“TAINTED SOULS”— Life in the Working Class Suburbs of Rome

“Tainted Souls” (“Il Contagio”)

Lives in the Working-Class Suburbs of Rome

Amos Lassen

Directors Matteo Botrugno and Daniele Coluccini bring us the fates of two men from the working-class suburbs, separated by the different choices they make. Their film is set in the Roman outskirts that are plagued by small-time and big-time criminals but the focus is on the humanity of those who live there. The film is based the novel of the same name by Walter Siti and it can be seen as a love story (or several love stories), as the tale of a tragic friendship, as a patchwork of lives in the working-class suburbs, or even as the portrait of an underworld of ruthless wheeler-dealers who take advantage of those working-class people to make money and reach the upper classes. It is also the story of a choice: to stay and be one of the last remaining residents, or to get out and sell one’s soul to the devil. In the first part of the movie, we find ourselves in a working-class block of flats that is teeming with people with different accents and stories. We are introduced to two couples, Mauro and Simona (Maurizio Tesei and Giulia Bevilacqua), and Marcello and Chiara (Vinicio Marchioni and Anna Foglietta); and there is also an author, Walter (Vincenzo Salemme), who is Marcello’s secret lover and provides him with financial support, as well as being the narrator of the film. Life goes by, with all its rumors, small-time drug dealing and football matches but also with the settling of scores, armed robberies and betrayals. It’s a colorful array of ordinary people getting by as best they can, and trying to love each other.

Halfway through the film, another story begins. We skip forward three years and the plot zeroes in on Mauro, who has made his fortune by making the leap from being a small-time dealer to getting involved in the “business” of cooperatives that help immigrants by appropriating public funds. We follow him during his descent into the underworld, residing in his impressive apartment in central Rome, his face disfigured from cocaine abuse and with a past that has come knocking on his door (Marcello, who, frantic and overwhelmed by debt, has come to ask him for help). The warm colors of the suburbs give way to the cold lights of the city, middle-class vices gain the upper hand over love and friendship, and a dizzying sequence shot accompanies Mauro along his path of damnation. He disowns his roots and gives in to false ideals and cuts his family ties for the sake of money.

Set against the backdrop of a depressingly modern Rome, where corruption is like a disease that taints the soul that Italian cinema continues to depict with conviction. This is a seemingly high-minded stab at socially-relevant drama but it stumbles slowly and mysteriously from one marginal character to another, without establishing who or what “Tainted Souls” is actually about, leaving us to care for no one at all. Marcello is broke but he refuses to get a job, so it’s tough empathize with him. His wife is ill but he cheats on her. Attilio is amoral and selfish. Bruno is a wife-beater. Mauro is the only one with the brains to be a better man but gives up his humanity in exchange for promises of riches, and he presumably does this because he grew up poor. Drug use is rife and so is criminality. It’s a surprise when a narrator tries to persuade us at the end that one of the biggest liars in the movie is a great guy.

The film is about the tragic lives led by marginalized, working-class people who keep making terrible decisions over and over.  A woman is married to her childhood friend, frustrated by the fact that he’s gay and unemployed. Innocents are defrauded by a high-level drug dealer using a charity to steal millions. Jobless men go into hock to violent drug-dealers. They are beaten by the dealers. One man is stoned to death by them. A woman commits suicide by turning up the gas on her stove. Frequent cocaine use is shown as is pot smoking, drinking, and cigarette smoking. No sex is shown but heterosexual couples are seen kissing and a gay couple is seen touching each other’s faces. A woman finds someone’s vibrator. A narrator talks about “penetration” with his gay lover. “Gang-bangs” and orgies are mentioned. We hear gay and Asian slurs and other curse words as we get a look at life that is not pretty.



This is the City…

Amos Lassen

 The Shout! Select Blu-Ray of “Dragnet” features a new 4K HD scan, and new bonus features including a new interview with co-star Alexandra Paul and audio commentary. Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks try to save the city in “DRAGNET”, a hilarious box-office blockbuster that pays homage to the famed original police dramas of the ’50s and ’60s. This is a contemporary and very funny update of one of the best-known police shows of all time and now available on a special edition Blu-ray loaded with bonus features.

 Aykroyd is nephew of Detective Sgt. Joe Friday (originally played by Joe Webb). Like his no-nonsense uncle, he’s a blue-suited, by-the-rules Los Angeles cop who’s forced to reluctantly team up with the footloose, wisecracking Pep Streebek (Hanks). They are ordered to investigate a seemingly unrelated series of bizarre ritual killings and robberies; they eventually uncover a plot by an underground pagan group to undermine all authority in Los Angeles. Harry Morgan (“M.A.S.H.”) reprises his original TV series role as Bill Gannon; co-stars adding to the hijinks and hilarity include Dabney Coleman, Christopher Plummer and Alexandra Paul.

Directed by Tom Mankiewicz, the film suffers a bit from a plodding feel that’s compounded by a continuing emphasis on the central characters’ tedious investigation yet Aykroyd and Hanks raise the pervasively dull atmosphere. The lack of momentum ensures that the film wears out its welcome long before arriving at its finish.“Dragnet” is a case of a very funny sketch comedy idea dragged out beyond its ability to truly entertain in a feature film.  It’s funny in spots, but not enough to keep it all together the entire way. The first case that the two work on together sees them trying to crack a slew of recent murders in Los Angeles, ostensibly done by a mysterious cult known simply as P.A.G.A.N., (People Against Goodness and Normalcy) as the calling cars they leave behind at the scenes of their crimes suggest.  Signs begin to point in the direction of a smarmy TV evangelist named Rev. Jonathan Whirley (Plummer) and a smarmy smut merchant named Jerry Caesar (Coleman).  Friday and Streebeck rescue a sacrificial virgin, Connie Swail (Paul), at one of the P.A.G.A.N. gatherings, and for the first time in his life, Sgt. Friday has found someone wholesome enough to consider as his girlfriend, though he has now become too involved to think clearly — or play things by the book when the heart is involved.

Aykroyd delivers one of his best comic portrayals that at first seems like a superficial impression, but we begin to appreciate the subtle ways that Aykroyd manages to get in laughs through such a deadpan delivery.  He manages to convey something more inside Friday’s head than just an adherence to the law, and the result is quite funny.

Tom Hanks gives us a geniality and modernity to counter Friday.  He’s a little miscast, as Hanks has always seemed rather clean cut himself as an actor, and even if our first impression of him is of a slob, it’s not easy to see him in the role but he’s gracious enough to let Aykroyd hog the spotlight, as he plays the setup man for Friday’s increasing digressions into silliness. “Dragnet” is at its best when Joe Friday speaks, whether with his partner, questioning a witness, interrogating a suspect, or briefing his boss, Captain Gannon. It loses most of its appeal when Friday is off of the screen, or when the film devolves into extended chase/action sequences.  

Shout! Factory has created a line-up of bonus features including a brand new interview with co-star Alexandra Paul entitled “A Quiet Evening in the Company of Connie Swail” and new audio commentary from pop culture historian Russell Dyball. Additionally, consumers can order the collector’s edition directly from shoutfactory.com ; the Collector’s Edition will ship two weeks early and, while supplies last, will include a free 18×24 rolled poster featuring brand new artwork.

Special Features:

 NEW “A Quiet Evening in the Company of Connie Swail”: An Interview With Co-Star Alexandra Paul

NEW Audio Commentary with Pop Culture Historian Russell Dyball

“Just the Facts!”: A Promotional Look at Dragnet with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks

Original Theatrical Trailers & Promos

Photo Gallery

“A Politically Incorrect Feminist: Creating a Movement With Bitches, Lunatics, Dykes, Prodigies, Warriors, and Wonder Women” by Phyllis Chesler— A Memoir About the Pioneers of Modern Day Feminism

Chesler, Phyllis. “A Politically Incorrect Feminist: Creating a Movement With Bitches, Lunatics, Dykes, Prodigies, Warriors, and Wonder Women”, St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

A Memoir About the Pioneers of Modern-Day Feminism

Amos Lassen

Phyllis Chesler was a pioneer of Second Wave Feminism. Between 1972-1975, feminists integrated the want ads, brought class action lawsuits on behalf of economic discrimination, opened rape crisis lines and shelters for battered women, held marches and sit-ins for abortion and equal rights, famously took over offices and buildings, and pioneered high profile Speak-outs. Likewise, they began the first-ever national and international public conversations about birth control and abortion, sexual harassment, violence against women, female orgasm, and a woman’s right to kill in self-defense.

Like any movement, the feminist movement has changed over the years. Chesler knew some of its first pioneers, including Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, Flo Kennedy, and Andrea Dworkin and these women were forces of nature and action heroes in real life. They were changing the world and becoming major players in history. Chesler tells us about them.

This is a survey of the Women’s Movement from the viewpoint of one feminist who was involved in the Movement from its beginning and, after the publication of her groundbreaking “Women and Madness,” participated in women’s actions across the country and the world. She takes us inside the and shares what was happening in a movement that started as scattershot grassroots, with small groups of women forming with no contact yet finding one another. We read of the arguments, the infighting, and backstabbing, some of which perhaps she contributed to, but she also shows us the sense of commitment and the passion to see justice done for women.

She knows those feminists whose contributions are generally unrecognized but without whom there would have been no Movement and she has included them all. Chesler is a revolutionary poet, a social scientist, a radical feminist, and a controversial warrior and an excellent writer.

The Feminist Movement has changed American culture profoundly especially when it re-emerged in the 1970’s. This is the most extensive, richly-detailed and well-written account of that historic movement and is a personal life-trajectory of one of the central early leaders of feminism, an analysis of many of the key concepts of the movement, and an inside look at its major conferences and events. It is also an honest and informative celebration of the hundreds of women who created the movement. Chesler names some 600 women and they are both the well known and the unknown.

Through Phyllis Chesler’s eyes, we get the history and the experiences that were part of the movement. She recounts her involvement with almost every aspect of the struggle, and gives an intimate introduction to the many players, sharing their strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies and yes, madness.

The book shows that indeed, “the movement was created by “bitches, lunatics, prodigies and warriors,” as the book subtitle describes. Yet, overall, they were Wonder Women, because they lurched our society forward into the changes of the late 20th century and early 21st century—and to what we are now experiencing as the “third-wave feminism.”

“AT THE END OF THE DAY”— The Homophobic Intolerance of Conservative Christians

“At The End Of The Day”

The Homophobic Intolerance of Conservative Christians

Amos Lassen

Kevin O’Brien’s directorial debut deals with a subject close to him – the homophobic intolerance of conservative Christians, those who ignore the Bible’s teachings of love and acceptance in favor of a few sentences that they think label same-sex love a sin. O’Brien was raised in a Conservative Christian home, and worked at a church for ten years, so he understands the prejudices of this community and he brings a story to the screen about confronting and overcoming them.

Dave Hopper (Stephen Shane Martin) has just been hired as a professor at a Conservative Christian college after being removed from his local church after his wife left him for another woman. His mild mannered nature hides a bitter homophobia, with his new boss decides to exploit by using him to infiltrate a local LGBT group who are planning on opening a homeless youth shelter that the college wishes to shut down. Upon meeting the group, Hopper tries to sabotage their efforts to raise funds to open a shelter but this plan goes awry when he begins to question whether he’s doing the Christian thing of ruining the good deeds of people helping those in need.

“At the End of the Day” wears its religious themes very lightly on its sleeve and it obviously aimed at an audience with religious leanings in the hope of challenging their pre-conceptions of the LGBT community (but not to the extent that it becomes alienating for viewers outside of this mindset). O’Brien’s screenplay manages to balance its philosophical musings with humor and as a result, it feels down to earth and believable, despite the very heightened nature of the subject matter. You never feel that you’re watching anything as exaggerated as a dramatization of the ongoing societal clash between religious conservatism and LGBT acceptance. O’Brien’s characters are not the narrow minded caricatures they paint each other as.

Martin has quite a job trying to make a character with such closed-minded views somewhat redeemable. He plays his role with a shyness that suggests confusion over the conflicts between the nature of “sin” and the preaching of acceptance in the bible. He n manages to make a seemingly unlikeable character feel merely flawed – somebody who hasn’t take the time to truly examine the effects of his prejudices, and whether or not they are backed up by his Christian beliefs. O’Brien pokes fun at his many contradictions with every chance he gets, yet he never dilutes the serious impact of the anti-gay preaching.

.Dave’s resentment of gay people becomes personal when his wife leaves him for a woman. All the same, he’s aware that he doesn’t really know any gay people, and this inspires a degree of curiosity which blends with his ideological motives in inspiring him to infiltrate a local LGBT support group. There, he’s surprised by how nice everybody seems, and his convictions begin to falter. As his boss pressures him to stick to his guns, he finds himself falling for a straight woman (Danielle Sagona) who works with the group, but it’s his encounters with a troubled teenager from his class that really cause him to know that eventually the truth will win.

It’s clear from the start that Dave is aware of the hypocrisy inherent in his actions, but his genuine openness to loving the sinner allows us to cut him some slack. There’s an emotional honesty about him as he struggles to take responsibility for his actions, and it’s on this that the core of the narrative rests.

Dave’s journey is further complicated by the fact that he’s living with his elderly aunt, a flamboyant woman who makes no secret of her active sex life yet humors him with such gentleness that he struggles to work out what she actually believes. Her presence complicates myths about American tradition and reminds us that this is a country that has always been built upon a diversity of cultural narratives. She’s also one of several characters who complicate the notion that its current ‘Culture War’ has two neatly divided sides with everybody on one or the other.

Everything here is beautifully photographed and great costume design helps the cast bring depth and complexity to their characters. A visit to a shelter for young people rejected by their families provides a glimpse of just how many different kinds of people struggle to find a place within a rigidly heterosexual, binary gendered society, and there’s even an intersex character, rare as hen’s teeth. Yet although the film is passionate about showing us what people like this go through, it doesn’t feel preachy – its power comes from what it shows rather than what it tells. Dave’s internal struggle (which also neatly upends the myth that homophobia is all about internalised repression of sexuality) parallels wider currents of social change. There is no suggestion that atonement is easy or forgiveness always deserved – simply that they are worthwhile for their own sake.


“Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”

An Olive Signature Film

Amos Lassen

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is sci-fi classic that uses the dangers over an alien invasion by pod-like creatures to steal earthlings’ souls as a parody about the McCarthy craziness that swept America in the 1950s and at the same times take a vigorous anti-Communist stand and make some statements decrying conformity. Don Siegel directed Daniel Mainwaring’s script that was based upon a three-part serial story written by Jack Finney for Colliers Magazine in 1954, and in 1955 was made into a full-length novel, The Body Snatchers. This B-picture was shot in 19 days for the low budget of about $420,000 and was filmed in glorious black and white. There is minimal use of special effects, and no blood or murders.

General practitioner Dr. Miles Binnell (Kevin McCarthy) is returning to his small hometown of Santa Mira from a medical convention in nearby San Francisco and notices a lot of strange things going on in town. Children do not recognize their parents, and husbands do not know their wives. His nurse, Sally (Jean Willes), complains patients have made appointments yet never appeared. Ex-girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) believes that the man claiming to be her uncle is an impostor. Miles is very concerned by these bizarre occurrences, but temporarily satisfied by reassuring rationalizations from the town psychiatrist (Larry Gates).

But when Miles gets a phone call from friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan) to come over and take a look at a strange mannequin-like figure without a humanoid face or fingerprints that suddenly appears on his pool table, he again becomes alarmed. He eventually reasons that this must be an invasion from outer space. He discovers that the town is being taken over by pods from outer space that are colonizing the earth and taking on human forms but without a soul or emotions. Their propagate t to take over the world. The problem is that one can’t tell who’s a person and who’s a pod. At a loss for what to do, paranoia and tension builds, as the enemy is viewed as all of us.

Bennell, at first, thinks his patients are suffering from paranoid delusions that their friends and relatives are impostors. The doppelgängers are entirely credible because they can answer detailed questions about their victim’s lives. But eventually he finds his friends and patients are in fact strangely altered and emotionless. He decides to investigate, but soon he and his girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) are the only humans left in their once idyllic town. Director Siegel keeps the movie taut and dynamic and creates one of the screen’s creepiest, thought-provoking fantasies.

Daniel Mainwaring’s screenplay mixes suspense and scares with a metaphor about the insidious danger within the Hollywood anti-communist witch-hunt of the shameful McCarthy era in America, which landed many liberals and left-wingers in peril, and some in jail, in the last 40s and early 50s.

The film has been remade three times, each time to less than stellar results. This is a sparse film that doesn’t feature a single second of dynamic camera work, cinematography or slyness in the script. It became a classic because of fear. Most people won’t be scared today while watching it and it is not presented as a horror film. There is fear in the allegorical leanings of the story as it relates to the Communist red scare of the 1950’s. But, more than that there is the constant sense of paranoia and the fear of being replaced or losing control of your own body.



An Unlikely Bond

Amos Lassen

After their Chilean town is destroyed by a volcano, three people form an unlikely bond in this first feature film from Benjamin Brunet. It all begins when twenty-seven-year-old Cristóbal (Gonzalo Aburto) returns, camera in hand, to his hometown of Chaitén, after it has been destroyed by a volcanic eruption. As he searches among the ruins for his childhood home, amidst ruins, he meets Ana (Ana Gallegos), a strong-willed, middle-aged tobacconist whose sick elderly mother, María (María Muñoz), refuses to leave town in order to seek treatment.  As events unfold, this lonely trio forms an unlikely bond, and become the lost family for which Cristóbal had been searching.

The film is divided into three chapters, one for each character. Taken as a whole, this is a reflective, authentic and intimate film which rests somewhere between fiction and documentary. Cristobal, photographer and independent filmmaker had recently learned that he was that he was adopted and has returned to his village, in order to make a documentary about his origins and find out more details about his past. When he meets Ana, a middle-aged woman who lives with his elderly mother Maria with a sick stomach, he sees that she misses her Gonzalo, who for years has not been to see her so Cristobal decides to host them. In a few days, a strong bond is and it is almost as if the young man was really a family member.


Everything happens through the lens of Cristobal’s camera and he is ready to record every moment and make immortal anyone who comes near his lens.

Along with its DVD and Digital debut, LA MADRE, EL HIJO Y LA ABUELA will also be available on IndiePix Unlimited, the streaming subscription service of IndiePix Films.  For $5.99 per month at either Amazon Channels or IndiePixUnlimited.com, passionate cinephiles get 24/7 access to a highly-curated catalog of cinematic gems from both international auteurs and visionary new voices alike, joins other contemporary classics of world cinema including 2009 Cannes Camera D’Or winner, SAMSON & DELILAH, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s feature-length debut, the Golden Lion-nominated WOMEN WITHOUT MEN and Noaz Deshe’s powerful WHITE SHADOW.

“PIN CUSHION”— Bullying

“Pin Cushion”


Amos Lassen

Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) and daughter Iona (Lily Newmark) are moving house and hugging a plant and the budgie’s cage in the front of the van. Moving seems to be something they’ve done before, maybe a few times. Upon arriving at the new place, Lyn gets their possessions in order and Iona offers to go round the corner and buy some milk. This is the first time we get an idea that something is not quite right and we cannot help but notice that Iona, though dressed like a much younger child, is about 14-years-old.

“Pin Cushion” shows us both the warmth of intense familial love and the cold of social isolation. Lyn was born with a hunch in her back and it has shaped her whole existence, and whilst one might argue that her eccentricity and lack of social skills might be a bigger factor in people’s rejection of her, it’s easy to see that they are products of that difference. Iona, by contrast, is a naturally pretty girl, but prettiness in adolescence isn’t always advantageous. Then there is this difference, and the ambition that surfaces in Iona when she gets a little taste of power that makes it increasingly difficult for them to understand each other.

We follow Lyn’s attempts to make friends (doing everything that advice columnists recommend) and Iona’s attempts to navigate boyfriends, school cliques and being cool. Writer/director Deborah Haywood draws the viewer into the film and to share Iona’s embarrassment about her mother’s behavior and only later recognize the unthinking cruelty of it. Iona herself is both victimizer and victim, trying to find her place in the world.

Haywood finds comedy in the absurdity and the hypocrisies of suburban life bleakest situations. Both leads deliver assured performances and the supporting cast is strong emphasizing that when Iona has the potential for real friendship it’s quietly visible alongside the dramatics of the main plot. The film will no doubt be too quirky for some and too disturbing for others, but it’s well made, bold and inventive.

Iona and her meek, hunchbacked mother Lyn were hoping for a new start in a new town, but the hostile welcome they receive strains their formerly close relationship. Iona and Lyn love birds and cats and stuff with lace and little cake things. Dad is out of the picture and never remarked on, so it is just them. Iona is eager to make friends, but through her imagination, she has visualized fast friendships that aren’t realistic. In fact, they leave her vulnerable to the predatory manipulations of Keeley, the queen bee of her class. Just for kicks, Keeley sets her up for a fall, leaving her a disgraced social pariah. Sadly, Lyn fares little better with her efforts to make friends among the snotty, rough-hewn neighbors.

This is often a hard film to watch, especially in light of the terrible stories of bullying we have today. Human beings can only take so much. We can see both mother and daughter reaching that point in “Pin Cushion” and it is harrowing to watch.

“LA FAMILIA”— A Poor Father and Son

“La Familia”

A Poor Father and Son

Amos Lassen

Financial troubles in Venezuela have brought the nation to the brink of collapse. However, for the wealthy, its pretty much business as usual but for the poor of Venezuela, the effects are devastating. Pedro (Reggie Reyes) is poor. He’s a 12-year-old boy who doesn’t attend school but doesn’t seem to alarm anyone. He lives in one of the more impoverished districts in Caracas. His father Andreas (Giovanni Garcia) is a day laborer, working whatever odd jobs he can find to squeak by. His mother is nowhere to be found and the movie never quite elaborates.

Pedro is essentially growing up without any supervision and runs around the streets with a group of kids, each trying to prove how much tougher they are than the rest. Pedro mostly hangs with Jonny, his best friend. One afternoon they are accosted by a kid with a gun who attempts to rob them of a cheap cell phone they found. Pedro gets into a fight with the would-be robber and it ends badly for the young kid.

When Andreas finds out, he knows what he has to do since the kid that Pedro hurt has relatives who are in the gangs that run the ghetto, and they are going to make an example of both Pedro and his dad. Andreas takes a reluctant Pedro to a different part of the city and tries to earn as much money as he can so that they can get out of Caracas forever.

That isn’t going to be easy. Pedro is headstrong and has zero respect for the work ethic of Andreas. For his part, Andreas is not above stealing some bottles of liquor from the catered parties he works as a waiter at from time to time when his mostly construction work is done for the day and he resells them for a little extra cash but otherwise prefers to walk the straight and narrow and down under the radar. Pedro prefers to take on all comers, bowing and scraping to nobody. Pedro wants to go back to where he belongs; Andreas wants something better and knows he will never find it for himself. Something’s got to give.

This is a character study in that both Andreas and Pedro are given richly developed personalities of the kind we rarely see in movies nowadays. Both Andreas and Pedro are complex and imperfect. Much of the realism of the film is because of how the two main characters are shaped.

The tone is bleak for Pedro and Andreas and for Venezuela as well. Director Gustavo Ronon Córdova gives us a parable for his country from the corruption to the crime to the hopelessness. The realism inherent in this film is sobering and filled with truth. The father-son dynamic is caught perfectly. The life lessons here are hard earned – as they are in real life but some may find this film to be too bleak. There is some violence and profanity as well as sexual content and adult themes.

This is not just a mere indictment of the financial consequences of Venezuela’s near economic collapse but on the dire effects it has on the family. As the two keep on the move seeking safe refuge Pedro does at least for the first time in his life get a sense of how tough life is for his father is as he demeans himself on a daily basis just to earn the few coins that he gets. He also thinks he is tougher than his father insisting that they should have stayed at home and stood their ground, but he changes his mind after discovering that the dead boy’s family had come looking for him and had killed his best friend Jonny instead.

This compelling and shocking movie is a telling testament to the current state of Venezuela which has moved past the point of abject poverty and now breeds a climate where lawlessness is unchecked and street killings are almost become a matter of fact.

There is  a very definite sense of irony naming the film ‘the family’  as the what we witness on the screen is nothing like we would ever imagine as a family, but in the culture that now prevails in Venezuela, this may very sadly become a norm for the people who are confined to living in the country’s slums.

 BONUS FEATURE includes: “Les Misérables” (Directed by Ladj Ly | France | French with English Subtitles | 15 minutes) – A trio of cops acting badly on their neighborhood patrol suddenly realize they are being watched.


“Gabriel and the Mountain”

An African Journey

Amos Lassen

Gabriel (João Pedro Zappa) is a twenty something Brazilian traveling throughout Africa who claims that his intellectual background and relationship among natives absolves him of being called a tourist. He has recently been admitted to a PhD program at U.C.L.A. and is deciding what to do in the future. He’s an idealist journeying across Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Malawi to conduct research on poverty. “The film appears to be setting itself up to grapple with the ethical dimensions of tourism and the self-legitimizing mindset of a male intellectual who, despite ample evidence to the contrary, asserts himself as somehow outside the social and political terms that apply to others.” The film, itself, becomes an act of tourism itself that superficially only grasps the complex historical and psychological dimensions of its African settings with writer/director Felipe Barbosa framing his main character’s ruder actions as minor, even charming offenses.

The film’s conflicted treatment of Gabriel probably is due to the character being based on the actual travels of Barbosa’s friend of the same name, who died in 2009 while scaling Mount Mulanje in Malawi. “Gabriel and the Mountain” is more of a reverent eulogy than a sober reflection on its main character’s flawed outlook. Barbosa keeps any real understanding of Gabriel’s psychology away from the viewer.

Barbosa frames Gabriel’s ruder actions as minor, even charming offenses. While on a bus to Zambia, Gabriel becomes annoyed with the music playing on the vehicle’s speakers and shouts that “Not even Jesus would like this song,” before demanding that the bus be stopped so that he can get off. Barbosa seems to think that the mere recognition of Gabriel as a narcissist sufficiently complicates the character’s sense of entitlement. Gabriel’s girlfriend, Cristiana, pushes back against her partner’s more specious proclamations but such moments are but flimsy attempts on the film’s part to deal with his mentality.

On one level, the film can be classified as a journey of discovery, but what deepens interest is the way Barbosa constantly asks the viewer to question what it means to travel. Gabriel hates the idea that he’s a tourist and insists on the more egalitarian word “traveler.” He believes he can approach the people he encounters on their own level, yet the truth not quite so. He’s white, he goes to touristy places, he carries the Lonely Planet guide to Africa, and he cannot blend. He believes he can “delve into the soul of Africa,” but he’ll always have one foot elsewhere, no matter how hard he tries to convince himself otherwise.

The most immediately striking element of Gabriel’s personality is his sense of urgency, as his outsize appetite matches his impatience to achieve his goals. He’s set the year aside to travel the world, first in Asia and now Africa, before heading to the Ph.D. program. The film picks him up in Kenya, 70 days before his death, staying with a local family (which later named their son for him). After climbing Kilimanjaro in impressive time, he heads to Dar Es Salaam to meet girlfriend Cristina (Caroline Abras), who’s joining him following a conference in South Africa.

Barbosa and his actors do a beautiful job of investing audience emotions in the couple’s relationship. He’s self-centered and hands-on, she’s moody and theoretical, but their pleasure in each other’s company is affectionately realized.

The undercurrent of first- (or second-) world privilege is partly oblivious to its sense of entitlement and is an important element here, along with questions about whether we ever cast off our gift, really — to the memory of a friend who died much too young.



Sincere Sexploitation

Amos Lassen

Joseph W. Sarno is “one of the true pioneers if celluloid erotica and one of sexploitation’s most sincere and critically acclaimed stylists”. This is a case where smut is not smut but erotica that is tastefully done and with a story. Film Movement is one of the leading movie release companies and they would not release this if it were considered to be filth.

This October, these celluloid classics  “CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE”, “SIN IN THE SUBURBS” and “WARM NIGHTS HOT PLEASURES” make their Blu-ray Debut in a collection featuring new 2K theatrical masters and exclusive bonus features. 

American film director and screenwriter Joseph W. Sarno’s (1921-2010) prolific career spans the evolution of the genre. “One of the true pioneers of celluloid erotica [1],” he was also dubbed the “Chekov of soft-core” by The Village Voice.  Film Movement Classics has partnered with Film Media and Something Weird to debut three new Sarno classics, remastered in HD and on Blu-ray for the very first time with the third installment in the Joseph W. Sarno Retrospect Series with CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE & SIN IN THE SUBURBS & WARM NIGHTS HOT PLEASURES. Packaged together for the first time, this exclusive collection featuring specially produced extras, audio commentary and more and will be available for cineastes everywhere on both Blu-ray ($39.95srp) and DVD ($29.95srp).

Sarno first explored the dark side of the American dream in his 1964 drama SIN IN THE SUBURBS, hailed by DVD Drive-In as “a ground-breaking masterpiece.” 10 years later, his return to this theme resulted in one of the most critically and commercially successful films of his career, CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE. Presented with these two major works is Sarno’s immediate follow-up to SIN IN THE SUBURBS, WARM NIGHTS HOT PLEASURES.


  • Sin in the Suburbs — Commentary by Tim Lucas, Commentary by Joe and Peggy Sarno, Michael Vraney and Frank Henenlotter
  • Confessions of a Young American Housewife — Commentary by Tim Lucas, Mini-commentary by Joe Sarno, Deleted scenes