Category Archives: Film

“GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE ANSALEM”— Navigating Israel’s Divorce Courts

gett

“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem”

 Navigating Israel’s Divorce Courts

Amos Lassen

Israel is unique in that there is neither civil marriage nor civil divorce. Only rabbis can legitimate a marriage or its dissolution. However, dissolution is only possible with full consent from the husband, who actually has more power than the judges. Viviane Amsalem has been applying for divorce for three years. Her husband Elisha will not agree. He possesses a cold intransigence and Viviane is determined to fight for her freedom. The ambiguous role of the judges shapes a procedure in which tragedy is on equal footing absurdity, and everything is brought out for judgment, apart from the initial request
gett1

The film is the work on brother/sister team Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz and it deals with misogynistic religious laws that feel shockingly archaic. Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz and Elisha (Simon Abkarian) have been married for thirty years and none of those years have been good ones according to Viviane. They married when she was just fifteen and she is bound by the strictures of the Orthodox Jewish law that rules Jewish marriages in Israel, only a husband can end a marriage, and Elisha stubbornly refuses to grant her a get. The entire film takes place in or just outside the drab, claustrophobic rabbinical court where Viviane and her lawyer, Carmel Ben Tovim (Menashe Noy), return every few weeks for more than five years to argue her case. (Elisha doesn’t even bother to show up much of the time). The courtroom is cramped and reeks of bureaucratic stagnation so much so that it even becomes oppressive for the audience. We thereby quickly identify with Viviane and her desire to be a free woman. making it easy to identify with Viviane’s growing hunger for freedom. (I have a friend who has been waiting for her husband to give her gett now for over twenty years so for me the three and five year periods seem mild in comparison). We quickly also understand that it is not divorce that is on trial here but Viviane. She is almost constantly poked and prodded by Elisha’s lawyer and the three often openly contemptuous rabbis for signs of being a” wayward woman” which the lawyer labels her as. The judges appear to take offense at any woman who speaks her mind or fails to contain her femininity. In fact, one of the judges reprimands Viviane for undoing the bun she usually wears in court. This same judge harangues a character witness who speaks freely about how hard women have it in Israel. She is chastised her for her lack of modesty and everything she says is ignored.

The camera is aimed straightforwardly at the judges and at Viviane and bounces back and forth between them, the lawyers and Elisha (who shows no expression). There are two scenes—one at the beginning and the other at the end that are focused on Viviane’s point of view.

The first of these show Viviane as invisible to the men who are deciding her fate and in it we see only Elisha, the lawyers, and the judges as they talk heatedly about her case for minutes before finally pulling back to include Viviane, who has been sitting silently facing the judges. She is silent yet her presence is quite vivid—her white, white skin are dark hair and eyebrows, her penetrating eyes and her regality of stature lets us know that she is totally there. In the final scene we just see her feet and ankles as she leaves the court and it is not clear as to where she is going. She could be headed home or to pay the heavy price Elisha has exacted from her. He destination does not matter—what does matter is that she is still trapped and denied her freedom—the same freedom that she begged the court to grant.

gett2

This film is look at the marriage system in a foreign country, but it also looks at and understands human emotion and character. In Israel, if there are no grounds for a separation, such as domestic abuse, a dissolution cannot be granted. Viviane is willing to fight for her divorce for years in order to achieve her freedom. Elisha refuses to grant his wife a divorce, requiring an extensive trial in order to come to a ruling. Viviane just wants to receive the freedom that she deserves. She doesn’t desire anything from her husband, but a separation. The filmmakers made the decision to allow the entire film to take place within the court and since we never leave this building, it allows a certain amount of tension to build to an explosive point from which we can never return. The verbal answer of Elisha isn’t the only concern that Viviane has, but actually getting him to show up proves to be a problem of its own. In opposition to an American court system, the authoritative figures claim that there isn’t anything that they can do. Each session within the first part of the film is relatively short, as they simply advise her to move back in with her husband and keep trying to work it out. She continues to return, and they dismiss her time and time again. Viviane rarely says a word— she allows her lawyer to speak on her behalf. Since we never leave the court, we’re never exposed to anybody’s life outside of the presence of the rabbis. This is more than just

a court case for a divorce. It’s a struggle for a woman’s freedom, a woman who feels as if she’s invisible in her society. Once we reach the second part of the film, the lawyer takes on a more critical role, as he has clearly become emotionally invested in this case over the years that have passed by. It begins to speak on the oppressive nature of the courts. Viviane she sits in silence that is only broken by her action of letting her hair down. This acts as a small, yet symbolically powerful statement that truly reflects upon the repressed feelings within this suffering woman. It isn’t until the third part that her silence is finally broken, as she fights to put her situation into words that perhaps may move the rabbis. She does not speak just to speak, she does so because she has something important to say. Every word is carefully placed in order to land the most emotionally-charged impact possible. We become so invested in Viviane’s journey to freedom, that we can’t help but feel an extreme amount of anxiety throughout the film. We want nothing more than for her to receive the divorce that she deserves, but the court system’s rules are much more complicated than one would imagine.

Several witnesses are brought in to speak about Viviane and Elisha’s marriage. A series of questions are asked by both of their lawyers in order to prove their specific angle to the rabbis. They range from family members to neighbors. However, even those who one would imagine to be witnesses on Viviane’s side, provide testimony that largely supports the case of Elisha, as nearly everybody praises him. Some go as far as to call him a saint, and the perfect husband. Therefore, this places the blame of the unsuccessful marriage on the wife, which doesn’t present grounds for a divorce. It’s up to Carmel, the lawyer, to find a way to show reasons why this marriage shouldn’t be. Since we never leave the court building. We don’t entirely know which witnesses are telling the truth because we never eave the court to see what it is like out there. So much depends on the ways that statements are worded that not every witness has the ability to get his/her words across. The film does shift with the witnesses and we realize that we are totally involved with what is happening on the screen.

gett3

  It all has to do with the wording, and not every witness appears to be very good with getting their thoughts across, often sounding in Elisha’s favor. However, the picture’s tone slightly changes from one individual to another, but the shifts feel natural. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem has a fluid sense of storytelling that doesn’t only convince, but it entirely engages us.

Ronit Elkabetz not only wrote and directed the film, she stars in it as Viviane and her performance is brilliant. He face shows the emotions clearly and she does not have to say a word to make people see what she is thinking. She does retaliate against the court’s rulings and in doing so she not only impacts the film but the viewer. In fact, there are only fine performances by everyone in the film.

 Ronit Elkabetz has done more than write and direct this film, but she also stars in the lead role of Viviane Amsalem. This is a brilliant performance that truly brings the emotion out of its viewers. Without speaking a word of dialogue, she has the ability to bring an entire world of emotions to the forefront. When she finally retaliates against the oppressive rulings and statements, the film receives an impact that wouldn’t have been present without Elkabetz’s inspirational portrayal. She delivers a heart-wrenchingly powerful performance that works its way into our soul, and makes what could have been an insincere portrayal, a tremendous one. There isn’t a single weak link in the cast, as every individual is utterly convincing in their portrayal.

 Even though the film is entirely shot within a single building, that doesn’t stop it from having a fascinating visual style. The entire film is shot from a variety of perspectives, as we continue to jump from one set of eyes to the next. This allows for us to view the court case from every angle imaginable. Since the film takes place within such a small space, seeing close-ups increases tension. It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the camera angles, introducing the feature to an entirely new dimension of emotion. The plain white walls in the court room are deceiving to the colorful range of its inventive visual qualities. The use of long shots are brought into the picture’s most impactful moments in order for us to focus on the potency given within Viviane’s speeches. This is a certainly an intriguing visual experience well-worth watching.

I read where one person said that the film was the most frustrating he had seen this year but hew continued on saying that the meant that as a positive critique. “Gett” calls attention to a very real struggle that many women are facing in a part of the world that many of us are perhaps unfamiliar with its legal/religious system. It tells an important story about a character that doesn’t want our pity—she just wants us to feel what she feels. She draws us in and keeps us there.

“DAUGHTERS OF DOLMA”— The Lives of Tibetan Buddhist Nuns

daughters of dolma

“Daughters of Dolma”

The Lives of Tibetan Buddhist Nuns

Amos Lassen

In the Katmandu Valley there is a group of Buddhist nuns to observe ancient monastic traditions as well as modern spiritual practices. Adam Miklos in his new documentary takes us there and introduces us to this unique group of women and we see the merging of the ancient and the new. We follow the novices as they explore age, modernity, spirituality, and gender issues. We see not only Buddhist spirituality and the qualities of compassion and kindness but we go beyond the monastic views that these women have taken to see how they fit into the modern world of today. There are surprises here—the women use Facebook and love seeing horror films as they challenge the preconceptions that people have of them. Above all else we learn how gender and modernity are molding contemporary spiritual practices in Nepal. The women are happy and kind and willing share their experiences on film. They love the English language and the films in which English is spoken and they also love both Bollywood and Korean films. Even with their focus on Buddhist text studies, they enjoy so much more. There is an openness among them as well as with those who visit. Even with a rigid schedule of spiritual practices and serious studies, they nuns remain particularly cheerful. No doubt there are those who are tempted by law life and should they wish to live their order, they are allowed to do so.

Cell phones and DVD players are among their possessions so we see that they lives with technology. Like everything else these days, their lives are evolving and their spiritual leader, the Rinpoche, says that as long as technology does not distract them from their lives of spirituality, it is fine to be involved with it. The women are modern nuns and therefore they must be aware of what is going on in the world around them. Because their lives are already imbued with Buddhist teachings, their spiritual perception helps them focus on their religiosity.

daughers1

If I had to come with two words to describe the nuns they would be empathy and compassion. It is surprising to see how these values served as grounding principles in the Buddhist communities and the nunneries in particular. The nuns have dedicated their lives to learning, praying, and caring for the well-being of others and are revered in their religious communities and yet again, they remain open, friendly, and approachable in their interaction with each other and other people.

The nunnery reminds us of the importance of community as a way to support one another. Living with a spiritual community creates the atmosphere that what is being done there is meaningful and important and this then strengthens the motivation to pursue what one has chosen to dedicate one’s life to.

The nuns are treated the same way that other women in society are treated. They have to fight for equal status, they discuss sexism in their society. At times, they seem to forget that they are nuns. There were moments that I thought to myself that some of these women did not want to fit into “regular” life; they did not want conventional lives so they just chose being a nun as the path of greatest freedom. In a sense they conform to the Buddhist notion that one lives in order to help others. Here we also see that the importance of the monastic/lay split functions by carrying the traditions of Buddhism from one generation to the next. Perhaps one of the most difficult things to convey in movies is spiritual life and we certainly see that is handled successfully here.

“ILYA AND EMILIA KABAKOV: ENTER HERE”— “What Does It Mean To Be a Subversive Artist?”

enter here

“Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here”

“What Does It Mean To Be a Subversive Artist?”

Amos Lassen

“Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here” has a lot to teach us and this is one of the aspects of the beauty of this film. We learn about the global art market, the relationship between Russia’s state and its culture, the difference between fine art under Lenin and today’s oligarchs. Ilya Kabakov is an eighty-year-old conceptual artist that eagerly tells us that that he was inspired by the first wave of revolutionary aesthetics. His wife, Emilia, proudly brags about growing up in a post-Stalinist Russia. Right away this lets us know that a lot of research went into this film and we certainly see that. is an internationally-renowned artist and speaks of the “labyrinth” of some of his work (and, indeed, one of his installations is titled “The Labyrinth”), where as you move through the space you forget where you are, you forget the way out, and only in that disorienting context can you finally perceive that “art is important”. He is an installation artist whose works are often gigantic, encompassing entire buildings– he looks for his work to be a “total installation”, a full-immersion experience where any distance between artist and viewer is eradicated. Here our director takes us Kabokov’s various labyrinths in this film that is both a portrait of Ilya and his wife and partner, Emilia, as they put together a gigantic installation in Moscow (his first return to his home country after emigrating in 1987), as well as an exploration of Ilya’s influences and journey as an artist through 20th century Russia.

Ilya was born in 1933 in the Ukraine, the only child of a doting selfless mother, whose sacrifices still bring tears to Ilya’s eyes almost a century later. In 1941, mother and son fled to Samarkand to avoid the war. Ilya was a child, but The Leningrad Academy of Art just happened to have been re-located to Samarkand for the duration of the war, and it was there that Ilya got his start as an artist. He later transferred to a school in Moscow. His mother, who did not have a residency permit for Moscow slept in public toilets and camped out in kind people’s homes but this was always a gamble: she was reported to the authorities numerous times). When she was an old woman, Ilya asked his mother to write down her life story for him. She did so and filled up a notebook with her memories, which he has turned into some of his most emotional installations.

This documentary is built around is a huge retrospective installation of his work (spread out in three different venues) in Moscow in 2008. Returning to Russia after so many years in the West was an emotional for Ilya who is a sensitive man. He was uncertain as to how his work would be received by a younger generation who grew up after Communism fell. He was not sure how they would see his explorations of communal life and collectivization, his critiques of the bureaucracy and conformity and propaganda. He wanted it to have resonance but he questioned if it could if the viewers had not experienced it. Kabakov’s work is so intricate that it requires electricians and cement workers and construction gangs to put it together. We see Ilya pacing around in the warehouse in Moscow, worrying, lost in thought, as his wife Emilia works the phone and makes things happen. It’s a powerful partnership.

Ilya and the documentary probe art’s ability to transcend oppression and exile. The film follows the Soviet-born international art luminaries, now U.S. citizens, to Putin’s Moscow, as they come face to face with their catastrophic past in the present. For the first time, Ilya Kabakov has returned to the hometown where his art was once forbidden, to install seven magical walk-in installations with his wife and partner-in-art, Emilia.

enter1

The Kabakovs and documentary director Amei Wallach’s documentary play with the tensions between contexts and movements, but by self-consciously resisting the impulse to be defined through a generation or era, the Kabakovs inadvertently fasten themselves within the continuum of 20th century art. Though much of Ilya’s work parodies legacies of the past, he has now attained the same stature and notoriety that he previously satirized in his work. The film states that Ilya is the most important Russian artist still alive today. I am not sure that such a statement is accurate and of course only time will tell. He is, without question, a seminal Russian artist whose work is definitely crucial not only to Russian art, but also art history at large. Most notably Kabakov’s contributions to art reexamine ways of viewing and seeing. They also aspire to resituate official iconography and question accepted interpretations of art doctrine.

Amei Wallach’s is an art critic and it certainly makes sense that this film would deal with traditional areas of academic inquiry and theoretical concerns. She knows the questions to ask and she prompts Kabakov to speak on his position and identity as a Russian artist within the context of twentieth century art at the beginning of the film. It is during these dialogues that the audience can best understand that Kabakov himself struggles with labels and definitions. We know that in the current art scene in Russia, many young artists are taking a reactionary stance by reappropriating elements from some of the country’s most iconic movements and works —Constructivism or the Suprematists — and this self-conscious, reflexive relationship to contemporary art is also present within Kabakov’s work, even though his art and references are firmly situated within a storied stylistic and political tradition.

Ilya speaks of his recent “endless installation,” asserting that when moving through the approximately 25 rooms that comprise the exhibition, viewers can forget where they, as if they were in a labyrinth. But this seems implausible when the space is so clearly delineated into very concrete eras. The film’s carefully curated cinematic treatment of the exhibition with Emilia’s narration , we are, guided through a logical and structured museum wing. Though it may be a success conceptually, it does not achieve a disorienting effect.

What interests Kabakov is the two-faced nature of Soviet life, the divide between the public face (dominated by the State and its propaganda fantasies) and the personal life going on behind closed doors. Using the metaphor of doors that are essential symbols, we see that they represent privacy, first of all, something in small supply in a state where the KGB sets up art galleries in order to keep its eye on the avant-garde artists who flock there. Doors also represent entryways into other people’s experiences, other eras, other lifetimes. Many of Ilya’s installations are multi-roomed structures, with doors leading you further and further inside. Emilia suggests that her husband grew up feeling that he was an “outsider”, and his outsider status is reflective in his work. He was an “unofficial” artist, meaning unsponsored by the State, and therefore worked in obscurity for many years. Soviet society was a closed door to him. Ilya is clearly traumatized by Russia (on his return to St. Petersburg in 2008, he was so uneasy that he didn’t want to leave the hotel), and yet, as Emilia says of him: “He thrives on negative emotions. It provokes him to do something interesting.”

Looking at his work, it becomes obvious why artists are so often the first ones on the chopping block in any dictatorship or totalitarian society. Without being explicit, without being overtly angry, Kabakov’s installations are a critique of the entire system, a critique leavened with irony, wit, and fantasy. His art is powerful stuff— once entering Kabakov’s labyrinths of associations and you don’t come out.

We see how this Western success story is also a story of loss and negotiation with Ilya’s Soviet past. His experience under Stalin is ambiguous: a touching reading of his mother’s diary reveals that she was “bureaucratically homeless”. She was denied a residential permit (propiska) by the Soviet government and spent years of her adult life sleeping in public bathrooms, outside, and at the houses of those who dared to take her in. Emilia describes her husband’s experience with communism as more traumatic and paranoia-inducing than her own due to the fact that he was born twelve years earlier. Yet at the same time, Ilya describes Stalin as merely a minor character in his life. Later, under Khrutschev, Ilya benefited from a coveted “national artist” status and this allowed him access to the lucratively-paid job of children’s book illustration; he would illustrate for three months during the summer, and live off of that income while he worked on his own projects for the rest of the year.

This ambiguity really comes alive in the Kabakov’s “total installations” where spaces are constructed and objects carefully chosen to create a penetrable artwork. In his installation “The Toilet” (1992), visitors would enter a small building (inside the museum or art gallery) where they would find a public restroom, complete with stalls, toilets and sinks. Yet the room was also filled with furniture, a bed, dresser, nightstand and table (set for dinner), as well as personal objects, like children’s toys, spread about as if a whole family lived there. The room evokes the difficult living conditions of those (like Ilya’s mother) outside the graces of the Soviet bureaucracy, and contrasts that with a certain nostalgia and familiarity.

In this documentary, we see early stages of this exhibit’s construction. The painters in Kassel, Germany, where the work is being installed, have painted the exterior of the building too well. Ilya reminds them that this is Soviet work, it must be poorly done! He has them redo it – but this time, it was too shoddy. This interaction reveals the underlying tensions in the Kabakov’s work: they represent a Soviet past that is sentimental, but full of suffering, for a Western audience who is far from even knowing what a “Soviet paint job” would be. The Kabakovs feel distanced from their Russian audiences. During the documentary, Ilya and Emilia express their fears that the younger generations who never knew the communist regime of Stalin will not be able to relate to the memories that their work relates.

They are an amazing couple with an amazing story and the documentary covers them well. Now there is so much more that I want to know and I can only hope that time will bring me the knowledge.

“MASSACRE GUN”– A Yakuza Crime Drama

massacre gun

“Massacre Gun” ( “Minagoroshi no kenjû”)

A Yakuza Crime Drama

Amos Lassen

Jô Shishido stars in this tense and violent yakuza yarn from Yasuharu Hasebe Shishido stars is Kuroda, a mob hitman who turns on his employers after being forced to execute his lover. Joining forces with his similarly wronged brothers, hot-headed Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji) and aspiring boxer Saburô (Jirô Okazaki), the trio increase their mob retaliation to all-out turf war where no one will stop until one faction emerges victorious. The film is extremely violent and beautifully photographed. It is a bold iteration on the genre featuring some stunning compositions under the direction of Hasebe.

“MONDOVINO: THE SERIES”— Learning About Wine

mondovino

“MONDOVINO: THE SERIES”

Learning About Wine

Amos Lassen

Not to be confused with “Mondovino” the movie, this is a series that is epic in scope and takes us around the world to learn about not only “the entire gamut of wine making, but wine’s place in a treacherously globalized world.” Among other things we see the human side of wine making and meet the power brokers of Napa Valley and see the rivalries of competing Florentine dynasties and the efforts of three generations of a Burgundian family fighting to preserve their few acres of land. The series concentrates on the human drama of making wine. It was a project that was shot over several years and five languages. We meet some of the icons of the wine world including critic Robert Parker, legendary wine mogul Robert Mondavi, art collector Jan Schrem, and the noble proprietor of the mythical Romanée Conti vineyard.  

 Director Jonathan Nossiter’s presents his thesis that “civilization is inexorably succumbing to the homogenizing forces of globalization.” We see that here in the visits we make from California to Brazil to Sardinia. As Nossiter travels he introduces us to people involved in the wine industry. We meet Michel Rolland the “flying winemaker” and superstar consultant on a number of lightning house calls, during which he invariably advises his clients to “micro-oxygenate” their product (a process that no one quite appears to understand). Then we are off to a humble vineyard in the Argentinean outback and a long interview with the Staglin family on their Napa spread.

mondovino1

There is so much to learn here and Nossiter is a wonderful teacher. While in Napa, Nossiter is told by a Mondavi family retainer that patriarch Robert is not simply a businessman but also a “philosopher.” Nossiter is a sommelier as well as a filmmaker and we certainly see him bringing both skills together in this film. He is a champion of artisanal wines that are created and produced by eccentrics. His theory is one of an anti- globalist notion that terroir or soil and the other geographical qualities of a vineyard are more important than what we read on a label on the bottle.

This is a personal and informal film and we never feel like we are being taught but rather we feel we are having a conversation with a friend. What is constant in Nossiter’s argument is the cross-cutting between the globalizers (Mondavi, Rolland, Parker) and the “terroirists” (the de Montilles of Burgundy, the Columbus of Sardinia, New York importer Neal Rosenthal). As presented by Nossiter, the Mondavis and their allies come across as megalomaniacal and many feel that they are democratizing the wine “experience”. Rolland blames diversity for the number of bad wines; he believes that great wine can be made anywhere.

We see that not everything is black and white. Good terroir does not necessarily make for impeccable morality. Some French old-timers dissipate viewer sympathy with offhandedly disinterested references to their Jewish neighbors who disappeared during World War II. Likewise, the Tuscan aristos complain that they sold their birthright to the multinationals and then wax nostalgic for Mussolini, while certain French foes of Mondavi-dom are only too happy to have homeboy Gérard Depardieu fronting some other globalization thing. (And even the Mondavis, it turns out, can be purged from the company that they founded.)

The question of who is killing the great wines of Europe remains. It is considered at length in this series. There are several answers but you will have to watch the series to get it.

“10% MY CHILD”— Meet Franny

80318bec-b00e-4401-a627-30c5a4874013

“10% My Child”

Meet Franny

Amos Lassen

Franny is a seven-year-old girl. Her mother’s boyfriend, Nico, is twenty-six. Franny’s mother tells Nico that if he wants to be with her, he must first “win Franny’s heart.” Nico is trying to be a film maker but because of a number of reasons couldn’t finish his graduation film. The first time he meets Franny, Nico is in her mother’s bed and they get off to a bad start. From that moment on, Nico and Franny need to find a way to get along, love and hate each other.

10-1

While Nico tries to “court” (when was the last time I used that word? Do people court anymore?) Franny’s mom, Franny gets stuck between her mother, her jealous father and Nico who has now been appointed official babysitter. 

10-2 We are faced with the questions of whether Nico be able to win Franny’s mom’s heart and Franny’s affection and how will Franny and Nico find a common ground in the heart of bustling Tel-Aviv?  This is a drama of a love/hate relationship but it is sweet to watch as Franny and Nico learn to love and hate one another – usually at the same time…

10-3

“A KILLER CONVERSATION”— Decisions, Decisions

a killer conversation

“A Killer Conversation”

Decisions, Decisions

Amos Lassen

I have had the pleasure of seeing “A Killer Conversation” before its official release and want to share some of what I saw and felt. This is a story that had to be dreamt up but the way it is handled is just pure fun. Here is the premise, “On the same day a burglar wants to kill you and your ex wants to make up – and for the life of it, you can’t decide which is worse.” From this point on, get ready for quite a cinematic adventure where the only losers are those who do not see this film.

SONY DSC

Karl (Ryan Hunter) has unknowingly invited a burglar (Rudy Barrow), who is armed, into his home and before he realizes it, he is tied up and understands that eternal rest might be awaiting him. Yet, he is aware of one option, Pauline (Melanie Denholme), his ex who has just happened by to try to redeem their relationship. For Karl, this is not a way he wants to go; Pauline is a snob and insincere and really not the kind of person to lend a helping hand but….there is an armed burglar in his house. If making up with Pauline keeps him alive, it is a risk he just might have to take.

SONY DSC

In case you have not guessed, this is a comedy about a break-in and a hostage situation. Michael Haberfelner wrote the screenplay about a situation, which by and large would terrify the average person, but he reduces it to dark comedy and it is very, very funny. Together with director David V.G. Davis the two give us a film that is full of imagination and has a lot of heart. It all starts simply enough when Karl answers the door and then discovers that nothing will ever be the same again. We watch as Karl and his burglar verbally go at each other until the entrance of Pauline when everything changes. Pauline brings unintended humor with her and we can almost hear Karl say to the burglar that he would probably be better off dead than having to deal with her. When she enters the picture, she does not know what is going on and immediately starts with her bitchiness and her gripes. Even after she sees that he has a gun, she still continues going at it and really gives a good hint of what this movie is all about. But then we realize also that the film is made up of many layers and as we watch we understand more and more. The parlay of words going back and forth really seem to have no destination as so often happens when exes exchange words. This is a movie with a lot of dialogue that does have to be necessarily understood as long as we are aware that it is there. Because of that, there are surprises. One surprise I discovered while looking up some information about the film is that everyone connected with it has come from the genre of horror movies. While not important necessarily to this film, it is an interesting fact.

SONY DSC

Personally, I love the droll beginning to the film. I just found it impossible to imagine a scenario like this but it works here. Karl after opening his door to an armed burglar and soon finds himself not only tied to a chair but he watches the burglar eat his pre-cooked microwave dinner for one. The burglar is so polite that he even brings his own napkin and offers to share the food that could be Karl’s last meal. At the same time, Karl is deep in thought about how to keep the burglar busy. Then Pauline arrives.

SONY DSC

The fact that Pauline is there could have been a way to keep Karl alive but when we see Pauline for the arrogant and selfish person that she is, we realize that perhaps Karl’s fate with the burglar is a step up. I must say that I had quite a hard time trying to imagine Karl and Pauline as a couple but I would have had the same feeling about Pauline and anyone. Even more interesting is that the burglar sits there as the two of them discuss their past relationship.

SONY DSC

The movie is propelled by its characters and as I said, there are surprises. I tried not to give anything away and I really want everyone to give this film a shot. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

“THE WOLFPACK”— When Everything Changes

the wolfpacl

“The Wolfpack”

When Everything Changes

Amos Lassen

The Angulo brothers are locked away from the outside world on Manhattan’s lower east side. What they learn about the real world is from what they see in the films they watch. They are nicknamed “The Wolfpack” and they spend their childhood reenacting their favorite films by using elaborate homemade props and costumes. Then their world is shaken up when one of the brothers escapes and everything changes.

the wolfpack

I doubt any of us have seen a story quite like this before and it is a documentary. Seven children, all with waist-length hair, are raised on welfare in a messy four-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And they are almost never allowed to leave the house. They have not seen the outside world for years. The only key to where they live in in their father’s possession and he keeps the place locked. There have been time that they have been allowed outside but there are other times that they have been not. Today, all but one of the children still live there.

This is one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction documentaries. In 2010, Crystal Moselle, the film’s director, met six of the Angulo siblings— boys who were then aged about 11 to 18, on one of their rare trips outside and befriended them. Over time, they allowed her to bring a camera inside the apartment. Moselle tells us, “I was their first friend, and I think they were as fascinated by me as I was by them,” “Slowly their mom warmed up. The dad was definitely a roller coaster.”

They, Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krisna and Jagadesh — and their sister, Visnu were homeschooled by their mother and when they were not learning, they were allowed to watch movies nonstop, on DVDs bought at a discount or borrowed from the library. What they saw of the world came from Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, David Lynch and Martin Scorsese and while these provided something of a different look at the world, the films did give them some creativity which they incorporated “into their lonely, claustrophobic lives.”

the wolfpack2

We get a look at what happens to the human spirit when it is locked away and interaction does not occur. The kids do not realize that life is different from the movies and not all girls break boys’ hearts. The brother, Mukunda who is now 20 and who got away has said that he had seen the film and that it accurately represented his family but declined to comment further. Susanne Angulo, the children’s mother stated that “I probably should not comment further,” she added before ending the call. Attempts to reach the children’s father, Oscar Angulo, were unsuccessful; a number listed in Manhattan had been disconnected. What we see in the film is“the intertwined, complicated and nuanced relationship between filmmaker and subject. The raw intimacy she [Moselle] is able to capture is a testament of the trust and bond she was able to establish.” We see the Angulo siblings in “The Wolfpack” as articulate, sensitive and extremely likable. At times, whether lost in role play in the apartment or heaped in a pile on a mattress to watch television, they can also seem a bit feral. A few speak, at times, with a cadence that is slightly off kilter. They clearly love their mother, Susanne, who is presented as being controlled to the same degree that they are.”

“There were more rules for me than there were for them,” Mrs. Angulo says quietly on camera. The father is more complicated. Ms. Moselle, 34, does not reveal him until about an hour into her 84-minute film and, even then, he speaks very briefly and doesn’t make much sense. He is a Peruvian immigrant and Hare Krishna devotee and we see him as as a paranoid man who has struggles with alcohol. He believes his children will be “contaminated” if they are let into New York City.

Director Moselle states, “We wanted to tell the truth without making too many judgments. Believe me, I could have really gone off on the guy.” She also says that “The thing is, these brothers are some of the most gentle, insightful, curious people I’ve ever met. Something was clearly done right.”

“The Angulo children, all of whom still live at home except for Govinda, 22, according to Ms. Moselle, are shown struggling with resentment toward their father. Narayana at one point says, “There are some things you just don’t forgive.” Later, he worries about “being so ignorant of the world that I won’t be able to handle it.”

Of course, we can only wonder if the children suffer psychological problems as a result of their unorthodox upbringing. “The Wolfpack” suggests the answer is yes but does not go into what they might be. The film does note that government agencies have become involved in recent years — following a visit to the apartment from the police — and that the children, at least for a time, were treated by psychiatrists.

Moselle first met the brothers in 2010 as they walked “in a pack” down First Avenue. “All of them were wearing black Ray-Ban sunglasses inspired by “Reservoir Dogs,” and their long hair was blowing in the wind. “I just started running after them to find out more and was instantly obsessed,” she said.”

“To divulge how the Angulos happened to be out of the house that day would move into spoiler territory. The Sundance programming guide does disclose that “everything changes when one of the brothers escapes and the power dynamics in the house are transformed.”

 

 

‘LAST OF THE MOBILE HOT SHOTS”— Williams and Vidal

mobile

“Last of the Mobile Hot Shots”

Williams and Vidal

Amos Lassen

“Last of the Mobile Hotshots” is based on the Tennessee Williams play “Kingdom of Earth or The Seven Descents of Myrtle”. It is a slapstick comedy and it really seems like a parody of the author himself. The screenplay was written by Williams and Gore Vidal.

Set in the Mississippi Delta at Waverly, an old plantation, this is a look at life and death. Jeb Stuart Thorington (James Coburn) is the last of the legitimate Thoringtons and he is suffering from terminal cancer in his one lung. He married Myrtle (Lynn Redgrave), a hooker, on a TV show for which he got $3500 dollars to fix up Waverly. His brother, Chicken (Robert Hooks), is half black and a bit simple.

The Mississippi River flooded the property as Jeb continued to die upstairs in the bedroom. He dreams how life once was and through flashbacks we see that he and Chicken would visit whores and together have sex with them. It is not clear but it seems as if they have sex with each other. Chicken sits downstairs waiting for Jeb to die. Myrtle stays on the move, running between upstairs and downstairs. She tries to get Jeb to make love to her and she makes love to Chicken because he has the deed to what she wants to inherit. If you have seen other Tennessee Williams plays and/or movies made from them then you will recognize the characters.

Directed by Sidney Lumet the film just does not make it. Parts of the film are slow but the images we see are fascinating— James Coburn descending the stairs in a wedding dress, Lynn Redgrave winning on a TV game show, the flooding of the Mississippi delta are some of what you see. I understand that the movie received an “X” rating so it was cut and rereleased with an “R”. There are rumors that Criterion plans to release the original “X” version much like it did with Williams’ “The Fugitive Kind”.

There are some interesting Biblical references here— a flood that washes everything away – except one house that bobs up in the current like Noah’s Ark. This flood occurs on the Day of Judgment, when human beings are either redeemed or damned. There is also the subplot of racial transgression and there is a lot about the past. Jeb lives in the past and is heavily influenced by it. Chicken comes to terms with the past but not until the end of the film. Myrtle, at first, is consumed by materialism but she realizes that there are personal issues that are more important than money.

The film was originally released in 1969 and I believe it was probably misunderstood. It is an honest and brutal film that takes place in the calm before the storm and then afterwards. This is the South in its decadence. The movie polarizes the viewer and makes him/her confront their personal prejudices. I collect films of Tennessee Williams and sitting down to watch this made me realize once again just how powerful he was.

“THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE— An Adaptation of Stevenson

Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne

“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne” (“Docteur Jekyll et les femmes”)

An Adaptation of Stevenson

Amos Lassen

The engagement party of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Miss Fanny Osbourne is the backdrop of an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original novel. After the party, Jekyll and Osbourne, someone yells out that a child has been murdered outside on the street. The party guests watch a dancer perform and during which Jekyll tells a lawyer to change his will and leave everything to someone named Mr. Hyde. Soon after that the dancer was found murdered and the guests at the party realize that one of them must have done so.

Dr. Jekyll1

Jekyll had been spending a lot of time doing medical research and just recently he published a book that give his thoughts on transcendental medicine. While the party was underway, Fanny went into Jekyll’s lab where she sees him having a bath of chemicals. The chemicals are what cause him to transform into Hyde who is a representation of the bestial side of human nature.

Dr. Jekyll2

Made in 1981, this is Walerian Borowcyzk’s take on Stevenson’s classic. It is a kinky French horror film, with a disturbingly lustful sadism. Dr. Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier), a wealthy and celebrated scientist, is hosting a party to celebrate his engagement to Miss Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro). His crippled mother, his mother-in-law as well as assorted scions of Victorian society, a clergyman, a rival scientist and a general (Patrick Magee), come together for an evening of food and celebration. They are pompous, self-satisfied and bubbling over “with barely concealed desires as they exchange pleasantries and hotly debate Jekyll’s new theory of transcendental medicine.” Jekyll wants his estate given over to the mysterious and as yet unseen Mr. Hyde, and there seems to be a settling of accounts coming up.

Dr. Jekyll3

The director makes no pretense about not holding to the original story. Jekyll’s assault on the guests is savage, and yet they are complicit in their own downfall, either because he stirs in them their own (scarcely) hidden desires, or because they provide him with the weapons of their destruction. His own sadism is pitched against their own hypocrisy and general vileness. It seems that Fanny also would like to experience transformation.

Borowczyk’s take on the story starts with a dread-provoking, mysteriously filmed sequence of an adolescent girl running for her life from a shadowy man. She runs through alleys and dark buildings before he finally chases her down and beats her with his cane, which shatters. He starts tearing her clothes off, but someone who happened along scares him away.

Dr. Jekyll4

Meanwhile back at the party we learn that Jekyll has recently published “The Laboratory and Transcendental Medicine”, a book that lays out his new theories of metaphysical medicine and is the topic for hot hotly debated at the dinner table by Jekyll, Reagan, and Jekyll’s colleague and critic Dr. Lanyon (Howard Vernon). Throughout the dinner, we see brief glimpses of horror that will take place before the night is over.

When Victoria, the dancer is upstairs resting after her performance, an intruder she is savagely raped her and left her for dead (which she was). The men at the party think that whoever did this had come into the house. The women are told to lock themselves in the rooms of the house and the men take off to find the perpetrator. The general shoots Jekyll’s coachman by mistake and the general is then jumped on and tied up by the man guilty of the other crimes and then he runs off to commit more crimes and one of those happened to be the sexual assault of one of the young male party guests. Everyone has assumed that Jekyll was outside taking care of his coachman but…

Dr.Jekyll5

Lanyon gets the women to take a sedative but Fanny does not and she goes to Jekyll’s lab where she sees him bathing in the solution that will cause his transmogrification into Hyde (Gérard Zalcberg). The film keeps the identity of Hyde mysterious for more than half the film, with Hyde’s appearances fast, obscured, and punctuated by unnerving glimpses of perverted savagery. Hyde’s killings are the result of sexual aggression, for in the course of the film he kills at least one man and one woman by sexual penetration (or so we’re told) with his gigantic, animalistic phallus, as Lanyon tells us. Lanyon feels that they are up against a creature that is not just brutal but has no sense of what is allowed and what is not. I could continue telling you about the plot but I do not want to spoil the mystery, etc. For anyone who is interested in the development of the horror film, this is a must see.