Monthly Archives: June 2017

“About Economy and Sustenance: Judaism, Society and Economics” by Aharon Ariel Lavi— Economics and Society

Lavi, Aharon Ariel. “About Economy and Sustenance: Judaism, Society and Economics”, ContentoNow, 2016.

Economics and Society

Amos Lassen

It is impossible to look at society without looking at economics since it is one of the strongest forces of said society. There is commercial activity in every purchase, sale, and commercial and even reading a book is an economic activity. Economic activity is what shapes society and we are all aware that there are many ways to manage and examine the economy through ethical decisions on cultural, social and spiritual problems. Here we learn of the contribution of the Jewish cultural world to economic thought and to understanding the structure of society. We find new answers for the most basic questions that shape economic activity and society in general as we look at questions such as “what is property? What is efficiency? What is trade? How do human beings make economic decisions, and how do these concepts dictate the relations between man and material, man and man, and man and God?”

The book is composed of articles written by different authors, of which the majority are leaders in their respective fields. With the coming together of Judaism and reality, there is much to be learned.

This is an eclectic and intellectually engaging selection of essays on Jewish thought and economic life. These theologically constructive explorations have important contributions on both methodological and substantive levels. We live in n era of looking for practical and existential approaches that came to be due to extreme forms of capitalism and collectivism. We see how the Jewish way of life, laws, philosophy, and culture have contributed to economic thinking and the way the world works. The observations that we read here are astute with deep insight. Here is a

discussion on all things financial, and the thoughts within the world “of Jewish and rabbinic literature on creating a sound economy based on empirical evidence as well as moral, Torah-values”. We see how the history of Jewish thought influences the assessment of capitalism and its alternatives. The authors explore their own distinctive arguments and ideas and do not advance a single line of argument about how Jewish thought relates to capitalism. Instead, they leave us with questions to think about and to decide if capitalism is consistent with traditional morality. The basic question is if, “the capitalist economy also be a moral economy”.

Twenty articles regarding the ways in which traditional Jewish theology can deepen our understanding of economic reality are presented and they were collected between 2007 and 2008 in Israel and translated from the original Hebrew.

The first and second sections are the sabbatical year and the “internal structure of society in light of Jewish Mysticism.” The third and final sections are detailed discussions of Halachic approaches to the business world and include topics such as interest rates, welfare, charity, and inheritance laws. We see that on the one hand “extreme capitalism” has generated rapid development at the cost of alienation and devastation of the environment while, on the other hand, we see the contrasting system of “socialism-communism” has often come together with totalitarian methods that have brought about the collapse of entire countries.

 

“STRONG ISLAND”— The Killing of William Ford Jr

“Strong Island”

The Killing of William Ford Jr.

Amos Lassen

“Strong Island” examines the violent death of the filmmaker’s brother and the judicial system that allowed his killer to go free. This is a documentary that interrogates murderous fear and perception that is colored by racism. It re-imagines the wreckage in catastrophe’s wake, challenging us to change. Director Yance Ford’s documentary looks at the 1992 killing of the filmmaker’s older brother, William Ford Jr., a 24-yeard-old African-American teacher and police officer-in-training who was shot by a white auto-mechanic while unarmed. It becomes a way to discuss one family’s tragedy by viewing an emotionally, intellectually, and aesthetically complex work of essay and memoir. Ford looks deeply at the trauma of black life in America.

The documentary serves in part as a biography of Yance, William Jr., and their sister Lauren’s parents, William Sr. and Barbara, who moved from Charleston, South Carolina to New York City toward the end of the Great Migration with the hope of escaping generations of racial prejudice. It is also an attempt to bring back a collection of remembrances that span before and after William’s death, so that we gain a comprehensive idea of the toll it took on the Ford family. The film even functions as a sharp critique of institutionalized racism, particularly in its characterization of a segregated 1980s Long Island: The Fords lived in Central Islip, one of only a handful of suburbs set up for the black families of NYC’s public servants (William Sr. drove the J train).

“Strong Island” also examines Yance himself, a transgender man who struggled with his sexual identity throughout his time at Hamilton College and this overlapped with his brother’s death. Ford excavates this past as a simultaneous act of civic justice and personal understanding. The most powerful passages here are those about two very different “Yances”— the stark motionless man we see in close-ups, a self-assured person who talks truth to power on racial injustice and the dehumanization of crime statistics, and the young person we see in photographs who once identified as a woman and struggled with her estrangement from her family. Both Yances directly inform the way the filmmaker views his relationship with his brother’s death today.

Ford uses a mix of the direct and the abstract, the meditative and the confrontational to tell the story. He wrestles with both the raw facts of his brother’s killing as they relate to the cause of his own activism and the “self-defense” conclusion arrived at by white investigators and at the same time he tries to find an internal catharsis that will become some kind of act of that effort itself to become an act of humanism that makes William’s life mean something more than just another statistic.

Ford interrogates the impulse of white fear and this, challenges audiences to confront their own racially informed expectations. He completely breaks down on camera, overwhelmed by a phone call from a former police investigator that confirms some of his worst suspicions about his brother’s death. We see how grand juries work.

Over the course of ten years, Ford has worked on his and it is a profoundly personal first feature. The witnesses were prohibited to talk about William’s character in court, so instead Ford uses a patchwork of interviews, memories and journals. His film is both an act of defiance and a strikingly intimate, exceptionally crafted story about his family. He speaks to his mother, sisters and William’s best friends, and explores his own feelings of guilt, anger and confusion surrounding his brother’s death and we feel his regret for the missed opportunity of opening up to William about his own identity.

“Strong Island” outlines the racist law systems that relentlessly reduce individuals, particularly black men, to troublemakers. The film is as much an exploration of the filmmaker’s identity and feelings surrounding his brother’s murder, as it is a loving, even-handed portrait of William. The camera stays on Ford’s face as he shares his deepest pain. Ford has something to say about fear as he explores it and how it can be measured. Reilly escaped justice and prison because his fear of William. The all-white jury considered the shooting to be reasonable defense in the minds of the all-white jury. When Ford tries to picture his brother’s killer he “looks like every white man I’ve ever seen, he looks like everywhere”. The film uses family photographs and self-portraits to explain Ford’s own evolving racial and sexual consciousness in the years before tragedy struck while he directly speaks to the viewer. Ford never revealed that he was transgender to his brother or father, who passed away from complications of a stroke in the aftermath of the killing.

The crime is at the center of the movie, but it doesn’t dominate the documentary. Ford also tells the story of his family — not just how the tragedy tore them apart, but who they were beforehand. It is Ford’s intent as a filmmaker to expose and protest the injustice of his brother’s murder but it also clearly shows what was lost with his brother’s death. After giving us with the facts of the crime, Ford goes back into his family’s history to lay bare a story of racism and optimism, of what hope and hardship and upward mobility meant to a working-class African-American family in the middle of the century. We see that before the murder, his family, through all the labor and prejudice, felt like they were breathing the air of freedom.

At Sundance, “Strong Island” received a Special Jury Award for Storytelling. The film’s overriding subject is grief, and the loss of faith that often comes with it. We go through twenty-five years of Ford family agony and we also get quite a narrative of injustice.

“The Man Who Loved Yngve”— A Love Triangle

“The Man Who Loved Yngve” (“Mannen Som Elsket Yngve”)

A  Love Triangle

Amos Lassen

Norwegian director Stian Kristiansen takes us back in time to an era with no modern communications technology; a time when life seemed so much simpler.

Jarle cannot spend time enough with his girlfriend Katrine that is when he’s not out skating. Yet more than anything he loves music, having formed a punk band with his friend Helge and it is set to debut on the local scene. It is 1989 and Jarle’s life is about to become confusing. A new kid, Yngve, a blond haired youth of differing musical and cultural background has arrived on the scene and he seems to have everything going for him, including Jarle who is soon openly flirting with him. Jarle realizes that he is in love with two people of different genders at the same time. It does seem that he leans more to the gay side from the way he looks at Yngve and dresses and fools with his hair. He is, as we say, smitten.

Music is important to the plot and we either hear from the bands or hear references to them (The Smiths; Combat Rock; Joy Division; Jesus and Mary Chain; REM The One I Love; The Cure).

Katrine (Ida Elise Bloch) is beautiful, passionate, drinks with the boys, goes to band practice, cries when boyfriend tries out new song on guitar and often initiates sex. She is a girl who is one of the gang and never lets anyone forget that she is female. However she isn’t enough for Jarle and when a new handsome male blonde arrives at school, he is taken aback. They first talk in the locker room shower, of all places. They plus Katrine become a rock trio but Jarle is filled with angst about being in love with two people. Our new boy aside from his good looks shares his drawings with Jarle. The boys practice together, deal with family issues and buy pot. Jarle and Katrine have good sex, Jarle can perform.

Through the film we relive frustrating years of youth. At the center of this is Jarle who has confidence and popularity. He has two great friends and a beautiful girl, but is searching for his true identity. His friends are anti-pop, button-wearing rockers who detest the yuppie culture and put almost anything down to maintaining their integrity. Their friendship and their slightly up-and-coming rock band are the only things sacred to them. Then Yngve appears and he is different in appearance and tone. He listens to arty synth pop (Japan), plays tennis and wears fashionable clothes. Jarle is intrigued, his friends are not.

The film’s aspirations and objectives are diverse, complex and not at all straightforward. Director Stian Kristiansen combines spoof/homage with profound discussions on identity, sexual orientation and youth. The acting is uniformly excellent. This is an Important and uplifting film that is convincing and well made. I have not seen many Norwegian films but if this is an example of what Norway can do, I am ready to seek them out.

 

“THE DRAMA CLUB”— Ex-Lovers, Old Grudges, and New Spouses

“The Drama Club”

Ex-Lovers, Old Grudges, and New Spouses

Amos Lassen

Joe McClean’s “The Drama Club” is the story of a formerly tight group of friends who reunite after 20 years. Old rivalries, romantic feelings and secrets come to the fore and these members of the Drama Club must come to terms with who they are as opposes to who they were. We all know that it’s never the same as it once was. People move on, change and evolve. The film involves the group trying to relive their pasts with mixed results and the strong cast makes the character’s friendship feel genuine.

 

The best moments are when the group is fighting within itself. They have come together because of a pact they made as teenagers. We watch as the characters rebuild their bond over shots and smoking week and try to reclaim their lost youth. There’s Elle (Liza Seneca), the promiscuous one pretty much all of them have slept with, Cory (Jon Thomas), the lovable smartass, Luke (Chris Ciccarelli), the resident selfish douchebag/bully, Hannah (Melanie Lewis), the born again shy girl with an inferiority complex, Nathan (Barry Finnegan), Luke’s former bullying victim turned muscle head, and Aaron (Dane Bowman), the mastermind behind the reunion who just so happens to be harboring a dark secret. Also there is Elle’s husband Keith (Mike Kopera), and Cory’s wife Kat (Chelsea Brandt). Keith has some insecurity about Elle’s past promiscuities, and all Kat and Cory seem to do is bicker and fight. They soon find themselves arguing over politics, sex, religion, and lifestyle choices and it is fascinating to watch the group as they process their differences now that they’re grown adults living separate lives.
There is one scene that jut might shock moviegoers. It is quite sexual and the conversation that follows is bold and incredibly progressive. It is a brave examination into the different perceptions involving gender and sexuality. The discussion is candid, honest, and shows double standards between men and women. It’s a firm stance against slut shaming and possessive relationships.

The film perfectly captures that sense of camaraderie between old friends, and the heartache that comes with growing up and potentially losing the connections that were once so special and strong. There are moments of light comedy and the ensemble cast is uniformly quite fine. The film is heartfelt, cares about its characters and the actors give it their all. Yet, it depends on whether viewers think that the characters are annoying or not, and therefore whether we feel empathy for them or not.

The film tries to explore some fairly complex ideas about middle age, and the reunion is the situation where old, more teenage patterns, behaviors and relationships re-emerge. There is then the juxtaposition between people about letting their younger selves out, but this time with the problems and experiences of older people. The film puts some effort into trying to make this work, including occasionally swapping the adult actors with their teen counterparts, but still going through the issues of their older selves.

Because everyone is forgiven for actions that sometimes edge towards being cruel, the film just did not work for me. What is supposed to be the camaraderie of old friends who don’t have the filters and self-censorship of those who don’t feel they know each other as well, actually, for me, at least, comes across as rudeness or not feeling true to how people really act.

The most dramatic part of the movie comes via a bit of bisexuality and then the revelation of why the reunion has really taken place. While what we see quite good, the aftermath is convenient and pays no attention to what has happened.

The addition of an unexpected bisexual encounter and one of the characters being gay feels almost untrue and is there as a token experience.

“DONALD CRIED”— A Journey Back in Time

“Donald Cried”

A Journey Back in Time

Amos Lassen

With his grandmother died suddenly, Peter Latang returned to his hometown and there found his long lost, childhood friend, Donald Treebeck. Director Kris Avedisian’s story is an awkward reunion between two long-estranged friends that unearths a complex mix of guilt and shame in the one responsible for the estrangement.

When Peter (Jesse Wakeman) goes back to the industrial Northeastern town where he grew up for the first time in 20 years, he finds himself broke and without a rid and so he reluctantly turns his former best friend, Donald (Avedisian), an overgrown boy with no boundaries, for help. Donald is too happy to see Peter after years of trying to find him online and quickly offers to drive him everywhere but where he wants to go. Over the 24 or so hours that Donald and Peter spend together, as Peter both softens toward and gets infuriated by his old friend as Donald flip-flops between passive-aggressive violence and cringing compliance. The balance of power between the two keeps shifting back and forth giving viewers a sense of suspense that sometimes borders on mental and dangerous instability.

Peter gains an understanding of and sympathy for his old friend and is forced him to come to terms with the in the past. Slowly the encounters between the two men create a hard-earned intimacy that brings out the best in them both as they reconnect and share confidences.

There is plenty dark humor in this uncomfortable comedy Peter is a Manhattan banker whose job settling his grandmother’s estate is complicated by the loss of his wallet and then by a meeting with neighbor and former best friend Donald who refuses to leaves him alone. We see awkward exchanges, absurd encounters, and we sense bitterness and shame.

After briefly meeting with Kristen (Louisa Krause), the realtor he hired to sell his grandmother’s house (and on whom he harbors a decades-old crush on, despite pretending not to remember her), Peter turns to the only place he can for help with his daily tasks: Donald. This decision results in an immediately warm embrace from his old friend, a simple-minded fool with a shaggy beard and shaggier mullet whose life seems to be frozen-in-time.

Peter and Donald were partners until Peter, for ill-defined reasons, rejected his former life, cleaned himself up, and transformed into a high-finance snob. Donald also agrees to lend Peter some cash and we soon realize that there is a catch to the good that Donald does. Donald proceeds to force his friend — often against his will — to spend the day with him and what follows are embarrassments including a breakfast during which a run-in with a classmate quickly that becomes uneasy; a visit to Donald’s demeaning bowling-alley boss (Ted Arcidi); a meeting with a monotone buddy who doesn’t remember Peter fondly and then a journey to their abandoned-train-tunnel hangout spot, where they smoke weed, point an unloaded gun at each other, and reminisce about a time that was.

Throughout, Donald’s smiles and over-enthusiastic hugs show us his urgent longing to reconnect with Peter. Yet there is anger, frustration and hurt just beneath their under-control exteriors. In virtually every closeup, “Donald Cried” we sense suppressed emotion.

Donald is desperate for the approval of Peter who abandoned him for Wall Street pastures. As Donald, Avedisian has a sense of strangeness that he’s difficult to resist. Peter’s own messy feelings about a former self, and upbringing becomes the foil for Donald’s consistently sad, bizarre attempts to recapture a past that, on the face of it, doesn’t seem to have been that great in the first place.

The film keeps the viewer off-balance trying to figure out the dynamics of the relationship. Peter’s inconsistent responses to Donald move between affection, indulgence, irritation and anger and suggest an underlying guilt over having rejected his former friend so completely.

There are some awkward moments of discomfort here. Donald talks about how he fantasized about Peter as a rebel biker yet he comments on how his friend rather resembles a Jewish witch. With some minor secrets being revealed, we eventually realize that is Peter and not Donald who is the more emotionally stunted character. Both men are worthy of equal measures of pity and disdain but not anything more than that. We are once again reminded that like Thomas Wolfe stated, you can’t go home again.

“DYING TO KNOW: RAM DASS & TIMOTHY LEARY”— An Epic Friendship

“Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary”

An Epic Friendship

Amos Lassen

In the early 1960s, Harvard Psychology Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert began their probe of the edges of consciousness through their experiments with psychedelics. Leary, as we remember, became the LSD guru and he challenged convention, questioned authority, and was responsible a global counter culture movement. He went to prison after Nixon called him, “the most dangerous man in America.” Alpert went to India and became Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher for an entire generation and still today teaches about service through compassion. The film challenges us to think about life, drugs, consciousness and death.

Timothy Leary was a controversial figure in the counterculture. He experimented with drugs in order to expand his consciousness and his slogan “turn on, tune in, drop out” animated millions of alienated youth in the 1960s to find their own way of living and disaffiliate from the once that he felt was too controlling at the time.

Director Gay Dillingham, tales us through Leary’s life which ends with his death in 1996 due to prostate cancer. Both he and Ram Dass (who is still alive) lived fascinating lives.

Ram Dass traveled to the East and brought back to the West a fresh brand of spirituality which he writes about in his book titled “Be Here Now” which became an international bestseller that to date has had 43 printings. Dass suffered a near-fatal stroke in 1997 and spent many years in rehabilitation yet he is still teaching today. Leary was convinced that death remains for many “the taboo of all time” and that we try to flee from it and/or deny its power. Both men reveal that they are familiar with suffering and are willing to befriend death. Death, said Dass holds “the deepest meaning of the universe.”

The two met in the 1960s at Harvard where they taught psychology and conducted a series of scientific research projects using hallucinogenic drugs and then LSD. They became soul mates and were pioneers of the exploration of inner space and the possible meeting points between science and spirituality. As the drug culture spread in the 1960s, Leary testified before Congress on the need for responsible research on psychedelics. He described hallucinogens as simply “the nervous system having experiences we don’t have words for.” He seemed to love being considered a “bad boy” as he walked the edge between conformity and chaos. He was arrested and sent to prison multiple times.

Ram Dass was Dr. Richard Alpert and came from a wealthy background and kept his homosexuality hidden. As an intellectual with ambition, he had a successful academic career before discovering another path for his life. As a spiritual teacher, he became a pioneer of the conscious aging movement.

Robert Redford narrates this documentary that includes commentary from integrative medicine doctor Andrew Weil, Zen Buddhist Roshi Joan Halifax, and family members and friends of Leary and Dass. Director Dillingham organized the documentary into chapters on Birth, Life, Death and Soul each of which is totally illuminating. The chapter on the topic of death feels the most provocative and compelling because, as Leary said, it’s a very taboo topic that’s rarely discussed. Dillingham combines archival footage, including the final discussion she filmed between Ram Dass and Timothy Leary in 1996. Through the footage of Dass and Leary engaging in intelligent conversations, we see their bond of friendship and their platonic love of one another. In the film there’s animation, comic relief and the voice-over narration by Robert Redford invigorates the film making it quite an experience. Dillingham found t the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually and emotionally. The film is totally captivating.

 

We are taken into the philosophy and psychology of death, as we have a history lesson that reminds us of just how important the work really was (or still is regarding Ram Dass.

The film reflects the overt intellectual ideas that are part of Leary and Dass we sense the substance of each man and the freedom and openness in their capacity to embrace life and death simultaneously. The thread running through the film is truly about having an openhearted love for each other and for life. We see them as flawed, remarkable, transformative individuals.

“ABU”— A Gay Movement and his Father

“ABU”

A Gay Muslim and his Father

Amos Lassen

Gay filmmaker Arshad Khan examines his troubled relationship with his devout, Muslim father Abu as he explores his struggle with his identity. The word “Abu” is the Pakistani word for father and we are with Khan as he shares his childhood, memories that are joyful and gentle in the family’s native Pakistan, where the children thrived and celebrated in a beautiful home with a lovely garden. As a young child, Khan remembers being something of a gender outlaw, relating to the girls more than the boys, cross-dressing and acting out in a way that left some family members unnerved. Then due to economic circumstances, the family moved to Canada just as Khan was hitting puberty, and he experienced severe alienation in his high school because of racism and homophobia.

When Kahn realized he was gay, this didn’t go well with his parents, especially because his father became more and more preoccupied with living his life as a devout Muslim. There were inevitable conflicts. We see Khan’s inner emotional world while he reflects on his family’s struggle to reconcile with modernity making this documentary at times emotionally challenging to watch.

In 2010 after his father died and while preparing for the memorial service, Khan came across beautiful photos and videos and even though he had seen them many times before, he realizes that he now saw them differently and understood how he could use them. He had already made several short films and was now facing a challenge about himself and his sexuality. In making “Abu” he would explore every aspect of his childhood even those that were uncomfortable. He remembered being sexually abused at a very young age by a friend of the family. His family thought that he was making a film that would glorify his father and he thought that he would be able to tell an objective and impersonal tale about migration and sexuality and its challenges but he realized that he would have to be honest.

 

Khan’s voiceover and interviews with family members are interspersed with video footage and bits of Asian pop culture. He noticed that captured images on film give clues into people and he then began to trust his own instincts and decisions.This is a very intimate film that does not compromise the integrity of the film or the characters and the subject matter. In an interview with his mother, we see her condemn him because he is gay. She feels a great deal of shame for herself and the family because of his decision to be out. He thought a lot about how his father would have felt if he were still alive. The film is a kind of posthumous collaboration of he and his father due to the use of the videos that his shot and photos he took. Khan believes that his father have liked the fact that he brutally honest and did not compromise anyone’s integrity.

This is a story tale that was painful at times for both son and father, but by the time the final credits roll, we appreciate and understand what a cathartic experience the film was for Khan in that his family was not able to know about and share his story. Khan was born in Pakistan into a wealthy middle-class family.  His father was an army engineer who loved the latest technical gadgetry, and they were one of the very few families to actual own a video camera in the 1980’s. His father left the Army, made a fortune, and then lost it and so decided to try for a new start and emigrate to Canada. Because he was effeminate, Khan never made any friends on Pakistan and thought that a new beginning again in a more liberal culture where he was totally unknown, would be perfect for him.

He was wrong about this and he bullying continued. He tells us that being gay in his culture means that there are more repercussions than usual and his mother would have to deal with the burden of shame for her if he ever decided to come out publicly. 

Liberation came at the University when he found an actual LGBT community and his voice and calling as an activist.  The trouble is that it all coincided with his father’s decision to become more deeply religious, and after 9/11 he became ultra-conservative and insisted the entire family revert back to traditional Pakistani rituals. 

Khan had long held back secrets from his father  even as a very young child when he was habitually sexually abused by other male family members, so now not being able to share his new life not different for him. His father once said that homosexuality was no different than being a drug addict or a murderer. Khan uses this documentary to enable him for once in his life to be completely open and be himself in a way that he never could do when his father was alive. Khan’s story, beautifully told, is very intimate and personal and is totally relatable. We can only hope that it will help others in similar circumstances begin the journeys of coming-out and self-acceptance.

“PAULISTA”— Relationships

“PAULISTA”  (“Quanto Dura o Amor?”)

Relationships

Amos Lassen

“Paulista” cptures the brief and fleeting relationships that in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It is the story of three young twenty-somethings living in the “Jaqueline Apartment” building and each is looking for love. Marina (Sílvia Lourenço) is an aspiring actress who has moved from the countryside for auditions and begins living with Suzana (Maria Clara Spinelli), a lawyer with a secret. Their neighbor, Jay, is a poet with a severe lack of self-esteem.

Roberto Moreira’s film is a melancholic study of modern relationships in the sterile and cold world of São Paulo. As the film moves forward, Marina becomes disconnected in both a figurative and compositional sense. While Marina is the main character, it is Maria Clara Spinelli’s Suzana that becomes the focal point, breaking out of the conventional portrayal of transsexuals in film. The film does not sexualize nor demeans her and she is the most stable character in the movie and a contrast to the chaotic and spoiled Justine.

The word “Paulista” refers to both inhabitants of São Paulo. The film was originally titled “Quanto Dura o Amor?” (“How long does love last?”) We see that love, in this film, is very brief. All of the characters are defined by their longing for love. Marina falls for Justine, a singer at the nightclub just around the corner. Justine is a wild child and seems to still be attached to Nuno, the owner of the club. Justine is also loony, which becomes increasingly obvious as the movie progresses. Suzanna wants to settle down with a husband, and Gil seems like an ideal match, but her secret causes her to withdraw from him. When she finally opens up, it’s disastrous. Jay’s obsession for Michelle, a prostitute who increasingly tells him that she’s only in it for the money, leads him to humiliating lengths. At the end of the film, all three characters are alone and brokenhearted. While this sounds depressing, it doesn’t matter because it is an enjoyable viewing experience. The ending is perfect and satisfying for all its sadness and sometimes we need to remember that sadness can be sweet.

The São Paulo of this film is an ugly city. It is characterized by concrete housing blocks and sterile buildings. What makes the city come to life here is the life force of the assembled humanity.

Suzanna and the actress, Maria Clara Spinelli, who plays her, are transsexuals, so I have some vested interest in her portrayal. She is fairly unique in movies yet this is not a big thing for the plot. She’s a normal person with a normal job and normal wants and dreams and a normal sex life. The film doesn’t sexualize her, even though she’s gorgeous, nor does it rob her of her sexuality. She’s the most stable character in the film. Spinelli, for her part, invests the character with a kind of melancholy resignation, because her paramour is totally not past it. I am a little bit wary of the way the film eases into revealing her past, but the character is herself totally stealth, so there’s a method to it. It doesn’t play into the trans woman as deceiver archetype, but it flirts with it. Sexualities are taken in stride and the most dysfunctional character in the movie is Jay, a straight man.

BREAKING GLASS BOOKS “B&B”

BREAKING GLASS BOOKS “B&B”

LGBT Thriller’s North American Theatrical & DVD/VOD Roll-Out
Begins Fall 2017

Philadelphia, PA, June 28, 2017–Breaking Glass Pictures has acquired North American rights to Joe Ahearne’s (Sony/BBC’s The Replacement) gay thriller B&B. Breaking Glass acquired North American rights to the film in June in a deal negotiated between Breaking Glass CEO Rich Wolff and Producer Jayne Chard of Hummingbird Films. Breaking Glass is planning a limited theatrical followed by a DVD/VOD release this October.

B&B held its world premiere at the London Independent Film Festival where it won Best LGBT Feature. The North American premiere was at the MiFo LGBT Film Festival, followed by the Out Film CT Festival. B&B will play the Vancouver Queer Film Festival in August.

Marc and Fred went to war when they were refused a double bed at a remote Christian guest house. They won their court case and now they’re back to claim their conjugal rights. Triumph turns to terror when a Russian neo-Nazi checks in. Their weekend of fun becomes a bloody battle for survival in this smart, brutally funny and dark thriller.

Described as “frickin’ fantastic and a trailblazer for LGBT cinema” (Horror Society) and “deliciously entertaining” (Roger Walter-Dack, Queerguru), B&B stars Tom Bateman (Murder on the Orient Express, Snatched), Paul McGann (Doctor Who, Queen of the Damned), Sean Teale (Incorporated, Reign), Callum Woodhouse (The Durrells in Corfu) and James Tratas (Deadly Code).

The film is written and directed by Joe Ahearne. B&B is Ahearne’s debut feature as writer/director. Ahearne wrote and directed the TV movie Trance for Sky Pictures and co-wrote the feature version directed by Danny Boyle in 2013. His latest BBC series, The Replacement, was a critical and ratings hit with an audience of over 7 million. Ahearne has also directed five episodes of the BAFTA award-winning first season of the rebooted Doctor Who, for which he received a BAFTA nomination.

B&B is produced by Hummingbird Films and was backed by Creative England, Ffilm Cymru Wales and Pont Neuf Productions.

“I’m excited Breaking Glass is bringing B&B to North America where the religious right are having an even harder time swallowing our rights than in the UK”, said writer/director Joe Ahearne. “But be warned: you might think you know how a gay thriller on such a liberal hot issue will play out, but like our heroes you’d be wrong.”

“Combining a jab at Christian hypocrisy with a glorious homage to the brilliance of classic Hitchcock, writer/director Joe Ahearne has crafted a witty, yet suspenseful thriller that is both entertaining and terrifying”, said Richard Ross, Co-President of Breaking Glass. “We can’t wait to introduce this film to US audiences.”

 

B&B
Genre: Thriller
Running Time: 87
Rating: NR
Language: English

Cast: Tom Bateman, Paul McGann, Sean Teale, Callum Woodhouse, James Tratas

Director: Joe Ahearne
Written by: Joe Ahearne
Producer: Jayne Chard
Co-Producer: Isabelle Georgeaux
Executive Producers: Jonathan Finn, Simon Graham-Clare,
Ricky Margolis, Hannah Thomas
Associate Producer: Alison Sterling
Line Producer: Gareth I. Davies

 

“Who Will Lead Us?: The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America” by Samuel C. Heilman— Leadership and Succession

Heilman, Samuel C. “Who Will Lead Us?: The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America”, University of California Press, 2017.

Leadership and Succession

Amos Lassen

Hasidism has had an extraordinary revival since it was nearly decimated in the Holocaust and repressed in the Soviet Union. Now Hasidic communities have settled primarily in North America and Israel and have refilled the losses they and are actually growing. Hasidism involves “attachments to the past, mysticism, community, tradition, and charismatic leadership” and it seems to be the opposite of contemporary Western culture so we can only wonder how it has thrived. The answer to this can be found here in the stories of five contemporary Hasidic dynasties and how they handle leadership and succession.

The “rebbe” is the central figure of the Hasidic world and we see here three variations of this in five different groups. We have two dynasties with too few successors, two with too many and one who believes that their last and now deceased rebbe is still leading them. The fact that Hasidism has been resurrected is fascinating in itself and this is, no doubt, due to its leadership. Writer Heilman gives us a study of the

 social, economic, and political dynamics of Hasidim today that are so important in understanding the movement. As we read, we become part of the struggles over succession that the dynasties face.

Through five case studies that explore the process of leadership transition in Hasidic courts, we come to better understand the Hasidic movement.

Quite basically this is a sociological study on Hasidim, a society that follows a few leaders who are descended from royal families. We have interviews with leaders, an analysis of Hasidic history and learn of the current status of Hasidism in the world today.

Historically Hasidism should have ended with the Holocaust but it is now bigger than it ever was. We read here that instead of being a detriment, the Holocaust actually fueled Hasidism’s growth.  We see that Hasidim is constantly gaining ferocity and strength and we read of the personal struggles of the leaders, the Rebbes and that these are felt by the followers. The Rebbes’ intensity is felt by the collective.

While Hasidim is a society apart, it is part of the broader society surrounding it yet individuals are estranged and hidden from their closest neighbors who are not followers. There are basic fundamental sociological concepts such as collective effervescence and charisma and conflict. Hasidim affect and influence the world by living in New York City, and in other important places. They can change the way of living. Hasidim vote in huge united blocks and this can choke the individualistic interest from the general electorates. They have tremendous influence on social policy and can defy reason when science, health and education clash with their own rituals, beliefs and traditions.

Hasidim, primarily the men, are seen openly in broader society wearing their unusual clothing, beards and “payos”, black hats; black coats. We see them everywhere (even in Arkansas). – even in the scorching heat; white shirts, etc. – They seem to be everywhere. The women who are less a presence in this patriarchal society.

The book is built by the many Rebbes themselves, and by some of their followers. Two very well respected leaders who were interviewed have recently already died and others are sick and old yet there are still many will be with us for years to come and we hear from many of them.

Heilman chose to look at five dynasties because he felt, as he makes the case very succinctly, that they best explain Hasidim.

“The dynasty of Minkatch was an especially conservative sect, that crowned a third son for its leader, instead of his father, because the later embraced too much modernity”.

“The dynasty of Boyan left behind the American way of life that the whole leader’s family chose to live, and instead picked a young teen, sent him off to Israel where he was dogmatizied with right wing Judaism to be their leader.

“The dynasty of Bobov was initially rebuilt in America on charisma, song, holocaust nostalgia. It subsequently split off into royal family feuding”.

“The Satmar dynasty best exemplifies Hasidim. They are the most fervently fanatically attached to their traditional faith, yet materially very successful. They are the largest and most diverse group, having multiple leaders, splintered with sectarian strife, fighting to better preserve their purest version of Jewishness, not giving an inch to modernity”.

“The last dynasty, Chabad-Lubavitch, are the polar opposite of all Hasidim, completely leaderless and engaging modernity in order to missionize the world with their Messianic fervor to stay relevant as Hasidism without any leader whatsoever”.

The same narratives are repeated over and over but the author uses only those which best illustrate the Hasidic full picture. What this means is that in order to get the whole picture, it is necessary to read about all five dynasties. Heilman has drawn on many sources which he presents to us for the first time. He writes like a novelist thus making this a book that is hard to put down. We are taken back to the “political intrigue and the hidden machinations that enabled a handful of individuals to assume incredible power over their communities of followers”, It is this power that makes a Hasidic rebbe the most important figure in the world for his followers, “a leader who is their intermediary with God – a kind of pope, in a way, who is indeed just a couple of rungs below divine”.

For Hasidim, who see their rebbes as so close to God that they are almost infallible, this book reveals their leaders to be human, fallible, sometimes driven by ego, sometimes not all that holy.