Monthly Archives: March 2018

“The Story of Israel: From the Birth of a Nation to the Present Day” by Martin Gilbert— The Story of Israel’s Birth and Development as a Nation

Gilbert, Martin. “The Story of Israel: From the Birth of a Nation to the Present Day”, Andre Deutsch, 2018, reissue.

The Story of Israel’s Birth and Development as a Nation

Amos Lassen

 Seventy years ago and after the Holocaust, the State of Israel came into being, having been established so that Jews anywhere in the world could have a homeland. In the years since, five wars have tested Israel’s ability to survive. Emigrants from all over the world have added to Israel’s rich culture and social fabric enhanced the country’s cultural riches while at the same time this strained Israel’s social fabric, while Israel’s Arab neighbors sought to redress their own grievances through violence. Now, Israel is celebrating 70 years of independence and here is her story replete with images of important historical documents.

Some of you may have copies of or have seen this book in a different format. This is a reissue in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday. The main text and illustrations are identical to earlier editions but they have been reformatted to a different size and shape of the page. 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?

This is the story of Israel from the first settlers up to the present day. Each chapter is devoted to one segment of history and the photographs and illustrations interspersed through the text are fascinating and interesting. The content is succinct and factual and you must remember that this is not an in-depth account, but it does all the major facets of Israel’s history.

Photographs of original documents are included. We have a letter written by a young soldier to his family right before he was killed poignant, more so because he was killed shortly thereafter. Moshe Dayan’s personal letter of condolence to the parents of this soldier is likewise very moving and illustrates the huge sacrifices that Israelis have had to make.

This is not a history book but rather a very nice picture album with short summaries of Israel’s most important events.

“Not at Risk: Education as a Work of Heart” by Menachem Gottesmen and Leah Leslie Gottesman— A Special School in Israel

Menachem Gottesman, PhD. and Leah Leslie Gottesman, MA, “Not At Risk: Education as a Work of Heart”, Menorah Books, 2018.

A Special School in Israel

Amos Lassen

I have spent my entire adult life, some 55 years, in the field of education both in Israel and here in the United States. and even though I am semi-retired, I still teach several classes a year. It is a profession that is never boring and a profession that has kept me young. I love to read about new ways of educating others and so when I heard about “Not at Risk”, I was anxious to read it. Basically, this is the story of Jerusalem’s Meled School and Dr. Menachem Gottesman’s alternative education environment in response to the problem of high school dropouts hanging out, if not living, on the streets. One of the things that I learned when I lived and worked in Israel is that Israeli students are not like Jewish American students who come from homes where education is a top priority. Working with adolescents is a demanding job and it often takes a village to get a job done the way it should be done. Not every student can sit through six academic classes a day and not all-educational pedagogy is for everyone. It often takes open-minded educators, therapists, parents, and professionals to work with adolescents and those who do will find this book to be a wonderful tool.

Jerusalem’s Mercaz L’Mida Dati Learning Center or Meled has been responsible for transforming lives of youths and restoring families for over twenty years. This is no doubt because the people who work here care deeply about their jobs and the people they work with. This is the story of a educational work that is not only groundbreaking but also so very important. We hear the story of this program from its founders as they share the amazing work they have done and continue to do. We learn of personal experiences of faculty members and parents and we read personal stories of former students. “Not At Risk” tells its story through the words of its founders, and details groundbreaking educational work, sharing not only experiences and insights of faculty members and parents, but heartwarming, and at times deeply painful, personal stories of former students.

Dr. Menachem Gottesman has had years of work child development and when he sat down to find a way to deal with at risk youth, he went to three main sources for help—- A.S. Neill’s philosophy of education, the therapeutic method developed by Dr. Milton H. Erickson, and the spiritual outlook of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. I must say that these were quite a change from the educational philosophers that we studied when I was a graduate student in education. I think what is so important here, it that the education system seems to be constantly criticized yet without an alternative making that criticism almost useless. If you want to repair, there must be an alternative in place and not after the fact. Dr. Gottesman did his homework well and he was ready to implement a program after careful study. Meled has succeeded and it is a model for open-minded educators, professionals working with adolescents, and concerned parents.

In Hebrew Meled stands for Merkaz L’Mida Dati and it is the Alternative Religious High School, or Religious Learning Center in Jerusalem that was begun in September 1995 as a pilot project, and has since grown in reputation and effectiveness. Dr. Menachem Gottesman had been involved studying blind individuals and working on programming for them in the U.S. and Israel. He became interested in adolescents who did not seem to fit into not been able to fit into the formal structure of typical religious schools in Israel. Using the aforementioned three sources, Gottesman developed new educational principles for Meled. Reading here what students have to say, we see that this alternative school has been able to save children by helping them to turn their lives around.

Gottesman dealt with students who had been depressed, abused, without a sense of self-esteem and/or a lack of self-confidence, whose families had alienated them, that were uninterested in school or studies and who had experimented with alcohol and drugs.

Because he was willing to listen to what these students had to say, he was able to help control their educations and what they did on a daily basis. Dr. Gottesman was able to give them the emotional and academic support that these students needed. Those that graduated from Meled felt good about their lives and were optimistic about what the future holds. They were able to finish what was requited of them academically

Most graduates of “Meled” are described as optimistic about their futures, completing appropriate academic challenges, find their places and begin having families of their own. Of course what was going on with Meled as Dr. Gottesman got his program going was political but ultimately, the school received official recognition and financial support from the Israeli educational establishment.

In “Not at Risk”, we have testimonials from students, parents and staff members. Gottesman, himself, supplies anecdotes and additional stories and in these he describes what the children had to deal with and how their poor circumstances affected them.

The school’s rules are minimal. Students are not allowed to physically harm each other, drugs and alcohol are prohibited, as is theft. Otherwise, it is up to the students to behave. Students determine when they come to school a truism that Gottesman fondly and frequently invoked, and it is left to the student to determine when they will come to school, what subjects they will study, how many of the national matriculation exams they will prepare for, and in which extra‐curricular activities they wish to participate.

Both Gottesman and his wife are totally devoted to the student body and there have been times when they have taken students in as foster children to make sure that those who go to their school have a proper place to live. The school staff, including the secretaries are committed totally as well. Everyone is a resource. When it happens that students have to be committed outside institutions, or have problems with the justice system, Gottesman and members of the

Meled staff are there to support them even away from school. Students continue to maintain connections with their former principal, teachers, counselors, and tutors by inviting them to share in these occasions. Some who once were students at “Meled,” now work there and have become role models and inspirations for the members of the current student body.

Two of the unique aspects of Meled are smaller student load for teachers and doing away with homework and exams and replacing them with small group study sessions. This provides more time for l interactions (one‐on‐one discussions, tutoring, and soul‐searching). Openness is required and teachers are trained for that by going to hours of observations and acclimation.

Gottesman says emphatically that school is not only interested in instruction, but also in dispensing “therapy,” staff members are “therapists” in addition to being educators. This is a new concept in which the educational institution is conceptualized as existing in order to serve its student body and Gottesman has brought the theory into reality and we see how much work that this has taken.

“The Trump Passover Haggadah: People All The Time They Come Up And Tell Me This Is The Best Haggadah They’ve Ever Read, They Do, Believe Me” by Dave Cowen— We Should Have Seen It Coming

Cowen, Dave. “The Trump Passover Haggadah: People All The Time They Come Up And Tell Me This Is The Best Haggadah They’ve Ever Read, They Do, Believe Me”, Independently Published, 2018.

We Should Have Seen It Coming

Amos Lassen

“I’d only ever been to one Passover. Back in 1984, when my best Jew lawyer, Roy Cohn, finally convinced me to accept one of his invitations to a Seder at his penthouse in Manhattan. Frankly, there’s only one word to describe that night. Boring. Even with Madonna as my date, and I’m talking still-hot, pre-pregnant, pre-Kabbalah Madonna, it was unbearable. Before we could eat, we had to take turns reading from these old, raggedy, dirt — filthy really — paper manuals, these Haggadahs, right, that’s what you call them? Well, let me tell you, they’re very low energy, very poorly written stuff, and the whole thing went on forever, I left after the second cracker course.”

This is the introduction to Dave Cowen’s satirical Haggadah that is flying out of stores and I must admit that parts of it are very funny. What is not funny are the tremendous number of errors that should have been caught in the editing process (if there even was an editing process) and the fact that Donald Trump indeed is the president of this country.

Before I criticize it, let’s have a little fun thinking what the White House Seder might be like. First all undocumented chametz must be removed and this is rough since the White House has lost its help due to immigration policy and Melania is allergic to feathers. As the first lady sets the table, Trump reminds her that cushions are needed for leaning and she reminds him that he already leans when he eats on the couch being debriefed.

Pence arrives and demands that they wait for his wife to arrive before making Kiddush, because he cannot attend events where alcohol is served without her. The Kush recites the Shehecheyanu prayer and thanks his father-in-law for his job.

“The four questions are of course asked by Ivanka (the wise child), Tiffany (the wicked child), Donald Junior (the simple child), and Eric (the child who doesn’t know how to ask).” And what about that other child, Baron?

On Amazon.com, the description reads: “The book guides Seder participants through a re-living of the Jewish people’s suffering under the Egyptians and celebrates their freedom from a vain, capricious, thin-skinned, small-handed, megalomaniacal, temperamentally unfit President— er, Pharaoh. If you’re an afflicted liberal Jew, with an unconservative (sic) sense of humor, and you find traditional Seders as dry as matzo, so why not try this radically irreverent political parody Haggadah this Passover.”

On the minus side are the errors (which I will get to) but the text is just a compilation of terrible Trump jokes that we have all heard before. Buy, hey, it is a cheap book ($6) and one day you my want those jokes although I cannot imagine why. There are a number of typos especially in the Hebrew and in the Hebrew spelling of God’s name. Of course this means that the Haggadah has yet another use— counting the mistakes and this is a great way to use the time while waiting for the sponge cake that fell.

With as many mistakes as there are, it is doubtful that this is a utile Haggadah—- it was written for the fun of it. (Nonetheless, Ivanka remains the wise child even if her father told a stripper/prostitute that she was as beautiful as his daughter, the wise child).

I do think that we could have had a really funny Haggadah based upon this presidential (it hurts to use that word with Trump) administration because they are funny. If nothing else, this one gives us an idea to write one that is funnier and without errors. And while you are at it, let’s add a dried prune added to the Seder plate to reminds us of Alec Baldwin’s terrific impersonation of the prez.

“Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations” by Ronen Bergman— Israel’s Targeted Killing Programs

Bergman, Ronen. “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations”, Random House, 2018.

Israel’s Targeted Killing Programs

Amos Lassen

We learn from the Talmud that if someone comes to take a life, we have the responsibility to “rise up and kill him first.” Self-defense is an instinct that is part of most Israelis who will take every measure, even the most aggressive, to defend the Jewish people. We saw this in 1948 with the creation of the state and protecting the nation. The Israel intelligence community and the armed forces see this as the main priority. They have relied on targeted assassinations to stop the most serious threats and these have been used countless times, on enemies large and small, both in response to attacks against the Israeli people and preemptively.

Journalist and military analyst Ronen Bergman takes us inside the targeted killing programs and shares successes, failures, and the moral and political price we pay for the men and women who approved and carried out the missions. The stories are riveting and sometimes you have to remember that you are reading nonfiction here. Bergman has written this book with the cooperation of many current and former members of the Israeli government (including Prime Ministers Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as high-level figures in the country’s military and intelligence services: the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency), Caesarea (a “Mossad within the Mossad” that carries out attacks on the highest-value targets), and the Shin Bet (an internal security service that implemented the largest targeted assassination campaign ever, in order to stop suicide terrorism once thought to be unstoppable.

Much of what we read here has never been in print before and we get behind-the-scene accounts of key operations, that are based on hundreds of on-the-record interviews and thousands of files to which Bergman has received exclusive access. We go deep into the heart of Israel’s most secret activities. Bergman takes us from statehood to the present though the events and ethical questions underlying Israel’s targeted killing campaign, which has shaped not just Israel but also the Middle East and the world.

We have the details of the history and the largess of Israel’s use of killing as an instrument of defense and foreign policy. Bergman also debates the effectiveness and morality of his subject. Nearly eight years of research went into “the most secretive and impenetrable intelligence community in the world.” We also become aware of America’s difficult relationship with targeted killing and the dilemmas the world might face in the future especially with the rise of terrorism being what it is.

Bergman brings together history and investigative reporting while keeping the ethical questions that come into being when Israel, a nation that was founded as a place for those with no state, for those who had lived through genocide needs to murder in order to survive. “Since World War II, the Jewish state and its pre-state paramilitary organizations have assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world.

We meet the personalities and learn of the tactics of the various secret services and we see that Israel has used assassination instead of war. We also learn that President George W. Bush adopted many Israeli techniques after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and President Barack Obama launched several hundred targeted killings.

This book takes us behind the scenes and puts events in context that shows their relevance to the survival of Israel. The events are filled with the clarity of truth. Much of what we read here was never meant to be seen making it all the more exciting. The survival of Israel has been possible because of the improbable success of suspenseful operations that involved boldness, planning, and intelligence together with intense preparation that made it all possible.

We are pulled into the difficult tactical, strategic and moral dilemmas that the decision makers had to deal with along the way and there are some very big questions here about the moral and practical costs of a justifiable program of sabotage and assassination as an alternative to wider wars among nations.

Bergman explains why the Israelis found it necessary to use targeted assassinations for the safety of their people and as we read our emotions get a workout. On one hand we are very proud of what Israel has been able to do while on the other hand we are disappointed that Israel had to use murder in order to defend herself.

This is a big book at over 700 pages yet I could not stop reading and am halfway through my second read.

“Same-Sexy Marriage” by Julie Marie Wade— Fragile “Straightness”

Wade, Julie Marie. “Same-Sexy Marriage”, AMidsummer Night’s Press, 2018.

Fragile “Straightness”

Amos Lassen

Have you ever thought of marriage at the same time as thinking of taboos? I bet none of us have with the exception, perhaps of Julie Marie Wade who has not only thought about but has written a poem cycle about “same sexy marriage”.

“Speculation turns to circumstance and back again” as we read about unspoken truths, final understandings and/or misunderstandings with exes. We see that finality just does not really exist or like my mother used to say, “When God closes the door, a window is opened.” exes. For Wade’s characters, finality is in flux.

I wish someone had been around to record my facial expressions as I read these poems. There are tricks and surprises all along the way. Wade sees the world clearly and shares her perspective with us. She also shares her mother who lives in her own world but every so often visits the world of her daughter… to stir things up a bit.

“she is quick to explain…”

“My mother would like the idea of Maine,

like Main Street and mainstream American values…”

“She will have packed a dinner for them—“

We have hear a world that lacks compassion and that assumes the worst of any situation.

As Wade looks at the world, she remarks that to live in it is “how it feels to be living in a typo”. She brings us the vulnerability of what she calls straight America and American values along with her mother’s absolute and determined unwillingness to accept her daughter’s lesbian relationship by making up a story for herself and everyone else.

If I married him, Reader–this surgeon/this Jeffrey Hamilton–I must have loved him./And my mother says, to anyone who will listen,/that I married him.

Her mother selects not only the husband, but also his occupation, and where they live and if they will have children.

Granted this is totally audacious and for more than shocking. There are no scared cows here and Boston gets its fair share as does the concept of Boston marriage. “Even if we were too women older and otherwise occupied…”. I had no idea what to expect before I sat down to read this collection but I soon realized that the poems carried me away and I was both entertained and inspired. The inspiration comes from the fact that the poet does not hold back and says things as they are. I realized that I was reading something different by this strangest event. As I sat down to write this review and would finish a paragraph, it would delete itself letter by letter as I sat and watched. Twice my review disappeared before my very eyes and I have no idea how or why that happened.

I do not usually pick favorites but I do have to quote a few lines from (and this is the third time I am typing this) “Mary Cheney You Know What They Say About Women Like Us”:

“That we’re dykes because we have daddy issues”.

“That we’re bitter because nobody asked us to the Prom”.

“This whole homosexuality business started in the 1960s. Your mother and I got married, then watched the world around us fall to the fornicators and the bigamist and the sodomites”.

In less than 70 pages, I found so much to like here and cannot find the words to show how much. Get a copy and enjoy. And yes, this review did disappear twice.

“The Sexy Storm” by Edward Van de Vendel— Adolescent Love

Van de Vendel, Edward. “The Sexy Storm”, translated by David Colmer, A Midsummer’s Night Press, 2018.

Adolescent Love

Amos Lassen

I bet we can all remember that adolescent crush that occupied our minds endlessly and in fact, we still think about it. Let’s face it teen love is very special with its “thrills and chills” and its tender passion. After all, what do adolescents know of love? Edward Van de Vendel looks at that very same emotion in his collection of poems about young love and each and every entry is a treat. The poems run the gamut of emotions from the joys and pleasure of meeting for the first time to he pain and sorrow of love ending. Age has no influence on the enjoyment of these poems simply because we have all been there. One does not have to be young to enjoy reading about youth just as one does not have to be gay to write a gay love story (Andre Aciman has surely proven that).

I love that Van de Vendel writes with such detail yet his poems remain informal. In “Hallelujah, I was knocked out by “love’s trunk grows strong with annual rings and sends new shoots up in the spring”. There is nothing new here except for the way it is said and the way it is placed in the context of the poem. Not only are we taken back in time, we are made aware that we are reading the past with all of its youthful allusions to sex and feeling, “I feel your goosebumps too”. The poems capture those special moments that we do not let go of and makes sure that we feel them again.

“I’m standing here

With kisses tipped,

So:

If you’re still keen,

I’ll slide in between.”

We certainly sense Van de Vendel’s confidence in what he says and his writing is both sensual and dark ;

“How can I not be more aware

that this body in the bed

makes sleep deeper and more beautiful

makes dreams more childlike?

I was reminded of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” that he referred to as a memory play. These are memory poems that take us back while at the same time keeping us here.

It’s in the past and none of it is now and every day I think:

Will I see you again? I look up. It might not happen

Soon, but the world is open at the top.

Sometimes we all just need to get away and I found “The Sexy Storm” to be a great retreat. With only 40 pages, a poem a day is fine and then it is easy enough to start all over again. The poems never go stale.

“SLEEPING DOGS”— Blu-ray Special Edition

“SLEEPING DOGS”

Blu-ray Special Edition

Amos Lassen

“Sleeping Dogs” was the movie that started the New Zealand New Wave. It proves that homegrown feature films could resonate with both local and international audiences. It also launched the big-screen careers of director Roger Donaldson and Sam Neill.

In the film, Neill plays Smith, a man escaping the break-up of his marriage by finding isolation on an island off the Coromandel Peninsula (This was his first ever lead role). As he settles into his new life, the country is experiencing its own problems: an oil embargo has led to martial law and civil war. Smith reluctantly finds himself increasingly involved.

Warren Oates is the commander of a US army unit drawn into the conflict. “Sleeping Dogs” is both a political thriller and a personal drama.

We get a bit of insight into New Zealand also and it is interesting to note that this was the first New Zealand film released in the US. The background is of a government trying to stay in power.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

High Definition (Blu-ray) presentation

Original mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Commentary by writer-director Roger Donaldson, actor Sam Neill and actor-writer Ian Mune

The Making of Sleeping Dogs, a 65-minute documentary on the film s production featuring interviews with Donaldson, Neill, Mune, Geoff Murphy and others

Theatrical trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Neil Mitchell, a contemporary review by Pauline Kael and the original press book.

“SEIJUN SUZUKI: THE EARLY YEARS. VOL.2. BORDER CROSSINGS: THE CRIME AND ACTION MOVIES— Five Cult Favorites

 

“Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years. Vol. 2. Border Crossings: The Crime and Action Movies”

Limited Edition, 4-Disc Limited Edition  DVD + Blu-ray—Five Cult Favorites

Amos Lassen

The five films in the second volume from Seijun Suzuki are his early crime thrillers, mob dramas and action movies—- “Eight Hours of Terror” (1957), “The Sleeping Beast Within” (1960), “Smashing the 0-Line” (1960), “Tokyo Knights” (1961), “The Man with a Shotgun” (1961).

This is the first time these films have been available on DVD and Blu-ray outside of Japan. Watching these today hint at what Suzuki had planned for the future and in him he laid the groundwork.

“The Sleeping Beast Within” (1960) is crime thriller about a newspaper reporter s search for his girlfriend’ missing father and that search takes him into the core of the criminal underworld of Yokoham’s Chinatown. “Smashing the 0-Line” is its companion piece (1960) that follows two reporters into a world of drug and human trafficking. In “Eight Hours of Terror” (1957), takes us on a bus ride as it makes its way across a winding mountain road and picks up some unwelcome passengers. “Tokyo Knights” (1961), is about a college student who enters organized crime when he takes over the family business and “The Man with A Shotgun” (1961) was Suzuki’s first borderless Japanese Western.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

Limited Edition Dual Format Collection [1500 copies]

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

Newly translated optional English Subtitles

Audio commentary by critic and author Jasper Sharp on Smashing the 0-Line

Tony Rayns on the Crime and Action Movies the critic and historian discusses the background to the films, their place within Suzuki s career and the talent involved with them

Trailers

Stills Gallery

Reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys

60-page illustrated collector’s book featuring new writing by Jasper Sharp

“THEY”— The Decision

“THEY”

The Decision

Amos Lassen

“Fourteen-year-old J goes by the pronoun ‘They’ and lives with their parents in the suburbs of Chicago. J is exploring their gender identity while taking hormone blockers to postpone puberty. After two years of medication and therapy, J has to make a decision whether or not to transition. Over this crucial weekend while their parents are away, J’s sister Lauren and her maybe/maybe-not Iranian partner Araz arrive to take care of ‘They’.”

Anahita Ghazvinizadeh’s film is lovely and understated. J (Rhys Fehrenbacher) is in the midst of transitioning from male to female but has chosen to delay puberty, leading to an odd sense of displacement adding yet another problems of being a kid. This is a film about life in an in-between state (even as J looks to find a place in the world, their sister’s boyfriend’s Iranian family struggles with a different kind of uprooting).

J is a smart, shy kid who spends a lot of time in the family greenhouse tending to flowers and, at the advice of a friend, keeps a daily chart logging whether they wake up feeling ‘G’ or ‘B’.

Most films that we have had with a trans character at their center, the plot was about the experience of gender. “They” places J’s self-inquiry into a broader context. Their parents are out of town, and so J’s older sister Lauren (Nicole Coffineau) and her partner Araz (Koohyar Hosseini) arrive to look after them. Lauren has been away at school, and then working as an artist, so she and J have some catching up to do and Araz is a new acquaintance. So there are familial relationships being worked out aside from J’s own questioning of gender. Director

Ghazvinizadeh gives us a surprising picture of a neighborhood, and by extension an enclosed world, in which J’s gender fluidity is not an issue.

On a ‘G’ day, they go out in a dress. A neighbor compliments them on it; some area boys ask for J’s help with fixing their bike and are worried that J has gotten grease on their dress. There is a sense to the world that is so pointedly non-judgmental that it feels somewhat artificial. The tone coincides with Ghazvinizadeh’s slow, quiet passages of suburban landscape and close-ups of colorful flowers. There’s a self-serious attempt at artistic expression that at times feels overbearing.

But these complaints minor and compared with most films about trans or gender-nonconforming characters, this film is a minor miracle. (that it stars an actually trans lead actor helps greatly.)

Transgender is captured with sincerity here and we really see that life is extremely delicate. The film is gentle and tender, both in execution and examination. this artful addition to the Special Screenings strand is an impressive first offering from the young Iranian.

Since J is unsure of their gender with each day being a battle to underpin emotions and outlooks. J is taking hormone blockers in order to delay puberty. After two years of medication and therapy, J has to make a decision whether or not to transition. Ghazvinizadeh’s film is bound to bored some viewers. There is almost no crucial narrative development, nor conflicts or key sequences. For a character as composite as J – trapped in a cycle, battling to locate their true self – interactions are nearly always positive, or at least civil.

J never faces discrimination and bullying, even when strolling down the block draped in a floral dress. The film shows us that gender is not the single way to define a person, just like neither are their cultures or heritage. This is thoughtfully explored through Araz’s experiences, as he invites both Lauren and J to a family meal, complete with Kurdish dancing, dining, and clothing.

Dialogue between characters feels authentic and conversational, never alluding to some major escalation in storytelling or exposition.

Young Fehrenbacher, in his very first performance, is wonderful in his own quiet way. – is quietly fantastic throughout. He brings much weight and emotion to a character by nakedly detailing the complexities and tribulations of such existence. Never does J break down, nor demand your attention, but viewers are always aware that inside the mind is shaking. Each morning, they record how they feel when waking, writing a ‘B’ for boy, ‘G’ for girl, or “blank” if they are unsure of their sexuality. Fehrenbacher’s reserved work allows us to grow close, and feel a part of J’s transitions – both internal and external.

The film captures gender, society, and culture with sincerity and intimacy making “They” an inspired and thoughtful character study. It is director Ghazvinizadeh’s meditation of life and humanity and as such there is nothing that is mundane.

“LUCIFERINA”— Religion, Innocence, Repressed Sexuality and Evil

 

 

“Luciferina”

Religion, Innocence, Repressed Sexuality and Evil

Amos Lassen

Argentinean director Gonzalo Calzada brings us a visually explosive film where  religion, innocence, repressed sexuality and evil spectacularly collide. Natalia is a 19-year-old novitiate who reluctantly returns home to say goodbye to her dying father. But when she meets up with her sister and her friends, she decides instead to go with them into the jungle in search of mystical plant. However, they find a  world of Black Masses, strange pregnancies, bloody deaths and a sexually violent clash with the Devil himself. 

This is both a drama and a black comedy that is set in Buenos Aires as it is being devastated by yellow fever and with the legend of San La Muerte hovering in the atmosphere. This is actually the first movie about demonic possessions and satanic rites to come out of Argentina.

Luciferina has as a letter of introduction a set of possessions and transformations that are both terrifying and intense and we begin to realize that this is really not a comedy and the devil is a serious character. Luciferina follows the story of Natalia (Sofía Del Tuffo), a novitiate who is confined in a convent. This situation will not last long, because at the beginning of the film we learned that her mother committed suicide and his father died. She does not fit what a nun should be and she is forced to leave the convent and when she gets home, she finds her sister.

Despite refusing to leave, the responsible nuns force her to leave the place, and this is how Natalia leaves the convent returning home, where she will meet Ángela (Malena Sánchez), her sister.

Natalia might be an introverted character but she has a special gift that allows her to see the inner light of people. The other girls at the convent have many hidden secrets and Angela wants to discover them once and for all. That is why she plans a trip to an island of Tigre with the group of friends that accompany her, where they will experiment with the ancient rite originating from Ayahuasca, provided by a shaman (Tomás Lipán). Natalia does not want to know anything, but circumstances force her to join the others on their trip.

“Luciferina” becomes the story of a group of young people facing unknown demonic forces. It is a well-made film that not only scares the viewer but presents a fascinating plot. It is very difficult to summarize and even review a film like this without giving something away.