Monthly Archives: July 2015

“TRASHOLOGY”— “The Bowels Of Cinema Just Got An Enema”

trashology poster“Trashology”

“The Bowels Of Cinema Just Got An Enema”

Amos Lassen

I could not have found a better title for this review than the film’s tagline; it is absolutely perfect. “Trashology” is “Pink Flamingos” meets “The Crypt” and it is one of the most shockingly delightful offensive gross-out comedies. It is a satire that pokes fun at the genres of sleaze and bad taste.

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The majority of female characters in this movie are played by men in drag. There’s also tons of crazy, campy, completely over-the-top humor that winks directly at gay audiences.

Trash Cinema is a dying subgenre of film that hasn’t been addressed in quite a while. But lo, it is back and with a fury thanks to Brian Dorton. and Douglas Conner, I jumped at the opportunity to review it. If you can, imagine the most twisted episode of “Strangers with Candy” you’ve ever seen John Waters, and stir in some Troma. That is what “Trashology” does.

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It is an anthology made up of three short films. But first, we meet Tracy (Laura Lee Black), a middle aged woman going to college to become the next underground Trash filmmaker. After giving her professor oral sex for arriving late for class, she finds herself with a “Trashology” book full of stories that feature sex, violence, and just about every bodily fluid imaginable.

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In the first short, “The Vat” we meet Beatrice (Jenny Coulter), a 65 year old cranky, nicotine addicted spitfire and Laura (Rodney Horn) a grandmother type with a delightful, mean spirited sense of humor. The duo are met by religious fanatic Claudia (Angie Keeling) who is really really angry that she got ripped off at 25 cent Banana Wednesday. As the day goes on, there is a fight between the three of them and they shoot Claudia. They decide to bury her in oatmeal but guilt gets the better of them and they bring her back to life via a Ouija Board. That is when the problems really start to happen; she does not come back the same person she left as. Now she is a horny nymphomaniac that uses the family supper as her bathroom, and will pleasure herself with anything available. “The Vat” features friendships that only Satan’s “geriatric grandmother” could relate to or anyone with a parent over the age of 50. The characters are over the top and reminded me of The Golden Girls but on crack.

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In “Big Debbie” as we meet a rather large woman in her wedding dresses crying as she is walking down the street holding snack cakes. Debbie (Rodney Horn) has just been stood up on her wedding day. She meets a young man on the street that offers her a shower back at his place to clean up. When she arrives at his apartment, his friend is waiting for her and the twosome plan to use her for some rather kinky sex. When one of the two men ends up dead, Debbie is forced to get rid of the body. Little does she know but an angry lesbian (Rachel Stout) bent on revenge has seen her and wants to get some justice of her own. Big Debbie” features the fetish known as ‘squashing’. As I have been told over and over, it is a thing! Yet that is just the start of this sick little puppy because poor Debbie goes through some strange stuff and thankfully comes through only slightly more damaged than she began.

“Inglorious Bitches” is about a pair of female vigilantes who discover an app on their phones that lets them track down and murder sex offenders. They take their love of killing people and turn it into cause for killing people by going after sex offenders. Imagine taking a bat covered with spikes and ramming it up someone’s bottom until he is dead! Well anyway the characters in this segment are so twisted and wonderful. Actually there isn’t one badly written or poorly acted character in this collection of filthy thoughts and filthy jokes.

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This most certainly is not a Lifetime movie. It is filled with lowbrow humor that pokes fun at society and at the expense of humanity. This movie is hilarious and brilliantly sick with humor.

It is wicked sick how all the characters relate to each other in all three stories and this shows director Brian Dorton’s love and honest passion for this genre. This is John Waters for 2012. He should be very proud.

Bonus Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Brian Dorton, Producer Douglas Conner, and Jesus Terán of Slasher // Video
  • Deleted and Alternate Scenes
  • Big Debbie (Original demo)
  • Photo Gallery
  • The Ferrett
  • Kill Cecile Vol. 1 (Short Film)
  • Sex, Lies, and Melissa (Short Film)
  • Smokers Anonymous (Short Film)
  • Crazy Fat Ethel (Original Demo Trailer)
  • Trashology Official Trailer
  • Trashology Teaser Trailer

“The Color of Character” by Glen Shuld— Dealing with Prejudice

the color of character

Shuld, Glen. “The Color of Character, CreateSpace, 2015.

Dealing with Prejudice

Amos Lassen

Glen Feigman was raised in a liberal Jewish home with a strong emphasis on civil rights and social justice. When writing this book he isan out gay man living in the city of Chicago. When he, along with his elderly mother, witnessed one of many violent attacks plaguing his hometown, he begin thinking about his past and how he’d been raised and he questioned everything he thought he knew about race, character, and the true nature of acceptance.

He traces the influence of racial tension and pervasive prejudices throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and 2000s, including a shocking event that would forever change the way he viewed race relations. In his memoir, “The Color of Character” he writes candidly and honestly about his coming of age and he faces questions about the true state of race relations in America today.

Those of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s all struggled with our ideals and many times were in opposition to our own parents. Now we look back at the world through Glen’s eyes and feel his pain and frustration as he deals with the chaos of integration around him and his own inner turmoil of being gay in a heterosexual world. His family and religion were a solid moral compass that helped guide him through this very difficult time.

Here is a book that gives a look at suburban Chicago at the end of the 60s while at the same time “gives voice to a rarely-spoken sort of racial prejudice that’s emerging in a world changing far faster than the narrator’s highly conflicted pre-teen sensibilities–or his Jewish family’s core values–can easily understand”.

The issues of race relations and growing up as a gay adolescent/young man in America that we read here are the same ones that so many have to deal with today. I found it very easy to identify with the author—we share a lot in common but with one major difference—where we lived back then. The South and the North were as different as day and night and this was especially true with integration.

On one hand this is a coming-of-age story but it is so much more than that. Coming-of-age also means discovering who we really are and what we want and believe as well as what are our attitudes, prejudices and our levels of tolerance (a word I hate). We see here that even though we have, in this country, made tremendous progress in dealing with alternative lifestyles, there is still a great deal of racial discrimination even at a time when we have a Black president of this country. We learn here that not all racial discrimination comes from the white man and that there are blacks who are their own worst enemies.

I read this book in one sitting. It is much more than a coming of age story. It is coming to know who you are—  your beliefs, attitudes, prejudices and your level of tolerance. What I found interesting and sad is that not much has changed regarding racial intolerance, while great strides have been made in the acceptance of alternative lifestyles. I found myself questioning why there is still so much racial discrimination in our country. On one hand, I believe that blacks in America have done it to themselves. On the other, whites have certainly played their part. This book will explain what I mean when I say blacks are their own worst enemy.

It is not easy to write of the confusion and pain that we suffer and here is where this book excels. As we read it is almost impossible to not question how we feel about the issues of race and sexual lifestyles.

“THE WIND IN THE EVENING”— A Murder, A Metaphor

the wind in the evening poster

“The Wind, in the Evening” (“Il Vento, di Sera”)

A Murder, A Metaphor

Amos Lassen

French author B.M. Koltes’ quote, “All it takes is a gust of wind and we fly away,” introduces the story beginning with a montage of close-ups of enigmatic cell phone messages.

Paolo (Carlo Salani) is a 30-something guy waiting for his workaholic boyfriend Luca (Luca Levi) to get home from the office. But on this evening he never arrives. He’s been caught in the crossfire of a political assassination. The law prevents Paolo from getting any news from the doctors–he’s not officially family–and Luca’s mother (Marina Pitta) wants him out of the flat. So the night turns into an odyssey; Paolo feels that a tiny gust of wind has changed his life forever.

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Director-co writer Andrea Adriatico uses long and shadowy takes that draw on the dark, emotional themes and make the film feel like it runs in real time. While dull and meandering, this is also enigmatic, elusive filmmaking–flooded with intense pain and frustration about the senselessness of it all. Paolo seems unable to come to terms with the overwhelming guilt and anger, everything everybody says to him seems wrong, his whole family is just gone.

  Salani as Paolo is wonderful in the role, which barely requires him to speak. He simply wanders the streets, encountering a talkative cop (Sergio Romano), helpful neighbor (Francesca Mazza), barman (Paolo Porto) and young man (Fabio Valletta) who picks up Paolo on the street, takes him to a nightclub and then goes home with him. We easily identify with Paolo’s need for comfort and company, and with each of these people who reach out to him in their own imperfect way. All of them are so realistic–and so useless–that it’s astonishing to watch. We so want for one of them to do or say the right thing for Paolo—- we ache for him to open up to someone. Despite the achingly slow pace, this is a heartbreakingly beautiful and relevant film.

The film is just not sure how to express grief. Paolo literally wanders the cityscape after the death of his lover looking for understanding, and everyone he encounters tries to fit his experience into their own. The film is about the individuality of experience and this is sometimes a very lonely place.

Paolo’s early evening-to-dawn walk through the streets of Bologna assumes a quality of its own. Director Adriatico denies viewers information Paolo wouldn’t know — his being left in the dark about Luca’s condition by hospital doctors doubly effective, because Paolo, denied the right to be Luca’s spouse under Italian law, is not a relative. Only after he overhears a journalist does Paolo learn Luca was already dead when he arrived at the hospital.

Paolo further learns by catching a news report on a storefront TV that Marco, a cabinet undersecretary, was targeted by terrorists and it was a flying bullet that killed Luca. The news comes so quickly that it’s easily missed, and its importance tends to trivialize Paolo’s loss as he stumbles through the city streets, where silences are regularly broken by sirens. His situation worsens when after a bitter phone conversation with Luca’s mother (Marina Pitta), who orders him to vacate the apartment he and her son shared.

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Francesca, meanwhile, takes on Paolo’s grief as if Luca were her own lover and does her own form of night crawling, but with far less emotional impact. A random encounter between Paolo and a lonely man named Momo (Fabio Valletta) leads to an unexpected set piece in a gay bar, where the film for a moment aims for a more explicitly political theme. Paolo, having read the headlines confirming the double killing, wanders into a park at dawn, alone and prayerful. We see the film as an expression of a contemporary, urban gay man looking for meaning amid chaos and in it is a universality.

Salani’s Paolo starts quietly and builds an intensity that reaches emotional flowering at the end. There is a graceful, atmospheric feel to this film that gets beneath our skin as it tells its story— an examination of grief and regret, about getting on with life, even though it feels just too fragile at times. Hopefully we will see it released in America on DVD.

“NATURAL ENEMY” (“L’ennemi naturel”)— Deeply Disturbed People

the natural enemy

“Natural Enemy” (“L’ennemi naturel”)

Deeply Disturbed People

Amos Lassen

Never released on American DVD, “Natural Enemy” is the story of a detective who has to unravel the circumstances of a teenage boy’s death. The main suspect is the boy’s father. Evocative and somewhat elusive, this French drama tells a deeply introspective story about people who are deeply disturbed by one thing or another.

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  Lieutenant Luhel (Jalil Lespert) is an inexperienced detective called in to investigate the death of a teenager in a small Brittany town. Luhel is in such inner turmoil about his own sexuality and his new role as a dad that he can’t pull himself together. He becomes obsessed with the victim’s grieving father Serge (Aurelien Recoing), a hothead who has a natural and raw ability to be truly naked in every sense of the word and that is exactly what Luhel is desperate to achieve.

Pierre Erwan Guillaume’s feature debut “The Natural Enemy” is an uneven tale of repression and obsession. It is beautifully shot with a talented cast but the fact that penis envy is the theme takes away from what could have been a top-notch thriller. When a young man’s body is found among the boulders of the Breton coast, Lt. Luhel is called to investigate. The local police believe the death was an accident, but the boy’s mother (Lucy Russell) is convinced her ex-hubby Serge was responsible for their son’s death.

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At first unwilling to draw conclusions, Luhel becomes suspicious once he locates the drunk, naked Tanguy sleeping off a bender in his wood shed. We immediately sense and see he contrasts between the two men: Luhel is dry, rational and passionless, whereas Tanguy alternates between semi-violence and dark introspection. The more the cop digs into his suspect’s monumental sexual appetite, the more like a witch-hunt the investigation becomes. Soon he ignores pleas from wife Nathalie (Florence Loiret-Caille) to come home, and imagines Tanguy is engaged in an incestuous relationship with his school-age daughter, Adele (Doria Achour).

Tanguy’s penis seems to cast a spell over Luhel, causing him to act erratically. He sublimates his own desire into vindictive anger. The landscape also has a starring role in the film— dark, silent panoramas create a probing commentary on the unexpected rages that unsettle Luhel’s normally rational exterior. Yet these gorgeous seascapes become less important as the movie moves forward as if to hint that their importance is abating.

Luhel lacks self-assurance as he investigates. Everything he does seems to backfire on him and he is the person to blame when things go wrong. Serge plays around because his sexual appetite is insatiable and Luhel is impressed with his sexual appetite and secretly falls in love with him.

When Luhel is with his wife and child, he says he enjoys that “normal ” life , but it’s obvious to the viewers that he is trying to persuade himself. Is he his own natural enemy is the question we ask?

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Unlike other crime dramas where there is a well-honed plot which ends with the mystery tidily explained, this film has very little plot and no clear resolution. A great deal is left to our imagination, which is both frustrating and strangely liberating. Director Guillaume leaves us with a bleak existentialist mystery which he invites us to dissect and analyze at. If would probably help to read a bit of Sartre, Foucault and Camus beforehand.

Because this is a first film for the director we sense his inexperience does in a number of places – most notably in the uneven pacing and slightly caricatured secondary characters. However, these imperfections do not hurt the film’s impact and, if anything, they add to its charm. Had the film been more polished, it would probably had far less of an impact.

The lead actors, Jalil Lespert and Aurélien Recoing, two of French cinema’s finest are excellent throughout. Lespert brilliantly shows gauche sensitivity as convincingly as Recoing shows brooding self-confidence. Both actors put in incredibly intense performances that convey the great inner torment of a soul wracked by dark sub-conscious desires. We see a harrowingly realistic portrayal of two men who have reached the limit of their endurance and who see nothing but darkness ahead of them. Neither character is willing to accept the truth of his identity, so both are drawn inexorably to the precipice of self-destruction.

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The abstract nature of its subject, the explicit sexual imagery (carried to excess in some places) and the lack of a closed narrative will not appeal to everyone and this is a film that is not particularly comfortable to watch. Indeed it does exert a very tight vice-like hold on the spectator, and explores themes which few filmmakers are brave enough to tackle and does so in a refreshingly honest and imaginative manner. The film is skillfully made, insinuating and challenging, beautifully filmed and intriguingly edited. Lespert is remarkably transparent as a young man in way too deep at work and unable to control his fantastic imagination. His youthful hyperactivity contrasts cleverly with Recoing’s sheer physical presence. Their scenes together have a mercurial quality that’s utterly riveting.

So it’s interesting that with such edgy characters that this is an almost elegiac film–quiet, hesitant, often totally silent with only flashes of passion. The perspective sticks closely with Luhel as he prowls and spies, often for the wrong reasons. His life disintegrates before our eyes, while the pieces of Serge’s secret fall gradually into place. Guillaume continually keeps us at arm’s length and this is frustrating. The film is developed with a feeling of impending fatalistic dread and there we can do but step aside. 

“PARTY GIRL”— Past Her Prime

party girl poster

“PARTY GIRL”

Past Her Prime

Amos Lassen

Angélique Litzenburger (playing herself) is a 60 year old dance-club hostess and former stripper sits at a bar sipping a drink and tells her younger co-workers that she was a superstar. Now even though she is way past her prime, she still parties as hard as she once did in her youth but now there aren’t any clients picking up the tab. The only one who is still fascinated by her is Michel (Joseph Bour) and even he has stopped coming into the club regularly. She goes to look for him and finds him at his house in the small suburban town on the French & German border. She begs him to come back so that she can survive.  He refuses too and tells her that he loves her and proposes.

This was not exactly what she wanted to hear but her options are few and she accepts it. Angélique moves out of the Club and into Michel’s home and as the preparations for the wedding get underway all of Michel’s friends are happy for him. However, she goes back to the bar and tells her former workmates that even with her colored past, she cannot even consider physical contact with Michel and has been telling him that she is saving herself for their wedding night.

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Angélique Litzenburger plays a fictionalized version of herself and her children are also played by her real-life children too. She does not shy away from portraying herself as a self-absorbed reckless good-time girl who never allowed her children to either get close to her or in fact interfere with her constant partying. Even with her relentless selfishness there is an element of vulnerability that still makes us sympathetic [a bit] to her predicament. If this had fiction it still would have been compelling but knowing the real situation makes this quite an experience.

The film won the Camera d’Or award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival is an unusual docudrama and is based on an idea by Samuel Theis (who co-wrote and co-directed with Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq and Claire Burger). Theis plays himself along with his brother Mario Theis and sisters Séverine and Cynthia Litzenburger.  Angélique is his mother and this is her story.

We see problems in the happily-ever-after.  When Angélique lights up during dinner with Michel’s friends he objects but she won’t back down.  She flirts with a young man at a German-Franco friendship parade and refuses to go home after a day out with the family.  She confesses to her old friends that she shuts down sexually with Michel (he’s been led to believe she’s waiting for their wedding night).  When Sam arrives from Paris, it is his job to find a venue for the wedding she’s purportedly been planning.

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Angélique is an unusual character and she dominates the screen.  The interactions among her mismatched family are warm but not conflict free.  The filmmakers and their real life cast involve us in not only the family dynamics but also in watching for clues as to just who is most like their mother. 

“JESS & JAMES”— A Sexually Charged Road Trip Movie

jess and james

“Jess & James”

A Sexually Charged Road Trip Movie

Amos Lassen

Jess has secrets to hide from his shrewd parents. James feels trapped living with his irritable mother. After the two meet for sex, they decide to take a spontaneous road trip across rural Argentina to reunite with Jess’ estranged brother. As they journey, they have several strange occurrences and engage in a three-way affair that brings them even closer. Their newly found affection continues to grow as they find freedom and happiness. This is a sexually charged road-trip movie, a love story, and a coming-of-age tale, set against the gorgeous landscape of the Argentinean Pampas.

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Argentine director Santiago Giralt pays homage to Gregg Araki’s “The Living End,” but minus the threat of HIV. “Jess & James” remains survival cinema where the stakes are just as high but not ominous. The lead characters are trying to figure out who they are, what they want and where they’re going, in a world that is trying to force them into complacency and capitulation.

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The film opens with a close up of an intensely good-looking Jesse (Martín Karichas) he is staring into the camera and we hear his voice over saying: “I’m 23 years old. My name is Gerónimo, but people call me Jesse. I hate my family. I hate my brother. I don’t know what to do with my life. Is this a trip or a dream?” Later in the feature we see where this fits and that the context is symbolic and supernatural.

Jesse hooks up with a cowboy-hat-donned James (Nicolás Romeo), but at first he refuses to kiss him. “I don’t do that with just anyone,” he snaps, right before penetrating him anally. After the sex, the two create a bond even though Jesse remains a bit aloof.

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Both Jesse and James have lousy home lives. James resides with his vain, irritating mother (“If you get AIDS, I’ll kill you,” she yells at him) while Jesse lives with his clueless parents and has a pregnant girlfriend who is pressuring him into marrying her, even though he isn’t the baby’s father.

When James goes to Jesse’s place and asks him he’d like to take a trip with him, Jesse doesn’t hesitate to escape his identity-suffocating and spiritually debilitating life. The two take to the roads of rural Argentina and we see how much the two complement each other and also look alike a bit. This was undoubtedly planned and is writer-director-editor Giralt’s feeling on gay men’s desire for narcissistic doubling. As the film moves forward, they both wear torn jeans and Jesse occasionally wears James’s hat, adding to the confusion.

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As they travel the two have a lot of sex and eventually meet Tomás (Federico Fontán). They have a three-way and even though Tomas likes James more than Jesse, they invite him to come along on the trip. Tomas decides not to travel with them.

By the time they reach Jesse’s estranged brother, both have gone through their own catharses, Jesse especially. He asks if he was on a trip or if he was dreaming. This made me wonder if what he asks might be true. Are Jesse and James complimentary halves of one whole? Once again the idea of duality comes up. If these two or indeed part on one person, we get an entirely different film. Director Giralt’s script is sparse and dense at the same time. He makes us think yet he also provides beautiful sexual pleasures for us to see. He captures beauty– of the Argentinean Pampas and of his three main players.

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Jesse and James may (for a short time) exist in their own idyllic paradise somewhere beyond the end of the world, but we are always aware that they’re part of the new generation who are not at all t prudish about sex and monogamy and who long for a new definition of happiness. This is a film that you do not want to miss.

“I’M A STRIPPER”— Now A Web Mini-Series

IM-A-STRIPPER

“I’m A Stripper”

Now A Web Mini-Series

Amos Lassen

A fewf years ago Charlie David, star of “Dante’s Cover”, “Mulligans” , “Paternity Leave” and others went behind the camera for the documentary “I’m A Stripper” which eventually became five separate movies and now it has also become a . five-part web mini-series, that promises to give the true story of the man who strip for money.

This is a new and extended take of “I’m A Stripper” and  gives us the chance to see and learn more aboutr male exotic dancer fantasies, as well as shows us someof the reality of the men’s lives.

Director Charlie David says,  “Building upon the insight gained into this taboo industry in episode 1, successive episodes in the series delve into the fascinating niches existing within it such as burlesque, webcam modeling, super troupes, gender drag, and Go-Go guys.”

“DANCING IN JAFFA”— Dancing Together

dancing in jaffa

“Dancing in Jaffa”

Dancing Together

Amos Lassen

Renowned ball-room dancer Pierre Dulaine takes his program, Dancing Classrooms, back to his city of birth, Jaffa with plans to teach Jewish and Palestinian Israelis to dance and compete together. The film proves that dancing is a healing force capable of turning an enemy into a friend.

Pierre Dulaine is a teacher and former four-time champion in ballroom dancing who was born in Jaffa to an Irish father and a Palestinian mother. The family left Israel in 1948 (the year Israel became a nation) when he was four years old and moved to the United States. The hatred and misunderstanding that continues to make Israeli and Palestinian children enemies rather than friends bothers him a great deal and he believes that dancing is a universal language that can bring youth together.

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He returns to Jaffa with hopes of teaching dancing and modeling respect to Jewish and Israeli youth in a 10-week course in dancing. He tries to find students from different schools to participate in the program with the idea of having Israeli (Jewish) boys and girls dance together at their school, while the Israeli Palestinian boys and girls dance together at their school. Then after a few weeks, he combines the classes with a Jewish student dancing with a Palestinian student.

From the very beginning there were problems. Boys and girls in both cultures (orthodox aspects of both Islam and Judaism) are not supposed to touch each other and some of the kids have never even spoken to someone from another school. Some of the Jewish boys refuse to look in the eyes of the Palestinian girls and immediately run from the program.

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Director Hilla Medalia shows how the kids perk up when Yvonne Marceau, Pierre’s dancing partner from New York, arrives in Jaffa to encourage them. At that point the film follows the impact of Dulaine’s work on three students: Noor Gabai, a slightly chubby Palestinian girl who has no friends and who lives alone with her unemployed mother.  Her unhappiness is carried through to school where she often gets in trouble for being disruptive and a bully. At first she is not initially keen on the dancing lessons especially since none of the boys want to be her partner, but when Dulaine selects her to be part of the team to represent her school in the Competition they have been working towards, she somehow remarkably transforms into a totally different, and rather charming, young lady. 

Alaa Bubali is a quiet Palestinian boy whose large family lives in a poor section and Lois Dana is an open-minded and outgoing Jewish girl who becomes Alaa’s partner and befriends Noor as she discovers the joy of dancing.

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Granted that “Dancing In Jaffa” is a simplistic and sweet portrait of reconciliation between Jewish and Palestinian kids but it is important and any program that can begin to eradicate segregation, racial prejudice, and blind hatred needs our support and encouragement.

When Dulaine left Jaffa, Israel he was just 4 years old and at that time the majority of the Arab population were pushed out with the establishment of Israel. Those that remained became Palestinian Israelis. Sixty years on it is still a deeply divided city and Dulaine believes that through his program of teaching children to dance he can break through some of the political and cultural differences and bring a moment of unity that hopefully might last. He went to six local schools, all but one segregated by religion and asked for support for his program and he realizes early on that his task will not be an easy one. It is important for us to understand that he is asking children to dance with the ‘enemy’ (both the parents and the children themselves have deep reservations about, especially as it doesn’t just involve close social interactions but physical touching between the children).

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At the beginning Dulaine struggles to hide his sheer frustration— he seems to simply fail to convince many of the reluctant children of how much they would enjoy learning to dance if they would just at least try it. When Yvonne Marceau comes, however the children are enchanted her elegance and Dulaine tells the children that ‘you don’t have to marry everyone you dance with!’ He and Yvonne danced together for 35 years and they are just friends

As the weeks go by, we can see how this new activity will impact on their particular lives and we see  Dulaine’s success in that by the time it comes to name the children that will make up the teams, some of the unlucky ones who are so upset that they didn’t make the cut and demand to know why.

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At a local Community Hall the atmosphere teems with excitement as Palestinian mothers sit next to Jewish parents to watch their children dance with other children from other schools and other faiths Dulaine and good humor has turned these once reluctant and clumsy children into graceful dancers After having watched Dulaine struggle, we could not have predicted success like this. to break the children’s initial deep rooted resistance. We see that perhaps the hope for peace in the Middle East might just be with the children.

“YOUNG MAN AT THE BAR MASTURBATING WITH RAGE AND NERVE”— Provocative Title

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“Young Man at the Bar Masturbating with Rage and Nerve” (“Muchacho en la barra se masturba con rabia y osadía”)

Provocative Title

Amos Lassen

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Jonathan’s is a male prostitute who loves to dance and he is filled with ideas about virtuosity, desire, technique, and sex. When these all come together, he understands life on his terms and he finds answers to the questions he needs. This is a short look at the reconciliation of opposites and contradictions and while the answers are painful, they reflect the truth.

“THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS”— The Forces of Politics

the garden

“The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” (“Il giardino dei Finzi Contini”)

The Forces of Politics

Amos Lassen

I remember vividly seeing this when it first came out and a conversation with a friend last night reminded me of it so I decided to have a look at 45 years later.

“The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” is a gorgeous film that deals with an ugly subject—the rise of Fascism and anti-Semitism in Italy but it is also about a young man desperately in love with a woman that he can’t have, even though they have been the best of friends since they were children. We see how unrequited love can hurt. This is a story of how our own desires can lead us to self-destructive and stupid behavior. On a larger scale it is the story of lost innocence. Director Vittorio De Sica captures the extent to which our youthful pursuits seem like the whole universe to us when we are young, until larger events sweep us away and bring a jarring awareness of the world outside our own hearts.

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Giorgio (Lino Capolicchio) is a young man from a middle class Jewish family in Ferrara, Italy as all around him Fascism grows. He and his friends are able to avoid it for the most part, for a while. His father is so oblivious to the coming threat that he is actually a member of the Fascist party. Giorgio meets regularly with a wide circle of friends to play tennis, many of whom are much wealthier than he. Jews have been barred from the regular tennis clubs, so Giorgio and his friends meet at the walled estate owned by the Finzi-Contini family. The Finzi-Continis are wealthy and sophisticated, and seem to live in an entirely different world from the one Giorgio and his friends inhabit. His father says that the Finzi-Continis “don’t even seem Jewish.”

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Giorgio is desperately in love with Micol Finzi-Contini (Dominique Sanda), whom he has known since they were children. Through flashbacks we see how Giorgio used to wait outside the walls of the estate, hoping for a glimpse of Micol, and how the two became fast friends in their younger days. Now, however, things have changed, and Micol coldly rebuffs any show of affection from Giorgio. Instead she carries on an almost perfunctory affair with Bruno Malnate (Fabio Testi), a man she claims to despise as too vulgar, crude, and leftist for her tastes.

Outside the garden walls the Jews of Ferrara soon feel the squeeze of Mussolini’s Fascists. It starts slowly, with small indignities such as crank telephone calls and no more hired help and by the end of the movie Italian soldiers are hunting down and rounding up the Jews of Ferrara for a journey that is a one-way trip. While this is important it is not the main focus of the wake the Finzi-Continis from their contentment and illusory isolation. It serves also to shake Giorgio into the realization that the world stops for no man, even if he is recovering from the wounds of his first true love.

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The film moves slowly like a dream and takes us into Giorgio’s world. At first we are not impressed by the visuals we see but nonetheless they are real and enveloping, and we are absorbed into pre-war Italy before we know it. Director De Sica was able to get convincing, sincere performances from his actors and they draw us into the emotional reality of the story as it unfolds in front of us. Giorgio’s story is very personal and I could not help but be emotionally drawn into it. Capolicchio is excellent as Giorgio, and brings the character to life in every situation— pining over Micol or railing against the injustices imposed by the Fascists. We see a portrait of the “angry young man,” stung by what he sees as an unfair world and spiteful fate.

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Dominique Sanda became an international star as a result of this film. Her beauty comes across as pure ice and the character she creates is both desirable and malicious. Micol demonstrates the casual cruelty that a rejected young man gets to know so well. Sanda’s Micol has just the right amount of affected steely harshness. Later in the film we see Micol’s arrogance and defiance when she very carefully yet pointedly corrects the Fascist operative who gets her name wrong. In the end it is probably Micol who has the greatest revelation and loss of innocence, as she realizes all that has been going on around her as she contented herself with played games. Sanda’s face is so expressive that she could have told the whole story without uttering a word.

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The garden is not an enclosed space but an enclosed state of mind. Eager for an afternoon of tennis, the young people ride into it on their bicycles one sunny Sunday afternoon. The Fascist government of Mussolini has declared the ordinary tennis clubs off limits for Italian Jews — but what does that matter, when there are tall stone walls that have faithfully guarded the Finzi-Contini family for generations?

Micol, the daughter, welcomes her guests and takes some of them a little tour pointing out a tree that is said to be five hundred years old and might even have been planted by the Borgias. If it has stood for all those years in this garden, she seems to believe, what is there to worry about in the world outside.

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Micol cannot quite love anyone, although she carries on an affair with a tall, athletic young man who is about to be drafted into the army. Thinking about what Giorgio’s father said about the Finzi-Continis—they are different because wealth and privilege and generations of intellectual and social position have bred them into a family as proud as it is vulnerable. The other Jews in the town react to Mussolini’s edicts in various ways: Giorgio is enraged; his father is philosophical. The Finzi-Continis hardly seem to know, or care, what is happening. They are above mere edicts; they chose to live behind their walls long before the Fascists said they had to do so. Director De Sica tells the story of the disintegration of the Jewish community in a small Italian town and as he does he has something to say about the meaning of the time., director De Sica merges his symbols with his story so that they evoke the meaning of the time. It was a time in which many people had no idea what was really going on. Giorgio’s younger brother who went to France to study learns about the German concentration camps and is horrified. There has been no word of them in Italy, of course. Italy in those final prewar years is painted by De Sica as a perpetual wait for something no one admitted would come: war and the persecution of the Jews.

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The walled garden of the Finzi-Continis symbolizes that waiting period. It seems to promise that nothing will change, and the Jews who live in the village seem to hold on to the apparent strength of the Finzi-Continis as assurance of their own power to survive.

We are never oriented to the garden—we have no idea of its size and because of that, unlike the Finzi-Continis, we cannot depend on it to hide us. De Sica uses this beautifully as we feel the unease of being  inside an undefined space, especially if we may need to hide or run. The ambiguity of the garden’s space is matched by an understated sexual ambiguity. Nothing happens overtly, but De Sica uses looks and body language to suggest the complex varieties of sexual attractions among his characters. When Micol is discovered by Giorgio with her sleeping lover, she does a most interesting thing. She covers him, not herself, and stares at Giorgio until he goes away. What we see here is that we cannot depend on anything because permanence is forbidden at this time in history. We are to feel what it is like to wait and this is quite trying because we know what ultimate outcome the characters will. De Sica is a genius in the way he set this up. He also creates a feeling of nostalgia for a lost time and place, but it isn’t the nostalgia of looking back. Rather this is the nostalgia of the time itself, when people still inhabited their world but could sense that it was slipping away, and they already missed what they had not yet lost.