Category Archives: Film

“LITTLE GLORY”— Two Orphans

little gloryposter french


Two Orphans

Amos Lassen

“Little Glory” is “an emotionally gripping coming-of-age drama” two young orphans, surviving in a time of economic hardship and against the odds. Fate has torn apart their lives but the bond of love holds them together. Shawn (Cameron Bright), a nineteen-year-old high school decides to step up and raise his little sister, Julie (Isabella Blake-Thomas) on his own after the death of his father. Shawn had hoped to gain money from his father’s insurance policy but instead was forced to fight with his aunt Monica (Astrid Whettnal) for custody of Julie. What he did not know was that providing for a nine-year-old proved to be harder than he could have thought. He not only had to provide for Julie but also deal with all of those who were against the idea of his raising her. As he struggles to keep the two of them together, Shawn discovers the importance of being a big brother when his little sister is all he has.

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The film is directed by Belgian Vincent Lannoo and this is his first English language film. It all begins when Shawn’s abusive alcoholic Bill (Bruce Geduldig) drops dead. Shawn was still grieving for his mother but the guy does not have a sense of responsibility and he and his friend Matt have done some pretty terrible things. Here he is at just 19 and willing to take on the role of parent when he has been having a hard time facing adulthood himself. The judge gives him a month probationary period with Julie before he makes an ultimate decision.

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At first Shawn was not interested in what would happen to them until his aunt claimed custody of Julie and this forced him to try to prove himself fit to raise his little sister. This is quite an intense story of self-discovery as Shawn and Julie try to be a family.

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Shawn had been incensed with his father when he was alive and in order to deal with Julie, he had to pretend that the rage he felt was never there. He will not admit that he is afraid but we see his fear when he understands that he now has neither parent. His aunt has the means to care for Julie but Shawn feels that she needs to have a sense of family. Julie stands in light contrast to the darkness of Shawn and as the new two come together we share in their happiness. There is more I want to say but I do not want to spoil the viewing experience for anyone so I will stop and recommend that you find a way to see this beautiful film.

“BLUE DREAM”— “Even When It Hurt”

blue dream poster2

“Blue Dream”

“Even When It Hurt”

Amos Lassen

 Kinga Galambos is a Hungarian swimmer who has been diagnosed with cancer and who is also a woman who does not give up easily. Her dream, despite her diagnosis, is to continue to swim regardless of the pain she deals with. In just five minutes director Gergo Elekes captures not only the woman but also her perseverance and he does so with this beautifully shot short film. This is not what I would call a happy film but it is quite inspirational. We see Kinga on the verge of death as she deals with effects of chemotherapy that both makes her weak and is painful. She, however, does not let go of her dream she refuses to concede—her memory and her dreams keep her alive and moving forward. I believe it is important to understand that many of us never think about dying until we sense that our lives are getting shorter.

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There is something about the serenity of the swimming pool that stands in contrast to the pain she feels from cancer. It is her dream that allows her to function against the reality of what she is facing.

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This is quite a dark film that tugs at our emotions and it is very difficult not to be affected by what we see. The cinematography is stunning as is the music and it is amazing how director Elekes succeeds in capturing the very harsh reality of cancer and the way that our star copes with it. It is, as if, the film is a poetic ode to feelings that many times stand opposite each other—uncertainty, innocence and wonder and pain and loss. and uncertainty and so much more. 

“UNITY”— Empathy?




Amos Lassen

Unity begins by showing us two cows being led to their slaughter and we see the terror in their eyes. This is a very powerful explanation on what being human is all about and empathizing with the suffering of other living things. The film then begins a series of narrations (that I understand to be the script of the film). Geoffrey Rush is first then Anjelica Huston, Helen Mirren, and so on. These narrators come and go in short segments, each as if adding to the previous thought, starting with the birth of the universe. Marion Cotillard and then Mark Strong come in with the arrival of fauna and flora on earth. This gives us the thought that the universe is a ‘one’ and we are all part of it. Joaquim Phoenix introduces mankind, and Jessica Chastain introduces us to the laws of the universe. 


What we see is that we all come from the same nebula, the same universe and we should ask ourselves why we separate ourselves into different, conflicting unities. Why are we not all one unity? Why do we always fight?
 Consider how many times you have asked that question and then how many times others have asked it.


Now of course we suspect that the film will deliver an anti war message and it does. We are to see here that humans simply haven’t learned how to stop wars and/or violent conflicts. There is nothing new here, we all want world peace or at least we say we do. From what I perceive to be the basic theme and thesis of the film— that war is hell— war is hell, the movie very strangely turns its emphasis to vegetarianism or eating animals is terrible. The film argues that animals don’t really hold water, and their appeal is superficial.


Humans are seen here as uniquely carnivorous in nature just for the sake of it. No uncomfortable parallels in the animal kingdom are addressed.
Obviously this is used to make the transition simple to the exploration of spiritual necessity of selflessness, loss of ego, love and compassion. Here it turns to silliness to make the point that animals never wear eyeglasses or hearing aids or wigs. The film ignores the fact that sick or weak animals die, so of course the ones that we see are perfectly healthy and not to be compared to humans, please. Living by killing, as we do, is contrasted with living by loving, quoting philosophers and giants of history, as if we needed to be convinced.


Then we shift metaphysically and the question of the meaning of life. Writer/director Shaun Monson seems to hope that we will evolve from Homo Sapiens to Homo Spiritus very soon, at one with the universe and living in harmony. While the themes here are timeless, the film is way to idealistic and propelled by wishful thinking. It also does not have a connection to the real nature of humanity that it seems like a philosophy lecture wrapped in idealism. In fact, I am not even sure that this is a movie and if it is than it is quite disturbing. We sense a mood of hopeless naiveté that is driven by a frustration with the human condition. It suggests its audience is materialistic and far too obsessed with celebrities, when the narrators themselves are extremely wealthy celebrities and make their living off of our materialism and obsessions with their kind. Each time a narrator switches over, we’re treated to the headshot of each accompanied by their name and this is totally distracting. Then there is that the message of the film is obfuscated by the fact that it tries to cram so much into the film and that it really does not have much to say. The celebrities who appear do nothing to advance the film. It is really hard to find something good to say about the film unless you enjoy being spoken down to.


the stanford perison experiment

“The Stanford Prison Experiment”

A Mock Prison Experiment

Amos Lassen

After he received the green light to conduct an unusual experiment in the basement of a Stanford University building, Dr. Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) embarked on a mission to study personality under pressure. Dividing volunteers into groups of prisoners and prison guards, Philip orchestrates a penitentiary setting with plywood walls, classrooms, and broom closets, sending unprepared “criminals” into a setting with all-powerful “guards.” Not sure what to expect, Philip and his colleagues begin to see change within the men right away, capturing on video tape an increase in force, humiliation, and brutality as the two sides clash. For guard Christopher (Michael Angarano), the experiment provides a chance to experience power and attempt theatricality, but for prisoner Daniel (Ezra Miller), time in the hallways with his fellow inmates proves to be maddening, inspiring an uprising against those who believe they’re in control.


Twenty-four male students out of a possible seventy-five were selected to take on randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison situated in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. The project was conducted by a group of researchers under the leadership of Philip Zimbardo and lasted six days in August 1971. The idea was akin to what Hannah Arendt said about the banality of evil, a theory that dispels comfortable human projections of morality and individuality. Zimbardo assembled 24 college boys for a simulation of federal prison conditions, converting a series of campus offices and hallways into a makeshift staging of a correctional facility with little personal space and no sunlight. The team then randomly assembled the students into two groups: guards and prisoners, telling the guards they were selected for their position because of inherent personal qualities that were vaguely defined on purpose as to flatter their egos and give them a sense of superiority over the people playing the prisoners. Then the volunteers began to live according to the rituals of prison life, which quickly morphed into a series of psychological tortures. The “guards” harassed the “prisoners,” forcing them to perform physical exercises, punishing them for increasingly nonsensical reasons, personally demeaning them, and effectively breaking down their senses of self by the almost constant repetition of their assigned prisoner numbers. Conditions escalated at a rapid pace until the plug was pulled abruptly to halt what had become a real prison in “microcosmic extremis”. In less than a week, many “guards” and “prisoners” had internalized their new roles and some of them even forget that they were participating in a simulated exercise.


Zimbardo wanted to show that, in broad terms, in certain institutional situations might, in themselves, be inherently diseased and on human capacities for bending to authority in spite of perceptions of violations of common morality. Protocol might then be the ultimate religion and we might see that we can do anything when so justified by the sudden, “simultaneously freeing, and constricting expansion of the rules of relativism”.

In director Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s film, the “guards” and “prisoners” were sorted literally by the tossing of a quarter in some instances and they all, left to their own devices, chose to be prisoners, because they resent the law. This detail symbolically suggests a like sorting as practiced by capitalism, classism, racism, you name it. We ask and answer the questions— Who are we? Are we just merely drones playing whatever role’s assigned to us? The implications of “The Stanford Prison Experiment” could very well partially serve to contextualize the historical tolerance of atrocities, such as the genocides in Germany and Darfur and so on.


This experiment could possibly elaborate on the mass population’s willingness to play into a social game of exploitation that blatantly refuses to serve them and that is overseen by “politicians who exude a blithe contempt for their populace”. Additionally, the experiment looks and at then practices

the various manipulations that it was attempting to demythologize and decry, and it has been understandably criticized for a basic failure of simulation: The participants were partially unmoored by a confusion of reality, as they were rewarded (with authority) or punished (with lack of the same) for events that they didn’t precipitate. In a real prison most of the prisoners have earned their fate, or at least understand why they’re there and what the general sweep of the situation is. What we see is the collapse of man’s basic orientation and it is, I understand, very difficult to portray the rapid devolution of sanity on the screen so that it appeals real and actual.

The film omits most biographical details of the experiment. Zimbardo’s motivations are so vaguely established as to render him as a Machiavellian villain. Alvarez and screenwriter Tim Talbot create an experiential portrait of the torment wrought by the conditions of the experiment. With this approach, the film is often an unpleasantly single-minded experience, reveling in one horrible act after another. Yet, this ugliness also represents an act of aesthetic purity that puts us on the way the “guards” and “prisoners” alike think. We begin to feel as if we’ve spent six actual days with these people, and suspense comes from a sense that any kind of awfulness can materialize from the stagnation that Alvarez so wonderfully captures here.


The study was funded by the US Office of Naval Research on the cause and conflict between military guards and their prisoners. Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez and writer Tim Talbot have created an honest and accurate depiction of a psychological experiment that goes terribly wrong. One of the problems is that Zimbardo was too involved in the experiment and took the role of prison superintendant and participant, not observer. This did away with the control group in the experiment causing the study to take on the air of chaos with prisoners revolting against the guards, guards abusing their prisoners, sometimes physically without checks and balances enforced. Therefore we assume that what we see is fiction.

The conclusions that were made by Phillip Zimbardo after his experiment are based on environmental situation, not individual personality traits and are reminiscent of the prison guards’ cruelty that took place at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004. Was that behavior at Abu Ghraib the product of environment or just “a few bad apples” unfortunately assigned to where their sadism could flower? If it is the former, then why was it allowed to happen unsupervised? Zimbardo’s study asks more questions than it answers.


“The Stanford Prison Experiment” is based on a true story, and one Zimbardo continues to lecture about to this day, sharing and his intent and findings with the exercise, which still carries validity. Performances are passable for this type of picture, finding the cast made up of young independent actors who’ve already worked together on numerous occasions. This is a gripping, chillingly provocative study in dehumanization and the abuse of authority.

“FORBIDDEN ZONE” (the ULTIMATE EDITION)— ‘The “Citizen Kane” of underground movies!’

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‘The “Citizen Kane” of underground movies!’

Amos Lassen

“Forbidden Zone” is a bizarre and musical tale of a girl who travels to another dimension through the gateway found in her family’s basement. Richard Elfman’s “Forbidden Zone” stars Herve Villechaise and Susan Tyrell and features original music by Danny Elfman. It will be released on September 29, 2015 in various forms including Digital, DVD, Blu-ray, and soundtrack packages. Each edition contains the black and white and color transfers of the film. This is one of the last of the cult films that played in movie houses at midnight screenings at the end of the 60s and before you could see what you wanted at home on your VCR or DVD machine. Richard Elfman directed this and it was released in 1980. It is quite basically seventy-three minutes of madness. Musical numbers, animation, expressionistic sets, camp and sexuality are all thrown together along with a man wearing a frog mask and the uniform of a butler.



Nothing makes sense nor does it try to. Elfman, himself, now refers to it as an act of “unrestrained creativity.” I understand that what the film was trying to do was to bring to film the stage show of the Mystic Knights Of The Oingo Boingo, the weirdness-loving revue that, under the leadership of Elfman’s brother Danny, would soon become Oingo Boingo, an oddball rock group that looked conventional by comparison. Forbidden Zone found its biggest audience among movie fans looking for video weirdness in the early ’80s, then disappeared from circulation for years, leaving those viewers wondering if the film existed only in their heads.


Now there is a new special-edition DVD that shows us that “Forbidden Zone” actually exists and that it is a truly odd piece of filmmaking, and not just for scenes in which Villechaize makes love to actress (and his real-life girlfriend) Susan Tyrrell. The “forbidden zone” can only be accessed through the basement of the grotesque Hercules family’s home where Villechaize rules with an iron hand and a French accent. Above, the family and their friends live somewhat peacefully in Venice, California. In both realms, characters from the pop-culture public domain come together. There is a jazz-loving Satan (Danny Elfman), ancient vaudevillians doing juvenile routines, half-hearted drag queens, and antiquated racial stereotypes that once got the film kicked off some college campuses.


I hesitate calling this a movie—it is more of a happening and a weird plotless spectacle of weirdness. But there is something charming about what we do have. Whether this is good or not depends on how you define those terms. I personally am unsure what to think about it and as ridiculous as that sounds, it makes me think.

Whether this is a good or bad thing depends strictly on one’s definitions of good and bad – at least as far as film is concerned. My opinion of Forbidden Zone falls somewhere in between the traditional definitions of the two, I think.


What ever plot there is goes like this: “The Hercules family have purchased a new home from a drug dealer. In their basement, they discover a secret portal that leads straight to the Sixth Dimension a.k.a The Forbidden Zone. Frenchy (Marie-Pascale Elfman) accidentally slips and falls on the other side, which is ruled by King Fausto (Hervé Villechaize), a happy midget with a passion for art. Stunned by her beauty, King Fausto immediately falls in love with Frenchy and thus angers his wife, the luscious Queen Doris (Susan Tyrell).” At the same time members of the Hercules family go after Frenchy to save her. By the time they arrive in the Forbidden Zone King Fausto has already lost his mind and Queen Doris has gone on a mission to reclaim him from Frenchy. All the drama wakes up the real ruler of the Forbidden Zone, Satan (Danny Elfman), who decides to clean up the place and bring things back to normal.

We must give credit to Elfman who obviously was not afraid to experiment and did so bravely. It is just too bad that he did not have the budget to make the entire film. I am not sure what to think about the editing and if there is a finished print of this film somewhere, I bet no one really knows what it looks like. It is even difficult to say if the acting is good because we really do not know what is to be portrayed. The editing is totally puzzling  if there actually was any. I doubt that anyone knows exactly what the finished film should look like.  The actors seemed very happy to improvise because they must have been told that they could do anything they want and get away with it. After a while, however, the odd behavior and meaningless lines do become somewhat annoying.


“Forbidden Zone, the Ultimate Edition” is coming shortly to DVD and Blu-ray from MVD Entertainment. It includes both the original black & white plus the new color version–all in sterling hi-def and state-of-the-art sound mix. There’s a terrific booklet and loads of bonus features that include

 – Audio commentary with director Richard Elfman and writer-actor Matthew Bright

 – “A Look into Forbidden Zone” featuring extensive behind the scenes documentary featuring interviews and archive footage, including scenes from Elfman’s lost film “The Hercules Family.”

 – Outtakes and Deleted Scenes

Original Theatrical Trailer

“DREAMS REWIRED”— Going Back to Move Forward

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“Dreams Rewired”

Going Back to Move Forward

Amos Lassen

We all think of ourselves as living in the modern age especially now with all that can be done electronically. We are now in the post-modern, post-industrial age and some even say that we are moving to the post-human age. Never before have we had such an abundance of information at our fingertips. “Dreams Rewired”, a documentary narrated by Tilda Swinton and directed by Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart and Thomas Tode looks at a new and different perspective. It is made up of a montage of films from the 1880s to the 1930s, many of which are rare and previously unscreened and it traces contemporary appetites and anxieties back to the birth of the telephone, television and cinema.


The thesis of the film is that” the social convulsions of today’s hyper-mediated world were already prefigured over 100 years ago, during the electric media boom of the late 19th century”. We have had other such revolutions before and they brought about a new kind of utopianism in the public imagination that promised total communication, the annihilation of distance, an end to war, etc, etc.


There is also an argument about how cinema’s arrival changed human psychology— it allowed us to see ourselves through the opportunities it provided. The images in the film’s images are by-and-large grainy archival footage from the periods seen here, with shots of crowds in motion coming from early training and promotional films as well as from fiction films by silent era masters like Sergei Eisenstein, D.W. Griffith, Alice Guy-Blaché, Marcel L’Herbier, Hans Richter, and Dziga Vertov. These images jointly offer an appealing false promise.


The film attempts to charm viewers to change our perceptions of our media-saturated present. Today’s social convulsions are merely repetitions of the electric media boom of the late 19th century. The film makes us, the viewers, more aware of our own making. We begin to realize the totality of the media environment in which we live and see just how important the past has been for the present day just as our years on earth will be valuable to those who come after us.

“MR. KAPLAN”— Life in Uruguay

mr. kaplan

“Mr. Kaplan”

Life in Uruguay

Amos Lassen

Jacob Kaplan fled Germany and went to Uruguay during World War II. Now, at age 76, he starts to question his worth. There has been news of a mysterious German prowling the shores of a nearby beach and Kaplan becomes convinced that he’s found a Nazi in hiding and plans to expose him. As we spend time with Kaplan, we learn about family, aging, and the drive for significance. Kaplan thinks that he will insure a place for his name in history if he can successfully kidnap the German owner of a café and expose him as a former Nazi.

We are in Montevideo, 1997 where we meet the Kaplans: Jacob (Hector Noguera) and Rebecca (Nidia Telles) who have been married for 50 years. He fled Sosnowiec, Poland just before the Nazi invasion, making his way alone to Uruguay where he carved out a solidly middle-class, reasonably happy life. Now at 76, as he’s increasingly looked upon as just an old man and he starts asking the hard questions: “Have I inspired anyone in any way? Did I accomplish anything remarkable? How useful was I?”

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Jacob has two sons Isaac (Gustavo Saffores) and Elias (Hugo Piccinini) and they are concerned their dad is beginning to “lose it”. They hire Wilson Contreras (Nestor Guzzini) as driver and watchman. Wilson, a former cop, comes off as a genial, none-too-bright deadbeat, drinking too much and not doing well with his wife.

Jacob is irritated by being “looked after,” but when his granddaughter Lottie (Nuria Flo) mentions an old German guy with a beach cafe who’s popularly nicknamed “the Nazi,” he gets an idea; to kidnap the guy and smuggle him to Israel for a show trial, just like Adolf Eichmann.

Director Alvaro Brechner sees Jacob as a “Quixote Schlemazel,” but Kaplan isn’t really a born loser; he has had a good life, a loving wife, and he mostly did things right. But he really wants to make the world a better place as he works off his survivor’s guilt, so the idea of capturing a real-life Nazi is too good to resist. It makes no difference to him that the cafe owner, Julius Reich (Rolf Becker), came to Uruguay later than the expected scenario or that his long-sleeved shirts might be covering the only thing he’s really hiding. With Wilson, his bumbling who acts as his Sancho Panza, Kaplan is off to capture his imagined nemesis.
There is not a whole lot that is new here but the idea of Jacob as an older man unfulfilled and yearning to be of value to the world today is clever.

Chilean veteran actor Noguera nails Jacob’s headstrong orneriness as well as the character’s unresolved core, while Guzzini (“So Much Water”) is the right match as his working-class opposite, outwardly a screw-up but a wounded romantic at heart.

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As Jacob’s purpose takes shape, so does Wilson Contreras (Néstor Guzzini). Contreras, whose father used to work for Jacob, is an unemployed alcoholic in a failing marriage. Struggling to find a purpose of his own and remembering Mr. Kaplan to be a fair man, he approaches the Kaplans for work in any capacity. Jacob resents his son Isaac’s idea that he needs a driver (though his eye doctor agrees) but agrees to employ Wilson on the basis of a different motive. If he’s going to kidnap and expose a Nazi, he’s going to need help.

Both Noguera and Guzzini give wonderful and sincere performances both verbally and nonverbally. Jacob and Wilson become endearing, unlikely partners, each of them on his own search for validation and prestige. The film follows them as they research, investigate, and nearly botch a secret mission that both men regard as the success required to overcome mediocrity and make their families proud. From the very first moment, “Mr. Kaplan,” (Uruguay’s submission to the Academy for Best Foreign Language Film) is a pleasure to watch.

“ROSENWALD”— A Historic Partnership, a Marvel of a Man

rosenwald poster


A Historical Partnership

Amos Lassen

“Rosenwald” is a documentary about Julius Rosenwald, businessman and philanthropist who joined with communities of African Americans in the southern United States to build school during the early twentieth century. This is particularly interesting to me as the grand dame of the New Orleans Jewish community while I was growing up was Mrs. Edgar B. Stern nee Rosenwald. In the film we learn about this “historical partnership as well as the modern-day attempts to maintain or reconfigure the schools is a great dramatic story, yet too little known”.

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Rosenwald was born in Springfield, Illinois and was the son of German-Jewish immigrants. He became one of the wealthiest men in America as well as a beloved humanitarian. As the son of a German Jewish clothier, he went into the family business as well, and married the daughter of a competitor. Then he and Richard Sears developed Sears, Roebuck and Co. and helped diversify the company by “positioning it to be known as the direct extension of the farmer’s eyes, ears and wallet– making purchasing decisions in the best interest of the farmer”. Rosenwald became Sears President from 1908–1924 and was its chairman 1924-1932.


What influenced Rosenwald was the social gospel Rabbi Emil Hirsch of the Chicago Sinai Congregation and Rosenwald used his great wealth and talent for leadership to try to fix what he viewed as wrong with the world. He was a leader in establishing social services to meet the needs of some 100,000 impoverished Jewish immigrants who settled in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century and then worked to unite the Jewish community by bringing the city’s splintered German and Eastern European Jewish communities together. Rosenwald’s politics were liberal and he was concerned about justice for African-Americans. His own exposure to poverty and immigrants in New York City also influenced his views. It is said that he gave away some $63 million to various causes, which in today’s dollars is more than ten times that amount.


After reading about African American thinkers , Rosenwald’s philanthropy took a different direction.  Booker T. Washington approached Julius Rosenwald in 1912 to ask him to assist in funding a program in line with Washington’s belief of self-help for African-American southerners that emphasized economic advancement through vocational education. It was Rosenwald who was responsible for the creation of and establishment of twenty-five YMCA-YWCAs to serve African-Americans in cities across the U.S., including the Wabash Avenue YMCA in Chicago. Up until this time the existing Y’s served only whites. Rosenwald also established one of the nation’s first housing projects on Chicago’s South Side. His greatest accomplishment, however, was the establishment of challenge grants, seeded for the creation of more than 5,500 schools for poor, rural African-American children in southern states at a time when few received any public education. “From 1915 to 1932, 660,000 rural southern African-American students benefited from an initiative that truly represents The American Dream. The story of the partnership between Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington is perhaps the most compelling one of our time.

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We can imagine what it meant for a community to have a Rosenwald School. At the time, most public schools for rural African-Americans, if there were any schools at all, were run-down buildings with few, if any, amenities. If the county didn’t provide a public building, the children learned in lodge halls, and churches. What is so important is that to have a school and educators in a community meant that the next generation would have a chance to move away from the poverty of such places, and not be solely dependent upon the land for sustenance. The model for these was The Tuskegee Institute, which trained African-Americans in skills related to the building and agricultural trades thereby teaching what would influence the development of the Rosenwald Schools. Washington became skilled in fundraising and negotiating between the white and African-American communities and he was able to lay the groundwork for the establishment of the Rosenwald schools. Rosenwald Schools became a household name in the Deep South. Personally, I do not remember any schools of that name in New Orleans but I do remember that several of the playgrounds in the sections of the city that were basically African American were named for Rosenwald. Whether they still exist I do not know.

Some of the prominent alumni and educators of Rosenwald schools include ancestors of Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, George Wolfe, and Julian Bond. Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist went to a Rosenwald school. Julius Rosenwald was so highly respected that it was commonplace to see his portrait on the walls of classrooms right next to portraits of Abraham Lincoln. Of course we can ask why we are not so aware of this today and the answer is quite simple— Rosenwald directed that, after his death (he died in 1932), the schools not bear his name and that funding cease.


Early on and at one of the first meetings of the Rosenwald Fund board, it was decided to give fellowships in a variety of fields to gifted African-Americans and white Southerners in order to give them one to three years to concentrate on their work and develop their abilities. The fellowships ranged from between $1,500 and $2,000 and when we consider that this was during the Depression we understand that this was a considerable amount of money. Between 1928-48, Fellowships totaling $1.65 million were given out to recipients including Marian Anderson, Romare Bearden, Ralph Bunche, W. E. B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Gordon Parks, James Baldwin, Jacob Lawrence and Claude MacKay.

Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is the leading entity in documenting the condition of the buildings and offering assistance to local communities restoring the old schools. There have been local efforts to locate and refurbish the facilities have led to alumni reunions, news coverage of former teachers, dedication ceremonies, conferences, and renewed scholarship and research of the initiative. It is wonderful that the story of Rosenwald continues and two Rosenwald granddaughters continue his tradition by donating funds to re-establish the Rosenwald schools. This is such an important story and now when there is a great deal of financial hardship, it is very important that Rosenwald’s story not only be told but be remembered by those who have moved it to the back of their minds.

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This is a film by Aviva Kempner who admits that until twelve years ago, she had never heard of Julius T. Rosenwald. Now, she is releasing “Rosenwald”. In 2003, she went to a discussion given by former NAACP chairman Julian Bond and Rabbi David Saperstein at Martha’s Vineyard about the historical relationship between blacks and Jews. It was then that Rosenwald’s name came up. After hearing the men talk about him, she immediately began fundraising and working on the documentary about his life and the ways he impacted African-American communities in the early 20th century. The film is set to premiere in Philadelphia on August 21. It will then be part of many Jewish Film Festivals. Kempner has made films about lesser-known Jews who made a difference in their lifetimes, and Rosenwald was one of those. The film features interviews from Maya Angelou to Rosenwald’s grandchildren and it shows the difference that Rosenwald made in American culture. We are all aware of the importance of ndifferent ethnic groups coming together and we also know that by working together, we can end racism and discrimination. I have always felt that we have been afraid of each other because we have not bothered to know each other.


The film also explores Rosenwald’s relationships with other leaders, such as Rabbi Emil Hirsch of Chicago’s Sinai Congregation where Rosenwald was a member and who inspired him to think about the responsibility that he had to repair society and his community.  We should all be proud to say we share that responsibility.

“LOVE AT FIRST FIGHT”— A Carpenter and a Tomboy

love at first fight poster

“Love At First Fight”

A Carpenter and a Tomboy

Amos Lassen

“Love at First Fight” is a French comedy about a young carpenter and a tomboy. Arnaud has been enjoying his summer and it has been quite peaceful… but then he met Madeleine, a beautiful girl who, unfortunately, is quite brusque.


Arnaud (Kevin Azais) is working with his brother trying to maintain a carpentry business they inherited from their recently deceased father. Things change when he meets Madeleine (Adele Haenel), an independent thinking young woman who is in perfect physical condition thanks to swimming and other exercises. Madeleine exudes self-confidence. Arnaud volunteers to take her to the next town to enlist in a two-week military boot camp. He realizes that Madeleine is the most interesting and sexy woman he has ever met so he decides to sign up for the training as well. Each of them handle boot camp differently and as they do, they test their relationship. The most daring challenge they face is their own experiment in survival in the woods where wildfires are huge and spreading.


We see that there is chemistry between them. It is inevitable that many will compare this to “Silver Linings Playbook” with the way it portrays a romance that is against-all-odds. The difference is that where “Silver” dealt with mental illness, this film deals with masculine “posturings”. Even after having sex together, our two characters stay on their guards. The focus on physical sparing is actually about each of their abilities to endure emotionally. There are moments when we have commentary on gendered identity even though what happens is the result of comedic interchanges. Quite basically this is a romantically inclined drama that subverts its conventions by playing around a bit with gender norms.

Arnaud met Madeleine at a self-defense class where he is forced into a wrestling match. Madeleine is intense and committed to winning, and in a panic Arnaud bites her, inadvertently winning their match. Later they meet again when Madeleine’s parents consult with Arnaud and brother about building a wooden hut on their property. Madeleine tries to stop the sale, but is unsuccessful. As they Arnaud and brother begin to build, he sees Madeleine’s strange behavior and eventually finds himself in her good graces. She wishes to join the most advanced military service possible so that she can be prepared for the coming end of days. Arnaud is fine as long he is allowed to tag along.


Madeleine’s assumptions and expectations are much too lofty for the ‘advanced’ military training she for whatever masochistic reason she wants to do. Kevin Azais’ Arnaud is definitely a more passive force as he follows Madeleine around. When the two of them go out on their own, they leave behind them their disappointment of the structured world to fend for themselves. Love becomes a little lost on its own seriousness, though it finally allows Arnaud to prove how he resourceful he can be to Madeleine. They share an offbeat strangeness that makes them a memorably odd, believable couple.

“THE LESSON”— Mounting Debt

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“The Lesson” (“Urok”)

Mounting Debt

Amos Lassen

As I watched “The Lesson”, I had a hard time wondering whether this film is a comedy or just a dark look at life. Nadya (Margita Gosheva) is an English teacher and translator in rural Bulgaria. She comes from a family with money and social class but Nadya married a well-meaning but incompetent Mladen (Ivan Barnev), a sometime drunk who aims to make money by fixing up and selling an old camper van. When her mother has died, her father remarried but this time to a distinctly unrefined new wife and this resulted in father and daughter becoming estranged.

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When Mladen gets into financial trouble, it is up to Nadya to find a solution, but a series of setbacks keeps causing her plans not to work and she soon is to decide which of her principles she is prepared to sacrifice in order to pay her husband’s debts and keep her home. There are no good solutions since all of them are degrading ones. At the same time, she sees that one of her students has been stealing money from the others and from her and this causes her to build pragmatic strategies for uncovering the thief.

As Nadya, Gosheva gives an intense performance as Nadya. She is on screen throughout the film and it is because of her that and the film’s cutting social critique comes across effectively. Her pacing is wonderful as she deals with her personal troubles and her efforts to solve the school theft mystery.

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We see Nadya’s life as one of unfairness and disappointment. Everything comes to a head when learns that has put his family disastrously in debt to their bank, which is about to foreclose on their house thus forcing Nadya to go a humiliating journey to find a way to save her house and her family.

When she finds the money to pay the bank, a mistake about the amount she owes, of course, and she finds that money, but there’s an extra transaction fee. Then in the middle of this, her car breaks down. We are reminded of just how difficult it is to pay a debt back to a bank, or a phone company, or a credit-card institution. We see not just the threat of losing a home or self-respect, but a more insidious facet of poorness: the relentless uncertainty as to whether another shakedown is coming, in the form of more interest and an endless, self-perpetuating cascade of “convenience fees.” The film shows that poverty is a profound and often irreversible.

Nadya is an average English teacher in an average school and she tries to teach her class of about honesty after one of them has cash taken from another’s purse, making each of them cough up some coins to help the robbed girl and hatching a plan to try to catch the culprit. This was before her own troubles began and then she discovers the truth about her own financial situation. We feel for her immediately.

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She has to choose between begging from her father or facing the anger of the local loan shark (Stefan Denolyubov). She is in position where if something can go wrong, it will. We see Nadya as a woman who tries to keep control and we seem to feel her panic. The tension in the film is quite thick. We also see

That ethical acts are met with punishment and moments of kindness are just fleeting enough to make the next bit of tension feel all the more severe. Nadya beautifully never loses her grip even as her choices being gradually stripped away until the unlikely seems inevitable. Directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov give us a film that some may see is spare but it is actually unsparing in its conclusions.