Category Archives: Film


three mothers

“Three Mothers” (“Shalosh Ima’ot”)


Amos Lassen

 Rose, Flora and Yasmin were born as triplets in Alexandria, Egypt some sixty plus years before the film begins. Their well-off parents gave them names of flowers, and King Farouk of Egypt gave them his blessing. Now it is 2006 and they live together in Israel in an apartment without men and without children. Flora has just retired from her work as a midwife, Yasmin awaits a kidney transplant, and Rose, once a successful singer, is wrapped in silence since the death of her husband. One after the other, the three sisters come to “This is your life,” a place where people recount their memoirs, in order to tell their life story to Rucha (Rachel), Rose’s only daughter and they and talk openly about their symbiotic relationship. They are also searching for the long lost son of one of them who was given away for adoption under mysterious circumstances. During this period their lives and that of Rucha will change dramatically. Hidden ghosts will slowly appear, forcing the three sisters to confront the secrets and lies, and seek the truth that they are not sure that they want to hear.

The film beautifully captures the essence of a time that is no longer in Israel. It was beautifully directed, and the actors all give fine performances. It’s a bit contrived in soap opera fashion but overall it is a fascinating film with many moments that tug at your heartstrings. It is a simple tale of 3 sisters who live complicated lives. Basically it is a story about people from different familial backgrounds and nationalities coming to Israel where the rules are different and they have to learn to deal with and accept modernity and loss. I know that some will find this sappy but I loved it but that also has to do with the fact that I am a huge Gila Almagor fan.

“THE SHELTER”— In the Shelter

the shelter

The Shelter (“Hamiklat”)

In the Shelter

Amos Lassen

For me this is quite a difficult film to write about since I have spent a lot of time in the shelters when I lived in Israel. Therefore this review will be quite short. Quite basically the film is about an Israeli family of father (Yehezkel Lazarov) and son, Ben (Stav Naggar) who are forced to take refuge in the underground shelter upon realizing that Israel is under missile attack.

When eleven-year-old Ben awakes the next morning he is shocked to learn from his father that Israel has been severely injured in the attack the night before. Both father and son must now accustom themselves to the new reality of life in the shelter. The film deals with day-to-day troubles of food and water but also with the death of the family’s mother six months earlier and slowly the son begins to realize that there are secrets in the shelter that his father is keeping from him. There is quite a claustrophobic feel in the film as we can well imagine what living in shelter is like.

The rest you will have to find out for yourself.

“Aviya’s Summer”— A Classic Israeli Film

avia's summer

“Aviya’s Summer”

A Classic Israeli Film

Amos Lassen

“Aviya’s Summer” has been an international hit. It is based on a book by Gila Almagor, first lady of the Israeli stage and cinema, and she also stars in and produced the film version. “Aviya’s Summer” looks at a theme that we don’t see often on film—the period of time after the second World War that occurred at the same time that the State of Israel was born. Israel was new to the idea of statehood and was plodding her way while dealing with massive immigration. We get a look at Israel during her early years and we get a special treat in the clothing and the vintage automobiles. The cinematography captures the period beautifully. It is amazing to see the tranquility of the new nation at this early period in her history and we experience, a bit, the immediacy of memories and the feeling of loss as citizens listen to refugee reports on old radios. Israel appears as a real homeland for those ravaged by war and held captive by the Germans and the state, like Aviya (the girl with the strange name) was capable of worthy of beautiful literature and attempting to find out who she really is.

The film follows Aviya as she learns to accept her mother’s erratic behavior. It is the first of a two-film series based on Gila Almagor’s stories about her upbringing in post-Holocaust Israel. Aviya–the character based on Almagor–is raised by her single mother, and she doesn’t know very much about her father. She knows that her mother–remarkably played by Almagor herself–is a Holocaust survivor, but she does not know her mother’s full story.

Throughout her summer break, she observes her mother’s position in their community. Ridiculed for her impulsive and often offensive behavior, Aviya’s mother must cope with her memories on her own. The roles reverse, and Aviya becomes as much of her mother’s caretaker as she can.

The movie is straightforward and it is a look at naive reality. Characters very truthful. Comedy and tragedy live together here. The Holocaust theme is there and you can feel it’s burning under ground. But despite all, life is in every breath of this movie. “Aviya’s Summer” is a beautifully simple movie that concentrates on the relationship of a girl and her mentally unstable mother. It is more than a movie— it is an experience.

“THE DEBT” (“HaHov”)— Responsibility and Recrimination

the debt

“THE DEBT” (“HaHov”)

Responsibility and Recrimination

Amos Lassen

This is the original Israeli film upon which the American version was based. In the beginning t is set in 1964, and we meet Rachel Brener, one of three Mossad agents, who are to capture the “Surgeon of Birkenau”, a monstrous Nazi war criminal. While being brought to public trial, the Surgeon manages to escape. The agents are faced with failure in their mission but they report their captive committed suicide and they return to Israel as national heroes. We move forward to 1997, more than thirty years later and the supposedly dead Surgeon resurfaces in the Ukraine, determined to confess his crimes. Rachel Brener, one of the three Mossad agents, must now track down and silence the Surgeon in order to protect the life and reputation she has built upon her fabricated past.

The Israeli film was released in 2007 and was later remade into an American version that just could not reach the tension and suspense of the original. The Hollywood version focuses way too much time on the love triangle between the female and the 2 male Mossad agents and this did not exist in the Israeli version. The original movie is riveting and tense from start to finish while the Hollywood movie has to have the occasional romantic interlude.

The film’s story goes back and forth between two timelines, 1964 and 1994, and events are traced from the viewpoint of agent Rachel, young and old. The contrast between the young and inexperienced Rachel (Neta Garty) and the experienced and tired one (Gila Almagor) is nicely done. Director Assaf Bernstein’s film is less about action and mystery than characters, especially Rachel, and how they confront with each other and their past, and it works.

“The Debt” is a spy thriller with more focus on characters and their psychology. The screenplay is well written and the acting is excellent all around. This is a complicated adult thriller that works on many levels and absolutely stunned me when I first saw it. A complex narrative featuring alternate timelines, it highlights a tale of responsibility and recriminations across decades and international borders. Serious political thrillers can oftentimes be antiseptic or too aloof, but this hard-edged story covers a lot of ground while still remaining an intensely personal experience. At its heart, it is about individuals with a strong sense of duty battling with the morality and ethics of the position that they are put into. Emotionally and intellectually challenging, this is a film of unrelenting tension that had me enthralled throughout its running time.

 Starting in 2007, the film opens with an ex-Mossad agent played by Gila Almagor stepping up to receive accolades upon the publishing of her account of an infamous case thirty-five years in the past. As a young agent, she was part of a team that took down an infamous war criminal. All, however, might not be what it seems when it comes to this momentous event. Through a series of tensely escalating flashbacks, we are clued in to what really happened in 1964–and it does not match the official accounting. Still struggling with the truth, Almagor is given a very real chance to face the repercussions of her decisions as a youth. She decides to put herself on the line again out of a combined sense of duty and guilt, and the picture continues to play out as a timely and relevant morality play. The two timelines are seamlessly integrated and this is a movie that will keep you thinking. On a personal note, I know almost everyone in the film so watching it was like a reunion of friends for me.

“PARADISE NOW”— The Enigma of the Suicide Bomber

paradise now

“Paradise Now”

The Enigma of the Suicide Bomber

Amos Lassen

Suicide bombers are impenetrable enigmas to the mind of the west. Most of feel that we cannot possibly understand how a young person who is healthy in mind and body can throw away his/her life just to kill a few people who are not really party to the conflict for which he/she is engaged. We can understand a soldier who sacrifices himself as he runs along a beach into the line of fire because his death is not the goal but a consequence and/or the people being killed on the other side are also soldiers. On a more personal note, having lived in Israel, a country that has had to deal with suicide bombers, I must say that I do not have the ability to understand how these bombers can think that what they do does any good for either side—an enemy willing to destroy himself to destroy innocents on the other side is not an enemy that can be dealt with rationally. We have certainly seen that each suicide bombing drives us farther and farther from the belief that negotiation and peace are even possible.

The film, “Paradise Now” shows us some signs that there are people among the Palestinians who understand that suicide bombings are acts of impotent rage that do more harm than good, if they do any good at all, for the people left behind. There is no sacrifice, just revenge.

Suha (Luba Azabal) is not the main character of this movie, but she is the key character for western audiences. She is a French-born Moroccan activist, and brings a secular, outside view of the bombings— she sees the damage they do to the cause of Palestinian statehood. For us, she represents the voice of reason. What we do not know about her is how she is seen in the West Bank and Gaza and that remains an open question.


Before I continue, it is important to understand that this film is completely one-sided in sympathizing with the Palestinian side of their conflict with Israel. The Israelis are seen as faceless occupiers and oppressors. The question of this movie is not whether they are the enemy but rather how to deal with that enemy. The film explores and examines, with a fascinating level of prosaic detail, what will presumably be the last day in the lives of two lifelong friends, Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman). They have been selected for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Their handlers let them spend one last night with their families, although they can’t tell them anything about what they’re about to do. It is here that we see the human side of suicide bombing.

The two do not really feel the idea that we have in the West about the way we picture suicide bombers to look like and this gives us the idea that anyone at any time can become one. When we meet them at first, they are working in an automobile repair shop and we see them taking breaks, smoking a water pipe. Khaled seems to be quite the hothead and because of this we see him lose his job; Said on the other hand is cool and reliable. He has a girlfriend, Suha, whose car is being fixed and she is as attracted to him as he is to her. She impresses Khaled because she is the daughter of a famous Palestinian hero.

We do not sense that Khaled and Said are political and neither do we feel that they are religious. This makes it all the more surprising when their friend, Jamal (Amer Hlehel) comes to bring them the news that they have been selected for the next “operation in martyrdom” and they seem to be very pleased about this. Following this is a surreal sequence as the two men are prepared for their suicide mission. There are a few surprises here in that what could have been very seriously portrayed is actually given to us with some character-driven humor. As Khaled makes his farewell to the world video, he stops it to remind his mother to buy filters for water. This to me was quite shocking—here is a man about to die for “a cause” and he worries about his mother. Another interesting aspect is the bomber’s last meal that is staged like DaVinci’s painting of “The Last Supper”. It takes a director with moxie to bring together suicide bombing and Christian religious iconography. For me this is director/writer Hany Abu-Assad’s error in that he went a step too far with this metaphor.

The mission is aborted and the two men are separated and it is here that we learn what brought them to this point. Khaled is more political, driven by feelings of powerlessness against Israel. To be a bomber makes the Israelis powerless against him, leveling the playing field in a perverse way. Said’s motives are more personal, revolving around his father’s execution for collaborating with Israel.

At this point Suha comes back into the film and while he is not allowed to offer up any constructive alternatives, she at least is able to argue the valid point that the bombings simply make life worse for those left behind.

Characters like Jamal, the shadowy handler guiding Said and Khaled down the road to self-destruction, seems outwardly sympathetic but ultimately insincere. Maybe I’m just projecting my own opinion onto these men, who I see as the worst cowards in the whole affair. If they are so committed to this cause, why aren’t they the ones strapping plastic explosives to their bodies, rather than sending more impressionable young men off to die in their place? I’m at least hopeful that Abu-Assad views these people in a similar unflattering light.

“Paradise Now” will not persuade anyone who is not already sympathetic to the Palestinians, but it is a well-written, well-acted and unblinking look into a world completely alien to western eyes. For that reason alone, it has value. It might have come down more strongly against the violence or offered more concrete alternatives, but Abu-Assad has the right to make his own movie, just as I have the right to say I disagree with his choices.

This is a movie that epitomizes risk—and not just from a commercial perspective. Making this film was a heroic undertaking; the movie was shot on location in Nablus, as well as Abu-Assad’s hometown, Nazareth, with the filmmakers dodging near daily firefights and missile attacks while walking a cautious line between the Israeli occupying army and various Palestinian armed factions. The politics are similarly ambiguous or, rather, complex.

“1,000 TIMES GOODNIGHT”— Modern Motherhood

1000 times goodnight“1,000 Times Good Night” (“Tusen ganger god natt”)

Modern Motherhood

Amos Lassen

Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) is one of the world’s top photographers but her family life in flux when her husband lets her know that he is no longer going to deal with dangerous life. She loves her husband and her daughters but she also loves her job.


The film is based on Norwegian director’s experiences as a photojournalist covering war zones for a national newspaper and it is a drama about motherhood and career. Rebecca is a passionate and talented war photographer who clashes with stay-at-home husband Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) over her attitude towards work versus maternal responsibilities. The fact that Rebecca is obsessive and in endless pursuit of excellence in her field causes something of social questions. Most of the film takes place at home on the family’s Irish farm. The fact that Rebecca is willing to put herself in harm’s way causes Marcus to truly worry as it does for the couple’s teenage daughter, Steph (Lauryn Canny). Steph worships her mother while at the same resenting her because she leaves home often. Then Rebecca’s relationship with her husband becomes all the more strained when she convinces Marcus to allow Steph to go with her on assignment to a refugee camp in Kenya. As could be predicted, the trip turns to violence, and in the film’s most symbolic and shocking moment comes when Rebecca abandons Steph and resets her shutter amid the approaching rebel gunfire. She gets her photo but is immediately considered and so labeled as an unfit mother when she returns home.   It is interesting to note here that a man can be driven by his career but when a woman is the same, she is named as neglectful and as an unfit mother.

Instead of facing this issue head on, the film becomes a bit melodramatic. Binoche is a fine actress who gives an excellent portrayal of Rebecca but when the arguing between husband and wife begins, the film looses traction and begins to slide downward. We see the juxtaposition between a western somewhat dysfunctional family and life in countries going through wartime. Yet, this is a drama of conscience and passion, a fine observed portrait of a woman driven to make a difference in the world, even as it hurts those she loves.

Rebecca has been given access to some kind of ritual in the Middle East. She is to document it photographically. At first what appears to be a funeral turns out to be something else altogether and the audience finds itself immediately drawn into the film. Almost at the very beginning we ask the questions of ethics that Rebecca has to deal with as a photographer who is sent to dangerous places.

Writer/director Poppe understands the unique pressures a woman doing the same dangerous work faces: even a man with children is unlikely to be seen as potentially abandoning his family for his work the way a mother is when she puts herself in harm’s way. This is a fine look at a woman driven to make a difference in the world, and trying to explain to those she loves why what she does matters even if it might take her from them. We see Rebecca talking to Steph about how angry she is all the time at the injustices that she documents, and how she uses that in her work. This is not something that we typically hear women in film discuss but we need to hear it.

The picture we get of Rebecca in the film is not as an odd or unusual woman in a dangerous line of work and we do not want her to justify why she continues in it. The fact that she is a woman is very relevant but it is not the main point here.


The film is full of moral questions that are triggered by the opening scene—we want to know how Rebecca can morally justify snapping a suicide bomber and watching people die as a result. Was it right to put herself in such a situation with a family waiting for her? This is, of course, made even more pertinent by the fact she’s a woman. This is explored with pathos, particularly in the scenes involving Rebecca and her daughter who struggles to understand why her mother would choose such a life. During one painful moment in a car, her daughter grabs the camera and starts taking pictures, shaming her mother as she repeatedly asks her whether it was “worth it”. Binoche, tears streaming down her face, is unable to respond. Her attempt at reconciliation with her daughter is to have her come to Kenya with her and the situation turns treacherous with the arrival of soldiers to the village, proving once again the danger of her work. The film shows in detail the life of a photojournalist. It is Binoche who makes the film all the more powerful as she struggles to balance her love for her job and her commitment to her family.



“CITIZEN AUTISTIC”— An Inside Look at Autism


“Citizen Autistic”

An Inside Look at Autism

Amos Lassen

“Citizen Autistic” takes us inside the minds of the activists who serve on the front lines of the war against autism offers an inside look at the activists on the frontlines of the autism war that is the fight for human rights and self-advocacy. It features interviews with Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Landon Bryce, founder of, artist Robyn Steward, Clarissa Kripke, MD, and activist Zoe Gross. They discuss how Autism Speaks, one of the largest organizations in America, relies on propaganda to raise funds for genetic research without considering families touched by autism. The film, directed by William Davenport, wants to expose the controversies provoked by the organization’s so-called advocacy by giving voice to some of the most articulate members of the communities that it claims to represent.

The film focuses on the divide between autistic self-advocates and organizations that are actively seeking a cure for the severe kinds of autism. Some insist that it is a question of civil rights and America’s history of the civil rights movement has been dominated by progress that activists had to work hard to achieve. Oppressed and marginalized citizens have had to stand up and demand recognition, respect, and equal access to the benefits of modern society. Director Davenport shows us autistic activists and self-advocates on the front lines of this struggle for inclusion, and freedom from persecution. This documentary details what the emerging neurodiversity movement is up against, from the torturous electroshock “treatment” that takes place at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts, to the dehumanizing and alarmist marketing campaigns of fundraising juggernaut Autism Speaks. The idea of a philosophy of neurological variation is simply another aspect of human diversity and these activists embody the call of the disability rights movement: “Nothing About Us, Without Us”.

We must ask ourselves as educated human beings who care about others if the film’s message needlessly divisive or does its message needed to guarantee the acceptance, representation and support for autistic people? I can see how this film is relevant to those working in autism and I wondered if I would really like to see it. When I did watch, I was blown away by it and realized that autism is everyone’s concern.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and autism are general terms for several disorders of development in the brain. The results vary and include difficulty in social interaction and in verbal and nonverbal communication as well as repetitive behaviors. It can also be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and issues dealing with attention and physical health. The roots of the disease appear to be in early brain development. I am amazed at how little I knew about autism before seeing this film and I see here that the activists are true heroes. A film like this can make all of us so much more aware and that is only one reason to see it. In fact, I categorize it as a must-see.


she's beautiful when she's angry

“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”

The Women’s Movement

Amos Lassen

Here is a film that looks at the women who founded, NOW,  the women’s movement that existed from 1966 to 1977. It might be surprising to some to see that the movement began with ladies wearing hats and gloves but these eventually gave way to the more radical factions of women’s liberation. It brought together intellectual women and organizations like W.I.T.C.H (Women’s International Conspiracy from Hell!).  The film tells the stories of women who fought for equal rights and as they did a universal revolution began.


There is no romanticism here and what we see are the beginnings of a movement that began with quarrels and controversy as the issues of race, sexual preference and leadership dominated the early days. The women here were both brilliant and outrageous and went by the idea that “the personal is political”. They brought a revolution and it took place in the bedroom, in the workplace and in all areas of life. The FBI called the women threatening and while their names may not appear in history books, they changed the world.


While this film is a comprehensive history, it is also a call to action. The younger generation has no idea what it was once like in this country when job postings were segregated by gender, when woman-centric health information and health services were hardly available to women and when women with careers were often denounced. The film gives us a peek at what life was like for women before the mid-1960s and helps us understand the origins of the concept of gender equality that seems to be taken somewhat for granted today. It reminds us that what women won in the past is again at jeopardy that many of us take for granted. We are also reminded that much of what was won decades ago is once again in jeopardy. We see clips from mass marches, meetings, poetry readings, and consciousness-raising sessions. Mary Dore, the director and her staff interviewed many women who became the face of feminism and we see and hear these women’s reflections upon how the movement developed, what issues and what actions galvanized the activism of the time. The women  are passionate, profound, clever and sometimes very funny.


What many do not know is that the feminist movement was quite complicated and messy with internal political and geographical divisions as well as divisions by race and class. There was homophobia from without and from within. All of this is exposed here and examined.  We are also reminded of the core struggles and the successes and failures of the movement. There were women “in the trenches” in cities such as Boston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and here we see them as they looked back then and how they look today. Many of the heroes of the movement have gone unsung yet alongside the big names such as Friedan, Abzug and Steinem, they made a difference.

beautiful4 “She’s Beautiful When She is Angry is such a terrific documentary and so skillfully introduces the core ideas, struggles, and successes/failures of the women’s movement during the late 60s and early 70s. What I especially love about this film is the way it underscores the key role of those in the “trenches” – the many local organizers in cities like Boston, NY, Chicago, LA, and SF/Berkeley. They are pictured “back then” as well as now, in recent interviews that allow for the rare kind of reflection that a younger audience so greatly appreciates. And these interviews make clear that it was the superb organizing work of “unsung heroes” (in addition to the important leadership of people like Friedan, Abzug, and Steinem) that catapulted this movement to become one of the key social justice forces of the past century.”   

This documentary covers a large area and it is a pleasure to watch. We see the actual people who were personally involved with archival material and we also see and hear current conversations with the very same folks. The film could easily be subtitles, “How to Start a Movement”. It is a celebration o diversity, intelligence, fortitude and creativity and it is inspirational for those who take up the movement today.

 The film opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in NYC December 5, 2014 and at the Landmark Nuart Theatre in LA on December 12.




“The Invisible Front”


Amos Lassen

The Invisible Front was the code name used by the Soviet Interior Forces for the armed resistance in the occupied territories of the former Soviet Union. This resistance came to life without almost any outside support in 1940 and again in 1944 and it continued in various forms, armed and unarmed, until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This film is the story of one of the twentieth centuries most significant anti-soviet resistance movements, told through the words and experiences of one of its leaders, Juozas Luksa and his Forest Brothers.

invisible poster

We learn here about the dynamics of the armed and unarmed underground resistance through interviews and never been seen before archival footage. The film includes over 50 on camera interviews and they include President Adamkus of Lithuania and President Zatlers of Latvia, CIA operatives and US government officials, as well as the many specific individuals of Baltic Nations who not only fought against Stalin and his regime, but there are also those who fought for Moscow. We get a look at both sides of this war and it was this war that was, in part, ultimately responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.  We also see the issue of personal choice during times of hardship and repression.


Mark Ryan, Mark Johnston, Jonas Ohman, and Vincas Sruoginis have spent the past 4 years in the production of this in locations if New York, Washington DC, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. They were able to uncover stories and facts that give an accurate account of this traumatic post-war struggle in Eastern Europe following World War II for the first time.

 Many of those interviewed in this documentary had or actually participated in The Invisible Front or were close to it in someway. The film uses reenactments, archival footage provided by LTV and the National Archives in Washington DC as well as interviews of the actual participants. We see here first time access to the KGB museum to film the actual documents and photos of the era, and we hear the voice of Jouzas Luksa  as narrated by Andrius Mamantovas. Quite basically this is the story of the Lithuanian underground-armed resistance and its tragedy.

One of their most charismatic leaders was Juozas Luksa, an architecture student who  along with his three brothers joined the underground resistance and thereby challenged the Soviets for years to come. “In 1947 Luksa broke out from the Soviet Union to seek support and to tell the tale of Lithuanians desperate resistance to the West.


When in Paris he met the love of his life, Nijole Brazenaite, and married her. He wrote a touching memoir about the origins of the resistance, which was later published by his wife. Shortly after their wedding, Luksa returned to Lithuania, air dropped by the CIA, for intelligence gathering. Panicking, Moscow launched vast resources to hunt him down, once for all ending the threat from the resistance to Communist rule in Lithuania”.

“The Invisible Front” was one of the twentieth centuries most significant anti-­Soviet resistance movements. The war that was conducted was completely unknown to the public in the West.

 The film will open at the Cinema Village in New York on November 7, in Chicago on November 14, and at the Music Hall in Los Angeles on November 21. A national release will follow.


burton taylor

“Burton and Taylor”

Here Was Love

Amos Lassen

I loved Elizabeth Taylor. She was the most beautiful woman the world has ever known and she had a great heart. There is still so much about her that we do not know and we probably never will know it all. One thing for certain was that she loved Richard Burton and he loved her but they could not seem to make it work.

Burton and Taylor – First Photo Credit: BBC/Gustavo Papaleo

In this film produced for the BBC, film star Elizabeth Taylor invites her ex-husband – twice over – Richard Burton to her fiftieth birthday party where, as a recovering alcoholic, he refuses to get drunk with her. She suggests that they star in a stage revival of the Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” on Broadway and he does agree to that. As they announce the project, the press speculates on a romantic reconciliation but Burton has a new girlfriend and the prospect of playing king Lear. He was not happy with the “Private Lives” project, especially with Taylor’s pill popping and her lack of stage experience, which caused problems at rehearsal. The critics tear it apart when it opens but the audiences continue to come because they want to see Taylor and, when she is ill, numbers dwindle and the show is put on hold. After a two-month run , with a projected tour, the play closes and Taylor tells Burton she has always loved him and still does. Then a year later, Burton is dead.

This film is a look back at the magic that was Burton and Taylor. It is a snapshot of two stars as they embarked on the last project they would ever do together. Not only was “Private Lives” an artistic flop, but it was also the subject of constant gossip. The stage production was plagued by rumors of strife, backstage fighting, and lots of unnecessary drama that had little to do with Noel Coward and everything to do with its high-strung leads.


In this BBC production, we have Helena Bonham Carter  and Dominic West giving their best to become two icons of the glorious Hollywood studio days as do theatre. They don’t either of them truly look like Taylor and Burton, but they do commit to embracing their essence in the emotional complexity of a tortured relationship. Helena Bonham Carter was an unexpected choice to play Elizabeth Taylor, but she does capture a sense of the charming lunacy that was Elizabeth’s trademark. In truth nobody could ever live up to the legend so she fights valiantly in a battle she can never win. She simply decides to bring herself to the role more than trying to copy Taylor and that works fine.

Dominic West has an easier job playing Burton, who was simply a man’s man with a beautiful voice. He does right by Burton’s legacy making him compassionate and yet hardheaded simultaneously. Compared to the disastrous Lindsay Lohan version of Elizabeth Taylor, this is a fine film.

It covers just a brief time period in the couple’s lives and it is  fun to see them square off in a theater rather than on a film set, and there’s plenty of rich folklore to draw from. No sides are taken here and both Elizabeth and Richard seem crazy about and towards each other the whole time. “They are poster children for the dangers of addictive love, and proof positive that exes are best left out of your business life once they are gone from your bedroom”. It is interesting that I felt I wanted them to marry each other again and if Burton had lived, I can only wonder if that might have happened.

Some thought that their venture into live theater was as a cheap device to gain more money and make a mockery out of talent but the crowd loved it  and came back for more. We see the moral struggles that Taylor and Burton faced. Burton was irritated seeing and hearing the theatergoers laugh and act  like they were seeing animals in a zoo. Burton wanted a clean show and to deliver art for those who understand and desire it but not for the masses lurking for the glamour and drama.

This is a minimalist film and it works just fine for Bonham Carter and West. They mix humor with sarcasm, sadness with hope and resignation with forgiveness. The tragedy of Hollywood’s greatest couple was the love that consumed them. They were made for each other and destined to be apart because of their temper. They were alike yet they fought to show they were not. When they were separated they sought to be back in each other’s arms and the fans loved every moment and with the media presenting their every move. Whatever they chose to do was put in second place with their life taking first place.


It was very smart to just have a movie about a very small incident in their lives but I did want more. We see turmoil, fighting and bickering. The relationship of Taylor and Burton is stripped bare and presented before our eyes and we’re no longer distant. Instead we are enlightened.

For Helena Bonham Carter this is a great role. Many felt that Lindsay Lohan had luck with her looks in landing Taylor’s part but here we see that Bonham Carter is Elizabeth Taylor even though there will be only one Dame with violent eyes and one actress who tried to give justice here—Helena Bonham Carter shows us humor and sadness, anger and mischief. She manages to get those Taylor eyes and the twitch of the lip just like Taylor. She projects adoration, sadness, desperation and acceptance when Richard Burton/Dominic West is beside her.

West embraces the role and the actor. He may not be the perfect Burton, more morose at times and less explosive but the heart is there, the sentiments and understanding of what is required of him is sensed. William Ivory wrote the script and it all works fine. What we see is only a moment in time given and it’s intimate and well balanced.

Both Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter triumph in walking a fine line between impersonation and acting, whether it’s Mr. West who looks and sounds just like Mr. Burton, erupting into a towering rage or Ms. Bonham Carter as Taylor, assuming a pose of taught dignity or throwing a wink to both the audience and the camera that is alive with the screen presence of the original. The performances remain excellent throughout. We can only see them as imagined versions of who these people might have been. Burton is always professional as theatre has always been his first love and he won’t allow anybody, especially Taylor, to make a mockery of it.


Taylor takes everything in her stride and because she’s Elizabeth Taylor, she knows that the audience will love her simply because, she’s Elizabeth Taylor. It’s quite obvious that even though both are romantically involved with other people, they still care for, and love each other, although neither will ever admit it out loud. There is also the fact that Taylor was always the one who got all of the attention and we see that here in a scene when they both decide to go out for dinner to a quiet restaurant, Ms. Taylor enters and everyone applauds her but when Mr. Burton enters, nobody seems to notice. This seemed to be fine with him because he really preferred not to be in the spotlight but I can only imagine that he was hurt.

And that’s okay with him. Mr. Burton prefers being out of the spotlight but as the evening progresses, they both remember the earlier years when they were at the height of their fame. Burton and Taylor did not seem to want to let go of each other  either professionally or romantically.

By the time that the play ended its run, Burton realized that the audience didn’t like the play for what it was, rather, he felt that they had been invited into his and Ms. Taylor’s private lives instead. The movie is about many things; love, addiction, failure, rejection, getting older and having regrets.

The movie felt that it was very short.  At 85-minutes, the movie remains contained within the production of the play which helps present events from becoming difficult to manage.  However, once the script and characters become comfortable the movie is practically over leaving you to wonder where the time went.  This is either proof of really great pacing or just a thin plot, too breezy to provide much impact.  The events of the play are so lightweight, with the main focus being the fear that Burton/Taylor lived out their issues on-stage, that there’s no real analysis into it.