrible club in the world: the club of Holocaust survivors. Despite his age he was still attractive and his charm was evident as he searched  the obituaries for widows to beguile”.


“As the story interweaves past and present, we witness each man’s struggle to rejoin the society that rejected him”.

“The Films of Patricio Guzmán”— Looking at Chile

five films

The Films of Patricio Guzmán

Looking at Chile

Amos Lassen

Coming from Icarus Films is a special eight-disc box set collection Five Films by Patricio Guzmán featuring five of the master documentarian’s seminal works. Filmed over more than 35 years, Guzmán’s films here depict Chile’s path over that time, as she dealt with political trauma and trying to come to terms with its history.

Guzmán’s epic body of work is the unprecedented record of one country’s journey and one filmmaker’s evolution. The box set will be released on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. On the same date the films will also be available on VOD.

Patricio Guzmán was born in Santiago, Chile in 1941 and is one of the leading documentary filmmakers in the world. He studied filmmaking at the Film Institute at the Catholic University of Chile, and at the Official School of Film in Madrid. After the 1973 Chilean coup Guzmán left the country and has lived in Cuba, Spain and France, where he currently resides. Six of his films have premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Guzmán’s “The Battle for Chile” is one of the most widely praised documentary films of all time, and was named “one of the 10 best political documentary films in the world” by Cineaste.

The box set includes:

The Battle of Chile: Part One (1975), Part Two (1976) and Part Three (1978), the epic and universally acclaimed chronicle of Chile’s open and peaceful socialist revolution, and of the violent counter-revolution against it in 1973. 

  • Chile, Obstinate Memory (1997), the poignant portrait of a nation battling with historical reminiscences.
  • The Pinochet Case (2001), the haunting story of the landmark legal case against General Augusto Pinochet before and after his arrest in London in 1998
  • Salvador Allende (2004), the poetic and definitive portrait of the Chilean leader; and
  • Nostalgia for the Light (2011), the gorgeous, personal meditation on astronomy, archaeology, and politics.


There are also two major bonuses:

“VOLLEY”— New Year’s Eve with Friends

volley correct poster


New Years Eve with Friends

Amos Lassen

Nicholas, Pilar, Cata, Belen, Manuela and Nacho are friends since adolescence. They are all near or in their late twenties or early thirties and they seem to have more differences than commonalities. They are spending New Year’s Eve together at a summerhouse and are hosted by Nico (writer and director Martin Piroyansky). Nico brings his ex-girlfriend Pilar (Inés Efron) with whom he just had a one-night stand. But, Nicolas hits on every other girl including the brooding Cata and the voluptuous Belén. When Nicolas unexpectedly falls into bed and then into love with the high-strung Manuela who also happens to be his best friend’s girlfriend, the last laugh is on him.


Nicholas is what we might call a player— an ardent follower of any theory that is opposed to monogamy. He feels that love does not exist and man is made to satisfy his sexual desire with as many women as possible. Nicholas was not the only one, however, who broke the rules of friendship.


Each of the characters represents more or less identifiable archetypes— the alpha male, the user, the bossy, the childish, the intellectual and the cutie. Like a volleyvball team that rotates, they shift their lovers. There are all kinds of encounters and sexual encounters, rather than romantic and that seems to be what this film is really about.


The characters act like teens and there is a lot of crass humor which is new for Argentina but that which we have been flooded with in American films. Set entirely in a house on the island of Tigre, “Volley” recounts the journeys of a group of friends traveling with the innocent intention of celebrating New Year.


The characters are exaggerations so that they can get some laughs and laugh we do but not always sympathetically. We see the influence of drugs as well as free sex and we also see there does exist disloyalty among friends. I find it hard to come to a concrete decision about whether or not I liked the film because although I laughed, I also felt that I was slapped across the face several times.

“A SYRIAN LOVE STORY”— A Country’s Fight

a syrian love story poster


A Country’s Fight

Amos Lassen

Sean McAllister’s documentary “A Syrian Love Story”) is a portrait of a family torn apart by dictatorship and war. Amer and Raghda met and fell in love in a Syrian prison fifteen years ago. They were both political prisoners. Amer was a Palestinian freedom fighter, Raghda was a Syrian revolutionary and both suffered tortured. On their release they married and started a family. Director McAllister first met Amer in 2009 and over five years followed the family’s lives. After writing a book about their love story and experiences in prison, Raghda was once again detained and Amer is left to bring up their four boys alone. Their story is reflected in Syria’s fight and we become aware of the tremendous impediments they faced –- the Arab Spring, civil war, national vengeance and individual turmoil.

We see the family talking to Raghda during a rare phone call. Bob the youngest child cries for his mother and Kaka, a teenager, tries to understand and make sense of Basher al Assad’s tyrannical regime. In 2011, as the ‘Arab Spring’ emerges and protesters take to the streets, Amer uses the opportunity to highlight the plight of Raghda, ceaselessly calling for her release. Finally his persistence, and pressure from the west, has the desired result and Raghda is released in a small amnesty of political prisoners. McAllister using a handheld camera captures their euphoria followed by the difficulties Raghda has adapting to home life and her insomnia (she is haunted by nightmares of how she was treated in prison).

syrian love story1

The protests continue and soon our director is arrested and held for five days; his camera was taken and because of what was on the film the family was forced to leave Syria and go to Lebanon.McAllister followed them there and found that Amer and Raghda’s relationship was showing signs of strain. At one point Raghda took off, leaving Amer with the children and he went through feeling hurt, confused and betrayed. Because he is a Palestinian, he cannot claim asylum outside Lebanon but Raghda, as a Syrian political prisoner, has the necessary status for them to be accepted in Europe. She returns to Amer and the family is granted asylum in France.


When they get settled in France, the tome of the film shifts and we see the bleak reality for so many refugees, having to start afresh, mourning the disintegration of a country as well as the loss of their beloved homeland. Raghda in particular feels totally lost since she was well known in Syria, but in France she is nobody. This, of course, causes dissension in the family and the arguments between husband and wife intensify. Amer finds a girlfriend and Raghda takes to wine. We watch as their relationship falls apart and the film catches this with brutal honesty.


The fact that the couple allowed McAllister to film this shows their sense of courage in wanting the world to see what has happened to them as a result of their country falling apart. What the family deals with emotionally reflects Syria’s physical collapse and the personal and political are irretrievably entwined. The film is not easy to watch but it is a necessary reminder of what refugees from Syria deal with. This is a “poignant tale of a marriage breakup that echoes the agony and heartbreak of countless other Syrians who have found their homes destroyed and their lives in ruins”.