Monthly Archives: December 2015

“RATS THAT EAT MEN”— A Gay Refugee in London

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“Rats That Eat Men”

A Gay Refugee in London

Amos Lassen

Unaware of each other’s presence in a crumbling townhouse, Ritah (Anna-Maria Nabiyre) is squatting in the basement, on the run from a marriage of convenience which has gone wrong and everyone is a potential threat. In the same building in the attic, Polish laborer Alojzy (Joseph Olivennes) is avoiding calls from his mother as he looks at his home, London, filled with excitement The first meeting of the two of them frightens both of them, but sharing a home means they are stuck with each other. They cannot escape of avoid escape each other’s presence and eventually they warm to one another’s idiosyncrasies and try to help each other deal with each’s different struggles.

Many have come to London seeking asylum and most Londoners think that if one does not have a good reason for being there they should be allowed into the country even though they are running away from horrible situations. It is even harder for gay people who are leaving their countries to save their own lives.

Here we follow gay refugee Ritah who has escaped persecution in Uganda and is now homeless on the streets of London, squatting in an abandoned building with only a knife to protect herself. She discovers that she’s not living there alone, as a young Polish man, Stanislau (Ivo De Freitas) is sleeping upstairs. After some initial wariness and distrust, they begin to bond. Ritah tells of what she left behind and how much it cost her to get out causing us to think about why squatting in London is better than her life before, as well as her consideration of the dangers and anonymity of living on the edge of British society.

“HOW GAY IS PAKISTAN?”— Surprises

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“How Gay is Pakistan?”

Surprises

Amos Lassen

In this new documentary, Mawaan Rizwan asks what life is really like for gay people in Pakistan, where homosexuality is illegal and considered by some as a disease. In this revealing journey to the country of his birth, Mawaan meets people living gay and transgender lives despite constant fear of persecution. He also discovers a fascinating and shocking private world where sex between men is surprisingly common, but where LGBT rights are limited.

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While in the country he’s also offered a miracle herbal cure for his own homosexuality. What Rizwan found and what he shares with us is surprising as we learn that Pakistan is a lot gayer than we had thought. However, his coming out to his family was “the worst news for Pakistani parents to hear”, yet in such a fundamentalist country he discovered gay sex dens, underground LGBT parties and communities of transgender women living together. 

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Homosexuality is illegal in Pakistan— it is viewed as an offence against Islamic law. Because of this, LGBT people face abuse every day. Rizwan bravely admitted he was gay in front of an imam, whose response was: “The hole made for the human body is for waste, it is not for sex.” Now the Rizwan of what he called his homosexual “illness” and prescribed a course of medication after feeling Rizwan’s pulse. From this, the imam reached the conclusion that his liver was overheated and this caused his “urine to mix with semen”. Thankfully, 24-year-old Rizwan had the last laugh when he called him after taking the course of medication to tell him he still had sexual feelings towards men. What we find so offensive here is the imam’s outdated ideas. (He also has an orange beard).

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Homosexuality in Pakistan is a serious issue even though we Rizwan presents us with a bit of humor. I am sure he would have preferred being in London to Pakistan. It is important to remember that being gay in Pakistan is a crime that carried the death sentence. Many Pakistanis see it as a disease yet Rizwan found a bit of a different situation.

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He was on a quest to find out what life is really like for gay people in Pakistan and what he found turned out to be both shocking and surprising. He met with gay activists Sid and his transgender partner Kami who organize club nights for the boys and while this is not spoken of, everyone of the gay scene seems to know about them. Sid and Kami have been together for seven years and they want to become Pakistan’s first same-sex married couple. It is surprising to see the openness of the guys at the party—they show their faces and speak directly to the camera. This could get them killed and they have no one to speak for them or voice their concerns. It is also interesting to see Kami hold her own on the streets especially when confronted by traditionalists who pray to God to purge gay people’s minds. They cannot easily leave the country and this is one of two options avail able—leaving or living secret lives.

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We meet Shahzadi, who without her guru’s permission has taken the ultimate snip to become a women. Perhaps the most unexpected of all that Rizwan found was an area of the city where low paid straight men go cruising for sex – with men (because they cannot afford to pay prostitutes)., on account that they cannot afford female prostitutes! Although how many of them are truly an absolute zero on the Kinsey scale, is open to question. We see that there is somewhat of a thriving gay scene in Pakistan. Yet all is not a bed of pink roses, as a sickening video not televised, but shown to Rizwan of a fifteen-year-old boy who when caught with his gay lover, was brutally attacked by a mob just because he is gay. It seems that the powers that are know about the gay scene but turn a blind eye in that direction (at least as long as it remains underground.

“A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS”— Growing Up in Jerusalem

a tale pf love and darkness

 “A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS”

Growing Up in Jerusalem

Amos Lassen

“You can find hell and also heaven in every room. A little bit of evilness and men to men are hell. A little bit of mercifulness and men to men are heaven”…. Amos OZ

Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman makes her debut as writer and director with this adaptation of the best-selling memoir by celebrated Israeli author Amos Oz. She also stars in the story about growing up in Jerusalem before the establishment of the State of Israel. Oz’s family, one of the many who immigrated to Palestine  to escape European persecution and consisted of his academic father, Arieh (Gilad Kahana) and his dreamy, imaginative mother, Fania (Portman).

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While Arieh was cautiously hopeful about the future, Fania was not satisfied. The terror of the war and anxiety concerning immigration was replaced by the tedium of everyday life that weighed heavily on Fania’s spirit. She was unhappy in her marriage and intellectually stifled, Fania entertained her ten-year- old Amos by making up stories of adventures the desert.  Amos was enraptured when Fania read him poetry and explained words and language in a way that influenced him all his life and certainly contributed to what made him become a writer. Fania never felt the sense of life that she hoped for and she slid into isolation and sadness and she was beyond help. Amos had to say good-bye to her before he was ready.  As he witnessed the birth of a nation he had to come to terms with his own new beginning. With the end of the British mandate and the people living in the area were about to create the new state of Israel, Amos kept pushing forward with the memories of the stories his mother shared with him. His relationship with his mother helped to define him as a future writer, journalist, and advocate of a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  However, this film is about his love letter to his mother that she would never be able to read….

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The film begins with our hearing the voice of an older Amos Oz and we see how young Amos and his mother, Fania (Natalie Portman) as they talked with their hands. It was not long before the conflicts that created chaos in the city of Jerusalem and made Fania have terrible and constant headaches began. Fania sees Amos as her only happiness and a reason to keep going as far as her strength allows her. As the movie moves forward, we see Amos in many other situations where he must act like a grown up to not give up the way his mother does. We see how Jerusalem reacts to and deals with poverty, war, and uncertainty and this affects Fania and her family which makes it impossible for them to help her.

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But above all else what we see here are the pointless and dreadful conflicts Jewish people had gone through, and how many more lives are being taken because of people’s acts of inhumanity. This is really about how love is the only thing that can take one person through hell and darkness. We also see that Oz’s writing is concerned the fragility of his home country, Israel, with which he is inseparably connected.

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As Israel itself comes of age, we see the effects on the lives of its new and cosmopolitan population. Amos’ father’s career as a writer is fruitless and his marriage lacks all of the fervor that Fania imagined. Her disillusionment sets in motion a slow process of fading health, depression and solitude, with the adoration of her innocent son being a single source of joy. The film is a slightly sentimental at times, especially when it undertakes to break down complex politics into aphorisms. The film is at its best when it focuses on personal developments, which are quite often triggered by the historical situation. The slow decline of Amos’ mother’s health and her once keen imagination are connected to the harsh realities around her, and this is quite sad. It is in these scenes that the Portman’s best artistic decision becomes obvious: the casting of herself in the demanding role of a melancholic storyteller who breaks under the dissolution of her dreams.

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Natalie Portman has adapted Amos Oz’s autobiographical memoirs in such a way as to attempt to present less-than-straightforward positions around a still very contentious issue. Sometimes the pacing is off but nonetheless, this is a beautiful and assured movie and it makes a place for Natalie Portman on the other side of the camera.

“RABIN, THE LAST DAY”— Leading Up to the Murder

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“Rabin, the Last Day”

Leading Up to Murder

Amos Lassen

The assassination of Itzhak Rabin ended efforts of peace in Israel. It also ended the whole left wing of the country. Amos Gitai’s film takes us through the prime minister’s last leading up to his murder. November 4, 1992 was a day that shook the world. On that day political murder hit the country that has contended that it is the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. Following an opening interview with then Defense Minister Shimon Perez, Gitai goes from showing us stock footage of the peace demonstration that was meant to shore up support for the unpopular Oslo peace accords to a moment of dramatic reconstruction as the shots are fired.

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At first the result was panic as the body of Rabin was put into a car and set off for a hospital. Then the movie tones down to the investigational inquest exploring the failings of the police and secret service that led to the hit. This became the Shamgar Commission, led by President of the Supreme Court Meir Shamgar (Michael Warshaviak), who was assisted by Zvi Zamir (Yitzhak Hiskiya) and Ariel Rosen-Zvi (Pini Mittelman). We see interviews with the cameraman who shot the footage, with characters pacing back and forth from the foreground as they meditated deeply.

As the inquiry gets properly underway, a more clinical record of word is spoken, questions asked and the remit of the committee was restricted in order to forestall a broader political discussion. Integrated into the film are scenes involving those that Gitai obviously feels to have blood on their hands, the fanatical and religiously orthodox settlers, who cast an ancient curse on Rabin— “Din Rodef (Law of the Pursuer) which is effectively a “Fatwah” and we see demonstrations which invoke such violent language that neighbors on sedition. There are moments of almost black humor, as when a psychologist gives a lecture to a right wing group about how she has diagnosed Rabin as schizophrenic. She says that Rabin lived in a world of his own imagination and we see that this description could also apply to the right-wing Jewish group to which she belongs. The murderer himself, Yigal Amir (Yogev Yefet) is interviewed by an elderly investigator who cannot hide his contempt. When Amir claims to have acted on behalf of many, his interviewer asks him if he asked other Jews if this was what they wanted. Now the film moves into an investigation on the risk to Israeli democracy posed by fanatical groups. The film, however, has a broader political context. The security measures are seen as having been appallingly lax when the prior death threats are considered as well as the atmosphere of hostility that existed at that time in Israel. There is also a suggestion of a conspiracy but the likelihood seems to be that there was an inexcusable level of complacency. What happened that day had the immediate effect of causing widespread grief and outrage. The square itself was renamed Rabin Square as were other streets and buildings. The religious community was also taken aback by the vehemence of condemnation that came their way and found some comfort in conspiracy theories that the whole thing was a set up to make them look bad. Some illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories were rolled back as we see both reenacted and through stock footage. However, as the film and time moves forward, Gitai clearly indicates that those responsible for violent rabble rousing of which Benjamin Netanyahu was chief among them were ultimately the victors. They grabbed Israel’s future and turned it in an increasingly belligerent direction.

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Gitai’s film is powerful and uncompromising as it gives details about the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Rabin. Stylistically, the film is a hybrid: it starts off as a documentary, with an extensive interview with Shimon Peres, continues with archival footage from the day of the homicide and then develops into a gripping re-enactment of the investigations that followed Rabin’s death, sourced directly from the investigations’ original proceedings.

On a few occasions throughout the film, documentary and staged reconstruction are seamlessly blended, such as when the camera follows the dying Rabin inside his car and travels with him and his bodyguards to the hospital. It is a radical and purely cinematic act that enriches the film and allows the audience to be a witness to the unseen moments of Rabin’s tragedy.

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The film’s main concern is the reconstruction of the event from a contemporary perspective and to raise questions regarding the responsibilities that led to the homicide. Amos Gitai knows perfectly well that raising questions does not necessarily mean that answers will follow – and in fact, most of the times they don’t. In Gitai’s reconstruction, Yitzhak Rabin is portrayed as a man of peace and whose death has led to an irreparable state of unrest seems to be the target of several political organizations and religious groups that protest against him, encircle him and finally overwhelm him and in doing so created the condition for his murder to happen.

The discontent against him derived mainly from his active role in defining and signing the Oslo Accords, which were received very harshly by the Israeli conservatives and also by Orthodox religious groups who thought that Rabin was acting against the rules of the Torah. A meeting of religious leaders is displayed in the film, where Rabin’s authority is overthrown and he is declared an unfaithful, untrustworthy personality.

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Policemen and security guards who were operating near the Square where Rabin was assassinated are interrogated and their actions undergo severe scrutiny, but no one seems to want to take responsibility in what happened and they end up blaming each other. Gitai is very subtle and cruelly ironic in making it look like it was everybody’s fault, which ultimately means that nobody will take the fall. The situation is so absurd, and so clearly unsolvable, that one of the judges in the Shamgar Commission ends up saying that he did not know whether tor cry.

Rabin’s assassin, Jew activist Yigal Amir (played by Yogev Yefet) is portrayed as a complex character, who acted of his own accord but also was the ideological pawn of a system that had been conspiring against Rabin for a very long time. The claustrophobic setting of the re-enactment of the investigation conveys the stifling sense of siege that Rabin must have felt during the days leading up to his murder, when many of the institutions and people around him were tightening the noose on him.  Eric Gautier’s cinematography is filled with bleak colors that leave no room for hope or justice.

 

The film builds up to a moving archive interview with Rabin’s widow Leah, who expresses her profound sadness and we get the feeling that it is the same kind of sadness that Gitai still feels— the sadness of having lost someone who could have really made a difference in the Israeli politics and in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

We all are aware that Rabin was a significant figure in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a war hero who gave peace a chance, making inroads with the PLO and helping to bring the Palestinian National Authority into being. Along with Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres (his immediate successor), he won the Nobel Peace Prize after signing the Oslo Accords. However, his actions split Israeli society, with right wing political rivals Likud and religious hardliners seeing him as a traitor for giving away land they saw as belonging to Israel. Even though Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a right-wing radical Jew, who thought that any giveaways to the Palestinians acted against the Torah, Gitai’s interpretation doesn’t circle around Amir or his extremist vision of Judaism, but the climate of extremism and Israeli exceptionalism that were the real murderer of the statesman.

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Gitai asks questions that official studies have refused to explore. He frames the actions within the official Shamgar Commission into security and intelligence failing behind assassination. The commission was denied the chance to investigate the political and social climate around the actions, something Gitai tries to do something about.

This film is innovative in structure and convincing in its assessment of various Israeli governments’ dithering attitude to extremist Zionism that has led to Netanyahu’s Israel belligerent rhetoric today. The re-enactments and dramatized scenes, we see are verbatim says Gitai—they were taken word for word from written transcripts.

Much of the film takes place as testimony to the Shamgar report, including countless bureaucrats passing the buck on institutional failings. The only talking heads are a brief interview with Peres that opens the film and one with Rabin’s wife Leah. Gitai also re-enacts scenes from inside extremist religious sects where the assassin who is one of the few recurring characters sees theological leaders advocate Rabin’s death. In one scene, Gitai dramatizes the climate of paranoia with an extremist Zionist, who also claims to be a clinical psychologist, and bursts into tears because she can’t have a “schizoid” prime minister leading her country.

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We see TV footage from grand Likud demonstrations, with placards portraying Rabin as an SS officer or behind crosshairs. Binyamin Netanyahu preaches at rallies where crowds shout “death to Rabin.”  At one point, a commission lawyer says this “school of thought legitimized violence in the West Bank.” Part of what’s urgent about the film is in Gitai’s unapologetic pointing to Netanyahu as a source, rather a symptom of that extremist dictum that infiltrates conversations about the Arab-Israeli conflict even today.

The film runs almost two hours and it challenges us and makes us curious. We can all remember how we felt when Kennedy was shot down in this country and there are few things more shocking than the murder of a political leader because they are never just an individual. Willingly or not, they represent a vision for how the world should be, and a practical approach to achieving it. The bigger their impact, the more society changes, splitting people into opposing camps. The very fact that Yitzhak Rabin remains such a divisive figure nearly 20 years after his assassination gives some indication as to the passions he aroused at the time. Exploring down two avenues, Israeli director Amos Gitai’s docudrama examines in forensic detail the direct failings that led to Rabin’s death, and the wider climate that sparked it.

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His decision to sign up to the Oslo Accords made him a figure of hate for many on the right, and an icon for those seeking peace. This is a slow film, that takes its time to draw out testimonies, and incorporates footage of Jewish settlements for minutes on end. Sometimes the thoroughness can be overwhelming, the level of detail from each figure comprehensive to the point of monotony. With a superb music score from Amit Poznansky, the film manages to ride over these moments, sustaining a sense of fear and uncertainty. There are answers here, but not to the big question. This is how and why Rabin died. As to an overarching solution for Israel, it looks like the wait has only just begun.

“Love”— Invitation

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“Love”

Invitation

Amos Lassen

“Love” is a celebration of heterosexuality with a few adventures thrown in to keep things interesting. We have a threesome, a bit of S&M and a rather pointless interlude with a trans hooker. Take the sex away (which you cannot do) then this is a story of a young man’s self-imposed self-loathing because, his penis rules him. He makes a series of bad choices and silly decisions.

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“Love” is about love and sex and how both sexes interpret, compare and practice them. We learn that infidelity is not infidelity when both partners are present. Director Gaspar Noe has opened the door on sex that some will label immediately as porn. But this is a step above porn in that the sex is handled with style and sensitivity. “Love” is a love story with great passion, lots of sex and addiction. We also hear director Noe’s philosophies on life and love and he shares that love is clearly the meaning behind many of life’s prospects.

Electra (Aomi Muyock) replies to Murphy’s (Karl Glusman) question, “what is the meaning of life?” with the simple answer, “love”. The film is a treatise of love and perhaps a nostalgic love that not all of us are familiar with. Here we see an attribute that makes love the complex sensation that it seeks to be. Love is the foundation of our desires and heartaches as emotional human beings; no one learns these lessons harder than the character of Murphy.

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It is hard to watch this film without feeling something. We see magical moments of first love and the first night with a new partner are overwhelmed by the futilities of life’s needs and complications. The expression is bountiful and sticks with us.

Murphy is an American living in Paris who enters a highly sexually and emotionally charged relationship with the unstable Electra. Unaware of the effect it will have on their relationship, they invite their pretty neighbor into their bed. I have no doubt that there will be those who will criticize the film because of the sexual content. However, it is so much more than just sex. We see its importance and that it is natural in any loving relationship. Noé indulges in the fantasies of a young couple, in what is an honest attempt at the intricacies of the sexual relationship within the hunger of love. These scenes can be explicit on the eye, but they are without doubt thoughtfully and breathtakingly crafted sex scenes.

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Murphy himself is an aspiring film director and has his own philosophy on the medium that he wishes to share with Electra. He wants to now why no one has made a film of partners in love having explicit sex. Of course, there is irony here especially when we see Murphy’s own desires through Murphy himself. He also believes that blood, sperm and tears formulate the essence of life and can’t understand why movies don’t reflect this. These aspects of the human being certainly stand true to many manifestations, notably the tears that come with one’s outward suffering, the sperm with an essential private pleasure, and the blood as the component fuelling the interior toxins of life. We see an explosion of such fluids in the film.

When a film has such a strong vision and an abundance of things to say, it is difficult to review. The sex we see is not gratuitous. It is justified in a story that focuses on the trials of young love. “Love” was filmed in 3D because it is designed as a completely immersive experience. In the opening scene, Murphy wakes up and announces that “I wish I didn’t exist right now.” His ex-girlfriend and love of his life, Electra has gone missing, and the news knocks him into a state of complete unrest that aligns perfectly with the film’s artful style. We get a suggestion of the perverse. , Electra and Murphy, as well as Omi (Klara Kristin), the woman he lives with at the start of the film and his child’s mother, are constrained by Noé’s predetermined vision of the way that people talk, fight, and have sex, only here the talk is stupid, the fighting violent, and the sex unsimulated. It seems that the film is trying to represent on screen Noe’s nostalgia for the lack of inhibitions when there are few cares aside from sex.

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It is easy to discuss the film just through the lens of the movie’s sex. There’s a lot of it, and it’s explicit, with unsimulated sex scenes making up a significant portion of the film’s two hour running time. However, to only discuss the sex would mean ignoring the aims of the film that love is really just a act of provocation. What little narrative there is tells the story of the love triangle between Murphy, Electra and Omi and Murphy’s determination to find Electra after her mother (Isabelle Nicou) informs him of her disappearance. As a result of the news, he begins reflecting on their relationship, and the film becomes a non-linear exploration of the romance between the two.

Murphy and Electra’s relationship is interrupted through the inclusion of Omi who joins their life via a threesome. Soon after, Electra leaves town, and Murphy uses her absence as an opportunity to sleep with Omi without Electra’s interference. In the midst of their affair, a condom breaks, and Omi gets pregnant. The roles reverse, and he ends up in a relationship with her, with Electra as the subject of his adulterous desire.

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What the three-way demonstrates, as does much of the film, is just how much of a narrative one can tell through sex. Noé uses his sex scenes to delve into the relationships between characters. There are clear narrative implications when, for example, Murphy decides to pleasure Omi rather than Electra, and the scenes wouldn’t be able to convey the same meanings without this explicitness  Rather than merely featuring the scenes for the sake of depicting graphic sex, Noé uses the graphicness to get into a level of detail about the relationships between his characters most films are unable approach. Using these very details, Noe creates a somewhat disturbing look at gender relations.

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Noé then combines these details within the wider structure of the film to create a disturbing and powerful portrait of gender relations. We see many variations of sex and the differences are used to give us an intimate look at the arc of a relationship. What this does is make the film a story told through sex. As a result, “Love” becomes an all too rare thing in cinema: a story told through sex. Noé treats sex with the importance and reverence it deserves. Too many filmmakers simply gloss over it through elision and this deprives us of learning about the nature of a relationship. The use of 3D punctuates the action and allows for a powerful connection between film and viewer. This connection is only possible through explicit sex like we have here.

“PIGS WITHOUT BLANKETS”— The Penis Documentary

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“PIGS WITHOUT BLANKETS”

The Penis Documentary

Amos Lassen

I just learned about “Pigs Without Blankets” from its Kickstarter campaign. What I am reporting on here is what I have learned from the site. We do not talk about penises in this country and we certainly do not talk about circumcision. The fact that we never discuss a surgical procedure done to millions of American baby boys moments after their birth is, quite strange to some people. When the subject comes up, the reaction is somewhat hostile even when speaking with a stranger. The filmmakers want viewers to meet the group of people who fight against circumcision, discover what motivates them, and understand why they feel the best penis is the one left intact. The film was meant to be public service announcement but it has evolved into a documentary about circumcision.

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Featured are Alan Cuming (whose book on the subject I have been waiting to read, as well as Steven Svoboda, who is the head of the Attorney of the Rights of the Child and Eric Clopper, spokesman for Foregen a company that plans to use stem cell science to restore foreskins. The film is produced by

Kenny Neal Shults and stars Eric Clopper. Shults is a stand-up comic, writer, actor, filmmaker, and public health consultancy  owner living in Brooklyn. A self-described “intactivist,” he’s now creating two comical digital shorts exploring the American practice of secular circumcision. When Shults lived in San Francisco from 1996 to 2002, he did quite a bit of anti-circumcision activism. He made a connection with a local gay guy who helped run one of the primary anti-circ efforts called NOHARMM, the National Organization to Halt the Routine Mutilation of Males, and met many of the major players in the anti-circumcision scene; an exclusive band of mostly older gay men whose lives essentially revolved around the discussion of, the fight against, and the recovery from circumcision. When they needed a break from circumcision, they discussed foreskin restoration. These guys called themselves intactivists. He gained insightful perspectives and ideas about how to combat the practice, and was inspired by the number of smart, thoughtful, measured people who were a part of this movement.

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As an HIV prevention specialist for 20 years, Shults has been deeply troubled by the idea that mass circumcisions in Africa or anywhere will contribute to a decrease in incidents. Many men in Africa for example are getting circumcised so they do not have to use condoms. In America people have rationalized circumcision as a means for preventing HIV and STDs. He and his team would so love to dispel this dangerous myth, and with Alan Cummings star power we have a real chance to create some norm-altering discourse.

America is a circumcising country and being circumcised is considered normal. Many of us went through periods of making fun of uncircumcised kids. When you grow up in a non-circumcising country, having a foreskin is normal so naturally and it is the circumcised kids who are made fun off. A circumcised penis does not exist since it is purely a social construct. There is no such thing as a penis without a foreskin, the foreskin is the penis just as much as fingers are your hand. This is simple to understand because the penis invariably comes with a foreskin and no matter how many times it is cut off, it will always a part of the penis. This is hard to comprehend because of the social context of today. If a male is circumcised as a child, he you grows up identifying as a boy so naturally he identifies his penis as a penis from an early age. However, what he has is not a penis but simply part of his entire penis, the other part having been cut off when he was an infant. What makes this even harder to understand is that most if not all of one’s peers and fathers are circumcised as well, which further reinforces the false belief that what one has is a penis and not part of one. Because of the psychological importance of this body part, it is far easier to escape reality and console oneself in “mass delusion”.

The average foreskin is 12-15 square inches of the penis, contains most of the nerve endings, all the natural mobility, lubrication, and sensitivity preserving functions the penis has evolved to have and that effectively 0% of men willingly remove it because no one wants a smaller, less pleasurable penis.

Circumcision is a practice that causes harm, and the basic, common sense injustice of it is something to be opposed. Most men in the dark about this— they don’t even know it happened, don’t know they have a scar on their penis, don’t know their penis was supposed to look and feel differently, and don’t have access to feelings that their infant selves undoubtedly experienced and stored for later displacement.

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The form and function of genitalia needs to be discussed on a national scale. That is the goal of this film—the average circumcised dude can identify with and understand what it says (and it does so, in part, with humor.

Anti-circumcision has been taken up by a group of intactivists. They are activists who believe in keeping babies intact by not circumcising them, and want to change the false perception that circumcision is harmless or even beneficial. To an outside observer not familiar with the topic some intactivists may appear crazy. The foreskin is just a normal body part like any other, this particular part conveys sexual pleasure to its owner, “just as eyes convey sight, noses convey small, tongues taste, etc”. The only unique aspect of the foreskin is that it is the only part that has been cut off from hundreds of millions of men, mostly for sexually repressive religious reasons. In the US it’s for profit.

“Pigs Without Blankets” is a different kind of film in that it champions the cause. Circumcision was essentially introduced by John Kellogg (of corn flakes fame) as a means of preventing masturbation.

To learn more go the Kickstarter page and learn how you can help make the picture a reality.

“VALENTINO”— Ken Russell’s Excesses

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“Valentino”

Ken Russell’s Excesses

Amos Lassen

Ken Russell’s “Valentino” really has nothing to do with the character in the title of this film. What it does show is imagery and charisma but no credibility. “There is absolutely no logic as to why a writer can get it so wrong…or, perhaps, he was playing with the words as Russell played with the pictures.” As Valentino, we immediately see that Rudolf Nureyev cannot act but neither can anyone else.

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Released in 1977, “Valentino” begins with the news of the famed actor’s untimely death at the age of thirty-one. Newsreel footage shows how his legions of female fans are inconsolable over the news, mobbing the funeral home where his body lies in a scene that is essentially a riot. It is, in Russell’s grand tradition, an exercise in excess and strange visual style.

After that opening sequence, order is restored and there is some calm. From there, we learn how Rudolph Valentino (Rudolf Nureyev) touched the lives of a few different women he was involved with over the years. This is set up through a series of flashbacks as each one of these women show up to pay their respects and get in on some photo opportunities. The first is June Mathis (Felicity Kendal), a screenwriter who was involved with the actor. Through her story we learn how Valentino immigrated to the United States from Italy, where he was born, how he worked menial jobs at first and then got work as a dancer, hoping to earn the money he would need to buy a farm in California. When he runs afoul of some mobsters, he splits to Los Angeles but still hopes to buy that farm one day. In L.A., he finds work dancing in nightclubs where he starts to draw more attention than he initially expected.

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One night he pulls Jean (Carol Kane) out to the dance floor, much to the dismay of her jealous date, Fatty Arbuckle (William Hootkins). Surprisingly quickly, he and Jean are married and he decides, after learning about the film business through her, that he should try acting and it’s hear we learn how June Mathis would wind up ‘discovering’ him. Alla Nazimova (Leslie Caron) shows up to grieve, giving the photographers exactly what they want. She then talks about how Valentino was cast as Armand and she as Camille in the production of the same name. Of course, this turns out to be doomed in its own way. Natasha Rambova (Michelle Phillips) follows, telling of a love triangle of sorts and how she knew Valentino was destined for stardom. When she and Valentino worked together on “The Sheik”, they would become intimate and when he would split with his wife, they would travel together for a while. They are married south of the border before the divorce is finalized, however, and they are, upon their return to California, charged with bigamy which leads to a lengthy downward spiral of events for the couple culminating in a scene where Valentino challenges a reporter to a boxing match for casting aspersions on his sexuality (a fascinating sequence in which Russell shows us how boxing and dancing sort of morph into the same thing, at least in his world). At the same time, the health problems that would eventually claim Valentino’s life begin.

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It really does not matter that the facts of Valentino’s life are wrong because Russell directs this picture with an insane amount of style, but not at the cost of substance. There’s a lot that goes on and the visuals do an excellent job of complimenting the storyline and the storyline does an equally excellent job of complimenting the visuals. Russell recreates some famous scenes from a few of the actor’s better known works (giving the picture some occasional ‘film within a film’ moments where Russell goes all out in blending fantasy with reality) and we see some fantastic set design. There are a lot of period appropriate art deco motifs that are duly exploited for the camera and scores of colorful costumes, backdrops and furniture pieces on display in pretty much every frame of the film. Visually, this is an amazing film, a picture ripe with sumptuous visuals and an expertly choreographed exercise in taking things completely over the top as Russell is known to do.

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The story is well told even if it is not the real stout. It does summarize the star’s life with little regard for accuracy. Russell was open about not going strictly by the book on this one, and that’s covered well in the commentary included on this disc. The performances are quite interesting. The role of Valentino might have been better suited to someone with more traditional acting experience than Nureyev but he moves gracefully and impressively during the film’s many dance sequences and if the resemblance that he shares to the film’s subject isn’t uncanny, it is close enough.

About halfway through the movie, Valentino is arrested and forced to spend the nigh, in a jail cell where the jailer denies him bathroom privileges and the other prisoners maul him and taunt him about his virility. This is very much in the mode of Mr. Russell’s most overpowering moments those that have simultaneously provoked admiration and outrage, but it has no place in an effort as a typically tame as this one. “Valentino” is Mr. Russell’s least disturbing movie. I must admit that even with all of the excesses that Russell is famed for, I watch whatever of his that I can get my hands on.

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Let’s face it—Valentino with all of his glamour was something of a bland figure, more of a star than he was an actor, and Mr. Russell’s best films have been about artists. Valentino’s greatest dream was to leave Hollywood and grow oranges. Valentino’s sexuality was nil, at least as far as Mr. Russell’s interpretation is concerned, so these is no place for the tortured erotic wrangling that we see in other Russell films.

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It is fascinating that the emphasis here on Valentino has to do with his old-world ideas of manly honor. When Nureyev’s Valentino is abused or, he looks wonderful, even regal. The screenplay, however gives us a Valentino who is somewhat meek. Nureyev interprets that character to be lordly to the point that he seems to enjoy the affronts to his dignity. Valentino and Russell seems to agree on the way we see Hollywood. Valentino is surrounded by (and a party to) the most aggressive kind of vulgarity.

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Nureyev’s performance, as was expected, of course, is graceful. He is incapable of making an uninteresting gesture. He is at his most stunning when he tangos in a dimly lit nightclub and fighting for his life in a noisy, crowded area one wall of which hangs a tattered American flag. The movie failed at the box office but it is now gaining cult status. As fantasy, the film works and the blu ray of it is absolutely gorgeous to watch.

“REMEMBER”— A Difficult Journey

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“Remember”

A Difficult Journey

Amos Lassen

Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer) is a widower and a man suffering from dementia and living in a nursing home in a frequent state of confusion. Another resident reminds him that the two of them have concocted a plan. It’s one that sees him breaking out and on the road, as he hunts down a man who killed his family during the holocaust. But his unreliable memory and unclear plan make it a difficult journey. From that short description we see that their film deals with two very troubling issues—dementia and the Holocaust.

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On the final night of sitting shiva (A Jewish mourning tradition) for his wife, Ruth, Zev is pulled aside by Max (Martin Landau), who hands him a fat envelope full of cash and detailed instructions for a plan Zev promised in more lucid times to carry out after his wife’s death. Max is confined to a wheelchair and permanently hooked up to an oxygen supply, but he has worked with the Simon Wiesenthal Center to trace four Germans living in North America under the assumed name of Rudy Kurlander. He’s convinced that one of them is the Auschwitz prison block commander who murdered both Max’s and Zev’s families 70 years earlier, and up to now has evaded justice.

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Plummer once again turns in a memorable performance as a man trying to deal with the confusion in his mind but is not always able to do so. He manages to leave the facility undetected out of and goes on a cross-continent journey using Max’s cheat sheet to guide him through his frequent lapses in clarity.

Director Atom Egoyan tries to keep the story moving forward, without getting bogged down in its implausibilities but there are just too many for him to be able to do so. I found that the film trivializes both dementia and the pain that Holocaust survivors have to deal with. In dealing with the Holocaust, remembering is very serious but as time passes, memory fades as the survivors die. Eve though we must never forget the horrors of the time, I am fairly certain that we will not remember and it is a moral imperative to do so. Remembering is seen as urgent here. Losing his wife, he is spurred on to this mission and while he does not remember all that he has to do, Max is there to make him remember.

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For this reason, Max has written everything down in a long letter with detailed instructions. Zev leaves the hospice and begins a cross-country trip to seek out and kill a former Auschwitz block commandant, who is responsible for the murder of his family and who Max has learned is hiding under an assumed name. It turns out there are several Germans living under the same name and this takes the urgency out of the early part of the film as we recognize that generically, the right man can only be caught at the end, if at all. The film then becomes a road movie On a train, Zev chats amiably with a little boy who knows nothing about the Holocaust and we would think that something like this will goad him on with intensity—the fear of forgetting is very real but Zev does not catch that. He gets a gun and is helped at every stop by the logistical support of Max who has booked taxis and reserved hotel rooms in advance. There are false leads and an array of character actors including Bruno Ganz, Heinz Lieven and Jurgen Prochnow that we meet as Zev goes forward.

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Plummer gives Zev a gentle authority and gentlemanly dignity, and though his hand trembles with age, his resolve can turn steely, as when he encounters a younger man (Dean Norris) who retains an admiration for the Third Reich.

 Memory reminds us of who we love and who we hate. For Zev and Max, it all has been a long ride till retaliation. “If it is true that no vengeance is possible without memory, no grievances exist when they cannot be truly reminisced. They may be there, in the body, making their way — but the unawareness of oblivion may attribute to these ailments other roots, other sources”. Justice cannot be served without a clear memory of what happened.

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Both Zev and Max know well their chance of evenness has evaporated with the passing of the years. There’s no justice without memory, and we must ask if one of these is subservient to the other? This film asks this question and it does so with intelligence that has characterized Egoyan’s films.

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Zev is slowly but surely losing both his memory and his mind to a degree. There are four individuals with the stolen-name/identity that the Nazi official used to avoid trial and get refuge in the US. Four Rudy Kurlanders are detected, spread across the US and Canada. But only one of the two avengers can cross the country, and only one can do the planning. Here’s where the Golem motif comes in. Max, has no body for the enterprise, his has failed him a long time ago, while Zev, the able-bodied, has no mind to undertake the search, his is slowly forgetting where time goes. So one, Zev, becomes the other’s body while Max is the mind.

“THIS SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP”— A Tender Relationship

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“This Special Friendship” (“Les amitiés particulières”)

A Tender Relationship

Amos Lassen

Released in 1964, “This Special Relationship” was years ahead of its time in the way that it tells of the tender relationship between a twelve-year-old boy and the 16-year-old upperclassman that is the object of his desire while the two of them are in the rigid atmosphere of a Jesuit run school in the 1920s. The film is based on Roger Peyrefitte’s biographical book. Peyrefitte studied in religious schools during his childhood, lived older/younger male-to-male love with a fan of his book, and outed many homosexual celebrities of his time.

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The special friendship that is featured in this heartbreaking film, takes place at a time and place when certain thoughts or doings were deemed very wrong. The twenties fostered an environment in which purity was very important. The relationship between the two is beautiful and, at the same time, gut-wrenching. At times, one may question the protagonists’ motives, but, above all, it is a strong tale of friendship and the outside forces that can disrupt it.

Francis Lacombrade as Georges and Didier Haudepin as Alexandre are both fantastic in their roles, most notably Didier as Alexandre. It is beautifully shot by in black and white and that adds so much to the feeling of the time and place.

 

this special2Viewers who are not disposed to regard homosexual affection as very tender and spiritual will find themselves having a hard time getting into the film. I remember seeing it when it first came out and I was stunned by what I saw.

Jean Delannoy directed this very solemn story of a loving attachment between a boy about 16 and a younger one, around 12 and it is told straight out with no apologies. It does not sensationalize relationships that might be played for voyeurs or gigglers in this permissive age. The closest to personal contact between any of the characters that we see is when the two principal youngsters cut their forearms and have sips of each other’s blood, or when they come together in a haystack while smoking cigarettes.

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The relationship is abstract in suggesting three or four active or passive relationships, including one between an always-nosy teacher and an evidently blandly submissive boy. The quality of the attachments between any of the participants must be surmised from exchanges of long, adoring looks between them or smiles and hand-wavings across rooms.

The initially tangled fabric of furtive relationships and secret tattlings by the 16-year-old new boy, before he makes his rapturous attachment with the younger lad, soon becomes clandestine meetings and joyous intrigues between the two, until they are suddenly discovered by an elderly father whose dubious achievement it is to separate them. This leads to Alexandre’s heartbreak and a melodramatic tragedy.

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Mr. Delannoy, in his fashion, has done a commendable job of making us feel the rigid ritualism and chilly atmosphere of a high-toned Catholic school. The austerity and inflexibility of the fathers are positive elements in the picture, and Michel Bouquet’s performance in the role of the father who gets caught in his room with a pupil is interestingly oblique and subdued.

The conclusion seems to be that such attachments should not be discouraged in boarding schools—that boys have as much right to fall in love with one another, as they have to fall in love with girls.

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For us today, pedophile means stalker, assassin, assailant, or, as the media loves to call them molesters. One should watch this with an open mind and understand that what happens has happened for centuries and will happen ever after, until the human race disappears. This is not a defense of pedophiles who are criminals. This is about love— loving and being loved. Georges loves Alexandre and Alexandre is absolutely in love with him, despite the age gap (at that age, the gap is even more pronounced). Alexandre makes Georges swear his love forever, his “special friendship”, and writes him touching letters that only lovers can write. They simply can’t help not loving each other, despite all that is in their way.

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Today, Georges would be seen as a pedophile, a stalker, a child molester who would never, ever molest a child… a stalker that is stalked by his prey because… he loves him. This bond grows so strong that is shared with close friends that encourage this relationship.

The two boys develop their friendship in spite of the rules of the fathers who are dead set against this sort of thing happening at their school. Not that there is anything sensual about the relationship, just a few chaste kisses and poems with Georges describing Alexandre as his “bijoux”. There is a touching scene in the movie with the two boys hidden in a haystack lying besides each other, sharing the joy of their company and a stolen cigarette. But then there is tragedy as there always was in films of this kind until recently.

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The Church and its rules against too much affection between schoolboys plays a major role in the story as one of the antagonists. We are left wondering just how well both stories might have turned out if the boys had been left alone to share their friendships.

The film and the book it is based on were very bold gestures for their time, describing an earlier generation and environment which were even more strait-laced.

The story is one of those, that any sensible male youth, can find himself over the tragedy that it brings with. The ending makes us sad and somewhat disgusted that there are those who refuse to accept that a true, special friendship can exist and they therefore interfere because of their self-pity. We do not see people like that, they hide and lurk and destroy lives. They want us to believe like they do and we will not. Peyrefitte was a gay activist and a writer and this is part of his legacy to us. How sad that it had to end like this. We all deserve better.

“CYANIDE” (“CYANURE”)— Waiting for Dad

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“CYANIDE” (“CYANURE”)

Waiting for Dad

Amos Lassen

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 Achille, a young hopeful teenager is waiting for his unknown and fantasized father to come out of prison. He has been dreaming about family but that dream is seriously undermined by an exhausted mother and a man who, after so many years in jail, has become unable to be a responsible father.

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We see the uphill battle facing Joe (Roy Dupuis) once he is released from prison after over 14 years. He cannot read or write and he has no job skills and a prison record. He loves his wife (Sabine Timoteo) but she will have nothing to do with him, other than to encourage him to develop a relationship with his son. She has a relationship with her current boss and she wants a divorce from Joe. His son (Alexandre Etzlinger) idolizes his father and tries very hard to reconcile his parents. This story is funny, touching, and sexy. For a Roy Dupuis fan, this movie delivers. The performances are excellent.

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This film was totally unexpected from the beginning to the end. Told from the boy’s perspective, it is a film that is hard to forget.