Category Archives: Jewish and Gay— Movies

”The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats” by Allen Ginsberg— The Creation of a Course

Ginsberg, Allen. ”The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats”, Grove Press, 2017.

The Creation of a Course

Amos Lassen

In 1977 some twenty years after he published his landmark poem “Howl,” and Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road” hit the stores, Allen Ginsberg decided it was time to teach a course on the literary history of the Beat Generation. After creating the course, he taught it five times and through it he was given the chance to present the history of Beat Literature in his own way. Now compiled and edited by Beat scholar Bill Morgan, and with an introduction by Anne Waldman, “The Best Minds of My Generation” gives us edited lectures with their notes. We also get a look at the Beats as Ginsberg knew them as friends, confidantes, literary mentors, and fellow revolutionaries.

Ginsberg was responsible to the creation of a public perception of Beat writers and he knew all of the major figures personally. This made him uniquely qualified to be the historian of the movement. In this book, he shares stories of meeting Kerouac, Burroughs, and other writers for the first time and he explains his own way the importance of music to Beat writing. He discusses visual influences and the cut-up method, and introduces us to the group who led a literary revolution. This is a personal and critical look at one of the most important literary movements of the twentieth century.

Like many liberal arts courses getting to the end of the information that needs to be presented in the time allowed for the class rarely happens. The overwhelming amount of information is a limiting factor and different areas tend to be given more attention than others. By putting the course into book format, the information is preserved in detail and the reader is free to take in the information in any order..

Ginsberg insists that it was Kerouac who led the Beats and he is given the biggest section of the book. Ginsberg analyzes several books and gives first-hand information on Kerouac’s life and writing experience. Most of Kerouac’s books are at least semi-autobiographical and Ginsberg gives the behind scene look. William S. Burroughs is covered next and part of this section are Burroughs letters to Ginsberg while he was in South America. Ginsberg explains Burroughs cut-up style including the theory behind it. The idea is that we are presented with information in such a way to hide the real message. The cut-up reveals the true method. The idea was that you could take a speech, cut it up, rearrange the pieces, and find the true meaning.

William Carlos Williams had a great influence on Ginsberg and is praised throughout the book, Gregory Corso, Hubert Huncke, John Clellon Holmes, Carl Solomon, Peter Orlovsky, and of course Neal Cassady all have small sections of the book. Ginsberg does include himself and it is informative and very humble. As the central figure and historian of Beats, Ginsberg plays the role of the narrator rather than a major player. The introduction is by Anne Waldman poet and a member of the Outrider experimental poetry community and she provides and excellent introduction. “The Best Minds of My Generation” provides a detailed examination of the beat movement and its members. Small chapters with descriptive titles let the reader pick and choose their interests if they do not want to read the book cover to cover.

It is fascinating to read Ginsberg explaining his own development as a writer. We so often read about his literary influences and it is here that he gives concrete examples of the importance of William Carlos Williams throughout the book, and later of Christopher Smart. His description of his own transition from polished poems in a classical style to “Howl” is wonderful. So many critics seem to think of the Beat writers as wild, unrestrained, or even untalented artists but what we see here is that their mastery is quite clear. Ginsberg chose to use a particular piece of work and take it apart to explain why it works. He picks works from across each writer’s career to show development and change, and he sets it all within the literary historical framework, showing where each piece of work originated. This is what makes the book more than not just a valuable reference book for scholars. It is, in fact, a very readable text.

“FAMILY COMMITMENTS”— A Comedy Farce

“Family Commitments” (“Familie verpflichtet”)

A Comedy Farce

Amos Lassen

David (Maximillian von Pufendorf) and Khaled (Omar El-Saeidi)are a happy gay couple who want to get married to each other in a public wedding ceremony. There are t problems— Aledressi (Ramin Yazdani), Khaled’s homophobic father and David’s pseudo orthodox Jewish acting mother Lea (Maren Kroyman) as well as a possible paternity and gallery insolvency.

While it may not yet sound like it, this is a classic comedy farce. The characters are totally exaggerated, everyone is lying to everyone else. David is flamboyant, obviously gay, and Jewish. Khaled isn’t flamboyant, isn’t obviously gay, and isn’t Jewish. He is a quiet gym teacher who has to pass his final exam in order to become certified. He loves David as much as David loves him, but he can’t come out because of his father.

While Aledressi may be homophobic, but he isn’t anti-Semitic. He reminds us that Jews have lived together peacefully with Muslims for centuries. David’s mother isn’t homophobic, but she’s prejudiced against Muslims.

There is a very large a huge supporting cast, including Khaled’s heterosexual female principal, Khaled’s hostile aunt, and a blocked artist living in the attic of David’s art gallery. There’s also Sarah (Franziska Brandmeier) a young Jewish art student who is pregnant with David’s child. This is a fun movie that requires nothing but a good mood—one you will surely have after the film is over.

“The Doorposts of Your House and on Your Gates: A Novel” by Joseph Bacharach— A Fable for Our Times

Bacharach, Joseph. “The Doorposts of Your House and on Your Gates: A Novel”, Liveright, 2017.

A Fable for Our Times

Amos Lassen

I imagine that by now everyone understands that our Biblical ancestors were indeed members of dysfunctional families and in many cases they were the cause of the dysfunction. Abraham leads the pack as an unworthy and unacceptable father figure but he is really all we have (or at least know about). We ask questions abut the patriarchs and the matriarchs and their offspring knowing that these are existential questions that cannot be answered. Now imagine taking those stories and those characters and taking them out of their Biblical locations and contexts and moving them to modern day Manhattan. Joseph Bacharach takes those wonderful Bible stories and moves the ancestors into the modern world which is about as crazy as Canaan, Ur, etc. were.

Isabel Giordani (now that is a Jewish name for you) runs away from New York City and a failed relationship and goes to Pittsburgh to take a job at a nonprofit (that is not doing well) Future Cities Institute and she pushes herself into the aimless lives of Isaac Mayer and his father, Abbie, an architect turned crooked real estate developer. We understand that Abbie says that he has had a vision that was unexpected but that he decided to pursue. This very vision gets Abbie’s family involved in

the political and familial machinations of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. It is through this that writer Bacharach looks at those regular and troublesome themes of the perpetually fraught themes of love, family, God, and real estate (This is obviously not about that real estate spoken of in the Bible and for which we are looking for the deed). Now most of you have probably been able to guess where I am going with this and that it is sure to be irreverent. What you do not expect is the tenderness we find here and it surprised me too when I actually wept instead of blaspheming. This is a profane yet wise, funny yet tragic, sacred yet unholy look at who we are (and I loved it).

I love that we get all kinds of Jews (both straight and gay and maybe others as well) here and we meet Pennsylvania thugs (mostly straight) as we read of the aforementioned themes. Now I had to wonder how and why Abbie left Manhattan for Pittsburgh. It seems to have had something to do with Abbie’s wide, Sarah (notice the names) learning that her husband’s girlfriend was pregnant with his child. Sarah thought it would be good to get Abbie out of the city and move to Pittsburg near where his sister, Veronica lives. Abbie gets into the construction business and is soon working with shady characters on corrupt deals.

It was not until some 30 years later that Isobel comes to the area and she decides to look for Abbie after having been doing her own personal research on him for years. She works her way into the family through Isaac and we become aware that both Sarah and Abbie have secrets. (Now I ask you, what kind of Jew has secrets?).

Some may think this book to be strange; I found it lovingly weird and most of you know that I love my Bible stories. I enjoy satire and sarcasm when done correctly and while it does not always work here, it does most of the time. If we can have a little fun at the expense of religion than it is all good. It should be tasteful which it is not here but a could read, and this is, I can overlook mistakes and failure (although those are not the correct words). It is the originality and prose of the author that drew me in and after having read just one of his books, I am a fan. He manages to combine intellectuality, wit, lyricism, sarcasm and satire with his knowledge of the Bible to give us this read. I have read a lot of Biblical satires and so far the only that comes close to Bacharach is Edward Falzon. I am not here to advertise him but feel read to read my review of his book here.

This is not a book that everyone will like—it helps that the reader is also a bit weird but if you can let yourself go and read just for pleasure, I think you will understand what I have been trying to say.

“THE KIND WORDS”— A NEW DRAMEDY FROM ISRAEL

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“The Kind Words”

A New “Dramedy” from Israel

Amos Lassen

When her mother (Levana Finklestein) is admitted into hospital for an operation in Tel Aviv, Dorona (Rotem Zisman-Cohen) and her two brothers rush to be with her. As they deal with their mother’s condition, the siblings put aside what is happening in their own lives. Dorona does not want to stay married to Ricki (Tsahi Halevy) her patient husband who has stayed by her after she has suffered several miscarriages. Netanel (Roy Assaf), her oldest brother has become very religious since marrying his Orthodox American wife. Then there is Shai (Assaf Ben Shimon). He is openly bisexual and dealing with the fact that his son is in Hungary and his brother’s disapproval of his lifestyle.

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But then the three learn that the man they that thought had been their father was not and this is only known to them after their mother dies. Three siblings discover a shocking truth about their parentage after their mother dies. in Israeli director Shemi Zarhin directed this comedy-drama in which secrets from the deep past come to light after a mother’s death and these cause tension as well as bring reconciliation to a family. Zarhin explores family dynamics with insight but unfortunately the film’s terms of reference are so insistently Israeli that many from outside the country might have a hard time with it.

It is basically a film about a sister and two brothers who are superficially very different from each other yet who pull together to solve a mystery and earn something about themselves in the process Homophobic Netanel can’t accept that his brother’s bisexuality but it isn’t a problem for their Algerian-born mother or their father (Sasson Gabai). As it happens, all three kids, especially Dorona, are too busy fuming about their dad having left their mother for a much younger woman to snipe at each other much.

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All that fussing and feuding between the siblings is put into perspective when the mother dies suddenly from cancer. Her three children come together to mourn but then the father drops a truth bomb on them: He’s just found out, because his new wife wants children, that he is totally infertile and never could have fathered the three of them. This sets them off on a quest that takes them first to Paris to see their aunt and then on to Marseilles in search of the man who may or may not be their biological father.

Ricki tags along too and this turns out to be quite an advantage  as his calm demeanor and logic often saves the day when the siblings anger manifests a bit too frequently.  Their father also turns up— he would like some answers also, but they are determined to shut him out and not allow him to be part of it. 

The actors are quite good. Zissman Cohen is excellent as she tries to cover up her heartbreak over her infertility and her mother’s death with a toughness she doesn’t really feel.

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Roy Assaf has a good comic turn as the religious Netanel. Levana Finkelstein, as the mother, is her usual excellent self. Tsahi Halevi as Dorona’s husband Ricki has little to do here but look good while Dorona pushes him away, and he manages very nicely. It is a bit hard to understand how Dorona could just toss him off when he is so kind and good-looking.

Unfortunately, once again, is the fact that there are no real surprises and we never really understand why the secret means so much to the three siblings.

“BLUSH”— Feeling the Pressure

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“Blush” (“Barash”)

Feeling the Pressure

Amos Lassen

Naama Barash (Sivan Noam Shimon) isn’t like other 17-year-old Israeli girls. She likes alcohol and uses drugs and hangs out with others who do the same. She does this to escape from her home where her parents constantly fight and her sister, who is in the Israeli Defense Forces, has disappeared. When, Dana Hershko (Jade Sakori), a new girl shows up at her school, Barash falls in love with her and the relationship is so intense that it confuses her but it also gives meaning to her life.

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The first feature-length film by Israeli director Michal Vinik is about Israel’s alienated youth. Barash feels the pressure of her sister’s disappearance and her parents’ fighting so she was ripe for a new person entering her life. At first this intensity confuses her.

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We follow Naama as she befriends Dana, who introduces her to recreational drug use, hitchhiking, Tel Aviv nightclubs and lesbian sex. Naama eagerly soaks up and enjoys these new experiences her school friend has to offer and not surprisingly falls head over heels for Dana, who, ends up dumping her after breaking her heart and triggering painful but necessary emotional growth, self-awareness, and the issues that are part of coming-of-age.

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The sex scene between Naama and Dana, stopping short of total explicitness, but probably as graphic as it gets for an Israeli film. It is an exploration of teenage desire that is tries very hard to convey the emotions of the two female characters.

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Clueless, prejudiced Gideon (Dvir Benedek) gives us a look at his paranoia and mistrust towards Arabs, and a hint of hope in the generational differences in Israel. In fact, Israeli-Palestinian tensions deepen and complicate the more familiar coming-out subject of the film.

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Naama’s early signs of non-conformity (like the serpentine tattoo on her shoulder ) are kept neatly concealed from authority figures at home and at her school, where students are ironically drilled to salute their country’s independence while being afforded none of their own. Naama’s infatuation may not be wholly reciprocated, but emerges as an expression of self. Naama did not dare to come out to her parents. There is also unexpected comedy in the film. This is basically a film about doing what you can, sometimes inelegantly, to make yourself heard.

“FAMILY COMMITMENTS”— A Happy Gay Couple/ A Mixed Marriage

family poster

“FAMILY COMMITMENTS”

A Happy Gay Couple/ A Mixed Marriage

Amos Lassen

Director Hanno Olderdissen brings us a new German comedy about a great taboo— mixed marriage between an Orthodox Jew and a Muslim. Happy gay couple gallery owner David (Max von Pufendorf ) and high school coach Khaled (Omar El – Saeidi) would love to marry publicly.

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However there is a problem– Khaled’s Arab family (especially his homophobic father Aledrissi [Ramin Yazdani]) and David’s pseudo orthodox Jewish acting mother Lea (Maren Kroymann). But that’s not all— suddenly the pregnant Sarah (Franziska Brandmeier) arrives on their doorstep claiming that her child was David’s, (the result of a night partying in Berlin) and everything goes out of control. Misunderstandings, outing fears, a possible paternity and a gallery insolvency drive these contradictory families into an emotional chaos and beyond their borders and we laugh all the way through.

“MX. ENIGMA”— Complex, Mysterious and Interesting

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“Mx. Enigma”

Complex, Mysterious and Interesting

Amos Lassen

Director Je’Jae Daniels “Mx Enigma” explores the intersection between his Orthodox Jewish background and his gender identity, and how one suppresses the other in this documentary.

Daniels explains the title in this way— “Enigma means complex, mysterious, and interesting. Together I am embracing my identity and telling myself it’s ok to be certain with the uncertain, which became my artist name as well and a message to all people regardless of gender.”

‘Mx. Enigma’ is one of the films produced at the Reel Works Lab, an intensive 20-week, after-school workshop that matches teens one-on-one with professional filmmaker-mentors to create short documentaries about their lives and communities. Reel Works, production company partner of HBO, provides free filmmaking programs for NYC Youth. Je’Jae (Jay) Daniels’ uses the pronouns they/them to say that he has more than one identity. The short documentary about their gender identity will be broadcasted soon on HBO Live. It deals with the way

how gay men’s natural attractions to each other can be considered a sin by the community that one was born into. “I made it as part of my graduation project at The Met Film School,” Brenner explains. “I chose the topic because it is a subject very close to my heart and I wanted to investigate how people like me felt within our communities.” “I wanted to gain an insight into what people like me felt and also people that had a negative view on the way we were naturally born,” he adds.

Brenner interviews his own and asks her whether she always knew that he was gay. He also interviews other Jewish LGBT people who, like him, don’t want to give up either of the two worlds they belong to, worlds that some would say contradict each other.

“MARZIPAN FLOWERS”— Putting Life Together

marzipan poster

“Marzipan Flowers”

Putting Life Together

Amos Lassen

“Marzipan Flowers” is the story of Hadas Regal (Nuli Omer), a 48-year-old woman living in Israel. After her husband is killed in a freakish motorcycle accident, Regal finds herself under intense scrutiny from her fellow kibbutz members, who seem threatened by her new status as a widow who is a real beauty.

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Hadas is lost and vulnerable. She moves to Tel-Aviv where she picks up her life to where it was before she got married. She looks for the daughter she gave up for adoption when she was a teen.

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With the unexpected help from her roommate Petel (Tal Kallai) a transgender woman with a mysterious and colorful past, Hadas finds the strength to put her life together. The three women find friendship and support and discover that they have more in common than they would have guessed.

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Winner of the Best Independent film at 2014 Jerusalem film festival and nominated for an Israeli Academy Award, “Marzipan Flowers” is a unique and highly original piece of film making. It is the a story of a strong trans woman and we see her in a positive light even when her behavior is less than admirable.

“WHO’S GONNA LOVE ME NOW?”— Where Life Takes Us

who poster

“Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?”

Where Life Takes Us

Amos Lassen

I have often reviewed films about the Israeli directors Tomer and Barak Heymann and they never disappoint. Their newest is about a subject that is quite close to me and I understand it is knocking them everywhere it has been shown.

Saar Maoz is a gay man from a religious family in Israel who after being kicked out of his conservative kibbutz because of his sexual orientation, goes to London where he enjoys a gay lifestyle that was denied to him in Israel. He lives the dream, but wakes up to discover a nightmare —he has contracted HIV. When he breaks the news to his family, they struggle with fears and prejudices. Saar is lucky to have the support and warmth of his surrogate brothers, the London Gay Men’s Chorus, he begins a reconciliation process with his biological family in Israel.

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Saar finds himself between the two worlds and he knows he must make a decision—should he go home to Israel and back to his family or stay in London and live away from them forever? It is quite a difficult choice especially when we learn that Saar has never fulfilled his parents’ expectations. Ever since he defied the rules of his kibbutz and was barred from the settlement community seventeen years ago, he does not exist in his family’s eyes. After he left Israel to live freely as a gay man in London, he was in a three-year relationship but when that ended, he threw himself into an excess of sex and drugs. When he was HIV positive, he was forced to rethink his life. He finally found a home singing in the London Gay Men’s Chorus where music is giving him the courage for a reunion with his family.

This is a sensitive, humorous and charming record of how the now forty-year-old protagonist and his estranged parents and siblings set off to confront their disagreements and fears. My story is similar to a degree. I did not leave my family because I had to, I left to start a life in Israel and thinking that I had said goodbye to America forever. My father and I never got along but I knew that I would never see either of my parents again and until one goes through that, it is impossible to describe what kind of feeling it is. And I never saw them again. When I returned to the States, they were both gone.

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Saar, on the other hand, felt rejection and that is really hard to forgive. To return to Israel would be a challenge. What Saar experienced has a good deal to say about the communal way of life that is very much into culture and religion, although I lived communally as an open gay male and really had no trouble. I found Saar to be inspiring in that he left what he knew to go to a place he did not know in order to life openly. In that, his search for his identity was much like mine with the exception that I went to Israel when the state was not yet 15 years old with the idea that I was going to help build a nation.

At age 40, it is difficult to be separated from family regardless of reasons. Yes, youth might be wasted on the young but if we would stop to think that when we were young that was the case, we probably would have acted differently. Now Saar’s parents want him to come back but he has eschewed Orthodox Judaism and his friends in the chorus are helping him deal with his HIV status. This is such a personal movie and that is exactly the reason it must be seen.

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Saar’s mother weeps for her son’s future, while his father asks rather stoically, “can’t you just take a pill for this?” or “why don’t you just call it the ‘men’s chorus’?” Here we have the story of a troubled man facing middle age whose strict father trains paratroopers, whose tearful Jewish mother loves her son and whose uncomprehending siblings have their own families. We become very aware of both the guilt and the introspection that Saar has to deal with and, in effect, that is the theme of the film.

Then in the movie there are cutaways to motivational songs performed by a hundred cheerful gay voices lifting us occasionally from the depression we feel about Saar’s family. The songs and music also lend passionate expression to the film’s message.
who1The film was shot over several years and dwells on the power of forgiveness and the power that home has, no matter how far away we go. Saar comes across as a nice guy who says he has HIV because he binged with sex and drugs after his breakup with his partner. He works at an Apple store yet always there in front him and us is his religious family. We learn that he was forced out of the kibbutz where he grew up and this is still a source of embarrassment for his family. He has been in London for nearly 20 years. His mother cries for her son’s future and his father is strict about his son. Saar finds love singing in the chorus as I sit and watch the movie and weep with his mother.

This is not just the story of a gay man at odds with his family and the expectations of society especially in Israel which grants the same freedoms to gays as it does to the rest of the country (although it was not that way for a good part of the time that I lived there). But then, Saar’s brother is quite upset that Saar is sick and that disease affects the standing of the family.

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This is an intimate film at times but it has to be because it is about feelings and it gets us to share our feelings as well. Take my word for it, this is a film that you must find a way to see.

“LOST IN THE WHITE CITY”—A Love Triangle in Tel Aviv

Lost in white city

“Lost in the White City”

A Love Triangle in Tel Aviv

Amos Lassen

“Lost In The White City” is the story of a love triangle set in the hot political climate of modern Tel Aviv. A young straight couple goes on a winter vacation to Tel Aviv in the hopes that it will be a change to use their creativity. Eva (Haley Bennett) writes poetry and goes to parties with friends while Kyle (Thomas Dekker) works on a film about his confused sexuality with a young Israeli ex-soldier, Avi (Bob Morley) who draws him deeper into the couple’s complex relationship.

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As I watched the beginning of the film I had the feeling that I had seen all of this before but as the film moved forward, I realized that this was something brand new. I also realized that there is something very special about this film and I was soon totally wrapped up in it.

Eva and Kyle understood that their relationship was in trouble and that perhaps this visit to Tel Aviv might just change things as well as make them more creative in what they do. They soon become caught up in the nightlife as Kyle realizes that there are great opportunities to make a film in Tel Aviv. Each works on his artistic projects and we seldom see then together except when they are in the apartment. At a party they meet Avi who has recently finished his stint in the Israel Defense Forces and is trying his luck as an actor.

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There seems to be a sense of attraction between Eva and Avi but nothing really comes out of that at first. However, Kyle is soon infatuated with Avi who is a bit mysterious. He makes Avi the focus of his next film. Avi does not realize that Kyle is sexually attracted to him and so he continues working with him on the film.

We do not know if Avi feels the same about Kyle and the viewer is left to decide that for him/herself. However as Eva and Avi become involve, there are problems when Kyle catches them together. Kyle forgives them and Avi agrees to go to Berlin with them in order to finish the film. We see them together with a couple of other friends and all seem to be enjoying themselves. We also realize that something has happened when we see an abandoned backpack.

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If I had seen something about this film on the TLA website, I would never have known about it and that is too bad. It is a reflection of the youth of today and where they are in terms of culture and society. We also see something about the Middle East from a different perspective and minus the Israel/Palestine conflict. However, above all, what we really see is young people doing and loving what they want. The acting is excellent all around.

As Kyle, Dekker’s portrayal of the crass and impulsive American is one of the highlights of the film. There is a fourth star here— the city of Tel Aviv and its nightlife and having lived there I can tell you that it is accurately portrayed. We see Tel Aviv as a city like others and here we do not see the war zone that we so often seen in the media.

As the film opens, we see that there is trouble in Kyle and Eva’s relationship. Soon they are swept into a precarious and intriguing Israeli environment where menace, seduction and danger meet a sultry awareness of each other’s more preferred sexual choices. There is a wonderful scene where Avi leads Kyle to a bombed out nightclub on the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Kyle shoots Avi naked in a semi-erotic pose for his avant-garde film. Here we immediately sense the sexual tension between Kyle and Avi and it is otherwise often masked by aggression and heavy drinking, as the two men hit the Tel Aviv nightclub scene.

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Meanwhle, Eva, while browsing through a suburban bookshop, meets Israeli-American writer Liam, (Nony Geffen), who is the complete antithesis of the reckless and noncaring Kyle. Liam introduces Eva to a more sophisticated world of the intelligensia, book launches and parties on yachts. The filmmakers cleverly link Kyle and Eva’s journeys of self-discovery and their crumbling relationship to Tel Aviv’s disturbing sense of danger becauase of omnipresent potential for violence and suicide bombings.

Israeli cinematographer Shahar Reznik gives us Tel Aviv in a sumptuous glare of sunlight, contrasting with the night sequences which are filled with glamour, drugs and decadence. Viewers get the sense of the city being constantly under threat while its citizens dance the night away in hedonism.

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Beautifully filmed and definitely aimed at a more open-minded audience, the film explores the dangers of summer romances, sexuality and unrequited dreams. 

The film is co-directed by Tanner King Barklow and Gil Kofman and it is a fascinating film about a straight couple’s relationship which disintegrates during a Mediterranean summer in Tel Aviv.

 

“Lost in the White City” will be exclusively available to stream on FlixFling — https://www.flixfling.com/