Category Archives: Film

“WAGNER’S JEWS”— A Strange Brotherhood

wagner's jews 


A Strange Brotherhood

Amos Lassen

From what we know of history, Richard Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite.  His writings about Jews were important to and embraced by Hitler and the Nazi party. However, this film teaches us something we did not know about Wagner and that is that many of Wagner’s closest associates were Jews – young musicians who became personally devoted to him, and provided crucial help to his work and career. Even more interesting is that as Wagner called for the elimination of the Jews from Germany, many of his most active supporters were Jewish.

I am sure that some of you are thinking what I thought when I first learned this— why were Jews drawn to him and with all of the hate for Jews that he harbored how could he accept them? These two questions are what this film answers and it is, incidentally, the first film to look at Wagner and his personal relationships with Jews (I almost feel like using the word Jew here is an anti-Semitic act). I remember all to well the volatile arguments that went on in Israel when I lived there as to whether or not the Israeli Philharmonic could play Wagner’s music.

The film was made in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, and through the use of archival sources, re-enactments, interviews, and performances of original musical works by Wagner’s Jewish colleagues, we get a different look at Richard Wagner. The film also looks at the controversy in Israel and Zubin Mehta; the conductor of the Israel Philharmonic is interviewed here, as is Leon Botstein. The questions remain the same throughout history: “is it possible to separate the art from its creator? Can sublime music transcend prejudice and bigotry, and the weight of history”?

Directed by Hilan Warshaw the film is an intense look at the Wagner situation and does so evenly. The issue is still as complex as it has always been and because the director himself is a musician, he is able to look at the issue “polyphonically, pursuing many different voices and balancing contradictions, without once taking the floor himself at all.”

Wagner changed the face of the music of the west and he was without doubt a musical genius. But Wagner was also a hateful man—egotistical, selfish, a betrayer of friends, and a liar. His writings about the Jews are disgusting and vile and he was the personification of anti-Semitism. His essays were vitriolic rants that often crossed over into the delusional. Later Hitler adopted his writings and they helped cause even more hate in Germany.

How could it have been that Wagner had many rich Jewish supporters and admirers? He had Jewish musicians and conductors working for him, some who considered Wagner their mentor. Who were they? Why did they work for him or give him money? This documentary looks into stories of Jews who worked with Wagner or were tutored by him— Carl Tausig, a piano prodigy who was 16 when Wagner mentored him; Joseph Rubinstein, pianist and composer, and, most tragically, Herman Levy, a proud and accomplished conductor, the chief conductor of the Munich Orchestra, who was bullied and belittled by Wagner yet conducted the first performances of the Ring Cycle and Parsifal. We learn of the history of Wagner and the Jews as well as whether Wagner’s music should be banned in Israel. The eternal question pops up again and again— can or should we separate the person from his art? Wagner is the ultimate test of this question.

The DVD has several extras: Extended Interviews • Musical Performance: Rubinstein’s Parsifal • Deleted Scene: Death in Venice • Filmmaker Interview


a people uncounted


The “Gypsy” Holocaust

Amos Lassen

Many associate the Holocaust with the attempt at annihilation of the Jewish people and we forget that others were also destroyed at the same time. The Roma (Gypsy) appear almost only as an afterthought when we look at the darkest period of history in the existence of the world.

 The Roma (Gypsies) faced annihilation during the Nazi ‘Final Solution,’ yet have been relegated to a footnote in history. The Roma are still victims of extreme and often violent racial persecution. This film is the story of Europe’s largest minority group.


A People Uncounted is a powerful journey exposing the tragedy of Europe’s largest minority group. Director, Aaron Yeger, visited eleven countries and interviewed many Roma (artists, historians, musicians, Holocaust survivors) and we see here the very rich and the very difficult lives led by the Roma. Through their music, words and poetry we see their story and learn that once again that in Europe there is racism and genocide for some ethnic minorities. We must never forget the lessons of history and be aware that it can, indeed, happen again. This is the first nonfiction feature dedicated to Romani victims and it consists of visual evidence, historical commentary and survivor testimonies.


The Roma migrated northward from India during the Middle Ages, landing everywhere from Russia to the U.K. In some places they were forbidden to settle or own property and in other places they were segregated into ghettoes. Vlad the Impaler, Henry VIII and Maximilian I were among those who authorized their exile, persecution or outright murder. Nonetheless, a romantic popular stereotype of footloose freedom persisted. Today they are Europe’s largest minority as well as the European Union’s most discriminated against. They are widely associated with theft and miscellaneous other misdeeds and this gives right-wing politicians and ethnic nationalist groups a license to brand them undesirables and encourage hate crimes against them. We see one woman here that is so afraid that her educated, successful children will be tainted by association that she’ll only discuss her heritage while being photographed in silhouette. 

The Nazis targeted them and because their skin was somewhat dark and they lived in isolation they became easily identifiable. The Nazis had every intention of erasing them from the face of the earth and referred to them as “gypsy scourge”. Many perished in concentration camps; while countless others were simply shot or starved to death in their homelands. Survivors of this holocaust, which claimed up to 90% of Europe’s Roma population, tell frightening stories here, including one man who was subjected as a boy to Mengele’s experiments.

The catastrophe of the Roma was not hardly recognized after the war. There was no information about or mention of them at the Nuremberg trials and until recently they have not had academic or political voices.

people 4

“A People Uncounted” primarily looks at the genocide of the Roma and Senti people during World War II. Yeger and also touches on parallels with the American Civil rights movement as well as genocide that has taken place in more recent years. There is a lot of ground covered within an hour and a half, maybe a bit too much for a film of that length but it is better to have a film that tries to say too much, than a film that essentially says very little.

There is no accurate count of Roma and Senti people who died in death camps or the various round-ups, but it estimated that the population loss was close to 90 percent. We see the historical perspective as well as current laws, in places such as in Italy where Roma people are registered and have been forced to move from cities such as Milan, where municipal laws are able to circumvent European Union rules. A montage of clips from movies and television shows touch on how “Gypsies” have been portrayed in popular culture with a mix of both prejudice and fanciful romanticism. It is the first person accounts that make A People Uncounted worth watching, both for providing some added historical perspective on a minority people, but also as an antidote to those who insist on trivializing history for their own dubious purposes.


 Genocide is defined and the modern white power movement is deconstructed, giving a broad overview of the many issues and secondary indicators of ongoing discrimination and hate. The intent is to give a bigger picture idea of how the persecution of the Romani people that we see as an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of different cultures — has persisted throughout history and is perpetuated in modern society.

 The modern motto of “We must NEVER forget, lest it happen again” reminds us that we do FORGET and in many cases, “we” do not even know or adequately acknowledge the existence of genocide being perpetrated against so many groups throughout the world – the Turkish genocide of Armenians, Stalin’s purges and Holodomor against 10,000,000 Ukrainians, the recent and various “ethnic cleansings” within the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda’s decimation of Tutsis by the Hutus – to name but a few. Yeger’s film is superbly researched and emotionally wrenching. We see the Roma as a people who have been “uncounted”.

“THE GREEN PRINCE”— How A Son of Hamas Leader Came To Work For Shin Bet

the green prince

‘The Green Prince’

How A Son of Hamas Leader Came To Work For Shin Bet

Amos Lassen

In the new documentary, “The Green Price”, Mosab Yousef  tells how he, the son of a prominent Hamas leader becomes a Shin Bet spy. Gonen Ben Yitzhak explains his role in luring Mosab over to the Shin Bet and their operations carried out over the course of a decade from 1997 to 2007.  Director Nadav Schirman allows each man to explain his motivations with no intruding or directing questions.

Mosab tells us that he is motivated by disillusion with Hamas desires to bring peace to the region, although it is clear that he finds the subterfuge to be exciting. We do see his loyalties become tangled as the movie progresses. He does become the link between Hamas and Shin Bet plays one against the other. He ultimately turns on his father when he realizes that he would be safer in jail than in Ramallah. It is interesting that the Israelis suspect that Hassan, Mosab’s father, knows what his son is doing.


Alarmed by what he hears, Mosab sells his father , Sheikh Hassan Yousef, down the river in a last-ditch attempt to keep him out of harm’s way, reasoning that he will be safer in jail than on the streets of Ramallah. The Israelis, for their part, suspect that Hassan secretly knows what his son has been up to all along.

The film is as tense as any Hollywood thriller and is a real psychological adventure. The title, “The Green Prince”, is for Mosab’s Israeli codename and the film brings together archival footage and reconstructed scenes as we await the arrival on screen of Mosab and wily Gonen Ben Yitzhak. When Ben Yitzhak first recruits Mosab he tells him to continue studying and become an important person in his community. Mosab tells us that this is exactly the same advice he got from his father. It is here that we realize that the film is a shifting triangle between a young man and two father figures. What is lacking is an interview with Sheikh Hassan but then  if he had appeared that would make the story so nice and clean and tied up with a bow. It is the tension at the core of the film that makes it so interesting. We do see that Mosab loves his father but he hates his father’s actions. He does respect Ben Yitzhak but we get the feeling that the Israeli is not playing fair.

All three, Mosab, Ben Yitzhak and Hassan are corrupt and each tries to make the best out of a situation that has good side. All three know that they are bound together and one goes down so do the others. That going down is pictures with grace here and that is very special.

It seems that the film’s strongest narrative points involve Mosab’s relationship with his father and Mosab’s explanation that his allegiances remained with his imprisoned father all along. In fact, the reason that Mosab joined the Shin Bet was to prevent the murders of Hamas leaders such as his father. He agreed to assist the Israelis as long as Palestinians would be imprisoned rather than executed for their crimes, and he says this loud and clear  when he says to those who still believe him to be a traitor that “you are not assassinated today because of this arrangement.” Mosab’s father, however, still believes him a traitor and has disowned him much like the majority of Palestinians. This is over emphasized at the end of the film when Mosab makes a speech and chokes back and wipes away tears. While this is quite moving what it does is reinforce the idea that the film is more interested in what we can really see than ambiguities and complicated detail.

 The film is something of a shadow play with the actors hiding in twilight and as the film goes forward the line between light and dark blurs more and more. It depends on the identity of the characters. Mosab tells us how he came to be imprisoned by the Israelis after brokering an arms deal, how his experience of Hamas in prison shook him to the core of his being, how he began spying for Shin Bet and how they pushed his position into intelligence and how Mosab used it to protect his family.

 There are two important relationships here—that of Mosab and his father and that of Mosab and Ben Yitzhak. It may sound strange but this is a family drama almost like a Greek tragedy as we see the struggle between Mosab’s loyalties to his father and to Yitzhak, to say nothing of his loyalties to the Palestinians or the Israelis and this is balanced by Mosab’s growing moral evolution. 

“MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS”— Coming to DVD September 23

my name is A

“My Name Is A By Anonymous”

Coming to DVD September 23

Amos Lassen

 “My Name is A by Anonymous” is based on the Shocking True Crime of Teenage Killer Alyssa Bustamante. It has taken some three years and many battles and controversy to get this film released to DVD but now we have it.  Additionally the DVD contains two alternate cuts of the film, short films, deleted scenes, trailers, music videos, and more.


 Alyssa Bustamant gained instant worldwide fame when she murdered her younger neighbor in 2009. The search for a missing girl exposes a dark world of lost and emotionally unstable teenagers who are responsible for the girl’s disappearance and eventual murder. The film is a disturbing, fascinating portrait of the alienation and despair found in teens that have been left to fend for their own purpose. Alyssa Bustamante was convicted and currently serving a life sentence for the ‘Thrill-killing’ of her neighbor Elizabeth Olten in 2009 and this is the basis for the film.


This film is loosely based on the 2009 killing of 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten. Director Shane Ryan really creates an art house film that is going to be heavily talked about one way or another. We follow Alyssa who seems to have different personalities almost like alter egos one can say. The one that will startle some is the bulimic young woman who suffers sexual abuse by her dad. The film paints tragedy in such a way that this film is really dark from beginning to end. This movie was shot in many different ways including a mixture of found footage, black and white and first person storytelling with a story that is told thru chapters.  This is quite a difficult film to like. The characters just did not seem to come to life and I really did not care about any of them. The kids are a mess and seem to be rotten from within. One is bulimic, and has one messed up home life.  Another is an exhibitionist that has some serious daddy issue and another is an emo wanting to be dark and tortured, and proving it through cutting herself and swearing a lot. 

This section contains spoilers and I find it difficult to write about the film without giving some ideas away. When Alyssa finally kills Elizabeth, there is never any reasoning. She’s had a fucked up life.  As is made very obvious, the collection of girls is really different facets of Alyssa, and those different parts of this girl show the many ways that this character has had such a horrible life.  But even so, there is never any reason given, never any thought shown towards the eventual conclusion of the story.  Why does Alyssa kill Elizabeth? 

The technical aspects of the film are impressive even with the above and obviously sound overtook substance here. The film is visually beautiful and we see horrible things to see, shown in a beautiful way and this is a film that should be seen regardless of my criticism.

“WETLANDS”—- Opens in NYC and LA

- Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

- Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times

- Jenni Miller, A.V. Club

- J. Hurtado, Twitch

Starring Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski and Meret Becker



View Theatrical Trailer
View “Pink-Band” Trailer
Official Selection:
Sundance Film Festival 
Locarno Film Festival
Fantasia Film Festival
Eighteen year-old Helen Memel (Carla Juri) likes to skateboard, masturbate with vegetables and thinks that body hygiene is greatly overrated. Struggling with her parents’ divorce, she spends her time experimenting and breaking one social taboo after the other with her best friend, Corinna (Marlen Kruse). When a shaving accident lands her in the hospital, she sees it as a way to reconcile her parents and forms an unlikely bond with her male nurse, Robin (Christoph Letkowski). WETLANDS is an unapologetically vulgar coming-of-age tale about divorce, first love and anal fissures.
109 Minutes • Comedy • Not Rated • In German with English Subtitles

18 W Houston St.
New York, NY 10012
(212) 995-2570
For Tickets and Showtimes


11272 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA. 90067
(310) 473-8530
For Tickets and Showtimes

Also, playing starting 9/19 in LA at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 & Noho 7


Copyright © 2013 Strand Releasing, All rights reserved.

“LADIES FIRST”— 48 Israeli Comediennes

ladies first

“Ladies First”

48 Israeli Comediennes

Amos Lassen

48women: Comediennes, stand-up artists, celebrities, singers and actresses, each tells the filthiest chauvinistic joke she knows, it develops into a talk about men, sex, relations and humor. The result, apart from being extremely funny, enables the women to develop theories, thesis, and insights regarding life, intimacy, men and more. All in extreme openness. The last scene of the film consists of all of the women singing ‘I will survive’, each sings, one line from the song in a very animated manner.


“15 TO LIFE: KENNETH’S STORY”— To Die in Prison



15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story

A film by Nadine Pequeneza
52 minutes, color, Canada, 2014

The United States is the only country in the world that routinely condemns children to die in prison. This is the story of one of those children, now a young man, seeking a second chance in Florida.

At age 15, Kenneth Young received four consecutive life sentences for a series of armed robberies. Imprisoned for more than a decade, he believed he would die behind bars. Now a U.S. Supreme Court decision could set him free. “15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story” follows Young’s struggle for redemption, revealing a justice system with thousands of young people serving sentences intended for society’s most dangerous criminals.


“Incredibly important.” Melissa Harris-Perry, host, MSNBC

“Powerful. . . . Moving.”
Bob Herbert, host, “Op-Ed.TV,” CUNY-TV, New York

“Harrowing. . . . Depicts a justice system that only perpetuates the sort of violence it was intended to keep in check.” Nina Liss-Schultz, Mother Jones

“Top 5 Staff Pick.” Christian Science Monitor

“Social-justice documentaries aren’t always as engaging as you’d like them to be—they can be preachy, decidedly one-sided or two-dimensional. Not so for this little gem. . . . it does a fine job of using one very human story to make a larger point about the criminal justice system. 4 stars (out of 5)” Erin Sullivan, Orlando Weekly 

“ROCKS IN MY POCKET”— A New Kind of Animation—opens in NYC

In the new animated gem Rocks in My Pockets, Latvian-born artist and filmmaker Signe Baumane tells five fantastical tales based on the courageous women in her family and their battles with madness. With boundless imagination and a twisted sense of humor, she has created daring stories of art, romance, marriage, nature, business, and Eastern European upheaval—all in the fight for her own sanity.

Employing a unique, beautifully textured combination of papier-mâché stop-motion and classic hand-drawn animation (with inspiration from Jan Svankmajer and Bill Plympton), Baumane has produced a poignant and often hilarious tale of mystery, mental health, redemption and survival. 


Animator and filmmaker Signe Baumane in person
Wed Sep 3 and Thurs Sep 4 for Q&As following the 6:30 and 8:30 shows.

3 original drawings from the film will be given away at each Q&A!



323 6th Ave at West 3rd St, NEW YORK • 212-924-7771

(Currently only the 6:30 and 8:30pm shows are available for advance bookings.
More dates and times will be announced later today.)



Visit the ROCKS IN MY POCKETS website
or follow us on Facebook


“THE NOTEBOOK”— Learning from Evil

the notebook

The Notebook (“A nagy füzet)

Learning from Evil

Amos Lassen

 Despite its unfortunate American title, aligning it with a certain Nicholas Sparks adaptation, János Szász’s “The Notebook” is a thoroughly provocative WWII film. The protagonists are twin boys, played with convincingly deadened spirits by András and László Gyémánt, whose plight could easily degenerate into banal emotive cues. This is the story of twin siblings who endure the harshness of WWII in a village on the Hungarian border and look at their survival by studying and learning from the evil surrounding them.


The film opens during the latter years of the war, as the adolescent Hungarian boys are handed over to their grandmother (Piroska Molnár), known by local villagers as “the witch”. Their mother, (Gyöngyvér Bognár), feared for their safety under the threat of impending air raids and so took them away. The grandmother is strict, stern and vulgar from the moment she takes in the boys She calls them names and assures them that their mother won’t be coming back for them. The grandmother’s presence seems to be something from a fairytale but this is not  fairytale of a film. It is more of a sensory exploration of wartime atrocities, something the boys become convinced they need to adapt to in order to survive.

The boys tell their father that they are keeping a notebook because he demanded they write down only the truth. Szász uses this concept as a kind of irony since the film expresses that which can never be absolutely true— the dramatic reenactment of catastrophe. It becomes even more ironic because the twins cannot be held up to a reasonable standard of discerning fact and fiction. We see this when the boys start beating each other and starving to make themselves impervious to the impending punishment they anticipate.


But his is not sadistic humanism and we understand that what really happened could have been much worse than what we see here. By using a somewhat tender style  the twins go through a series of challenges to their bourgeois innocence. These include a German officer whose interest in the twins is purely pedophilic, a thieving woman with a cleft lip, and a woman who insists upon bathing with the twins, only to end up caressing, washing, and masturbating with one of their feet.  Granted these seem to be lurid but Szász  shows them as inevitable consequences of power gone awry. We see that true terror resides in its mimetic effects and transforms sensibility and desire just as thoroughly as it rips through flesh.

Sending children from the city to the countryside was a common one during World War II. In this film, it’s the catalyst for the degradation and corruption of two adolescent boys. While the boys’ father, a soldier, goes back to fight, their mother begs her own mother (who she hasn’t seen in 20 years) to take her children in, promising to come back when the war is over. The two boys are put to work, chopping wood, and drawing water. They attempt to nourish themselves by continuing with their lessons, studying the Bible, and writing an account of their lives in a notebook that their father gave them. They are to record their experiences for him during his absence.

There is not much plot— the film is comprised mostly of stark, difficult-to-watch vignettes in which the boys are subjected to painful or bizarre situations. Not only do they take abuse from their grandmother, the brothers are severely beaten when they attempt to track down a thief who’s stolen their wares. Then there is a starving German soldier they try to help who dies of cold and hunger in the woods near their home, and they see firsthand examples of anti-Semitism. There are also some dark sexual scenes here— a German officer living next door takes an odd interest in them, and a beautiful woman takes obvious pleasure from bathing with them (an act that seems to leave the boys mostly puzzled). Their best friend, a girl referred to as Harelip (Orsolya Toth), informs them that an easy source of cash is blackmailing the lecherous deacon.

The two brothers quickly become used to and tainted by their surroundings, almost reveling in their ability to toughen themselves. A particularly gruesome scene sees them punching and hitting each other in order to become immune to pain, and they begin killing insects and small animals, as well as standing up to their grandmother (who begins to look on them with a newfound respect)—and they only get worse from there. Big eyed and smooth skinned, they’re the picture of budding youth, yet both have truly hardened themselves. Their dead-eyed stares add an almost macabre sense of eeriness.


The film is visually stunning. Though Grandmother’s house and the village are marked by poverty, the scenes are gorgeous to behold, contrasting sharply with the violence and abuse taking place. There is very effective use of symbolism, though it’s rarely subtle. The opening shot of the boys sleeping nestled against each other and breathing in sync, for instance, emphasizes their seeming innocence, while several shots of the dead insects is a frightening example of how twisted they’re becoming and a stand-in for the implied, off-screen deaths we aren’t seeing.

Their motivation, however, is not fully developed. Their parents’ apartment was  bourgeois and attractive and when they get to their grandmother’s things turn horrible. The two boys are seemingly well-grounded adolescents who snap—in fact, many of the worst things they experience happen after they’ve already turned. Viewers may find themselves questioning quite a lot when the credits finally roll: there’s a lot to unpack. This may not the most original treatment of the death of innocence and the corrupting influence of war, but overall this is a gripping and chilling work, taut and explosive.


Referred to as One and the Other, twin actors Andras and Laszlo Gyemant are the unfortunate weak points in the film. Their performances are one note, the transgression from privileged, spoiled children to browbeaten, cold blooded killers is hardly depicted with any sort of emotional range by the twins, who seem either vacant or surly, with nary a modulated expression in-between. They appear too well kept  when we consider the undesirable conditions they’re placed in for so long.

“THE SEARCH FOR SIMON”— Looking for His Brother

the search for simon

“The Search for Simon”

Looking for His Brother

Amos Lassen

30 years ago, David’ Jones’s (writer/director Martin Gooch) younger brother Simon disappeared without a trace and has not been seen since. David is still looking, and the search for Simon has become his life. The brothers were boys when David disappeared and Simon really believes that he was abducted by aliens. When he shares this with writer/psychiatrist Eloise Eldritch (Noeleen Comiskey), she acts interested, although mostly because she sees this as a template for an obsessed character in her next novel. Eloise does wind up introducing David to a nice girl, Sally (Millie Reeves) yet by talking to David’s alcoholic mother Irene (Carol Cleveland), she believes that there may be more answers than David gets when he takes trips to UFO hot spots. 

 The film seems to be some kind of black comedy where nearly everybody acts mockingly or patronizingly toward David, and it’s okay to laugh at him because he acts so ridiculous. Gooch in his direction and the way he interprets the role sees David as both sympathetic and ridiculous and this is a very difficult balance to maintain.

The search has been an obsessive part of David’s life ever since his brother went missing, leaving him unable to form close relationships – even the few friends he has can barely stand to be around him because all he does is talk about Simon.

Gooch presents a world of UFO obsessives, re-enactment societies, tabletop game players, government conspiracies and more as David searches for his missing brother.  Being misdirected to Denmark by a Skype contact and fellow UFO seeker “Arctus The Alien”, David meets psychiatrist Eloise Eldritch who is writing a book on obsessive behavior.  Deciding that Simon will make a perfect subject for her book, she gets drawn into his strange world, whilst at the same time Simon seems to be forming his first real relationship.

Gooch blends science fiction, drama and comedy in a charmingly off-beat manner and it is great fun to see a writer/director striking out and doing something original and quirky.

“The Search For Simon” is not perfect by any means – the comedy side is be gently amusing rather than laugh out loud funny, and occasionally misfires, but the story of Simon and the overall narrative create a sweet and unexpected payoff.  There is a lot of sympathy with its main character, refusing to make fun of him because of his UFO obsession.  It would have been easy to make David an object of ridicule – the typical “socially inept UFO anorak obsessive” – but thankfully this isn’t the case.  Gooch presents his main character as a troubled soul who we can’t help but root for and whose ultimate storyline is actually quite moving.

As much an off-beat drama as it is a comedy, and there are some very, very silly moments. “The Search For Simon often feels as much of a character study (although a very off-beat character) as it does a comedy”.  It is often fun watch, and hopefully we will see more of what Martin can do with his unique brand of weirdness” in the near future.