Category Archives: Film

“THE GREAT GAME”— (“Le grand jeu”) Politics Are a Game of Intellectual Manipulation

“THE GREAT GAME” (“Le grand jeu”)

Politics Are a Game of Intellectual Manipulation

Amos Lassen

Director Nicolas Pariser’s “The Great Game” is an elegant, low-keyed political thriller about the game of misdirection and deception. Devious Joseph Paskin (André Dusollier) “just happens” to run into handsome has-been writer Pierre Blum (Melvil Poupaud) at a casino. Joseph is there to gamble, obviously (or so he says), but Pierre is there for the wedding of his ex-wife. We soon understand that none of this was by chance and that Joseph has a use for Pierre. There conversation is a combination of wit and naiveté and the two men lead into a world we’ll never quite understand. It is a world where events at the top are all a matter of hidden manipulation, and a writer can make a difference, if properly used. Joseph is a lawyer who works behind the scenes of power and has a writing job for Pierre.

Pierre wrote a political novel 15 years ago that was much celebrated. He has had ties with the extreme left whose leader he detested. He has written nothing since. Pariser gradually looks into Pierre’s life and experience and here and throughout the film there are shifts and surprises.

We see cynical discussions at the Élysée Palace, the center of French power, where it’s said that whoever wins elections runs things at the top. In his latest scheme to bring down a top minister, Joseph is warned he’s going fatally far. Joseph seems to be wrapped up in secrecy, knowingness, and danger while Pierre is a handsome loser who once had everything and now lives on the edge of nothing. He has just moved into a tiny garret apartment that no one knows about and he has changed his phone number but Joseph leaves a note for him there setting up a meeting. Joseph explains to Pierre how a book can launch other books, and a lot of writing on one side can bury writing on the other and that work better than censorship.

The story is told with a sleek, old-fashioned efficiency and it is intelligent and original. We get anenticing glimpse of how the wheels turn behind the facade of Paris’ Elysee Palace. Americans have been conditioned to expect car bombs and conspiracy theories in their political thrillers, though the cynicism tends to be much subtler in France, a democracy where a popular majority elects the leaders, and yet, as the film makes clear, a select few pull the strings.

The puppet master here is Joseph Paskin, an elder statesman. At first, Joseph pretends not to recognize the 40-ish writer (and why should he, since it’s been 15 years since he published his one all-but-forgotten novel?), though time will soon reveal that there are no coincidences where Paskin’s character is concerned.

His idealism broken by an indifferent public, Pierre has lost faith in his potential to make a difference. Then Paskin makes him a job offer— “to write the ultimate masterpiece in the subgenre you mentioned,” and in so doing, help him bring down the Minister and oust his allies.

We see that Blum is, in effect, being hired as an intellectual assassin. In France, , the freedom of speech is more powerful than censorship, and that an idea, if articulated well enough in print, could move public sentiment enough to bring about a revolution. That is exactly what happens, though not exactly to plan, Blum’s anonymously published “Itinerary of a Letter” swings the left into action and sets off a slow-motion chain of events that ultimately endangers his ex-wife Caroline (Sophie Cattani), activist love interest Laura (Clemence Poesy) and their entire circle of separatist protestors (who’d rather cut themselves off from politics than change it).

At age 40, Pariser has had time to form such impressions on how the world works from his own education and interest in politics. This is a well-acted, engrossing motion picture that may well keep you on the edge of your seat. Be ready for twists and turns that will keep you guessing.

“WORLDS APART”— Three Stories

“Worlds Apart” (“Enas Allos Kosmos”)

Three Stories

Amos Lassen

 Three Greeks have chance encounters with strangers in three interconnected narratives set in Greece. Daphne (Niki Vakali), a young Greek woman, falls in love with Farris (Tawfeek Barhom), a Syrian refugee after he rescues her from an assault. However, their relationship is forbidden by her domineering, anti-immigrant father, Antonis (Minas Chatzisavvas). Giorgios (Christopher Papakaliatis) is a salesman for a struggling company who meets Elise (Andrea Osvart), a Scandinavian woman, at a hotel bar and they end up sleeping together. What a began as a one night stand changes when they realize that they have developed feelings for one another. To make things complicated, Elise is the efficiency expert in charge of laying off the employees at the company that Giogios works at. Maria (Maria Kavoyianni), a housewife in an unhappy marriage, has a conversation with a friendly stranger, Sebastian (J.K. Simmons), a retired professor from Germany, in front of a supermarket. They agree to meet once a week at the same day and time at the supermarket and their friendship gradually become sweetly romantic. while sparking a friendship that blossoms into a sweet romance.

Writer/director Christopher Papakaliatis tells three compelling stories with complex characters and he does so with avoiding stereotypes, melodrama and caricatures. Each character feels like a living and breathing human being and we feel the chemistry between each of the couples. Beneath the film’s surface there are sociopolitical and socioeconomic commentaries that provide plenty of food for thought and are quite timely, relatable and universal.

The three stories are presented consecutively and have different styles. The first is romantic and affectionate, while dark at the same time. The second one is humorous and sexy and restrained. , like the things that Papakaliatis likes to do. The third is more of a private story takes place only in a supermarket.

The one problem I had is the difference in tone between the three stories thus making connecting them seem both forced and violent and the connection seems forced. However, we also see that Papakaliatis cares for what he has written and has written it well. Here are three different stories with three separate notation heroes who are either responsible as foreigners or as Greeks who experience what is going on in Greece today. The dialogue is realistic, simple, human and intelligent as are the characters. The film beautifully portrays emotion and I found myself really identifying with what was going on even though I have never spent more than a few hours in Greece.

THE VESSEL”— Transformation

“The Vessel”

Transformation

Amos Lassen

 Julio Quintana’s “The Vessel” is a beautiful parable about the spiritual transformation of a community after a tragedy. Just ten years ago, the people of a small Puerto Rican village were frozen in grief after a giant wave crashed into their schoolhouse and killed 46 children, sweeping them out to sea where they drowned. Since then the women have dressed in black and refused to consider having more children. The Catholic priest, Father Douglas (Martin Sheen), is distraught about the community’s depression and low attendance at church and awaits some sign of hope and renewal among the people he loves so dearly.

Leo (Lucas Quintana) is a caring son who looks after his mentally unbalanced mother Fidelia (Jacqueline Duprey), who lost her other son in the tidal wave tragedy. When he learns that his best friend Gabriel (Hiram Delgado) is leaving town, he gives him a motorcycle. The two young sat together and drank too much during their last evening together and the following morning, they were both found dead by fisherman, who confirm that they were drowned in the sea. However, somewhat miraculously, Leo turns out to still be alive.

For Father Douglas is convinced this is the sign he has been waiting for— this inexplicable resurrection is God’s sign to the townsfolk that He is present among them. Soraya (Aris Mejias), whose husband was the schoolteacher died along with the children and she is the object of Leo’s secret affection. Because of what happened to him, she is now moved by her own emotions to align herself with him. She take her most colorful dresses out of the closet and wears them again. Then a couple comes to Father Douglas with news that they want to have a child and it is almost as if things begin to return to where they once were.

This is a very moving film about the spiritual transformation of individuals and an entire community. I was fascinated watching the villagers slowly come alive. What we see here is that hope is contagious and can be given to others as nourishment for the future and escape from the past. I think what is truly unique about “The Vessel” is that it leaves so much unsaid and unexplained. The film has several references to Jesus and his passion, the rest of the story is filled with mystery. And that is what makes it a worthy work of cinematic

We begin with seeing debilitating grief amid tragic loss and the search for hope. The film looks at real life human and spiritual questions and struggles that we all have and does so through beauty.

Father Douglas is the sole Catholic priest in the community and he hopes that he can gently and patiently help the villagers through their grief and into a stare of healing and hope. It has not been easy. He wants the couples to begin having children again but they do not listen and the weight of what is going on affects the Father. He begins to doubt himself. 

Leo is part of a generation that wasn’t entirely affected by the tragedy. He wasn’t a parent ten years ago and hasn’t felt the terrible loss those around him have but he has become restless living in this paralyzed community. He stays because he is devoted to his mother, Fidelia (Jacqueline Duprey), who has been lost in a catatonic mental state since the event. Another reason keeping Leo from leaving with his best friend, Gabriel (Hiram Delgado), who is heading to the mainland to escape the misery, is Soraya, a young woman Leo has long had feelings for but yet she is also struggling with loss of her husband who was the teacher and the school and who died with the others. What happened then as I stated earlier changes everything for the village and the villagers.

The deeply religious people begin to examine the resurrected Leo’s every move, thinking he’s been touched by God and looking for more direction in their lives. Father Douglas knows that such an obsessive reliance on man and not faith can lead to disappointment and further desperation and he finds himself attempting to calm the frustrations of the townspeople who search for hope. Leo surprisingly decides to build a structure out of the remnants of the school house and this confuses the villagers and the Father as well who are unsure of this new creation crafted from material that conjures haunting memories. Just as others are looking to Leo for a spiritual sign, Soraya is drawn to him and the two begin to develop a closeness while Leo’s mother slowly comes out of her catatonic mental state. As Leo turns his structure into a boat, the confusion of the people rises, resulting in a combination of hysteria and possible deliverance.

There is a lot of Biblical symbolism in “The Vessel” but it never distracts from the story. Granted, Leo’s comparison to Christ isn’t so subtle – he rose three hours later (unlike yet similar to Christ being risen from the grave three days later) and he winds up with a nail through his foot while building his structure but the comparison stops there and Leo never heals or stops to tell parables. He’s still Leo, dealing with how and why he is now alive after being dead. This doesn’t stop others from seeing him as some kind of messiah and there is, for example, a villager who steals a button from Julio’s shirt and feeds it to his sick donkey with the hope of it being healed. At the same time, Leo is both celebrated by the townspeople upon his resurrection and then shunned when he doesn’t fit who they expect him to be. Quintana’s decision to include religious imagery caused me to think about the world and the spiritual symbolism that often goes unseen in my everyday life.

As much as there is symbolism throughout “The Vessel” there is behavior and emotions that will feel very real and relatable to viewers. We have either known or heard of someone who has been mentally and emotionally crippled after the loss of a child or loved one. We have seen mass mourning and frustration after a natural disaster and we all know someone who struggles with spiritual awakening.

What we see here is universal and applicable to all of humanity. Like the characters here, we struggle and grieve the passing of life and we celebrate a new life. Quintana takes these concepts and themes and takes them to this distant environment which actually is just like the world we live in and is enveloped in good and cruelty.

Producer Terence Malick whose own films are contemplative and delicate has obviously influenced the director and if you have seen his films you know what I mean. Sheen comes across as natural and fitting in this setting as the other actors. He brings a needed patience and wisdom to the role, but also an understandable underlying frustration of a priest’s work and the state of his village. Lucas Quintana and Aris Mejias disappear into their roles and effectively convey the confusion, curiosity and passion that they must show.

“The Vessel” at times seems heavy-handed but that can be overlooked when we consider that this is Quintana’s first film who ambitiously captures the delicate line between faith and fallible humanity. Bravo!!

“THE MEN’S CLUB”— A Discussion Group

“The Men’s Club”

A Discussion Group?

Amos Lassen

I had absolutely no idea what to expect in this movie— I do not remember hearing anything about it before so it was a complete surprise to me. Basically, it is the story of a group of men who get together to form a “discussion group” at one of the guy’s house.. They share their feelings about women, life, love, and work. The party gets rowdier and rowdier, and then the host’s wife returns home. Even after being thrown out, the men are not yet willing to call it a night…

Could this be the male bonding answer to sisterhood?. Women seem to have always gravitated toward groups and this is a misogynistic statement. I understand that many women’s group were created for support but that is not what we see with the seven men here. The screenplay by Leonard Michaels comes from his 1982 novel. The men we meet range in age from the 30s to the 50s and they get together at the Berkeley, California home of a psychotherapist (Richard Jordan) and they take turns talking about their experiences with women.

Cavanaugh (Roy Scheider) is a former baseball star, who is tough toward women but also vulnerable. Solly (Harvey Keitel) is a tough yet vulnerable businessman. Harold (Frank Langella) is a lawyer and something of a prude filled with romantic longings, and Phillip (David Dukes) is a relatively wholesome, if irritable, homebody and a college professor. Terry (Treat Williams) is supposedly e a doctor with a swinging bedside manner, and Paul (Craig Wasson) is the manager of an auto pasts store and he is the friendliest and nicest in the group.

Cavanaugh (Roy Scheider), college prof Phillip (David Dukes), milquetoast lawyer Harold (Frank Langella), stressed-out businessman Solly (Harvey Keitel), doctor Terry (Treat Williams), and auto parts store manager Paul (Craig Wasson). Occasionally there is some horseplay involving the whole group or an angry exchange between a couple of them, but mostly we’re watching a set of men of whom some are amusing and some are not.

After talking for a while about their wives who don’t perform up to par and other women who exceed expectations , the guys raid the refrigerator and make a shambles of the psychotherapist’s house. Kramer’s wife (Stockard Channing) comes home and puts an end to the festivities. The men then (except Kramer who is bleeping from his wife hitting him on the head with a Pot) head to the House of Affection, where they are warmly greeted by dolled-up women whose mirrored bedrooms have satin sheets.

Here again, the actors get a chance to act out their hostilities and craziness. Suddenly the movie loses its sense of direction and goes every which way. The session at the brothel strips them to the awkward and occasionally degraded core. Peter Medak’s direction is fine until the end at which point he seems to have taken a break from his film. It tries to expose the anxieties and absurdities of modern masculinity but can’t seem to find its way.

At best, Kramer is eccentric at best and at worst, he is deranged. The characters and these scenarios are unplayable and they guys are loathsome to begin with yet they are implausible. They’re not playing “real” people.  When they take a break in the discussion to destroy the inside of Kramer’s house, we have to wonder where this group of men came from.

House of Affections is a high-class brothel run by a madam (Ann Wedgeworth) who has a creepy ventriloquist dummy. The men get turns with ladies of their choosing and Solly immediately falls for Allison (Marilyn Jones).

David Dukes, who died in 2000, was interviewed and explained that the actors got together for two weeks prior to the start of filming and talked, improvised, worked out scenes, and generally got a feel for one another and how they would work that into the film.  He further said that shortly into filming, it became apparent that what they were doing wasn’t working.  Other films have explored men’s issues and male bonding and the whole “boys being boys” thing with the unabashed raunchiness that we see here. However it did not wok well.

I’m not sure what kind of movie this is and I cannot really begin to describe it. Nonetheless, I enjoyed seeing it.

“BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY”— Three from Miike Takashi

“Black Society Trilogy”

Three from Miike Takashi Trilogy

Amos Lassen

The “Black Society Trilogy” proves that director Miike Takashi is a specialist in bloody spectacle and that his films are among the finest to deal with the way violence and brutality can unexpectedly destroy even the most innocent of lives. The films that make up the trilogy are “Shinjuku Triad Society” (1995), “Rainy Dog” (1997) and “Ley Lines” (1999). The three basic themes we see in each of the films are alienation, formation of a makeshift family and the desire for a better life in a foreign land.

The films are three separate entities without storyline crossovers and were neither filmed nor released consecutively. Tomorowo Taguchi plays a prominent role in all three of the films but as different characters.

Takashi Miike’s “Black Society Trilogy” is available on both Blu-ray and DVD. These were the films that put Miike on the cinematic map and proved he was more than just a specialist in blood and guts but rather as one of the masters of Japanese crime cinema. The films are beautiful high definition transfers and the set contains a host of special features including a brand new interview with the director himself. These three thematically connected, character-centric crime stories were the director’s first films made specifically for theatrical release, and his first for a major studio. They show that Takashi cannot be pigeonholed into one genre even though the three films beautifully show how he deals with violence and brutality and how they can unexpectedly destroy even the most innocent of lives.

Miike has never been a director to stick to one style of shooting during a film and we see here that he experiments with different lenses, handheld and static camerawork and conjures up all manner of interesting camera angles. The shock level is high and there’s gore and sexual violence some of which is necessary to the plot, some less so. But the films are never boring and the pacing is amazing.

Takashi Miike isn’t really much of a judgmental or political director, but his films do have a tendency to show Japanese society in a rather harsh light.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

High Definition digital transfers of all three films

Original uncompressed stereo audio

Optional English subtitles for all three films

New interview with director Takashi Miike

New interview with actor Show Aikawa (Rainy Dog, Ley Lines)

New audio commentaries for all three films by Miike biographer Tom Mes

Original theatrical trailers for all three films

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films.

“PSYCHOMANIA”— Zombie Bikers Run Amok

“PSYCHOMANIA”

Zombie Bikers Run Amok

Amos Lassen

“Psychomania” is the tale of zombie bikers run amok is southern England. The Living Dead is the name of a delinquent biker gang that loves to cause havoc on British roadways and making out in graveyards. Gang leader Tom (Nicky Henson) also has a Satanist for a mother, and when he discovers the secret of immortality, the name of his motley crew takes on a more literal meaning. Don Sharp directed this very offbeat movie and it stars Beryl Reid and George Sanders.

Tom Latham discovers some dark secrets, as well as how to die, and then how to return as one of the undead. When, he tries this, he sees that it works! Soon the other members of the biker gang are doing the same thing, and they seem to be invincible. “Psychomania” is a fun and strange little movie acting that is better than one might expect from a movie like this. Henson stands out and he is clearly having the time of his life. The dark humor is infectious and there’s the great score by John Cameron that suits the tone of the film perfectly. However, what is missing is any sense of logic. We never understand why Tom’s mother (Beryl Reid) doesn’t show that much concern for Tom and his gang’s antics until the film is almost over. We also wonder why the police allow these guys to terrorize England.

“Psychomania” is filled with campy fun that serves as good nighttime entertainment and besides, knowing that this is about zombie bikers, we know not to expect a literary epic. The screenplay written  by Julian Halevy and Arnaud d’Usseau aims for escapist low-level entertainment and does not make any social conscience points.

Arrogant rich boy Tom is bored and thinks he can get some kicks by committing suicide and returning to life. Tom’s devil worshiping, estate living, mod, widowed mother (his dad committed suicide 18 years ago, but never returned because he was evidently not a true believer) and her sinister cult leader butler Shadwell (George Sanders) help Tom make a pact with the devil through their frog-worshiping cult. Tom willingly goes over a bridge on his motorcycle in the belief that he’ll return from the dead as an immortal biker, that is, if he truly believes he’ll return from the dead. After burial Tom returns as an invulnerable serial killer monster.

As a result of Tom’s reincarnation, the rest of the gang also drinks the Kool-Aid and commit suicide and return from the dead as the now zombie Living Dead gang. Only Tom’s girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) refuses to follow suit and the gang lives it up riding through town and bugging pedestrians and turning over grocery store shelves and going on a killing spree. The many murders draws  the attention of Chief Inspector Hesseltine (Robert Hardy) to investigate. In the end, Tom’s occultist mom gets pissed at Tom for bringing along his crude biker gang into her high-brow cultish thing and dispenses with all of them by breaking the spell that allowed them to be zombies.

Bonus Materials

* 2K restoration from preservation negatives

* High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

* Original 1.0 mono audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray)

* Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

*  Brand-new interview with star Nicky Henson

Return of the Living Dead, an archive featurette containing interviews actors Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor

Sound of Psychomania, an archive interview with composer John Cameron

Riding Free, an archive interview with ‘Riding Free’ singer Harvey Andrews

Hell for Leather, a brand-new featurette on the company who supplied the film’s costumes

Remastering Psychomania, a look at the film’s restoration from the original 35mm black and white separation masters

* Theatrical trailer

* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil

 

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet containing writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts

“PSYCHOMANIA”— Zombie Bikers Run Amok

“PSYCHOMANIA”

Zombie Bikers Run Amok

Amos Lassen

“Psychomania” is the tale of zombie bikers run amok is southern England. The Living Dead is the name of a delinquent biker gang that loves to cause havoc on British roadways and making out in graveyards. Gang leader Tom (Nicky Henson) also has a Satanist for a mother, and when he discovers the secret of immortality, the name of his motley crew takes on a more literal meaning. Don Sharp directed this very offbeat movie and it stars Beryl Reid and George Sanders.

 

Tom Latham discovers some dark secrets, as well as how to die, and then how to return as one of the undead. When, he tries this, he sees that it works! Soon the other members of the biker gang are doing the same thing, and they seem to be invincible. “Psychomania” is a fun and strange little movie acting that is better than one might expect from a movie like this. Henson stands out and he is clearly having the time of his life. The dark humor is infectious and there’s the great score by John Cameron that suits the tone of the film perfectly. However, what is missing is any sense of logic. We never understand why Tom’s mother (Beryl Reid) doesn’t show that much concern for Tom and his gang’s antics until the film is almost over. We also wonder why the police allow these guys to terrorize England.

“Psychomania” is filled with campy fun that serves as good nighttime entertainment and besides, knowing that this is about zombie bikers, we know not to expect a literary epic.

The screenplay written as sleaze by Julian Halevy and Arnaud d’Usseau, who aim for escapist low-level entertainment and do not make any social conscience points.

Arrogant rich boy Tom is bored and thinks he can get some kicks by committing suicide and returning to life. Tom’s devil worshiping, estate living, mod, widowed mother (his dad committed suicide 18 years ago, but never returned because he was evidently not a true believer) and her sinister cult leader butler Shadwell (George Sanders) help Tom make a pact with the devil through their frog-worshiping cult. Tom willingly goes over a bridge on his motorcycle in the belief that he’ll return from the dead as an immortal biker, that is, if he truly believes he’ll return from the dead. After burial Tom

returns as an invulnerable serial killer monster. As a result of Tom’s reincarnation, the rest of the gang also drinks the Kool-Aid and commit suicide and return from the dead as the now zombie Living Dead gang. Only Tom’s girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) refuses to follow suit and the gang lives it up riding through town and bugging pedestrians and turning over grocery store shelves and going on a killing spree. The many murders draws  the attention of Chief Inspector Hesseltine (Robert Hardy) to investigate. In the end, Tom’s occultist mom gets pissed at Tom for bringing along his crude biker gang into her high-brow cultish thing and dispenses with all of them by breaking the spell that allowed them to be zombies.

Bonus Materials

* 2K restoration from preservation negatives

* High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

* Original 1.0 mono audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray)

* Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

*  Brand-new interview with star Nicky Henson

Return of the Living Dead, an archive featurette containing interviews actors Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor

Sound of Psychomania, an archive interview with composer John Cameron

Riding Free, an archive interview with ‘Riding Free’ singer Harvey Andrews

Hell for Leather, a brand-new featurette on the company who supplied the film’s costumes

Remastering Psychomania, a look at the film’s restoration from the original 35mm black and white separation masters

* Theatrical trailer

* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil

 

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet containing writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts

“WE ARE THE FLESH” (“Tenemos la carne”)— A Journey to Carnality

“WE ARE THE FLESH” (“Tenemos la carne”)

A Journey to Carnality

Amos Lassen

I see a lot of movies but I do not think I have ever seen anything like “We are the Flesh” and that is not a good thing or a bad thing— it is simply a statement. It is a visionary and bizarre slice of Mexican art house cinema and an extraordinary and unsettling film experience that is a “sexually charged and nightmarish journey into an otherworldly dimension of carnal desire and excess, as well as a powerful allegory on the corrupting power of human desire”. In plainer language, it is an extreme Mexican fiesta of incest, cannibalism and explicit sex.

A brother and sister seek refuge with a filthy old man who coerces the siblings into incestuous sexual intercourse, and thereafter into cannibalizing a luckless soldier in this demented portrait of humanity.  Writer and director, Emiliano Rocha Minter brings us thoroughly arresting vision of what he sees as hell and this is by no means a regular movie. It is almost entirely inside a derelict apartment with Noe Hernandez playing a grotesque man who is demonically charismatic to the point that that other characters fall under his spell. Every narrative development in the film — from a young woman (Maria Evoli) dropping to her knees to perform explicitly shot oral sex on her brother (Diego Gamaliel), to a soldier relaxing to the point of near-acquiescence as his throat is slashed and drained into a bucket is driven by this unnamed antagonist. But them the word “antagonist” may be a poor choice of words for troll since there is no moral here and no concepts “right” and “wrong.” Much of its most vivid imagery is purpose-built to question the moral values society projects onto biological matter that include human meat ground to mush and in a bucket; a clitoral close-up; a pipette inserted casually into a hole in a boy’s temple; a sister’s droppings into her brother’s mouth. The picture’s primary pluses are visual since the script is sparse Yollotl Alvarado’s camera becomes the scalpel laying bare the meat of the movie.

“We Are the Flesh” is also perversely erotic: Sex scenes are shot with delight and music selections are astute, with a rousing rendition of the Mexican national anthem immediately prior to an extreme bout of bloodletting that foregrounds the inherent violence of its patriotic lyrics.

“We Are the Flesh” fits into the new wave of Mexican cinema not overly concerned with the audience’s comfort. It is not quite a horror film, although it is certainly horrific as a Grand Guignol carnival of every conceivable grotesquerie. It is filled with body fluids and perversion, this sexually graphic bad trip of a movie follows a brother and sister who stumble into the dominion of a crazed man who survives on malice and the grim-looking meat stews that he boils down into a highly flammable liquor and who offers them shelter at a cost. He. The acting style is almost as extreme as the subject matter and we see it as part performance, part seizure.

The troll’s name is Mariano (“Miss Bala” star Noé Hernandez), his face is twisted into a demonic gnarl of primitive desire, and he’s ready to prove his point with vile depravities. The film is a Mexican response to “Saló,” as it takes the defining tropes of his country’s contemporary filmmaking, liberates them from narrative logic, and stretches them across the screen. Minter has created a psychedelic slipstream of obscenities that inserts brief moments of context between incest, cannibalism, and necrophilia. He seems determined to reflect, explain, and ultimately resist the plague of corruption and drug-related savagery that has swept across Mexico and is direct about it. “We Are the Flesh” is maddeningly abstract.

It all begins with Mariano fidgeting around a decrepit apartment and we are introduced, slowly at first, to nausea. From there it is a spiral downward as the film sinks deeper into the darkness.

New characters confuse any idea of a story and the film becomes ever less obvious and more narrow. Mariano yells, “The spirit does not reside within the flesh, the flesh is the spirit itself! So I kindly ask all your lowlifes devour me until nothing is left.” If we are to understand that this is a metaphor for Mexico eating itself alive, it is very difficult to watch. This is a movie for those who like their transgressive cinema with an equally extreme art house flavor.

Hernandez’s performance as an impish freak is both captivating and repulsive. He is not such a silver-tongued devil but rather a conniving weirdo with a master plan to be reborn. Informing the young pair that morals don’t apply anymore, he coerces them into having sex with each other as while he kills the brother and the sister rubs her crotch against the corpse. Later, the brother magically reappears looking revitalized and all commanding, promising them he’ll never leave again. Those who take film seriously will be divided over this film especially since director Minter certainly doesn’t give the audience anything on a plate or spell things out, though its final scene is aimed entirely at Mexico’s propensity for social anarchy and that history doesn’t necessarily mean progress. But then again… maybe it isn’t.

“We are the Flesh” is challenging, daring, provocative, disgusting yet it is superbly crafted and always visually compelling. There is a gorgeously photographed sex scene that resembles a Henri Matisse painting brought to life and shot in infrared, so that the heat signatures of two people literally radiate from the screen. It’s one of the most beautiful images you’ll see all year. But then you remember that you are watching a brother and sister having sex.

Minter brings us a debasingly depraved, idiotically incestuous fever dream of a movie that has no real story points or plot turns to speak of. Some have written of the visual splendor of the movie as truly artistic, while other have irately walked out on it because of its graphic carnality. It is certainly meant to poke, prod, provoke and shock as it tries to explore and exploit the last real sexual taboos to be depicted onscreen. Whatever catharsis we’re supposed to feel never comes across. While it seems contrived and it is pseudo-pornographic. Have I contradicted myself several times in this review? You bet I have and if you can make it all the way through the film, you will do the same.

BLU-RAY Special Features and Disc Specs:

* High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation 

* 5.1 surround and uncompressed stereo 2.0 audio options 

* Optional English subtitles 

* A new video essay by critic Virginie Sélavy 

* New interviews with director Emiliano Rocha Minter and cast members Noé Hernández, María Evoli and Diego Gamaliel 

* Two short films by Emiliano Rocha Minter; Dentro and Videohome 

* Theatrical trailer 

* Stills gallery 

* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork

DVD Special Features and Disc Specs:

* High Definition digital transfer 

* 5.1 surround and stereo 2.0 audio options 

* Optional English subtitles 

* A new video essay by critic Virginie Sélavy 

* New interviews with director Emiliano Rocha Minter and cast members Noé Hernández, María Evoli and Diego Gamaliel 

* Two short films by Emiliano Rocha Minter; Dentro and Videohome 

* Theatrical trailer 

* Stills gallery 

* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Anton Bitel, and a note from the producer on the film.

“LEONARD COHEN: BIRD ON A WIRE”— The Documentary Leonard Cohen Didn’t Want Us To See

“ Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire”

The Documentary Leonard Cohen Didn’t Want Us To See

Amos Lassen

British filmmaker Tony Palmer directed “Bird on a Wire” which follows Cohen on his 1972 European tour. Long lost 16mm prints have been restored for this release and they not seen since 1972. It has taken over 40 years for this documentary to get its first North American run and we see that there are complications both in the film and in its subject.

Palmer met Cohen in 1971 and Cohen told him that he did not want to make this film. Cohen wanted to be seriously considered as a poet and felt that the film would be frivolous and it was not until Palmer assured Cohen that he considered him that any progress could be made.

The tour began in Dublin on March 18, 1972 and ended in Jerusalem on April 21 of that year. Palmer is an observer who is not in the film but there were other journalists that asked Cohen to answer some serious questions. Cohen answered one by saying that there were times that he felt that he was a cantor in a synagogue and that cantorial music was basically what he heard while growing up. When another journalist asked about his religion, Cohen relied that he has read the prayers of the Jews but did not know what they meant.

When the film was finished, Cohen saw it but did not remark and never said that he did not care for it but seemed to be worried that it was a bit too “confrontational.” It was re-edited to no advantage twice. Palmer had already lost the original feel which seemed to have disappeared forever and it was not until 2010, when 294 cans — many rusted — were discovered in a Hollywood warehouse.

Now after a great deal of restoration and editing, Palmer has put together a remarkable film from the bits and pieces. We must remember that Cohen undertook this tour was because his manager had embezzled his life savings making him broke at 70 years old.

This is a document of that 20-city tour and is a real and rare treat for every Leonard Cohen fan. Cohen’s words are poetic but the melody and accompanying music sometimes seems monotonal and often distractingly off-key. The film was pieced together from 3000 clips and some of it is quite fascinating. How this film will be regarded is something we have to wait and see about.

“IN THE STEPS OF TRISHA BROWN”— A Look at the World of Contemporary Dance

“IN THE STEPS OF TRISHA BROWN”

A Look at the World of Contemporary Dance

Amos Lassen

Trisha Brown brought about a revolution in the world of contemporary dance with her post-modern creations. She has been called “The grande dame, the high priestess—in the world of postmodern dance” and she stands apart from all others. This

documentary follows the process of the young dancers learning the piece from Lisa Kraus and Carolyn Lucas, Trisha Brown’s collaborators, while telling the story of the evolution and development of Brown’s dance practice, the culmination of which is the staging of “Glacial Decoy” in which we see the process of staging a major dance piece and a testament to the value of teaching and studying art.

Brown’s dances expand the mind of both the dancers and audiences and seeing them is like dreaming. Directed by Marie-Helene Rebois we see Brown’s vision as

infectious, unpretentious, accessible likeability. Rebois matches her methods with an observational eye that is just as unpretentious thus allowing the repeated rhythms of the dancers’ movements to reveal themselves through long, uninterrupted sequences shot from the corner of the room.