Monthly Archives: November 2015

“THE DANISH GIRL”— A Film with Sensitivity

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“The Danish Girl”

A Film with Sensitivity

Amos Lassen

Based on the story of Lilly Elb (Eddie Redmayne) who was born Einar Wegener, male, and was the first identifiable person to undergo gender reassignment. “The Danish Girl” begins as a portrait of a young husband and wife trying to eke out a living as painters. The film opens with beautiful landscape shots that we learn are the places from Einar’s youth. Einar later becomes Lilly.

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This is director Tom Hooper’s thoroughly English bio-drama of groundbreaking transgender figure Lilly Elbe and the artist wife who stood by her husband Einar throughout his long and difficult transition to live as a woman. The subject is approached with correctness and careful sensitivity of the film’s approach seem somehow a limitation in an age when many independent and cable TV projects dealing with thematically related subject matter have led us to expect something edgier. The movie remains safe but we cannot dare to question its integrity, or the balance of vulnerability and strength that Eddie Redmayne brings to the lead role. He is absolutely amazing.

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The LGBTQ community has complained about the lack of authenticity or courage in having a cisgender actor portray transgender experience, but there is no shock nor is their anything offensive in the film. The film is adapted by Lucinda Coxon from American novelist David Ebershoff’s partly fictionalized account of Elbe’s life that was published in 2000. The film begins in Copenhagen in 1926, six years after Wegener’s marriage to Gerda (Alicia Vikander). He’s an in-demand landscape painter, while she tries to make inroads into the art world with her undistinguished portraits.

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When Gerda, right after another rejection from the world of art, asks Einar to substitute for a model that did not arrive. He agrees and outs on stockings and jeweled shoes. He gains pleasure from the sensation of silk and satin against his skin. Gerda now finds new inspiration, and the resulting sketches and paintings capture the attention of an indifferent art dealer who had been inattentive earlier. What we see here is that Gerda and Einar are happily married. We also get a bit of foreshadowing. We later see Einar distractedly running his fingers over fur and tulle in the wardrobe racks at the ballet. If Gerda’s initial encouragement of Einar’s cross-dressing is accurately depicted as a kind of bohemian game, it’s more than a half-hour before even a glimmer of conflict sneaks into the relationship of the two. Actually it all really begins when Einar lets his true self emerge—while at a party, he is kissed by Henrik (Ben Whishaw), a persistent suitor. Gerda saw the kiss and is a bit upset. Up until then nothing really bothered her very much.

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Redmayne really excels by the middle of the picture when as Einar, he attempts to honor Gerda’s wishes and remove the escalating confusion from their marriage but this does not work. When Einar becomes Lilly so does Redmayne. The married couple go to Paris for a while and when they return to Copenhagen, we sense the emotional desire for Lilly to go to work in a chic department store at a perfume counter and when we see her there, she id glowing now that she sees herself as a woman among women. Later, we see Einar who still alternates the way he appears but he studies carefully female body language.

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Einar eventually realizes that he cannot continue living as a man and makes up his mind to go to Dresden to undergo surgery with a German doctor (Sebastian Koch) who is one of the pioneers in the filed. Einar, now Lilly, maintains his relationship with and marriage to Gerda and, in effect, becomes her muse. Now the marriage is quite unconventional and Vikander as Gerda captures this beautifully. She fights to keep a balance between the man she married and the woman he has become.

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The film’s focus is on the shifting dualities between Einar and Lilly and what this means is that Vikander’s character has less dimension. We are living now at a time when transgender representation has replaced gay rights as the next equality frontier. I wish that this film had been able to do that but in reality it seems that it was made as a vehicle for Eddie Redmayne to show his versatility. I do not mean to say that this is not a good movie—it is a fine movie but it could have been so much better.

“SOCKS AND CAKES”— Looking Ahead

socks and cakes poster

“Socks and Cakes”

Looking Ahead

Amos Lassen

All of us wonder what life will be like for us in the future. At a dinner party we meet five people each different from the rest who talk about this very subject. As they do secrets come to light and…

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“Socks and Cakes” brings comedy and drama together in Antonio Padovan’s short film. Harry Mogulevsky (Timothy J. Cox) is a professor of literature who is still in love with his ex-wife, Amanda (Kirsty Meares). Amanda is having problems at home with her new husband Richard (Jeff Moffitt) who lusts for David’s (Ben Prayz) latest squeeze, Sophie (Alex Vincent) who is very sexy and full of life. We watch the five as they talk about their lives and rivalries, frustrations and fascinations in them. While we do not get a real plot here, we do see something about each of the characters. We see him as a man alone in the world who preoccupies himself looking at property that he will never buy and trying to date his college students. Yet strangely enough he is at a good place in his life and this seems to contradict what I have said above. He has the freedom to do what he wants to do and when he wants to do it. Despite still having feelings for Amanda, he really loves being alone. Now what is interesting is that Richard, the host of the dinner party, is his best friend and is now married to Amanda.

Because of Richard’s seemingly constantly looking at other women, Amanda is having a rough time in the marriage. She has questions about where her life is going. She notices, as does the viewer, that Richard is smitten by Sophie from the moment the five people come together. We learn that Amanda has had an affair with David earlier and that Harry cannot stand him.

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Once wine is served and continues to fill their glasses, things really get going. Once dinner is done, we see Richard make a pass at Sophie who just does not know how to take it. Amanda tells Harry that the marriage is on the rocks and that she really wishes that she wants Richard more than needing him. What I find fascinating here is that the people at dinner are very much the kind of people we see daily and we also suspect that none of them are going to have a happy future. Because of this there is a certain honesty in the film. We see five people who are unable to truly communicate with each other and who are not honest with themselves or each other.

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I realize that this sounds like a depressing film but it is not, at all. Director and scriptwriter Padovan keeps it light. The cast is excellent and as Harry, Timothy J. Cox is amazing as are the other actors.

 

“OVER COFFEE”— An Office Romance

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“Over Coffee”

An Office Romance

Amos Lassen

Carla (Jocelyn DeBoer) is an office administrator who has great responsibilities once of which is making sure that she gets her boss, Mr. Rice’s, complicated coffee request ready for him when he walks in the door. Andrew (Eric Potempa) has been eyeing Carla and really wants to be able her show how much he likes her. Another office worker, David, also is after Carla but with the sole reason of getting her into the sack. When Mr. Rice (Timothy J. Cox) came in with little advance warning one day, Carla had not had a chance to get all her other stuff done, including the very complicated coffee, Andrew got a chance to help her.

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“Over Coffee” runs only fifteen minutes yet is amazing to see how well director Sean Meehan has developed his characters. Another interesting aspect of this film is the way that Andrew approaches what he wants to be a future romance with Carla. We see him standing by her desk evidently too shy to make a move and waiting for the right moment yet the chance for him to do so also comes in that fifteen minutes. Because of the way the film is paced her gets the chance while letting us know that has been coming for a long time. With coffee being the catalyst, Andrew has to decide whether to return to his desk and get to work or to help Carla solve the coffee situation. For this to run smoothly would have been too easy so director Meehan adds a couple of problems including Laura, a shrewd businesswoman who has a rotten attitude and who takes the coffee for herself causing Andrew to shift into gear and get the cup of coffee back to Carla and “save” her job.

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There is some really clever humor here and Michael Oberholtzer as David is responsible for some of it as are the things that Carla has to do to satisfy her boss. The fact that Carla is not a wonderful secretary adds humor as well. Potempa as Andrew makes us like him immediately and we hope for his success. I love seeing him forget good manners as he rushes to take advantage of the situation that could cause Carla to notice and like him. We can see the actors really enjoying in the film.

Rice is not an easy boss to work for and he tends to make Carla’s office life miserable. Andrew, being the nice guy that he, is, shows us that nice guys do not always finish last.

“WHAT JACK BUILT”— Jack in the Basement

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“What Jack Built”

Jack in the Basement

Amos Lassen

Unlike horror stories that use the basement, in many cases, as a place of evil, here the basement is where Jack (Timothy J. Cox) lives. There seems to be something going on in Jack’s home in the basement because it does not seem that someone would actually enjoy living surrounded by junk. We want to believe that he is planning on using the random junk and odds and ends to build something.

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Jack seems to enjoy the way he lives amid the clutter and he spends his time reading blueprints and drilling holes in pieces of wood. He seems focused although we do not know on what. He is building his whatever it is and when he leaves the basement, he heads for the woods dragging pieces behind him and making us even more curious to what is going on. Before leaving the basement, he made sure that each piece would fit perfectly into his mystery project. It is then that whatever he had been working on began to work for him. When he arrived at the forest, he looked around to remain secret, tried out whatever he had been working on and went back home to the basement.

Matthew Mahler who is only seventeen-years-old directed this and he and his father, Ross Mahler wrote the screenplay. Mahler captured wonderfully everything he had to in his short film and he did so beautifully. In just eleven minutes, we are taken to the life of a man who dares to be different—a man who dared to try to change that which he should have left alone. We watch this through beautiful cinematography. We are immediately pulled in and stay with our very strange character through the end that leaves with on our faces and a laugh in our hearts. (You do not how difficult it is to write this without giving something away). This is the price we pay for being curious.

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Timothy J. Cox is brilliant as Jack—he so becomes the character that he need not say a word—we see who he is by his facial gestures and expressions. We so want to know what he is thinking about especially after watching his expressions. This is his movie and we assume that whatever Jack is making in his workshop is not being done for a reason or purpose. We watch him sawing, hammering, measuring, etc for whatever he is making and we never find out what it is. It seems to be done when he takes it into the woods and he stays and watches what it does at night. What is so amazing is there is only one person in the film and ne never utters a word. In the end our question of what is Jack building is not answered and we discover that we have more questions. With suspense, we come to the end of the film knowing exactly what we knew at the beginning. That we never learn what exactly it is Jack is building or after may cause discomfort for some viewers, but I loved the way it was presented. 

“RADIANT SEA”— “A Young Man and the Sea”

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“Radiant Sea” (“Lichtes meer)

“A Young Man and the Sea”

Amos Lassen

“Radiant Sea” is a romantic coming-of-age film about Marek (Martin Sznur) who starts as a trainee on a container ship bound for Martinique. Full of anticipation, he leaves his parents’ farm in Western Pomerania and goes on board at St. Nazaire. Marek wants to find freedom and falls in love with the enigmatic sailor Jean (Jules Léo Sagot).

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On his trip across the Atlantic, Marek may not actually become a sailor, but he does grow up. In an intimate and documentary-like style, German filmmaker Stefan Butzmühlen follows a young man who is looking to find himself on board a cargo ship headed for the island he yearns for. This journey across the sea becomes quite a personal voyage. Marek is fleeing from his parents’ cold farm in Western Pomerania, Germany to move to more to the sun and he goes first to Dunkirk and then to Saint-Nazaire, where he boards a cargo ship together with a Frenchman, Jean with whom Marek discovers love and passion flood which he brings into the existential void that he is seeking to fill. The intimate and sexual encounters on the open sea move the two characters into an odyssey, at the end of which they will find the island they yearn for, together… or do they?

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The two sailors walk on solid ground once again when the ship arrives on the island of Martinique. However, even though they both now find themselves in the same outer place, they each attempt to keep themselves afloat in their own inner space. It is that inner place that is emphasized in this film.

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Butzmühlen builds the film up on two parallel levels. The first is the portrait of the intimacy that exists between Marek and Jean that we see in the obvious glances and the vigorous sex scenes between them. The second is the documentary-like gaze at the world that around them: the hierarchy of the workers on the cargo ship is presented down to the finest detail, the work taking place on the freighter is captured in long sequences and to the strings the opera “Madama Butterfly”.

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Both the music and the beauty of Martinique gives us captivating images as in a nighttime stroll dotted with countless fireflies. The voiceover (by Marek) becomes another of the film’s tools. It narrates the interactions between the two men while they stay silent, contributing to the documentary-like feel. Director Butzmühlen gives us an interesting voyage filled with unaffected honesty.

“Circle, Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism” by Miriam Kosman— Men, Women and Judaism

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Kosman, Miriam. “Circle, Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism”, Menucha Publishers, 2014.

Men, Women and Judaism

Amos Lassen

Regarding gender, there are many questions in Judaism and as many questions as there are, there are also that many answers. Are men and women equal in Judaism? Is equality even a Jewish goal? If it isn’t, how do we reconcile a just God with inequality?. In a society in which it is no longer clear who brings home the money and who fixes the meals, who changes the baby and who changes the tires or what it really means to be male or female. Should gender make any difference in our lives, or should we all just do what we are good at and forget labels? Is gender indeed a label or is it a biological fact?

These are questions that arise time and again in a society where norms are changing rapidly . Going past the great divide between the “men-and-women-are-equal-but-different” camp, and the “Judaism-is-patriarchal-and-must-change” camp, “Circle, Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism” presents us with a shift in paradigm. Miriam Kosman goes into Midrashic underpinnings of the struggle for equality and its philosophical ramifications and explores how female angst plays a cosmic and important role in awakening humanity to a crucial process. Later, in the second half of the book, author Kosman addresses some of the more delicate issues relating to men and women in Jewish law (the marriage and divorce structure and public versus private roles) and she explores them by way of the paradigm she has set up in the earlier chapters. This new, for some,

paradigm looks at the entire male/female dynamic and offers insight into navigating this crucial relationship in real life more successfully. In doing so, we push to the side early diatribes and look at the power of the female force in history, in society, and in relationships. We see how the entire universe is divided along the fault line between male and female and all of life is an everlasting and seemingly non-ending dance between these two forces. This is a book about who we are as human beings, as men and women – and as Jews.

Kosman draws on Jewish sources, particularly Kabbalistic ones, as well as second-wave feminist theory, postmodern thought, contemporary psychology and sociology, and then offers a sweeping theory of gender as it manifests itself in Judaism. For Kosman, the traditional Jewish conception of male and female roles is not a challenge to be overcome, but rather it represents a sophisticated and delicate framework for enabling the “female force” to manifest itself within individual relationships and within history more broadly. If we obscure the difference between men and women in the service of egalitarianism or other contemporary trends, we may actually find a counterproductive effect. It could silence the female voice.

There will be issues here that not everyone will agree with but this is an important way of looking at gender and gender roles. Everyone who has interest in Jewish intellectualism and its tradition and who is uncomfortable with easy dismissals of its wisdom when it comes to gender in the modern world will find something of importance here and not always immediately. I found myself, for example, spending a lot of time thinking about what I read and then trying it make it applicable to the way we live now. This can be very difficult for those of us who have been raised on the idea of patriarchy and Judaism.

The book centers on a midrash from the Talmudic tractate of Chullin. Translated it says the following:

“Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi asked: It is written, “And God made the two big luminaries” (Genesis 1:16) And yet first it says, “The big luminary and the small luminary.” [If they are both big, why is one later called small?] [Rabbi Shimon answers his question by explaining how the two equal-sized luminaries became unequal in size:] The moon said to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, “Master of the World, two kings cannot share the same crown.”

He said to her. “Go and make yourself small.”

She said to Him, “Because I said something proper before You, I should make myself small?”

He said to her, “Go rule by day and by night.”

She said to Him, “What is the advantage in this? What is the value of a candle at noontime?”

He said to her, “Go, so that Israel may count the days and the years through you.”

She said to Him, “The sun is also necessary for counting the times and the seasons, as it says, ‘And they [both the sun and the moon] will be for signs at the appointed time; (ibid.,14)

[He said,] “Go, so that righteous ones will be called by your name. Jacob the Small One, Samuel the Small One, David the Small One.”

He saw that she was still upset. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said, “Bring an atonement for Me that I diminished the moon.”

Even with the gendered language and it is important to remember that Hebrew is a gender specific language, we see that this is not about gender on the surface. The moon is pained because she is diminished and she wants equality. This midrash has been interpreted to refer to the Jewish people and their desire and longing for the messianic age. Each month when the Kiddush Levana prayer is recited on the new moon, the Jewish liturgy looks at this mystical yearning for the restoration of the moon to her former glory.

In both the Kabbalistic and in a variety of ancient cultures, the moon is associated with women, and this midrash is also often understood to refer to male-female relations as they manifest themselves in the world. We see that the sun bestows light while the moon receives it. Kabbalistic literature uses biological reality in describing the male archetype as the giver and the female archetype as the receiver. Kosman continually clarifies that she is dealing with conceptual symbolic categories, and that every woman or man has both these feminine and masculine forces within her or him. Therefore we must appreciate these traits separately in order for them to interrelate meaningfully. The “circle” of the book’s title relates to the moon, and to the female archetype, while the “arrow” of the title refers to masculinity and to the sun. The “spiral” then describes the ideal interaction that takes place between the forces, relating to one another in a dialectical manner but ultimately pushing forward to create a synthesis that is more than the sum of its parts.

Aside from using the sun as power, conquest and hierarchy, Kosman looks at it in terms of Western Civilization. We surely see this in the phrase that “The sun never sets on the British Empire”. We use a form of the word “light” to classify the European movement of philosophical and scientific revolution, while the moon, on the other hand, represents dependence and interconnection. What we need is to know how to listen and then validate whoever is doing the giving.

Author Kosman connects this with the spirit of the “East”. This ability to receive, or “empty oneself out” is not a passive stance, and it’s no secret how much energy and rigor is demanded by a life seriously devoted to one of the Eastern mystical traditions. Yet when placed directly beside the sun, it is easy to see how the contributions of the moon might get overshadowed. Kosman reads the midrash in Chullin as presenting two stages where the first stage is a cosmic ideal of equality, represented by the notion that God originally created the sun and the moon as the same size, as it says toward the beginning of Genesis 1, “and God made the two big luminaries”. Even the moon herself fears that no one is going to take her contributions as seriously as that of the sun. The second stage is a revision of that original plan in which, God responds to the moon’s frustration by, diminishing her. She is baffled by this response, but He assures her that it is not punishment, rather it may offer an even more dynamic solution to her problem. With her diminishment comes her ability to wax and wane, to at times reflect the sun’s light and other times be separate from it. There is a kind of active reciprocity that results between the sun and the moon, a dynamic relationship that gives the moon a degree of autonomy in when she will reflect the sun and when she will not.

We see that the moon, being small, can therefore be present in both day and night while the sun by its nature obliterates the darkness around it, the moon is conditioned to exist in both darkness and light and it also has a particular awareness that results from the smaller size, and this is in regard to her relationship to God. We know that in Judaism, righteousness is not solely a product of great abilities or accomplishments. In this midrash, God reminds the moon that in the Bible, great Jewish heroes like Jacob, Samuel and David, are called “small.” These men are distinguished by not just their external achievements but that they were able to achieve them when they were small. They were aware that they were small and vulnerable and were able to have God in their lives.

There are still questions after looking at this midrash. Why does God ask the moon to bring an atonement for Him? Despite everything that has happened, does God ultimately still regret diminishing the moon? This is a powerful dynamic that is described here and while many are quick to characterize traditional religious notions of gender and gender difference to be outmoded and even immoral, Kosman uses this Talmudic story to present a more complex picture. Equality is clearly a value here, but equality sits alongside of vulnerability and interdependence. When the moon is diminished she obtains a heightened sensitivity of how underappreciated her message of “receiving” really is, and this causes her into making it more manifest in the world. Gender imbalance creates a structure in which both forces exist separately and can then interact meaningfully with one another. It is Kosman telling us that in this midrash God tells us to understand our smallness and underneath the surface there is the history of quiet presence from which we derive humanity and that humanity comes from God.

For Kosman, the diminishment of women is not unique to Judaism. She speaks of women in the broader sense. She considers the mistreatment of women and the devaluing of female contributions that has taken place throughout human history. Here, Judaism has generally been among the least egregious offenders, although it’s inevitable that Jewish texts will to some extent reflect surrounding cultural conceptions. She also believes that Jewish practice contains within it the tools to address, and ultimately remedy this unfortunate state of imbalance. In the separation and distinctions of gender within halakha or Jewish law, Kosman sees a sophisticated system that distinguishes male and female archetypes from one another in order that a sort of dialectical relationship develops between them. The goal is a powerful, proactive collision “between opposites, who, by maintaining their disparity even as they meet the other, create something entirely new.”

Kosman cites here the historical Jewish practice of differentiating between the types of Torah study done by men and women. Talmud study is traditionally the domain of men, though Kosman does point out that there are many prominent examples of women in Jewish history who were highly versed in Jewish texts. Kosman connects the legalistic aspects of Talmud study to the male archetype, “the halakhic aspect of Talmud requires the verbal give-and-take process of accessing the truth through argument in order to be understood.” She also dismisses any notion that women are intellectually incapable of such study. Yet she contends that women will often be inclined toward a different mode of Torah study, one that emphasizes insight over argument, and experiential knowledge over abstract hypothetical scenarios. The Talmud itself contains both of these and they are both within particular legalistic give-and-takes, and in the broader weaving together of halakha with aggadah, stories that enrich, deepen and even sometimes undermine the Jewish legal discussions at hand. The appreciation of aggadah is challenging and requires careful study, but it is ultimately not a conquest of reason but rather an experience of delighting in its subtle insight. We feel this in the midrash in Chullin about the lost light of the moon – Kosman offers a compelling interpretation of the story, but there still remains an air of mystery to the midrash that rational analysis cannot fully explicate. On of the things I learned from studying and listening to Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg discuss midrash is that it can move and delight us without necessarily offering a tight logical progression of ideas.

For Kosman, however, the interplay between female and male forces is built into the Talmud and is part of what gives it its resonance and its power. The fact that more Jewish women study Talmud in the contemporary world is a positive development that can certainly highlight and bring these feminine elements of the Jewish tradition into greater relief. There is a danger in emphasizing male Torah study paradigms for both men and women— it risks sublimating the female voice. Kosman suggests, somewhat radically, that “discovering a paradigm for women’s Torah study, which validates and strengthens those gifts that women bring to the world, may require an entire restructuring of thought.”

We do not get a direct opinion about female rabbis from Kosman but we can imagine how she feels by looking at the schema she has developed showing that the male voice emphasizes hierarchy and power while the female voice is quiet; to dress it up in male clothing is to risk denigrating the female voice’s unique contributions. Of course there is the argument that the American Orthodox Rabbinate is not only about religious authority; it also involves pastoral counseling, or caring for and supporting congregants in their times of need, and these are roles that one could conceivably imagine a women fulfilling as or even more successfully than a man. Kosman would not see this as a viable argument in favor of women’s ordination, rather it is proof that the system is working as it stands. For a male communal Rabbi to be successful, he must incorporate male and female elements into his work. This give and take between male and female forces is built into the structure of Judaism and should be present in all of its major expressions. Men are who gather monthly to bless the new moon and this is not an omission of women but the opposite, In Judaism, the sun sensitizes itself to the loss and yearning represented by the moon. The real challenge in Judaism is how to take care of those differing forces while keeping the goal of interaction that propels us ahead. Kosman certainly gives us a lot to think about and she reminds us that in moving forward we can possibly lose some of what she has to say. She shows us that serious thought can make us stronger Jews and we can only hope that her words do not fall flat.

Jewish gender distinctions in more generous terms, and also in appreciating the complicated nature of their task at hand. While many have touted recent innovations in women’s formal leadership within the Orthodox community as an exciting wave of the future, Circle, Arrow Spiral quite poignantly reminds us of what might potentially be lost in this move “forward.” Kosman demonstrates the potential for what serious and broad thinking about Judaism can look like within a context of deep faith and commitment. It would be wonderful if major debates in the Modern Orthodox community would take place within, or at least respond to, such a well thought-out conceptual framework.

“AMOROUS”—- Four Young Londoners

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“AMOROUS”

Four Young Londoners

Amos Lassen

Four young Londoners who are tired of the pressures and expectations of big city life, move to an isolated country cottage. The make up strange new rules and rituals to help them combat their complacency and cynicism. They also test social conventions and their own inhibitions by living communally, swapping partners and exploring unconventional relationships. As might be expected, their new personal and sexual bonds are tested by the arrival of an ex-lover. Joanna Coates’ film is sensual and atmospheric with soft, dreamy cinematography that makes the film feel intimate feel considering the physical and emotional relationship of the four characters.

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Charlotte (Hannah Arterton), Max (Josh O’Connor), Jack (Daniel Metz) and Leah (Rea Mole) develop a utopian commune in the secluded English countryside. They are totally uninterested in what is going on in the world around them and so they foster a place in which imagination replaces societal rules. As an expression of their newfound freedom, the foursome establishes a polyamorous lifestyle in an effort to breakdown interpersonal boundaries while also avoiding any romantic connections that might tear them and the commune apart.

The commune becomes a place for the characters to seek out their true selves and find happiness. The film tests the theory that societal norms serve as burdens for human beings and that free of moral guidelines and everyday stress, people might just be able to enjoy life. We have learned from history that most communes attempt to exist in the guise of utopia but fail because of egos and/or lack of direction. There is either too much leadership, or not enough. In the case of “Amorous”, the characters have learned to exist equally and cooperatively and this relieves them of destructive egos and power dynamics. Director Coates avoids a  discussion of the economic structure of this commune thus leaving us wondering how this foursome will survive in seclusion in the long run; but then the film does not claim to be a microeconomic analysis of this world. Rather, it functions as a psychological study of natural human behavior.

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“Amorous” proposes the philosophy of using avoidance and ignorance as a form of protest. For Charlotte, Max, Jack and Leah, the world outside is a hopeless place. Instead of trying to fix something that is too far-gone, they have chosen to start their own form of existence in the hope that the rest of the world will just leave them alone. Of course that means that they must assume that the evils of the world around them will not enter their paradise.

We get quite a bold look at sexuality and the human condition. The film is shot beautifully with each frame crafted in a way to give us a deeper look into the psychology of the situation. With no exposition, Coates presents the audience with a scenario and allows them to come to their own judgments and conclusions. We do not wonder if it will last or not as it exists solely in the now. This is most certainly not a new topic and many of us have dreamed about an abundance of love, sex and friendship even if it is in conflict with the ideology of a soul mate. Here we get a different view of love— one that seeks to mythologize a polyamorous union instead.

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Our four friends draw up schedules of partner-swapping including different and same-sex combinations and hang it on the door to the “marital bedroom”, reminding me of my college dorm days.

We watch as sexual relationships develop slowly and patiently, mostly overnight at first and then just a secret smile the next morning, and again later on through the daytime and we see them coupling wherever and whenever. Their collection of unusual rules and rituals helps loosen their inhibitions as they move towards a deeply unconventional joy.

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The house belongs to Leah, who seems to be the conceptual leader of the group and obviously the four young lovers can afford the lifestyle and it doesn’t look like anybody ever goes to work, much less pay the monthly bills or shop for groceries. In the four protagonists just are (together) and only vaguely defined in terms of characters and motivations, far away from reality.

The film is innovative in the way it combines depictions of all kinds of sexual activity in the beautiful and naturalistically shot surroundings. This is paradise in all of its elements of undefined work towards the idea of an idealized, imaginary community. The argument is to explore the ways in which the world could be organized differently in terms of politics and society, as well as emotionally and intellectually. Max, Charlotte, Leah and Jack have no connection to the outside world. What they had are of the past. We do get hints that Leah’s parents would disapprove of her lifestyle and that Charlotte has an ex-boyfriend. The four have made themselves are outcasts who reject the mores of conventional society and likewise are rejected . What we really do not know is exactly they are rebelling against. The film plays a “purely” aesthetic role and dismisses all functionality in favor of lyricism.

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There is a distinct sense of mystery and intrigue that immerses us into world and leaves us groping for answers. The depiction of sex and nudity conveys the subjectivity of both her male and female cast in equal measure. Somewhat frustratingly, however, beneath the film’s beautiful veneer of generational malaise, not much really happens. Because of the lack of exposition, it is difficult to know the characters and when a fifth characters attempts to join them, we get an incredibly empty and mundane encounter. This could very well be a comment on the “other” that is based upon individualism or xenophobia even though these themes are not dealt with specifically. We get no real sense of direction in the film and this could be a mirroring of the bewilderment of today’s disenfranchised youth.

“EAGLES”— Two Israeli Veterans

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“EAGLES”

Two Israeli Veterans

Amos Lassen

Efraim (Yossi Polack) and Moshka (Yehoram Gaon)are two veterans of Israel’s War of Independence who decide to embark on a lethal murderous rampage against the young disrespectful generation on the hedonistic streets of Tel Aviv.

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Dror Sabo’s “Eagles” bring us cane-and pistol-wielding vigilante war heroes who blow away every annoying twenty something they can get in their cross-hairs. As they do, they muse about the romance and the Israel that might have been. The film, for me, at least, comes across as an allegory for contemporary Israeli discontent. Yossi Pollak and Yehoram Gaon are perfect as disillusioned old warriors whose age has made them invisible to everyone including law enforcement. Their feelings of loss and longing mesh with their willingness to mow down all the “bastards” (“nevelot” in Hebrew and the name of this film in Israel).

We follow former IDF soldiers Efraim and Moshka as their dull, monotonous lives are thrown for a loop after a friend is killed in a fatal hit and run collision. The film, for the most part, revolves around the pair’s efforts at avenging their friend’s death and their subsequent transformation into vigilantes. At first, watching it we see it as a small drama that explores the problems and indignities that come with aging, Efraim comes across as bitter as he faces old age. But then the movie changes gears radically and we see the two men who are out to revenge their dead friend’s murder. Comedy takes over and the two try for retribution for the accident that took their friend. I am not really sure that this is comedy, however and in effect we are laughing as the law is being broken.

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There is also a subplot where we learn that both men had affairs with the same woman in the past. Neither of the plots is ever wrapped up. While there are some funny moments this is, by and large, a grim movie. We hear complaints about naked babies on television and the younger generation’s lack of manners and we realize that the men are struggling with no longer being relevant.

We see Efraim and Moshka in flashback as young survivors of war and displacement and we understand how much they endured during the 1948 conflict. They are left traumatized when a mutually adored woman and lifelong love is struck and killed by a car. Walking along the together one evening, they share their grief. This soon becomes tragic when they are forced to defend themselves after words and punches are exchanged with a group of thugs. That incident becomes the cathartic release of pent-up resentment that Efraim has long-been craving although Moshka is actually far more troubled by the incident. When they have a chance encounter with the man who killed their friend, they move toward self-styled justice, and soon they are on a killing spree, setting out to right the selfish wrongs of Israel’s younger population. At about the same time, Dina (Noa Barkai) their late friend’s daughter, is trying to track them down. She only recently learned about their past with her mother.

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We certainly see the symbolism of old and new Israel in conflict as well as a personal picture of two disenfranchised elders. Pollak and Gaon are convincing as men struggling with their ages and they are driven by memories and passions that no longer hold any significance. What is perfect irony is that what Moshka and Efraim see as the shallowness of the 20-somethings is also the very hedonism that they themselves desire.

 

“Eagles” is a tough, cold and disheartening film. The actions of Efraim and Moshka occasionally seesaw between real warmth and inhuman villainy and their self-righteous journey makes it hard to have sympathy for them. I am sure that the film will engender debate just as other movies of importance do.

The film is based on a novel by Israeli author, Yoram Kaniuk and I understand that HBO is reworking the film for American audiences. The Israeli fighters will be replace by Vietnam War veterans who go on a murderous rampage in Miami.

“BLOOD RAGE”— Twins

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“Blood Rage”

Twins

Amos Lassen

When Maddy (Louise Lasser) takes her two sleeping twins, Todd and Terry, to the local drive in to make out with her lover, the two boys sneak out of the car and watch other couples make out. Terry is violent and discovers how to use of a hatchet but blames his brother, Todd for what went down. framing his brother for the incident. The film flashes forward ten years and the unfortunate Todd (Mark Soper, playing both brothers) is incarcerated in a mental institution. Because we know from the start who the murderer is, there is no tension in the film and there is no attempt to confuse the audience with which one of the brothers is on screen at any one time; we are then watch the film for the brutal but effective murder scenes.

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Arrow Video has gone all out with this blu ray release and offer three distinct versions – the theatrical release, renamed as “Nightmare at Shadow Woods”, the harder home video release and a new composite cut of the two – all of which have been remarkably cleaned up and remastered. The home video cut is superior, retaining the gore and cutting the pace-killing extra scenes. Yet

Blood Rage is a film that defies criticism; the acting remains terrible, the cinematography flat and the script either abysmal or inspired, depending on how one reacts to dialogue like “It isn’t cranberry sauce”, “I’d say this big bird is ready for carving” and “Looks like you’re going to get to meet the rest of the family; my psychotic brother just escaped”. Nonetheless I love this movie. It is cheap, daft and totally entertaining. I am not sure whether we scream with laughter or we scream with fear. “Blood Rage” is both a slasher film set at Thanksgiving and an identical twin story.

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Todd is locked up in a mental institute and Terry is left tending to Thanksgiving dinner. We then learn that Todd escaped and, we’re led to believe he’s the psychopath when in reality (which is blurred), it is his evil twin who is sitting at the Thanksgiving table. Terry “loses it” upon seeing his mom with a new boyfriend, Brad, who’s just proposed to her on Thanksgiving. We know nothing about her former husband and the twins’ father.

Terry has a total of nine victims and the film is filled with nudity, severed heads, torsos, and limbs. When we consider that the movie was made in the 80’s, we see just how much gore is here. It only takes about five minutes in the beginning to figure out where the film is going and the real begins as we move down that road.

Maddy is given the news by Todd’s doctor that Todd has snapped out of his trance-like state and has begun to remember what happened, blaming his brother Terry for the murder and claiming his innocence. Refusing to believe him, Maddy carries on with her Thanksgiving celebrations, which includes breaking the news to Terry that she is about to marry her boyfriend Brad (William Fuller) and this causes Terry to go crazy. An unwelcome phone call tells Maddy that Todd has escaped and this pushes Terry him into a murderous rage that sees the unstable twin embark on a night of bloodthirsty terror. The question is which one of the twins will get the blame?

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“Blood Rage” has some decent gore beyond the usual throat slitting and chest stabbing. Louise Lasser plays it her part as an eccentric and a kook yet manages to gain our sympathies for the grief that her children have given her. She also comes into her own at the end and is the most interesting character in the film. Mark Soper also does a good job in handling the dual roles of Terry and Todd (although the filmmakers could have used a better ‘lookalike’ than the one they did during the one scene where the two brothers are in the same shot). I know I said the acting was terrible so please understand the above as related to that statement.

“Blood Rage” is a slasher movie that places itself firmly in the middle of the genre output of the 80s. It is gorier than most of the other non-franchise slashers and it does try to add a bit of intensity by beginning with a brutal kill and barely letting up for most of the running time.

Some of the Blu ray extras include:

As stated earlier you get three cuts of the film, and a direct video transfer of the opening with the correct title on.

An audio commentary by the director which is a little on the dull side. You can tell this was a job for hire as he seems to talk more about distribution wrangles more than any stylistic choices.

A series of interviews with Producer/Actress Marianne Kanter, lead Mark Soper and most interesting, Louise Lasser. Ed French talks about the effects and Ted Raimi gives a quick interview regarding this, his first role.

There is also a dull look at the locations of the film, some outtakes and a booklet featuring the writings of Joseph A Ziemba. More comprehensive than the film needs but also not a great deal to excite any devotees of this outlander of ’80s slasher horror.

“AYA ARCOS”— The Intellectual and the Prostitute

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“AYA ARCOS”

The Intellectual and the Prostitute

Amos Lassen

Edu (Cesar Augusto) is a writer and something of an intellectual and is having something of a creative crisis. He meets Fabio (Daniel Passi) a young twenty-one year-old hustler and falls madly in love with him. While their relationship is shaky, they seem to love and support each other even with emotional outbursts and disagreements. Whether this relationship will last is questionable. In Rio de Janeiro lives are lived with excess. Then there is the fact that Fabio is probably HIV positive and this terrorizes Edu but he is so much in love with Fabio that he just pays no mind to that.

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Suddenly their passion for each other changes and each seems to want to cancel the other and this is how we see them. This is writer/director Maximilian Moll’s first feature film and if this is a hint of what we can expect from him then we have a new brilliant director among us. It is totally interesting to see how he uses tenderness in the film about two mismatched med who stay together because of sex.

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Yes, this is a melodrama but in this case, that is a positive description. Edu is willing to continue the affair as long as Fabio uses protection when they have sex and when he has sex with other men. Edu cannot stop him in his profession as a hustler but he can influence what he does. I also see the city of Rio as a character in the film because as a backdrop it influences the film and the action.

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It is impossible to ignore the danger that the two men face because of the threat of HIV and I found this interesting in that today many seem to forget the disease and take unnecessary risks.

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This is a low budget movie with a high sexual level and even when we do not see it, we sense its influence. Some might find it to depressing in that it rains throughout the film and for Edu who is an accomplished writer he lives cheaply and with only that which is an absolute necessity (This includes the meager furniture in his apartment. The film is constantly well focused on the characters and how they live.

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We might think that the reason Edu cannot write is because he is so busy with Fabio. As the hustler, this is Daniel Passi’s film. For him, being paid for sex is his lifeline. This is a rough film because of Fabio’s being a prostitute. The film has been on the festival circuit and has been garnering prizes.