Category Archives: Film

“WETLANDS”—- Opens in NYC and LA

“LIBERATING AND FEROCIOUSLY COMIC…
IF OSCAR DIDN’T HAVE A STICK UP HIS ASS,
JURI WOULD BE A NOMINEE FOR BEST ACTRESS”
- Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“NOTHING LESS THAN THRILLING… VIVIDLY ILLUMINATED BY MS. JURI’S EXTRAORDINARILY UNPROTECTED AND UTTERLY FEARLESS PERFORMANCE”
- Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times

A-
“WONDERFULLY FILTHY AND WILDLY PERVERSE”
- Jenni Miller, A.V. Club

“WETLANDS IS DIRTY, EXPLICIT, ROMANTIC, TRAGIC, PSYCHEDELIC, RAUNCHY, SEXY, REPULSIVE FUN,
AND I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT”
- J. Hurtado, Twitch
WETLANDS

BASED ON THE BESTSELLING NOVEL BY CHARLOTTE ROCHE
 
A FILM BY DAVID WNENDT
 
Starring Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski and Meret Becker

OPENS IN NY ON FRIDAY, 9/5 AT THE ANGELIKA FILM CENTER

OPENS IN LA ON FRIDAY, 9/12 AT THE NUART & NATIONWIDE

View Theatrical Trailer
View “Pink-Band” Trailer
Official Selection:
Sundance Film Festival 
Locarno Film Festival
SXSW
Fantasia Film Festival
Eighteen year-old Helen Memel (Carla Juri) likes to skateboard, masturbate with vegetables and thinks that body hygiene is greatly overrated. Struggling with her parents’ divorce, she spends her time experimenting and breaking one social taboo after the other with her best friend, Corinna (Marlen Kruse). When a shaving accident lands her in the hospital, she sees it as a way to reconcile her parents and forms an unlikely bond with her male nurse, Robin (Christoph Letkowski). WETLANDS is an unapologetically vulgar coming-of-age tale about divorce, first love and anal fissures.
109 Minutes • Comedy • Not Rated • In German with English Subtitles
OPENS IN NY ON FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5

ANGELIKA FILM CENTER
18 W Houston St.
New York, NY 10012
(212) 995-2570
For Tickets and Showtimes

OPENS IN LA ON FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12

NUART THEATRE
11272 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA. 90067
(310) 473-8530
For Tickets and Showtimes

Also, playing starting 9/19 in LA at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 & Noho 7

TO FIND A THEATER NEAR YOU, PLEASE VISIT: WETLANDSMOVIE.COM

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Copyright © 2013 Strand Releasing, All rights reserved.

“LADIES FIRST”— 48 Israeli Comediennes

ladies first

“Ladies First”

48 Israeli Comediennes

Amos Lassen

48women: Comediennes, stand-up artists, celebrities, singers and actresses, each tells the filthiest chauvinistic joke she knows, it develops into a talk about men, sex, relations and humor. The result, apart from being extremely funny, enables the women to develop theories, thesis, and insights regarding life, intimacy, men and more. All in extreme openness. The last scene of the film consists of all of the women singing ‘I will survive’, each sings, one line from the song in a very animated manner.

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“15 TO LIFE: KENNETH’S STORY”— To Die in Prison

 

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15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story

A film by Nadine Pequeneza
52 minutes, color, Canada, 2014

The United States is the only country in the world that routinely condemns children to die in prison. This is the story of one of those children, now a young man, seeking a second chance in Florida.

At age 15, Kenneth Young received four consecutive life sentences for a series of armed robberies. Imprisoned for more than a decade, he believed he would die behind bars. Now a U.S. Supreme Court decision could set him free. “15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story” follows Young’s struggle for redemption, revealing a justice system with thousands of young people serving sentences intended for society’s most dangerous criminals.

Reviews

“Incredibly important.” Melissa Harris-Perry, host, MSNBC

“Powerful. . . . Moving.”
Bob Herbert, host, “Op-Ed.TV,” CUNY-TV, New York

“Harrowing. . . . Depicts a justice system that only perpetuates the sort of violence it was intended to keep in check.” Nina Liss-Schultz, Mother Jones

“Top 5 Staff Pick.” Christian Science Monitor

“Social-justice documentaries aren’t always as engaging as you’d like them to be—they can be preachy, decidedly one-sided or two-dimensional. Not so for this little gem. . . . it does a fine job of using one very human story to make a larger point about the criminal justice system. 4 stars (out of 5)” Erin Sullivan, Orlando Weekly

http://vimeo.com/101620957 

“ROCKS IN MY POCKET”— A New Kind of Animation—opens in NYC

In the new animated gem Rocks in My Pockets, Latvian-born artist and filmmaker Signe Baumane tells five fantastical tales based on the courageous women in her family and their battles with madness. With boundless imagination and a twisted sense of humor, she has created daring stories of art, romance, marriage, nature, business, and Eastern European upheaval—all in the fight for her own sanity.

Employing a unique, beautifully textured combination of papier-mâché stop-motion and classic hand-drawn animation (with inspiration from Jan Svankmajer and Bill Plympton), Baumane has produced a poignant and often hilarious tale of mystery, mental health, redemption and survival. 

 

Animator and filmmaker Signe Baumane in person
Wed Sep 3 and Thurs Sep 4 for Q&As following the 6:30 and 8:30 shows.

SIGNE BAUMANE ART GIVEAWAY
3 original drawings from the film will be given away at each Q&A!

 

EXCLUSIVE NEW YORK ENGAGEMENT
STARTS WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 3

323 6th Ave at West 3rd St, NEW YORK • 212-924-7771
BUY TICKETS ONLINE: www.ifccenter.com

(Currently only the 6:30 and 8:30pm shows are available for advance bookings.
More dates and times will be announced later today.)

ROCKS IN MY POCKETS WILL BE PLAYING
AROUND THE COUNTRY
CLICK HERE FOR OTHER CITIES

 

Visit the ROCKS IN MY POCKETS website
or follow us on Facebook

A ZEITGEIST FILMS RELEASE

“THE NOTEBOOK”— Learning from Evil

the notebook

The Notebook (“A nagy füzet)

Learning from Evil

Amos Lassen

 Despite its unfortunate American title, aligning it with a certain Nicholas Sparks adaptation, János Szász’s “The Notebook” is a thoroughly provocative WWII film. The protagonists are twin boys, played with convincingly deadened spirits by András and László Gyémánt, whose plight could easily degenerate into banal emotive cues. This is the story of twin siblings who endure the harshness of WWII in a village on the Hungarian border and look at their survival by studying and learning from the evil surrounding them.

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The film opens during the latter years of the war, as the adolescent Hungarian boys are handed over to their grandmother (Piroska Molnár), known by local villagers as “the witch”. Their mother, (Gyöngyvér Bognár), feared for their safety under the threat of impending air raids and so took them away. The grandmother is strict, stern and vulgar from the moment she takes in the boys She calls them names and assures them that their mother won’t be coming back for them. The grandmother’s presence seems to be something from a fairytale but this is not  fairytale of a film. It is more of a sensory exploration of wartime atrocities, something the boys become convinced they need to adapt to in order to survive.

The boys tell their father that they are keeping a notebook because he demanded they write down only the truth. Szász uses this concept as a kind of irony since the film expresses that which can never be absolutely true— the dramatic reenactment of catastrophe. It becomes even more ironic because the twins cannot be held up to a reasonable standard of discerning fact and fiction. We see this when the boys start beating each other and starving to make themselves impervious to the impending punishment they anticipate.

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But his is not sadistic humanism and we understand that what really happened could have been much worse than what we see here. By using a somewhat tender style  the twins go through a series of challenges to their bourgeois innocence. These include a German officer whose interest in the twins is purely pedophilic, a thieving woman with a cleft lip, and a woman who insists upon bathing with the twins, only to end up caressing, washing, and masturbating with one of their feet.  Granted these seem to be lurid but Szász  shows them as inevitable consequences of power gone awry. We see that true terror resides in its mimetic effects and transforms sensibility and desire just as thoroughly as it rips through flesh.

Sending children from the city to the countryside was a common one during World War II. In this film, it’s the catalyst for the degradation and corruption of two adolescent boys. While the boys’ father, a soldier, goes back to fight, their mother begs her own mother (who she hasn’t seen in 20 years) to take her children in, promising to come back when the war is over. The two boys are put to work, chopping wood, and drawing water. They attempt to nourish themselves by continuing with their lessons, studying the Bible, and writing an account of their lives in a notebook that their father gave them. They are to record their experiences for him during his absence.

There is not much plot— the film is comprised mostly of stark, difficult-to-watch vignettes in which the boys are subjected to painful or bizarre situations. Not only do they take abuse from their grandmother, the brothers are severely beaten when they attempt to track down a thief who’s stolen their wares. Then there is a starving German soldier they try to help who dies of cold and hunger in the woods near their home, and they see firsthand examples of anti-Semitism. There are also some dark sexual scenes here— a German officer living next door takes an odd interest in them, and a beautiful woman takes obvious pleasure from bathing with them (an act that seems to leave the boys mostly puzzled). Their best friend, a girl referred to as Harelip (Orsolya Toth), informs them that an easy source of cash is blackmailing the lecherous deacon.

The two brothers quickly become used to and tainted by their surroundings, almost reveling in their ability to toughen themselves. A particularly gruesome scene sees them punching and hitting each other in order to become immune to pain, and they begin killing insects and small animals, as well as standing up to their grandmother (who begins to look on them with a newfound respect)—and they only get worse from there. Big eyed and smooth skinned, they’re the picture of budding youth, yet both have truly hardened themselves. Their dead-eyed stares add an almost macabre sense of eeriness.

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The film is visually stunning. Though Grandmother’s house and the village are marked by poverty, the scenes are gorgeous to behold, contrasting sharply with the violence and abuse taking place. There is very effective use of symbolism, though it’s rarely subtle. The opening shot of the boys sleeping nestled against each other and breathing in sync, for instance, emphasizes their seeming innocence, while several shots of the dead insects is a frightening example of how twisted they’re becoming and a stand-in for the implied, off-screen deaths we aren’t seeing.

Their motivation, however, is not fully developed. Their parents’ apartment was  bourgeois and attractive and when they get to their grandmother’s things turn horrible. The two boys are seemingly well-grounded adolescents who snap—in fact, many of the worst things they experience happen after they’ve already turned. Viewers may find themselves questioning quite a lot when the credits finally roll: there’s a lot to unpack. This may not the most original treatment of the death of innocence and the corrupting influence of war, but overall this is a gripping and chilling work, taut and explosive.

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Referred to as One and the Other, twin actors Andras and Laszlo Gyemant are the unfortunate weak points in the film. Their performances are one note, the transgression from privileged, spoiled children to browbeaten, cold blooded killers is hardly depicted with any sort of emotional range by the twins, who seem either vacant or surly, with nary a modulated expression in-between. They appear too well kept  when we consider the undesirable conditions they’re placed in for so long.

“THE SEARCH FOR SIMON”— Looking for His Brother

the search for simon

“The Search for Simon”

Looking for His Brother

Amos Lassen

30 years ago, David’ Jones’s (writer/director Martin Gooch) younger brother Simon disappeared without a trace and has not been seen since. David is still looking, and the search for Simon has become his life. The brothers were boys when David disappeared and Simon really believes that he was abducted by aliens. When he shares this with writer/psychiatrist Eloise Eldritch (Noeleen Comiskey), she acts interested, although mostly because she sees this as a template for an obsessed character in her next novel. Eloise does wind up introducing David to a nice girl, Sally (Millie Reeves) yet by talking to David’s alcoholic mother Irene (Carol Cleveland), she believes that there may be more answers than David gets when he takes trips to UFO hot spots. 



 The film seems to be some kind of black comedy where nearly everybody acts mockingly or patronizingly toward David, and it’s okay to laugh at him because he acts so ridiculous. Gooch in his direction and the way he interprets the role sees David as both sympathetic and ridiculous and this is a very difficult balance to maintain.

The search has been an obsessive part of David’s life ever since his brother went missing, leaving him unable to form close relationships – even the few friends he has can barely stand to be around him because all he does is talk about Simon.

Gooch presents a world of UFO obsessives, re-enactment societies, tabletop game players, government conspiracies and more as David searches for his missing brother.  Being misdirected to Denmark by a Skype contact and fellow UFO seeker “Arctus The Alien”, David meets psychiatrist Eloise Eldritch who is writing a book on obsessive behavior.  Deciding that Simon will make a perfect subject for her book, she gets drawn into his strange world, whilst at the same time Simon seems to be forming his first real relationship.

Gooch blends science fiction, drama and comedy in a charmingly off-beat manner and it is great fun to see a writer/director striking out and doing something original and quirky.

“The Search For Simon” is not perfect by any means – the comedy side is be gently amusing rather than laugh out loud funny, and occasionally misfires, but the story of Simon and the overall narrative create a sweet and unexpected payoff.  There is a lot of sympathy with its main character, refusing to make fun of him because of his UFO obsession.  It would have been easy to make David an object of ridicule – the typical “socially inept UFO anorak obsessive” – but thankfully this isn’t the case.  Gooch presents his main character as a troubled soul who we can’t help but root for and whose ultimate storyline is actually quite moving.

As much an off-beat drama as it is a comedy, and there are some very, very silly moments. “The Search For Simon often feels as much of a character study (although a very off-beat character) as it does a comedy”.  It is often fun watch, and hopefully we will see more of what Martin can do with his unique brand of weirdness” in the near future.

“PARIS-MANHATTAN”— Obsessed with Woody Allen

parismanhattan

“Paris-Manhattan”

Obsessed with Woody Allen

Amos Lassen

Alice is a pharmacist who is obsessed with Woody Allen and has been since she was 15 years old. She has seen all of Allen’s films and she even imagines that she talks to him in the privacy of her home. One night she meets Pierre at a nigh-club and is pleased to learn that he likes jazz. Alice immediately thinks that he is Mr. Right. But Pierre falls in love with Helene, Alice’s sister and they are married.

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We move forward to years later when Alice is unmarried and running her father’s pharmacy. She believes that watching movies can heal many common diseases and she lends them to her customers. Her father has not given up hope to see her married but when Victor, an alarm technician meets Alice, she does not picture a future with him. But then one when Woody Allen is in Paris, Victor takes her to see him and he gives her some advice.

. Years later, Alice is a spinster that administrates the pharmacy that belonged to her father and believes that movies can heal many diseases. However her father insistently tries to find a husband for her. When the alarm technician Victor meets Alice, she does not see any future relationship with him. But one day, Victor brings Alice to meet Woody Allen in Paris and the director gives an advice to Alice.

This is a great film for fans of Woody Allen but others might not enjoy it as much. New writer/director Sophie Lellouche tries to follow in Allen’s footsteps by making this about layers of different sophisticated relationships within this one family. Some of it is very cute but it does not always work.

Early on we learn about Alice’s (Alice Taglioni) obsession with Allen in a voice-over that says that she and Woody Allen formed a connection when she first saw one of his films (Hannah and Her Sisters) at age fifteen, and that the two have maintained an annual “relationship” ever since. In the narrative’s present, Alice is single and working at her father’s pharmacy. Having found all answers to her questions in life so far through Allen’s acute screenplays, Alice comforts herself in her own idealized version of existence. She is quick to help others and she often lends DVDs of Allen’s films (or those of his influences like Ernst Lubitsch) to pharmacy clients because of her idea that movies can sure diseases. When she meets Victor (Patrick Bruel), she is so filled with past disappointments and film-fuelled expectations that her chances of happiness with him are threatened. 

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Alice Taglioni is relatively charming, but her character is not fully realized. She seems not to have an obvious drive; she feels entirely defined by her obsession with Allen.  I found the film to be reminiscent of Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam” in which we feel the director’s obsession with “Casablanca”. It is interesting to see that Allen has influenced and inspired this French film and we sense the affinity between Paris and Manhattan. Both cities are seen as romantic here as well as alluring. If you know Woody Allen’s films then you are probably aware that European filmmakers, i.e. Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder, have influenced him. It is interesting now to see him influencing someone else.

“Paris-Manhattan” is an endearing and gratifying film but it seems to be such an homage to Allen that it loses some of its own identity. To compare it to films by Allen hurt it rather than help it but who know what this director has up her sleeve to next surprise us with.

“EVERGREEN: THE ROAD TO LEGALIZATION”— How Washington State Legalized Recreational Marijuana

evergreen

“Evergreen: The Road to Legalization”

How Washington State Legalized Recreational Marijuana

Amos Lassen

Washington State became the key battleground in the fight for cannabis prohibition reform.  It seems that a growing medical pot industry was paving the way for cultural change in Washington State, and the architects of Initiative 502 put forth a plan that they felt would balance the politics of the region and stand a chance to pass in November. However, many in the local cannabis community were vehemently opposed to I-502, saying that it imposed “harsh and scientifically arbitrary DUI laws, new taxes, additional restrictions and penalties that negatively impact youth, medical marijuana patients and care providers”.

This film documents the campaigns for and against I-502, the successful ballot initiative in 2012 that legalized recreational marijuana usage in Washington State, almost in real time. I-502 passed in November of 2012 and marijuana usage was legalized formally in December 2012. Director Riley Morton went to extraordinary lengths to provide ample time for arguments from both sides of the legalization issue.

The filmmakers had access to both sides as the campaign goes on. What was so interesting was that the opposition to I-502 came from marijuana activists who argued that a provision making it a DUI to drive with five nanograms of active THC was particularly punitive and would strengthen, not relax, existing drug laws. The pro-legalization side was made up of Rick Steves, the ACLU’s Alison Holcomb, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and former Bush 43 US attorney appointee John McKay. The yes campaign was the new mainstream. And it won big – by more than 10 points.evergreen1

“Evergreen” is an important document for students of political history to see how a successful campaign is won, and how it’s lost. Dominic Holden a new editor, made an important point that the more the No campaign stressed the DUI component of the law, the more they were helping other side because polls overwhelmingly showed that people who were inclined to vote for legalization are far less comfortable with driving stoned. 

“Evergreen” understands its historical significance. It’s a relevant film while Washington State figures out just how it’s going to legalize marijuana usage, but it’ll also be worth seeing it again in five and ten years to see whose predictions came true.

 The film is an in-depth look at all of the difficulties and nuances activists faced in passing I-502, a piece of legislation in Washington State legalizing small amounts of marijuana. It is a serious look at both sides of the aisle, but the surprising thing is that the two sides aren’t pro-legalization vs. anti-legalization—we don’t see much in the way of anti-drug conservatism.

This is not a film designed to entertain. The film excels at showing each side of the debate, without forcing any conclusion or agenda on viewers. It’s still a very open question whether I-502 was the best legislation. The point comes across fairly clearly that small steps may be best when dealing with major paradigm shifts.

The majority of the film is a look at the process of drafting legislation, gathering support and signatures, and spreading the word through public forums. There are a few somewhat wild scenes of countercultural events like Hempfest, with all of the cannabis enthusiasts. It is a lesson in policy, civics, and argument, with little focus on actual cannabis culture.

Because the entire debate centers on whether or not the bill goes far enough, and not if the bill should exist at all, shows how far the cause of legalization has advanced. The real question is if and when the federal government will follow suit, but so far all that can be considered on that front is that the Obama administration announced that it will not challenge state legalization laws. This is an unbiased historical document of how dedicated people took the first steps toward introducing just a bit more reason into the law code.

Each side questions the other’s hidden motives, and the film records these insinuations instead of digging into each participant’s personal history so it might look at their merit. It’s clear, though, that there’s some truth on both sides, with pro-502 forces making serious concessions to law-and-order voters and anti-502 activists hanging to some unrealistic “all-or-nothing game plans” and in some cases having an economic interest in the status quo.

Washington’s experience informs other states’ efforts to move from decriminalization of certain uses to a broader, regulated legalization.

“THE GERMAN DOCTOR”— A Mysterious Doctor

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“The German Doctor” (“Wakolda”)

A Mysterious Doctor

Amos Lassen

 In Patagonia in 1960 a German doctor (Alex Brendemühl) meets an Argentinean family and follows them on a long desert road to a small town where the family will be starting a new life. Eva (Natalia Oreiro), Enzo (Diego Peretti) and their three children welcome the doctor into their home and entrust their young daughter, Lilith (Florencia Bado), to his care, not knowing that they are harboring one of the most dangerous criminals in the world. At the same time, Israeli agents are desperately looking for the German doctor to bring him to justice. The film is based on the novel by Lucia Puenzo who also the filmmaker. The plot follows Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” a German SS officer and a physician at the Auschwitz concentration camp; in the years he spent “hiding”, along with many other Nazis, in South America following his escape from Germany. Mengele was considered to be one of WWII’s most heinous Nazi war criminals.

We immediately know that something is afoot—the music drones, there is a storm and the doctor sends off ominous vibes. We see the doctor become medically fascinated with Lilith. The looks that pass between the two are filled with mutual interest; Lilith is having her first crush while the doctor’s concerns are clinical to the point of inhumanity.

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The director is careful not to over-signpost the historical significance of a man who — with a crisp enigmatic mode of charisma delivered expertly by Brendemühl — seduces the family into letting him live with them. However the film loses some of its grip in the familial subplots. Enzo, the father is a doll-maker who wants to make all his toys perfectly identical.

In the opening scenes of this historical drama we see a distinguished looking German gentleman accosting a traveling family of 5 to ask if he may follow behind them as he is unsure about driving alone on the desolate dirt roads in the middle of the vast plains of Patagonia.  The family is heading south to the small lakefront town of Bariloche to re-open a Hotel that once was thriving concern when another generation of the family ran it.  The German never reveals much about his own destination or any of his plans for staying in this country far from home. This adds to the suspense early on. When they finally arrive the German, who the family learns is either a Doctor or Scientist, insists on renting a room from them and to overcome their reluctance sweetens his request by overpaying. He sensed that the family has little cash.  Eva the heavily pregnant mother is German speaking, as are so many of the local residents as the best school in the area was the German one, and she welcomes him into their home.  Her husband Enzo is a struggling doll-maker and although a man of few words and simple tastes, he is the only one in the family who is not impressed with the charm onslaught from this very creepy stranger in their midst.

The ‘Doctor’ is particularly “smitten with” Lilith the 12 year old of the family who has always been much smaller than the norm for her age ever since she was born 2 months premature.  Soon he is trying to persuade the parents that with the hormone treatment that he has been working on, he can improve Lilith’s growth rate dramatically. They are all initially reluctant to even consider this course of action but Eva relents after Lilith suffers another brutal day of taunting at her school because of her size.  However she insists that they keep the news of this change of heart from Enzo until at least Lilith starts gaining some height. Once the ‘Doctor’ gains Eva’s confidence he turns his attention to her, especially when he discovers that she is going to give birth to twins. (We eventually find out that he has some plans of his own for these yet unborn babies).

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 This filmmaker never hides the fact that the Doctor is none other than Josef Mengele the notorious Nazi who did barbarous and inhuman genetic experiments on the inmates of Auschwitz earning himself the nickname of “The Angel of Death”.  It was believed that after the War he, like so other high ranking Nazis, fled to South America where he continued his cruel work on pregnant women and children until his death in Brazil in 1979.

The story unfolds slowly and tension builds with the insinuation of what the doctor is really up to as he slowly worms his way into this family’s lives.  It is only the German School Archivist that suspects and confirms his true identity and she is anxious that he is caught and out in trial for his war crimes just like Eichmann who Israelis had recently captured. Unfortunately, a wide network of loyal Nazi Party supporters protects him so he will always manage to avoid this completely.  

The movie succeeds first and foremost because of the very strong and sinister performance by Brendemuhl as Mengele and secondly because of the bleak setting of the film giving it a sinister tone throughout. Brendemühl exudes a “reptilian combination of charisma and menace. He is solicitous, attentive, and handsome, but with a posture that’s just a little too erect and a searching gaze that’s a little too clinical”. Lilith and her family never seem to realize quite who they’re dealing with, but we suspects early on that he is Josef Mengele, a suspicion that’s soon confirmed. That revelation is unveiled in an almost offhand way that’s typical of the film’s matter-of-fact take on even the most incredible events, a reflection of the sensibility of its smart but sheltered young narrator, who notices far more than she can comprehend.

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The story is a fictional account of an actual six-month period during which Mengele was on the run, living incognito to evade the Mossad agents who were extraditing Nazi war criminals for trial in Israel. For most of his 35 years in South America, though, the doctor hid in plain sight, often under his own name, and this film makes it easy to imagine how that could have happened.

It is unsettling to watch this pathologically self-assured sociopath worm his way into the heart of a sensitive girl and her family. The magnificent, sparsely populated settings underscore the family’s vulnerability, particularly in the beginning, when the doctor’s sedan glides behind their truck on an otherwise deserted highway. But the fictional story is too neatly predetermined to feel truly creepy. Much more unnerving is the nonfictional backdrop against which the fictional story unfolds. What really got to me was when admiring young German-Argentineans who often hovered near the doctor, offering their adulation and support to the man they know to be Auschwitz’s Angel of Death. When the doctor asked one of these eager acolytes for help in escaping the Israelis, the man was thrilled to be of service. “Anyone would be honored,” he said. Such is the world we live in.

“CASTING BY”— Meet Marion Dougherty

casting by

“Casting By”

Meet Marion Dougherty

Amos Lassen

The casting director is one of the unsung heroes of the motion picture industry. In this film by Tom Donahue we learn of the importance of the casting director and we go back to a time when studios simply had to keep their contract players working and move up to today’s talent-based approach. The emphasis here is on Marion Dougherty who changed the role of the job and revolutionized casting by adapting it into the art of handpicking the best actor to fill a role. She has worked with some of Hollywood’s most recognizable talent, and here we get to hear about the time she cast her breakout role as well as her rejections.

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This is an esoteric film that seems to be made for lovers of film by film lovers. We get a fascinating glimpse into a seldom-considered part of the filmmaking process, and director Donahue does so with incredible archival footage, fascinating interviews, and crisp, stunning, colorized photos of Hollywood in its heyday. Marion Dougherty made a career out of giving actors a shot when she had a gut feeling about them. We need to give the film the same shot.

The film is a love song to Dougherty who is legendary in the industry. Before she came into her own, the major studios just cast the Actors they had under exclusive Contracts allocating them roles based on their availability rather than their talent. As that era ended New York based Ms Dougherty started persuading Directors to used real theater actors as opposed to movie stars, and when she engineered the breakthrough of a whole series of men that were far removed from looking like classic matinee idols such as Dustin Hoffman into leading men and casting was never the same again.

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We hear from actors such as Diane Lane, Robert Redford, Jim Voight, John Lithgow, Al Pacino to name a few and they testify not only did they get their first big breaks via her auspices, but it was often only after her sheer persistence persuading many initially reluctant Directors.  To their credit these same Directors testified how indebted they were to her sheer dogged determination to get an actor a role, because she was always right.  Martin Scorsese states that at least 90% of directing a movie is the casting. 

 Dougherty’s career spanned some 50 years and went from being independent in New York to being vice president of Casting at Paramount and then Warner Brothers in Hollywood.  And in a field dominated by women, many of today’s leading casting started their careers as Marion’s assistants.

 No matter how instrumental she was in the success of a movie it was years before she, and others, were ever given a screen credit for their role.  And even then, the Directors Guild, led by a very bitter Taylor Hackford, disputed their right to be called casting directors. It is the only major function in movie making that does not qualify for an Oscar (the Emmy’s acknowledge them), and the saddest part of the story is when there was a very impressive campaign by what is essentially Hollywood royalty pleading with the Academy to award Marion an Honorary Oscar for her lifetime achievement, the Board of Governors refused.

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 Today movie making is all about money making by huge corporation and it is very unlikely that any casting director today will be able to launch another unknown Bette Midler or Glenn Close or Danny Glover into stardom, and that is sad. When Marion Dougherty died in 2011, her instinctive way of casting died too.

 Donahue’s documentary covers Dougherty’s prolific career from her beginnings as a casting assistant, to a casting assistant on television, to her own casting agency, to becoming President of Casting for some major studios.   While idolizing Dougherty, the documentary also provides an understanding of just what a casting director does.  “Dougherty was one of the best as many of her colleagues will attest.   Dougherty discusses her process from how she evaluates and remembers each person she meets, how she sneaks in her choices and wears down a director until they cast who she thought was right for the part and how she fought to get casting directors the credit they deserved.  It was only in the last forty years or so that casting directors began receiving a “Casting By” on-screen credit”.