“Falling” by Trebor Healey— I Would Have Expected As Much

Healey, Trebor. “Falling”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2019.

I Would Have Expected As Much

Amos Lassen

There are several authors that I always look forward to reading and high on that list is Trebor Healey. Whether he writes poetry, novels and short stories, he never disappoints. “Falling”, his new collection of ten stories is a look at the “dangers of populism and the growing world refugee crisis.” I have always been aware of his love for the Spanish speaking world and that is very evident in the stories of this collection and there was times that I felt that he is a one man broker between the two worlds, that are, in a sense one big world really only separated by language.

Healey sets this tales mainly in Latin America and the western U.S. and they deal with major issues from immigration to the sense of not finding a place in the world today. He also tackles cultural upheaval, history and politics. I will go a step further and say that these are stories of redemption and transformation and not just for the characters we read about but for the readers as well. I believe that the idea of transformation is evident in all of Healey’s writing. After all, if reading something does nothing to and for us, why bother doing so at all?

Healey is also educative as we see in “The Orchid”, the longest story here. Set in Argentina, this is also a look at the political history and reads like a politician admitting to bringing a new kind of government in the form of a subset of Peronism and coming through a gay presidential candidate. The characters here, as in every story, are very real and I could not help thinking that they were based upon Healey’s many Latin American friends.

The theme of self-acceptance is also evident as is the definition of family. We read of tragedy and of hope. I found myself easily empathizing with many of the characters and this surprised me in that the only affinity I have for the Latin American world is that I studied Spanish in high school and I have a few Latin American friends and oh yes, as a graduate student I took a semester course in Latin American history because I was secretly in love with the professor (nothing came out of that).

I don’t want to write about each story and that is because I want you to discover them yourselves without any ideas I might accidentally throw out but I do think that it is fair to say that Healey’s use of imagination give us new ways to understand our brothers and sisters in the Southern Hemisphere and how history has influenced the way they live. There is also something magical in that these stories will also influence the way we live. I often compare reading Trebor Healey to being on a cruise to places I have never been. When I disembark, I feel wiser and better about myself and about life.

“Rowdy Armstrong 2: Pro Wrestling Rookie” by David Monster— Rory is Rowdy

Monster, David. “Rowdy Armstrong 2: Pro Wrestling Rookie”, Independently Published, 2019.

Rory is Rowdy

Amos Lassen

I first met Rowdy Armstrong in David Monster’s first volume of the Armstrong series and I fell in love with his irreverence and sex appeal. So before I go any further, let me say that there are sexually explicit scenes here (remember there is a difference between sexual explicitness and porn).

Handsome, blond Rory Pedersen who we first met in “Rowdy Armstrong: Wrestling’s New Golden Boy” where he learned the homoerotic nature of wrestling and that his fellow wrestlers use sex as a way to get ahead (or a tail) in the ring. comes to the A.W.P.W.’s Las Vegas Facility with his boyfriend, cute, muscular, blond Mike Wall. They are forced to rethink and redefine their relationship because every male there wants to get their chance with Rory, and one of the bigger men has already claimed him as his own. Rory “remeets” his friends Scott, Eb, and Bravon who he knew from training and he realizes that he has “confusing feelings” for Bravon. Bravon, however, is busy with other matters.

Dyer Anderson, the Ex World Champ, has offered to mentor Rory, personally and during their private sessions become very private, Dyer crosses the line. This is no wonder since there training sessions include tag team matches, a Battle Royal, and a cockfight in the showers between the two “biggest” men in the facility.  What else can we expect in a place where hot trainees live together, sleep together, shower together and fight each other for their spot in the next session.

David Monster once again introduces us to a large cast of hunky men who go through love and eroticism in naturally and sexy ways. But it is not all about sex but rather about love and caring for one another. For fictional characters, the guys all seem very real. I was immediately pulled into the story and I must admit that I often found it to be arousing. Monster knows how to tell a story but even more so, he knows how to pull us into it. It is not great literature but rather a fun read and that is okay—- we do not only read great lit. This is an escape and a delightful one at that. I realize that I have not said a lot about the plot and that is because I want everyone to have the same virgin reading experience that I did. I am sure you will be glad that I gave no spoilers

“Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: A Biblical Tale Retold” by Stephen Mitchell— A New Look at a Classic

Mitchell, Stephen. “Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: A Biblical Tale Retold”, St. Martin’s Essentials, 2019.

A New Look at a Classic

Amos Lassen

I have always found beauty in the stories we read in the Five Books of Moses and I love that they can be read and reread yet always seem fresh and new. I also love that we can update and reinterpret them as we choose without losing the meaning of the originals. Stephen Mitchell does just that with the story of Joseph. “Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness” is his novelistic version of the Biblical tale where Joseph is sold into slavery and becomes viceroy of Egypt. Mitchell brings “lyrical, witty, vivid prose” and his own insight and wisdom into this 3000 year old tale and retells it like a postmodern novel. This is a story of betrayal and forgiveness in which Mitchell brings brief meditations to the narrative and adds Zen surprises “to expand the narrative and illuminate its main themes.”

We go into the minds of the characters (especially Joseph) and by doing so gain new perspectives on this ancient story that still challenges, delights, and astonishes. The prose is as gorgeous as the storytelling gives clear understanding that compassion and forgiveness are the responses to the relief of the pain and suffering that are part of human life. Mitchell uses midrash, a technique of ancient Hebrew commentary on the tales of the Torah to give fresh meaning to the story of Joseph.

Stephen Mitchell’s life’s work is the study of human transformation. With “Joseph”,  Mitchell takes us back in time to one of our oldest stories of grace and reimagines it. He gives us a simple version of the story of Joseph in a creative and heartfelt way. The narrative is transformative as we become engaged both mentally and spiritually with it.
We have found it hard to comprehend in the Bible but that changes here with this “incisive and moving account of the spiritual power of forgiveness.”

Leo Tolstoy saw the Biblical tale of Joseph and His Brothers as “the most beautiful story in the world” and it is also in the Qur’an, which narrates it in full after stating in the introduction to it that it is “the most beautiful of narrations.”

“Me” by Elton John— The Official Autobiography

John, Elton. “Me: Elton John”, Henry Holt, 2019

The Official Autobiography

Amos Lassen

Music icon Elton John shares the truth about his life “from his rollercoaster lifestyle to becoming a living legend.” John entered this world as Reginald Dwight and became a shy boy who wore glasses. Growing up in the London suburb of Pinner, he dreamed of becoming a pop star. By the time he was twenty-three he had his first gig in America and this marked the arrival of Elton John and the music world would never be the same again.

John lived a life of drama, from the early rejection of his work with song-writing partner Bernie Taupin to going out of control as superstar; from a half-hearted suicide attempt in his LA swimming pool,  dancing with Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth; to friendships with John Lennon, Freddie Mercury, and George Michael, setting up his AIDS Foundation, being lauded on Broadway with AidaThe Lion King, and Billy Elliot the Musical. And while of this was happening, he was hiding a drug addiction that would almost consume him for over a decade.

He writes powerfully about getting clean and changing his life, finding love with David Furnish and becoming a father and he gossips and shares “good dish”. His voice here is “warm, humble, and open” as he shares “his music and his relationships, his passions and his mistakes.”

As for gossip, John really pushes the envelope. He shares that his mother insisted on watching the 1972 porn film “Deep Throat” aboard the plane (Just a little unimportant tidbit). “Me” is a very full book by a man who has not been very open before. There are many lurid details here that will make headlines but it is John’s “hard-won self-knowledge is what the book’s really about” and brilliantly so.

John tells wonderful stories about being at the Troubadour in Los Angeles during his first American gig. He stunned audiences who had never seen anything like him. He was something new, pure pop and great fun. Everyone wanted to know him.

It was his gay friends who assured him that he was gay but he was unable to do much about that until he was 23. He then made up for lost time. He tells us about his jealous nature and that his heart has been broken by straight men. He claims that he is not able to move slowly with anyone. He was possessive and then dismissive like his friend Rod Stewart (they call each other Phyllis and Sharon even today).

AIDS, which killed his friend Freddie Mercury, has been an important cause for John for a long time. He founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in the early 1990s, and several times in this memoir he refers to his advocacy to explain away some controversy or other.

John sees himself as a sexual voyeur, and prefer to watch rather than touch. He thinks that this might have kept him safe from the disease. He writes about having had prostate cancer and his surgery and use of adult diapers.  His addiction moves into first place here and he is brutally honest about it. He says that most of his best-known work was already behind him when cocaine became such a major part of his life. He had the money and ability to indulge in huge amounts of drugs. He once spent two weeks in his bedroom coked up and drinking. He was also bulimic refused any suggestion to get help.  What finally sobered him up was the combined effect of losing so many friends and watching what happens when somebody he cared about went to rehab.

 “Me” was written with the help of the British music critic Alexis Petridis, who met with John frequently and we feel his hand in the  transitions and foreshadowing. John’s own voice sounds just right here and we finally get to hear from someone who has sung so many of Bernie Taupin’s words and so few of his own.

The publisher, Henry Hold, also sent me the unabridged ten cd audio book read by Taron Egerton with John himself. I read the printed book first and then immediately listened to it and relived all the highlights. As soon as I get another two days free, I am going to listed while reading and I already know that I will enjoy it even more.

“Why Didn’t Someone Warn You About Prince Charming?” by Jameson Currier— How We Live: Truth to Fiction

Currier, Jameson. “Why Didn’t Someone Warn You About Prince Charming?”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2019.

How We Live: Truth to Fiction

Amos Lassen

One of the first writers I ever reviewed when I began my website some 14 years ago is Jameson Currier and I have maintained a literary love affair with him ever since. The man and his writings are, quite simply, a gift to us. Now with “Why Didn’t Someone Warn You About Prince Charming?”, he brings us twelve new short stories that show how he sees gay romance including the mistakes we make and the heartbreaks we suffer.

Whenever I review a collection of short stories, I debate with myself whether to write about each story and/or look at the collection as a whole and as I write this I face the same dilemma. I feel somewhat guilty in that I have had my copy of “Prince Charming” for quite a while now and I finally understand why it has taken me so long to write this. I simply was not ready to part with my thoughts. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to go back and read it again and again, knowing in advance that each time I would find treasures that I had not found before.

We read of a college student dealing with his secret inner feelings for someone of the same sex, a story reminiscent of the way many of us dealt with the same feelings. There is another story about a man dealing with a non-reciprocal crush a complicated, unrequited crush on his roommate (who just might be HIV-positive), another story to remind us of how own lives. Not only do we read of inner feelings but of the possibilities of relationships but what happens within relationships. We have crushes, first loves, older romances and what ifs. It is as if we are reading about life as it is and has been.

I found myself in so many of the stories but especially in these lines from the story that gives the volume its name,  “You were never supposed to reach sixty.” “You survived a premature birth, the AIDS decades, the Y2K bug, 9/11, four hurricanes, [for me, being in the Israeli army during three wars], three broken ribs, and two heart attacks. You don’t know whether to feel grateful or cursed.”  (I actually had decided that I would concentrate on these but Kirkus Reviews got to them first).

 I, like Currier, am originally from the South so I loved that many of the characters are Southerners who have moved North to look for love. But even with this similarity between characters, there are great differences between the stories. They all are, however, written in Currier’s wonderful prose and are loaded with his sharp wit (like the man himself). There is also emotion here and if you have ever read any of Currier’s work, you know that he is a master at relaying emotion. Taken as a whole, this is a book about love, waiting for it, enjoying it and losing it.

I could tell that these stories come from deep inside and they take us deep inside ourselves. Deep inside is somewhere we need to be once in a while and the catharsis from that usually makes us feel good. Remembering can be painful but it is also important and I cannot think of a better person to guide me down memory lane Jameson Currier.

Table of Contents

Lancelot’s Secret

Superman Will Save Me

Sometimes You Have to Settle for Popeye 
(even though You’d Rather Play with Bluto)

Mr. Darcy’s Pride

Elvis at Three is an Angel to Me

How to Obtain an Alfred Hitchcock Physique 
(and Bonus Dark Psyche)

My Adventure with Tom Sawyer

Half of Hamlet

My Night with Rudolph Valentino

What Would Q Do?

The Devil’s Cake

Why Didn’t Someone Warn You About Prince Charming?

“NEVER AGAIN IS NOW”— Antisemitism Today

“NEVER AGAIN IS NOW”

Antisemitism Today

Amos Lassen

It is impossible for any thinking person not to realize that once again antisemitism has raised its ugly head both in the United States and in Europe. I am sure that other places are feeling it as well. “Never Again Is Now” shows us the present day influences of Right, Left and religious influences on rising antisemitism. Evelyn Markus, a Dutch lesbian Jew and co-founder of the non-profit “Network on Antisemitism”, came to the US with her partner Rosa Zeegers because they found pink star graffiti on their door at home. They were eager to get away from the present day rise of antisemitism. That escape became a journey during which Markus met with “globally renowned experts, Parliamentarians, religious leaders, authors, activists, playwrights and political commentators including Ben Shapiro, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and devout Muslim physician Qanta Ahmed.”

 Even here in Boston, where peace between Bostonians reigns supreme, we have felt the new rise antisemitism. I usually find out early about new films of interest to the LGBT and/or Jewish communities but I had no idea that this was coming and it is quite powerful. We see

archival films of Hitler and the war combined with films of life in Europe today. The term “Never Again” became mouthed and heard all over the world after the deaths of six millions Jews 1941-45 during the Holocaust. In my own naivete, like other Jews and those affected by the mass murders, I thought we had heard the last of “Never Again”.  We now know we were wrong.

We see that France has experienced a new wave of extremely hateful behaviors and antisemitism. There have been beatings, places where Jews congregate have been bombed Surprisingly enough, the Netherlands has also witnessed antisemitism and there has been a great deal of violence from the large numbers of Muslims that are now in Europe but there have also been problems from regular citizens who have allowed themselves to become caught up in today’s wave of hatred. There are far right politicians in Europe who are anti-Semites.

I have studied antisemitism for a good part of my life and I have never become hardened by it. Each time I hear about it, I become extremely upset and often become enraged. Watching “Never Again is Now” once again made me realize how much I am affected by racism and hatred for hatred’s sake especially when the Jews are targeted even though they have made such important and powerful contributions to the way we live today. Hannah Arendt stated, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” What me must add is that once ones tastes what it is to be evil, it is not difficult to remain that way.

Markus chroncles her personal journey to becoming heroic in the fight against the rise of antisemitism in the world.  Her parents were Holocaust survivors in Holland but because of her own personal experiences with antisemitism, she left Europe to come to America at a time when European Jews were being beaten, stabbed and even murdered and where it became necessary to have military protection for Jewish schools and synagogues. On a personal level, I attended three different sessions on security for the High Holidays in Boston and I have remained shocked since 9/11 that we mist have police both inside and outside of our synagogues during significant holiday celebrations.

 Yes, we have had antisemitic incidents and we can only wonder if history is repeating itself. Markus interviewed global thought leaders for her documentary that lets us see the situation as it is and presents a warning and a call to action.

There are those who feel that the creation of the State of Israel has led to a rise of hatred against the Jews. Markus interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim born in Somalia who had left for Europe and ultimately the United States and asked him this very question to which he replied that “anti-Semitic sentiment lies buried in some people, with Israel serving merely as an excuse to demonstrate.” He reminds us that not  everything was good for the Jews before the creation of Israel. It seems to be human nature to need scapegoats and we are well-aware that these scapegoats have come from “minority groups like the Armenians in Turkey, the Rohinga in Myanmar, the Romani in Europe, the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the Hutus against the Tutsis in Rwanda,” many against the Jews and this is just to name a few.

Markus shares that she is not only Jewish but gay and she and her partner are often dismayed that often demonstrations against Jews (“not Zionists, necessarily, not Israelis, but diaspora Jews”) have caused the Netherlands to become unrecognizable because of demonstrations by Muslims who yell “Kill the Jews wherever they live.” Even non-Jews are marked for assassination if they are critical of Islam. But we also learn that most Muslims who live in Europe and the U.S. conduct regular businesses and are not political, and that a few share that violent demonstrators are not in the spirit of Islam and are caused by political Islamists.

Anti-Nazi Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil” thus letting us know that Markus wants us to speak out and up against evil. People are doing so but without much result in Europe. In the U.S. Jews can still walk with kipot on heads and draped in a prayer shawl yet the present political administration does not think that neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville are “fine people.” 

While we are called to action with this documentary, we are not informed about what we can do to end the divisions in our society that grow and grow since free speech allows for that. I do not think abolishing free speech is an answer but I am sure that there exists an answer that we must find together. By watching this incredible movie, you just might get an idea as to what you can do. Even if you do not, you certainly become more aware.

http://joinneveragainisnow.com/

“Judge Me When I’m Wrong”,  (A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery) by Cheryl Head— Charlie Returns

Head, Cheryl. “Judge Me When I’m Wrong”,  (A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery),  Bywater Books, 2019.

Charlie Returns

Amos Lassen

I am not much of a mystery reader so I was surprised when I was totally into Cheryl Head’s adventures of Charlie (Charlene) Mack, Detroit’s Motown Private Investigator. We first meet Charlie some three books ago and you can find my reviews bright here on my web site. Charlie was born and raised in Detroit and she has been able to build a respected private investigator firm with a fine team of fine investigators.  In the latest book in the series, “Judge Me When I’m Wrong”,  Mack’s preparation for a grand jury testimony becomes worthless when his client has a totally unexpected change-of-heart. Charlie and Gil Rutkowski, one of her investigators realize that defending him will be very difficult.

Charlie also, at the same time, is able unravel a disturbing plan to alter the outcome of a crime lord’s conspiracy trial but she did not fully realize the consequences of her meddling Before she knows it, Charlie’s dangerous meddling that puts her personal and professional lives and all that she holds dear at risk.

The beauty of the Charlie Mack series is the reality and honesty of the plots and the wonderfully developed characters. I love how author Cheryl Head does not hold back how she feels about crime and those involved in it. We meet “money laundering crime bosses, slick attorneys, shady jury members” as seem by Mack (and therefore Head), a private eye who believes in the judicial system. Of course, I must mention that the prose is beautiful as well. Because this is a mystery/crime thriller, I cannot say much about the plot. The one problem I had, and this is my own problem) is that I began reading this about 5:30 PM and did not stop until I finished it, weary but exhilarated. I wonder how long I will have to wait for another book in the series.

“The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town” by Edward Berenson— The Only Allegation of Ritual Murder in the United States

Berenson, Edward. “The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town”,  W.W. Norton, 2019.

The Only Allegation of Ritual Murder in the United States

Amos Lassen

On Saturday, September 22, 1928, four-year-old Barbara Griffiths walked into the woods surrounding the village of Massena in upstate New York. People looked everywhere for her but she could not be found. Someone  actually suggested that Barbara had been kidnapped and killed by Jews, and as people continued to search, the police and townspeople began to believe the rapidly spreading rumors and the allegation of ritual murder, known to Jews as “blood libel,” was accepted. It certainly seems very strange to us that people believed this, especially since blood libel was essentially unknown in the United States. However, many of Massena’s residents including Christians and Jews, had recently come to this country from Central and Eastern Europe, where blood libel was all too common. Historian Edward Berenson,  who is a native of Massena exposes the cross-cultural forces that ignited America’s only known instance of blood libel, and he examines its roots in Old World prejudice, American homegrown antisemitism, and the resurgence and popularity of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. Today, we are aware that there are still residues of all three of these.

This is not just the story of how one town took on this very anti-Jewish bit of mythology but it is also an exploration of American and European responses to antisemitism. Should we be surprised to learn that in this country there has only been one major case of someone claiming blood libel? After all, this idea was widespread in Europe. Berenson looks at this singular incident here along some of the background of blood libel in general. Politics are heavily involved in this and it is important to know that.

Trump’s campaign and presidency (small “p” intentional) brought dormant hatred to the surface again. We must remember that Herbert Hoover ran against Al Smith for the presidency in ’28 and Smith was a son of immigrants and Catholic. While Hoover did not bash Catholics himself, other members of his party did. Those anti-Catholics became angry including the Jews who were over 10 percent of all Europeans who came here between 1880 and the early 1920s. They were prime for scapegoating. Henry Ford, America’s major anti-Semite, had been publishing the conspiracy pamphlet “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” for years in his newspaper. His editorials called Jews “the conscious enemies of all that Anglo-Saxons mean by civilization.” While the anti-Smith group could not couldn’t hold Jews responsible for the Catholic candidate, they could point out that Jews were part of “the incoming mob” the term that Berenson knows. The Klan was losing membership by 1928 and saw a chance to revive its fortunes in the Smith-Hoover race and joined.

It was then  that Barbara Griffiths walked into the woods but didn’t walk out and by dawn the next morning, town officials and many, many villagers concluded that blood libel had taken place. The day this happened was the day before Yom Kippur and the mayor and a state trooper called the local rabbi and asked him if his people in the old country offered human sacrifices on the holiday.

We see here that 800-year-old slander that still had the power to begin pogroms. “Jews were accused of killing Christian children and draining their blood, either to drink as wine or to bake into matzo”.

The belief in Jewish ritual infanticide had always been a European psychosis. American anti-Semitism was nasty but blood libel was never before a part of it. Berenson explains why the medieval practice rematerialized when it did and why in Massena,  unprepossessing village on the New York side of the St. Lawrence River. Berenson knew residents who still remembered the incident, and so he was able to give his research a personal touch.

Now almost a century later, antisemitism has resurfaced in other places, and it is still resurfacing. “So far in this century, the blood libel has unleashed no pogroms. But Berenson’s book reminds us that what seems inconceivable is nonetheless possible.”

“A Field Guide to the Jewish People: Who They Are, Where They Come From, What to Feed Them…and Much More. Maybe Too Much More” by Dave Barry, Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel— More Than You Need To Know… So What?

Barry, Dave, Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel. “A Field Guide to the Jewish People: Who They Are, Where They Come From, What to Feed Them…and Much More. Maybe Too Much More”, Flatiron, 2019.

More Than You Need to Know… So What?

Amos Lassen

I have always been a Jew and it is very important to me. I think one of the great things that Jews have is the ability to both take their faith seriously if they so choose while at the same time being able to laugh at themselves. Did you ever wonder why there are so many Jewish holidays or why you need to have ten Jews to be able to pray (don’t worry, you won’t find that answer here or anywhere else probably) or why Jews drink seltzer (you will find that here). Here is Jewish humor by the page full and this is a delightfully irreverent read about who we are.

Comedy legends Dave Barry, Adam Mansbach, and Alan Zweibel (“two-thirds of whom are Jewish”) bring us” A Field Guide to the Jewish People” in which they look at Jews like a chicken at the beginning of Shabbat dinner and tear it down to its bare bones with loving humor. They “dissect every holiday, rite of passage, and tradition, unravel a long and complicated history, and tackle the tough questions that have plagued Jews and non-Jews alike for centuries.” They write with the sweetness of a Rosh Hashanah honey cake yet with great Jewish humor (even the gentile does). Nothing is too kosher to be touched and I can just imagine the number of flat sponge cakes we will have because the bakers were too busy laughing to pay attention.

Yes there is a lot of humor here but there is also a great deal of information. You might have to decide how much of this is true or just written for laughs but that is also great fun. Information is given to us in many different ways— through asides, via questions and answers, little chats and just facts and even though some of what I read is part of daily routine, I found myself not only laughing but laughing out loud….. and, at myself. I really never thought of how I look while doing morning prayers and wrapping myself in tefillin (a practice I reintroduced into my life many years ago after reclaiming the Judaism I lost while living in Israel). I just knew that if someone knocked on my door during my prayers that if I answered them, I would probably scare them away. I will say this, however— if you do not have a good sense of humor, this might not be the book for you but then it might help you develop one.

“Writing a book— like winning the Super Bowl, popping a zit, or getting Cher stage-ready— is a team effort” and what a team we have here. Do not wait—run and get a copy of this wonderful book and then spend a few days laughing at yourself.

 

“AT WAR”— A Factory Strike in the South of France

“AT WAR” (“En guerre”)

A Factory Strike in the South of France

Amos Lassen

The workers of try to unite to strike against in Stephane Brize’s  “At War”, a film about a long and arduous factory strike pitting the unions against the powers that be. Vincent Lindon stars in this docu-style drama and gives an intense and physical performance. The viewer is thrown into the action alongside the film’s protagonists who are fighting for jobs that seem to be already lost.

Lindon’s intense and very physical turn, although in At War his character is a leader rather than a follower — yet it’s such a position that makes his predicament all the more trying. He is the pugnacious union spokesman of an auto parts manufacture in southwest France, Laurent Amedeo and he does not mince words. When the film begins, he’s  leading the strike against his company, Perrin Industrie, which employs 1,100 workers and is on the verge of shutting down. Through a mix of news reports, meetings and protests, we learn that two years earlier, Perrin’s boss (Jacques Borderie) had promised to keep the factory open in exchange for salary freezes, but then reneged on that. With no other job prospects in the area, Laurent and the other employees have no choice but to try, by any means necessary, to stop the  only source of livelihood from going under.

We are ready for a long and grueling fight between labor and management— a war in which both sides enter the trenches and do not let go, wearing one another down with their tenaciousness. On the labor side, Laurent and his right-hand gal, Melanie (Melanie Rover who is an actual worker like most of the actors), struggle to keep the strike going as their colleagues begin to lose faith, especially when the company offers them payouts in exchange for their cooperation. On the  side of management side, there are the French executives, who claim to have no control over the situation, as well as the big bosses over in Germany.

The battle lines are drawn during the film’s first half and there are lengthy discussions. We do not learn much about Laurent except that he’s divorced and his daughter is expecting a child. The other workers, meanwhile, are only seen on site.

“At War” focuses on the details of labor laws and negotiations during the first hour and this makes the victories and defeats suffered by Laurent and his team more intense. For every fight they win, they seem to lose much more, and the film’s most memorable sequences show the physical and psychological costs of waging a conflict where the odds always seem to be stacked against the strikers. The workers are constantly taken advantage of so that the owners can reap higher profits. With a supporting nonprofessional cast and news footage, the film seems to be more of a documentary than fiction.

“At War” is  of the moment and the drama instead uses timeliness to prod along the most obvious of points. It is unique with its devotion to a kind of mechanistic aesthetic Despite some genuine drama, it’s always clear who’s right and who’s wrong, which material interests each is representing, and who’s lying and who’s telling the truth.

The film is mostly debates and meetings inside boardrooms, factory floors or outside the gates. Brizé directs these scenes with a handheld camera, shallow focus and medium shots, all designed to keep the tension constant and riveting. The music is intense and the use of drums to evokes the sense of warfare.