“David and Jonathan: An M/M Romance from the Bible” by Neil S. Plakcy— Hearts Together

Plakcy. Neil S. “David and Jonathan: An M/M Romance from the Bible”, Samwise, 2019.

Hearts Together

Amos Lassen

For as long as I can remember we have used the Biblical story of Jonathan and David as a way to show that men who love men were around during the time of the Bible. We really have no idea if that is true or not since we accept the Bible on faith and on proof. Regardless it is a beautiful that has temped writers to expand on it throughout history. Neil Plakcy’s “David and Jonathan” is a new attempt. We are to understand from the Bible that the hearts of David and Jonathan “are knit together” as we read in the Book of Samuel we see it as one of the earliest same-sex romances in literature. However, the Bible “provides relatively little of the techniques we expect of fiction.” Character descriptions are skeletal and skimpy or non-existent and very little is written about the lives of the people and how they occupied their days aside from spending forty years wandering in the dessert. Plakcy tells us that he has used his research into history to add  details to make the story come alive.

I have spent a good part of my life studying the Bible and to this day, I still devote an hour a day to reading the Bible in its original language. We quickly realize the many faults in the stories from the Hebrew Bible or as it is commonly and incorrectly known as The Old Testament. So often the stories are incomplete and it is left to us to fill in the rest and this can be great fun. What we fill in with is known as midrash and it has been going on for as long as we have read the holy writings. In the story of David and Jonathan, things do not happen in order and the timeline is totally bewildering and names change. I really want to believe that David loved Jonathan more than he ever loved a woman but I cannot  figure out the timeline so I do not see when the two even had time to be lovers. David was way too busy with Jonathan’s sister, Michal and then Batsheva as well as all the other women in his life. Besides he was also busy writing poetry and uniting the people. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful story and one that I never tire of reading.

Plakcy’s story is beautiful but we must remember that it is a story and not history. He uses language from the Bible and it is based on something in history of which there was no happy ending. After David loses Jonathan he returns to be a warrior-king and a womanizer.

If you are familiar with the Biblical accounts of David and Jonathan, you’ll know what a mess they are—things happen out of order, without reference to previous events, and even the names of Jonathan’s brothers change from one account to another. When possible, I’ve incorporated actual quotes from various editions of the Bible—without footnotes, of course, because this is fiction, not an academic treatise.

And readers of MM romance should note—because this is based on a historical account, there is no HFN or HEA. After his romance with Jonathan ends at the conclusion of this account, David goes on to gore and glory with multiple women.

Plakcy’s Bible used the line, “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” (1 Samuel 18:1.). I have seen it in various other translations including David loved Jonathan more than he had ever loved a woman.

One of the problems with the David story is authorship and it is believed that it was written by several different authors. I understand that Neil Plakcy decided to use the basics of the story and build a romance on it. I believe that he has succeeded beautifully especially in his use of language. What he has added is the nature of the sexual relationship between the two men (of which nothing is written so these are his thoughts) and it works beautifully.

I feel confident in what I say as a reviewer of LGBT literature and as a person who is considered to be a Bible scholar. Every  year I teach a course on David and every year I learn a bit more. It’s good to have another David and Jonathan story to add to the mix.

“UNSENT LETTER”— A Veteran and his Lover

“Unsent Letter”

A Veteran and His Lover

Amos Lassen

A new short film by Christian Gordine has been stealing hearts. In 1961 the pro.gay magazine ONE received a letter with no explanation. All that was sure was that it had been written by ex-World War II serviceman, Brian Keith to his wartime lover, Dave, and that it had never been sent.  When filmmaker Gordine  caught sight of the letter he felt compelled to make a short film story of the real-life relationship between a WW2 veteran and his lover whom he met whilst stationed in Algeria. Here is love like we rarely see it.

Gordine explained that he came across the original letter a few years ago and was greatly moved by it’s rawness seeing it fifty years later. Reading something like this can be painful especially knowing that it had never been sent and contained so much emotion that the person who was to get it never had a chance to experience. The letter also  reveals the sheer difficulty for LGBTQI+ people to simply love one another.

The film brings a beautiful story to us and to life and it is told  from the perspective of an older gay man. Being an older gay man myself, I can tell you that we often do not think about bit we should since we all get there.  The short film and the original letter remind us of where we have come from and shows the progress we have made as a community and there is still a lot left to do.  Gordine says that, “I want this film to be viewed as a homage to the people from our community whose lives weren’t as easy as ours are today, but to also remind people of those love letters that they never sent.” Have a hanky near by when you watch this.

“FELIX AND MEIRA”— Purpose and Restrictions

“Félix & Meira”

Purpose and Restrictions

Amos Lassen

Religion both restricts and gives purpose to the people we meet in “Félix & Meira”, an acutely observed and perfectly played slice of human drama. Meira (Hadas Yaron) is a young, married Hasidic mother who is first noticed by thirtysomething  Félix (Martin Dubreuil), while she’s waiting for her order at a corner store. He compliments her on the drawing  she’s making for her baby daughter. Later he sees her pushing a stroller on a cold Montreal day, and he jogs toward her and attempts to start a conversation. She looks away and admonishes him to not to speak to her.

This is  the story of their tentative attachment to each other, and the turmoil it potentially causes in the woman’s Orthodox community. Co-writer and director Maxime Giroux’s shows us the pain of the film’s love triangle. There’s a bit of wonderful irony when Meira and her husband, Shulem (Luzer Twersky), have their biggest fight at night while lying in their separate beds, never speaking louder than a whisper. A later scene between Félix and Shulem is noteworthy for how little is said, and how well both men contain their emotion. The connection between Félix and Meira builds with a similar restraint. There’s little laughter, little touching. They go out dancing, but Meira is shy, and one observer notes that Félix has no physical grace.

There is a bit of old fashioned romance here with the lengths Félix goes to just to get a glimpse of Meira’s back are hilarious and heartbreaking while at the same time, there’s no certainty that these two are really compatible. If Meira doesn’t know who she is, how can she know who she should be with? Félix, too, is unsure of himself: he holds onto grief that has left him aimless.

Shulem catches a case of identity crisis from the two protagonists. He begins as little more than a scold because  Meira fails to live up to what’s expected of her. Then he becomes more bewildered over the inability to connect with his wife, and his growing confusion humanizes him. Twersky’s performance gives an emotional anchor to the story: someone will get seriously hurt here.

Because Meira says so little, her dilemma or the source of her discontent is unclear. Is there something in her that uniquely rubs against the orthodoxy of her community, or are we supposed to trust that any creative, introspective woman would be driven to malaise by the religious lifestyle? Director Giroux doesn’t make such a statement and there  are other Hasidic women here who seem perfectly content. But the absence of depth in Meira, the character,  leaves little else to hold on to than such generalizations. Loneliness and alienation are universal, so Meira serves as a kind of outline, like the drawings she makes, of an outsider, which viewers can fill in as he or she likes.

In addition, the film makes great use of the song “After Laughter (Comes Tears)” by1960’s soul singer Wendy Rene. In one of the early scenes, Meira listens to it on the sly, taking the record from a hiding place beneath the couch. The music serves as a stand-in for her voice, speaking fluently in an emotional language that leaves its listener tongue tied.

In the beginning the film moves slowly, but it carefully lays the groundwork for a number of moving closing scenes. We see that religion both restricts and gives purpose to the people in the film which is an acutely observed and perfectly played looked at human drama set mostly in Montreal.

In the beginning, the story focuses on Malka whose light is definitely being hidden under a bushel, as well as a wig and frumpy dresses. Bookish husband Shulem has a big beard and he’s more into attending yeshiva than paying attention to his pretty wife. Still, he comes home occasionally to lay down the law. He hates that she listens to ’60s soul music; good thing he doesn’t know about the birth-control pills! Almost any way she attempts to express herself will bring shame on the community, according to him, but his extreme piety doesn’t bring much joy to anyone. Meaningfully, her main mode of resistance is to play dead while he berates her in Yiddish. It is important to know that in this world, marriages are arranged and often all a bride and groom have shared before their wedding is a cup of tea in a hotel lobby.

Around the corner from a nearby kosher deli lives Félix, an agnostic. He is charming and dissolute, the son of a rich but distant father (Benoît Girard) who’s busy dying when we meet him. Félix seems determined to fritter away his time and any eventual inheritance. His affectionate sister (Anne-Élisabeth Bossé) chides him for self-absorption. (He doesn’t even remember the name of his sibling’s live-in boyfriend of seven years). However, his father’s  impending demise does present some kind of wake-up call.

Félix is drawn to Malka and her pink-clad baby girl. Despite social admonitions against talking to, or even looking at, nonfamilial men, she eventually responds to his persistence, and introduces herself, in English, as Meira—the Hebrew word for “light”. Soon a shared love of music and art leads to trouble. ,

This love story isn’t about religion — or its lack — but about the attraction of difference and the undeniable need to feel alive. That’s something that Meira clearly longs for; going against the restrictions imposed by her Orthodox community, and weary of being scolded by her bewildered husband. Meira is a time bomb in an unflattering wig and frumpy dresses, and when she meets Felix who has just lost his father, explosion seems inevitable.

 “Felix and Meira” presents the pair’s slow, circling courtship as a dance of incremental intimacy. Tiny advances in seduction — like a direct gaze, or the eventual removal of that wig  take on the power of full-on sexual collisions, and we see and feel Meira’s sensual deprivation. Felix’s f charisma brings color into her dull world, and it’s to the film’s credit that Shulem is not an unfeeling counterpoint but as a loving, observant husband who’s simply bemused by his wife’s small rebellions.

In one of the film’s most moving scenes, Shulem and Felix reach an uneasy détente, a foreshadowing of an ending. This is an unusual story of hesitation and self-expression with a sense of restraint, delivering characterization through looks instead of melodrama. This is a refreshing change of pace in a measured movie, with emotion pushing through silences as the plot seeks to understand personal need. 

Just before Feliz and Meira met, she was  beginning to regret her life choices, finding her marriage to Shulem suffocating with interest in art and music  that are taken from her by her husband who doesn’t understand her rejection of orthodox ways. Felix is smitten with Meira, pursuing her at a time of vulnerability for the both of them.  

The movie is observational, studying the characters as they cope with the current stasis in their lives. For Felix, confusion arrives with the death of his father, a cold man the son never received a chance to understand. They were distant, with family love gifted to Felix’s sister, who’s inherited the estate, sharing money with her brother as a peace offering of sorts. Living alone, Felix is beginning to understand his isolation; he finds the discovery of Meira to be enlivening. A loving mother of one, Meira has turned to secrecy to live her life in full, taking birth control and hiding drawings and music from Shulem, pulling out of an orthodox life where she has no friends or confidants, fearing she’s in too deep to even entertain the idea of change. Dutiful but pained, Meira finds Felix’s attention enticing. She’s not necessarily looking for love, but the intimate companionship he’s dying to provide gives her a sense of hope. 

The film explores individualism yet Meira’s fantasy isn’t sexually motivated, she merely wants to sample a forbidden world, with the very act of wearing pants supplying overwhelming liberation she can only share with Felix, who’s happy to encourage her interests. Their union is more about presence than romance, but tenderness is felt, only restrained by Meira’s guilt and confusion.  

 All of the performances are skillful, requiring a sense of stillness to communicate subtle offerings of endearment, and Twersky as Shulem is the man of the house driven by religious duty, and not just another monster waiting to discipline his wife. The humanity of these personalities is vividly detailed. Giroux finds an ideal way to capture the consequences of forbidden love, adding just the right amount of bittersweet to respect the moment.”

“OVER THE LIMIT”— A Look at Margarita Mamun


A Look at Margarita Mamun

Amos Lassen

“Over the Limit” is an intimate portrait of Margarita Mamun, the world’s most outstanding rhythmic gymnast who needed to overcome mental fragility to take part in the Olympic Games.

Coach  Amina Zaripova works 20-year-old Mamun and in this film about the two women we see the details of the Russian women’s gymnastics team’s as they prepared for the 2016 Olympics. The interactions between young Mamun and her coaches Zaripova and Irina Viner are brutal—and completely unscripted. Filmmaker Marta Prus was able to obtain security clearance, which permitted her to capture actual training sessions and competitions. “What a stupid loser,” Viner who seems particularly hard on Mamum tells her coldly in one scene, and later she tells her to “Go f*** yourself and your goddamn gentleness.”

These same kind  of remarks seem troubling as  they are peppered with the comfort of physical embraces, even kisses, and flattering phrases like, “Brave girl,” and even, “I love you very much,” so that viewers watch the emotional ravaging of a young woman’s mind as she bounces back and forth from despair to hope, from reinforcement to abandonment. Many of Viner’s attacks are met with silence from Mamun.

The theme here is “excellence at any cost” but perhaps because the mental manipulations are being carried out in real time on a young woman, it may be more difficult to understand. It is beyond my understanding how she would allow herself to be filmed like this. We see her frequently engaging in textbook emotional and psychological abuse tactics. I read that when Viner learned what footage would be used in the film, she objected and accused director  Prus of “starting a scandal.” Apparently once Viner watched the film all the way through, she became very excited by it and urged the production team to enter it in festivals.

Viner or Irina Alexandrovna Viner-Usmanova is head coach of the Russian national team and president of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation. She is married to Alisher Usmanov, one of Russia’s wealthiest magnates and friend of  Vladimir Putin.

Cinematographer Adam Suzin’s camera work is done by  hand-held cameras giving a tense tone to what we see. At times we feel feel like voyeurs. Throughout the film, Mamun exhibits the grace and strength we’ve come to expect of a well-trained Olympic gymnast. She is a natural in front of the camera, simply allowing it in her space while she goes about her life. Some of the more intimate moments involve Mamun at her parents’ home with her trophies and medals, or alone in a hotel room. We see her performing mundane tasks, such as ironing out the satin ribbon used in her floor exercise or packing her gear for transport. These private instances undermine any mystical notions viewers might have about the glamour of Olympic gymnastics.

As viewers, we keep wondering when Mamun will break under the pressure, and it builds to a pitch, raising existential questions about what we do to one another and why as we pursue  total perfection. We enter the highly gendered world of Olympic rhythmic gymnastics, where success is determined as much by the athlete’s agility and concentration as it is by her beauty and grace. Despite high expectations for what will likely be her final Olympics (summer 2016), Mamun appears to be faltering, performing unevenly and clearly feeling miserable. Her story is in many respects conventional but is nevertheless thoroughly engaging, an intense and emotional look at one athlete’s relationship to her sport.

What makes this film so special is how seamlessly it’s fitted Mamun’s 2016 gymnastics season into the structure and style we associate with a fictional narrative. The coaches and players never give interviews or even acknowledge the presence of the cameras;  there is no on-screen text, no voiceover narration is needed to fill the viewer in on the stakes of each competition or practice; and Mamun’s struggle with her insecurities, her competitors, and Viner-Usmanova reminds us of a sports melodrama. Viner-Usmanova is so villainous in bearing and in dress. She prefers garish, flashy clothing topped off with brimmed hats making it hard to believe she’s an actual person in charge of coaching young women.

We see Mamun as “the archetypical suffering heroine, an island of unfairly oppressed virtue in a cruel world.” She is constantly derided in the crudest possible terms by Viner and the two are locked in a seething, unspoken rivalry with new upstart Yana Kudryavtseva, and all the while coping with her father’s cancer diagnosis, Mamun appears besieged on all sides. On the few occasions when Mamun is able to speak with her boyfriend, she seems locked in an expression of anguish and frustration and nerves.  We surmise from her forlorn gaze during breaks in practice that she would rather be somewhere else, doing something else.

Director Prus has assembled carefully observed moments into an affecting narrative. We do not understand why Mamun continues despite her evident pain, but we root for her. When asked about her personal goals, Mamun says, “We should push past our limits.” Throughout the film Mamun’s goal is met, over and over, as she practices and performs her routines while dealing with family emergencies, injury, and the constant verbal berating by coaches. 

“Over the Limit”  is a film about what drives us, beyond logic and comfort. For Mamun, she says it’s to go beyond her limits. Despite the constant insults her performances garner in Prus’ documentary, Mamun would go on to win gold at the Olympics before finally retiring. As it explores one woman’s ambition, “Over the Limit” goes beyond its simple narrative in its psychological questions and gives a very particular look at a sport in which “the arch of an eyebrow is as important as the spine.”

Bonus Short Film – “Iron Hands”(directed by Johnson Cheng | China, USA | 11 minutes | Mandarin with English Subtitles) — As a twelve-year-old girl prepares for her final test while trying out for the traditionally all-boys Chinese youth Olympic weightlifting team, she makes an unlikely connection with the gym’s reclusive groundskeeper.

“SHE WOLF”— An Erotic Thriller


An Erotic Thriller

Amos Lassen

Director Tamae Garateguy’s “She Wolf” is the story of a female serial killer who is stalking the  streets and underground subways of Buenos Aires. She Wolf is capable of shifting between three manifestations of her inner self and is a cunning seductress who lures men to nights of unbridled ecstasy that end in the loss of life. The trail of bodies she leaves behind should lead the police to her door but she is so lost in her fractured psyche that the threat to her own safety seems not to affect her. However,  when one of her intended victims turns out to be an undercover police detective, her escape takes her into the arms of a charming young drug dealer, whose love could provide her salvation.

The film is a reflection of what was known as Euro-sleaze that was popular in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Director Garateguy puts a woman’s touch on the topic and films it stark black and white.

Screenwriter Diego Fleischer brings us a woman who turns heads wherever she goes. The sexual encounters that follow are naked power plays, in which the men assume that they’re in control and are blind to the reality that the woman has manipulated them into the situation that will lead to their death. The very first sequence of the film establishes the sex / death pattern, and the rest of the film is about these  these primal forces. 

Because of the nature of the plot, it is almost impossible to review this without giving something away. The film is filled with raw sexual energy and the emotional interchanges between men and women and the intense, character-based focus enhance the plot but also become liabilities when the film paints itself into a corner. 

Garateguy stages the lengthy sexual encounters in intimately and the film’s “slice of a killer’s life” approach is novel just as is the punk  and we get an unruly and utterly fresh perspective on serial killers today.

“The Exigent Earth: Recently Placed On The Endangered Species List: Humans” by Beverly Knauer and Murray Rosenthal— A Psychodrama

Knauer, Beverly and Murray Rosenthal. “The Exigent Earth: Recently Placed On The Endangered Species List: Humans”,  Wise Words Press, 2019.

A Psychodrama

Amos Lassen

Beverly Knauer and Murray Rosenthal’s “The Exigent Earth” is set in a world where humans are on the endangered species list. It is the same world where volcanoes are erupting, wildfires are destroying whole towns, earthquakes are ruining cities and fill it with water everywhere tsunamis drown the land and its people. With all of these , the earth seems to be headered for destruction.

Zac Sparkman is the son of two genius scientist parents who discovers he has a mysterious power that he struggles to keep hidden. When he was growing up, he did so in an unusual family with a Native American shaman and an unconventional uncle who taught him how science and esoteric wisdom come together in a world of knowledge completely new to him. As time passed, he sees that his father had made a discovery that could change the world, and now he stives to learn the secrets of his father’s hidden lab and of that experiment and the covert journal that the U.S. government would do anything to get its hands on.

“The Exigent Earth” is a speculative fiction story of aboy with an amazing gift and a world in terrible trouble. It has a very strong message for us and that is that we are in charge of the world, its destiny and that everyone has something to do with what will be. We are all accountable for the earth and we all can make a difference.  We read about ideas that we understand but do not fully grasp, and the unknown comes together in a way that keeps us turning pages as quickly as possible.

The story begins  by our being introduced to Virginia Sutter, a multilingual geologist and writer going to a conference in Zurich. We also meet Nikolai Sparsinsky, a reclusive Russian scientist. They are soon faced with a  decision that would change both their lives forever. The two fall in love right away and Nikolai defects to the United States and while in Montana, they met a fourteen- year-old Indian girl called Olivia, who has special healing powers. Virginia invites Olivia to live with them on their ranch in the Pryor Mountains. This is where Nickolai builds a secret laboratory set into the mountains. He shares with Virginia the potential of his achievement in successfully turning on higher energy states at the cellular level. They are both aware that his breakthrough can help mankind, but that it also has the potential to be dangerous in the wrong hands.
When Nikolai tragically dies, government officials rush to the ranch to discover what  Nikolai had been working on, but the secret lab isn’t discovered and the secret it safe.
When Virginia enters the secret lab alone and something happens and she discovers that Nickolai will always be with her both in her dreams and in the baby she carries.  

When Zac is born, Olivia names him her child of light and immediately we see that he is no ordinary baby. I do not want to say any more about the plot because to do so would be to reveal spoilers. I will say that after moving to Vermont to live with his uncle and Olivia, a bond grows between the three.

As soon as he is born Olivia calls him her ‘Child of Light.’ Zac is no ordinary baby, and afraid that his abilities will be noticed, the women do their best to protect him. However, not even Olivia can shield him from the cruel events of life, and it is a sad orphaned boy who finds himself travelling with Olivia to Vermont, to live with his uncle Brian. It is there that Zac realizes his role in life.

The story includes space travel, biological weapons and provocative issues that really make us think. It is an epic story that is also quite intimate and the characters are quite large in scope. This review emphasized the buildup to Zac’s powers, etch but I really did not want to get into that for the same reason that I stopped summarizing. Zac is our main character  but what really makes the story come alive in my opinion was the philosophic discussions that took place and the inclusion of scientific data thus bringing reality and fantasy together.

I am very surprised at how much I enjoyed the read since the only time I read science-fiction is when I asked to review something from that genre.

“NOW APOCALYPSE”— “Shedding Light Onto the World of Sexuality”

“Now Apocalypse”

Shedding Light Onto the World of Sexuality”

Amos Lassen

While on a journey to find love, sex and fame, Ulysses (Avan Jogia) dreams cause him to wonder about the possibility of a dark conspiracy. Gregg Araki directs the series airing on March 10.

Araki is the cult director of films like “The Doom Generation”, “Nowhere”, “Kaboom” and “Mysterious Skin”. Set in Los Angeles, the show follows a group of sexually active 20 and 30-somethings as they face the peril and promise of urban life. A crisis begins when Ulysses begins having frightening visions of alien rape and impending doom.

With the Millennial generation coming of age, sociologists want to defy labels. They don’t want to be gay, they don’t want to be bisexual, they just want to be

 Sexual fluidity seems to be a  requirement for a millennial. Ulysses sleeps mostly with men, but he sometimes in his life does sleep with women yet he is really not bisexual. He refers to himself as an “ever-oscillating Kinsey 4.”

He does not feel a need to be in a specific box, and that the label of his sexuality is not at the forefront of his identity. There are some very frank moments of sexuality in the show with graphic nudity and sexual activity. The sex scenes are not porn. Now we have to wait to see the finished product and I have the feeling that it is going to be major.

“Savage Fest” by Boris Fishman—Heartbreak and Huc

Fishman, Boris. “Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (a Memoir with Recipes)”, HarperCollins,  2019

Heartbreak and Humor

Amos Lassen

Boris Fishman shares a family story in his recipe filled memoir “Savage Feast”. It is also an immigrant story, a love story, and a wonderful meal and it looks at the challenges of navigating two cultures from an unusual angle.  His personal story and his family’s memoir are relat3d to us via meals and recipes. It begins when Boris was a child in Soviet Belarus, a place where good food was as valuable as money.

We learn of the unlikely dish that brought his parents together and how being hungry in the Holocaust made his grandmother so obsessed with bread that she always kept five loaves on hand. His grandmother was quite a cook, his grandfather was a  master black marketer who supplied her, evading at least one firing squad on the way. Boris’ family is made up of Jews who lived under threats.

When Boris and his family comes to this country, food remains of major importance. But before coming here, the family spent time in Vienna and Rome. All the while they had to deal with staying connected to their roots and doing away with the trauma that traveled with them and was, indeed, a part of them.

Fishman goes to a farm in the Hudson River Valley,  to the kitchen of a Russian restaurant on the Lower East Side, to a Native American reservation in South Dakota, and back to Oksana’s kitchen in Brooklyn. His relationships with women are troubled and he finally finds an American soulmate.

For Fishman, food and sharing meals with his family is a way to maintain his roots even as he feels pulled towards his new American life. He turns to cooking and exploring in the kitchen as a way to work out his next step in his life. We are with Boris on his journeys of cooking in his grandfather’s Ukrainian home aid to the kitchen of Russian restaurant on the Lower East Side to a children’s camp on a Native American reservation in South Dakota.

Food is the grounding force of the memoir about   the author’s experiences as an immigrant to America with his family culture  still very much rooted in Russia. He faced a lot of familial pressure to live a certain way while also trying to follow his dreams of writing as well as making his new home in America. He uses cooking, eating, and obtaining food throughout the narrative.

Here is the memoir of a family that survives and is united by food. We are also very aware of the feelings of hunger that the family experienced and are reminded of dishes and recipes of traditional foods—potato latkes, stuffed cabbage, braised rabbit, liver pie, and scores more make the memoir a succulent treat… “This beautifully written memoir is a wonderful story about family, love, and connecting with your roots.”

“WOKE: Season One”— A Muslim in France

“Woke: Season One”

A Muslim in France

Amos Lassen

In Season One of “Woke” we meet Hicham (Mehdi Meskar)  who has run away from home to look for Thibaut (Eric Pucheu), a young guy who tried to kiss him years earlier. Thibaut is one of the activists who work at the ‘Point G’ LGBT Center in Lyon. Even though he is apprehensive at first, Hicham is soon drawn into a new world. As he begins a journey toward discovering his own identity, he starts to learn that Thibaut isn’t exactly who he appears to be. “Woke” is a story about the struggles of a Muslim young man in France as he searches for sexual awareness and his self-chosen subjectivity beyond gender, religious, political labels.

Hicham Alaoui, 22, suddenly decides to run away to from home and go to Lyon, France and leave behind his family who has no idea about his sexuality. In fact the only gay person he knows is Thibaut Giaccherini, a 28 years old  activist for LGBT rights.  As Hicham searches for intimate, political and sexual identity, he finds a reference in Thibaut. Hicham admires his fights and is fascinated by his commitment. He wants the strength and self-assertion that Thibaut has but as he gets to know him better, Hicham more and more sees his flaws and contradictions. For Hicham to  find who he is, he will have to find his own path .

Thibaut is in full battle with a local politician and this fascinates Hicham. Thibaut can lift his head against the injustices of the world, and Hicham is so impressed that he joins the G-spot, the militant gay association of which Thibaut is a part. Then opens a new world for Hachim and it is a world filled with contradictions, inspirations and more or less fragile people who try their best to face life.

Cut in ten-minute episodes, the series follows Hicham who will have to learn, little by little, to detach himself from Thibaut and take the reins of his own life. Hicham is vulnerable and soft and he and Thibaut carry the series and one can only attach themselves to their characters without too much bruises to the soul and the body.

The episodes are about homophobic attacks, inappropriate comments and loneliness, the malaise of youth, the problem of being part of a political ideology of which we do not necessarily share. There are 10parts to the web series consisting of 10-minutes episodes. Despite the light-hearted approach, contradictions and power struggles along the episodes, the dialogues are salty and filled with great one-liners and reflections, “Activism is like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon (but even so…)”. The whole 10-part story is less. Than  100 minutes long and as a serial it can be more focused on Hachim’s self-awakening journey, which is reflected in the titles of the episodes like “Running Away” / “Gathering Together” /  “Kissing Each Other” / “Emancipating”, etc.

“Woke” looks at LGBT activism, self-discovery, freedom and much more. Mehdi Meskar gives a very subtle and touching performance as Hicham Alaoui and we can’t help but  fall in love with the city of Lyon.

“THE DATE”— Alienation



Amos Lassen

Alessio Cappelleti’s “The Date” is a drama/thriller that looks at modern alienation and how intimate acts brings two outsiders together. That doesn’t say much and unfortunately because of the way the film is constructed. I can’t say much more. What I can say is that a man and a woman meet in a restaurant. Where the film goes from this point is what I can’t say. For eight minutes this film will own you completely and it will probably hold you for a bit longer after it is over.

Directed by Alessio Cappelletti aided by Chris Esper and written by Kris Salvi we meet  Michael Gonza a software engineer as he sits in a café looking nervous and we get the impression that he is waiting for someone.  We see him as awkward and unsure of himself. Marybeth Paul is the someone he is waiting for and she is quite the looker causing Gonza to remark on her beauty. We see just how shy he is. My first thought was we are watching the beginning of an assignation but I wasn’t sure. It turns out to be something quite clever that asks many questions and makes us think.

There is not a lot of action with everything happening at the table but without making us feel confined. We don’t really realize what has happened in the film until it is over and if you watch it a second time (it’s only 8 minutes long), you realize what a wonderful performance Marybeth Paul gives. She is the total opposite of Gonza and she… well, you have to see the film. I will say that while Gonza is unsure and awkward, Paul is confident and determined. I realize that I have not said very much but that is because to do so would ruin the viewer’s pleasure and enjoyment.