Category Archives: Film

“ALWAYS LOVE”— Stories That Blend Personal and Political

“Always Love”

Stories that Blend Personal and Political

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Zachary Fuhrer has made 3 short documentaries that chronicle the lives of people converging at the New York City Pride March.

We meet Hal Moskowitz who came out of the closet in 1975. It was a time when the gay rights movement was still finding its footing. Moskowitz felt accepted for who he was for the first time.

“It was young and it was fledgling, but it was new and it was open and it was exciting,” says Moskowitz. “And it was home.” His story is beautiful, heart wrenching and often funny and it is part of a series of short documentaries called “Always Love.”

Moskowitz is a community organizer spurred to action when he started seeing friends succumb to AIDS. Joanna Fang is a transwoman who finally finds herself comfortable in her own skin and Brigid McGinn comes out later in life after being married and having four kids. Taken together, these short documentaries tell the story of the diverse community at the New York City Pride March. All three stories blend the personal and the political.

“All three of them are incredible individuals, with unique stories to tell that speak to the kinds of experiences millions of people have around the world and it’s important for us to hear their stories.”

In 1983, Moskowitz was among the first wave of volunteers for the advocacy group Gay Men’s Health Crisis. The camera follows Moskowitz to this year’s Pride March, where he helps lead the contingent for an organization called Gays Against Guns. After 40 years, he’s still taking to the streets.

But the part of the documentary that director Fuhrer loves most is when Moskowitz walks around Greenwich Village, pointing out spots where he used to go out dancing or congregate with friends.

Moskowitz talks about everything, the good times and the bad times and “through his eyes, we’re able to see the evolution of the gay rights movement.” The other story that has been released is that of

Joanna Fang, a transwoman and the third film about Brigid McGinn will be released soon.

“All three of them are incredible individuals, with unique stories to tell that speak to the kinds of experiences millions of people have around the world. I think it’s important for us to hear their stories.” Look for the films online.

“IS THIS NOW”— The Lasting Effect of Abuse

“Is This Now”

The Lasting Effect of Abuse

Amos Lassen

One who is abused as a child never really loses memories of that and this can be emotionally damaging as we can well imagine. Ingrid (Sabrina Dickens) is a young woman who was abused and she faces struggles all the time and finds it extremely difficult to even admit to having been abused. She sees the world as a hard and difficult place that reminds her of the pain she suffered at the hands of her abuser. She has a social worker, a Ms, Murray (Anu Hasan) and she finds it hard to even speak with her.

But then something happens to change her tremendously. Ingrid meets Jade (Brigid Shine) and things seem to begin to get better. Jade is involved with a local and popular band whose lead songwriter Johnny (John Altman) takes a special interest in her and we see Ingrid’s creativity come to the fore. We also realize that the past is still with her and still very real. Ingrid later gets to France with the band where she meets Angeline (Ruth Miller). Angeline helps Ingrid face her demons and it did not take long until a new guy enters Ingrid’s life giving her a bit of a taste of love. As she spends time with Dion (Fabien Ara), we understand that she finds a way to deal with her past but putting it where it belongs; behind her.

This is the first film by director Joe Scott that I have seen and I am very impressed with this quite emotional film in which he is able to bring music and drama together. It is certainly not easy to deal with child abuse and make a film about it as an underlying theme. Ingrid is our main character and we watch as she, at first, avoids dealing with her past before taking it head on and trying to overcome it as she seeks love and meaning in her life. We see her revisiting some of those very painful moments and then faces them and it is that if she does not do so, she will never be able to move forward. These super intense moments are balanced by music and light dialogue. I understood that we were moving toward that time when self-realization would both heal her and release her from the past.

Sabrina Dickens gives a wonderful performance as Ingrid. We share her anguish and we see that one of the reasons she has not been able to forget her past is because others will not let her do so. Yet even while facing what is inside, we get a sense of hope from her and understand that the way she presents herself to others helps her to hide the bitterness within. The supporting cast also is excellent and it is through the actors that see a dark side of humanity and those who make it thus yet we also see those who are willing to help wounds heal and who actually care for each other.

“MANIFESTO”— Manifestos as Monologues

“Manifesto”

Manifestos as Monologues

Amos Lassen

Cate Blanchett plays 13 roles in different locations and with a variety of accents, ages, and genders.

It’s impressive enough to see how Blanchett invented all these personas, with their attendant makeup and costume requirements. She did so in a 12-day shoot directed by Julian Rosefeldt and cinematographer Christoph Krauss who managed to find, construct, or create the illusion of so many complete worlds to place around her. Most of the 95-minute film that was originally presented as a 13-screen installation was ct shot in Germany, an oft-devastated nexus point for many of the manifestoes regarding capitalism. It’s fitting that Blanchett begins with Karl Marx’s words about the West’s “process of decay”, already in motion 150 years ago but suddenly relevant today. Elsewhere, fascistic and nihilist credos are included (some taken from the Italian futurists of the early 20th century), and it’s fascinating to see them collide and occasionally overlap. There’s no dialogue, only recitations of manifestos about art (plus the excerpt from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s “Communist Manifesto”) in the first scene. This is a vibrant, entertaining and engaging film that is also, thought provoking.

“Manifesto” is made up of 13 scenarios, most of which play out in interspersed segments. Each setup starts with a leisurely establishing shot. The camera moves slowly before descending into the scene to focus on Cate Blanchett who plays a different character in every scenario. These characters include a homeless man ranting at the world, a cynical English rocker dressed all in black, and a perfectly coiffed, tight-lipped society matron. In a series of mesmerizing performances that sit on the line between realism and satire, Blanchett gives each character its sharply distilled essence.

Images here are so much more powerful than the words and it is easy to tune out the manifestos, which often feel repetitive. This is a film about ideas that’s visually gorgeous with a wonderful actress but by and large something is missing although I am not sure what that is.

 

“INSEPARABLES”— Enjoying Life

“Inseparables”

Enjoying Life

Amos Lassen

Felipe (Oscar Martinez) a wealthy businessman who is quadriplegic, due to an accident. He is looking for a therapeutic assistant and even though there are several highly qualified applicants, he decides that Tito (Rodrigo de la Serna)) should have the job. The film is based on the real story of a quadriplegic and his personal assistant. Tito has neither the qualifications nor the specifications to take care of Felipe and friends of Felipe are quick to point this out to him. Felipe answers that Tito comes to him with no pity and even with all of the difficulties of the job, Tito responds to his mission and is able to get Felipe to smile again. Soon Tito helps Felipe to find meaning again in life and to enjoy each days, , something Felipe had forgotten. Tito shows no political correctness for his boss’ many problems and treats him as a perfectly healthy person who does not try to do anything to enjoy life. It is obvious that Tito did not understand what this job would entail and the beauty of the film is the way he treats Felipe as his equal.

Felipe is surprised at the way he and Tito get along. The two men take drives, have long walks and go to concerts and exhibitions. It is as of Tito does not see Felipe’s disability and refuses to be bound by it. In effect Tito helps Felipe to find meaning in a life that, by his condition, had caused him to stop having.

This is the story of an unexpected, deep and sensitive friendship that is quite beautiful and fun to watch.

“VESPER”— Secrets

“VESPER”

Secrets

Amos Lassen

Marge Ofenbey (Agnes Godey) has shut herself in an attempt to escape her husband, Walter. She asks her nephew Christian for help but he discovers the secrets that Marge and Walter hid away. This is a very dark film that moves slowly in its narrative. The audience is sucked into a mystery that keeps us guessing until the very end. The characters do not reveal much yet our interest is held by what we suspect is coming.

In the background we hear dark music that helps to build a very dark scene and all we really have to go on are the stares that the characters share. We wonder why Marge seems so bothered and if her husband is indeed manipulative and aggressive. Director Kevyan Sheikhalishahi takes us into his narrative and we cannot help but notice that something is missing. We sense that Marge is hiding something but we have no idea what.

I had a hard time with this short film because it rattled me without letting me know why and/or about what. This is not a negative comment by any means. If a film can rattle a viewer that means there is something there. A film that makes us think is a sign of a good piece of work. Everything is solemn even when nothing happens. I feel that I was only allowed to be drawn into a certain point and then left there making me feel isolated from the film yet still thinking about it.

“IN THE SHADOW OF WOMEN”— A Man and Two Women

“In the Shadow of Women”

A Man and Two Women

Amos Lassen

Pierre (Stanislas Merhar)and Manon (Clotilde Courau) are a married couple, working together on a documentary about a French resistance fighter (Jean Pommier). Pierre starts an affair with a PhD candidate he meets at a film library, Elizabeth (Lena Paugam) without Manon’s knowing it; Elizabeth is curious and spies on the couple to see what her lover’s wife looks like — he has confessed right off that he’s married. Then and purely by coincidence, Elizabeth later sees Manon in a café with another man (Mounir Margoum). While the film focuses on Pierre’s disdainful, inconsiderate behavior toward both of his women, the overall effect of the story is away from the usual male-centric point of view.

 

Pierre, as a filmmaker, specializes in setting up a camera, sitting just behind it, and asking questions, but Manon idealizes her husband as a probing cine-journalist. She brags to her mother (Antoinette Moya) that Pierre isn’t like other interviewers in that he often stays silent after a subject finishes speaking to prompt them to fill the uncomfortable void, ignoring that literally every journalist who has ever lived has used this technique.

Pierre, however, is only mediocre in reality. He is bored with Manon’s fawning attention and turns his sights on Elisabeth who delays recognition of the man’s emotional weakness by entering into a purely physical relationship. As obvious in romance as he is in his work, Pierre hides his feelings of guilt by bringing home flowers, a gesture so clichéd that even Manon calls the gift a “cheater’s classic” with a lighthearted tone just ambiguous enough to make her husband nervous.

Director Philippe Garrel’s film uses its characters’, formal language to betray their self-consciousness. Much of its humor comes from the jealousies between the characters. When Elisabeth spots Manon out with her own lover, she feels a bizarre pang of jealousy, as if it reflects poorly on her to cheat with a man whose wife would cheat on him. But her reaction pales in comparison to that of Pierre, who bypasses self-awareness to go against his wife for failing to live completely up to her role as his totally devoted servant. Pierre’s petulant hypocrisy gives the second half of the film energy. The film’s sense of humor is so dry that it belatedly reveals the setup for a few jokes only when the punch lines are delivered at the end.

In the last few minutes of the film, it becomes a comedy of remarriage that reorients the preceding 70 minutes as a muted screwball. Through it all, the women never get too tripped up by the narcissistic cowardice of their men. While the title may suggest the self-pity of men like Pierre who feel themselves inadequate, it maintains that people like Pierre should feel lucky to even be allowed to stand in that shadow at all.

“HOLY AIR”— Remember When Water Was Free?

“Holy Air”

Remember When Water was Free?

Amos Lassen

Writer/director Shady Srour is Adam, a man who is thoroughly in love with his wife Lamia (Laëtitia Eïdo)but unfortunately he is just not a good businessman. He really needs money now more than ever as his wife is experiencing a difficult pregnancy and his father is gravely ill. Then are the small daily misfortunes he has as an Arab Christian in Nazareth. What Adam needs is a break. To his surprise, he finds one where he least expects it— on the biblical hilltop Mount Precipice. It is then that he sets out on a risky business venture—bottling the holy air and selling it to the city’s tourists.

Being an Arab Christian living in Israel already makes him a member of two minorities. Adam knows it will take a lot of work to get his new business going but he also has to deal with the complicated emotions that go into living as a modern, progressive family on the world’s most spiritual ground. There are challenging social crosscurrents that Adam will need to navigate to get his idea off the ground and these include Catholic capitalists, Jewish bureaucrats and Muslim gangsters. This quickly becomes a comedy about spirituality, ideology, and survival.

 

Arab Christians that live in Israel are a vanishing minority within a minority in Israel and the Middle East. Adam’s wife Lamia is a strong, beautiful and progressive Arab woman, who runs a foundation for women’s rights.

This is a very Israeli story that is told from the Arab point of view and it is a lot of fun. There is a lot of heart in the film. Adam tries to find his entrepreneurial calling but he has no luck until, he gets the idea to bottle the air and sell it to Israel’s tourists. Both the beginning and the ending of the movie are about traffic jams (and if you have ever been to Israel, you know what that means).

Lamia is a social worker and advocate who speaks on local TV about female sexuality with fervent, male-crew-flustering directness and she is successful while Adam seems to fail at everything he does. He feels no connection to the business he started with his go-getter partner, Mahmoud (Byan Anteer), who has long since left behind the leftist ideals of their student days. Without telling his wife or parents, Adam quits his job hoping to find something more fulfilling and inspiration in the form of bottled air soon hits him. He overheard the spiel of holy-site tour-meister Roberto (Shmulik Calderon) about Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary and Adam is soon busy climbing the rocky slope of Mount Precipice, where he “fills” handcrafted bottles from his father’s shuttered workshop with the blessed air.

With his facility for language, not to mention a consumer-friendly price point — “Only one euro!” — Adam finds his light-as-air answer to holy water selling like crazy and to the point where the local crime boss tries to squeeze him for protection money. Anticipating a surge in business during the pope’s upcoming visit, he sets out to forge a coalition with Nazareth’s Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders.

The idea of “selling air” reflects the lengths to which many go to earn a living. Throughout the film we sense a quest for balance and a sense of being caught between uncontrollable forces, in the characters’ predicaments.

George (Tarik Kopty), Adam’s father, is an old man with a beautiful face and a poet’s soul, and he burns brighter as a character the frailer he grows physically. Action with feeling come together as they do when, Adam and Lamia join forces with Adam’s mother, Widad (Dalia Okal), to quiet George’s squeak hospital bed, using cooking oil from Widad’s kitchen.

Quite basically this is memorable and confidently imagined human comedy.

“AMNESIA”— Memory Loss and Music

 

“Amnesia”

Memory Loss and Music

Amos Lassen

Martha (Marthe Keller) is a non-Jewish German woman who left Germany shortly before the outbreak of WWII. She is repulsed by the atrocities of the Nazis, never returned. She refuses to speak German, drink German wine or ride in a Volkswagen. “Amnesia” is set in 1990, a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Martha has been settled for many years in Ibiza, where she lives a quiet, lonely life in a small hillside home. This changes when Jo (Max Riemelt) arrives. He is a 25-year-old aspiring DJ from Berlin who’s trying to break into Ibiza’s electronic dance music scene. He rents a house just up the hill from Martha’s, and they meet when he shows up on her doorstep looking for a bandage after he burned his hand. From this point on, Jo and Martha, as unlikely companions as they are, start spending time together, and we watch as they develop a platonic romance. Martha shares a few details of her past, including her own musical background and Jo introduces her to techno music. Jo’s dream is to perform at an Ibiza dance club called Amnesia, an internationally renowned hotspot. At about an hour into the movie, “Amnesia” comes to life, when Jo’s concerned mother (Corinna Kirchhoff) and grandfather (Bruno Ganz) arrive in Ibiza. This forces both Jo and Martha to come to terms with their pasts.

“Amnesia” becomes kind of study in moral responsibility and sociopathic tendencies as we face questions about the human capacity for self-delusion and what some might call evil. We get no answers, however. Barbet Schroeder’s “Amnesia” is appropriately named. Martha and Jo talk at length about Jo’s musicianship, yet we never see him plying his trade The closest the film comes to that is when Jo shows Martha his equipment and teaches her the art of looping, but this scene still fundamentally centers on Martha and her creation of the song she’s producing rather than showcasing Jo’s ostensible musical talent.

We see how Martha and Jo’s friendship and how her wisdom wonderfully complements his casual and seemingly unconscious naïveté. More important than anything else is how Martha wrestles with the past. However Schroeder does not use her memories to bring out audience sympathies, but “to expose how her willful ignorance of the past and her heritage creates contradictions in her overall rational nature”. Martha has lived by an odd, self-imposed code of refusing to ever speak in her native German language. With the visit of Jo’s mother, Elfriede and grandfather her Bruno, the conversation eventually leads to the war, and how Bruno’s remorse over his involvement with the Nazi army forced him to add to his personal history to his family.

The presence of Jo’s family is a means for Martha to reconcile her rejection of her past and it also affects her relationship with Jo. What began as a harmless platonic friendship becomes a union between two compatriots who share a common history, even though those histories were shaped differently. The film then becomes a look at unrequited love and neglected memory. At the heart of the film are inner peace and reconciliation as well as historical memory and its burden. The story is simple, the emotions complex. It takes a while for the true depth of all the complicated, confusing feelings to surface, partly because Martha has done a good job of barricading off who she is.

“EFFECTS”— Making a Snuff Film

 

“EFFECTS”

Making a Snuff Film

Amos Lassen

Joe Pilato stars as a cameraman/special effects artist who is working on a low budget movie in Pittsburgh. He has to deal with some difficult crewmembers but he also finds friendship with one of them, a cute gaffer (Susan Chapek). One night after some casual drug use, the director shows Joe what he believes to be a snuff film, and it totally upsets him. Yet, t he soon finds himself in the middle of snuff moviemakers in which he turns out to be the unwitting star of the picture.

Today (2017) there are still plenty of people who think that there’s still an underground film industry that caters to those who want to see real murders presented on film or video. The frenzy surrounding this urban legend began with rumors of the Manson Family shooting 8mm home movies of ritual murders on the Spahn Ranch and it is from this that this film came into being. It becomes apparent that a crew is shooting a documentary about the making of the horror film but in reality they intend to make the ultimate horror film, with real victims, real blood, and real death. Newcomer Dominic, as the cinematographer for the low-budget production, begins to discover the ulterior motive for the shoot and is soon targeted for extermination. (Or was he intended to be the snuff film’s star all along?)

“Effects” is not an easy film to recommend since writer/director Dusty Nelson questions what is real and what is fantasy. Once the film kicks into gear, there are some interesting moments but it is hard to write about them since they would spoil the viewing experience. It has a metaphysical film-within-a-film script throwing confusing viewers several times.

 AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) is a non-profit that preserves the legacy of genre films and is responsible for this Blu-ray release. This is a new 4K scan from the only 35mm theatrical print in existence. 

 Special features include:

  • AFTER EFFECTS documentary with optional commentary track
  • UBU short film
  • BEASTIE short film
  • Archival commentary track with John Harrison, Dusty Nelson, and Pasquale Buba
  • Liner notes by Joseph A. Ziemba of AGFA and Bleeding Skull!

“BORN IN DEIR YASSIN”— The Secrets/No Access

“Born in Deir Yassin”

The Secrets/No Access

Amos Lassen

Deir Yassin is the first Arab village to be conquered in 1948 right after the establishment of the State of Israel. It was then been fenced off when the Israeli government’s Kfar Shaul mental hospital was founded there on it in 1951. “Born in Deir Yassin,” tells the story of the metamorphosis of that piece of land. To receive his mother’s birth records, Dror goes to Kfar Shaul. As he tries to learn about the secrets of his past, the film lets us see and hear conversations with Israeli fighters, members of Lehi and the Irgun that occupied the village, Haganna spies that were sent after them and the Gadna youth that buried the corpses. Through their memories the complete Israeli narrative of the Deir Yassin conquest is exposed.

Director Neta Shoshani shows us the evolution of the village of Deir Yassin. This is not easy to watch— we see a young fellow tied to a tree and set on fire, a woman and an old man shot in back, girls lined up against a wall and shot with a submachine gun and we hear testimonies about the massacre in Deir Yassin. Even though it is now seventy years later, it is difficult to process what we see and hear here. There is a letter, a document in Israel’s archives that is meant to commemorate the heritage of Lehi who were the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel pre-state underground militia. It was written by a member of the underground about 70 years ago. Reading it could reopen the secret of Deir Yassin.

“Last Friday together with Etzel” – the acronym for the National Military Organization, also known as the Irgun, another pre-state underground militia, led by Menachem Begin – “our movement carried out a tremendous operation to occupy the Arab village on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road – Deir Yassin. I participated in this operation in the most active way,” wrote Yehuda Feder, whose nom de guerre in Lehi (also known as the Stern Gang) was “Giora.” Giora wrote, “This was the first time in my life that at my hands and before my eyes Arabs fell. In the village I killed an armed Arab man and two Arab girls of 16 or 17 who were helping the Arab who was shooting. I stood them against a wall and blasted them with two rounds from the Tommy gun”. Along with that, he tells about looting in the village with his buddies after it was occupied. “We confiscated a lot of money and silver and gold jewelry fell into our hands,” he wrote. He concludes the letter with the words: “This was a really tremendous operation and it is with reason that the left is vilifying us again.”

This letter is one of the historical documents that we learn of in this film and in it is the story of what happened at Deir Yassin. Director Shoshani did extensive research to make this film and in interviewing last living participants in what took place there, the silence surrounding those events was broken for the first time in front of a camera.

The assault on the village of Deir Yassin began on the morning of April 9, 1948, as part of Operation Nachshon to break through the blockaded road to Jerusalem, with the participation of about 130 Lehi and Irgun fighters who received aid from the Haganna – the pre-independence army. The fighters encountered stiff resistance and sniper fire and advanced slowly through the village lanes while throwing grenades and blowing up houses. Four of the fighters were killed and dozens were wounded. The number of Arab inhabitants who were killed there and the circumstances of their deaths have been disputed for many years, but most researchers state that 110 inhabitants of the village, among them women, children and elderly people, were killed there.

 

Yehoshua Zettler, the Jerusalem commander of Lehi and of the Deir Yassin operation describes the Arabs who were fleeing from their homes as cats running to save their lives. He, however, denied that his people carried out a massacre in the village but he spared no words to describe the way its inhabitants were killed. Zettler also provided a harsh account of the burning of the bodies of those who were killed, after the village was occupied. Another harsh account comes from Prof. Mordechai Gichon, a lieutenant colonel in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, who was a Haganna intelligence officer sent to Deir Yassin when the battle ended. “Coming into a civilian locale and dead people are scattered around in it [– then] it looks like a pogrom. When the Cossacks burst into Jewish neighborhoods, then that should have looked something like this.” He further adds, “There was a feeling of considerable slaughter and it was hard for me to explain it to myself as having been done in self-defense. My impression was more of a massacre than anything else. If it is a matter of killing innocent civilians, then it can be called a massacre.”

Yair Tsaban, a former government minister, tells us that after the massacre, in which he did not participate, he was sent with fellow members of the Youth Brigades to bury the corpses of the dead. “The rationale was that the Red Cross was liable to show up at any moment and it was necessary to blur the traces [of the killings] because publication of pictures and testimonies about what had happened in the village would be very damaging to the image of our War of Independence”. In just a few hours of fighting, the town ceased to exist.

The massacre at Deir Yassin had many repercussions. The Jewish Agency, the chief rabbis and the heads of the Haganna condemned it. The left used it to denounce the right. Abroad, it was compared to the crimes of the Nazis. “Deir Yassin had a profound demographic and political effect: It was followed by mass flight of Arabs from their locales.”

Shraga Peled, 91, who at the time of the massacre was in the Haganna Information Service told Shoshani that after the battle he was sent to the village with a camera to document what he saw there. “When I got to Deir Yassin, the first thing I saw was a big tree to which a young Arab fellow was tied. And this tree was burnt in a fire. They had tied him to it and burned him. I photographed that,” he related. He also claims he photographed from afar what looked like a few dozen other corpses collected in a quarry adjacent to the village. He handed the film over to his superiors, he says, and since then he has not seen the photos. This is possibly because the photos are part of the visual material that is hidden to this day in the Archive of the IDF and the Defense Ministry, of which the state is prohibiting publication even 70 years after the fact. Shoshani petitioned the High Court of Justice about this a decade ago and the state explained that publication of the pictures was liable to damage the state’s foreign relations and the “respect for the dead.” In 2010, after viewing the pictures, the Supreme Court justices rejected the petition, leaving the material far from the public eye. In the meantime Shoshani managed to get hold of some other photos connected to the massacre, among them a series of pictures documenting orphaned children whose parents had been killed at Deir Yassin.

Deir Yassin massacre was not a battle against fighters but rather the sudden occupation of a village, in confrontation with inhabitants who defended their homes with meager means. There were also cases, apparently isolated, of mowing down inhabitants, ‘executions,’ after the fighting was over, for the purpose of deterrence and out of fear.

The Deir Yassin massacre was the first of a number of incidents in which Jewish fighters were involved in killing civilians in the War of Independence and after it was over.

West Bank murder: Leaders fail to address nature of settler violence