Monthly Archives: September 2020

“THE AUDITION”— A Character Study

“THE AUDITION”

A Character Study

Amos Lassen

Ina Weisse’s “The Audition” stars  Nina Hoss as a middle-aged music teacher whose fragile sense of self becomes entwined with a new student. Alexander (Ilja Monti), the student is a young high school violinist, and her projections onto him, are more about her own perceived failures While we are  taken to dark places, Weisse’s story of the tortured psyche of a professional female musician is humanistic.

The film aptly opens with an audition in which we see the impassive administrators of a Berlin youth conservatory, including Anna (Hoss), evaluating young teens taking turns playing orchestral instruments on stage. Although each of them has prepared multiple pieces to play, the judges consistently cut them off moments through their first piece—an unforgiving intimidation tactic that shows the film’s portrait of music education as oppressive.

Anna’s cold exterior is momentarily broken by Alexander’s audition. He performs a difficult piece by Édouard Lalo that moves her but does not impress her colleagues. We learn that Alexander’s visible nervousness is part of what draws her to him— Anna suffers from a nervous condition that led her to retire from an orchestra and become an instructor, and caused an inability to make decisions.

Anna takes Alexander on as her student and prepares him for their school’s intermediate exam and is focused on the series of rehearsals before Alexander’s big performance for the conservator. We watch Anna and Alexander’s gradual devolution into punishing routines. Anna begins directing her own self-punishing thoughts onto the vulnerable young boy.

We go into Anna’s life through compact scenes, subtly showing the anxiety of Anna’s world. We have glimpses of Philippe who runs a shop below her apartment, handling her with kids’ gloves, and of her son Jonas’s (Serafin Mishiev) neutral responses to her presence that show the atmosphere of alienation as a result of Anna’s unraveling sense of discipline. Anna knows that her insecurities themselves actually lie at the root of the problems in her life. Hoss captures this, without words, in her performance as a woman who puts on an increasingly fractured stone face for the world outside.

Anna was raised in a culture of self-discipline causing the cultural and possible genetic roots of her issues. The film  is about the relation between those inward and outward senses of discipline is seen in her behavior. The film moves toward a tragic conclusion. Nevertheless, The Audition captures with clarity an irony at the base of accomplished musical expression: the conflict between interiority and imposed technique, which can be fraught with repressed frustration and resentment.

Anna plays like a carefully moderated musical arrangement, equal parts subtle drama and high anxiety, giving a portrait of obsessive alliances and psychological projections whose championing of an introverted student awakens desires she’s been unwisely holding back. Weisse gives us a character study which moves to primal depths in its significant silences.

Professional aspirations and familial parameters become mixed together to alter Anna’s affairs, and the success of the film comes from Hoss’s performance in how it examines the dwindling elitism of a musical community where the leaders are overlooked in the vainglorious in favor of a newer, apathetic generation of talent. We see the intersection of desperation, tenacity and pretension on the part of Anna, who dreams of fulfilling her potential as a noted violinist. Her championing of an underdog leads her to the precipice of personal ruin as it awakens her need to pursue interests she’d allowed to be put to rest.

“The Audition” ends with a harsh, tragic coda that may surprise some. Others will not be confounded, given the grimness that has taken place up to this point.

“WILL READING”— Another Look at a Comedy about a Morbid Truth

“WILL READING”

Another Look at a Comedy about a Morbid Truth

Amos Lassen

About five years ago I watched Jamie Insalco’s “Will Reading” and was a bit upset with the amateur aspects of the film. I thought that this had to be some kind of a joke and could not understand how anyone could have made something so bad and then ask reviewers to see it. Back then I was ready to write to director Insalco and tell him that this was the worst movie I have ever seen and for those of you who follow my reviews know that there is nothing I dislike more than giving a negative review. Instead, I set everything aside and sat on what I thought for a while and then went back and watched it a second and third time. It was still very amateurish and the acting was nothing to write home about but the cast is really into what they do and suddenly I realized that I had read the movie totally wrong. Most of those problems are now gone. Last week I got an email from the director: “Now, it’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video!  The thing is, it’s a new version of the film.  After we screened the movie in an actual theater with a live audience, I found that there were a lot of problems that weren’t obvious to me, even in a packed living room.  They needed fixing… and I’d say they’ve been (for the most part) fixed!  New shots, new edit, new music, a 5.1 surround sound – all that good stuff.  And finally, closed captions were the very last bit of the puzzle.” It I basically a new film and one you do not want to miss.

Our characters come together to read the will of Wendy’s (Katie Weigl) late husband. is hosting one nonetheless, after the recent death of her husband Will. Wendy is a vegan chef, so this is a dinner party as well as a will reading, but she isn’t exactly starting with a recipe for success. Will’s brother Wayne (Jamie Insalaco) is the first to arrive at Wendy’s where everyone will have a nice dinner before the reading. Wayne and Wendy have never gotten along and he immediately chides her for not having any wine to go with the meal and leaves to go and buy some.

Steve (Greg Vorob) arrives. He had once been Wendy’s high school crush and is now a lawyer. Tom (Marc Seidenstein) is a psychologist who seems to be doing ok but he has many bills because of this ill father. Finally there is Dave (Dan Conrad), a nerd who owns a comic book shop, except this is also struggling. So it’s no surprise and he is also dealing with finances. All of the characters think about the money that might be left to them in the will.

At the reading, our characters learn that the inheritances are located somewhere in the house. We learn that Will was afraid of the IRS and chose to hide his estate rather than having others pay taxes on it.

Now begins a treasure hunt— each person has an idea where to look but no one knows anything for sure. We watch the four of them begin to stress out, alliances are made and broken and as the craziness ensues, we cannot help but wonder how this will play out. I realize just how much I dislike all of the characters so I did not root for any of them. However, the actors are having such a good time making this movie which made me hope that at least one of them would be endearing.

There are some fun laughs and some of the humor is quite dark. The new score has a lot of interesting music. This is a small almost one-set film and I thought to myself that this is a throwback to the kind of romantic comedies that Hollywood used to make but I was wrong. There is really nothing old-fashioned about “Will Reading”. Perhaps I was too tense the first time I watched it and was not willing to let go of the kind of day I had had or, more likely, I was not in the mood for a movie like this. I thought I had been laughing at the movie instead of laughing with it.

The film is not a comedy, it is a tragedy about a young woman who has lost her husband and does not know how she will manage financially, a lawyer without clients, a doctor without patients, a retail clerk in a  store which hardly has any customers and may not be in business much longer, and a man who seems to have no profession or job at all. Not one of these people is happy with their circumstances, the doctor and the lawyer admitting they are broke and desperate, and the woman frequently weeping over her dead husband and her poor prospects – she is worried her daughter may be taken away from her if she loses her home and cannot support her. Essentially, what we have here are five dysfunctional people who used to be friends and now hope that the deceased may have left them some money. Have a look at the new version—–you will be provoked and entertained at the same time.

“MUSIC FOR BLEEDING HEARTS”— Three Hearts About to Break

“MUSIC FOR BLEEDING HEARTS”

Three Hearts About to Break

Amos Lassen

In modern Sao Paulo, three hearts are on the verge of being broken. Ricardo has a steady boyfriend but is smitten by a new co-worker. Isabella (Mayara Constantino) has taken a break from her boyfriend and from Ricardo (Victor Mendez) who is her best friend. Felipe (Ciao Horowicz)is a hopeless romantic who finds himself caught between Ricardo and Isabella. The three of them have big dreams of passion but they are certainly not ready for what is to come.

Rafael Gomes, the director of the film, observes the various changes and what remains eternal in matters of love, his central. He has adapted how relationships are affected by the transformations of the digital world, including Instagram and other social networks as an integral part of today’s lovers’ flirtation and suffering.

The script and editing embrace a parallel narrative when following the trio that guarantees dynamism throughout the film while suppressing important details to understand the development arc of the characters. While presenting a youth suffering from a need to be in love that supersedes the very construction of a relationship to actually experience this love, the film brings romantic clichés in prose and verse.

Gomes gives us a philosophical ballad to love that looks at its bewildering complexities. The three main characters are  the personifications of the three [main] types of love. Vulnerabilities are worn on the sleeve, hearts are torn apart, guards are put up and pulled down. We see that love changes as we mature.

The performances are excellent all around but this s a director’s film. On a tiny budget, he has produced a credible film with might, force and gentility. Music is important here and Cazuza, Orlando Silva, Gal Costa, Tim Bernardes, Clarice Falcão, Fafá de Belém, Marcelo Camelo and Milton Nascimento are some of the artists whose songs add to the diverse sequences of the film.

Isabela suffers because of her recent break up with Gabriel (Ícaro Silva); Felipe wants to fall in love and hopes to do so with Isabela and Ricardo is platonically in love with Felipe. The first half of the film builds the characters who are with their individual love lives. They are carefree and intelligent.  They seem to have catchphrases and aphorisms ready to be introduced in any conversation, they wander in a pedestrian philosophical language and display a frightening egotism. There areconstant references to Shakespeare’s ultimate love story “Romeo and Juliet”. We become constantly aware of, is how we Social Media and the Internet are used to closely monitor the lives  of others, as well as our own.

“SAINT NARCISSE”— Mythology, Religion, Self-Obsession and Sex

“SAINT NARCISSE”

Mythology, Religion, Self-Obsession and Sex

Amos Lassen

 Bruce LaBruce’s “Saint Narcisse” brings together mythology, religion, self-obsession and sex in in 1970s Quebec. He takes the myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in the water, seems like quite an obvious move and filters it as a 1970s cult movie and adds to it with a pair of lesbian lovers who have gone off the grid; a young monk who is a cigarette-smoking, volleyball-averse lookalike of the protagonist; and an abusive gay priest who is obsessed with Saint Sebastian. LaBruce balances retaining the anarchic, B-movie-influenced aesthetic of his earlier films with “a new level of finesse in terms of how everything has been put together.”

The film opens with a shot of the Dominic (Felix-Antoine Duval) the  protagonist’s crotch. He’s at a laundromat and after taking a bra out of the drier, he begins talking with the only other customer there, a beautiful young woman explaining to her that the piece of lingerie is his grandmother’s.  to whom he apologetically suggests the item is his grandma’s. The two have sex almost immediately after this as people on the street watch what is going on in the laundromat. At the end of the scene, we see that Dominic is confused, thinking that he saw someone who looks like him in the group of watchers. LaBruce has suggested something about his main character’s inner state.

When Dominic goes home, we see that and he lives with his French-speaking grandmother (Angele Coutu). She is the starting point for a series of revelations about Dominic’s family that leads him to the Quebec countryside, where he meets two women (Tania Kontoyanni and Alexandra Petrachuk). They are lovers and also a key to unraveling Dom’s family history.

Dominic also meets another attractive young guy named Daniel, who looks just like him (Duval and some body doubles). He’s tied up in the family tree, too, though he’s had a very different upbringing. Daniel grew up in a monastery run by Father Andrew (Andreas Apergis), who is obsessed with both Saint Sebastian and Daniel.

The film’s  use of mythological and religious allusions and recent props like the camera that draws a line from Greek mythology all the way to the present without breaking the early 1970s illusion. Dominic is self-obsessed and the film suggests that self-obsession has always been there and that it is quite normal that people want to know who they are and where they come from.  We begin to wonder how much obsession with oneself is too much and whether there should there be boundaries. We do get something of an answer to these in the film’s final scene.

The film cuts back and forth between places and timelines without ever losing the viewer and we realize that we are on a journey that is a lot of fun and intellectual at the same time. LaBruce manages to have twins (or doppelgangers), incest, a cabin in the woods, nuns and/or monks, a motorcycle driver, lesbians living in the wild, and a sexually abusive priest all in one movie. “Saint Narcisse” is an homage to 70’s Quebecois cinema is LaBruce’s most traditionally narrative and dramatic film to date.

LaBruce has said that “Narcissism has obviously become the default psychological state, the ideological white noise of the new millennium, evidenced by selfie culture and social media solipsism. So I thought it was high time for a more contemporary reinterpretation of the Narcissus myth.” What he gives us is a bizarre drama that reveals a family secret, forbidden love and a long-lost twin brother who Dominic discovers has been raised by a twisted monastery ruled by the domineering Father.

“Truthtelling: Stories, Fables, Glimpses” by Lynne Sharon Schwartz— Looking at New Yorkers

Schwartz, Lynne Sharon. “Truthtelling: Stories, Fables, Glimpses”, Delphinium, 2020.

Looking at New Yorkers

Amos Lassen

Let me start by saying that I am not much of a short story reader but with that said, I have to say that I totally enjoyed Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s “Truthtelling” and not only because of her wonderful prose but because I read them at a time when we are all looking for hope. So many of us are facing a new way of life in which dreams have been shattered and we face new kinds of problems every day. Reading how others deal with this made me see myself differently. I found compassion within myself that I was unaware even existed anymore (I thought I was “compassioned” out). We all make decisions that are not the best and it is always easier to see that in others than in ourselves.

I do not want to go into details about each story because that usually means that I have to choose a favorite and they are all my favorites. We see how decisions influence our lives and even change them. Through the stories we escape, for a while, at the sad and scary realities that we are facing yet we also see that we are all alike.

“If I Remember Him” by Louis Flint Ceci— Everything Changes

Ceci, Louis Flint. “If I Remember Him”, Beautiful Dreamer Press, 2020.

Everything Changes

Amos Lassen

It is 1935 and a catastrophic tornado changes the lives of those in the tiny town of Croy, Oklahoma forever. Lerner Alquist a wealthy resident of Croy becomes obsessed with building a library as a memorial to his wife, Ada, a victim of the tornado.  By 1952, Croy has been rebuilt along with its many secrets. Andy Simms, the church music minister, is dating Pastor Matthew Jacobs’s daughter, Susan, but he is in love with a man, a Sikh artist Sundar “Sunny” Singh Sohi. Virginia, Alquist’s neglected daughter, is secretly married to Harry Edom, a Chickasaw handyman. When the library is finally finished and dedicated, things come to an ugly head.

All of this occurs on a town that is religious and populated by residents with prejudices and at a time in history where being straight white and Christian was the way people lived. But that was on the outside only. Writer Louis Flint Ceci shows us  the hypocrisy of those who claim with the confines of their religion but who at the same time treat others in ways that are opposed to what their faith teaches them.  We really see this in Alquist’s prejudices and that these feelings cost him all that he holds dear. Any of us who have grown up in a small town or within the confines of overbearing religion will see ourselves here.

It is easy to get lost in the plot but even easier to enjoy the author’s gorgeous prose and the characters he has created here. Perhaps we do not need to be reminded that sexual bigotry still exists in this world but when depicted by Ceci, it makes for a wonderful read. We see clearly what bigotry and prejudice can do.

Alquist wanted the library to preserve the history of Croy and to be a shelter should they have to face another tornado. (If you have lived through an act of nature such as this, it is easy to see why he thinks a shelter is so important). It was not an easy idea for the town because the land for the library would have to come from places where his tenants lived but he was so obsessed with it and preserving the memory of Ada that he saw it as a necessity for the town. It took seventeen years for see his dream completed. The idea of a statue of Ada takes us to the artist Sunny Sohi, who has never been accepted in town because he is Asian. Soon music minister Andy, is fascinated by Sonny who got the job to sculpt the statue but it is seen by the town elders as controversial. They also saw the whole library project as controversial and especially that an outsider was to create the statue. There are tensions in the town and things come to a head and we see clearly that everything is not what it seems. Yet this is also a love story as much as it is a story about prejudice in mid-20th-century Oklahoma.

“The Big Tow: An Unlikely Romance: An Unlikely Romance” by Ann McMan— A Different North Carolina

McMan, Ann. “The Big Tow: An Unlikely Romance: An Unlikely Romance”, Bywater Books, 2020.

A Different North Carolina

Amos Lassen

I began reading Ann McMan some ten books ago and I continue to do so not only because she is such a fine writer but because each book is a surprise. McMan’s wit and plot lines are always intelligent and fun to read.

In “The Big Tow” we meet Vera “Nick” Nicholson, an overtaxed and underpaid attorney living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and feeing that she is  killing time while  working at Turner, Witherspoon, Anders, and Tyler (TWAT) where she sees little chance for career advancement. But then she get a special assignment—- to recover the missing high-priced luxury car belonging to one of the firm’s top clients. She is to find and recover the car and its contents but without any help from the local police. It is then that we meet Fast Eddie and his men at The National Recovery Bureau, a repo agency in the town of K-Vegas. 

Suddenly Nick’s job and Nick are furloughed at the law firm and she decides to join Eddie’s gang and becomes an agent and is teamed with Frances “Frankie” Stohler, a third-grade teacher who has taken the job to supplement her income. Frankie’s parents have been members of the society of Winston-Salem and they know everyone and everyone knows them.

What follows is a visit to the very strange world of repo and a trip into a North Carolina that most of us have never seen before and where nothing seems to go right. But this journey also brings Nick and Frankie both together and the financial independence that they both seek. It was not an easy road to travel but the result was well worth it.

I could not help myself from laughing aloud as I read and the humor is intelligent. I never knew what to expect from page to page and I was kept reading, finishing the book in almost a single session. The characters are wonderfully drawn. I really love that you never know what is in a book until you experience it and I do not use the word “experience” lightly. “The Big Tow” is so much more than a read, it is a total experience.

“LIBERTY”— Total Perversion

“LIBERTE”

Total Perversion

Amos Lassen

Albert Serra’s “Liberte” is totally perverse. In 1774, fifteen years before the French Revolution Madame de Dumeval, the Duke of Tesis and the Duke of Wand came together somewhere between Potsdam and Berlin. They had been expelled from the court of Louis XVI and were hoping to gain support from the Duke of Walchen, a German free thinker and notorious seducer. He was alone in his country, a place where hypocrisy and false virtue was the way of life. The three French visitors wanted to being their  libertinage to Germany. It was a philosophy that was based on the rejection of morality and authority and they needed to find a place so that they continue their sexual activities.

The film is pornographic that is shocking. It is also boring and monotonous. There is no entertainment here even if you are into sexual fetishes. Serra shows humanity at its most debauched and depraved.

“NO ORDINARY MAN”— Rewriting the Past

“NO ORDINARY MAN”

Rewriting the Past

Amos Lassen

Directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joyntrewrite the past by correcting the story of jazz musician Billy Tipton through voices he inspired. 

The film confronts the often-circulated but incorrect narrative that Tipton was a woman who passed as a man to enjoy a musical career during the 1940s and ‘50s. The film honors the musician’s life and music by reminds audiences that Tipton was a transgender male who took a courageous path while pursuing his passion. We see the importance of considering the duties and responsibilities entailed within telling a story that is not one’s own.

Interviewees reflect upon Tipton’s story, their own transitions, and the pervasive erasure of transgender experiences from the mainstream. Audition scenes let the diverse cast members perform an idea of Billy Tipton and further expand the boundaries for trans-masculine representation. Ironically, by queering Tipton’s story the film straightens out the past.

“GOOD JOE  BELL”— Gay Teen Suicide

“GOOD JOE  BELL”

Gay Teen Suicide

Amos Lassen

“Good Joe Bell” follows a father, Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) coming to terms with his son Jadin’s (Reid Miller) suicide. He undertook a walk across the United States to raise awareness of bullying following the suicide of 15-year-old Jadin.

The film moves between Joe’s inspirational march and the tragic homophobia that Jadin experienced. The real Joe Bell was killed after being hit by a car just 8 months after the death of his son, but his family was closely involved in the project. 

Along with homophobia, Jaden suffered visible embarrassment at home from his father”, and thus “Joe could have been permanently broken by regret, but instead sets out on a mission.”  Joe loved his children very much was a very complex man. Due to be released soon, this is one to watch for.