Monthly Archives: September 2021

“A Previous Life” by Edmund White— The Decline of Beauty

White, Edmund “A Previous Life”, Bloomsbury, 2022.

The Decline of Beauty

Amos Lassen

In “A Previous Life” Edmund White explores polyamory and bisexuality, ageing and love through the lives of Sicilian aristocrat and musician, Ruggero, and his younger American wife, Constance who agree to break their marital silence and write their Confessions. They had placed a ban on speaking about the past, since transparency had ruined their previous marriages. As the two alternate reading the memoirs they’ve written about their lives, Constance shares her multiple marriages to older men, and Ruggero talks about the affairs he’s had with men and women across his life, especially most importantly his passionate affair with White. 

White aims to give us a broader understanding of sexual orientation as we read about complex characters, physical beauty and its decline. We look at themes of love and age through different eyes, hearts and minds. 

The stories of Ruggero and Constance take us back to their childhoods and sexual awakening and we see the influence their lives. When Ruggero begins a relationship with White that the becomes somewhat surreal. Ruggero is a narcissist who often appears becomes a character that is hard to like and who seems focused only on himself and his self-gratification.  We explore sexual relationships that are in states of constant evolution.

Ruggero and Constance have by-and-large kept their pasts  secret, but when Ruggero is confined to bed, they decided to write out their memoirs and read them aloud to each other and in doing so they reveal their  past loves and affairs.

The novel takes place in 2050 and much of the past narrative is about the life today in the more modern world.The story opens with Ruggero and Constance in a Swiss chalet after he breaks his leg skiing. He’s in his 70s, she is her 40s. They’ve never spoken about their past lives to each other and now decide to write their confessions and read them aloud to pass the time. We feel the sense of  Ruggero’s previous love affair with White.

Constance is afraid of being abandoned (because of Ruggero’s age) yet she ultimately leaves him for  an American lover her own age who can give her the family that Ruggero refused to do. The second half of the novel goes into Ruggero’s intense affair with White and then further into the future when husband and wife have split and found happiness while no longer together.

. And finally still further into the future where both Constance and Ruggero have found their own happiness, apart from each other. Constance and Ruggero are both bisexual and through this we look at the differences between men and women, sexually, emotionally, and socially. They are both flawed characters. Ruggero is charismatic and obsessed with his own masculinity.

The parts of the story with Edmund White in them are quite amazing. We see him as vulnerable and later old. The lines are blurred between what we view as binary categories. I found the entire read to be absolutely fascinating and the fact that it has really made me think is very special.

“BLURRED LINES”— Opening a World

“BLURRED LINES”

Opening a World

Amos Lassen

 Janik (Emil von Schönfels) and Samu (Mekyas Mulugeta) are best friends and have been for years. After passing their exams, the two want to go to Istanbul. Janik’s parents (Nicole Marishka and Godehard Giese) do not mind and Samu’s Mother Irene (Katharina Behrens) doesn’t really take care of their son. In fact, Samu has to take care of her. Shortly before their plans to go to Istanbul, something happens to their friendship.

It remains unclear if the two men’s relationship is homoerotic. When their friendship suffers a break, things begin to change. The movie focuses on spontaneous men’s dances on the street and dangerous side of spontaneous friendliness. Director İlker Çatak looks at migration, identity and family structures in history during a summer adventure.

Even though Janik and Samu share a tight bond, they come from different worlds. Janik’s parents are responsible and somewhat uptight. Samu comes from a broken home. The two teens seem to want what the other has. While Samuel looks for order and discipline, Janik seeks out chaos in his day-to-day life. When an incident puts their relationship in jeopardy, they decide to leave Germany and set off on a long-planned trip to Istanbul. While there, they enjoy their freedom, try out a new life and figure out the true depths of their friendship. This is a modern take on the bonds that develop between young men and a look at a profound male friendship.

We see the special incredibly narrow friendship between Janik and Samuel, in which there are always erotic moments. Social origin does not play an essential role, although  both boys have to deal with their parents and their roots.

 

“FINAL SET”— A Comeback

“FINAL SET”

A Comeback

Amos Lassen

Writer/Director Quentin Reynaud’s “Final Set” places emphasis on the psychology of the athlete and their personal stakes. Thomas Edison (Alex Lutz) is a once-promising and prodigious talent who made a French Open Semi-final at just 19, but he never lived up to his full potential. Now at 37, he is married to Eve (Ana Girardot), and they have a young child. His tennis career seems to be over. He has a knee injury and struggles to get invitations to big tournaments while coaching children to make a living. Though he is well past his prime, his desire to go on continues. After missing his expected entry into the French Open, Thomas must work his way through the qualifying rounds to get into the main draw and prove that he still has the ability and his worth to play.

Thomas knows this tournament could be his last, yet he is determined to push. This persistence leaves his wife and their young child in its wake. She, having once being a tennis player herself has moved into sports management and raising a child. Thomas continues traveling the world to play in tournaments in which they lose time and money. There is an intense argument between the two at dinner and these frustrations are exchanged. Both parties are angry that they are not supporting each other.

Thomas also has everything to prove to his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), a very stern and cold woman who is brutally honest about her son’s unfulfilled potential. She thinks she is partly to blame for sending him to a tennis academy at a young age where he taught to believe he was going to be a star and this resulted in her leaving her job and a then getting a divorce. She has lost faith in him and does not believe he has the mindset to be a champion. She can’t watch him play anymore. The conversations between Thomas and his mother show their relationship and the impact that his shortcomings have had on both their lives.

Thomas’ fortitude, strength, and desire to win is unmatched and the physical and mental hurdles he must clear is fascinating viewing. The tennis matches add a sense of realism. While much of the drama takes place off court, the final match between Thomas and a young protégé Damien Thosso is compelling viewing and full of tension.

We also see how hard it is to make it to an elite level and the levels of dedication and commitment that are necessary to maintain that level. We see Thomas’ regime as he strives to compete against his younger opponents and his last shot at success and is grueling.

This is an entertaining, well-acted film showing the effects elite sport can have on family relationships and long-term physical health problems. While its ending may seem abrupt, there are some really tender and emotionally charged sequences between Thomas and both his wife and mother, that help to give his matches a greater sense of purpose and meaning for his life moving forward.

“Hitler: Downfall, 1939-1945 by Volker Ulrich— The Final Years

Ulrich, Volker. “Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945”, translated by Jefferson Chase, Knopf, 2021.

The Final Years

Amos Lassen

Ulrich Volker’s “Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945” is the story of Hitler’sfinal years, when he got the war he wanted but his leadership led to run for his nation and catastrophe for the world and himself. 

In the summer of 1939 Hitler was at the top of his power. The Nazis had consolidated political control in Germany and a series of foreign-policy coups had brought Germany back to a major world power. Hitler began his journey of the realization of his lifelong ambition: to provide the German people with the resources they needed to flourish and to exterminate those who stood in the way. However, even with his initial triumphs, Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union in 1941 changed everything.

We learn a great deal about Hitler’s character and personality and see his insecurity, obsession with small details and narcissism that caused him to go over the heads of his subordinates and then blame them for his failures. Realizing that the war was could not be won, he began the annihilation of Germany itself to punish the people who he believed had failed to make him victorious. 

The impulsiveness and grandiosity, the bullying and vulgarity were seen early on and they were part of Hitler’s anti-establishment appeal. Ullrich says that these both raised him up and caused his downfall.  This is a study of the abuse of power and gives a lesson to all of us. Here is the Hitler that we have not known before.

This is the second volume of Volker Ullrich’s two volume Hitler biography. It is well written,  beautifully researched and gives us a great deal to think about.

“Once More With Chutzpah” by Haley Nell— Jewish Identity, Mental Health and Sexuality

Nell, Haley. “Once More with Chutzpah”,Bloomsbury, 2022.

Jewish Identity, Mental Health and Sexuality

Amos Lassen

Haley Nell’s “Once More With Chutzpah” is a beautiful story about a young girl dealing with issues of  her Jewish identity, mental health struggles, and sexuality while on a trip to Israel. You would not think that a sentence such as this would awaken anti-Semites, homophobes and anti-Zionists to decry this book even before it’s official publication. I was shocked by what so many had to say about it even though they have yet to see a copy and to understand what it really has to say. I received my copy last week and after reading it went to look at the book’s page on Goodreads where I found excessive hate and complete misunderstanding of what this book is about. We immediately become aware of the lack of knowledge about the Middle East and the ongoing Palestine/Israel conflict. Yet these people see fit to write about it as parts of book reviews of a something they have not even read. Politics witch once brought us together is now tearing us part and it is so sad that this is based on such ignorance and hate. Perhaps if these same “reviewers” read this with open hearts and minds, they would see how really wrong they are. It is even more astounding that Goodreads allowed these diatribes to be posted especially since they do not even reference the book. Do NOT let them deprive you of a wonderful reading experience

High school senior Tally and her twin brother Max embark upon an exchange trip to Israel during winter break. Tally hopes that the trip will be good for Max who is still struggling from a car crash that injured him and killed the driver. Tally always planned that they would go to college and begin good lives and is worried that her brother will change their plans.

As they and their group travel across Israel, Tally realizes her plan might not be working, and that Max is not the only one with a lot on his mind. When a new relationship gets complicated in the face of her own anxiety-about her future, her sexual and romantic identity, and her place within the Jewish diaspora, Tally struggles with both  the past, but also with what life will be like when they get back home. On the brink of adulthood, Max and Tally face the pressures of identity and we do so as well.

“White Smoke” by Itamar S.N.— Love, History, Hope, Politics and Human Rights

S.N., Itamar. “White Smoke”,Independently Published, 2021.

Love, History, Hope, Politics and Human Rights

Amos Lassen

Many of you know that I have been an activist for the LGBTQ community in Israel for many years and I devour anything I can read on the subject. I was so glad when Itamar S.N. contacted me about his new book and I immediately sat down to read it.

Yonatan, a bisexual left-wing activist meets Meir, a shy High-Tech entrepreneur and falls in love for the first time. The two marry and adopt twins. Amal, a Palestinian girl the victim of a family honor acid attack comes into their lives and the love story builds. While there were good feelings about peace between Israeli and Palestinian, it soon becomes quite dim when forces put the family’s and the State of Israel at risk.

This is such an important book for me in that it combines two important aspects of my like—-my love for Israel and my LGBTQ identity. Writer Itamar S. N. brings the two together beautifully and powerfully; so much so that I read “White Smoke” in one sitting. As I read the word “hope” stayed in my mind continuously.

“White Smoke” is a dramatic love story that uses important themes and prosaic skill to show us the importance of life and love. Before Yonatan met Meir he had never been in love and we quickly see how the life of the playboy political activist changes when love comes in. When the two men bring  Amal, a Palestinian girl who was the victim of a family honor acid attack into their family, their love grows even more and in fact we see a union between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. However, as we have all see too well, this does not last and forces not only threaten to destroy the happiness of the family but the State of Israel as well.

Early on we meet Amal as she suffers from having been attacked and filled with pain and thoughts about what she had been through. Upon understanding that her recovery would be lengthy, she became upset and questioned remaining alive.  Her pain was as mental as it was physical.

Meanwhile Yonatan does whatever he can to ire his father, the right-wing Prime Minister of Israel. He becomes the founder of Isratine – a democratic union of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and meets Meir. Their love for each other grows quickly even though the hope for peace between Israel and Palestine loses steam.  Israeli and Arab anti-liberal forces place democracy in danger and threatening the life of the family that the two men have created. There are mistakes on both sides. Writer Itamar S.N. uses the family as a way to look at human rights and we see this through life in modern Tel Aviv.

This is a book that will stay with the reader long after the covers are closed and has us looking at who we are and what hope and love are all about. I find it extremely difficult tout my words on paper as I am so struck by what I read here. More important than anything else is the look at what humanity can be.

 

“Villiany” by Andrea Abi-Karam— Coming-out in Public

Abi-Karam, Andrea. “Villainy”, Nightboat Books, 2021,

Coming-out in Public

Amos Lassen

In beautiful poetry, Andrea Abi-Karam explores “protest as a poetic formation’ and shows us that it is “desires that bring queers into public space.” Seeing poetry as a destination to being oneself, we go into the admonition that does not allow us to be real. We are taken through
emotional states and the desires of the queer community for acceptance. and desire to which queers must tend during protest. This is not easy and Abi-Karam demands of us to break the influence of today’s fascism and take on the antifascists, street medics, and queer exhibitionists  as we risk the safety of our lives. We must act directly through demand and disruption and engage everyone. The goal is to bring down the  hierarchy in order to “establish a participatory, temporary autonomous zone in which the targeted other can thrive.”

This is poetry that is anti-poetry that is very wise and confrontational. To make a new way we must “unmake” an older way and suffering comes with this. Andrea Abi-Karam uses language and the body as ways of becoming and unbecoming that lead us to new futures and possibilities. Here is the language for a new world and a new activism. It is intense, vital and relevant and impossible to define in a review of this kind.

“THE PERFECT DAVID”— Coming-of-Age

“THE PERFECT DAVID”

Coming-of-Age

Amos Lassen

After a workout, David (Mauricio di Yorio), a young bodybuilder, reluctantly poses for his mother Juana (Umbra Colombo) and she runs her fingers across his chest and shoulders, looking at spots for improvement. Juana’s examinations of her son’s body are treated with a detached calculation and when she later measures David, she finds a one-centimeter difference between his shoulders that to her is a striking flaw.

Juana is an artist and uses David to craft a “perfect” physique to use as a model for her latest sculptural creation. David is put on a strict training regime including early morning workouts, a diet requiring him to eat in the middle of the night and take supplemental pills to increase his strength. Although Juana assures David that his progress is almost complete, his motivation becomes less and less and his training interferes in his personal life. After events including an unsuccessful sexual encounter and a violent episode that leads to his suspension from school, David becomes more and more obsessed with sculpting his body into something that is totally unhealthy. He is surrounded by intense pressures and driven to extreme measures and faces consequences and unexpected revelations.

The themes of art, bodies, and obsession are everywhere. The physical, mental, and emotional toll on David’s health and self-esteem is evident all of the time and the relationship between mother and son is a strange psychological dimensionthat is guided by artist and subject. Juana sees David not as her son, but a body to be used as a clay to mold to her artistic desires. We see David’s life torn apart by steroids, hormonal rage, and bad relationships. The film ends with a clash  with everything that came before.

Director Felipe Gomez Aparicio tells the story of a young man’s journey of self-discovery through intense pressures by family and society to look and act in a certain way and a character study of a troubled teen bodybuilder.

David’s sexuality is being shaped by others to fit an ideal. In a twist, we understand the horror of why David’s mother is so obsessive about her son’s physique. David is only starting out in the world of bodybuilding, yet it seems that he’s already burnt out and drained psychologically and exhausted physically.

“SURGE”— A Change of Behavior

“SURGE”

A Change of Behavior

Amos Lassen

Joseph (Ben Whishaw) is a British airport security officer who responds to his alienating environment by snapping and going on a crime spree. Director Aneil Karia, however, takes us away from the fantasy of white male grievance that it could have been.

Joseph’s snap is more of a crumbling as we see when Joseph has to pat down an older traveler who seems to recognize him. Joseph has never met him before, can’t remember him, or won’t acknowledge any past with him. The man complains that the metal-detector wand is burning his skin and tells Joseph to follow him in exactly 63 seconds before running, only for security to immediately subdue him. Even if the man doesn’t know Joseph, he suggests that they are comrades in psychosis, allowing Joseph to recognize some kind of aberration in himself, even though it might just be a product of his imagination.

Joseph’s reaction escalates by doing a favor for his co-worker, Lily (Jasmine Jobson), by fixing her television set. The job calls for a cheap cable, but when the ATM eats his bank card, he goes to the bank, but they won’t accept his bus pass as identification. He writes a note saying he has a gun, and the teller empties the register. The bank robbery, combined with that of the unanticipated sex he has with Lily begins a chain reaction of norm-shattering behavior.

Filmed with a handheld camera that remains close to Whishaw’s face is both nauseating and exhilarating as we see Joseph’s disorientation.  

Joseph revenges himself on objects and his spree is seen as inevitableand inevitably short-lived. Bythe end,  Joseph’s gun turns out to be a banana and the wounds he’s sustained to his face become joyful.

Whitshaw’s performance is incredible and burning. He provokes people into beating him up on the streets of London but by the end his whole experience is like being trapped in a broken-down subway car with a mental patient.

Joseph’s increasingly manic mood is so strange that it’s almost believable. The film continues with incident after incident, until it just stops giving us very little about Joseph except that he’s very unhappy.

Frantic, kinetic energy propels the film but it never seems entirely sure where it has been or where it is going.

“THE UNIVERSALITY OF IT ALL”— “We are all part of the same story…”

“THE UNIVERSALITY OF IT ALL”

“We are all part of the same story…”

Amos Lassen

Shot in Paris, Berlin, London, New York, USA, Sarasota, Vancouver, San Jose, and Costa Rica, “The Universality of It All” is focuses human migration and inequality. The film is intimate and informative explaining the complexity of human migration through important data and information and shows that these affect the reality of two friends and their daily lives.

 Emad is a refugee from Yemen living in Vancouver who realizes the interconnectedness of all the major events of the 21st century. We are taken around the world, looking at different cases of migration from an economic and historical perspective and understanding the life, thoughts, and experiences of Emad. The juxtaposition between narratives allows us to see the similarities and correlations that are common to all migrations. 

We also look at climate change, colonialism, neoliberalism, globalization, identity politics, fertility rates, wealth gaps, trade wars, terrorism, and the media.

Interviewees include Catherine De Withol (Research Director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research), Radha S. Hedge (Professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University), Ives Charbit (Professor of Demography, University Paris Descartes), Carlos Sandoval (Columbia Journalism School) and Nicolas Boeglin (Professor of International Law at the Law Faculty, University of Costa Rica).

What we see is that“everything is connected”.