Category Archives: Film

“SEVENTEEN”— Too Controversial for PBS

seventeen

“SEVENTEEN”

Too Controversial for PBS

Amos Lassen


”From being banned from broadcast on PBS to success on the festival circuit and a theatrical release, even today, it is easy to see why the film was controversial.” “Seventeen” was made as the final film in the “Middletown” series but once finished, it was to be seen until later even after it went on to win the first Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival. 

Directed by Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines and produced by Academy Award winner Peter Davis, “Seventeen” is the unvarnished story of a group of seniors in their last year at Muncie’s Southside High School. They are moving toward maturity with a combination of joy, despair, and sense of urgency. They also learn a great deal about life, both in and out of school, and not what school officials think they are teaching, along the way.

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Originally expected to air on PBS, it was not aired because there were concerns by some about some of the film’s content that included interracial romance and vulgar language. When the film was subsequently released theatrically, it was hailed by critics as: “one of the most essential films ever made about American youth” and “An earthy mix of disrespect for authority, foul language, drunkenness, pot-smoking, interracial sex, and just hanging out.” 

IN the 1960’s and 1970’s, American filmmakers, equipped with a new and refined, easily portable camera and sound equipment, a new kind of documentary came into being. It could speak for itself without voice-over narration like older films.

This is considered to be “one of the best and most scarifying reports on American life to be seen on a theater screen since the Maysles brothers’ ”Salesman” and ”Gimme Shelter.”” There was no plan for theatrical distribution; the film was conceived to be broadcast under the collective title of ”Middletown.” Each of the six was made by a different team of filmmakers who set out to explore some aspect of life in Muncie, Indiana which was the place where seminal sociological studies by Robert and Helen Lynd were done.

Five of the Muncie films were presented by the Public Broadcasting Service in March and April 1982. The sixth, ”Seventeen,” was never shown, apparently because PBS and the underwriting sponsor objected to a lot of the content. This would include, I assume, the rough language and also one of the film’s ”narrative” lines about the rather hysterical romance of a 17-year-old white girl named Lynn and a young black man named Robert. ”Seventeen” simply does not observe the niceties of sit-com land where everything comes out happily at the end.

”Seventeen” raw material, that it has been expertly edited by Miss DeMott and Mr. Kreines, who also co- produced, directed, photographed and recorded the footage. What is raw about it is that is does not remain coherent because the filmmakers did not attempted to place some arbitrary order on the events they witnessed.

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We meet a small group of white and black teen-agers, the children of working-class parents, and we observe them in their lives in school, at home, boozing, smoking pot, getting fatally smashed up in auto accidents and, at one point, preparing for a neighborhood race war. Lynn, the pretty, tough-talking high school student is at the center of the film and her pleasure principle is measured by the men in her life (and Robert, her black boyfriend).

Lynn’s mother doesn’t disapprove, but she does say that everything Lynn is doing is designed to upset both blacks and whites in their neighborhood. As it turns out, Robert isn’t all that serious anyway, as his black friends, who seem to be about the most decent people in the film, keep telling her.

Things get really nasty when a cross is burned in Lynn’s yard and when Lynn begins getting threatening phone calls, apparently from Robert’s other girlfriends. Lynn’s reaction is that her mother carries a gun that she is not afraid to use and neither is she. The continuity in the film comes from Lynn and her problems but the movie really gets going when we see moments of casual cruelty and emotional confusion – in the uproarious classroom scenes and in a beer party watched over by Lynn’s life-of-the-party mom, who gently strokes the forehead of one drunk young man who is on the verge of vomiting. Some of it is funny, a lot of it is sad, and all of it dramatizes a pervasive aimlessness and ignorance in the culture of the time.

Even though the soundtrack often is unintelligible, and the lack of any special lighting sources sometimes results in very dark images. The total effect, though, is both disturbing and provocative. ”Seventeen” provides no answers or makes, it just records what was seen. judgments.

I am not sure if this is “direct cinema” or “cinema vérité” but I am sure that is powerful and it contains more truth than any fact-filled historical documentary and more human drama than any Hollywood film that we have ever seen.

“Seventeen” was effectively censored by its corporate sponsor, Xerox and this is something that does not happen on “public” television. Finally we can see thanks to Icarus films.

What makes it worth seeing is the incredible, delicate access that the filmmakers negotiated with the people they were filming. Joel Demott and Jeff Kreines, each armed with a one-man-band 16mm camera and tape-recorder rig, would split up; she filmed with the girls, he with the boys. They lived in Muncie for over a year and filmed exclusively hand-held, wide and close, and rarely ever got an establishing shot; they just hung close with the working-class kids of Muncie’s Southside High School.

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There are no graphics, no dramatic score, no catchy montages; there’s hardly even a credit roll. The only score is what the kids listen to in their cars request on their local radio station. The film starts unassumingly, at an excruciatingly slow pace, in Ms. Hartley’s loathsome Home-Economics class, much like the start of any day in high school. The story unfolds slowly and grows with powerful momentum into conflict and chaos and never sensationalizes.

The painful scenes of race and class tension and sexual exploits are all too familiar. “Reality” TV does not have even a hint of the authenticity of the film that is a haunting view into the all-too-real world of working-class teenagers, numbing themselves from the ugly adult culture around them—as the filmmakers say in their own press notes, “fighting and fucking” their way through high school.

“THE TRIBE”— Words Not Required

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“The Tribe” (“Plemya”)

Words Not Required

Amos Lassen

Writer/director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky takes the idea of the silent movie in a fascinating direction, as he displays that words are not required for an audience to connect with a film. We do not need anything, in fact, to inform us of the emotion that is occurring on the screen. “The Tribe” is a very bold piece of experimental filmmaking that manages to succeed in numerous unexpected ways. The movie is entirely in sign language without the use of any subtitles.

Deaf-mute student Sergey (Grigory Fesenko), is a young adult is going to a boarding school. He quickly gets involved with a violent clique, which is headed by a hustler who prostitutes two of his female peers (Yana Novikova and Rosa Babiy). When a terrible accident changes his plans, Sergey takes control and he continues to fight for dominance within the circle. He also to fall in love with one of the girls that he must prostitute out, named Anna.

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When Sergey meets the gang for the first time, he is sure that he is not like any of them but we sense something about him that it is hard to define. Because the film is done in sign language, most of us have no idea yet what is going on and it takes a while until we understand what is happening. I do not mean that negatively but we must pay careful attention here to really understand it all.

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What begins as a subtle entrance into a boarding school soon turns into a tense look within the gang, as Sergey continues to fall deeper into the group’s antics. He starts by prostituting the two young women to older truck drivers is only the start, while the gang violently mugs unsuspecting individuals. As Sergey’s confidence continues to grow so does our concern for him and where he seems to be headed. , as does our concern for where he’s headed. The overall tone begins to shift, as the tension continues to build to a point of no return.

Crime is integral to the film but there is also a love story here and there are some very graphic sex scenes and we differing concepts of what sex is from one person to the next. Just as Sergey tries to kiss Anna, she stops him and assumes that he desires the certain aspects of the act that other men have enjoyed, not realizing that Sergey has developed real feelings for her. We see clearly that words aren’t what make a successful love story— it is the chemistry and the power between the two individuals that makes for love. We also see the truth to the adage that action speaks louder than words and that action deafens us.

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Even with all of the errors in their ways, we still want to see Sergey and Anna them end up together in the end. As their relationship continues to get a little bit more rocky, we get some disturbing sequences . This is most certainly not an upbeat movie and we are aware of the feeling of heartbreak within us.

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It seems that the film gets stronger and stronger as the viewers become more and more uneasy. By the time that we reach the end, director Slaboshpitsky maintains a steady hand with impressive restraint. The film unnerves us but does not go over the top. Tension continues to until it simply cannot be any more tense. The narrative power that is difficult to put into words but at some point this stops being just a movie and becomes an experience. We can guess where the plot is going but we are afraid of that. The graphic sex and violence are necessary because they pull us into the world of the gang. The tenseness never stops and builds up to an ending that is shocking to say the least. When the credits start to roll, we find ourselves in total disbelief and we have no idea as to how to react. It is absolutely brilliant.

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What is really impressive in the film is the visual design. The camera has a sense of movement that involves the audience, making us feel like one of the members of the gang. Almost every shot is an establishing one, allowing the actors to incorporate genuine energy into their body language when expressing themselves through sign language. Many of the scenes have just a small amount of movement and the long shots and lack of many cuts in the editing room let us to get lost within the world that this film places us in the middle of. There isn’t a music score per se aside from small ambient sounds to drive the power of a sequence.

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Miroslav Slaboshpitsky has dared and yet managed to accomplish an intense motion picture that gets under our skin and emotionally affects us. It proves that showing has a much more powerful impact than telling us and this should serve as a model for any film that isn’t willing to trust audiences to have an intelligence. Even though we don’t understand any of the dialogue, Slaboshpitsky utilizes his visual design and the talent of his actors in order to drive many of the plot elements. If the finale doesn’t make your blood run cold, then something is the matter. This is an unnerving, innovative, and wonderfully complex film that perhaps will inspire a new style of filmmaking.

“THE TALL BLOND MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE”— Finally on DVD and Blu Ray

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“The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe” (“Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire”)

Finally on DVD and Blu Ray

Amos Lassen

For the first time this film is being released on home video even though it was released in 1972 and was a madcap French comedy that won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1973. Two factions of the French Secret Service become involved with Francois Perrin (Pierre Richard), a hapless orchestra member. One side uses him as a decoy and soon agents are everywhere. One of the agents is to seduce him but he is already have an affair with his best friend’s wife.

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Two factions of the French Secret Service involve a seemingly normal orchestra player, Francois Perrin, into their battle as one side uses him as a decoy. Soon, agents are all over the place, and one of them, Christine, is sent to seduce Francois. Meanwhile, Francois has his own problems, tangled up in an affair with his best friend’s wife.

A French secret agent is seriously compromised in New York City. In Paris, the Head of the French Intelligence, Louis Toulouse (Jean Rochefort), and his trusted assistant, Perrache (Paul Le Person), learn that Bernard Milan (Bernard Blier), an ambitious bureaucrat is responsible for the fiasco. They also learn that Milan wants Toulouse’s job.

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Toulouse and Perrache have a plan to compromise Milan and expose the other agents that have assisted him with the American job. Toulouse’s office, which has been bugged by Milan’s men and they discuss the arrival of a top-secret agent who has to be protected because he is bringing enough information to discredit Milan. Toulouse tells Perrache to go to Orly and pick “a face in the crowd”, an ordinary man that would become the top-secret agent and drive Milan’s men crazy.

Once at Orly, Perrache chooses François Perrin, a perpetually distracted violinist with an extensive collection of period musical instruments. Perrache greets the clueless Perrin and Milan’s men immediately begin following him. Shortly after, they bug his place. At this point we see just how far Toulouse is willing to go and we watch Perrin’s live drastically changing. He gets a visit from a gorgeous woman (Mireille Darc) and the two begin a torrid affair causing his best friend (Jean Carmet) to lose his mind. Milan and his men continue to follow Perrin since they think that he an agent with a double life not realizing that he is just a patsy.

The film has a wonderfully script, great performances and a beautiful soundtrack. Pierre Richard gives a brilliant performance. He has an endless arsenal of facial expressions and his body movement is amazing. In just ordinary sequences his sense of timing gives the movie a special kick. The rest of the cast is excellent all around especially Carmet as Richard’s best friend.

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The film never slows down. Once Perrin emerges at Orly (with two different shoes) the film starts to really movie and it maintains a steady tempo literally until the final credits roll.

Perrin experiences a day-and-half of alarming events. He is seduced by a lovely spy, several men are killed and then concealed in his apartment, his affair with his best friend’s wife is broadcast from a laundry truck, and he is very nearly raped by a bagpipe. All of this is because he has one black shoe and one brown shoe: Their mates were nailed to the floor as a practical joke in Munich, and this is why he had to fly back to Paris unmatched.  

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The comedy works out of the various situations one can get into when the entire national spy system has chosen someone as its unwitting battlefield. The spies in the movie are fairly clever; they don’t have to go to the CIA for wigs and false mustaches, anyway, but they’re confounded by their absolute belief that the tall blond man must be important while we, the viewers, know he is not.  The spies, however don’t know that, and they admire his total professionalism, his detachment, his skill in seeming to lead such an ordinary life, his cunning in going to lunch instead of to the dentist. 

Francis Veber’s dialogue is witty and has a good ear for the spy genre and director, Yves Robert, sets a frantic pace and sticks to it.

 

 

“THE OVERNIGHT”— Surprises and Schwartzman Has a Big One

the overnight

“The Overnight”

Surprises and Schwartzman Has a Big One

Amos Lassen

Alex (Adam Scott), Emily (Taylor Schilling), and their son, RJ (RJ Hermes), are new to Los Angeles. A chance meeting at the park introduces them to the mysterious Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), Charlotte (Judith Godreche), and Max (Max Moritt). A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on. About midway through the film (I should get this out of the way at the start, Kurt, a wealthy Los Angelino, disrobes poolside to reveal his tremendously large penis, much to the chagrin of Alex (Adam Scott), a Seattle native who has growing increasingly concerned as to whether his host is truly unhinged or if “this is what parties are like in California.” This scene is the one everyone is talking about and it is writer-director Patrick Brice’s film moment, not least because the penis is clearly a prosthetic, accompanied by an excessive mound of pubic hair. “The visual gag is the sell, complemented by Alex’s insecurities since, as he puts it, he has ‘middle school dick’ compared to Kurt’s ‘horse cock’.” It is then that we see the film’s comedic allegiances, since Brice is “more driven to land cheap, body-dysmorphia cracks than fully pursue the class-based divide that gives purpose to the film’s first act”.

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Alex and Emily are squares and in the opening scene, we learn neither can reach orgasm during sex, so they mutually masturbate. Once they are interrupted by their young son who is concerned because the room “smells funny.” Alex is a stay-at-home dad who is insecure about the small size of his genitals. and we suspect that Emily is some kind of professional and she is stressed with balancing work and spending time with the family. Neither one of them is willing to address these issues.  When they go the playground one afternoon, they meet Kurt, who chides them for allowing their son eat gummy worms, since they are so unhealthy and filled with sugar. He also asks whether they’ve been scouting pre-school locations. Kurt claims he’s kidding and invites them to a dinner party and to meet his wife, Charlotte. . This is where everything changes. They are certainly not used to a couple that is so open and self-confident. The audience knows about the new couple just the same as Emily and Alex are, but it doesn’t take too long to predict what their intentions are.

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This is a very funny movie. The dialogue is filled with laughs and the way situations are used also provide great fun. As the night continues to get stranger as the two couples begin drinking alcohol and eventually smoking weed, we become totally interested in them. Alex and Emily figure that this is simply Los Angeles culture, so they go along with it, but ultimately find themselves in a situation that makes them tremendously uncomfortable. However, each of them reacts differently to situations and this causes them to see their marriage from a different perspective. Even once the secret is out of the bag, Brice doesn’t stop there. Tensions build and we are soon howling hysterically. But we are also totally captivated by this very strange film.

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However, humor isn’t Brice’s only intention. We really begin to care about the characters and we watch them change. The cast is ideal and Adam Scott is quite funny as Alex. Once the big secret is revealed, his comedic timing is perfect. Taylor Schilling’s facial expressions say everything and her reactions to the goings-on are wonderful. Jason Schwartzman actually delivers the most memorable performance out of the bunch as Kurt. The role is so incredibly eccentric, and Schwartzman is what makes him so uproariously funny. Judith Godrèche as Charlotte has some particularly well-crafted moments with Schilling in what can best be described as creepy, yet over-the-top and ridiculous.

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The first half of the film has scenarios that place the more conventional Alex and Emily at odds with Curt and Charlotte’s bohemian, sex-positive lifestyle. In one early scene, Curt presents some of his abstract paintings of human anuses – many of them are self-portraits – to his dinner guests, and Alex and Emily attempt, with great difficulty, to provide thoughtful compliments. I mean, what can one say about a painting of an anus (and especially when the anus belongs to the host)? Eventually they are able to join with their hosts and lose their inhibitions and this is where we see the serious message of the film—

a thoughtful examination on martial relationships. The dinner party becomes an environment where personal dissatisfactions and desires are openly aired. Alex reveals his self-perceived masculine inadequacies, and Emily divulges her frustration with her current sex life. Even Curt and Charlotte, who Emily considers to have superb sexual chemistry, are placed under the microscope, with their marriage revealed as being just as filled with difficulties as Alex and Emily’s.

“HUMAN CAPITAL” —Two Families

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“HUMAN CAPITAL”

Two Families

Amos Lassen

Two families are irrevocably tied together after a cyclist is hit off the road by a jeep in the night before Christmas Eve.

Director Paolo Virzì’s new film is a modern day morality tale of class, greed and desire. Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni) seems to have everything– a lavish home and beautiful wife and a good job as a hedge-fund manager. Meanwhile, real estate agent Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) struggles to maintain his family’s middle-class existence and faces even worse financial straits when his wife announces that she is pregnant with twins. Dino’s daughter is also n a relationship with Giovanni’s son and he uses that to deceive the bank and get into the Bernaschi hedge fund. As the destinies of both families become further entwined, a fateful hit and run accident sets in motion a chain of events, triggering dangerous consequences that will change their lives forever.

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Virzì tells his story in three chapters through different sets of eyes, and each re-telling of the same events has its own particular focus. Dino’s story begins  6 months earlier when Dino is dropping off his teenage daughter Serana at her boyfriend’s family fancy villa. Massimiliano and Serena go to the same school together even though they come from totally opposite ends of the social scale.

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On that particular day Giovanni is short of a tennis partner and so the anxious-to-please Dino wangles his way on the court and into the Fund.  He mortgages his business and house to find the necessary minimum $500,000 investment without telling his new second wife who is expecting a child. We sense that it not going to end up well for him even then.

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Chapter two is about Carla, Giovanni’s insecure socialite wife who is bored to tears as she is always left to her own devices by her workaholic husband. An ex-amateur actress, Carla persuades Giovanni to save the local dilapidated theater for the sake of the town’s culture, but he does it to make a quick buck on the property.  She at least gets to have a one-night stand with the theater director as a way of compensation.

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Chapter three is about ‘Serana’ who has been keeping dumb to the Police on who actually drove Massimilani’s car the night it hit the driver. This is where all the loose ends of the story get tied together and as the Fund fails both Dino and Giovanni’s wives act like they are both completely in shock at discovering their husband’s greed. Dino had believed the myth that easy money was just that, and it would bring him happiness too, whilst Giovanni used it as a tool simply to buy anything and anybody he wanted, including his son’s freedom.

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While this comes across as a very Italian tale, it was surprisingly adapted from an American best-selling novel in which the action had been set in Connecticut. We see that avarice needs no special location. Another interesting aspect of the film is that while the emphasis is on the men, it is the three women’s performances that were the attention grabbers: newbie Serena Ossola in her first screen role as Serena, Valeria Golino in the small but vital part of Roberta, Dino’s wife, and the stunning Valeria Bruni Tedeschi who picked up the Best Actress Award at Tribeca Film Festival for her excellent portrayal of the neurotic Carla. We have a tale of loose morals as well as a look capitalism in crisis. It is not a pretty story but it is told beautifully. We see how people caught up in their private dramas can overlook or misinterpret the people around them—especially those who have less power, whether because of their gender, their class, their age, or some combination of the three. I am aware that I have not given a full plot summary and when you see the film you will understand why.

“COMMITTED”— Frances Farmer, Actress and Iconoclast

committed

“COMMITTED”

Frances Farmer, Actress and Iconoclast

Amos Lassen


Directed by Lynne Tillman and Sheila McLaughlin
(who also stars), “Committed” is the story of actress and leftist iconoclast Frances Farmer. In 1935, Farmer became an overnight Hollywood sensation yet within ten years she was in a state mental hospital. I remember well Jessica Lange’s Oscar winning performance of Farmer in the film “Frances” and it blew me away. This film stars Sheila McLaughlin as Farmer is a multi-layered look at the life of Farmer, a culturally defiant woman who went beyond the personal to explore the political and social attitudes of the time. 




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Farmer went from stardom to a locked ward to a transorbital lobotomy makes a compelling narrative. She was not spoken about for a very long time as if she the shame of America and even those who knew her well said nothing. Of late there has been some renewed attention to her possibly because of a new biography and a questionable autobiography. We will never really know who Frances Farmer was so we have to invent stories to remember her. “Committed” is part fiction, part document, and interpretation and it the interpretation of events and facts that make history. “Committed” looks at “the social psychological political issues that seemed to have shaped Farmer’s life and to make her a culturally created and defined, culturally defiant woman”.

Frances Farmer was born in Seattle in 1913. The myths surrounding her life are perhaps better known than the details. She was an actress on stage and screen through the mid 1930’s-40s, and was the subject of multiple scandals and sensationalized accounts. Farmer tried very hard to have a serious movie career but she was often cast as a harlot in B-movies at Paramount Pictures. Her personal life seemed to consist of arrests for drunk driving and assault and she was involuntarily committed to a mental institution. She spent seven years institutionalized, five of those in Western State Hospital in Steilacoom, WA. Where she received insulin shock and shock therapy, and even, rumor has it, a transorbital lobotomy (though there are many deniers and little proof.) Farmer was released in 1950 under her mother’s custody and her full civil rights weren’t restored until 1953.

 

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In this film that was made in 1984, we get a narrative view of her life. It was filmed in the style of 40s noirs and directors, McLaughlin and Tillman have constructed a film that is narrated by Farmer (played by McLaughlin), in which she tells her side of the story, as “neither victim nor heroine.” The focus in on the troubled relationship between Farmer and her mother and looks at the social and political norms of the time, including the burgeoning use of psychiatry to cure “undesirables” and “disturbed” women.

The film was made over a four-year period on a very small budget and shot in black and white by Hamburg avant-artist Heinz Emigholz.

“FAUDA”— Doron, Abu-Ahmed and the Nature of Terrorism

Fauda

“FAUDA”

Doron, Abu-Ahmed and the Nature of Terrorism

Amos Lassen

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“Fauda” (“Chaos” in Arabic) is a new television series from Israel that is now being released on DVD. It looks at the story of the Israel/Palestine conflict from both sides. We meet Doron Kavillio (Lior Raz), a commander of undercover Israeli unit operating inside Palestinian territories, and his team and they are hunting down Hamas activist Abu-Ahmed (Hisham Suliman). Abu Ahmed has had a tragic life and his is one of the reasons for the escalating hatred towards Israel.

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Since the late 80’s, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has used special undercover units called “Mista’arvim”, and they currently in the West Bank and previously in the Gaza Strip. The soldiers, disguised as Palestinians, blend into the Arab community and carry out anti-terror operations.

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The series starts when Doron, who is out of the army and is working as a wine-maker, learns that the most wanted Arab terrorist, whom he had caught and was presumed to be dead, is in fact alive and well, and planning the next suicide bombings. He comes back to the army and joins the special unit. From there until the end of the 12th episode, one can barely blinks.  This is “an almost perfect depiction of the insane entanglement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. The languages are both Arabic and Hebrew giving it a real sense of authenticity.

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It is being hailed as the best Israeli series made until now. For those who want to see and understand how a country forced to operate in an environment full of terror driven of national motivation, this is the film to see. 



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This is a drama that has everything. It has a great plot and wonderful actors who have bilingual command of the languages. It is never condescending to the Arabs, so even the most fervent of Palestinian supporters will find it hard to find bias. The eternal struggle is seen from both sides and does not moralize. We see love and betrayal exposed, not only between human beings but also between ideologies and the fight that we see here is a fight to the death. Raz as Doron as the leader of the ‘mista’ar’vim’, the Arabic-speaking Jewish infiltrators who act and think like Arabs in order to track down Israel’s enemies in the West Bank gives an emotionally torn performance. The dividing line between pretence and reality becomes a blur. What we notice about all of the actors and all of the performances is their humanity, something we usually do not see in stories like this.

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Betrayal is an integral part of Arab society in the West Bank (and Gaza for that matter). Israel would not have been able to succeed as often as it has if not for the myriad informants and stool pigeons willing to ‘shop’ the terrorists among them, whether for money or for political reasons. Everyone, it seems, has his price. The enmity between Fatah, which runs the West Bank, and Hamas, dominant in Gaza, is palpable and Israel uses this to its advantage. 



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We see, in depth, how Israel combats terrorism. On the news we usually only see the results of attacks and bombings with the human element ignored. We never see the story behind the assassination of terrorists. 
 What is really amazing thing is that past leaders of the Israeli ‘mista’ar’vim’ have said that the reality is even more astounding than that which is portrayed in this series. If that is indeed so and I believe it is (from my own experience in the IDF) than this is a film that is brutal in is honesty and candid in the way it has been made.

“MARCEL OPHULS & JEAN-LUC GODARD: THE MEETING IN ST. GERVAIS”— Giants of Cinema

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“Marcel Ophuls & Jean-Luc Godard: The Meeting in St-Gervais”

Giants of Cinema

Amos Lassen

It was in 2009 in Geneva that two giants of film met for some fascinating, intimate and sometimes contentious dialogue with each other in front of a live audience. This is the film of that meeting. Godard was triggered to ask Ophuls about his childhood memories and his escape to Switzerland during World War II. Ophuls instead prefers to talk about his film, “The Sorrow and the Pity” since he remembers the controversy that surrounded its release in France.

Throughout their meeting, the two directors debate about national and ethnic identities, what it means to be Jewish, the role of the director, and auteur theory and this lets us know why there was never collaboration on a film that they once talked about making together. Even though both men are in their latter years, they are provocative, sharp, and uncompromising. Not only is the conversation often “funny, fascinating and radical”, it is intellectually and emotionally challenging as well as provocative and insightful.

It should be no surprise that when two of the great directors talk, fascinating and important ideas come out of the conversation but the surprise we do get is in the specifics of their discussion.

Godard describes the film they didn’t make together, He says it was a little bit “Of What is ‘Jew’ the Name” parodying the title of a book   by Alain Badiou, the philosopher. Ophüls who is Jewish wanted to make a film that would be entitled simply, “Being Jewish…” and he says, “It seems to me that being Jewish is very different from being German, or being a writer, and that’s why, these days, I’m very reticent about using the verb “to be.”

Ophüls recalls that Godard had suggested something about Palestine and Israel, adding that “it’s a good idea” and “it’s still a good idea”—but says that the problem is that they never got to the specifics of “who would control which part of the image, starting from the moment that…” At which point, Ophüls tells the audience that Godard eats film “because this sort of thing doesn’t interest him, he’s not used to it, he has always had control of his films. Otherwise, I’d have done it. And we still can—if we can come to an agreement about this, we could still do it.” And the two filmmakers agree, vaguely, to talk about it later.

The two men discuss the political implications of cinema and not being French and not understanding the French political system was over my head. Nonetheless it was fascinating watching the exchange. The film is only 44 minutes long but it gives us a chance to listen to two of the most influential directors in modern cinema.

(No trailer available yet)

“CHANTAL AKERMAN: FROM HERE”— Instinct, Improvisation and Directing

chantal akerman

“Chantal Akerman, From Here”

Instinct, Improvisation and Directing

Amos Lassen

In this hour-long movie about Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman, we learn about her work, her first experiences with avant-garde film in New York, and, in particular, the lessons she took from the work of Michael Snow. She answers questions about her approach to fiction, documentary, and literary adaptation and covers it all from the early short LA CHAMBRE (1972) to the recent feature LÀ-BAS (2006). She speaks about her preference for small budgets and small crews, and the paramount importance of instinct and improvisation in her directorial process. Every word has importance here whether it be a simple adjective or a lengthy explanation, Akerman lets us enter her world and her body of work. The film is even shot in a way that is homage to the director especially with the long unbroken shot and the frames with frames that she is famous for. One of her signatures is the frontality of her compositions (one of the many subjects covered in the wide-ranging interview) and this is an acknowledgement of this portrait’s contingency also underlined by the title.

Akerman speaks about her successes as well as her failures and even about the time she tried write a Hollywood screenplay. She comes across as assured and idiosyncratic and we quickly see that behind Akerman’s cinematic innovations there is not only a intellectual clarity and an ethical commitment to making films in which the viewer can “feel the time passing-by in your own body”, because, she says, “that is the only thing you have: time.”

Chantal Akerman for an hour, and we are totally fascinated and we watch a very elegant homage in the form of a one-act comedy with a single character. 
 Akerman’s way of sitting with her legs crossed of adding a cushion to her seat, of taking one, then two glasses (one straight glass, one balloon glass) to serve herself water. She goes against the non-smoking regulations at where the filming is taking place as if to say that her dialogue comes from her whole body and upon which there will be no restrictions.

“HOW TO DANCE IN OHIO”— Rethinking “Normal”

how to dance poster

“HOW TO DANCE IN OHIO”

Rethinking “Normal”

Amos Lassen

In Columbus, Ohio, a group of young people with many different developmental challenges prepare for what is to be for them an iconic event – a spring formal dance.  They spend 12 weeks confronting and practicing their social skills as they prepare for the big event that is to be hosted at a local disco.  They work with their trusted psychologist to deconstruct fear and face larger-than-life social anxiety one step at a time— from picking dates, dresses, and, ultimately, a King and Queen of the Prom. 

This is their story— a story of the universal human need to grow, connect and belong and here we have this played out by those individuals who are facing the deepest struggle toward social survival.

We meet and get to know three girls that are moving into adulthood.  We go inside their group therapy sessions, their relationships with their families and their private thoughts as they struggle to understand and deal with the social rules that surround the experience of having their first date. Through their stories, these girls reveal the hard work, perseverance and resilience that it takes to be a part of contemporary society as well as the challenges of being different. The film challenges us to question and celebrate the path to human connection and to rethink the definition of normal.

how to dance in ohio

Director Alexandra Shiva gives us a wonderful and tender look at the teens who are somewhere on the spectrum of autism as they get ready for their first formal dance.

We have had other films that focus on autism but this is one of the few that focuses on females and one of the reasons for that is because three out of four people with the condition are male. While this is a film about those with autism, the film does not deal with the larger challenges that are the result of autism but rather on the issue of the dance. The way it generates understanding is also extremely important in terms of socialization.

The subjects come from the client pool clinical psychologist Dr. Emilio Amigo and his family counseling center where the doctor and his staff run group therapy sessions to help high-functioning young people to cope with life skills. Every year they organize formal dance in the spring, with all the traditional “prom-night trappings of dates, corsages, and a crowning of a King and a Queen”. In the months and weeks leading up to the big event, Amigo and the staff talk the youngsters through each part of the experience step by step just as they do dance lessons. They learn about asking people to be their date and how to say no politely, tolerating physical contact during slow dances, and knowing exactly where every doorway, bathroom and refreshment table will be at the place of the party in advance thus taking care to minimize distress with the unfamiliar.

how to dance poster

Over the course of the film, we see a wide variety of clients of both sexes are introduced. In one scene, we see them talking about their various interests that range from anime, animals, dressing up in costumes, to electrical circuitry and endocrinology. Some of these will sound familiar to those who are familiar to autism.

“Sixteen-year-old Marideth Bridges loves reading almanacs and encyclopedias, and spends most of her time at home on her computer auto-didactically collecting facts. Her parents and sister have to repeat things to her so she will interact with them, but they seem hopeful she’ll someday live independently. Jessica Sullivan, 22, lives in a shared home away from her supportive parents and holding down a job at a bakery run by psychologist Audrey Todd that specifically employs people on the spectrum. Jessica is best friends with Caroline McKenzie, 19, an outgoing college student studying in Japanese who already has a boyfriend, Jay, whom she met at Amigo’s practice, so that means at least two people already sorted out for a date on the big night.
As can be expected we see some crying spells and anxiety attacks along the way everything goes off great on the big night. This is a positive film that “shows families where the parents have managed to keep their marriages intact, where no one gets bullied, no one is a savant, and there’s no mention of the debate around vaccines”.

Here we see both the level of intellect, interests, and auto-didactic fixations typical of Autism balanced with an explanation of the difficulty of reading and creations emotions by the Autistic.

This is a moving film that will get a larger audience through viewing later this year on HBO.  Shiva and her team place a loving lens on their subjects and craft an honest, affecting look around growing up with autism. It is funny, engaging, and entertaining and it celebrates a rite of passage for those whose emotions cannot always be read.