Category Archives: Film

“WETLANDS”— No Orifice Unexplored

wetlands poster

“Wetlands” (“Feuchtgebiete”)

No Orifice Unexplored

Amos Lassen

“Wetlands” is the story of Helen (Carla Juri) an eccentric eighteen-year-old. She narrates the story of her life, including stories about her preferred sexual practices that involve vegetables, her attitude towards hygiene, drugs, her best friend Corinna and her challenging childhood. The frame story takes place in a hospital where she is treated because of an anal fissure. During her stay she plans to reunite her divorced parents and falls in love with the male nurse Robin. Director David Wnendt and Juri leave no bodily orifice unexplored in this very smart film. Wnendt directed this in the style of MTV music videos and the film lets us know with the titles basically what it is going to be about. We first see the titles against the background of computer-animated renderings of toilet-seat bacteria. Then Helen’s first-person narration takes over for an extended discussion of vaginal hygiene (one of the film’s running themes), both her mother’s obsession with it and her own more laissez-faire attitude. In lieu of perfume, she prefers to dab a little “pussy mucus” on her neck to attract the attentions of the opposite sex — a quite literal “eau de toilette.”

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Indeed, there’s little that enters, exits or grows upon Helen’s body that doesn’t fascinate the budding young woman, including the bothersome hemorrhoids and Helen’s finger applying anti-itch cream to the affected area. If this film does nothing else, it can claim to showing a few images we’ve never seen on a movie screen (at least, not since high-school sex/education health class).

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When we are not looking at Helen’s body, we meet her divorced parents (Meret Becker and Axel Milberg), her introverted younger brother Toni, and BFF Corinna (Marlen Kruse), all drawn as broad caricatures. Then, a bout halfway through the film, an accidental slip of the razor lands Helen in the emergency room with her bleeding behind. It is also here that the movie slows down. Helen comes in and out of consciousness in her hospital bed, recalling various real and imagined traumas and other formative experiences from her past. Chief among them: the divorce of her parents, whom she imagines she can “parent trap” into a reunion if she prolongs her hospital stay (which, in keeping with the general spirit of things, hinges on Helen’s ability — or lack thereof — to deliver a post-surgical bowel movement). Now I know all of this sounds strange and that is because it is strange.

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This is certainly not the kind of movie that you would got to see with your mother. This has to be one of the most outlandish and grossest movies ever made and then shown to the public yet even with all the bodily fluids and muck, there is a surprisingly heartwarming story here and credit goes to an amazing performance by Carla Juri. While in her hospital bed, we learn more about Helen, what makes her tick, and how she ended up the way she did.  We discover Helen is hiding some dark secrets, and will need to confront them in order to achieve any type of normalcy.

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We are always aware that this is a movie that tests limits with scene after scene of nauseating grossness. But there is a rich familial drama within “Wetlands”.  As the story moves forward we see the complexities of Helen and her family and how she developed into the woman she is, and why she has such idiosyncratic behavior.

“REFUGE”— Responsibility and Private Life

refuge

“Refuge”

Responsibility and Private Life

Amos Lassen

Amy (Krysten Ritter) is a young woman raising her two, slightly younger, but needy siblings. She tries to balance her personal life with her responsibilities. However, when Sam (Brian Geraghty), a young handsome stranger comes to town, he becomes entrenched in the family while he and Amy begin to create a life they never thought possible when all odds are stacked against them. We have had many movies about drifters that come into town but “Refuge” does not use that premise as others have and instead director Jessica Goldberg concentrates on the escapism that this stranger brings with him.

Nat (Logan Huffman), Amy’s brother is of legal age, but he has considerable complications that have arisen from a brain tumor. Amy’s sister, Lucy (Madeleine Martin), is a high school student weathering the usual problems of truancy, light drug use, and, much more alarmingly, self-inflicted physical abuse. Amy loves her siblings, but she feels trapped, and escapes, she thinks, by drinking at a local bar and then going home with anyone who even looks at her. This is her cry for help and it leads her to Sam. Sam is an unemployed wanderer with family issues who’s even more screwed up than Amy and her sibs.

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Here is a low-budget American film that defines its characters by their poverty and in that it is an attractive film visually. But there is really nothing at stake in the film because the characters have already given up before the film began. What we see is “a fatalist reconfiguration, of a party of the damned, that mostly appears to be beside the point”.

The camera is hand-held, the setting a nondescript blue-collar town and the characters are broken, dead-ended, indecisive, and inexpressive. Even when they do make a move, it’s usually impulsive (bar fights, bingeing on ecstasy).

The suspense is in whether Amy will embark on an endless road trip with Sam, potentially fracturing family ties. The performances are sweet natured and sometimes surprising especially Martin who gives an amazing performance. The dialogue is clever and often funny, sometimes intentionally so.

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This is a film about young people searching for meaningful relationships. Sam doesn’t even know Amy’s last name until halfway through the film, and when either asks about anything deeper than what’s for dinner, the other changes the subject. The film presumably is trying to end with the promise of a brighter future for all involved, but reality isn’t nearly that simple. I really hate seeing a film that has so much unused potential and that is perhaps what bothers me the most about this film.

KABBALAH ME”—- Opens August 22 in New York, Opens September 5 in Los Angeles

First Run Features presents

Opens August 22 in New York
Opens September 5 in Los Angeles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Run Features is proud to present the theatrical premiere ofKabbalah Me, a new documentary feature directed by Steven Bram and Judah Lazarus. The film will open on August 22 in New York City and September 5 in Los Angeles.

Kabbalah Me follows a personal journey into the spiritual phenomenon known as Kabbalah. Rooted in the Torah and Talmud, Kabbalah has been studied by leading Judaic scholars for many centuries, but many Jews are unaware or uninformed about Kabbalah and its significance. The film tells the story of how co-director Steven Bram, feeling a spiritual void in his life, immerses himself into the world of Kabbalah.

Raised in New York as a secular Jew and without much interest in organized religion, Steven grew up to lead a conventional life – marrying a nice Jewish woman from the suburbs, fathering two beautiful daughters, living on the Upper West Side, and working at a sports and entertainment company. But after 9/11, he felt a longing for a deeper and more fulfilling spiritual life. This longing leads Steven on a five year journey that includes reconnecting with his Hasidic family members, studying with Judaic scholars, and taking a pilgrimage to Israel, where he immerses himself in the history and traditions of the Holy Land and meets with charismatic Rabbis, Talmudic scholars and spiritual leaders.

As Steven’s spiritual journey progresses, the mystical and complex world of Kabbalah, with its varying interpretations and myriad rituals and lessons, slowly unfolds, leading to profound changes in all aspects of his life.

KABBALAH ME Opens August 22 at the Quad Cinema in NYC
Co-Director Steven Bram will be in person at select opening weekend shows.

KABBALAH ME Opens September 5 at Laemmle Theatres in LA
Co-Director Steven Bram will be in person at select opening weekend shows.

Steven Bram has been the COO of New York-based Bombo Sports & Entertainment, LLC since its founding in 1999. He has produced over 50 sports films for television, DVD and digital release. Steven also sits on the board of the Aish Center in New York.

Judah Lazarus is a music video director whose work includes videos by AZ, Reakwon of the Wu Tang Clan and Trick Daddy. As an actor Judah played opposite Tim Robbins in Noise. Judah also developed the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Believer, starring Ryan Gosling. Judah and his partner Moshe Lazarus now run High Line Productions, which is developing a TV series about Brooklyn’s Hassidic Hipster subculture.

KABBALAH ME 
80 minutes, English, Documentary, 2014
Produced & Directed Steven E. Bram
Directed by Judah Lazarus
Edited by Neco Turkienicz, Adam Zucker
Associate Producers Ilana Ellis Klein, Rina Perkel
Original Music by Jamie Saft
Original Story by Steven E. Bram, Rabbi Adam Jacobs
Story Consultant Jack Youngelson
Written by Steven E. Bram, Judah Lazarus , Adam Zucker

 

“IN BETWEEN SONGS”— Against All Odds

in between songs the poster

“In Between Songs”

Against all Odds

Amos Lassen

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“In Between Songs” looks at how one Aboriginal family must fight to save their legacy. Djalu Gurruwiwi, and his sister are community elders and “they strive to shepherd their clan through countless internal and external pressures, while searching desperately for new custodians to safeguard their musical and cultural legacy”. Their community is the small Australian Aboriginal group of Nhulunbuy. (I have a strong feeling that spell check will not like this review).

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 Djalu Gurruwiwi, a famed traditional didjeridu craftsman and player, alongside his sister, Dhanggal, strain to keep Galpu clan traditions safe from numerous internal and external forces. When Djalu’s son, Larry, proves to have limited interest in continuing the clan or instrument’s legacy, the elders are forced to turn their attention toward the Gurruwiwi grandchildren. There is a complication with the Rio Tinto bauxite mine that is a multi-billion dollar industry. Brother and sister try to move the family out to traditional homelands deep into the bush but this is not easy because of the limited infrastructure and lack of formal schooling for the youth. While attempting to shepherd their clan through economical, environmental, cultural and social pressures, Djalu and Dhanggal Gurruwiwi remain firmly resolved in their mission to maintain tradition. The film follows their struggle to survive and to keep their traditions.

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Newly initiated boys in the tribe have limited long term vision and maturity and often become victims to the peer pressures of drugs and alcohol. The modern distractions of computers and video games, made available to them even in this remote community, compound their lack of drive and consistent adherence to traditional life.
 Alcohol and drug use from mining personnel frequently spills over into the traditional clan groups.

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The environment has implications for generations to come because of what the mine is doing to the land. visible and highly lethal environmental impacts from the mine’s presence will certainly have lasting implications for generations to come.
 The costs involved for transportation and supplies in this remote region greatly diminish the plan of moving the clan. James Cromwell narrates this film about family life and culture as it tries to find a balance between the ancient and modern world.



“ILO ILO”— The Family and the Maid

ilo ilo

“ILO ILO”

The Family and the Maid

Amos Lassen

Set in 1997 in Singapore, we meet the Lim family and learn about their relationship to their maid Teresa who has recently arrived in their country and in their home. Teresa is a Filipina who has moved to the city in order to make a better life for herself but her presence in the family weighs on them in addition to the troubles that they were already dealing with. Jiale, the son is young and seemingly made of trouble but he and Teresa form a bond and Teresa becomes almost a member of the family. The Asian financial crisis was also beginning to have an affect on the family and on others as well.

The film won this years Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and is a wonderful account of one family trying to survive economic and domestic struggles in Singapore.

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Because she is a Filipino immigrant, Teresa is an outsider not only in the family but in society as well. Her job includes managing Jiale’s behavior and the bond between them brings Teresa to the status of an unspoken member of the family but when the financial crisis hits the family all of the relationships are at risk.

Filmmaker Anthony Chen based the story on his own family’s live-in maid and her contributions to his life as a child. I understand that they lost touch but with the international release of the film, they had the chance to catch up on all that they missed. I grew up with a maid although she did not live with us and we became quite close. Then I left the states for more than twenty years and during that time my parents died. When I came for a visit we had a family reunion and Dell was there and it was wonderful. I firmly believe that we do not know the value of what we have until we no longer have it.

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The beauty of Chen’s portrait of family life in 1997 is that he manages to capture an entire period within one intimate slice of life. “Beautifully acted and precisely observed, ‘ILO ILO’ is an amazing debut, full of heart and intelligence.”

The film is filled with love, humor and heartbreak. T focuses on the bond between a ten-year-old boy and his Filipina nanny as the family struggles with the financial crisis. Chen depicts class and racial tensions within a household and his accessible style enabling the characters’ underlying decency and warmth to emerge unforced. Chen describes the predicament of so many Asian children who are placed in the care of foreign maidswhile their parents work to maintain a double-income lifestyle. Keng Teck Lim (Chen Tian Wen) has lost his sales exec job, but hasn’t found the courage to tell anyone; his wife, Hwee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann), is pregnant, but still woks as a secretary even though this drains her mentally. Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) is starved for attention and has become a troublemaker at school, forcing the Lims to hire domestic help Terry (Angeli Bayani), who hails from Ilo Ilo in the Philippines to keep an eye on him.

At first Jaile bullies Teresa and we see him as the rambunctious brat that he is but Terry is not willing to take his abuse and eventually the two begin to really care about each other. This is beautifully filmed at a point when Jaile notices that Teresa is not at a family banquet and he offers her his soup and says that it is very expensive and he really doesn’t like it.

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Director Chen tells his story simply and the movie is driven forward by the characters and sketches of home life. We get a moving picture of the father who has a hurt ego after losing his job but maintains his good-natured personality. The mother tries very hard to keep the family together in spite of bossiness and spite of Teresa. We see her jealous of the relationship her son has with the maid and this is a reflection of the uneasy interdependence between working women and the nannies that become surrogate mothers to their children.

Teresa radiates dignity even though her character is neither martyr nor saint. She is a pragmatic woman who will lie a little to survive and she wonderfully radiates emotions. However the film belongs to Jaile who is a dynamic young actor who does not have to try to be cute. He allows us to see the humorous, fiercely loyal kid beneath the obnoxious pranks and wild temper. The relationship between Jiale and Terry is interwoven with the Lims’ financial woes, which loom larger in the second half.

Chen is more interested in the people than plot and his excellent screenplay is delivered in a low-key docudrama style with no contrivance and melodrama. He creates a slice of life with a genuine feel for family politics and local culture, deftly and subtly revealing a little more about his subjects and the way they live their lives with every scene.

The relationship between Teresa and Jiale is at the film’s heart, and we see the boy as good-hearted but with other tendencies, while the maid mourns the child she left behind and isn’t going to stand for any nonsense. Together they form a strong mother/son bond that has a few layers of ‘something’ more on top. Chen is equally adept in his portrait of a marriage and shows the very real pressures of a lower-middle-class marriage and trying to survive  financial pressures.  

“Fuhrer Cult and Megalomania” and “Siege of Leningrad”— Two New World War II Documentaries

“Fuhrer Cult and Megalomania” and “Siege of Leningrad”

Two New World War II Documentaries

Amos Lassen

It is very rare that I review two movies in one review but these two film are so loosely related that it makes it much more interesting to see how they influence each other. For as long as I can remember, First Run Films has been one of the companies that has worked hard to restore old films of that WW II period and find new ones and bring them to us. These two films come to us from director Michael Kloft.

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“Fuhrer Cult and Megalomania”

Adolph Hitler told architect Albert Speer, his protégée that he planned to build tremendous building that would dwarf the pyramids. In 1929 when Hitler decided to make Nuremberg the city where he would have rallies for the Nazi Party and also for the city to become “a symbol representing the greatness of the German Empire in medieval times”, an estimated to 1.5 million people converged on Nuremberg. This was for a party rally that lasted eight days and became “an indispensable platform for the Nazis once a year – with a gigantic propaganda machine, brochures and books, recordings, radio and films”.

We can still see the size of buildings from the age of Hitler and we learn here that they were build so large as to satisfy his megalomania as well as a way to show his determination to dominate the world. Michael Kloft who directed this documentary has found rare film footage and we, for the first time, see what it was like during party rallies and how rabid anti-Semitism gave rise to the Fuhrer cult. The film is from 1936 and is color and was taken by an amateur.

the siege of leningrad

 “The Siege of Leningrad”

Hitler ordered his German Army to enter Russia and invade the country. They seemed to be racing to get to Leningrad where the Bolsheviks began their revolution. The city was quite strongly and did not fall as quickly as expected. The Siege lasted from September 8, 1941 and continued almost three years until January 27, 1944. The German Army surrounded the city for 872 days and those Russians who were inside he city fell into despair and depression. Some starved and others resorted to cannibalism. Over a million people were lost during the siege. This is the story of both heroes and failures and to this day remains one of the worst atrocities of the war. If the people did not have a strong will they would not have made it.

Kloft uses here interviews with historians and  eyewitness accounts to tell the story. He also had access to the files of the Russian secret police and was able to piece together what actually transpired during the siege. The film footage is rarely seen and there also secret diaries and documents that add to the story.

“HARDCORE DEVO LIVE”—-FILMED ON JUNE 28, 2014

hardcore devo

Hardcore Devo Live!

Filmed on June 28, 2014

Amos Lassen

DEVO has partnered with direct-to-fan platform PledgeMusic for their upcoming live album release. The American rock band, who broke onto the scene in the 1980’s with a string of hits such as “Whip It,” will be making a live album and DVD from their June 28th performance at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA during their recent “Hardcore DEVO Tour.” DEVO will be involving fans in the process through their PledgeMusic campaign.

 During the tour, the band played seminal, experimental songs created before the band released any music on a label and rose to fame. The tour honors original band member and longtime DEVO guitarist/keyboardist Bob Casale who passed away earlier this year – a portion of the tour’s proceeds will go to his family. The “Hardcore DEVO Tour” resurrected the early creative efforts that first brought the band together. DEVO Hardcore LIVE will document this once-in-a-lifetime experience and be released as a CD, DVD, vinyl and Blu-ray deluxe disc with bonus features.

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Pre-orders of the CD/DVD will allow fans to engage with the band during the album making process, providing exclusive access to behind-the-scenes photos, videos, tour artifacts and more (update as confirmed). Pledge your support at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/DEVO

 “We can’t believe that we are working with DEVO on this amazing campaign!” said Benji Rogers, President and founder of PledgeMusic. “This project is truly about the music and the hardcore fans. By going beyond just the radio favorites this makes the whole thing an incredible journey for those super fans who have been following the group since their early days.”

 Gerald V. Casale of DEVO said, “I’m not noted for being optimistic but the Hardcore DEVO Live horn ‘o’ plenty (DVD, Blu-Ray, CD, Vinyl LP) has me genuinely high hopin’ as we mix and edit a truly DEVOlved show. One for the ages!”

 PledgeMusic is the world’s leading online, direct-to-fan music community, offering artists a unique way to engage their fans in the music making experience whilst interacting with PledgeMusic’s global community of music fans.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4PBOc7NwjQ 

“SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT”— Based on a True Story

same same but different correct

“Same Same But Different”

Based on a True Story

Amos Lassen

“Same Same But Different” is based on the true story of Benjamin Pruefer, a German student and Sreykeo Solvan. The unexpected and uncertain love story of Sreykeo, a 21 year old bar girl in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Ben was traveling to Cambodia on a post graduation summer trip. When he returned home to Germany he discovered that Sreykeo was HIV positive and sick so he took on the responsibility to save her. On the way he discovered a world where not everyone is not equal and that motivations are not always good.

A film like this could easily become a melodrama but it never preaches or allows the characters to feel sorry for themselves. The story is simple—the two had sex, fell in love, she became ill and they then continued their life together. We learn of the HIV status early on when Sreykeo Soluan (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), Skypes from Phnom Penh to Hamburg and tells Benjamin Pruefer (David Kross) the bad news. Here begins the flashback to when and how they met. We see Ben and his pal Ed (Stefan Konarske) backpacking through Asia and having a wild night of sex and drugs in Phnom Penh. This was set up by Alex (Michael Ostrowski, who co-wrote the screenplay). Sreykeo willingly spends the night with Ben for $30.

From the start we see Sreykeo as a very grounded young woman. She genuinely loves Ben but she also sees that love as carrying financial responsibilities (like supporting her mom’s gambling habit) which Ben sometimes sees as exploitation of a “rich” Westerner. Since Sreykeo is not seen as a victim, the film avoids the usual East-West clichés, and even bustling Phnom Penh is portrayed in an offhand, everyday way. After Ben works out his internship in a publishing company back in Hamburg, he returns to Cambodia to get Sreykeo proper treatment and the film focuses more on the practical side of their relationship.

You will probably recognize Kross from the wonderful film “The Reader” where he played opposite Kate Winslet who won the Oscar as Best Actress for her performance. Here he seems to be a blank page waiting for someone to write this life. He is wonderful as the love struck Ben. Sakuljaroensuk is a Thai actress and she just looks the part of Sreykeo.

There is something classic in the story of star-crossed lovers who come together by chance and then find love and stay together. Because the story takes place on two continents it is something of an epic. The film is a visual feast with breathtaking cinematography, costume design, and art direction. While I saw the film on DVD, I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be to see it on the big screen because of the wonderful shots we get here.

It is important not to get fooled by what you read about the film—it is a love story and it is not depressing as HIV stories can be. Detlev Buck directed it with sophistication and style and he was able to present us with characters who while small are actually quite big. Ben is forced into individual actions that he is unwilling to take – most of the time, he just allows everything to happen, and it is this passivity that fits Kross more than anything else. He is the real star of the film. Sakuljaroensuk succeeds wonderfully with a minimalist performance and we see that there is something absolutely commanding about her from the very first moment she appears on screen. It is as if she forces us to look at her intensely something that forces you to gaze at her as intensely as she exudes beauty from the inside out.

The fact that this is based on a true story makes it truly relevant and important as we are reminded that the path of true love is rocky. Here is a story of love that survives despite the odds.

“ABUSE OF WEAKNESS”— A Semi-Autobiographical Film

abuse of weakness“Abuse of Weakness” (“Abus de faiblesse”)

A Semi-Autobiographical Film

Amos Lassen

 Maud Schoenberg (Isabelle Huppert), a controversial director of note, suffers a stroke that limits the mobility on one side of her body, but tenaciously maintains an independent lifestyle, deciding to cast conman Vilko Paran (Kool Shen) in her latest movie after seeing him on TV during her recovery period. When he meets her, he admits that he cons money from people of fame and does this by flattering them to get them to collaborate with him. Schoenberg admits that this was indeed the case with her but she feels pleased that she has the ability to demand the man of her choosing into her home and in a position of subjugation. Paran’s disposition, being a male of limited grace and candor, and obvious physical dominance, is, as it seems, the auteur’s muse. The sheer roughness of character and the simultaneous emotional and physical threat he represents contrast with her inability to get her body to react the way she wants.

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This is director Catherine Breillat’s unsentimental depiction of bodily struggles, with Schoenberg fighting to put on clothes and feed herself, is, as a visual representation, a psychological deconstruction. Despite being an esteemed artist, few people demonstrate much concern or interest in her plight, leaving Paran, ostensibly an employee that perpetually flatters her ego and helps her with basic mobility issues. When he asks to borrow money, it makes sense to her because it means that he will stay around. It also gives her a sense of power and usefulness in a dynamic where her passivity, despite her inner desires, has no real sexual component.

 “Abuse of Weakness” deals with Breillat’s power play with gender politics. The monstrosity of the female body is again the subject of male exploitation, only with an intense psychological component driven by physical frailty as a hyperbolized mode of victimization at the hands of male entitlement and detachment.  The detachment here is not  in the form of physical gratification and the terror of, and need to violate, the female form. There is a lack of emotional engagement on the part of Paran, mentally raping a woman in a prone position, isn’t overly different from Schoenberg’s loss of virginity.

 There’s a constant imbalance conscious of the role the victim plays in a game of cerebral and physical dominance with a predator they’ve engaged. Catherine Breillat greatly depicts women in danger in her films and at the same time she gives them special character traits. Here Maud Schoenberg is a woman who walks the line between manipulation and victimhood. And since Maud is also a filmmaker, Breillat raises questions not only of personal nature, but of control and dominance in the artistic process.

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Maud suffers uncontrollable movements in one hand and has difficulty walking and carrying out basic chores after a brain hemorrhage. Her fierce survivalist ethos is underscored by the opening shot of Maud’s body convulsed, followed by paralysis and excruciating therapy, which the diminutive Huppert plays with eviscerating attention to detail, turning her body into a human wreckage. The camera mercilessly focuses on each physical defect. After the opening sequence, Breillat cuts to Maud improved, seemingly adjusted to her condition, and in control: Watching a late-night talk-show, she spots the con artist, Vilko Paran whose book has made him a minor celebrity, and decides to cast him as the lead in her next movie. Here is where their story begins.

I understand that illness and the swindle portrayed are rooted in Breillat’s personal experiences but this does not have much bearing on the film.  Maud knew Paran to be a scoundrel, and it’s this sense of playing with fire, of living out her whim without being able to control it, that prompts her. We do not know or understand her motivations. She is scripted as fatally distant from her family, willfully independent, but more believably abandoned, is haunting, and Paran’s flamboyant, flashy presence, the void it appears to fill in Maud’s life, hints at a more mundane distress. In imbuing Maud with great pride, a love for risqué adventure and a need to test the boundaries between life and fantasy, Huppert delivers a wonderful and stunning performance “though her charged charisma is such that we’re at times precluded from grasping Maud’s more prosaic emotional hang-ups, left to coolly marvel at her, as if she weren’t our kin but some rare and marvelous species”.

“NOAH” (on Blu-ray)— Another View

“Noah”  (on Blu-ray )

Another View

For years Darren Aronofsky tried to get his epic version of Noah off the ground, but it never seemed likely to really happen. His only previous foray into big budget filmmaking, The Fountain, turned into a bit of a disaster, with only part of the movie actually made (due to studio intervention) and what was left being confusing and making little money at the box office.

However after the success of Black Swan and with biblical epics looking like they might be coming back into fashion, Paramount decided to take a punt on the movie. However this is Darren Aronofsky, the man behind the likes of Requiem For A Dream and Pi, so it was always clear this wasn’t going to be your typical $125 million studio movie. That said, it appears even Paramount was surprised by how strange and intense it turned out. After viewing Darren’s preferred version they made their own, more traditional cut, but it turned out audiences liked Aronofsky’s take better and so that’s what we have.

The movie takes the biblical story of Noah and expands upon it – although interestingly a lot of the things people have complained about, saying that they’re not from The Bible, are actually based on things that are part of the Old Testament that few people know (such as the fact it appears Noah did get drunk soon after the Ark found land), while much of what is completely made up there’s been less fuss about.

Noah (Russell Crowe) is the last of his line, with the rest of the world taken over by the wicked sons of Cain, who murder, rape, pillage and destroy everything they come into contact with. After having a vision of drowning men and visiting his ancient grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), he’s convinced he’s been given a mission to the save the innocent – the animals. He therefore sets about building an enormous ark.

However with the threat of a deluge destroying humanity, the rest of mankind – led by the brutal Tubal Cain (Ray Winstone) – isn’t prepared to allow Noah to rescue animals and allow him and his people to die.  Noah is determined to continue his mission, which he believes isn’t just to save the animals, but that he and his family, along with adoptive daughter Ila (Emma Watson), will be the last ever humans on Earth. His single-minded determination about his mission soon begins to rip his family apart, but nothing anyone says will sway him from what he thinks he has to do.

All the basics of the story are there, but many will be surprised about the tone and ‘additions’. For example many may wonder where the stone giants, the Watchers, came from. While some have railed against them as a stupid, made-up addition, these former angels are from biblical lore. While not specifically mentioned in the Noah story, they’re logical to include even though few have heard of them.

The real difference is that when the Noah story is normally told, the focus is on saving the fluffy animals, however Aronofsky takes the other tack – that this is the story of a man who follows his orders from God, knowing that he is condemning millions to death while doing so. He’s goes about it without questioning it, and the film suggests that necessarily makes him a rather hard, sometime callous and often unlikable man. It’s a movie that’s often dark and intense, and once Noah and his family are on the ark, it goes to some pretty disturbing places.

Instead of the jolly bearded boat builder from Sunday School, we get a Noah who’s dead set on infanticide. Indeed there are moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a Greek tragedy. While all this could have come across as overly melodramatic, it’s surprisingly engrossing and thought provoking.

There are some very blockbuster type moments but it’s clear Aronofsky is actually more interesting in the familial drama and, as is his tendency, he doesn’t want to tell a happy, jolly tale. In fact while the ending has hope and an interest in the idea of mercy, it leaves open the distinct possibility that it really thinks the world would have been better off if humanity had been wiped off it. That’s certainly not a typical theme for a mega-budget movie.

Parts of the film are strange and somewhat ethereal and in many respects it comes across as an incredibly expensive art movie – but a very good one. Even after reading this review I suspect few people will find Noah to be what they expected – that’s not to say they won’t like it, but this is a very different type of biblical epic and not quite like anything else out there. Indeed reading some other reviews, most of the negative ones seem to come from people who decided what the film was going to be before they saw it, and purely judged it against that, rather than looking at the actual movie they got.

It’s also worth watching on Blu-ray if possible, as it looks absolutely gorgeous. Along with some cool special effects, it’s full of incredible landscapes (much of it was shot in Iceland), memorable images and it’s generally a bit of a visual feast. The disc also features a good ‘making of…’ documentary, which is split into three parts and gives an excellent overview of the creation of the film, both in practical terms of what was a massive undertaking, and also talking about exactly what the filmmakers were trying to explore with their idiosyncratic take on the famed story.

I did wonder how on Earth someone like Russell Crowe was supposed to have managed to have kids as gorgeous as Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth, but that’s a relatively minor complaint.

Overall Verdict: Sometimes odd and often surprisingly dark, Noah certainly isn’t your typical biblical epic, but it’s an impressive and engrossing singular vision with some big ideas that may linger in your head long after the credits roll.

Special Features: ‘Iceland: Extreme Beauty’ Featurette,  ‘The Ark Exterior: A Battle For 300 Cubits’ Featurette,  ‘The Ark Interior: Animal Two By Two’ Featurette