women he's undressed poster

“Women He’s Undressed”

Orry-Kelly, Costume Designer

Amos Lassen

“Women He’s Undressed” is Gillian Armstrong’s documentary about three-time Academy Award Winning Costume Designer, Australian born Orry-Kelly. A very young Orry George Kelly left Australia for the US in the 1920’s to find fame and fortune on Broadway. His career as a chorus boy did not last and after having dropped too many female dancers on stage, he decided it was time to retire. He got a job painting murals in a nightclub and this led to him designing costumes on Broadway. His boyfriend,

Archie Leech wasn’t having much luck as an actor and was trying to get cast based upon his good looks. In the 30s, Kelly moved to Hollywood and eventually became the head costume designer at Warner Studios where he stayed until 1944 having been expected to work on as many as 50 movies each year. The stars loved and he gathered raves in his work from the actresses he created costumes for.

At about the same time, his boyfriend also found some success now as Hollywood took to his handsome good looks and he changed his name to Cary Grant, but the two men soon split and went their separate ways.  Orry-Kelly added the hyphen to his name to make himself sounded more glamorous and grand and he was very open about his sexuality and was in fact quite brazen about it, whereas Grant lived ‘sort of’ in the closet.  He lived with actor Randolph Scott for a decade and even when the studios made Grant marry (for the first of three times) he simply moved his bride into the house he shared with Scott.


What makes this documentary unique is that it is as much about the man as it is about his career. We see Orry-Kelly as a man with a zest for life. After leaving Warner, he did some of his best work as he worked at Universal, RKO, 20th Century Fox, and MGM studios. He won three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design—“An American in Paris:, “Les Girls” and “Some Like It Hot” and was nominated for a fourth for “Gypsy”. Many of the movies (285 of them)54 that he designed costumes for went on to become classics of American cinema. He designed for all the great actresses of the day, including Bette Davis, Kay Francis, Olivia de Havilland, Katharine Hepburn, Dolores del Río, Ava Gardner, Ann Sheridan, Barbara Stanwyck, and Merle Oberon and he created the clothing for two actors, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis for their cross-dressing scenes. While he loved excess in his personal life, his costumes were filled with color but he did not use ruffles or frills. For him, less was more.

The film has interviews with fashion icons Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury, June Dally-Watkins , costume designers Catherine Martin, Ann Roth, Kym Barrett, Michael Wilkinson, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, Hollywood identities and historians including director/producer Eric Sherman, Hollywood fixer Scotty Bowers, Leonard Maltin, David Chierichetti, Marc Eliot, William J Mann, Jean Mathison, Larry McQueen and Barbara Warner Howard (daughter of Ann & Jack Warner).

In “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944) Orrie-Kelly worked with Cary Grant for the first time. The two men had shared an intimate relationship some years earlier lasting 9 years. The details of this relationship forms a large part of the narrative. We get a keen sense of the history of the times and the Studio’s objectives to create the beautiful American Dream but that dream clearly did not include homosexuality.

We see a bit about his relationships with Jack and Ann Warner, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and hear from a huge range of talents including June Dally-Watkins, Ann Roth, director Eric Sherman and others. The film is filled with energy, passion and a keen sense of this non-conformist rebel and artist, who lived his life according to his own code of integrity.

Director Armstrong takes the concept of Kelly’s identity a step further by having part of the documentary made up of actors playing Kelly, his family and famous Hollywood friends, reading notes and book excerpts throughout.

Darren Gilshenan plays Kelly who’s presented as putting on a one-man show of sorts, rowing a rowboat in the afterlife. Since Kelly isn’t actually seen in photos or footage until the final reels, Gilshenan becomes synonymous with the role, making Kelly his own.

Several famous cases of openly gay actors are mentioned, particularly silent star William Haines who, when talkies took over, was forced out of Hollywood for refusing to date women. Other costume designers, like the famous Adrian, married women and lived false lives of domesticity. Kelly refused to date, and because he was so beloved the studios allowed him to be who he was, so long as he didn’t flaunt it. With Kelly’s personal life the film gets particularly interesting.

‘Saving Sophie” by Ronald H. Balson— Protecting his Daughter


Balson, Ronald H. “Saving Sophie: A Novel”, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015.

Protecting His Daughter

Amos Lassen

Jack Sommers was just a regular kind of guy; an ordinary Jewish accountant in Chicago but then his wife died and his daughter was kidnapped. He then became the main suspect in an $88 million dollar embezzlement case. Jack was forced to run in order to get away from the feds so that he could save his daughter, Sophie. It seemed that Sophie’s maternal grandmother, a suspected Palestinian terrorist, had her.

Jack was a partner with the prestigious Chicago law firm Jenkins & Fairchild when he married concert pianist Alina– against the wishes of her father, Arif al-Zahani, a prominent Palestinian physician. After they marry and have a daughter, Sophie, his wife died from a sudden illness. Sophie’s grandparents were never a part of her life but after their daughter died, they fought for sole custody of Sophie. They lost that but were granted visitation rights. Then Sophie disappeared.

Jack Sommers was involved in a deal with one of his clients, and diverted $88 million of funds, while escaping under the radar to Hawaii. Now, he is on the run—from the feds and at the same time in a race against time to rescue his daughter.
Jack had intended that the money would be used to rescue Sophie; however Sophie’s grandfather and others intended that the money to be used to finance a violent terrorist attack. Sommers tried to evade Federal officials as he attempted to regain Sophie but became trapped in a secret plan to stop the terrorist attack with daughter becoming a secondary concern of the pursuers.

With the help of investigative team of Private Detective Liam and his girlfriend Catherine, a lawyer and a new CIA operative, a secret mission is launched to not only rescue Sophie but also to thwart a major terrorist attack in Hebron. But will being caught in the crossfire of the Palestine-Israeli conflict keep their team from accomplishing the task at hand, or can they overcome the odds and save countless lives, including their own?

Author Balson has done excellent research to write this book and we are immediately aware of his knowledge about the conflict of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian ideals that are the backbone of his story. He explains them in a secular manner that gives a different perspective on the conflict in the Middle East. He also does this by having the sides speak for themselves. The characters are excellently drawn and we see that the motives are clear. We see Jack Sommers as weak-willed but a man who developed into the foolhardy father who do anything to get his daughter back. Sophie’s grandfather seemed to be too brutal and religiously strict to have any interest in Sophie’s well being yet he eventually revealed his own conflicts although his reign of terror Sophie shows strength of will and fierce stubbornness that surpass even those of her maniacal grandfather, while still retaining her vulnerability and dependence on her teddy bear. She is brave and lovable in her captive situation.

Sommers questions his faith and how God would take his wife, and destroy his family? Does God have a grand plan? His daughter has been stolen, and he has been reduced to a common thief. He has lost his self-respect and everything that was once dear to his heart.This is a tale of intrigue and international terrorism which had to be thwarted at all costs. We read about the history of Israel and the Middle East and the author gives a brief but full explanation of the history of the Ottoman Empire as well. The book takes place in Chicago, Hawaii, and the Israel/Palestine area of the Mid-East.


“FIRE SONG”— Looking at the Future

fire song poster1

“Fire Song”

Looking at the Future

Amos Lassen

Shane (Andrew Martin) is a gay Anishnabe teenager in Northern Ontario, who is struggling to support his family in the aftermath of his sister’s suicide. If he does not succeed, he will be forced to choose between his family’s home and his own future.

fire song 1

There is a heavy sense of desperation in Adam Garnet Jones’ first film “Fire Song”. The threat of a potentially hopeless future haunts Shane. While some have resolved to accept their fate in the Northern Ontario aboriginal community, Shane is determined to get out at all costs. He is set to go to university in Toronto in the fall but plans take an unexpected detour when his sister commits suicide.

fire song2

Shane takes care of his depressed mother Jackie (Jennifer Podemeski), and raise money for school but he soon finds that the is being closed in as he does so. It is even more difficult in that Shane is gay within a culture where the elders believe “too much male energy is not good.”

Shane is forced to meet with his boyfriend David (Harely Legrade) secretly, while stringing along an unknowing girlfriend, Tara (Mary Galloway), for appearances sake, and this strengthens his hopes for the freedom of the big city. These visions of a better future blind him and he is filled with guilt over his sister’s passing. He feels that he has little control over his life and he makes reckless decisions that will have reverberations throughout the entire community.

fire song3

“Fire Song” looks at the issues of homophobia, suicide, rape, drugs, small town life, and cultural values. As we watch, we identify with what the characters are going through even when not seeing them on the screen and we are very aware thatmost of the characters, in their own way, have a desire to live lives that go beyond and transcend the way they live now.

There is a lot of sorrow in this complex portrait of the adversities facing modern aboriginal youth. This is a society where suicide and alcohol are often the preferred choices to numb the pain of life. Yet as bleak as life may seem for the characters, the film never loses its sense of optimism. We get the idea that it is possible through education, acceptance and respect, the traditional and modern values to be at peace together. For this to happen, a balance must be found.

fire song4

Garnet Jones does a fine job juggling the different characters and plot strands as they touch Shane’s life in different ways. Basically, this is a familiar coming-of-age drama but from an Aboriginal point of view. We go into the complexities of Shane’s decision to move away along with coming to terms with his homosexuality and the film shows the grim reality of Shane’s situation at home and on the reservation. The film looks at the very real crisis of suicide among Aboriginal youth in Canada by presenting it as an all-too-familiar part of this community.


no asylum

“No Asylum: The Untold Chapter of Anne Frank’s Story”

The Rest of the Story

Amos Lassen


As recently as 2011 it was reported in New York that hate crimes had risen by as much as 14% and the greatest number of victims were Jews. For this reason we must keep alert and aware of what happened in the past in order to make sure that it never happens again. In “No Asylum” we see how prejudice, when mandated by the state, can shape and change policy and become lethal.


 Otto Frank shows his love for his daughter, Anne, by desperately seeking visas to save their family from the Holocaust. We hear Otto’s voice through his recently discovered letters, revealing for the first time the emotional tale of how the world turned its’ back on the Frank family.


The film is a lesson that is based on the situation of Anne Frank and here we see that her father made several failed attempts to get visas for his family. The governments of the world did little, if anything to protect the Jews. We see in Otto Frank’s letters that he indeed loved his family. He brought Anne into the world and that is the greatest gift he could have given.


“No Asylum” deals with the themes of awareness of anti-Semitism awareness; Jewish history, culture and identity; human rights, and the values of democracy, religious freedom, respect for identity, and cross-cultural relations.

“DUKHTAR” (“Daughter”)— Running Away

dukhtar poster

 “DUKHTAR” (“Daughter”)

Running Away

Amos Lassen

“Dukhtar”, a film written, produced and directed by Afia Nathaniel is set in a village in Pakistan where a young mother Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz) kidnaps her ten-year old daughter Zainab (Saleha Aref) to save her from a child marriage. She is then pursued by her husband’s family and the groom’s henchmen but they manage to escape onto the open mountainous highway. Allah, seeking help, manages to convince a reluctant Sohail, (Mohib Mirza) a very cynical ex-Mujahid truck driver, to take them on-board. As the film moves forward, we get to see the surreal landscapes of northern mountainous Pakistan all the way to the Lahore as the deadly hunt for mother and daughter intensifies.


The film was shot in freezing conditions in the disputed area between Pakistan and India and there were some 200 extras with some very serious chase scenes on some of the roads with very high altitudes. Directed by a female with an all male crew of forty men, this is a feminist road movie.

The film was inspired by the true story of a mother from the tribal areas of Pakistan who kidnaps her two daughters and seeks a new future for them. With her ten-year-old daughter faced with marrying a man six times her age, Allah makes the near-suicidal decision to go on the run across the towering mountains of Pakistan.


Early on we see the character and relationship of Allah Rakhi and her lively little girl Zainab when she comes home from school and tries to teach her mother to read and write. The tenderness and humor they share in this role reversal shows us that their ambitions, go beyond a traditional woman’s role in remote rural Pakistan and the feudal society in which they are chattel. The trouble starts because of a long-standing tribal blood feud which has caused the loss of many men. As chief of their tribe, Allah’s older husband Daulat (Asif Khan) agrees to make peace by offering his daughter Zainab in marriage to his powerful, cruel rival Tor Gul (Abdullah Jaan.) The girl is so innocent she thinks babies are made by kissing, and her mother, who was married off to an elderly man at 15, is very worried. Daulat opens the bedroom door one day and they are gone.


The first part of their flight is filmed like a nightmare as they attempt to get out of the village while Daulat’s and Tor Gul’s armed men hunt them. Rather alarmingly, their bright-colored clothes stand out against the neutral stone dwellings, but that’s nothing compared to the effect of a wildly decorated two-story truck that appears on the road in front of them. The young driver Sohail, could be their ticket to freedom, but not before a struggle with his conscience that turns him around in the viewer’s eye. We see a delicate back-and-forth of half-said feelings with profound implications. Many narrow escapes later, these culminate in a legend Sohail passionately tells Allah Rakhi about two star-crossed lovers who turn into rivers, forever blending together in the mountains.   

The name, Allah Rakhi, means “God protects” and we really see that here. With her attentive face and mobile eyes, Mumtaz gives us a quiet woman with dignity and repressed emotion. Little Aref, as the titular daughter, is a more exuberant version of her in miniature.


Looking back in time at Allah, we see that she is accustomed to the only life she’s ever known. She was expected to be a young mother and wife and to live l in a small mountain village and she tries to channel all her unfilled hopes into her playful ten-year-old daughter. Zainab has no idea how her voice will be terribly silenced once she becomes someone’s property against her will but for now she enjoys spending time with her mother and teaching her English. Her distant father Daulat Khan (Asif Khan) is much more concerned with finding a solution for an ongoing tribal dispute and uses her as a pawn. When Allah runs off with her without a plan, her only objective is to safeguard her innocence and to offer her the one gift she was never given: a choice.


As expected, both Tor Gul’s and Daulat Khan’s henchmen are sent to find them at any cost. Their mission is to bring Zainab back alive regardless of what happens to her mother. Through her nerve-racking journey Allah discovers what it means to be treated as whole and meaningful person and not just a silent spectator at the mercy of another’s wishes. The film concentrates on exploring he broken bond between mothers and daughters due to an ideology in which their contributions are not appreciated and alienation is the deadliest weapon.

Allah Rakhi has not been allowed to see her mother ever since she got married, and the same was to be expected for Zainab’s life. Cut off from their own, women are reduced to be perpetual strangers in the homes of the men that don’t known beyond their role as a commodity. Samiya Mumtaz  gives a topnotch performance as Allah. She is a woman driven by her love for her daughter, which allows her to confront the inherent fear implanted in her. The film centers on the lack of freedom that women experience not only in Pakistan but in numerous traditional societies, yet, Afia Nathaniel manages to showcase her homeland’s beauty and makes it clear that this is not a story about gender confrontation, but about an securing and equal opportunity to find fulfillment.


“Dukhtar” is a beautiful film that was forged out the director’s desire to craft a story which, though small in scope, could connect with Pakistani people on a profound level. It captures the heart of this broken bond that must be rebuilt, for mothers, for daughters, for all.

Allah and he daughter appear small and vulnerable against a harsh but beautiful landscape.. Set in the tribal areas, the future of the mother and daughter seems doomed as gun-toting tribals pursue them.

The film opens in New York on October 9 and in Los Angeles on October 16.



“Fans of the Impossible Life” by Kate Scelsa– Complicated Love and Transformative Friendships

fans of the impossible

Scelsa, Kate. “Fans of the Impossible Life”, Balzer and Bray, 2015

Complicated Love and Transformative Friendships

Amos Lassen

Mira, a student, is about to begin school at Saint Francis Prep. Her past at school has not been good and now she promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time and not like a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end and who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby. Jeremy is a painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who has put himself in self-imposed isolation after having ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting this tall, blond boy with mischief glinting in his eye. Sebby, Mira’s gay best friend, is a boy who seems to exude happiness. Even when his life in his foster home wears him down, he and Mira build a world of magic rituals and road trips, designed to fix what is not good in their lives. Soon Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world and he begins to understand the secrets that they hide “in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible”.

We follow these three teenagers through a year of growing friendship and learn of the different problems each of deals with. The story is told three perspectives and I must say that I thought about Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” as I read. We have the same elements of friendship and the failure of friendship and we quickly love the characters.

Sebby, Mira and Jeremy share their dynamics which are not always healthy but they are adolescents who learn for themselves. Mira suffered with and had little support from her parents. Sebby also had a lack of support, and even his foster mother didn’t seem to care much about him, and Jeremy had been the victim of bullying and as a result he had no friends at all.

Jeremy has two fathers but has a hard time coming out to them and this is a really interesting aspect of the book showing us that regardless of sexuality, parents are parents and sometimes they are difficult to talk to. When Jeremy became friends with the other two, he felt like he finally had someone to rely on.

Writer Kate Scelsa has given creates us an unforgettable cast of characters that reflect queer society. The three friends face harsh realities as they depend upon each other for support.

“THE MAN IN THE WALL”— A Missing Person

the man poster

“The Man in the Wall”

A Missing Person

Amos Lassen

Evgeny Roman’s “The Man in the Wall” is an independent thriller. One night, Rami takes his dog on a walk and does not return. He just disappeared. His wife, Shir, is clueless as to his whereabouts. Different people come in and out of the apartment during that night – each for their own reasons. Could one of them hold the key to the mystery? As she listens to these people, we slowly learn about the complexities of her relationship with her husband. The film takes place over the course of one night and consists of 12 scenes, all taking place in one apartment, each in a one-shot and it works. We watch and stay engaged throughout the night as the story unfolds beautifully with tension reminiscent of Hitchcock.

the man in the wall

When a man disappears in Israel, one can only think for a moment that he was kidnapped for political reasons. However, this film doesn’t go there. It keeps the tension about the woman and her husband and although many elements of the film are very specifically Israeli, the movie is universal and does not rely on Israel’s political specifics for drama. It is a tense, excellently paced psychological drama with fleshed out characters that seem pulled on-screen directly from life itself. Set during one rainy night in an apartment in Tel Aviv, Rami, Shir’s husband (Gilad Kahana) suddenly disappears from the flat after taking the dog for a walk, leaving his wife to question his whereabouts through an uneasy night. The camera never moves even a step away from the apartment in which the drama unfolds, cinematically confining Shir (Tamar Alkan) and her troubles to its four walls (plus a balcony). We see that the film has more to do with Rami and Shir’s troubled relationship itself than with the disappearance.

the man2

The night hours passing since Rami’s disappearance are marked by interposed logos of clock hands, dividing the film into twelve scenes that the writer/director purportedly wrote in twelve consecutive days. They are marked by visits that Shir randomly receives at likely and even unlikely hours, though generally sitting up late through the night alone. Some of the visitors may not be said to exist in the same sense than the others, though. The police and the couple’s friends come over, some of them close to both Rami and Shir, others only to Rami, still others perhaps are just in Shir’s mind… The truth gradually and the narration tries to deceive us at every point by being ambiguous and vague. Shir and the other characters tell or half-truths and stories that are completely biased.

the man3

Each of the short sequences frustrates as well as delights with its brilliantly executed atmosphere of dead ends, of hinting but seldom explaining the truth, and finally, by seemingly effortless and naturally following conclusions of scenes in absurdly comical moments. The true nature of Shir and Rami’s relationship unfolds gradually as well, deceivingly and slowly, with one final twist at the end.

We become aware of feelings of jealousy, guilt, fear, anger and suspicion. The fact that it all happens in a single apartment, is soon forgotten when things get moving. The variety of visitors also takes care that there are no boring moments during the 92 minutes running time this movie takes. In the finale when the plot unravels, all the things happening before fall in place, in other words a well-constructed and well-written script. The structure of the film depends on distinct scenes each time someone enters/exits the apartment.


“HOLDING THE MAN”— Fifteen Years

holding the man

“Holding the Man”

Fifteen Years

Amos Lassen

John was the captain of the football team and Tim was an aspiring actor playing a minor part in “Romeo and Juliet” when they fell in love on high school. Their romance endured for 15 years and they were able to laugh in the face of everything— the separations, the discrimination, the temptations, the jealousies and the losses. But there was one problem, a problem that love can’t solve and it tried to destroy them. Falling in love meant that they had to defy their parents and Catholic schooling. “Holding the Man” is an intrinsically Australian film yet it is unlike any other Australian film. It was made by a team of artists who are very brave and dedicated and who were not willing to compromise.


We first meet Tim when he was rehearsing a production of “Romeo and Juliet”. He was having trouble finding the right emotion for the scene when he finds Juliet dead and it was not until he imagined he John on the slab. At university the boys get in fights with campus bigots, but for the most part director Neil Armfield’s is neither an indignant film nor an evangelizing one, and devoid of easy villains. A priest reads a love letter from Tim to John and summons the pair to his office, but he’s no scathing puritan: “We’ve seen this sort of thing before,” he says. Tim’s parents, played by Kerry Fox and Guy Pearce with a Don Johnson wig, are loving but aggrieved, sure that their son will end up living a very lonely life if he doesn’t shrug John off as a childish phase. While John’s parents (Camilla Ah Kin and Anthony LaPaglia) are initially grateful to Tim for bringing their boy out of his shell, then plainly shocked. Tim gets accepted to the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, where Geoffrey Rush shows up as a stuffed shirt teaching the rudiments.



When the AIDS crisis hit Australia in the 1980s, it struck with alarming ferocity at the gay community. In its wake, many lives were lost, and homophobia in Australia skyrocketed. Yet out of the ashes emerged an extraordinary memoir by Tim Conigrave, a document of the AIDS crisis in Sydney and a testament to Tim’s 15-year relationship with John Caleo. Since 1995, ‘Holding the Man’ has become one of the most important books published in this country, inspiring and moving whole generations regardless of sexuality, gender or nationality. It’s impossibly beautiful, wondrously funny and incredibly devastating. I remember reading it when it first came out and weeping openly as I read. Now, after its highly successful stage adaptation, Tim and John’s story has finally made it to film in the hands of acclaimed theatre director Neil Armfield and screenwriter Tommy Murphy.


When AIDS begins to wipe out the gay community, both Tim and John find themselves at its mercy as it threatens to claim both of them. “Holding the Man” ends in devastation, but the first two thirds are still funny, sexy and highly energetic, and Armfield directs the film in which he revels in the light moments so that he can give the moments of darkness the weight they need. Perhaps the most exhilarating thing about ‘Holding the Man’ is that, as well as a great adaptation, it’s also just a great film. There are flaws but not many and when the film is right-on that is where it stays. The performances from Corr and Stott are excellent all around. The supporting cast is also fantastic, with pretty much every great Australian actor around popping in for a cameo. Geoffrey Rush, Brian Lipson, Luke Mullins, Julie Forsyth, Sarah Snook, Mitchell Butel and so many others lend their talents to the film.

“FROM AFAR”— Gay Film Is A Winner at The Venice Film Festival

from afar poster

“From Afar”

Gay Film Is A Winner at The Venice Film Festival

Amos Lassen

The Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion award is one of the most prestigious prizes in the movie world, and the Golden Lion for 2015 prize has been awarded to the gay-themed film, “From Afar” (“Desde Allá”) from Venezuelan filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas.


The film is about Armando, a 50-year-old gay man, who seeks out younger men in Caracas and pays them just for company. He meets Elder, a 17-year-old boy who is also the leader of a criminal gang. It takes a while but a romantic relationship develops between the two and this is set against the economic and social crisis that’s shaken Venezuela, as well as the violence that has stemmed from that. The film also looks at the desperation and alienation that exists in Venezuela today. Armando (Alfredo Castro) is a well-off small businessman with a false teeth business and he regularly cruises the streets of Caracas for young street lads to come to his house and disrobe. Armando likes partial nudity and the sex act to be performed solo and at a distance– from afar. We learn through a conversation with his sister that Armando’s preferences come from his hatred of human contact that is based on a trauma he suffered as a young child. Armando is a soft-spoken man but when he learns that his father has returned to his city, we see him unleash fury—an emotion he tries to keep hidden. Armando’s cruising involves a bit of danger. When he picks up street thug Elder (Luis Silva), the boy wastes no time in knocking out Armando and stealing his money. Because of his own feelings of self-loathing and masochism, Armando goes looking for the boy. Elder has already put a down payment on a wrecked car which he hopes to repair, and so when his Armando comes around again, Elder is tempted by the cash he will make. Elder is at war with his girlfriend’s brothers and lives a precarious existence between the motor shop where he works and the street corner where he hangs with his gang.

from afar2

Then when Elder is beat up, Armando takes him in and takes care of him. This is the beginning of a relationship and Elder learns that he has much in common with Armando who has lived his entire life from afar. His relationship with his family seems to be one of silence and he does not have any friends. He works making dentures, a profession requiring little human contact. Even his vice isn’t much of one— he likes men, but he doesn’t want to be with them. Masturbating with an attractive and only partially unclothed guy is enough for him. The film looks at what happens to him when he is forced into an intimate relationship.

from afar4

From what we see here, it seems that gay life in Venezuela certainly is no picnic. Homosexuality destroys families and friendships and leaves one open to insults and assault. Armando deals with this every time he pays someone to come back to his house. He doesn’t want to touch anyone other than himself. He simply asks that they remove their top, pull their trousers down slightly and stand facing the other direction. When he’s finished, he pays them handsomely. Elder did not take kindly to this and he beat Armando up and stole his wallet. The usual reaction to this would be revenge but Armando finds himself obsessed and he keeps thinking about Elder and begins following him around town. On another try, he lost money but was not beaten. His wallet was returned to him but it was empty. Perhaps this is a suggestion that there is something coming between the two men. I found it hard to understand how Elder so quickly enters Armando’s life.

from afar5

We see Armando’s struggle—first he looks for Elder and then deals with the attention that starts to come his way. We see beautiful moments of unspoken intimacy, in this film that ultimately struggles to connect. We hear and see the urban noise of Caracas— the traffic, latent violence and street noise contrast with the stuffy browns of Armando’s well-furnished but lifeless apartment. Only once in a while do we see color. Filmmaker Vigas infuses his film with an exceedingly deliberate pace that works. The slow atmosphere ensures that both protagonists become almost extraordinarily well developed and this opens the door for the narrative that follows.


This film tells a moving if deeply unpleasant story that can put many people off but it also delivers an incisive, poignant, surgically precise character study. The screenplay lets a highly unconventional relationship to run its course. The two main characters are anything but sanitized, amply demonstrating their least appealing qualities. We simply see how out of an animalistic, mutually exploitative arrangement something approaching tenderness develops and this then brings out reactions in both of them as subtle as they are devastating. Both leads are excellent. Castro shines in his complex portrayal of someone harboring a secret. He is restrained, alert and hidden by an exterior of prudence and indifference but desperate. He repulses, captivates and mystifies. Silva brings an unpolished explosiveness to the picture, which plays off Castro’s calculated placidity tremendously.


“From Afar” beautifully shows the mechanisms of desire in what begins as an almost-love story that ends up something tragically different.

“The Pawnbroker: A Novel”— Remembering

the pawnbroker

Wallant, Edward L. “The Pawnbroker: A Novel” (with a new foreword by Dara Horn), Fig Tree Books Reprint, 2015.


Amos Lassen

We have heard so much about the Holocaust that it seems that we have been inundated with information to the point that we just do not want to hear anymore about it. It takes work to think about that dark time in the history of the world because it means we must leave the comfort of the here and now and go back to a time that we so terrible that it is hard to think about it. Those who survived the Holocaust live their memories everyday and “The Pawnbroker” concentrates on one of those survivors, Sol Nazerman.

Sol is a 45-year-old pawnbroker who survived Bergen-Belsen where he lost his wife and children. Now he runs a pawnshop…or, at least he wants others to believe it is a pawnshop. It is really a front for a gangster who pays Sol a nice salary to maintain the shop. Things seem to be okay for Sol when he is awake— it is when he sleeps that he is haunted by what he saw and heard in the camp. Author Wallant successfully dramatizes the aftereffects of the Holocaust and explores the shaky relationships between Jews and other minority groups in this country. What is so fascinating about this book is that it is as powerful today as it was when it was first published in 1961. Soon after it was published it sold half-a-million copies but sadly its author died a year later at the young age of 36. We see Sol as numb, a man who is so grieved that he could not mourn his wife and his son and daughter. His reality became what he could see, smell and hear. He survived because he commemorated nothing. Sol’s pawnshop is a money laundering operation for Murillo, a Sicilian gangster. Sol has one employee, Jesus Ortiz who really believes the shop turns a profit and he watches its operations closely. He wants to better himself and become a businessman and so he watches what Sol has to teach him about running a business. Sol has a sister, Bertha in his life and a mistress, Tessie who is the daughter of another survivor.

Then there is Marilyn, a WASP social worker who is socially interested in Sol and there is George Smith, a black man who is a pedophile but has not acted on it (or at least as far as we know). George wants to engage in philosophical discussions with Sol (who had been a professor at Cracow University before the Nazis ruined his life).

When “The Pawnbroker” was published in 1961 there has been not much written about the twentieth century’s most notorious mass murder. Today still, the book remains real. It has no gimmicks or hysteria that we see in what is being written today about the Holocaust— it is straightforward and succinct giving us a solid story and a tale that sobers us. Even though Sol has survived the brutalities of the Nazis, we read this as the story of a man dealing with the world that was filled with nihilism. Sol is forced to deal with some very undeserving people and we do not read of many good people here. We have no sympathy for the majority of the characters yet we are totally rooting for Sol even with his rough and hard personality and the fact that he demands being separate and detached from the rest of the world. We want to be able to reclaim who he is and his soul.

The foreword by Dara Horn did nothing for me. “The Pawnbroker” is strong enough to stand on its own and its no one to present it. I saw the foreword as gratuitous and unnecessary. There will be those who will compare the book to Sidney Lumet’s filmed version of it and it is impossible for me to think of anyone else playing Sol than Rod Steiger and his brilliant performance. We see the Holocaust as being told the story of one life with all of its horrors and we know that Sol was not the only one and that he represents many others who suffered his fate. By setting the book in Harlem, we get many characters that pass through and it is fascinating to consider how they react to what they both know and do not know. This is a very dark read about man’s inhumanity to man. Sentimentality is thrown out of the window as we read of human suffering. We read one perspective as a death camp survivor and the dehumanization he used to cope with survivor guilt. We read about stereotypes and offensive racial terms but this is all there to show us who Sol is. He is filled with hate as a result of what he experienced in the Holocaust and we read of him tying to remove himself as far away as possible from what he endured. Interestingly enough, we feel his anger and his hatred and we cry at the fact that he was powerless to do anything about what he saw.

He did not have the ability to cope with his terrible sufferings and he is so pained and bitter that he is unable to get close to anyone. He is unable to share his feelings with anyone else and he remains a prisoner to his own suffering. He cannot share his feelings with others and becomes locked in an internal cycle of suffering, avoidance, misery, and lack of empathy for the suffering of others. Once more, this is a stunning and powerful read that is now available to everyone and especially to those who care about others.