Category Archives: Film

“HELL-BENT”— Working for a Promotion

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“Hell-Bent”

Working for a Promotion

Amos Lassen

Michael (Justin Andrew Davis) is a writer for Brimstone Magazine and when he gets a chance at a promotion, he sees this as a chance to prove that he is a good writer (and making more money is always a good thing). Michael’s boss, Bowers, (Timothy J. Cox) decides that he should make the promotion a competitive event with each candidate having to wrote a really good piece and then he will select which one he thinks as best. Beth (Ashley Kelley) is considered a shoo-in but Michael is determined. He loves his career and to write. Michael has an ally, Agatha, the office receptionist, (Leslie Lynn Meeker) and she really wants to see him win as much as he does. as Agatha, the receptionist and Michael’s ally in the competition. Foster Vernon directed this thirty minute film in which I see several themes— writing, producing articles, the mystery of Hell, working together and believing in oneself. Bowers would like to elevate the quality and the kind of stories in the magazine and therefore he holds the competition.

As soon as this is announced, Beth begins to size up her competition and works to get the right people to back her while Michael gets lucky via a chance meeting with Agatha and then getting to know Agatha’s friend Ricky (Steven Trolinger) who conveniently happens to be a demon. Ricky has reverence for nothing and no one and enjoys playing jokes on people. However, he wants to help Michael probably because he enjoys winning competitions and he cannot resist a challenge. Michael lacks confidence but with Ricky and Agatha on his side, he seems to be ok.

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Now we might wonder how Agatha had to chance to meet a demon and then continue to be friendly with him. After all, it is not as if demons are easy to find. We learn that there was a time in her life that she was very lonely so she summoned a demon and Ricky appeared and has been with her ever since. He actually seems to like her almost as much as he enjoys playing trips on others. Ricky is also moved (thanks to Agatha) to help Michael in his quest by the very idea of a competition. It seems that he cannot resist a challenge of any type. 

Michael sees a great story in Ricky but Ricky wanted nothing to do with it. Agatha sympathizes with Michael and convinces Ricky to let Michael interview him. Ricky enjoys being the subject of an article and now there is really only Beth for Michael to deal with. Michael is lucky that she is suffering from writer’s block until she decides that instead of working on a great article of her own that she will use her efforts to shoot down what Michael writes.

The best way I can describe how I feel about the film is simply to say that I had great fun watching it. All of us know that we do need a little fun in our lives every once in a while. I love the touch of the supernatural with the demon and the characters are well drawn. Everything is fine and I am putting that mildly. I understand that this is a student project and I certainly hope it received the “A+” that it deserves.

 

 

 

“TOUCH GLOVES”— A Human Story

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“TOUCH GLOVES”

A Human Story

Amos Lassen

Felipe Jorge’s “Touch Gloves” is a documentary about amateur boxing and the story it tells is very human. We follow several hopeful boxers in Haverhill, Massachusetts as they train. The boxers are not the only focus here; we also meet the adults who give their time to help those who come to the club in the hope that they will become good future citizens. While the emphasis might seem to be on boxing, we also realize that this is about community. Focus, hope and love are part of what we see here as we watch young men work to attain their dreams and deal with the hurdles of life.

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I understand that this was a film that was made with no budget and that it is a labor of love for director Felipe who received help from filmmaker Chris Esper (who I have also reviewed here).

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I have to mention that the film is incredible, We see Jorge’s shots that were taken as close to the boxers as possible but without disturbing their training. We also see interviews that totally back up what we see on the screen. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the film is seeing how the young people and the benefits they reap from those who give them their time, knowledge and friendship. The young learn the importance of being on time, to listen to and to respect others. Bravo!!! A job well done,

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The film will premiere at Haverhill High Auditorium on Sunday, June 26.

“PRINCESS”— A Dark Journey

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“Princess”

A Dark Journey

Amos Lassen

Twelve-year-old Adar’s mother is a workaholic and when he mother is at work, she and her stepfather push their role-playing games into dangerous territory. Adar (Shira Haas) is a 12-year-old girl who’s reached puberty. Her mother (Keren Mor) is a doctor whose boyfriend, Michael (Ori Pfeffer) has recently lost his job. Adar detests going to school while her hormones rage, but it also becomes increasingly clear that life at home isn’t particularly healthy: Michael plays “games” with Adar that sits on the line between fun and molestation. Adar is well aware of the dynamic between her mother and Michael and this excited her. When she and Michael play together, there is a sexual tinge to the horseplay she enjoys with the handsome, affable Michael.

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Playing hooky as usual one day, Adar sees a vaguely androgynous Alan (Adar Zohar-Hanetz), a street boy who is her slightly older and taller male doppelganger. They immediately click, as if they were psychic as well as near-physical twins. As he’s apparently homeless, Adar invites him home — and he immediately slips right into the seductively easygoing household rhythms. His presence also raises the sexual tensions. Michael, who already has a curious tendency to address Adar by the male pronoun seems to be infatuated with her boy double. His playfulness takes on a more ominous, aggressive character until it crosses the line into assault. We become very aware of the erotic atmosphere and we begin to feel implicit when Michael is revealed as a sort of omnisexual monster. We should have been alarmed earlier but we had been coaxed instead into a tactile stupor. The three characters live in a bubble where desires rule and the exterior world is simply “out there”.

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Alma and Michael share a sensuous relationship, constantly grabbing and deep-kissing one another as if Adar wasn’t in the room, just several feet away from them. In their small apartment, their bedrooms separated only by a thin wall and they have enthusiastically loud sex that Adar covers her ears to block out their moaning.

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Michael who is always playful (one of his games with Adar is to refer to her as “Prince” or “boy”), takes an immense like to Alan, who loves the attention he’s getting. Michael becomes increasingly aggressive with his devotion, stroking both Alan and Adar with his hands and becoming more and more inappropriate, building to a terrible scene where he visits Adar in her room at night and forces himself upon her. Alan, meanwhile, seems to come and go from Adar’s bedroom like a phantom.

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The film strongly suggests that perhaps Alan is some kind of Adar surrogate, the boy Michael keeps insisting she is, someone who might take offense on her behalf. With her mother seemingly helpless to stop Michael, or even care much about what he’s doing, Adar is forced to take action on her own behalf. We watch as Adar’s sense of empowerment builds yet we also see that it comes at a terrible price Israeli director Tali Shalom Ezer’s debut film is an evocation of shameful desire, adolescent trauma and very bad parenting. The performances are brilliant but the ambiguity of the screenplay is sure to divide viewers. The conclusion is quite troubling and the rape scene is quite explicit.

“THE KIND WORDS”— Three Siblings

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“THE KIND WORDS”

Three Siblings

Amos Lassen

“The Kind Words”, a new film from Israel, focuses on three siblings, complicated family dynamics and the how the past holds onto the present. Daughter and middle child Dorona (Rotem Zissman-Cohen) is dealing with possible infertility, the difficulties of adoption and the concurrent adverse effects on her marriage to Ricki (Tsahi Halevi). She, along with brothers Shai (Assaf Ben-Shimon, a bisexual father of one) and Natanel (Roy Assaf, a straight father who found God to please his other half) learn that the man who raised them could not possibly be their biological father.

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The three siblings are on a quest to find out who was their birth father while at the same time dealing with the death of their mother (Levana Finkelstien). The quest takes them from Jerusalem to Paris and, finally, Marseille. Now from what I have said so far, most of you have probably thought that this is a film packed with high drama. However, it is a comedy that plays for laughs rather than anything else. If we consider for a moment the kind of feelings one might get when learning that the man who they thought was their father was actually not. We can only imagine how we might react were the truth we had not expected suddenly arrives. We see humor in the face of adversity.

Elder brother Natanel is the eldest of the three siblings. He has married a very Orthodox girl, and he, struggles to comprehend that his father was of Algerian – and Muslim – descent; Shai seems to be too concerned about his sexuality to really become involved and Dorona is so blinded by grief, anger and inadequacy that she doesn’t recognize that her husband really loves you. It is Ricky who steadies the ship and provides diplomacy and devotion throughout while counterbalancing the wayward emotions of his wife and stepbrothers.

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There is a closeness of Dorona, Natanel and Shai’s relationship— they provide comfort for one another as director Shimi Zarhin shows us by the way that they are always seen together. It seems that Zarhin’s aim here was to create a light-hearted, bittersweet family melodrama and with that he has he has succeeded; however, there is a much deeper story here that goes relatively untouched. A lot is left unsaid between the family and to the broader issues at hand here. We all know that it happens when words are left unsaid are sometimes as powerful or even more powerful than those that are spoken.

“The Kind Words” is made with a delicate balance of emotional intensity and sardonic humor and it is often biting . and continual crisis that stays just within the fringes of believable. Dorona is at the centre of the film and we see her as a defeated but tough woman whose own physical setbacks have left her questioning her own marriage only to have her very identity thrown deeper question when she learns about her father. Each sibling faces his or her own struggles in the discovery of their Muslim father, and Dorona is the one at odds with so many people and so many things.

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Zarhim’s grasp of the intricacy of family and how the ties that bind can simultaneously be the ones that pull us apart is what keeps this film from becoming absurd. The characters leave us wondering about them long after the movie is over. The film does not try to answer questions rather it asks more questions. Each sibling tries to come to terms with their redefined existence, which—depending on the character—has all or little to do with their mother’s secret. We only get a peek at what they are going through and there is no “real” ending. as we leave the siblings rather abruptly. We are left with a lot to think about and we learn a good deal about the culture of Israel as different than ours but in reality is also very much the same.

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Shemi Zarhin’s has struck a balance between the tragic and comedic elements of a story that seems to precariously hinge between each end of the emotional spectrum. It took him ten years to make this film and we can be pretty sure that he thought about each scene, each actor and each word spoken. The ambiguity of the film allows for individual interpretation.

“THE SILENCE OF MARK ROTHKO”— Color + Texture= Emotions

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“THE SILENCE OF MARK ROTHKO”

Color + Texture= Emotions

Amos Lassen

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Marjoleine Boonstra’s “The Silence of Mark Rothko” looks at the artist who is best known for imposing canvasses that eschew representation in favor of pure color and texture, using them to express fundamental human emotions. We hear  thoughtful, engaging commentary from experts and the film provides a heightened level of intimacy and familiarity with Rothko’s work. The film  lingers on paintings and locations, using architectural shots, interiors and streetscapes in order to link Rothko’s paintings to the world he lived it.

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Rothko lived from 1903–1970 and was considered one of the leading artists in the Abstract Expressionist movement and one of the most famous postwar American artists. The film features some of Rothko’s best-known works, including his classic color field paintings, his later Black on Grey pieces, and his Chapel installation. There is also the bonus of Rathko’s son reading from his father’s writings.

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Jewish Films at Cannes 2016

Jewish Films at Cannes 2016

 

Here is a short list of films from Israel, or films with Jewish-related themes, from this year’s festival:

“One Week and a Day”

The first feature film from American-born director Asaph Polonsky follows grieving father Eyal (Shai Avivi) as he deals with the death of his 25-year-old son by getting high with his neighbor (Tomer Kapon). Believe it or not, this is a comedy and director Polonsky says that it was “the only way” to tell such a tragic story.”

 

“Personal Affairs”

This is actually a Palestinian film but was funded

By Israel and is Maha Haj’s first feature. It follows three generations of a Ramallah family as they cope with their suffocating reality and inherit the inevitable mantle of never being satisfied.

 

“Beyond the Mountains and Hills”

Four “good people” navigate a web of twisted, politics in Eran Kolirin’s third film. It is a bit Uncomfortable to sit through because of the way it the darkness that can be part of an Israeli’s life.

The film follows retired soldier David and his family as they are forced to make decisions in an ugly reality.

 

“Fanny’s Journey”

French director Lola Doillon’s third feature follows Fanny as she leads a group of orphans through Nazi-occupied Europe towards the Swiss border. The film is based on the autobiography of Fanny Ben Ami and is an attempt to keep the protagonist’s memory alive, as well as those of other child Survivors, who she said are rarely the focus of WWII film.

 

“Between Worlds”

A stabbing in Jerusalem brings a family together in Miya Hatav’s feature. Set after a terror attack leaves a religious woman’s son unconscious and severely injured, it tells a story of secrets that come to light in the wake of trauma.

 

 

“FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION”— Limited Edition Blu-ray collection of 3000 copies

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“FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION”

Limited Edition Blu-ray collection of 3000 copies

Amos Lassen

Nami Matushima (Meiko Kaji) is a young woman who has been put in jail unjustly and has become known as Female Scorpion Prisoner. In the complete collection, we follow her vengeance as she becomes an avatar of vengeance and survival, and an unlikely symbol of female resistance in a male-dominated world. She is determined to get even with the man who betrayed her. She and six other female convicts escape prison and Nami is branded as public enemy #1 and she is on the run. She soon finds refuge with a sympathetic prostitute, but runs afoul of a local gang. 

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The “Female Prisoner Scorpion” is the pinnacle of early 1970s exploitation cinema from Japanese grindhouse studio Toei, and one of the greatest female revenge sagas ever told.

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SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

– Limited Edition Blu-ray collection (3000 copies)

– Brand new 2K restorations of all four films in the series presented on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD

– Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays) for all films

– Optional English subtitles for all films

– Double-sided fold out poster of two original artworks

– Reversible sleeves for all films featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan

– Booklet featuring a new writing on the films, an archive interview with Meiko Kaji, and a brand new interview with Toru Shinohara, creator of the original Female Prisoner Scorpion manga

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FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION:

– Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Gareth Evans (The Raid)

– Archive interview with director Shunya Ito

– New interview with assistant director Yutaka Kohira

– Theatrical Trailers for all films in the series

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FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41:

– Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kier-La Janisse

– Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Shunya Ito

– New interview with production designer Tadayuki Kuwana

– Original Theatrical Trailer

 

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: BEAST STABLE:

– Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kat Ellinger

– Archive interview with director Shunya Ito

– New visual essay on the career of star and icon Meiko Kaji by critic Tom Mes

– Original Theatrical Trailer

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FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: 701’S GRUDGE SONG:

– Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts)

– Archive interview with director Yasuharu Hasebe

– Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Yasuharu Hasebe

– Visual essay on the Scorpion series by critic Tom Mes

– Original Theatrical Trailer

“THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS”— Giving It All For the Team

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“The Swinging Cheerleaders”

Giving It All for the Team

Amos Lassen

Kate (Jo Johnston) is a reporter for an underground student newspaper at Mesa University and joins the cheerleading squad to expose what goes on between the girls and team. Her radical editor boyfriend disapproves when she moves into the dorm to get closer to her story, and he becomes quite upset when she winds up sleeping with Buck (Ron Hajek), the star quarterback. Unfortunately, he reveals some nasty traits of his own when he humiliates fellow cheerleader Andrea (Rainbeaux Smith) . Buck’s fiancé, rich blonde cheerleader Mary Ann (Colleen Camp), doesn’t believe Kate’s claims that the coach, a local store owner, and a math teacher rig all of the football games in the season to make themselves rich. Kate decides to expose the story, even though the married math teacher is sleeping with yet another cheerleader, Lisa (Rosanne Katon). After a series of double crosses and over-the-top dramatic moments, there is brawl in a warehouse before the strangely abrupt final scene.

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Kate thought that by joining the team she would learn about oppression and ‘female exploitation in contemporary society’. Instead, she finds love, friendship and corruption in the football team, headed up by the coach and his pals.

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Kate is a liberated, modern woman of the times with an underground newspaper editor for a boyfriend, so she thinks the football players are all stupid and only after sex. She learns, however that it is quite the opposite.

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BONUS MATERIALS

– Brand new 2K restoration from original film materials

– High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD Presentations

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

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– Audio commentary by writer-director Jack Hill, recorded exclusively for this release

– Brand new interview with Jack Hill

– Archive interview with cinematographer Alfred Taylor

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– Archive interview with Hill and Johnny Legend

– Q&A with Hill, and actors Colleen Camp and Rosanne Katon recorded at the New Beverly Cinema in 2012

– TV spots

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys

– Illustrated booklet containing new writing by Cullen Gallagher (first pressing only).

“CRIMES OF PASSION”— A Satire of America’s Sexual Mores

crimes of passion

“Crimes of Passion”

A Satire of America’s Sexual Mores

Amos Lassen

Ken Russell’s “Crimes of Passion” has been considered an ode to   to bad taste. I understand that it was written as a parody of American sexual mores but it actually comes across as “a mockery of hypocritical sexual mores”. The thirty year-old hard-worker Bobby Grady (John Laughlin) is a thirty-year-old married man with two children. His wife, Amy Grady (Annie Potts), is frigid and their marriage is in trouble.

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China Blue (Kathleen Turner) is a high-priced prostitute in the red light district who specializes in role play with her clients. During the daytime she uses her real name of Joanna Crane and works as a fashion designer. Bobby moonlights from his electrical store job as a private investigator for a sportswear manufacturer who suspects that his designer, Crane, is pirating his designs. It turns out another worker is guilty of the thefts, but Bobby pays to have sex with China Blue and gets the lay of his life. His marriage breaks up and he hooks up with China Blue who is dealing with a psychopathic and strange client, Peter Shayne, (Anthony Perkins), a serial killer in the making and a twisted fanatical fundamentalist street corner reverend who has this thing about saving China Blue’s life so that his own life can be saved.

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I am not sure how to categorize this film—it is at times a thriller, soft core porn, comedy and psycho-sexual drama. In the end, it shows off a group marriage counseling session and after being stupid for most of the film demands to be taken seriously as it offers strange marriage guidance counseling that comes out of those sessions and promoting that marriage is all about sex. I doubt that you will have to be reminded that this is a Ken Russell film. It is characterized by the excess that is so typical of Ken Russell. I happen to love that excess and I am one of those who is a Ken Russell fan so this review may sound contradictory at times.

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Sex is an activity of great and serious importance to its participants, but as a spectator sport it has a strange way of turning into comedy. Look, for example, at Ken Russell’s overwrought film “Crimes of Passion”, in which good performances and an interesting idea are metamorphosed into one of the silliest movies in a long time. I also love Anthony Perkins and actually had the pleasure of showing him around New Orleans once (we were both much younger and much better looking—now he is gone and I have continued getting older.

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Kathleen Turner had to build up a good deal of nerve to play her role. When she works in the daytime at fashion she is photographed quite naturally but at night the film becomes lurid and the world is one of flashing red neon signs, garter belts, squirming sadomasochists, and perverts chief among then is Anthony Perkins as Peter Shayne, a demented street preacher who sniffs uppers, hangs out in peep shows, and brandishes a murder weapon that looks like an electronic sex toy— but he is just one of China’s clients.

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The apparent purpose for the film was to explore sexual behavior. However, Anthony Perkins overacts to a fault while Turner and John Laughlin really try. “Crimes of Passion” explores two of Ken Russell‘s favorite themes: sex and religion.

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BONUS MATERIALS

– Brand new 2K restoration of the film from original film materials

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of the director’s cut and unrated versions of the film

– Optional subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

– Audio commentary with director Ken Russell and producer-screenwriter Barry Sandler

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– Seven deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary by Sandler

– Brand-new interview with Sandler recorded especially for this release

– Home movie footage of Ken Russell visiting Florida for a retrospective screening of Crimes of Passion at the 2009 Florida Film Festival

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– Theatrical trailer

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

– Illustrated booklet containing new writing by Ken Russell’s biographer, Paul Sutton, correspondence between Russell and Kathleen Turner, and an on-set interview with Russell (first pressing only).

“VALLEY OF LOVE”— A Voice from the Dead

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“Valley of Love”

A Voice from the Dead

Amos Lassen

Isabelle and Gérard have a strange appointment in Death Valley, California. After not seeing each other for years, they have come in answer to an invitation from their son Michael, a photographer. They the invitation after Michael committed suicide, six months ago earlier. Director Guillaume Nicloux’s “Valley of Love” is set in Death Valley where it seems that the landscape has opened itself up into an unadorned crater of a stage on which Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu, a divorced couple named Isabelle and Gérard come together because of a request from their dead son, Michael, who left them letters before he committed suicide intimating that they forge a reunion and that, if they follow his guidelines, he would reappear to them.

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We know nothing about Michael except that he’d once exiled himself in Death Valley and was a photographer who often made perverse promises. We suspect that he was gay even though he is not outed in the film and the little bit that we do now is that there is a resemblance to French writer Hervé Guibert, who also was and letter writer. We never really learn what is in the letters that Michael sent to his parents yet we feel the emotionality of it.

While Isabelle and Gérard refer to the contents of the letters without saying what is written in them, we share a sense of fatality and gloominess with what we see on the screen. The contents are eventually revealed when the actors read them out loud to each other. At that point, Michael is no longer a teasing angel, an allegorical device, or a provocateur. Instead he becomes a prankster with little skills for writing.

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. Isabelle and Gérard follow Michael’s script as best as they can and hope to receive a sign from their son. They hike in scorching desert heat, become bothered by vulgar Americans at their hotel, and yell, quarrel, and cry. They threaten to give up but then one morning, when Isabelle is taking a break from the sun, Gérard explores one of the canyons in the area by himself and runs back to Isabelle to tell her that Michael has appeared. She runs toward the canyon screaming her son’s name, only to find nothing. Her despair overtakes us and this suggests that there has been a doomed and childish refusal to accept a loss that predates her son’s actual demise. It is, as if, we have building up to this event and the film laid the ground for it from the very beginning.

. Gérard begs Isabelle to believe that he saw their son, who held his hand and told him that he loved them and that he forgave them for their mistakes. While his account seems just as fantastic as Isabelle’s believes that there was a material encounter and the “audience realizes, and accepts, that the most dignified way for the missing object to be visible again isn’t with its literal presence, but with its fantasy”.

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Indigenous peoples have long believed in and spoken of is that there is only a thin veil between this world and the afterlife and that those who have died may occasionally manifest themselves in some way to those still alive on Earth.

Gerard was very skeptical about the whole trip but shows up anyway while Isabelle is open to the spiritual adventure which unfolds. Gerard and Isabelle reminisce about their failed marriage and the challenges that their son presented to each of them. W e never really know why they taken the time to have this meeting with each other. It seems that they did so because of the guilt they feel about their inability to give their son what he needed and/or to find closure.

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Isabelle whose character is never named (but understood) arrives at Death Valley before Gerard and we do a bit of exploring with her before we even see her face. At first Gerard and Isabelle seem to be a regular sightseeing couple. Death Valley seems to be populated by people just like them, each with his/her untold story and looking for something extraordinary. “Valley of Love” defies easy categorization as it unfolds and then becomes a film that takes us on a somber narrative as we join the actors on a mysterious spiritual path. There are moments of hysteria as the film becomes spiritually evocative and a meditation on guilt, grief, and the tragedy of expectation and it is a fascinating experience.