Category Archives: Film

“FRANCOFONIA”— Art, Culture and History

francofonia

“FRANCOFONIA”

Art, Culture and History

Amos Lassen

“Francofonia” is a look the real-life events that saved Paris’s Louvre Museum under the Nazi Occupation during World War II,. At the same time, it is also a look at art, power, history and virtue—and mankind’s place among them. This is the latest film by Russian director Alexander Sokurov and is both an historical documentary and a stylized drama, a film that is an extended cinematic essay that brings together fictionalized re-enactments of past events with excursions into scholarship and fantasy. The film is set against the backdrop of the Louvre Museum’s history and artworks. We meet Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), director of the Louvre in the 1930s and ’40s and Count Franz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath), Hitler’s designated connoisseur and conservator of French art. Both men worked to keep the museum open during the occupation and to protect its collection.

franco1

The negotiations between the two men are interspersed with Sokurov’s reflections on art and history and a tour of the museum’s galleries. We are guided on the tour by Marianne (Johanna Korthals), the symbol of liberty, equality and fraternity in Republican France, and Napoleon Bonaparte (Vincent Nemeth) who was the embodiment of the nation’s imperial ambitions. Together, they represent the idea of French universalism as they state that the Louvre is a living example of civilization.

f2

 

The Louvre has more visitors than any museum in the world, yet its galleries are noticeably under populated. Aleksandr Sokurov’s film is a paean to museum. “Francofonia” shows the Louvre to be complicated, all-encompassing metaphor for (European) civilization itself. Sokurov asks via voiceover “What is France without the Louvre?” and “Who would we be without museums?”

f4

These are broad questions that Sokurov pursues and “Francofonia” is most convincing when the filmmaker crystallizes his arguments through images that skirt the line between fact and fiction. When the attention turns toward the Louvre’s crown jewel, the Mona Lisa, the only visitors who get to dote on the painting are two incarnations of French nationalism— Napoleon Bonaparte (Vincent Nemeth), who, on seeing his own magnificence mirrored in the Mona Lisa’s smile, calls out repeatedly with smug glee, “C’est moi!” and the woman by his side is that great symbol of the French Republic, Marianne (Johanna Altes), who responds to the general’s ego by whispering her nation’s famous slogan: “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.” he scene is convincing for its sharp, and no less humorous, take on the perpetual battle between bureaucratic power and the will of the people.

f5

Francofonia zeroes in on this conflictive dynamic by examining the Louvre’s tenuous status during World War II, just after Hitler came to Paris and General Philippe Pétain fled south to Vichy, where he became prime minister. These scenes are shot with the patina of old, deteriorating film stock and show a fictionalized reenactment of the relationship between the Louvre’s one-time director, Jacques Jaujard (Louis-do de Lencquesaing), and the aristocratic Nazi officer and art historian Count Franziskus Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath). Sokurov expresses his admiration for Jaujard, as a prototypical Frenchman who, unlike Pétain, did not embrace retreat, refusing to leave his position at the Louvre. He found an ally in Metternich.

f7

Together, the men made sure that the Louvre’s most treasured works weren’t looted by the Nazis, by hiding them away in suburban chateaus. Jaujard and Metternich’s collaboration represents a kind of subterfuge and is living proof that belief in art can overcome ideological differences. State, dangerously coincides with a desire for presentation (we see archival footage of Hitler patrolling Paris and Napoleon’s remark that he “went to war for art” maintains this belief). However if art is inevitably an area of national interest and underwritten by the powers that be, it doesn’t mean that bureaucracy always wins out. We see this in the efforts of Jaujard and Metterninch.

f8

There are many freewheeling aerial shots and 360-degree pans of the Paris skyline throughout “Francofonia”, sweeping images that complement Sokurov’s overarching themes and we realize that this film is an unabashed portrayal of Gallic cultural contributions. Throughout the film, Sokurov will interrupt his commentary to get the latest update. “Francofonia” has the tone of an elegy that bids adieu to a bygone time when art and civilization were perhaps more closely intertwined and could similarly be thought of on more continuous terms.

f10

This is a dense, enriching meditation on the Louvre, Paris and the role of art as an intrinsic part of the spirit of civilization. At the film’s core is the relationship between Jaujard and Metternich, vanquished and conqueror, and how both men were intent on protecting the Louvre’s treasures. By the time the Nazis rolled into Paris in 1940, almost all the works of art had already been transferred to a series of safer houses across France, but the highly cultured, French-speaking German aristocrat would go on to defy his commanders and continue to keep France’s museum holdings protected from deportation to the Third Reich.

f12Sokurov is a devoted Francophile and he wonders why the Nazis safeguarded Paris while deliberately destroying so many cities of Eastern Europe, especially Leningrad, whose Hermitage suffered so greatly during the War. Perhaps it is because Paris represents more than just France, just as the Louvre is more than a building full of extraordinary masterworks. Napoleon, of course, understood this, which is why so many of the Louvre’s holdings can be directly traced to him.

f11

“Francofonia” also mixes formal conventions and it is multifaceted. At the center of Francofonia is a historical event that happened in 1940, a year into World War II. In occupied France, Jacques Jaudard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) was the director of the French National Museums, including the Louvre. He was no friend of the Nazis and successfully transported many works of art from the Louvre to homes where they be safely hidden. Meanwhile, Hitler assigned Count Franziskuz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath) to micromanage and eventually confiscate the art in the Louvre as part of the Kunstschutz effort. Hitler picked the wrong man for the job, though. Not a firm believer in the Third Reich, Metternich was an art historian who took his job seriously. He stalled sending back the works of Old Masters, ultimately saving world treasures from the grubby hands of Hitler, Goebbels, and Goering.

Sokurov shoots these dramatized historical events so that the scenes resemble long lost working footage for a movie. This is a brilliant rumination on art, history and death.

“KILLER DAMES”— Two Gothic Thrillers

tkiller dames

“Killer Dames”

Two Gothic Chillers

Amos Lassen

In the early 1970s, scores of Italian filmmakers crafted their own takes on murder-mystery thrillers. Emilio P. Miraglia was one such filmmaker. “In The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave”, troubled aristocrat Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen), haunted by the death of his first wife Evelyn, tries to move on by marrying the seductive Gladys (Marina Malfatti). However, as various relatives meet untimely and horrible deaths, there is speculation that a vengeful Evelyn has risen from the grave…

The film exploits mental illness to present a string of sadistic sexual murders and is a distinctly gothic take on the Italian thriller genre, making the most of creepy settings like an old and decrepit castle, a shadowy mausoleum, and a torture dungeon. Even though the well-worn plot of a mentally unstable character being pushed to the edge by the sudden appearance of a ghost is nothing new, it works here because of some unexpected twists and its final reel, Anthony Steffen turns in a hammy performance that alternates between suave cool and crazy. There are a few daring scenes of gore.

“The Red Queen Kills Seven Times” is about a generations old family curse hits sisters Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) and Franziska (Marina Malfatti) after the death of their grandfather Tobias (Rudolf Schündler). Legend has it that very hundred years, the bloodthirsty Red Queen returns and claims seven fresh victims. If Tobias was the first in this new cycle, the sisters wonder if they are next to die.

This is more of a traditional murder mystery Set in a castle in Germany, the Wildenbrück family is visited by a curse involving ill-fated twins and a murderous phantom known as The Red Queen. A prologue establishes the back-story in which little Kitty Wildenbrück accidentally kills her sister. The girls’ grandfather answers their questions about family portrait — of a lady with a bloody knife standing over her victim.

Years later Kitty runs an upscale fashion photography studio when more killings of women occur. First Rosemary (Maria Pia Giancaro) is attacked in a delivery vehicle and then the gorgeous but predatory model Lulu (Sybil Danning) meets a bloody end. The police are skeptical when witnesses report a mysterious person known as the “Red Queen” running from the murder scenes. Suspicion falls on fashion executive Martin Hoffman (Ugo Pagliai) when he benefits from the murder of a superior.

There is lots of gore— either-people are bashed over the head, stabbed in the hand or decapitated.

Both films are making their worldwide Blu-ray debuts in stunning new 2K restorations from Arrow Films and are part of a four DVD boxed set, “Killer Dames”.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:

Limited Edition box set (3000 copies) containing The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Brand new 2K restorations of the films from the original camera negatives

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (lossless DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray Discs)

Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks

Limited Edition 60-page booklet containing new writing by James Blackford, Kat Ellinger, Leonard Jacobs and Rachael Nisbet

“THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE”

New audio commentary by Troy Howarth

Exclusive introduction by actress Erika Blanc

Writer Stephen Thrower on The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

The Night Erika Came Out of the Grave exclusive interview with Erika Blanc

The Whip and the Body archival interview with Erika Blanc

Still Rising from the Grave archival interview with production designer Lorenzo Baraldi

Original Italian and US theatrical trailers

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx

“THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES”

New audio commentary by Alan Jones and Kim Newman

Writer Stephen Thrower on The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Archival introduction by production/costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi

Dead à Porter archival interview with Lorenzo Baraldi

Rounding Up the Usual Suspects archival interview with actor Marino Masé

If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today archival featurette with Erika Blanc, Lorenzo Baraldi and Marino Masé

My Favourite… Films archival interview with actress Barbara Bouchet

Alternative opening

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx

 

“THE FEAR OF 13”— A Psychological Thriller

the fear of thirteen

“THE FEAR OF 13”

A Psychological Thriller

Amos Lassen

David Sington’s “The Fear of 13” is part confessional and part performance, a haunting psychological thriller and a daring experiment in storytelling. Nick is a death row inmate who petitions the court to be executed. As he goes on to tell his story, it becomes clear that nothing is quite what it seems. Nick tells his tale with all the twists and turns of classic crime drama, with a final shocking twist that casts everything in a new light.

the fear1

Jailbird Nick Yarris shares how a petty thief and meth user became a convicted murderer on Death Row in Pennsylvania. Yarris is such a good storyteller, and pulls us in with his long, clear, articulate sentences of his time before and after his conviction, and how for many long years he tried to have his conviction for murder overturned. We are reminded of how slowly the wheels of justice turn when the authorities are convinced they already have the right guy. We learn of Yarris’ setbacks, minor triumphs, beatings, the draconian prison system, his illnesses, his time on the run, his marriage to a prison visitor and his campaign for his own retrial. There is little rancor and/or.

The title refers to triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13 and this is just one of the many words Yarris learned while reading thousands of books during his 20-year stay on Death Row in a Pennsylvania prison. Yarris is the film’s sole subject and narrates the feature to camera throughout. He is eloquent and spends the duration of the film recounting the past twenty years of his life. We never know whether he is being interviewed or speaking directly to the camera. with it very difficult to tell whether he’s speaking to an interviewer, or directly down the lens; his eyes constantly darting and his body physically reenacting the events leading up to and since his conviction of rape, abduction and murder.

Yarris dominates this documentary and his passion, emotion and constant protesting of his innocence, his maintenance of hope  and then his eventual request of asking the state’s governor to have him executed immediately, commands the screen. “The Fear Of 13” is a brilliant example of unique documentary filmmaking that is simple in its approach and wonderful in its execution.

the fear2

Yarris tells us that “True storytelling is the telling of life,” says former Death Row inmate Nick Yarris and the film rests entirely on his testimony. The simplicity of the film is as frustrating as it is remarkable since the film essentially offers a 90-minute monologue in which the former Death Row inmate recounts his 23-year experience in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Yarris’ story offers a sobering account of a troubled man. He talks directly into the camera about his life of petty crime (mostly auto theft) and substance abuse that led to a string of run-ins with the law. His narrative sets the mood by conveying the eerie silence of the Pennsylvania prison, which he describes by saying that the prison was developed by Quakers who created tightly confined cells that deprived inmates of sound and sunlight. Yarris says the prison’s “no speaking rule” has the deadliest effect on jailbirds, as it accentuates isolation and leaves every prisoner alone with his or her thoughts. The years of incarceration and isolation show their toll on Yarris and we sense his paranoia about speaking out. When he reaches the act that pertains to the murder for which Yarris was wrongfully convicted, he shares some surprising omissions in his tale. Few, if any, details of Yarris’ defense appear in his story. His testimony tells more about a trial that preceded the murder case and he explains how he was acquitted of a string of charges at the same time that the murder trial loomed. The absence of information pertaining to Yarris’ trial is curious, especially since the DNA evidence becomes crucial to his exoneration.

Yarris starts his tale with a tangential account about an escape from his guards during a routine transfer. He talks about running away during one cold night and evading the police by stealing a car and other peoples’ belongings, which he pawned for quick cash. He sounds like a career criminal who is not accountable for his actions.

the fear3

The most powerful episode is Yarris explaining when he lost all hope in the case. He recalls submitting a request to cease all appeals and expedite his execution. This relates the hopelessness and despair of Yarris’ experience in isolation. We hear him explain how literature and stories brought him a kind of salvation in the prison and how a simple exercise in repeating and remembering new words led him to a range of new experiences through literature. However, Yarris’ account never sounds like a response to a question, and one never hears the filmmaker pose a query or interject. The dramatic delivery of the story also comes ten years after his exoneration, so we sense that the subject has reframed and reshaped memories by reliving this trauma repeatedly in his mind. The simplicity of the film lets Yarris’ experience show the effect that the prison system has on an individual. It’s a powerful account and the simple direction respects the subject’s journey.

“WE MONSTERS”— Protecting the Child

we monsters

“WE MONSTERS”

Protecting the Child

Amos Lassen

Sebastian Ko’s “We Monsters” looks at how far parents will go to protect their child. Paul and Christine (who are separated) learn that their daughter, Sarah (Janina Fautz) murdered her best friend, Charlie (Marie Bendig) and the protective guilt they share forced the family back together and to make up a web of lies and deadly intentions with no way out. Sarah had been very upset by her parents’ separation. Her parents want to protect her and knowing that she indeed committee murder led them to lying.

We Monsters2

Paul and Christine begin to understand the effects that their dysfunctional marriage had on their daughter, Sarah, when she takes adolescent mischief too far. The film moves quickly—it does not long to move from Paul’s taking Sarah and Charlie on a trip to the woods to his finding Sarah alone at a dam and there is no Charlie but whose backpack can be seen floating in the water below. Paul tries to save the girl, but she’s not to be found. This is a parent’s worst nightmare, losing the child of another and Sarah makes the incident extra troubling by telling her father, “I pushed her” and she shows no remorse. No remorse as if killing her friend is just something that happened.

 

Sarah’s parents wonder how to react to news that their child is a murderer. Naturally it is their instinct to protect her, so Charlie’s disappearance remains a mystery even to her own negligent father (Ronald Kukulies). The parents’ dilemma fascinates as they accept their complicity in Charlie’s death and understand that their daughter is a monster.

 

Paul and Christine are complex characters and the actors who portray them give compelling performances. The problem that I have with the film is the strained credibility with the adolescent characters and their unintelligible motives. There are a few plot twists that shake the effective and chilling realism of the parable as the parents’ actions seem to be farfetched. What is important about the film is that we see that anyone can become a monster like Sarah. Paul and Christine feel that turning their child into the police conflicts with their paternal instincts but they have no idea at first as to far they will go to protect their daughter when Charlie’s father begins questioning the family about what transpired?

we1

The film takes a situation that no parent would want to experience and pushes it to its limits, and in doing so, things become terrifying. Anxiety remains high, and violence intensifies as the film moves forward., Paul and Christine attempt to deal with Sarah, who never seems concerned about what has happened. In the first half hour of the film we see Sarah as despicable but then we slowly begin to see more of her motivations, allowing us to empathize with her situation, but this is information that’s kept from her parents.

We are left wondering what we might do in the same situation and we see that one horrible act only leads another. The film is as brilliant as it is disturbing.

“SOUTHLANDER: DIARY OF A DESPERATE MUSICIAN— A Musical Journey

southlander

“Southlander: Diary of a Desperate Musician”
A Musical Journey

Amos Lassen

 Chance (Rory Cochrane) is a hapless LA Musician, who found his ticket to fame, fortune and romance with the coveted keyboard, the 69′ Moletron. The keyboard that got him the gig and the girl (Beth Orton) is missing, and Chance must reclaim it by working his way through “The Southlander”, the ultimate buy/sell classified paper for musicians in Southern California. 

south1

Along the way, Chance and his pal Ross Angeles (Ross Harris) come upon the unstable defunct Funk star Motherchild (Lawrence Hilton Jacobs III) and his toadie (Richard Edson), Beck’s ramshackle recording trailer, a ruthless junkyard cowboy (Hank Williams III) and his mechanical dinosaur (Robosaurus). They find their way to an eccentric millionaire’s Bacchanalian party, a clairvoyant goddess (Laura Prepon, ), and intergalactic Jazz Egyptians (Billy Higgins).

south2

The film includes performances by Beck, Beth Orton, Hank Williams III, Union 13, and Billy Higgins and there are cameos from Laura Prepon, Ione Sky and Elliott Smith. “Southlander” is a comically uncanny rock & roll party adventure by director Steven Hanft. 

south3

Quite basically the film is about a young guy trying desperately to retrieve a stolen synthesizer and plays like an improvised tour of the lower echelons of the Los Angeles rock scene whose sense of humor could only be fully appreciated by struggling musicians.

Special features include Deleted Scenes, Uncut Performances, Director’s Commentary, Music Videos, Bonus Audio, Photo Gallery, and Theatrical Trailer.

“THE WHOOPEE BOYS”— Misfits

whoopee boys poster

“The Whoopee Boys”

Misfits

Amos Lassen

Two obnoxious and dim-witted misfits, Jake Bateman (Michael O’ Keefe) and Barney Benar (Paul Rodriguez) make an attempt to save a school for needy children by attempting to sneak into the wealthy high society of Palm Beach to get the money needed for their cause. The two men fled New York and end up in Palm Beach, Florida and get involved with a beautiful heiress who runs a school for needy children. Unless she gets married in 30 days to a high society “gentleman,” the school will be bought and turned into condos. While Jake takes a liking to her, he decides to prove he can be a worthy husband by enrolling in a charm school.

w1

As a comedy, “The Whoopee Boys” just does not work totally. Many of the gags include belching, farting, vomiting, and masturbation and predictable, politically incorrect potshots. I did not find most of this funny and the film really is quite childish. John Byrum, directed but he is just not suited for this comic material.

w2

Raunchiness and ribaldry have their place but these do not work here either. There’s a plot in here somewhere as I shared in my opening paragraph. Yet there are those that love this film and proclaim that it is the funniest movie ever.

w6

Paul Rodriguez is a very talented comedian. However, his raunchiness did not hit me as funny. The film tries to hard to be bawdy genre exercise like “Animal House” was but it seems to have lost its direction and is crude. The movie is disjointed and punctuated by one unfunny bit after another  Rodriguez gets the best line of the movie when he tells two women:  “As long as I have a face, you’ll always have a place to sit!”

“THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BEL AMI”— Going for the Top

bel ami poster

“The Private Affairs of Bel Ami”

Going for the Top

Amos Lassen

“The Private Affairs of Bel Ami” begins with a woman singing, “Who’ll be deceiving me, who’ll be leaving me, bel ami.” The song that is heard at various points in the film, that was made in1947, refers to the character of Georges Duroy (George Sanders) who is quite a roué.

bel ami

Upon meeting his old military buddy, Charles Forestier, we become aware of Georges success with women. Charles invites him to dinner where he meets Rachel (Marie Wilson), a dancer and they date until he dumps her when he meets Clothilde de Morelle (Angela Lansbury), a woman with wealthy husband who is often absent.

bel ami2

Charles gives Georges a chance to write for the newspaper that he works for and tells him to make contact with his wife, Madelaine (Ann Dvorak) who becomes his muse as Clothilde becomes his lover. Soon after this, Georges becomes the center of talk in Paris as he denigrates women while seducing them. He maintains that “Marriage and love are entirely two different subjects.” He emphasizes, however, that happiness does not always bring cash.  Clothilde disagrees, commenting, “A true marriage is the daily bread of the heart. There’s no greater happiness.” Charles dies and Georges married Madelaine, his widow yet continues his affair with Clotilde.

bel ami3

Madelaine , meanwhile, has a suspicious friendship with a certain count who dies and leaves her money, knowing that this will look like a public pronouncement of an illicit affair. Georges demands some of the money to make things look proper. Madelaine and the publisher Monsieur Walter (Hugo Haas) have been using Georges to help topple the government and enrich themselves. When Georges finds out, he seduces Walter’s wife (Katherine Emery), but eventually, he frames Madelaine for adultery (a crime) and is able to obtain a divorce. He is able to continue his publishing career by seducing Walter’s young daughter Suzanne (Susan Douglas Rubes).

bel ami5

When the movie came out, America was quite a conservative country and movies like this did not succeed. Sex and love affairs were certainly not openly discussed or seen in movies.

bel ami6

The thesis of “Bel Ami” is that the rise of young men in society comes from knowing the right women. However, none of the women are equal partners in love matches. Madelaine is not a muse, but a woman searching for a male face to front her opinions, but even then, she has her own agendas and is willing to make her willing facade an unwilling fall guy.

bel ami3

“Bel Ami” is a handsome period movie, but lacks a strong realization of the central character. At first, Sanders at first seems perfectly cast as corrupt journalist Georges Duroy, whose monetary and social aspirations lead him to cruelly manipulate the countless women who fall for his charms. Yet we never fully understand why Sanders’ “Bel Ami” is so appealing to females: he’s handsome, but not irresistibly so, and is ultimately too icily self-contained to convince us of his persuasive powers as a lover.

“IPHIGENIA”— The Gods and War

iphigenia poster

“Iphigenia”

The Gods and War

Amos Lassen

With “Iphigenia”, director Michael Cacoyannis succeeds in giving the feel of Greek theater tragedy to the screen and it is said that he is the only director who has been able to do so. He has written his screenplay based upon the original by Euripdes is one of the most difficult of the tragedies to film. In order to film this, he had to deconstruct the original and find a way to present the tragedy in a logical and chronological order and thus having it play like modern movie goers are used to seeing.

iph

Cacoyannis also added some characters to his film that do not appear in Euripides’ tragedy: Odysseus, Calchas, and the army. He did so to make some of Euripides’ points regarding war, the Church, and Government clearer. The ending is somewhat more ambiguous than the ending of Euripides.

iph2

Shot on location at Aulis, we see some beautiful shots of Greece. The harshness of the landscape fits the souls of the characters and reflects their torment. The performances led by Costa Kazakos (Agamemnon), Irene Papas (Clytemnestra), and Tatiana Papamoschou (Iphigenia) are absolutely beautiful. Kazakos and Papas embody the sublimity of the classical Greece tragedy. Agamemnon is extremely down-to-earth who looks very powerful when he looks into the camera. He needs no words to reveal the unbelievable torment he suffers. As Clytemnestra, Irene Papas is the modern quintessence of classic Greek plays. She is terrible in her anguish, and even more so for what we know will be her vengeance. Tatiana Papamoskou, in her first role on the screen, is outstanding in her portrayal of the innocent Iphigenia that contrasts with Kazakos’ austere depiction of her father, Agamemnon.

iph3

We also have Odysseus, a sly, scheming politician, Achilles, a vain, narcissistic warrior, Menalaus, self centered, obsessed with his honor, eager to be avenged, and to have his wife and property restored. Everything is the height of realism and this is a film that does quite well without Hollywood touches and flourishes. The music of Mikis Theodorakis intensifies what we see on the screen.

iph4

We gain considerable insight into the lost world of ancient Greek thought that was the crucible for so much of our modern civilization. We lean about ourselves as individuals and as social and political creatures. Euripides questions the value of war and patriotism when measured against the simple virtues of family and love, and reflects on woman’s vulnerable position in a world of manly violence. In his adaptation of Euripides’ tragedy, Cacoyannis revisits all of these themes and does so in a modern, clear and dramatic fashion.

iph5

 

The relationships governing the political machinations are demonstrated with clarity and we certainly see that war corrupts and destroys the human soul to such an extent that neither the individual nor the group can function normally any longer. However, Menelaus, whose honor has been tarnished by his own wife’s elopement with her lover, is an exception to this —he is the only character whose reason for going to war has to do with his wife, Helen. Agamemnon is thirsty for power, Odysseus is greedy and Achilles wants glory.

1

(the army, Odysseus), or glory (Achilles). Helen actually became the reason for the Trojan War and that war we see here has been stripped of the glamour that Homer added and there is no religious sanctioning. Here it is just an imperialist venture, caused primarily by the desire for material gain. Anything else is pretext.

2

We also see the conflict between church and state with Calchas, representing the Church and feeling the challenge of his own priestly authority and using it to try to destroy Agamemnon for the insult to the Goddess he serves and he tells him to sacrifice his daughter. In consenting to the sacrifice, Agamemnon comes close to his moral undoing, however, in refusing, he loses his power over the masses (his army), who are brainwashed by religion. Agamemnon sees it as a game. But he must go along with the charade whether he honestly believes in the Gods or not, until he realizes, too late, that he has caused himself to commit a despicable crime.

3

Was this a sacrifice or was it murder? Can we even tell the difference between the two? By focusing on the violent and primitive horror of a human sacrifice–and, worst of all, the sacrifice of one’s own child–Euripides/Cacoyannis have created a drama that is at once deeply political and agonizingly personal. It touches on a most complex and delicate ethical problem facing any society: the dire conflict between the needs of the individual versus those of the society. In the case of Iphigenia, however, as in the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac, the father is asked to kill his own child, by his own hand. We want to know what kind of God would insist on such an action? Can it be just or moral, even if divinely inspired? Does Iphigenia’s sacrificial death differ from the deaths of all the sons and daughters who are being sent to war? These are the questions raised by the film.

iph4

Clytemnestra begged her husband not to go through with the sacrifice but he refuses to listen. Realizing that her death is inevitable, Iphigenia bravely walks up the hillside steps to the sacrificial altar dressed in her wedding dress, saying death will be a wedding, and forgives her father.

5

The film brilliantly captures the stark tragic mood of the myth and shows this classic Greek theater production in a memorizing way that’s never before been realized on the screen as powerfully as it is here. 

“SALAM NEIGHBOR”— A Humanitarian Crisis

salam poster

“Salam Neighbor”

A Humanitarian Crisis

Amos Lassen

Four million Syrians have escaped war and we see by this that it is possible that we can be losing an entire generation of young people as well as destabilizing a region of the world and bringing about poverty and violence.

salam1

This documentary takes us into the world of refugees. Seven miles from war, 85,000 Syrians struggle to restart their lives inside Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp. For the first time in history, two filmmakers, Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple, fully plant themselves in the camp, providing an intimate look at the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis.

salam2

 

We meet Um Ali, a woman struggling to overcome personal loss and cultural barriers and 10-year-old Raouf, whose trauma is hidden beneath his smile and we hear inspiring stories of individuals rallying, against all odds, to rebuild their lives and those of their neighbors. This crisis should challenge us to become global citizens and neighbors to those who are suffering.

salam3

When a truck pulls up to the Za’atari refugee camp, a place that is spread out across the Jordanian desert we see refugees carrying their bags of food rations, children playing in the sand. We also see Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple, two young Americans pitching their tent and preparing to film their newest documentary, “Salam Neighbor.” Za’atari is the world’s second largest refugee camp and the filmmakers have decided to live there for one month with Syrian refugees.

salam4

We see Ingrasci and Temple collaborating with Mohab Khattab and Salam Darwaza, co-founders of 1001 MEDIA, a production company with roots in the United States and Bahrain that aims to tell stories about Arab communities. The four worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Jordanian government over a 10-month period. The film marks the first time the United Nations has allowed a group of filmmakers to be embedded in a refugee camp and officially registered with a tent.

salam5

What made these young filmmakers so interested in this topic was when they began asking questions about what it is like to leave one’s country and attempt to rebuild after all has been lost. For most of us, we only know what we see on the news and what we see on the news is there because it sells. This means we never get the complete picture from the media. Zach and Chris wanted to know more about the personal aspects of what was happening and what it was like for those fleeing from war.

salam6

We meet a 10-year-old Syrian boy who avoids school while struggling with severe shellshock, a grandmother who lost her sons in the war and now expresses her emotions by writing thoughts on her tent’s walls and weaving art out of old plastic bags, an international relief worker who advocates for women’s rights, a former university student and aspiring French teacher who now advocates for children’s education in the camp, and a single mother of three named Ghoussoon who lives outside Za’atari in the city of Mafraq.

salam1

The stories we see and hear makes us want to stop whatever we are doing and find some way to help these poor people. Refugee camps are not new to me—I saw them in Israel and I then felt connected to the refugees brings you on a heart throbbing/ tear jerking journey but there was nothing I could do. In the media refugees are seen more of a burden than a situation that must be fixed. Here we feel a connection with people hundreds and thousands of miles away.

salam2

By focusing on a few main characters, the documentary lets us develop a good sense of who these people are and realize that they are just like us. Unfortunately they had to deal with a terrible situation in their country. As we watch we get closer to the people we meet and feel what they feel as best we can from afar.

salam3

The Syrians are a resilient people who have literally created “something out of nothing. They loving and generous people and take care of Chris and Zach as if they were their own sons. This is film that will stay with you and hopefully move you enough to make you want to do more to help our global neighbors.

“THE MEASURE OF A MAN”— The Banality of Modernity

the measure of a man

“THE MEASURE OF A MAN” (“Le Loi du marche”)

The Banality of Modernity

Amos Lassen

Stéphane Brizé’s “The Measure of a Man” is a realistic look at a middle-aged man’s experience with unemployment after he is laid off from his job. Thierry (Vincent Lindon) transitions from unemployment to security guard at a supermarket. He is in his fifties and life gets tougher and tougher. He was on unemployment for months and has done everything possible to find a job. His limited welfare benefits are based on him being seen to be active in his search for work, and this is one such way to do just this.

measure1

 

His wife is silently supportive but they have a teenage child with special needs and the new school that he is about to transfer too is expensive and their welfare checks will not cover the fees. Thierry tries to sell their family vacation home to help the family get by  but is bullied into lowering the price by buyers who sense his desperation. He is patronized by a young bank manager who suggests that he raise funds by selling his home and buying life insurance.   Then suddenly he lands a job work as a security man in a large supermarket on what is called ‘loss prevention’ and he is under great pressure by his bosses looking to cut costs to carefully watch not just the shoppers but also his co-workers for any attempts, no matter how minor, at stealing from the store.  Because he has been a life-long committed Union man, Thierry finds spying on his colleagues, particularly difficult as like him, even with their jobs, they are barely making a living wage.

measure3

Each of the sad small incidents of pilfering that he has to get involved in eat away at his conscience and he sees many and as a result people are fired or arrested.   The film politicizes the effects of economic slumps that have been created by large anonymous corporations and we see that the brunt of the effects are borne by the working population who are just helpless cogs in the wheel. It is therefore no surprise that he will eventually resist in order to keep a hold on to both his beliefs and his dignity. Veteran actor Linden is pitch perfect as the world-weary and laconic Thierry and his performance won him the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival.  

 

measure4

The film contemplates just how much an ordinary workingman will compromise his integrity in the name of making ends meet. Director Brize fashions compelling drama out of the most ordinary of circumstance. Basically this is about the life Thierry Taugourdeau (Lindon), a laid-off factory worker who has, when we first meet him, already been out of work for more than a year and is struggling to keep his family afloat on a monthly €500 unemployment check. By day he looks for a job and by night, he tries to be a good husband and father to his wife, Katherine (Karine de Mirbeck), and teenage son Mathieu (Matthieu Schaller), who’s developmentally disabled but bright, self-confident and the object of no one’s pity.