Category Archives: Film

“FAHRENHEIT 9/11”— Michael Moore on the War Against Terror

“FAHRENHEIT 9/11”

Michael Moore on the War Against Terror

Amos Lassen

When George W. Bush took office as the President of the United States is where “Fahrenheit 9/11” begins. The relationship the Bush family and certain Saudis goes back for decades, culminating in members of the bin Laden family mysteriously flying from the U.S. when all other air traffic was grounded directly after September 11. There are strange parallels between the black sheep of each clan who were somehow determined to both subvert and outdo the family patriarch at each turn.

Saudi money helped prop up the younger Bush’s failed business attempts, and Moore reveals that another fellow who washed out of Junior’s Air National Guard unit later became lawyer for bin Laden’s looking to invest in the Texas oil patch. Was this coincidence? It was if you think Dick Cheney’s stint as head of Halliburton had nothing to do with the reconstruction and supply company being made ready for war.

Director Michael Moore is relatively disciplined here as he adheres to areas like Bush senior’s ongoing work on behalf of the Saudis and against American interests.

There’s much discuss, or even argue with in the film; Moore’s treatment of the Patriot Act and its trashing of civil liberties is cursory, especially for a film whose title evokes book-burning. However, the portrait it draws of W as a pampered, calculating fool is unforgettable. The film’s single most damning image, in fact, is of nothing–or, more precisely, of Bush doing nothing for a full seven minutes after being informed that a second plane has slammed into the World Trade Center. Network news footage from the day catches him biting his lip and staring into space.

The film nearly didn’t come out with Miramax owners Disney threatening to prevent its distribution, an action which Moore ascribed to political conspiracy and which others noted made a nice pile of money for the parent company when it finally sold its controversial property. “Fahrenheit 9/11” is all about politics and money and never makes any secret of its left wing agenda. Many people go to see it simply for this reason. It was always going to be a big statement. It is also a good film in its own right.

The difference between this film and other documentaries on the War Against Terror is summed up by its coverage of the events of the 11th of September 2001 themselves. These are played out against a black screen; we’ve all already seen the pictures— we only have is the soundtrack of screaming, frightened, confused people, which hits a lot harder as a result. Later footage concentrates on human reactions rather than on the event itself.

Moore’s focus is on the climate of fear experienced by Americans in the aftermath of violence. Most of the snide remarks and ridiculing of public naivete are gone. Moore came to terms with the fact that people can disagree with him and still be worthy of sympathy, and this enables him to feature powerful interviews, including that at the emotional heart of the film, with a woman whose lifelong commitment to her country right or wrong is shaken by her personal encounter with the ugliness of war.

Moore does not mention factors which run against his argument (making it easy for opponents to cut him down. Some of the archival footage we see, has been suppressed by the US media. People may find that images of American corpses upset them in a different way, and likewise the images of Iraqi children injured in the conflict. Visuals like this, running alongside Moore’s well-documented collection of links between US government officials, arms and oil companies, and the Saudi Arabian regime will probably win over some of those who previously disagreed with him. These are supported by clips of George W Bush behaving like an imbecile that contribute little to the political debate.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” balances intensive lists of facts and figures with largely visual sequences, carefully chosen music and some touching human moments. Despite the weight of its subject matter, the film has plenty of energy and keeps a sense of humor. For once, Moore manages not to let his personal sense of outrage overshadow the opinions expressed by his interview subjects and the film is strongest when these interviews, and the archive footage, tell their own story. Astute pacing means that the film grips most of the way through. In some ways it’s frustrating to see closely related issues ignored, this was an awful lot to take on and extreme editing was necessary. This is quite an example of how to make a documentary film work both as a political tool and as a piece of cinema.

SPECIAL FEATURES: 

  Featurette: ”The Release of Fahrenheit 9/11” 

  Montage: The People of Iraq on the Eve of Invasion

  New Scene: ”Homeland Security, Miami Style”

  Outside Abu Ghraib Prison

  Eyewitness account from Samara, Iraq

  Extended Interview: More with Abdul Henderson

  Lila Lipscomb at the Washington, D.C. Premiere

  Arab-American Comedians – Their acts and experiences after 9/11

  Condoleezza Rice’s 9/11 Commission Testimony

  George W. Bush’s Rose Garden press briefing after 9/11 Commission Appearance

  Original Theatrical Trailer

 

BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS”—Fate’s Decision

“BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS”

Fate’s Decision

Amos Lassen

A body found on a beach, a sauna employee, an unscrupulous customs officer, a pawnbroker and a bar hostess should never have met but fate decided otherwise by placing on their route a bag full of money, which reverses their destinies. “Beasts Clawing at Straws” is a Korean film told in the non-linear way about characters that are going to meet all because of a bag full of money. 

Director Kim Yong-hoon’s first feature film is a néo-noir comedy and a very dark film. We meet see  folks who are going to turn to criminal activities because they are consumed with greed and the criminal who will stop at nothing to get the bag full of money. Eight people, who seemingly have nothing in common, cross paths, linking their destinies with this bag of money. There are  some ludicrous situations and a touch of humor. It all starts with a man desperate to catch a break in life while he works at a dead-end job, deals with an arrogant boss and cares for his sick mom who finds a bag full of cash with seemingly no strings attached. But the bag has an owner and there are several more who want to get their hands on it. With so many invested in finding the bag at any cost, there’s bound to be a trail of bodies and a web of lies left behind.

The ensemble cast is superb in every way, the numerous storylines come and there is no shortage of surprises. The beginning seems cluttered but this is dictated by the complexity of the plot and I was intrigued from beginning to end. I had no advance idea ofwhat to expect and I was totally entertained and involved in the plot.

The Louis Vuitton bag is first found by Joong-man (Bae Seong-woo who is clearly down on his luck who has to work at the reception desk in a modest hotel sauna. Although he seems like an honest fellow, the temptation of enough money to recover from a failed business and to move out of his demented mother’s (Yun Yuh-ying) house seems too big to resist, so he hides it in a warehouse. The money, we learn used to belong to in-debt customs officer Tae-young (Jung Woo-sung) who owes a lot of money to the loan shark called Mr. Park (Jeong Man-sik). The money he borrowed from him disappeared along with his girlfriend Yeon-hee (Jeon Do-yeon), who used it up to start her massage parlor/ prostitution business. Other characters include the masseuse Mi-ran (Shin Hyun-bin), her abusive husband and her Chinese low-level gangster client Jin-tae (Jung Ga-ram) who is eager to help her get out from the relationship by killing her husband in a fake accident so she could pick the insurance money and start a new life. A lot of duplicity follows, followed by a number of murders and some ironic twists, while the bag and the money in it switch hands.

The film is divided in six chapters going through different timelines in non-linear fashion. This is a homage to classics of the American post-modernist darkly humorous thrillers by the Coen brothers  but told in the fashion of Quentin Tarantino.

Writer-director Kim Yong-hoon is successful in the realizing his actors’ potentials, especially for those in the leading roles. The dynamics between Joong-man and his mother are brilliant and Jeon Do-yeon’s Yeon-hee is one of the most memorable opportunistic movie psychopaths of recent times

“Beasts Clawing at Straws” demands both attention and patience and is rewarding  in both.

“BURST CITY”— Dystopian Science-Fiction

“BURST CITY”

Dystopian Science-Fiction

Amos Lassen

“Burst City” is an explosive dystopian sci-fi that mixes biker wars against yakuza gangsters and the police along with performances from Japanese punk bands The Stalin, The Roosters, The Rockers and INU.

Set in an industrial wasteland somewhere on the outskirts of Tokyo, two rival punk bands and their mobs of fans come together for a Battle of the Bands-style protest against the construction of a nuclear powerplant. This brings them face to face with the yakuza industrialists behind the development of the plant.

The film’s celebrates Japan’s punk music scene of the early 1980s and is an early landmark in Japanese cyberpunk cinema.

Japanese cult director Sogo Ishii’s brings us supercharged cinema anarchism at its most hyperkinetic and explosively chaotic. Through editing, frenetic camerawork, punk rock music, and an in-your-face attitude, “Burst City” is the art of rebellion that explodes the imagination.

Released in 1982, it has left  its mark on Japanese cinema forever, and influenced many of today’s most cutting-edge Japanese filmmakers. 

The narrative is loose and there isn’t much to it. However,  it becomes clear that traditional storytelling was what “Burst City” strove for. Instead we get a complex sensorial experience that is equally hypnotic and overwhelming, magnetic and repelling. Most of the film has a rhythmic visual musicality that shifts and changes tempo rapidly as scenes pass and the film moves towards its ending. This will not appeal to all viewers, but those open to movies that experiment and attempt to expand the medium as an art form, there is a lot to appreciate.

The film’s ending is a melee in which a vast multitude engage in frenzied protest. The disc features the Japanese audio track in Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subs.

Utilizing music and people from that scene, Ishii’s goal was to make the cinematic equivalent to punk music— it is a movie which is filed with the philosophy, spirit and look of the Japanese punk movement of the late 70s and early 80s.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Original lossless mono Japanese soundtrack

  Optional English subtitles

  Brand new audio commentary by Japanese film expert Tom Mes

  The Punk Spirit of 82: S go Ishii on Burst City, an exclusive new 56-minute interview with the director

  Bursting Out, an exclusive 27-minute interview with the academic and independent filmmaker Yoshiharu Tezuka on jishu eiga and the making of Burst City

  Original Trailer

  Image Gallery

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mark Player

 

“HERO ON THE FRONT”— A War Drama

“HERO ON THE FRONT”

A War Drama

Amos Lassen

 

In 1918,  Aníbal Milhais was one of 75,000 Portuguese soldiers sent to Flanders in defense of the Western Front. During the Battle of La Lys, when his unit was forced into retreat, Milhais ignored superior orders and stood his ground in the trenches. Two German divisions advanced across no-man’s-land in front of him and behind him was his battalion of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps and a Scottish regiment, decimated by a massive preparatory artillery barrage. Armed only with his Lewis light machine gun named “Luisinha”, he single-handedly fought off the attack by Germans and saved the lives of many Allied troops. Twenty-five years later, still haunted by the memories of war, Milhais recalls the stories that led to his fame as the soldier “worth a million men”. 

Directed by Gonçalo Galvão Teles and Jorge Paixao da Costa, this lavish period war drama won five prestigious Portuguese Academy Awards (the “Sophia”): Best Screenplay,” “Best Special Effects,” “Best Art Direction,” “Best Film Editing,” and “Best Sound”.

Milhais takes us to Flanders through a scenic “make-believe”, where myopia reacts as self-defense, and that same defense a path to dignity.

This is a true but romanticized story of a forgotten Portuguese hero from the First World War in the trenches of Flanders in 1917/18 with stress posttraumatic trauma of a more mature Milhais, already married and father of a family, chasing a wolf in 1943. There is an excess of symbolism carried in thick lines, especially in a third act that is too dispersed, but the base story is good and Miguel Borges is excellent in the older Milhais, through a cast of sober and solid ensemble  and some moments of the wolf hunt are very inspired.

“THE KILLING FLOOR”— Remembering a Terrible Event

“THE KILLING FLOOR”

Remembering a Terrible Event

Amos Lassen

“The Killing Floor” is a chronicle of the first big attempt made by Chicago slaughterhouse workers to fight against workplace abuse by joining an interracial union before the horrific race riots of 1919. Directed Bill Duke “The Killing Floor” originally premiered on PBS network’s acclaimed series “American Playhouse” in 1984. It was made three years after President Reagan made the decision to fire eleven thousand striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981 and went on to receive the Special Jury Award from the Sundance Film Festival. It is even timelier today that when it was released 36 years ago. 

Mississippi sharecropper Frank Custer (Damien Leake) opens the film with a voice-over narration and we see him leave his wife and children behind to try to find a better life for them all. Traveling along with his best friend and lifelong neighbor Thomas (Ernest Rayford), the two men go to Chicago as just two of thousands of southern Black citizens who ventured north to where jobs were plentiful during the first world war. 


The two men were eager to find work in the industrialized “promised land” and then send for their families to come and join them as well. They report to the stockyard of one of the city’s five huge meatpacking plants and it takes him a little while to realize why certain coworkers stick together in packs. They become aware of the power of the unionized group in action as they stand tall to prevent one of their own from being fired — regardless of the land he emigrated from and the language that he speaks but it isn’t until Frank attends his first meeting that he becomes inspired to join the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America Union. Even though Frank does well, things don’t work out the same way for Thomas. After getting badly beaten on his first day at the plant, Thomas decides to give up that pursuit, he enlists in the first world war instead. 

The film has been given a full 4K DCP digital restoration by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 2019 in honor of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Chicago race riots that are depicted and covered in the movie.  The film gives us chills at its ending. We learn what happened to all involved. It also credits the heroic efforts of the laborers in the interracial union who paved the way for the union protection that the workers would receive in the 1930s. 
Watching the film today in the midst of the Covid-10 pandemic, we realize that workers in meatpacking plants are some of the hardest hit by the disease. I want to learn more about the history of the industry’s union over the last hundred years. 

Tensions escalated after World War I ends, and the white men who fought in the war expected to get their jobs back, and the bosses of the meatpacking industry find new ways to continue a “divide and conquer” strategy based on racism and ethnic discrimination  in order to keep a labor pool always willing to work for less. This culminates into what would become known as “The Chicago Race Riot of 1919,” and as Joshua advocates fighting on the streets in retaliation for whites burning down their neighborhood and killing of African American men, women, and children. Custer wants to believe that a union that preached universal brotherhood will still look out for his interests, especially now, as he’s unable to work in the stockyards because he can no longer safely walk through white neighborhoods to get there. 

We see that events depicted in this film that happened over 100 years ago, have helped to shape contemporary realities. These events and issues, the intersecting of labor, class, race, ethnicity, and immigration, are brought into clarity. It was a time when men worked in the Chicago Stockyards for low pay and abhorrent conditions and were kept separated from each other as the meatpacking bosses practiced “divide and conquer” strategies rooted in exploiting racial and ethnic prejudice. The labor movement fought for eight-hour work days and time-and-a-half for overtime work while also preaching for a universal brotherhood of workers that transcended racial and ethnic exploitation.  The reality was changed by what became known as “The Chicago Race Riot of 1919,” that began when an African American child, while swimming in Lake Michigan, accidentally ended up crossing into a “whites only” beach, and was pelted with rocks until he drowned. 

Everything about “The Killing Floor” is first-rate. The acting is magnificent across the board, and the story doesn’t takes on complexities and ugly truths. We see how events like these continue to haunt the American backstory, the development of the labor movement, and where we go from here as we work for a more just society. 

BONUS FEATURES

Introduction by director Bill Duke; Q&A with Damien Leake and Elsa Rassbach

Pandemic Era Conversations with Damien Leake, Clarence Felder and Bill Duke

The Making of The Killing Floor: Interview with producer-writer Elsa Rassbach

Booklet with new essays by Professor James R. Barrett, University of Illinois and Professor Joe William Trotter, Jr., Carnegie Mellon University 

“A GIRL MISSING”— The Human Condition

“A GIRL MISSING”

The Human Condition

Amos Lassen

Koji Fukada’s “A Girl Missing” (“Yokogao”) looks at how vulnerable we all actually are when media attention conspires against us. Ichiko (Mariko Tsutsui), a woman in a red coat enters a hair salon. She is ready for a change and mentions her late husband. We then see her doing her job as a nurse for the Oishi family. Grandma, a famous artist, is now breathing heavily, still smoking. Riddled with dementia, she completes jigsaw puzzles of her own artworks.

Ichiko also helps out the two daughters of the family with their school work. Older sister Motoko (Mikako Ichikawa) feels especially close to her. When the younger sister Saki (Miyu Ogawa) disappears, everything in Ichiko’s life changes. What seem to be the smallest decisions of how to react become irreversible obstacles in her path.

Fukada gives us clues and riddles throughout his look at the human condition in the 21st century. Ichiko’s journey unfolds in the two strands that build up tension through unexpected twists and turns. It soon becomes clear that we actually don’t know the characters and they really don’t know each other despite years of supposed closeness. One lie leads into another.

The missing teenage girl reappears a week later, physically, if not emotionally or mentally, unharmed. She is the victim of an impromptu kidnapping by Tatsuo (Sudo Ren), the introverted nephew of Ichiko.

The film is an oblique, elliptical character study, a complex, often contradictory exploration of the devastating consequences of Ichiko’s relationship with Tatsuo, the kidnapped girl’s family, and Ichiko’s seemingly isolated decision to keep her connection to Tatsuo a secret from the kidnapped girl’s family or everyone else around her.  

When we first meet Ichiko, however, she’s living under an assumed name, (Uchida Risa), and flirts with her hairdresser, Yoneda Kazumichi (Ikematsu Sosuke), and living in an isolated flat devoid of furniture. She’s turned voyeur, looking out of the window at Kazumichi and his girlfriend, Motoko (Ichikawa Mikako), the kidnapped girl’s older sister and a onetime friend or acquaintance of Ichiko’s from her former, abruptly canceled life.

 Fukada introduces expectations such as Ichiko’s stalking or a disturbing incident where she leaves her apartment on all fours barking like a feral dog and then he  subverts them, giving a level of deliberate ambiguity and obfuscation that is perplexing.The film shifts between two different time periods, the events immediately leading to and from the kidnapping and Ichiko’s new, unstable life two years later. Before the kidnapping, Ichiko seems to find fulfillment in her work as a home-care nurse and mentoring the girls.

Ichiko’s intertwined professional and personal lives give her a measure of stability. Post-kidnapping, Ichiko’s life begins to unravel and because of Motoko’s advice, she fails to disclose her relationship to Motoko and Saki’s mother. Later Motoko with his obsessive crush on Ichiko, reveals a story Ichiko shared during a daytime visit to the local zoo. Once the local tabloids discover Ichiko’s connections to kidnapper and victim alike, the future Ichiko envisioned for herself becomes impossible..

The Ichiko-as-Risa we meet later in the film seems obsessed with revenge, though whatever awkward plan she’s conjured over the last two years seems vague and ill-formed, dependent on ingratiating herself with Motoko’s boyfriend and ruining an already fragile relationship.

Fukada readily understands the personality-warping or -destroying effects inherent in seeking vengeance for real or perceived wrongs, but he is not interested in narrative mechanics or the cathartic violence. With social strictures and invisible norms defining who and what Ichiko can or should be, she violates those strictures and norms and is free to follow a course more closely aligned with long-suppressed desires.

Ichiko repeatedly misses the clues underlying Motoko’s erratic behavior and this says as much about Ichiko and a society-conforming ignorance than it does about Motoko and an environment that doesn’t allow Motoko to fully embrace her sexual identity. “A Girl Missing” is a social and  more personalized critique of a certain personality type (Ichiko’s) that embraces social norms more out of convenience and comfort than their rightness or correctness.

“MELLOW MUD” (“Es esmu šeit”)— Coming-of-Age in Latvia

“MELLOW MUD” (“Es esmu šeit”)

Coming-of-Age in Latvia

Amos Lassen

Extremely harsh circumstances force a resourceful and determined Latvian teen to mature beyond her years in “Mellow Mud” from first-time feature director-writer Renars Vimba. 

After the death of their father and emigration of their mother to England to find work, 17-year-old Raya (Elina Vaska) and her younger brother, Robis (Andzejs Janis Lilientals), are forced to share a seedy rural cottage with their paternal grandmother (Ruta Birgere), whom they hate. When Raya returns from school one day, she finds their grandmother dead and she and her brother bury her in the garden to avoid the local social worker who has been snooping about so that the family can go about their lives as if nothing has happened. The when a high school English competition promising a trip to London for the finalists provides hope for Raya to escape her desperate situation and maybe even help them find her mother, she makes a series of decisions that bring her to a crossroad.

 “Mellow Mud”  won the Crystal Bear for Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival, as well as numerous awards at the Latvian National Film Festival, including Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Cinematography and Best Director.    

Set in the Latvian outback, this is, in many ways, a conventional coming-of-age story about two school-age siblings who are left to be raised by their unwilling grandmother when their mother emigrates to London. However, the rules they break to cope with their situation are both understandable and relatable, even with the consequences they could face.

Raja Kalniņa, in her final year of high school suddenly has the responsibility of taking care of her young brother, Robis when their mother leaves, their father has died, and their grandmother and guardian, Olga, also dies. t Raja looks for a way to rid herself of this burden, and although she cleans the house and cooks for Robis, she also has her eye on an English-language competition that would send her to London for a week.

She ultimately has to take back control of her life yet it seems that everything is happening of its own accord and at its own pace.Two important relationships shape the rest of the plot. The first is the one with Robis, whose frustration with the living situation gradually leads to him engaging in activities he is not ready for and he commits petty crimes and refuses to listen to his sister, who has taken on the role of substitute mother. This relationship moves back-and-forth between playful and abrasive and the domestic situation is strained but intimate, creating empathy in the viewer.

The other relationship is with Raja’s handsome young English teacher (Edgars Samītis), who has moved to the countryside from Riga for reasons never made clear, but we assume that he was looking for an escape himself. Although he has no idea about Raja’s true intentions about London, he is amazed and captivated by her skills in English despite her having missed numerous lessons over the past year. He is slowly drawn to her.

We are always aware of Raja’s resistance against being forgotten by those around her. She is a teenagerwho actually behaves like a relatable human being and gets our empathy not by being completely authentic.

This is an intimate and lyrical character study of an adolescent girl struggling with multiple pressures, from family abandonment issues to budding sexual urges. It is also a delicate drama about an often anguished time of life.

“THE CHRONICLES OF MELANIE”— The Will to Survive

“THE CHRONICLES OF MELANIE”

The Will to Survive

Amos Lassen

 Based on the memoirs of Melānija Vanaga, “Suddenly a Criminal: 16 Years in Siberia,”, “The Chronicles of Melanie” is an account of the mass deportation of residents of Soviet-occupied Latvia that took place as Stalin tightened his grip on power.

On the morning of June 15th, 1941, over 17,000 people from Latvia were taken from their family homes and forcibly relocated under suspicion of “collaborating with the enemy.” Families were torn apart with this mass deportation and people were made to work in Siberia for starvation rations. Separated at gunpoint from her husband Aleksandrs, the prominent editor of a Latvian newspaper and a target of the Soviet purge, Melanie (Sabine Timoteo) and her son, Andres, faced three-weeks on a cattle car that took them to a remote and foreign Tiukhtet village during which a diet of scraps of bread, dirty water and no bathrooms were the beginnings of a long and harsh exile. 

This is a powerful and grueling film from Director Viestur Kairiss and it is the Latvian Submission for Best International Film at the 90th Academy Awards.  We see  the true magnitude of the human spirit and the will to survive in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

Melanie was under the false belief that their destination is a small Latvian border town, but the trains end up going to Siberia. Upon their arrival, the horrible weather conditions, food shortages, hard labor and constant humiliation create a situation where it seems, at times, almost impossible to survive. Finally pardoned after Stalin’s death in 1953, Melanie returns to Latvia, only to find that under the new regime, her process of redemption is still not over. 

 The film uses black-and-white photography symbolizing the good old days. A classical-music soundtrack emphasizes the hardships. Melanie hardly has a chance to catch her breath before another problem arises and we see  doom and gloom all the way through. The merit of the film isin the educational purpose it serves for both foreign audiences and younger generations in Latvia. Developments in Europe today make it pretty evident how easily some historical events are forgotten or disregarded. Memory is tricky and one purpose of cinema is to be a chronicle that would help us to define, understand and construct the future through reflecting on past events.

There is a confounding immediacy to the Soviet guards’ intrusion into the warm and peaceful Vanaga household in the film’s opening moments. Aleksandrs (and his wife, Melanie are told they are under arrest. The lack of explanation with which the couple, along with their young son are forced out of their home to be imprisoned is instrumental in enabling us to join Melanie in her long and painful journey to Siberia.

Melanie and Andrejs are separated from Aleksandrs and forced into a cattle car together with many other prisoners, all of whom are women and children. Provisions are scarce and the conditions are inhumane. Despair is acute and, from this moment on, it is relentless. Director Kairiss never shies away from scenes of unutterable suffering.

The masterful black-and-white cinematography by award-winning cinematographer, Gints Berzins. It is striking with bleak and piercing shots that show human trauma. At the same time, it is beautiful and breathtaking when focused on nature or quiet moments with Melanie.

The first half deals strongly with the theme of maternal love and sacrifice. Melanie is sharply focused on her son’s survival. One heartbreaking moment shows her on the brink of death offering her only piece of bread to her son in a quaking, outstretched hand. Sabine Timoteo, gives a heart-wrenching performance throughout the entire film and excels in moments like these where so much emotion is conveyed through silent expression and gesture.

The second half, the film is a nuanced look at how Melanie, in the face of severely inhumane conditions, manages to hold onto compassion and empathy. She offers selfless nurturing. In an act of sacrifice that’s especially notable in an environment where proper shoes are a matter of life and death, Melanie even gives up her boots in an effort to help a loved one. The threat of death is everywhere, and yet Melanie, with a sense of inspiring dignity, is unbreakable.

This is a devastating film that aptly portrays human suffering and cruelty that I felt that I had to stop several times breaks while watching it. Yet, Melanie’s selfless love for her son and husband shows us humanity against the degrading backdrop of the prisoners’ conditions.

”RIO GRANDE”— A Classic Film

”RIO GRANDE”

A Classic Film

Amos Lassen

Olive Films is releasing the Blu ray of the classic western by John Ford, “Rio Grande”, the third film in his trilogy that includes “Fort Apache (1948), “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949) and this 1950 film.

The themes in “Rio Grande” is perhaps a little diffuse yet this remains a fine film. It is full of warmth and humor whose narrative ambles from point to point. It is a strange romance starring John Wayne as Kirby Yorke, a Cavalry officer dealing with the plundering Apache as well as his disaffected, long separated wife (Maureen O’Hara) and his son (Claude Jarman Jr.) who has just enlisted. Yorke is in charge of a dusty, remote outpost on the Rio Grande, training new recruits, including the son he hasn’t seen in 15 years. He gets him into shape to take on the Apaches but his mother Kathleen shows up to get him out of there. Kirby and Kathleen fall back in love but his unorthodox plan to outwit the elusive Apaches leads to possible court martial.

Bert Glennon and Archie Stout’s beautiful black and white cinematography, Victor Young’s music score and the stars’ performances are the perhaps the main assets. There are charismatic supporting performances by Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Chill Wills, J Carrol Naish, Victor McLaglen, Grant Withers, Peter Ortiz, Steve Pendleton, Karolyn Grimes, Alberto Morin, Stan Jones, Jack Pennick, Pat Wayne, Ken Curtis and Dick Foran.

“Rio Grande” is probably  the least regarded of the trilogy but any Ford Western is still a classic It takes place on a remote Rio Grande outpost after the Civil War, where Lt. Yorke is unexpectedly reunited with the wife and young adult son Jeff he has not seen since he ordered his wife’s house burned during the war.

Jeff is befriended by fellow troopers, Travis (Ben Johnson) and Sandy (Harry Carey, Jr.) as he works to prove himself in the cavalry. Meanwhile, as Jeff’s parents gradually come closer to understanding and reconciliation, the children of the fort are kidnapped by Indians.

If you have not seen “Rio Grande”, I encourage you to do so. I’ve seen it many times over the years and each viewing is more rewarding than the last.

“THE PRESIDENT”— An Allegory

“THE PRESIDENT”

An Allegory

Amos Lassen

Early in Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s ‘The President”, I found myself looking for for specific references to the ‘unnamed country’ that ends up undergoing a coup and wondering who is the omniscient narrator taking us through a spectacularly lit city square. We are told that another capital punishment is about to take place under the tyranny of a dictator, a man referred to only as His Majesty. Signing off on these death sentences, he plays a silly game with his young grandson to show off his authority by turning the lights on and off in the entire city, and then the lights literally go out on his regime. As the film moves forward, we realize it doesn’t really matter where this is happening since this is an allegory and the country we see represents many others.

The President, or His Majesty (Misha Gomiashvili) seems to be the last one to realize that the severe political unrest underway in his country is about to lead to his removal from power. After his son-in-law is murdered, his wife (Eka Kakhiani) and two daughters (Nuki Koshkelishvili and Elene Bezarashvili) are exiled but his young grandson (Dachi Orvelashvili) refuses to leave his grandfather’s side. Leaving the airport, their limousine is detained by the violent protestors that have blocked the streets, and their attempt to return to the palace is stopped. Finally, the President’s men are overthrown, and the ruler must flee and there is a huge ransom on his head. We spend nearly two whole hours on a survival quest with a man that’s responsible for atrocities and who turns a blind eye to them.

The film is a humanizing portrayal of a man that shows the disassociation with reality that power or fame brings. At the end of the day, he’s just a man. (Hannah Arendt’s hypothesis on Eichmann and the banality of evil). Gomiashvili gives a reserved, understated performance, and he’s most enjoyable when engaging and protecting his grandson. As the young boy, Dachi Orvelashvili ends up stealing the show with a fine performance. His gradual loss of innocence often seems a bit overplayed, but it’s the film’s most winning attribute.

Makmalbaf proposes an original if not wholly successful take on the Arab Spring political upheaval in “The President.” Shot in Georgia with an all-Georgian cast, it ignores the religious issues at stake in the Arab turmoil to concentrate on a greedy ruling family that has reduced its subjects to poverty and the violence of civil war that follows when they are ousted from power.

The cruel dictator, who was used to starving the populace and burning his enemies alive, is now forced to come to terms with the human suffering he’s caused and experience his bedraggled country from the way his victims experienced it.  The film becomes a simple catalog of horrors with greedy militia robbing refugees and raping women, corpses littering the streets, the chaos of civil war.

The people are seen as bloodthirsty  and bent on vengeance against the deposed dictator. Violence causes more violence, hungry people are wicked, and democracy should not be a vendetta against the past. As His ex-Majesty becomes aware of what he’s done to the country, he looks a bit abashed, but the big dramatic scene of catharsis is missing.

 BONUS FEATURES 

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
  • “Making of The President”

About Corinth Films

 Since 1977, Corinth Films has been distributing foreign and independent arthouse cinema to audiences in the US & Canada. Beginning with such classics as David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2, Corinth’s more recent releases have included films by up-and-coming international directors such as Nadav Lapid and Mika Kaurismaki, as well as acclaimed longstanding auteurs such as Andrei Konchalovsky, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Edgar Reitz. As the film-viewing landscape changes, the desire for intellectually stimulating and entertaining films will not, and Corinth continues its mission to acquire and release undiscovered, international watch-worthy content. To discover and enjoy Corinth’s film releases, visit www.corinthfilms.com.