Category Archives: Film

“DIPLOMACY”— Paris, Dietrich von Cholitz and Raoul Nordling

diplomacy

“DIPLOMACY”

Paris, Dietrich von Cholitz and Raoul Nordling

Amos Lassen

  Volker Schlöndorff brings us a historical drama that shows us the relationship between two important men; Dietrich von Cholitz, the German military governor of occupied Paris, and Swedish consul-general Raoul Nordling. As the Allies marched into Paris in the summer of 1944, Hitler ordered that the city should not be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy and if it does it should be reduced to rubble. Hitler designated General Dietrich von Cholitz, Wehrmacht commander of Greater Paris to carry this out. Von Cholitz already had mines planted on the Eiffel Tower, in the Louvre and Notre-Dame and on the bridges over the Seine. Nothing should be left as a reminder of the city’s former glory.

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What was not expected was that on August 25, Swedish Consul General Raoul Nordling entered German headquarters  via an underground secret tunnel and at this point began a very tense cat and mouse game while Nordling tried to persuade Cholitz to leave Paris and his plan alone. The film is based on a 2011 stage play and it is an elaborate drama of politics. Cholitz stands behind his duty to obey unquestioningly all military orders; Nordling  does everything he can to appeal to reason and humanity to stop the destruction of Paris.

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It is from this that the expression “Is Paris Burning” comes. Hilter asked von Cholitz that very question. The film is a fictionalized confrontation between the two men that lasted all night and was to decide the future of Paris. It is set at the Hotel Meurice on Rue de Rivoli. The two men are in an extended battle of wits that leaves us almost breathless until the very end. The odds constantly shift and just when we think that one side has won, the other side comes up with something else.

André Dussollier is the Swedish consul general  and Niels Arustrup is von Cholitz. They engage in a captivating battle of words about the importance of preserving a country’s cultural heritage and we are taken through twists and turns as we learn that the question of saving Paris for both men is a personal rather than a moral issue. The real beauty of the film is in the tension that is created by the two main characters. Nordling, a slightly greasy man who likes to wheel and deal has nothing to trade with von Cholitz. All we can do is to appeal to the general’s vanity and his own genuine love of the city. We become aware of director Schlöndorff’s fascination with moral choices and the war.

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The two men are the last representatives of a dying breed and they draw a verbal web of spells between each other, attempting to twist their decisions. Their conversation becomes a battle of perfect manners and gentlemanly chivalry as the fate of Paris hangs on diplomacy. They wait for the right word at the right time and we truly see the art of diplomacy and the manipulation of language.

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 The film opens in New York on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 and in Los Angeles on Friday, November 7.

“THE DECENT ONE” (“DER ANSTÄNDIGE”)— Himmler as a Loving Husband and Devoted Father

the decent one

“THE DECENT ONE” (“DER ANSTÄNDIGE”)  
Himmler as a Loving Husband and Devoted Father

Amos Lassen  

A recently discovered cache of hundreds of personal letters, diaries and photos belonging to the Nazi Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler show him to be a loving husband and a devoted father. These documents were found first in the Himmler house in 1945 but were then hidden in Tel Aviv, Israel for decades and were eventually sold to the father of Vanessa Lapa, a documentary filmmaker. It is from them that we get a picture of a different Heinrich Himmler. Using the documents as well as newly restored archival footage from Germany, Lapa has managed to bring us a fascinating case study of a man who was part of the Final Solution; the extermination of the Jews of Europe.

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The film is a portrait of the man responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Second World War yet who thought of himself in heroic terms.

Heinrich Himmler was a man who should now inspire loathing in the minds and hearts of all who know anything about history.  He was one of the greatest mass murderers of the 20th Century. With the end of the war, Himmler committed suicide but he did so probably thinking that he had done God’s work.  Lapa was able to get and to use some of the most fantastic archival clips imaginable about the dark days of Nazi rule in Germany.  It is unlikely that you’ve seen a single frame of documentation culled from several sources, including hundreds of letters and photos found in Himmler’s home after it was occupied by Americans. She also had access to film that was being housed in Israel at the Ghetto Fighters House at Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha.  The Germans had a love for detail and record keeping and from this Lapa was able to make this film.

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Heinrich Himmler directed the mass extermination of six million Jews, tens of thousands of homosexuals and communists and even up to 500,000 Romani.  Yet he writes to his daughter in 1941, “In life, one must always be decent, courageous and kind-hearted.”  A more accurate depiction of this chicken farmer raised to almost the highest level in the Nazi SS is: “The best political weapon is the weapon of terror.  Cruelty demands respect.  Men may hate us, but we don’t ask for their love; only for their fear and their submission.”  What a study in contrasts.

The film is presented chronologically from the birth of Himmler. He had been a farmer having studied agronomy in college. He joined the  He was appointed Reichsführer by Hitler and he was able to get the organization to grow into a powerful group. He was promoted in 1943 to Chief of German Police and Minister of the Interior, overseeing the Gestapo.  He is the person responsible for the building of the concentration and extermination camps. He was directly responsible for the deaths of up to fourteen million people, mostly Polish and Soviet citizens.



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Himmler went to his self-administered death without remorse yet his daughter Gudrun has made regular attempts to whitewash her father’s history. (See the film, “Hitler’s Children”).  She remained a Nazi and kept an image of Himmler as not just a decent one but also an exemplary one. The archival film, even more than the exposé of the letters that Himmler writes to his wife (whom he loves despite his taking up with a mistress), makes “The Decent One” a compulsory film to see.  What we have seen over and over again is that the people responsible for out-and-out evil  consider themselves to be decent. Psychologists, historians and moralists have long debated how seemingly ordinarily people can do monstrous things. Lapa discovers some almost unbelievable discrepancies between Himmler’s self-image and his historical role  and her film shines a new, piercing light on the human capacity for self-delusion and the very nature of evil.

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The film was Winner of the Best Documentary award at the 2014 Jerusalem Film Festival and premiered at last year’s Berlin film fest. The film opens in Los Angeles on October 10, 2014.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuqgHir41gk

“FOR A WOMAN”— A Family Secret

for a woman

“FOR A WOMAN”  (“Pour Une Femme”)

A Family Secret

Amos Lassen

“For A Woman” is a semi-autobiographical film from French director, Diane Kurys. Anne is a woman who learns a family secret as her father lies dying. When her parents escaped from the concentration camps at the end of World War II, they restarted their lives in France. Set in the early 80s, Anne (Sylvie Testud) is a young film director working on a script that is inspired by her parents’ lives. As she begins to write and she also has a look at her late mother’s personal belongings and we go back in time to 1945.

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We meet Michel (Benoit Magimel) who was born in the Ukraine and Lena (Melanie Thierry), his wife and we see them being interviewed by a French immigration officer. During the interview Lena tells Michel that she is pregnant. Michel becomes very excited and is very happy that he is to have a son. It turns out that his son was to be his daughter when Tania is born a little while later. Michel is now a member of the communist party and goes to meetings on a regular basis. He now owns a small tailor shop and while business is not great, he makes enough to support his wife and child.

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Not long afterwards, a new member of the family appears. Jean (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a handsome young man introduces himself as Michel’s brother. Michel barely remembers him because the last time they saw each other Jean was only nine. Michel had also assumed that after they were separated Jean was killed, which is why he never looked for him after he and Lena moved to France.

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 The brothers take to each other quickly and they share political views. Lena is also impressed by Jean but she is not politically minded even thought she goes to meetings with her husband. There she meets and becomes friends with Madeleine (Clotilde Hesme), the wife of another passionate communist (Denis Podalydes), who loves to talk about her affair with a younger man. Very quickly Madeline senses that there is more behind Lena’s interest in her brother-in-law’s observations. What seems to have been inevitable happens and Jean and Lena fall in love with each other.

 Even though Jean’s story about his recent past doesn’t quite seem true, they take him in to live with them anyway. Wherever Jean is, it would appear that the mysterious stranger Sacha is not far behind, and he ends up being employed in their tailors store. For a new arrival in Town, Jean surprisingly has a great many local connections that he uses, amongst other things, to make Michel’s business very successful. While the older brother divides his time between his flourishing shop and his Party activities, Jean spends his day wooing Lena who very quickly falls for her handsome brother-in-law.

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 Soon after, the inevitable happens – Lena and Jean fall in love. By the time Michel realizes that his family is falling apart, the French police also begin looking for Jean because they believe that he might be responsible for the death of an ex-Nazi officer.

I suppose we can call this a post-war romantic drama. There is a lot of intrigue and the movie is much like the old fashioned women’s films. The cast is uniformly good and the film is a visual feast.

“CANNIBAL”— Pain, Precision, Loneliness and Redemption

cannibal

“Cannibal” ( “Caníbal” )

Pain, Precision, Loneliness and Redemption

Amos Lassen

Manuel Martin Cuenca brings us a dark film about the life of Carlos, the most respected tailor in Granada, Spain with a macabre hobby. When her twin sister disappears, Nina comes to town to look for her and this puts Carlos in a rough position—“will Nina be yet another victim in his fruitless, fatal search for love, or will she be the first to show him just what it means to forge a true connection to someone else?”

The film begins with the perspective of a serial killer and we watch a car chase that ends with the car upside-down in a ditch and a streak of blood on the highway. We then see a girl lying naked on a table in a cabin somewhere in the mountains of Andalusia.

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 We are then introduced to Carlos (Antonio de la Torre) and the women he feasts on for his supper. He lives a routine life and the little quirks of that life provide a look into his psyche that at first seems to be taken from a serial killer’s handbook. For him, murder is just another thing to fit into a schedule that includes trips to the car wash, appointments with prospective clients, and bingo dates with an old woman. At a local church, he accepts an assignment to repair an immaculately detailed cloth, after which Aurora (María Alfonsa Rosso) stubbornly reveals that that material is too “sacred” for Carlos to handle. Carlos insists on his opportunity to repair it and ultimately he threatens her. It is here that we get a hint that his taste for human flesh is nit just a clandestine activity and we also become aware of his other psychoses that reflect his issues with his dead father, his trouble with women and his Catholic guilt.

As the film continues, Carlos murders his upstairs neighbor, Alexandra (Delphine Tempels), following a fight that the masseuse has with one of her clients, and entertains a romantic relationship with the woman’s sister, Nina (Olimpia Melinte). We see the importance of religion while at the same time we learn of the decline of tradition in Spain. Carlos regards his tailoring as something of a religious experience and it, like tradition, is floundering.  We see it as something of a vestige of a way of life that is dying. Watching Carlos’s indifference as he prays seems to let us know that he may never succeed at being resurrected as someone who can subsist on carbohydrates. His cannibalism is a difficult to understand metaphor. There appears to be a connection between his taste for flesh and his negative sex feelings.

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This is a slow moving character study and instead of concentrating on Carlos’s hobby of eating flesh, the director shares his day-to-day activities that are quite conventional. When the film ended I was left wondering about what I had just seen and I realized that the film is, at its core, about the relationship that forms between a straight-laced, uptight guy and a flighty, impulsive woman. The tenseness and suspense of the film is consuming yet we never really achieve any kind of resolution.

“HILLBILLY HORROR SHOW” (Volume One)– “Nuttier than a Squirrel Fart”

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“Hillbilly Horror Show” (Vol. 1)

“Nuttier than a Squirrel Fart”

Amos Lassen

Volume One of “Hillbilly Horror Show”  is a one-hour anthology of short horror films created by up-and-coming filmmakers and hosted by our  three favorite, fun loving and beer-guzzling hillbillies, Bo (Bo Keister), Cephus (Scott Geiter) and their “Smo-Kin” cousin Lulu (Rachel Faulkner). The anthology was created by award winning writer and producer Blu de Golyer (House Of Good And Evil) and veteran actor and producer Bo Keister (Remember The Titans). The team selects and curates some of the scariest, most entertaining horror shorts found on this here planet.

The four films in volume one are:

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FRANKY AND THE ANT  — Franky (Emmanuel Todorov) and the Ant (Anthony Pavelich) are driving to work not talking about anything much., mostly talking trash. Franky teases the Ant since the Ant is still living with his mother. “Work” of course is burying the woman (Christine Woods) who lies in their trunk, all tied up and her head in a bag. She’s still alive but not in the best position to remain so much longer. She makes an escape attempt, but since she doesn’t see a thing through the bag, it’s doomed to fail – and fail she does. But for Franky, this is more than just another kill, something much more personal … The dialogue is witty and there are a few sight jokes to ease the tension. We see lots of blood until we arrive at a surprise ending.

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 AMUSED–Martha (Elise Rovinsky) arrives home from shopping,  to find her daughter on the kitchen floor – dead. Her assailant (Ryan G.Metzger), an obvious lunatic, leaning over her, scalping her, then using the scalp as some sort of hat. Martha drops everything including her cell phone and car keys and this attracts the attention of the madman, who comes after her. Martha finally manages to hide from the lunatic in a shack in the middle of nowhere, and once she’s sure she has shaken him, she makes her way to her neighbor’s house … to find her on the floor, dead, and next to her is the very same madman that killed and scalped her daughter. He is soaking up the neighbor’s blood with a banana and eating it. Weirdly enough, the madman is wearing different clothes and seems to have washed the blood off his face since the last encounter … Once again he comes after Martha. There is no dialogue but the film manages to find the balance between gore and suspense (in just 9 minutes).

 DOPPELGANGER — A lonely skeleton goes on a journey to find more of his own kind, only to find more than he bargained for. This was inspired by Ray Harryhausen’s animation.

THE NEST — Here a rancher must fight to survive when a swarm of over-sized flesh-eating bees escapes from a beekeeper that depends on their honey to keep her diner in business.

 There are three completed volumes so far. Volumes 2 and 3 will be released in 2015 and will feature gag reels and extra footage.

1ST ANNUAL ANTEBELLUM FILM FESTIVAL

“WAITING”— Israel at War

“WAITING”
Israel at War
Amos Lassen
 

 

 ,Waiting was released back in 2009, the film has become even more relevant, following the tragic death of its protagonist Lt. Col. Dolev Keidar, who was killed during operation Protective Edge, in July 2014.

 

waiting-thefilm trailer
Waiting – Trailer

 

It is 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning in the Israeli suburban town of Modiin. There are parallel lines of identical houses each flying flags from the front porches. Men in uniform, many of them carrying weapons, emerge from the houses and drive away. They will come back in two weeks.

 

 

What we see is a military neighborhood with 170 houses built for the families of army officers who leave their wives to deal with real, everyday life while they go to prepare for war.
 

 

This is a personal film made by the wife of one of the officers. It follows the life of a women left behind as their men go to “save the homeland”. The film is an attempt to understand an upside-down country where one is often expected not to simply enjoy life but rather to expect war and early death.
 

“HUGH HEFNER: THE FOUNDER AND EDITOR OF PLAYBOY”— An Interesting Look

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“Hugh Hefner: The Founder and Editor of Playboy”

An Interesting Look

Amos Lassen

Coming in October is a good-humored look at Hugh Hefner, a man who almost singlehandedly changed the morality of America. Tony Palmer made this documentary on “The Hef” in 1973 and it flashed a light on the multi-millionaire Hugh Hefner and his Playboy empire. It gave Hefner the opportunity to tell his story and, of course, it offended the usual suspects. The film shows Hefner’s rise from a small-time publisher to Playboy becoming one of the world’s best-known brands. 

 As Hefner says: “We had no money at all, and I mean literally no money. I doubt that any major magazine in our time has ever been started with as little initial investment. My own investment in Playboy was $600, all of it borrowed. The entire enterprise is now valued, in 1973, at something around $200 million.” 

 He continues: “The real essence of Playboy was trying to put not just sex, but the whole notion of play and pleasure, back into the American concept of living. And that proved to be a little more revolutionary than I realized when I started.”

Some of the critics responded”

 “As distasteful as one might have expected.” 

- The Daily Express

 “It blatantly flouted TV’s legal obligation not to offend against good taste and decency” 

Mary Whitehouse

“GROWING CITIES”— Growing Food in the City and Expanding Awareness

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“GROWING CITIES”

Growing Food in the City and Expanding Awareness

Amos Lassen

There are men and women in this country who are challenging the way we grow and distribute food in this country. Filmmakers Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette took a road trip to find these people and they show them to us in this film. They go from coast to coast and bring us the stories of urban farmers, city residents and activists who challenge the way we are fed in this country. There are those that grow their own food in their backyards, on rooftops and wherever they can and do so not just to save money but also for health reasons. It is about much more than good food.

The beauty of this film lies in its simplicity. Dan Susman is an easy-going person and he deals with the people we meet here directly and openly and we see the honesty and the inspiring nature of the farmers and gardeners that he interviews here. Susman brings forth the simple truth about growing one’s own food and we see how this brings people and communities together and even empowers them. They take control of what they eat, ensuring that the food they grow is healthy and the techniques used to grow it are earth-friendly. 
We live in a culture that has cut itself off from the roots of existence, the earth, and is suffering the consequences of that. We see this in rising crime, drug addiction, extreme wealth disparity, poverty, homelessness and abusive behaviors. Here we see people from across the country and from all walks of life coming together to grow their own food and teach the young people in the community how to have this simple kind of empowerment over their lives. This transforms them and their communities.

Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette are two young men from Omaha, Nebraska who became disillusioned with the lack of urban farming projects in their hometown and so they went on a road trip to search for people who grow their own food, who believe in the tremendous potential of urban farming and who are changing their communities through growing food.

It’s no wonder that the West coast has many well-established urban farms but there are also other places. “In San Francisco, municipal laws are lenient toward urban farmers, even inner-city livestock; and Seattle provides land to anyone willing to farm. Milwaukee, Chicago, and Detroit boast incredible operations that feed thousands, build community, and offer employment opportunities. New York City boasts impressive rooftop gardens; Boston continues to maintain an original, World War II-era Victory Garden; and farmers in Atlanta and New Orleans are working to make urban spaces green and productive, while training underprivileged youth”.

Urban farming is beneficial for many reasons. Aside from offering much-needed nutritious food to urban dwellers. Many Americans nowadays live in what’s called a “food desert,” where local stores don’t stock fresh produce regularly. Urban farming teaches Americans how to view vacant land in a new light. Wherever there’s space, there’s an opportunity to grow something. Even if you don’t own the land, many landowners are happy to have someone actively improve and beautify their empty lot for free, while benefitting the community.

What we need is a cultural shift in the perception of agriculture. Farmers need to be elevated in our society and regarded and respected, as are doctors and engineers. They are the ones who feed us.

“Growing Cities” is an inspiring, lighthearted, and educational film that has a lot to say. Try to see if you can and you just might find yourself thinking about growing your own next meal.

“HILL START”— A New Comedy from Israel

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“Hill Start”

A New Comedy from Israel

Amos Lassen

In this comic drama Ora is in a coma as the result of a car accident.

 

 

As her children and other family members try to help her regain consciousness the viewer meets plastic surgeons, a wheelchair-bound marathon coach, a tough private investigator, a yoga instructor, a sensitive belly dancer and a big star in the Arab cinema.