Monthly Archives: January 2015

“QUEEN AND COUNTRY”— Aspirations and Realities

queen and country poster

“Queen and Country”

Aspirations and Realities

Amos Lassen

In “Hope and Glory”, John Boorman gave us a fictionalized look at his childhood as he experiences life through the London Blitz. In “Queen and Country”, he returns to the story some ten years later (1951). We meet Bill Rowan (Callum Turner) who has just turned 18 and eligible to be drafted for two years of national service. Set just six years after VE Day, the mood in the country has changed and with the trouble in Korea seeming not nearly as serious as possibility of bombing during World War II.

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Most of the film takes place at the training camp for new recruits not far from London. Bill becomes friends with Percy (Caleb Landry-Jones), an anarchist who does not get along well with his commanding officer, Sergeant-Major Bradley (David Thewlis). Bill lusts for a mysterious girl who manages to change the boy we meet in the beginning of the film into a man by the film’s end. Percy and Bill were not sent to Korea— they were left behind as officers in charge of the typing corps. On one of their nights off, Bill meets an older woman, Ophelia (Tamsin Edgerton), and soon enough becomes infatuated with her. With love on his mind as well as the war, Bill is forced to decide where his allegiances really lie.

We get a real sense of post-War London and in the barracks where we see an army repairing itself after the devastations of previous years. The movie does give us a look at how the middle-class lived in London at the time as it moves toward the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, the end of Empire and a change in moral values. Because Boorman knows this world so intimately, we really see and feel what it was like.

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Boorman evokes a world he knows intimately with skill and affection, turning out an immaculately crafted film with an old-fashioned feel and sense of values. However, if we compare this to “Hope and Glory”, we see what worked so well in that film does not do the same in “Queen and Country”. It is certainly not easy to bring comedy and war together but in this Boorman has succeeded. We especially see this as Bill and Percy spend their days toiling under the watchful eye of Bradley teaching new recruits how to type. They don’t take their work or the military particularly seriously so when the opportunity arises to cause some trouble, Percy does. In this way Boorman is able to balance some of the more difficult sides of war with drama and comedy.

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Landry Jones is excellent as great as Percy, the wise ass who always seems to be the instigator. He works wonderfully with Callum, the young man narrating the tale. What we ultimately get is a different approach to war and a reminder of some of the great war movies of the past. If I had a problem with the film and this is not really a problem but it is as if director Boorman expected us to be familiar with the events and characters of “Hope & Glory” (which is already 26 years old). There are some references to what happened in the earlier film.

“Queen and Country” opens in New York on Wednesday, February 18 and in Los Angeles on Friday, February 27, 2015.

“DISORDER”— China Today

disorder

“DISORDER”

China Today

Amos Lassen

Huang Weikai’s film “Disorder” is a documentary that looks at the anarchy, violence, and seething anxiety in China’s major cities today. It could not be shown in China because the government controls television and it has become aligned with the emerging underground media in the Far East.

The film is a collection of footage from amateur photographers and he then brings them together into a symphony of “urban decay”.  To give you an idea of what we see here there are photos of a man dancing in the middle of traffic, another man attempts to jump from a bridge before dozens of onlookers; pigs run wild on a highway while dignitaries swim in a polluted river. The overall result is a film that gives us the upheaval in China from the very bottom level. We see disorder portrayed symphonically and while nothing seems to be linked together, we soon realize that it is. We see a water main that causes a big leak and disturbs traffic downtown but more surprising is that the people use this as an excuse to wash their cars and then the film switches to a man who claims to be hurt in a car accident and when he is offered money by motorists, the police appear and drag him off. Is there something in common between these two scenes or are they just representative of what is going on in Chinese cities. We see the lack of identification with life when a man gets ready to jump from a bridge because his legal situation has been stalled in the courts and then we see pedestrians walking across a busy highway and at the same time risking their lives. These are examples of the disorder that exists in a country that leads the world in manufacturing. What the movie presents to us is everyday life gone amok—a civilization that has lost control of itself and where it is heading. It is both effective and surreal at the same time. The footage is in black and white and because it is somewhat grainy, we sense the hopelessness that is felt in this documentary that focuses on realism. There is no narration and it becomes the viewer’s job to assimilate all that is seen into a portrait of life that has lost its direction. This is the chaos of rapidly industrialized China and it is raw and terrifying.

“NIGHT AND FOG”— A Profound Look at a World that Was

night and fog

“Night and Fog” (“Nuit et brouillard”)

A Profound Look at a World that Was

Amos Lassen

 “Even a peaceful landscape, even a meadow in harvest, with crows circling overhead and grass fires, even a road where cars and peasants and couples pass, even a resort village, with a steeple and a country fair… can lead to a concentration camp.”

Night and fog are simple natural phenomena of nature yet they also have the ability to cause anxieties. When a setting is unfamiliar, we are doubtful about darkness and what it covers just as we are fearful of what might emerge from the fog. We seek shelter because shelter provides for us and we wait for the light so we can see what is around us. When the night ends and the fog is lifted we can begin again to live. “Night and Fog” is the perfect title for this short (31 minutes) documentary that is

a collaborative effort by director Alain Resnais, writer Jean Cayrol and musical composer Hanns Eisler. The terms night and fog pertain to a specific reference within the film, and also connects to a collection of poems published by Cayrol based on his experience in a Nazi concentration camp in the early 1940s. But even more essentially, the words sum up in a pair of common words an image, an impression that helps us begin to grasp a reality that, without the evidence we see in this film, we would be unable to grasp what happened in Europe under the reign of Hitler.

The film was made just ten years after Nazi Germany was defeated and the concentration camps were liberated in Poland and in Eastern Europe, Alain Resnais and his colleagues brought us this film and it is among the earliest, and still among the most profound, reflections on the significance of the horrors suffered by those condemned to live and die there. What makes this film more important than others that are actually more in-depth documentaries and dramatizations of the Holocaust is the direct simplicity of its presentation. While it is indeed a documentary, it does not try to explain why the camps were created and it only indirectly gives historical context through images most viewers of its era would find immediately recognizable and that are part of a certain moment in time.

Instead, the impact that this film makes is done by providing a simple sequence of images, juxtaposed between color tracking shots of the abandoned Auschwitz punctuating them with evocative music and calm, somber narration. The text is presented without inflection and drama and occasionally uses slight irony to keep us attentive to the efficiency and determination of the Nazi party as it mechanized mass murder on a scale hither fore unknown to man.

The text, read without dramatic inflection, occasionally ventures into mild irony in order to draw our attention to the ghastly efficiency and premeditation that went into the Nazi mechanization of mass murder on an unprecedented scale. This is the emphasis here and it emphasizes something even deeper and even more disturbing than the tragedy that took place. We know the facts but we seldom discussed them for whatever reasons. Yet Resnais managed to film this just ten short years after the world lost much of its Jewish population. Resnais has captured what happened for the generations to come so that we can see and understand that the potential for evil is not singular to the sadistic members of the Nazi party but it also exists in those who comply with evil and in the customs that go to make up the habits and traditions of those who abide by the laws. The images we see are appalling but these are not what cause the emotional feelings that we get—we knew we would see those images. What really gets us that those we lost found the end to their suffering. It is not the atrocities that took place in the camps that upset us even though they sicken us. We feel the miseries they endured. The passivity, the helplessness, the apprehension of what was to come are written on the faces of the victims bother us greatly and we will never forget what we saw. But, I must say that the most powerful footage that we see is in the early scenes of the film that document the preparations that the Nazis took in preparing these camps is what really tore me apart. We see “architects and planners drawing up their blueprints, of wage-laborers grabbing shovels and applying themselves to assigned tasks, of bookkeepers maintaining scrupulous records and the calculated arrangements of barracks, gates, railway lines and multiple layers of fencing” and we see that all was carefully prepared in advance so that the human cargo would be properly managed for maximum benefit and minimal waste within the window of opportunity that history and politics had conspired to open for them.

When we consider that the Nazis spent so much time to survey a problem, to debate possible solutions, to weigh alternatives, to take all matters into consideration and then, with a consensus of sorts being reached, to take action, this is what tells us what evil is.

The opening of the film is totally tranquil yet deceptively so. We see a beautiful landscape but as the camera closes in we see a barbed wire fence and this tells us that there is something else besides beautiful scenery. We see that we are at Auschwitz, one of many concentration camps used by the Nazis to carry out their “final solution”, during which millions of Jews were rounded up and killed. Resnais’s camera explores the area deeply, showing the railroad tracks that carried families to their doom, and the buildings, now abandoned, where many spent their final moments. Everything seems so calm, so peaceful; yet the reality of what transpired here still hangs over the entire area. We have a sweet beginning to mages that will be burned into our memory forever.

We see archival footage of the German war machine and Hitler speaking to the army and scenes of Nuremberg and the trials as well as the shots of Auschwitz. Resnais gives us some of the most shocking images ever presented. Photographs of prisoners crowded into bunks (as many as three or four to a bed) are just the beginning; we see a pile of bodies sprawled across the floor of a railroad car (those who didn’t survive the tortuous journey), then an even larger pile inside a gas chamber. There are close-ups of charred remains, some burned outside, others in the large ovens built expressly for that purpose. This is horror like we have never seen before.

I really believe that the reason that this movie is so powerful is the same reason that Alain Resnais made it—-as a powerful reminder that we must take responsibility for our actions. Whether you call it a documentary, or a cinematic essay, or perhaps even as Truffaut named it, the greatest film ever made, it will serve as a needle to sting our psyches numbed by war. “This is the most powerful sort of film, the kind that is too unbearably intense to watch, yet is too riveting to turn away”.

“MCTUCKY FRIED HIGH”—A New Animated LGBT Web Series

McTuckyFriedHigh

“McTucky Fried High”

A New Animated LGBT Web Series

Amos Lassen

We do not have many  animated LGBT-themed web series so when a new one comes on board, it is exciting. This one comes to us from   filmmaker, illustrator and activist, Robert-Carnilius, (who was named one of NewCity’s Film 50 and was a 2014 Student Academy Awards Finalist. It is also one of twelve projects funded by the Chicago Digital Media Production Fund from Chicago Filmmakers and the Voqal Fund).

Comedy and diversity of characters make up the series but even more than that  this series focuses on issues teens face. Across five episodes, the web series will look at coming out, extreme diets, being genderqueer, bullying, and sexting. The first episode has been released and is about 

 a popular McTucky Fried High football player who comes out as gay. Everyone wants a piece of him while they processes what it means to have an openly gay student.’ Okay, so now you might ask what is so new about this? Well,  the out football player, Henry Fry, is a box of French Fries, while the other characters are food too. It’s a lot of fun and pretty cleverly written.

Each episode will be released bi-montly starting January 26, 2015 on www.McTuckyFriedHigh.com where people can sign up for the Mctucky Bites newsletter for exclusive content and sneak peek privileges.

“OH BOY”— A New Online Mini-Series

oh boy

“Oh Boy”

A New Online Mini-Series

Amos Lassen

Damien Moreau is a porn model/actor/director and he has created a new kind of mini-series that comes to us on a pay-to-view basis. It also happens to be quite bold sexually. “Oh Boy” is described as “focused around the sexuality of men following a loose and subtle narrative featuring occasional reoccurring characters and their personal exploration of sex”. The first episode to be released is “Sébastien”, and I understand that it will be followed by two more. Episodes 4&5 are on hold while Moreau gathers funding.

“Sébastien” is just 20 minutes long and the plot is simple. Sebastien is a dancer/choreographer who after practicing some moves heads out on his bicycle around the city, then returns home, checks his phone messages and decides to masturbate. The film moves porn closer to art and it causes the viewer to consider his own relationship to his sexuality, while also adding eroticism purely because of the voyeuristic in watching someone masturbate.

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Of course there is a back-story that leads to what we see. Sébastien is under pressure to deliver an important piece of choreography and he hopes that he can find inspiration in the city. He is stressed and needs some kind of solitude and relaxation. There is no dialogue and this heightens the sense of loneliness and isolation in the film. Moreau concentrates on the eroticism of everyday life— good-looking people on the street or advertising that pulls the viewer’s eye towards the crotch area and this comes together with the morality by which most of us live. We see how modern culture has become “sexualized” and this sexual culture exists alongside of the culture of personal sexuality. It is this that prepares us for what Sébastien does when he returns home. We watch him as he does little and then slowly begins to play with himself. However, this is not porn and we do not see a great sexual event but rather a part of life that most of us engage in. It is as if Moreau contrasts the size of the city with the insular, personal act of self-pleasure. We instantly realize that as Sebastien’s breathing becomes more intense and he comes close to climax that we are seeing something that most of us know a lot about but rarely see on screen.

The film ends with the viewer thinking about the truth of what we have seen and question if this is just a singular solo, erotic sexual act, or the result of someone having no one to share the moment with and wanting to fill some sort of gap. It is absolutely very sexy to watch. There is even more eroticism when we consider that this masturbation is something that happens all of the time but is rarely seen on film. This time there is a camera trained on it and an artistic eye that can reveal what feels like the reality behind everyday sexuality with an erect penis and cum shot included. The episode is very sexy as well as thought provoking and it is the simplicity that is the episode’s greatest strength. As viewers, we are allowed to not only enjoy the eroticism but also to think about the relationships and ideas behind something as common as masturbation.

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“THE NEW PUBLIC”— An Idealistic Vision

the new public

“The New Public”

An Idealistic Vision

Amos Lassen

When an ambitious group of educators create a small, public high school in a poor neighborhood of Brooklyn, their idealistic vision faces the same harsh realities faced by the community and they struggle to adapt.

Former Disc jockey, point guard and teacher, James O’Brien, in 2006 opened a small public high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where 1/3 of those who live there do so below the poverty line. In the past the graduation rate was 40%. O’Brien and his team of eight undertook “an unconventional approach and ambitious mission: create a school with an arts-oriented curriculum that also emphasizes self-development, community collaboration and social change.” At first everyone thought that this was to be a dream come true but then conflicts arose when untested idealism was challenged by long-standing realities that were far bigger than school.

The film follows the students, parents, teachers and other educators over a four year period as together they strove to make a difference in the future of the young people who attended the school and lived in the neighborhood. We are immediately aware that the lives of the youngsters that we see are bold and stark representations of this country’s education and opportunity gaps. In this one school we learn of and witness the complexities faced by urban public schools and communities everywhere. There were dreams of changing the way kids learn to hopefully increase the graduation rate and success level of these children.

At first, what looked like a documentary about some educators changing the world turned into a struggle to adapt and change, while keeping their kid’s futures at the forefront. What makes the documentary special and different from others on the same subject is that it shows the failures, so that the success stories can hold more power. When the school opened in 2006, the educators came in with high ideas. James O’Brien came in as the school’s principal, and hired a faculty of eight individuals who shared the dreams of changing how kids are taught. At first, it seemed like they were trying to teach the kids at a basic level, using art, music, and pop culture ideals to help them understand what they failed to learn in regular public schools. It did not take long before they started to lose students who had told through the years that it was impossible to have fun while learning and that certain goals must be met. One parents was very upset when her son’s grades fell and she claimed that her child was there to learn what was important and not how to tap dance or to sing or to write rap lyrics. As a former high school teacher, I know how she felt.

A large part of the documentary focuses on failures with the idea being that one has to fall in order to get back up and become stronger than before. Some of the students were unable to do away with their pasts and one of the teachers said that it was hard to teach students who seemed unable to understand his teaching and he questioned his place there.

Then the film moves forward to the students in their senior year of high school and we see the changes that took place. We see what these people had to do in order to achieve their goals of helping the kids reach the next stage of their life and be prepared to face the world.

This is not a documentary about a group of educators changing the world. These people learned that they could not change the world by making drastic changes. They had to scale back the arts classes and there were times that it felt like they were becoming more like a regular school, and were not that different at all. Bu then we understand that what makes this work is that the school still works hard to mold the kids into a group that works together, builds together and learns together. Instead of just teaching the kids and then throwing them back out onto the streets, like many public schools, this school still takes a strong interest in the kids who want to learn.

The results are now around 73-percent. 45 of the 60 kids we started out with graduated after their four years. This movie is a story about a school that invests itself in helping kids learn. The hard lesson here is that this school still has to face the reality that there are kids and parents who will always make that job hard.

What we as a nation has to do is to set aside political debates over school funding and philosophy and instead examine one school’s real-world experience. Jyllian Gunther’s “The New Public” looks at whether one experimental school can live up to its own ideals. Biting off a realistically small piece of this subject and showing enough of it to create a strong emotional involvement, this documentary adds to the larger conversation.

We meet English teacher, Kevin Greer, a onetime graffiti-writing drug user, and school founder/principal James O’Brien, who believes his experiences as a DJ and a basketball point guard make him well suited to school leadership. The students share their enthusiasm but as can be expected at any school is that there were discipline problems yet O’Brien does not lose his idealism and we see him working very hard to find a way to bring democratic principles and the need for structure together. His compassion really shines through when we watch as he has a heart-to-heart conference with student John Dargan, who’s being bullied by kids who suspect he’s gay. Suddenly I realized that many of us wished that we had had a principal like him.

Greer’s first approach to teaching these students was to refuse to concede to their obvious difficulties. He seemed distant from the students, and they reacted by yawning or talking among themselves. Greer knew he was not getting through to them. He was frustrated.

Three years later, when members of this first class were seniors, Greer decided to teach a poetry class revolving around William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” This time, however, his demeanor was completely different. He engaged the students by asking them what their own definition of poetry was — and they responded eagerly.

This is that rare film that sympathetically conveys how hard it is to be a teacher in an inner-city school. “The New Public” not only shows what goes on in the classroom — which can be rough if the teacher can’t manage the classroom — but it also goes into the homes of the students she has focused on. There, the odds that the students are trying to overcome are made abundantly clear.

As the United States continues to struggle with education reform, we know that education needs to change. I believe this film can help bring that about.

“TRAITORS”— Restless in Tangiers

traitors

“Traitors”

Restless in Tangiers

Amos Lassen

Malika (Chaimae Ben Acha) is the lead singer of an all-girl punk rock band that is the focus of writer-director Sean Gullette’s first feature-length feature film, “Traitors”. To her father, Malika is a misfit because she’s 25 years old and unmarried. She also doesn’t seem very interested in holding on to her job at an international call center. Her only interest, it seems, is to perform with her band, and her only goal is to raise enough money so the group can rent a recording studio to cut a demo.

The first half of the film is a look at the Moroccan middle-class and how the younger generation deals with familial obligations and traditions. Malika’s mother always makes sure that her two daughters get their breakfast before she heads out to clean apartments. Malika’s father owns a garage, but spends most of his time in coffee shops. When Malika learns that her father’s business is failing and the family finances are in bad shape, she feels she must help keep the roof above her family’s heads in addition to trying to raise cash for her band.

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Tangiers is one of the hubs of the international narcotics trade and it does not take long before Malika becomes in involved in it. It began with a casual meeting at her father’s garage with a local drug dealer, who later showed up at an opportune moment to save her from a situation she got herself into and this led l to her taking on a drug courier job.

At this point the film moves into melodrama—we see Malika driving a car, with a female passenger and they go up into the neighboring Rif Mountains that is one of the world’s main sources of hashish. The two women will smuggle drugs back into the city, with the contraband hidden in the car’s doors. On their way back Malika strikes up a friendship with her companion, Amal (Soufia Issami), an experienced drug mule who’s a captive both to drug use as well as to her employer. Malika decides to help Amal to escape the drug lords and it is this action that makes the return trip to Tangiers become very tense. The two women avoid the police at checkpoints and at the same they are double-crossing the drug lords.

Malika is anxious to finish the drug run so that she can get back to her regular lifestyle and avoid her boss, Samir (Mourade Zeguendi) and what he will do to he will do to her if she gets caught.

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In a short scene, director Gullette shows us the parallels between the protagonist and her supporting characters. The film moves forward with precise pacing and it becomes a very carefully crafted film that looks at the way we look at fear— we have two choices—to fight or to run. Malika does not see the option of running.

The director set the film in the slums of Tangier and we see that Malika finds escape and solace in the “anarchy” of punk rock music. She knows that the only way she will escape the life she leads there is through music but she does not have the money to make her dream come into fruition. She is forced to put her life on the line and takes matters into her own hands, the way she intends it to play out. She is a person whose life is principled with little or no respect for authority. In fact, she becomes an example of strength and she emotes beautifully with just her eyes.

“LOVE ME”— The Kindness of Strangers

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“Love Me” (“Sev beni”)

The Kindness of Strangers

Amos Lassen

Have you ever tried to define the word, “love”? The meaning of love has been pondered since the beginning of time and it has always been a good idea for the world of movies. In “Love Me” we get a whole new take on looking for love and it deals with what are referred to as mail-order brides. We have all heard of mail-order brides but I am fairly that most of us have never had contact with one or have any idea of how to go about getting one. Of course now with the Internet taking over for the mail, I am not sure the term “mail-order” has any real meaning anymore. Director Jonathon Narducci explores the mail-order bride industry by introducing us to two websites, A Foreign Affair and Elena’s Models, and a group of men (and their Ukrainian female counterparts) who are willing to drop thousands of dollars to make it all work.

The men we meet here are interesting—there are those that have been in loving relationships, those who have never been in love and those who are tired of American women. It costs nothing to join the websites and men get a chance to browse thousands of women. Most of the women are Ukrainian and if one wants to send a message to one of the gals, it costs just $10 to do so and the cost includes the translation fee.

The men take a trip to the Ukraine and once there, they visit three different cities and have the chance to mingle with single women at social events. Some fall instantly in love while others feel uneasy about the entire affair.

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“Love Me” is an examination of what people do to find love. We basically get two different looks about what happened to the men who went to the Ukraine hoping to find a mate. Then are those that found what they think to be love and there are those who feel the entire business is a rip-off and a moneymaking scam. Then there are the women and what they think and by hearing what they have to say gives the film more leverage as not just a look at the male idea of love. There are scenes that are lovely to watch but they are often juxtaposed with scenes of sorrow and loneliness that others feel. Watching the film more or less makes us look at the way we define love.

At the center of the film are Cemal (Ushan Cakir) and Sasha (Viktoria Spesivtseva). Cemal is about to marry a girl chosen for him by his mother. This takes place in rural Turkey chose for him where arranged marriages are still common. At the henna ceremony (traditionally part of the fertility ritual that take places on the eve of a wedding usually at the bridal home) his friend asks Cemal which football team his fiancée supports but Cemal wonders why he should talk to a girl about football in the first place. He is actually on the brink of marrying somebody whom he has barely talked to. He has probably never had any long-term relationships and he is sexually inexperienced. This is not uncommon in that p[art of the world and in the culture of the people. Cemal’s uncle suggests that he should accompany his friends to Ukraine on a business trip. Cemal is quite reluctant to join the team at first but he ultimately he gives in to his uncle. For Cemal’s uncle and his friends, the Ukraine is a place to let off steam with beautiful Slavic sex workers who are nicknamed “Natashas”. Cemal meets Sasha at a strip club in Kiev. She is the mistress of a wealthy man and wants to have a baby so that she can secure her future. Sasha takes Cemal home but nothing worked out as anticipated. Sasha learns that her grandmother ran away from the nursing home where she has been living and this spoils the evening but that it not the only reason. There are also cultural clashes and differences between Sasha and Cemal.

The movie presents us with ethnic and racial stereotypes. The Turkish men that we see come across as lecherous and are looking for sex away from “ugly Turkish wives”. All of the Turkish guys except Cemal are just lecherous people who want to have the time of their lives away from their ‘ugly’ Turkish wives. The Slavic women appear sensual to the eyes of Turkish men but it is not really how they look. They are really uninhibited in both their dress and behavior.

They make the women of Turkey seem inhibited physically and this is due to the patriarchal structure of their religion and the various ways that have lived. Turkish men are actually the victims of a system that they’ve built up themselves. This is why they might sound horny, uncouth and inconsiderate to us in the West. Slavic women behave the way they do because they think that this is how they are seen by society. One thing that he film does not deal with is that women are forced into prostitution. I am not going to disclose anything about how this film ends so as not to spoil the viewing experience for anyone else. This is an interesting take on love and dating even though it is foreign to many of us.

“Mea Culpa: Lessons on Law and Regret from U.S. History” by Steven W. Bender— Shame and the Evolution of Law

mea culpa

Bender, Steven W. “Mea Culpa: Lessons on Law and Regret from U.S. History”, NYU Press, 2015.

Shame and the Evolution of Law

Amos Lassen

I do not believe many of us think about the shame that this country has felt about slavery and segregationist Jim Crow laws and that our legislation has been a response to that regret. In “Mea Culpa”, Author Steven W. Bender shows us how this came to be and its results. He examines both

policies and practices that affected the lives of groups that have been historically marginalized and oppressed and in doing so he “is able to draw persuasive connections between shame and its eventual legal manifestations.” Bender goes on to analyze the historical response to the atrocities that as a country she is responsible for and in doing so he shows how morality actually takes us away from those policies and practices that come back at us with a sense of moral regret.

Bender forces us to take a good look at ourselves and consider the way we have traditionally considered who we are—as exceptional and enlightened people. However, had the times been different, we certainly might have been slave owners and/or participated in racial segregation. Looking at immorality historically is one thing but what about current practices that later generations will regret?

While at first it may appear that we are reading a historical survey, we later realize that Bender gives us a framework “for resolving some of the most contentious social problems of our time.” He examines the issues of immigration, the death penalty, the war on terror, reproductive rights, welfare, wage inequity, homelessness, mass incarceration, and same sex marriage. He then says that it is ultimately “the dehumanization of human beings that allows for practices to occur that will later be marked as regrettable.” Each and everyone have “a stake in standing on the side of history that resists dehumanization.” There is not just an accidental relationship between law, jurisprudence, and morals. He shows that we have accepted policies because of sorrow and regret. Bender says that we can move forward when dealing with laws that have been the result of compassion. In doing so we reassert our commitment to define the word community and also avoid personal feelings that lead to national regret. The examples Bender provides are upsetting and they have hurt those who are marginalized for whatever reason in this country and its politics.

“THE KING OF ESCAPE”— “Raising Cocks in Rural France”

King-of-Escape

“The King of Escape” (“Le roi de l’évasion” )

“Raising Cocks in Rural France”

Amos Lassen

Armand is a gay, middle-aged tractor salesman who is looking for a change in his life. He surprisingly fell in love with Curly, his biggest competitor’s daughter and they run away together. Directed by Alain Guiradie who became famous with “Stranger by the Lake”, this is a French farce that shows signs of the boldness that we see in the latter film. The town where Armand lives is known for cruising and it is part of the daily life of most of the citizens of the town where the film is set. The nearby woods are the place where both gay and straight men go to relieve sexual tension by engaging in circle jerks.

Armand (Ludovic Berthillot) is a not-so-bright heavy regular kind of guy who actually prefers men but we meet hi when he has fallen in love with Curly (Hafsia Herzi), and the two become sexual which incites the town, especially Curly’s father. In fact, he was arrested for doing and was forced to wear a sex offender bracelet but he is quick to saw it off of his wrist. For Armand, the relationship is only sexual but for Curly, it a sexual fantasy come true. The film brings together cynicism and self-assurance in Guiraudie’s voice in both films. Those who are horny here are the kind of people that most of us would consider to be both no—sexy and non-sexual. The horny bodies in the film are the kind that many of us would classify as un-sexy and non-sexual. I got the impression that what the film is really about is who fits inside of whom and derives pleasure from it.

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The attitude toward sex in the film is that is nothing shocking about having it and “the more the merrier”. Impromptu sex, like when Armand orally satisfies his boss is part of the human experience, like having a coffee or a beer. No one pays attention to restrictions that many place on sexual orientation sexual gender roles and thoughts about masculinity.

Here is cruising for sex among those who are chubby, bald, gray-haired, and slacker-looking regular people who live life as it comes and find pleasure where they can. It is because Armand is facing a mid-life crisis that tries sex with women. It happened one night that he rescued Curly from a bunch of bullies by paying them off. He was surprised that all that was said to him by Curly’s father (who works with Armand at the same company) was thanks.

Curly, who is only 16-years-old, falls for Armand, who is already becoming bored with rural gay sex and he returns her feelings in kind and the two set off running away from the town. Curly’s father has other ideas only because he thinks Curly is too young and Armand is a slob so he files a complaint against him and this is what causes them to run away. They are followed by the local cops, Curly’s father and some of his friends.

Granted the plot sounds simple and it is but it seems that because of that the director is able to give us a look at a rich selection of character types who are not hung-up about sex. It is these characters that give the film its special comic sense. There are a lot of sex scenes and they staged with a good deal of wit and realism but the most surprising aspect of the film is that it makes the characters of Armand and Curly seem real and their unlikely relationship seem sincere.