Film Reviews by Genre: POLITICAL-ISH
4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS
Anamaria Marinca, Vlad Ivanov, Laura Vasiliu
1980’s Romania is still under the veil of the Communist regime. A college student sets out to help roommate have an illegal abortion. The state does not allow legal abortions so there is no alternative to renting a hotel room and hiring an abortionist. Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) is charged with the responsibility of being best friend while Gabita will undergo the dangerous procedure. Otilia is a natural survivor and understands the indifference of the word. Gabita assumes there will always be someone to fight her battles.
The story exposes the end of the stagnant culture of late ’80’s Romania where a political aristocracy is balanced against a vindictive petty bureaucracy. They deserve each other. In a few years all of this will be swept away. But for this time, this moment where a young college student needs and abortion: there is no court of values to hear her.
This is not Gabita’s story, even though it is her pregnancy. It is about Otilia. It is her awakening, just like the country will awake a few years later. In the space of the hours leading up to and after the abortion she will understand there is no place for her. Not with her roommate, nor her fiancee, nor in the system that presses down her every effort to help a friend. In the end, we know she will walk away from everyone she has known.
This is also a film that you would have thought the right-to-lifers would have embraced as their own. No one who sees it can argue for abortion, especially with the site of the fetus sitting on the bathroom floor. Strange that it was not raised on the shoulders of these people, since there has never been, to my knowledge, any statement as powerful for their cause then this one.
Oshri Cohen, Eli Eltonyo, Italy Tiran, Ohad Knoller
Beaufort is a ghost story without ghosts. This ancient mountain fortress, straddling a strategic valley in southern Lebanon once sheltered the Crusaders. Now Israeli soldiers huddle within its cold walls; about to be the next ghosts of the fort’s history.
Armies have come and gone, each using fortress Beaufort for the same purpose: to block movements of armies below. The Crusades are an unlikely metaphor for the last withdrawal of IDF (Israeli Defense Force) troops at the close of the Israel’s Lebanon adventure in 2000. But the grim pile of stones these men are leaving has a history of a thousand years before Israel and Hezbollah took up positions.
Liraz (Oshri Cohen) commands his unit of bored, frightened, and brave soldiers waiting out the days and hoping they are not the last to be killed by roadside bombs or daily rocket attacks. Each day his men dive for cover, each night they run for their lives at the real or imagined sounds of the enemy crawling up beyond the walls.
Why they are here, why they were ever here? This is the question the film asks. Like Waltz with Bashir (MovieWithMe), Beaufort looks at the Israeli incursions into Lebanon as an exercise in nihilism. What good came of it, what good can come of it? The politics of conquest always way the heaviest on the conqueror; momentary solutions are rarely history’s solution.
If you make war on Hezbollah to control the politics of Lebanon, what is the message to Hamas in Gaza? And if you build a wall around the West Bank of Palestine to shut out suicide bombers, does it shut in hate? Like the French in World War One, the Israelis seem to build one Maginot Line after another, and each fails before the concrete is dry.
All the men defending Beaufort are young; all yearn for home. All have long since given up hope of understanding the events that are killing them. In the last scene, the commander of Beaufort, now safely back behind the gate that separates Lebanon from his Israel, kneels on the ground and spreads his arms. He is home at last. But then, what makes it home? The gate?
The release from the nightmare of Beaufort? Or is the last scene only the first of another story now being told that includes the youth uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and Iran? And when will it be Israel’s time to try another turn towards its enemies, or continue building the country into its own Beaufort, stone by stone?
Ulrich Thomsen, Connie Nielsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas (see usa cast in review)
Make and remake: two verisons.
Brothers (two versions). USA version 2009 105.min, dir: Jim Sheridan, cast: Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal).
The most amazing fact about Brothers is that it was made twice. Once might have been more than enough. There is an old Hollywood story about the producer and the writer alone in the desert dying of thirst. They spot a cold clear jar of water. The writer says, ‘Shall we drink it?’ The producer says, “let's piss in it first.”
Susanne Bier’s Brothers is a modest movie about the romantic yearnings of two people when one happens to be the brother of the other’s husband. The husband has conveniently been declared dead on an Afghani war mission. But he is really being held captive and we know he will return.
It’s a good movie (which is why it is included in MovieWithMe, we only review the ones we like). But it is plot driven rather than character driven. Things have to happen to push it forward, and the audience knows where it is headed. Plot driven movies are like building a fence around the property and thinking what kind of house you will put in the middle.
Taking this modest house and remodeling it so Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Natalie Portman can live in it ruins the architecture. To begin with, Tobey Maguire has no sex appeal. The Muppet of Spiderman is not a leading man. Natalie Portman has some heat with Jake Gyllenhaal, so did she marry Tobey?
Jim Sheridan is a very talented director, up there with Susanne Bier in all respects except one: he’s working from a script that has been remodeled like the house to suit the new star tenants. No subtlety is allowed. Many of the scenes are exactly alike, but the remake doesn’t play like the original. When the military messengers come to inform the wife that her husband is dead, Susanne Bier gets to do it almost without dialogue.
Jim Sheridan’s version is more concerned with the two cute, precocious little girls who open the door for the soldiers. Everybody has to talk and explain. I guess the producers wanted to make sure they milked every emotion from wife to children. Did I say milk? I started this review talking about a joke with water. Choose your liquid but don’t drink the remake. Somebody has pissed in it.
uncredited except for actual people
Barbara Lombardo, Susana Campos
You are 15 (but actually 16), when a judge takes you away from your parents, who are not your parents, and sends you to live with the grandmother you have never met.
There have been many films about ” the disappeared” in Argentina. From 1976 to 1983, the military dictatorship waged a campaign of terror against any suspected dissident. People were taken from their beds in the middle of the night and thrown into secret prisons to be tortured and killed. One of the best films, and earliest, was The Official Story (1985). In The Official Story, a couple adopt a baby and the wife grows suspicious and goes in search of the real mother.
The point of view of Cautiva is the opposite: that of the child. Cristina, or Sophia as her mother called her at birth, is swept up and displaced not in the era of the disappeared, but in the era of the found.
She lives a normal middle-class life with her parents until she is hustled out of school one day and taken to confront a judge who informs her that her parents are not hers, her name is not hers, and the people she must go to live with are relatives of her real parents who disappeared back in 1978.
The focus of Cautiva is unearthing the history of that period through the eyes of an innocent who is both hurt by it and changed by it. Through a girlfriend who has experienced a similar shock, Cristina learns about her mother, about the moment of her birth, and about the way she was taken, as a day old infant, from her mother; who was then killed.
Floating through the story like an evil apparition is Henry Kissinger, the American political front man who not only worked with the dirty regime in Argentina but also showed up for the 1978 world cup soccer match as an invited guest of the dictators. The film seems to imply that America has no cleaner hands than the ruling generals.
And so it may be. But the focus here is on Cristina and the very troubled life of a teenager learning she is not the child of her parents. This is both the dream and the nightmare of every child. Here Cristina’s nightmare finally becomes her salvation as she learns to live with the truth.
CHRONICLE OF AN ESCAPE
Israel Adrian Caetano
Rodrigo de la Serna, Nazareno Casero, Lautaro Delgado, Matias Marmorato
Why does torture inflame our imagination in ways love never does? Thanks to a 1976 coup by its military leaders, little Argentina is up there with Nazi Germany in the torture Olympics.
Of course the number of Argentine films about this era is nowhere near the number about Nazi Germany, but they are all first rate.
Chronicle of an Escape (also called Cronica de Una Fuga and Buenos Aires 1977) is up there with the best about this purge like The Official Story, Garage Olimpo, and The Secret in their Eyes. Based on true stories told by the victims, this film is the story of a group of young men held in an old mansion in the suburbs of Buenos Aires and subjected to endless torture until they managed a daring escape.
At one point the lead torturer remarks, “This is how the FBI started.” Not exactly correct, but the resemblance to CIA black prisons is very clear. The “Dirty War” in Argentina went on from 1976 to 1983. It was methodical, government sponsored violence and torture to rid Argentina of any leftist or Communist elements. And estimated 13000 people were killed.
A favorite way to dispatch prisoners was to drug them, put them on airplanes, and dump them from altitude into the sea (see Garage Olimpo).
So why is it we love torture movies? Because sadists are so much more imaginative than nice people. One of the coolest scenes in Chronicle of an Escape is stripping the prisoners naked, chaining them to their beds, standing on top of them while moping them with disinfectant. Who could invent stuff like this but a gifted sadist?
This kind of fun didn’t stop until the military government overstepped its limits and invaded the Falkland Islands. The British promptly responded, drove out the peasant soldiers and their portenos leaders, and reduced their army to scrap metal.
Federico Luppi, Elena Basslesteros, Paulina Galvez, Gaston Pauls
A Spanish production by a Chilean novel might not qualify as a Chilean film, but is it Spanish? I'm calling it Chilean here for the setting and sensibility. Bad trailers that feature nothing but nudity and violence, and mindless title translations into English-are no surprise. But you would think someone would have found a better English language title for this very good movie. In Spanish it is called El Lugar Donde Estuvo el Paraiso. Translation: The Place that Was Paradise.
That’s how it is listed in the IMDb database. What moron decided the English language DVD title should be Dictadura? Couldn’t anyone at Venevision come up with an English word for the title? Luckily, the story is a lot less confusing than the title.
The dictator refers to a Consul stationed somewhere in the Amazonian jungle. His daughter, Ana, who he hasn’t seen in many years, flies in for an unexpected visit and gets a taste of the politics, dirty dealing and bribes that keep her father afloat. Then she meets Julia, her father’s young mistress, and watches them make love.
This show is interrupted by Enrico, a bush pilot who has settled in as a houseguest. He’s terribly sexy, and very dangerous. As Julia warns Ana at breakfast the next morning, “stay away from Enrico, believe me, it is a bad idea.” (We later learn he deals drugs). Ana retorts, “Maybe one man in bed isn’t enough for you.”
The women are almost the same age, allowing the story turn on the conflict between them. Julia, whom the Consul picked up in a chorus line, is a survivor protecting her own turf. “Look Ana, I was raised in misery. I’m not educated like you and I’ve never traveled.” Ana is the protected city girl afraid to eat a piranha for breakfast. The film is her coming of age through seeing her father as he is, not as she imagined.
This could easily be a telenovela. But good casting and the humid lushness of the Amazon make it a woman’s adventure into another world, another life. Too bad it’s lost between two titles. IMDb should change its search to show both.
DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM
David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli, Elodie Yung
Inside District 13 life seems a lot livelier than outside. Do we want to get in more than they want to get out? The answer says where the world has gone between the 2004 movie and the 2009 sequel.
What would it be like to see the two District 13 movies twenty-five year from now? Would a police state look nicer? The stunts and fights might be retro, but the reaction to the social and political history might surprise us.
For those not up on French action movies, District B13 (2004, and on Movie With Me), and District 13 Ultimatum share a premise: crime among the Arab and black immigrants of suburban Paris has gotten so out of control the police have sealed off the borders. The residents are on their own.
In 2004 this theory of walling off war zones was in vogue. Read what the Americans did in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. By 2009 the seepage of polyglot culture into the main stream confused all boundaries. Music and models are a good place to start. Is there any part of music that can claim even a home base in one country or culture? Fashion models are exotic because they where burkas or tattoos.
So it is much tougher to see the world of Damien the cop (Cyril Raffaelli) and Leito the wily immigrant (David Belle) as polar opposites. Luc Besson hints at this in his screenplay by making the bad guys international developers, led by a company called ”Harriburton,” who want to blow up District 13 and make it into an Ivry-sur-Seine (a modern planned community east of Paris where architects and accountants live).
The message is not only that the residents of District 13 are being screwed, but also what they have is more exciting than the planned community that will replace it.
Not that District 13: Ultimatum skimps on the stunts and the chases. Besides David Belle’s amazing escape scene above the rooftops of District 13 (an homage to the first movie), this one’s got car chases through the corridors of the Prefect de Police, and to beat all: Elodie Yung as Tao, the tattooed nearly bare breasted seductress who lets down her hair and uses the imbedded blade as a bola to slice the bad guys. Wow.
Bruno Ganz, Juliane Kohler
FLAME AND CITRON
Ole Christian Madsen
Thure Lindhardt, Mads Mikkelsen, Stine Stengade, Christian Berkel, Peter Mygind
Director Ole Christian Masden is three years younger than Quentin Tarantino (1966 vs 1963), but their views on World War Two are both revisionist history. Flame and Citron is pure film noir, while Inglorious Bastards gallops in episodic bursts as an action shoot-em-up. Inglourius Flames might be the name of a great compression sequel.
But Tarentino’s resistance fighters are pure invention while Masden’s Flame and Citron actually existed. They were part of the Danish underground, the Holger Danske, that was formed to counter the happy welcome most Danes gave the German invaders. The Holger Danske kept up sabotage and assassinations until the end of the war. The Mindelunden memorial in Copenhagen is dedicated to 64 who were killed during the War, including Flame and Citron.
Masden’s film, one of the most expensive Danish movies ever, is actually quite close to actual history; at least once you remove the movie swagger of both characters and the three-day beard Mads Mikkelsen (Citron) always keeps carefully to length. I don’t think face stubble became stylish until the mid-eighties. In the era of World War Two, men felt lucky to have a clean shave each day.
As for attention to other facts: one of the most improbably sequences in the film actually happened. The real Flammen and Citron were arrested trying to penetrate German headquarters disguised as Danish police offices. It turns out on that day the Germans ordered the arrest of the entire Danish police force, whom they suspected of collusion with the resistance. The real Citron actually did try to escape over a wall and was shot (as in the movie) and was saved by the ambulance crew that took him away. The real Flame walked away in the confusion and escaped.
There was also a real resistance leader named Winther (Peter Mygind). Hoffman (Christian Berkel) was the head of the Gestapo in Denmark. There was a Ketty (Stine Stengade) but her film personality and love affairs is mostly fiction. Every film noir needs a femme fatale.
Flame was Bent Faurschou-Hviid, who had red hair and is credited with killing 22 people. Citron was Jorgen Haagen Schmith who got the name because he worked in the Copenhagen plant of the French carmaker, Citroen. (A name that has nothing to do with lemons, unless you count some of their cars).
Both men were killed by the Germans in October, 1944, just as in the movie. The real Citron, however, died with a group of resistance fighters hiding in the same safe house.
The inscription on the memorial to Citron in Copenhagen says, “For all good thoughts they cannot die before even better thoughts are sprouted of their seeds.” I guess that’s a Danish way of saying that we ought to make their deaths lead to a better world. I’m not clear we’ve done our part.
Flame and Citron is a good movie, and also a reminder that bravery is often mixed with bravado, that good deeds often turn out to be bad, and movie heroes are only in the movies. Maybe the only lesson is the one found on so many French World War Two memorial sites. “Passersby, go this way and remember.”
FOR MY FATHER
Shredi Jabarin, Hili Yalon, Shlomo Vishinsky
A too sensitive suicide bomber in Tel Aviv is to blow himself up in the Carmel market but he's delayed by a bad detonator button. The pause is long enough for several Jews to complain, "You think you've got problems?"
Dror Zahavi plays it straight in what also could be flipped into a Woody Allen comedy. Tarek (Shredi Jabarin) is dropped off by his buddies at the Tel Aviv's big Friday market. If he doesn't detonate, his handlers do it by remote cell phone control. When the button one his explosive vest doesn't work, he takes the button to an electrical store for quick repairs, assuring his handlers he's got the situation under control and they don't need to trigger the remote. Electric merchant Katz (Shlomo Vishinsky) tells him the button is caput. The good news is he can order a replacement but it won't be delivered until Sunday because of the Sabbath.
That gives him two nights and a day to wander around, save lovely Keren (Hili Yalon) from being beaten up by Hassidic toughs because she looks slutty (they want to take her back to her Orthodox family). He also gets a dose of Jewish wisdom and fatalism from Katz and friends. Meanwhile we learn Tarek was an aspiring soccer champion but turned bitter when his father was beaten up by Israeli border guards.
There is enough breast beating here to make everyone hang their head. The showdown comes Sunday in the market when Katz, who is on to Tarek's mission, tries a soul searching approach to stop him, just ahead of the police sniper team's bullets.
The hand wringing would have worked in a comedy, although I guess a comedy about suicide bombers is not exactly commercial for Jewish film festivals where films like this usually make their money. As a drama, it still has its moments and manages to delve into the mind of the terrorist. See Sontash Sivan's The Terrorist (Movie With Me) for comparison. His film is about a pregnant suicide bomber with the Tamil Tigers and takes a much more personal, complex approach.
But For My Father has its moments and makes its point. For those with the stomach to mix sociology with suicide, it is a good meal.
Carlos Padilla, Leonor Varela
Boys hide in school bathrooms while soldiers search with automatic weapons. They cry for their mothers. Their crime: they are twelve years old. Chava watches. He is eleven. The war in El Salvador started in 1980 and went on for more than a decade. It didn’t take long to exhaust the supply of recruits. The army went into the schools each year, drafting twelve-year olds.
The most devastating war films are not about the battles but the people caught in the middle. Innocent Voices is one of the best, but the least known. It should be up there with Shenandoah and Drums Along the Mohawk. But nobody ever gave this film a popularity award. El Salvador is where cleaning women come from who tape pictures of their children to their employee lockers. Nobody cares. More Americans know about Rwanda than El Salvador.
Chava, lives in a small village with his mother, sister, brother. His grandmother lives down the road. His father left for the US years before. The villagers are caught between the lines of the government army, sponsored by the US; and the guerrillas, manned by local insurgents. Chava is about to turn 12, and is living the last days of his youth before the army will snatch him. The film catches him between the playfulness of childhood with his puppy-love girlfriend; and the death, misery and destruction he sees daily all around.
The incredible performances of Chava and his mother, and the interweaving of normal childhood innocence with killing and death make this movie indelible. At one point he escapes a massacre of his friends, the guerillas, and runs for his life: only to encounter one of his former schoolmates, in the uniform of the army, manning a machine gun. Before the hour of his twelfth birthday, Chava’s mother packs him off with smugglers bound for the USA where he can join his father.
How Luis Mandoki got these performances from child actors is a mystery. I found this whole film remarkable for the authenticity, subtlety and performance. Made in Mexico, it really should be called a Mexican film, but since the story is in El Salvador, it is fitting to call it an El Salvadorian film. Probably one of the few. Who named it Innocent Voices? That’s enough to guarantee no one will see it. Why not 12-Year-Old Soldiers?
Maybe it could have attracted more than the bleeding heart audience. Turtles Can Fly, the excellent story of Kurdish children in wartime (MovieWithMe.com) is at least a curious title. The story of Innocent Voices’ financing, title, and production is probably more complex than the movie itself. How sad we can recite the horrors of the Congo and Rwanda but remain clueless about tragedies so near.
JAMES' JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe, Salim Dau, Arieh Elias
A man who believes in Utopia comes to the Utopian world and finds it is no longer the place of dreams. He is the only prophet left. James speaks Zulu and comes to Israel on a mission to see Jerusalem and report back to his little village about its wonders.
Instead he finds himself enslaved in a cruel economic system set up to exploit illegal foreigners. He learns the people of the Promised Land have lost all connection with The Holy Land.
The premise may be shocking to modern day Israelis who tend to intellectualize the faults of their country. Films like Lemon Tree (MovieWithMe) present aspects of injustice that stems from misunderstanding and political dilemmas. James’ perception is more basic.
He comes as a pilgrim looking for the place God has declared holy because it is where sin stops and truth begins. That may sound Christian but let’s not forget the Jews, “Let he who is without sin ascend this holy place.”
You’re only supposed to grab the Torah with clean hands, but that is not what James finds in his Israeli adventure.
Once he catches on, he quickly learns to make his way among the exploiters. It works for a while; until righteousness overtakes him and he can’t go on playing the game.
Israeli society can’t comprehend James and doesn’t want to try. It’s much easier to deport him. In his last moment, he catches a glimpse of the way to Jerusalem.
This is a movie that drips with anti-Israel sentiments. Jews are fast to pass this off as hate propaganda. But they should look a little deeper. The criticisms here are of a system of underclass exploitation that has distorted the founding vision of the country. The Israelis portrayed are sometimes sympathetic and always complex. Too often they are comfortable in the world they have built on the backs of others.
James is an innocent searching for the wonders of the Holy Land amid the rubble of high rise hotels and low rise schemers. The sadness of the movie is our understanding that his message will be lost, even if it is dead on right.
JIN ROH:THE WOLF BRIGADE
Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Sumi Mutoh (voices)
Mohammad Bakri, Areen Omari, Nour Zoubi
Does anyone born in the Gaza strip still have a sense of humor? There’s no shortage of movies about the Israeli point of view, but what about the Palestinians? Rashid Masharawi was born in the strip, but he’s still (at least in2008) able to find dark humor in the situation.
Abu is a taxi driver. Actually he is a judge, but there is no money to pay judges. In fact, no one wants to hear his pitch for new judicial job because his taxi is parked in a driveway blocking a delivery. He put on his best suit, took his briefcase, and rushed to the interview even though today is his daughter’s birthday and he must buy her a cake.
Cakes are more difficult to find than stinger missiles. While having coffee and waiting for his tire to be fixed, an incoming Israeli missile blows up the other end of the street, He runs to claim his taxi but it is on its way to the hospital with the wounded. At the hospital he finds his taxi but one of the survivors who needs to be driven home.
Does this sound like the Passover song, Chad Gadya? (The fire came that burned the goat that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat which my father bought for two zuzim). And on and on through the trials of everyday life in the occupied, (or disputed) territories.
Finally he does get to buy a cake and take it home for the final moment where he sings happy birthday to his daughter along with his wife. When she asks, “How as your day,” he replies, “Nothing special.”
Laila’s Birthday is dark, amusing, and informative. Who relates best to this humor? The Israeli’s, of course. Too bad they can’t all sit down together and laugh at each other’s movies.
Hiam Abbas, Ali Suliman
If you’ve seen recent Israeli movies, you know Israel has already lost the war. Art usually precedes events. A nation that walls off its enemy while reserving the right to invade at will is blind: even with night vision goggles. Anything said of the Israelis can apply to us. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Viet Nam are not yet finished. At some point our guns will not protect us.
Lemon Tree is a simple tale about a backyard fence erected in the name of security. Nobody dies, nobody goes to prison. But nobody who puts up the fence thinks of the human cost. The human cost is what new Israeli films are about. Waltz with Bashir, also on MovieWithMe.com, is a complex narrative about Israeli sanctioned slaughter. Here as well, the human cost-not only to the enemy but to the Israeli soldiers: is never factored in. Films like these speak to moral fractures that can only widen.
In Lemon Tree, the new Israeli Defense Minister decides to build his dream country house right on the border with West Bank Palestine (a little improbably, but what the hell). His neighbor across the wire is a Palestinian woman who has been tending the lemon grove that was planted by her father. The minister’s security men decide the lemon grove offers potential cover to terrorist encroachment, and must be cut down. They offer to compensate the woman, but she doesn’t want the money, she wants her land and her lemons.
A young Palestinian lawyer takes her case and argues all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court. He achieves a partial victory: they will cut down the trees near the border fence, and leave some of the ones farther away. It doesn’t help, and the person who seems to understand her plight, and her powerlessness the most; is the wife of the Defense Minister. They eye each other across the backyard border throughout the movie, yet meet only once, briefly, in court. Their eyes seem to ask: is this the only way we can live, do we actually understand each other better than we know?
In their rush to seal the border against all threats are the Israelis never pausing to see their enemy is also human? Regardless of your feelings on the politics, the performance of the Palestinian woman and her lawyer are so rich and subtle that the film is always engaging and human. Haim Abbas carries the weight of the Palestinian people in her eyes.
Martina Gusman, Elli Medeiros, Laura Garcia, Rodrigo Santoro
If you have a child in prison you can raise him/her until the age of four. After that guardians take over. But between one and four resides all the anguish of a motherhood that will end.
What starts out as a women in prison movie slowly morphs into a character portrait of a woman who loses all sense of the passage of time. Julia (Martina Gusman), has only one touchstone to the passing of days: the growth of her little son Tomas. Tine passes with him towards the inevitable day when he will be taken away from her. There are two villains in this movie, and one true friend.
The villains are her former lover, Ramiro (Rodrigo Santoro) who survives the bloody night in their apartment where her other lover is murdered. She has been living with the two men (she claims) against her will. Tomas is the child of the murdered man and the only witness is the other defendant, Ramiro. They wait in jail for the outcome of the court case (a peculiarity of Argentine law).
But Ramiro turns against her in his testimony, and she is sentenced to ten years. The other villain is her mother, Sofia (Elli Medeiros) who has been absent living in France for years but comes home supposedly to help. What she really wants is Tomas.
Julia starts to engineer her escape, but like everything else in the chicken cage of prison, she keeps it from everyone but her prison confident, Marta (Laura Garcia). When it happens, we are as surprised as the guards.
Watching a film like Lion’s Den you want to scream “where has this been?” and “why did I not know about it” and “why haven’t the director and his actress been proclaimed king and queen of cinema?” Actually they may not be king and queen but they are husband and wife. And Pablo Trapero has a long history of directing and producing films about social causes and social injustice. Lion’s Den is a great addition to the list.
Hamid Farokhnezhad, Leila Hatami, Gohar Kheirandish
Iranians hijack a plane to fly to freedom and the woman in the chador is hiding a gun? This sounds like a parody of Airplane, but is a serious action movie that makes points over and over despite its low budget feel. Ghasem has a plan to flee Iran with his little son and pregnant wife.
He’s convinced all his relatives that jobs await at the Total Oil Company if they come too.Packing the plane with your own relatives seems an original way to stage a hijacking. Too bad Iranian sky marshals are on board.
It’s easy to dismiss Low Heights at first. It’s talky like many Iranian movies (watch how much they talk in Farsi to say one line in the subtitles). The airport set is tacky, the plane interior looks like a cheap soundstage. If the plane never seems to really take off, the character do.
Remember this was made around the time of 9/11. Nobody was rebelling in Iran yet, and the country was still recovering from a long, devastating war with Iraq. Director Ebrahim Hatamikia made many documentaries about that war. Perhaps he understood that the Ayatollahs were not going to make life any better. Escape to the west, especially to America, was on everyone’s mind.
His characters seem very contemporary in their desperation to escape the strictures of the state. Even the sky marshals play the role of the tough guys we now call the Basji. But there are a few humorous character distractions that always appear in airplane in danger movies going back to The High and the Mighty.
How can you not sympathize with the guy whose got the gun until his mother comes down the aisle ordering him to give it up or shoot her?
“Hijack, Iranian Style” might have been a better title than Low Heights. Titles like this are usual bestowed by sales agents at Cannes whose command of English is about on par with the actor who plays the pilot commanding this aircraft.
various real people
MONGOL (PART 1)
Tadanobu Asano, Honglei Sun
MY NAME IS KAHN
Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol
The plight of a Muslim man from India traveling across the US trying to convince post 9/11 America that he is not a terrorist is enough, but burdened with Asperger Syndrome it makes Shah Rukh Khan’s (Rizvan) performance all the more amazing.
This hybrid film is actually a Bollywood production but set in San Francisco and dealing with American problems faced by Indian immigrants. Before Rizvan Kahn’s problems even begin with being suspected as a terrorist, he has to overcome the prejudices of his own people against Muslims. He falls in love with beautiful Mandira (played by Kajol) but she is Hindi and shunned for marrying him.
The bombing of the Word Trade Center shocks their world and makes him a marked man because he is a Muslim and because he can not properly explain himself on account of the Asperger Syndrome effects. He embarks on a journey across the US to see the president and explain that he is not a terrorist. Along the way he touches many people and, somewhat like an Indian Jesus, brings a message of love and tolerance wherever he goes.
It goes well, it goes badly. It actually goes on a long time at over two and a half hours. But then, Bollywood films are usually measured by the hours of pleasure, not the minutes of seat squirming. Along the way are music, songs, colors and hope. There is a lot to see here and enough to keep your finger away from the fast forward button.
Margarethe von Trotta
Katja Riemann, Maria Schrader, Jutte Lampe
You open your morning newspaper in 1943 and read, “Gestapo Frees Jews.” You take a gulp of coffee. This is startling but you also remember a headline back in 1938, “Goebbels cancels annual anti-Jewish Kristallnacht: glassmakers protest.” If you were a German citizen at the time and could still afford coffee, both stories were true.
Americans view of the Nazi era, propagandized by the franchising of Holocaust museums and Quentin Tarantino movies; is of relentless, depraved evil. We make no allowance for what historian Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”
What happened at Number 2-4 Rosenstrasse (Rose Street) has never been forgotten among Berliners, but it took the bravery of director Margarethe von Trotta to finally film it 60 years later. Starting in January 1943, the Gestapo rounded up all the 6000 Berlin Jews for deportation and death. The rumor was that Joseph Goebbels, head of propaganda, wanted to have them all gone by Hitler’s birthday in April. (This kind of sentimentality is exactly what made Goebbels such a highly paid PR exec.)
At first they spared Jewish men married to Christians (called: geltungsjuden). The Nuremburg laws of 1935, outlawing marriages to Jews, also exempted existing marriages. Therefore the husbands could not be counted as Jews for deportation. But in March 1700 geltungsjuden were arrested and housed in the Jewish Community Hall at 2-4 Rossenstrasse to await deportation. It was a convenient place to store them since Gestapo headquarters was nearby.
As soon as word got out about where the men were imprisoned, their wives began to gather in the street below. For a week the women stood, their numbers growing to over 1000. They were threatened by the Gestapo. Police aimed guns at them. Sometimes they would run and disperse for a few minutes, only to return in stronger numbers. The wives called out the names of their husbands, hoping for a yell back from the windows above. At the end of a week, Goebbels realized he had created a public relations nightmare.
Good Aryan German women were standing in the street defying threats, pistols, and machine guns in solidarity with their husbands imprisoned inside. It confirmed the suspicions of more and more law-abiding citizens that the government respected no laws.
This was not the first time. Kristallnacht was a big blowout in 1937 that had also backfired. On the pretext of retaliation for a German diplomat’s assassination in Paris, Goebbels had ordered his thugs to go out and beat up Jews, break windows in Jewish businesses (Kristall=glass), and trash property. You can see pictures of it in any of the dozens of Holocaust museums. It’s chapter one in the time-line for the Holocaust.
So if it was such a big success, why didn’t Goebbels make it an annual event? There were no more Kristallnachts because a large segment of the German public, especially the more educated, disapproved of it. It gave them an uneasy feeling that the Nazi government was capable of going beyond the law. In ‘37 this was enough to call off future Kristallnachts celebrations. In 1943, the war was going badly. The Battle of Stalingrad was lost, people were on rations, Army generals were questioning tactics and strategy. What the Nazis didn’t need was more tsuris (Yiddish=aggravation) on the streets of Berlin.
Over a thousand women were standing day and night, shoulder to shoulder. If Kris Kristofferson had been born they would be singing: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” (he didn’t write it until 1969). Inside Gestapo headquarters something had to give. After a week, Goebbels ordered the men released. They poured out of the building into the arms of their wives.
This is a powerful film detailing the complex relationship of several generations of women, ending in a moment of joy and tears. But don’t look in the Holocaust museums for references to Rosenstrasse or to the few historians like Tzvetan Todorov who note the negative impact of Kristlanacht. It doesn’t go along with the neatly packaged mythology of doom. If evil is banal, there are always good people who see a way to challenge it: and sometimes they win.
Luz Martinez, Jacob Vargas, Luis Fernando Pena
Cheap Mexican labor does the work we won't, but in this futuristic vision we've figured out how to use them without ever letting them across the border. Alex Rivera's ingenious "what if" movie shows a world that is the inheritor of H.G. Wells, "The Time Machine." In that famous novel, humanity was divided between carefree people who live on the surface of the earth and busied themselves with frivolities; and the lowly workers who lived below in lightless caverns. The Morlocks below, churned out the food and materials that allowed the Eloi, above, to be carefree. Only problem: the Morlocks often snuck above at night and ate the Eloi.
Anyone who lives near the Mexican border knows about maquiladores. These are the sweatshop factories built on the other side (the dark side) near border cities. Low-paid Mexicans churn out toasters and table chairs for Wal-Mart. It's all perfectly legal under the NAFTA treaty. They work for us but we don't let them in.
Sleep Dealer has gone a step further. Mexicans who want to work are first fitted with metal receptors pierced into their flesh. They can then go to work in giant factories where they are fitted with probes that fit the receptors. Once hooked up and wearing special vision goggles, they find themselves manipulating their arms and legs to control robots up in the US that do anything from baby sitting to picking fruit to working heavy construction.
The perfect solution to immigration! Import only the robots and let the drugged out, sleep deprived Mexicans do the hard labor so they can pay our giant corporations for the their water, electricity, and food. Sleep Dealer is a small movie that has a lot to say, and what it says is so condemning that it is amazing so few have seen or listened.
Kerry Fox, Anamaria Marinca, Stephen Dillane, Rolf Lassgard
What do Sudan, Israel and the United States all have in common? They are the only three countries in the world not members of the International Criminal Court. Next question: what is the International Criminal Court?
It is a UN sponsored investigative and judicial system headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands and charged with judging crimes against humanity such as genocide. It gets tricky for a country like the US and Israel that build Holocaust museums and where Jews urge “Never Forget.” They won’t join because they might be prosecuted for trifles like Guantanamo and Gaza. Sudan can be excused because no one there probably knows what a court is anyway.
The brilliance of Storm is in using the International Criminal Court as the setting for a first rate murder mystery. Hannah (Kerry Fox) is a prosecutor sent from ICC in The Hague to try a former Serbian commander accused of genocide. She manages to ferret out the real truth about the crime only to see European Union politics present a barrier to justice.
Though Storm is a German production, the language is English, and the narrative resembles some of the best of courtroom/mystery dramas. It’s intelligent and suspenseful. More over it is original in trying to examine how the ICC works, and how politics can derail the highest of motives.
Most Americans don’t know there is an ICC, or that is has the power to try politicians like Slobodan Milosevic. Or that the UN maintains a secure prison in The Hague where sentences are served. The UN attempt at international justice is far from American shores because we refuse to support it. The irony of the US refusing to support justice for all because it would mean justice for us too, is a further reason to see and consider the story told in Storm. Who amongst our politicians or generals might be in the defendant box?
THANK YOU FOR SMOKING
Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello
In an effort to forward the tobacco lobby’s campaign to get people smoking again, their chief spokesman, Nick, visits a Hollywood super agent. In short order, at his desk in front of a Japanese print meant to invoke the Hollywood mogul’s bible, Sun Tzu’s "The Art of War;" The Powerful One outlines a movie to promote smoking. Set it in the future, he consuls. People are put off by smoking now, but in a future, on a space station, it could be cool again.
It is parody. It is also brilliant. His description of a future couple lighting up cigarettes after weightless sex evokes an image of kinky sensuality. Therein lies the contradiction that goes through dozens of films where the Hollywood mogul scene is played out: he is always a misanthropic con man who is brilliant. Take a look at the mogul scene in these movies: Alex in Wonderland (1970), The Last Tycoon (1976), The Player (1992), Swimming With Sharks (1994), Wag the Dog (1997), Tropic Thunder (2008) and don’t forget six years of the HBO series, Entourage.
Even the Motion Picture Academy has noted this brilliance by inventing a special mogul Oscar award. The Irving G. Thalberg Award for “Creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” Thalberg, a Hollywood exec and producer of the 1930’s, was the prototype for the Hollywood mogul. He cast a shadow so long that F. Scott Fitzgerald used him for his hero, Monroe Stahr, in his unfinished novel, "The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western.” (Robert De Niro played him in the movie, The Last Tycoon).
Producers fight as dirty as the can to force the Academy to give them a “Thalberg.” It’s not a regular Oscar, it’s a separate award modeled on the head of Irving Thalberg. The question I asked myself when I saw the Hollywood mogul scene in Thank You for Smoking was: what motivates such extraordinary brilliance that we never tire of parodying it? Most Hollywood insiders would give you a short answer: money. They are wrong. You can make money lots of other ways and you don’t have to read screenplays all weekend. I think it is the need to tell stories.
In the soul of every great con man is a great storyteller. How else can you convince the mark to put down his money? Motion pictures were merely a new medium for the flimflammer’s art. And who is to say all great art doesn’t have at least a little of the same brilliance? If we could get Michelangelo to kick back and talk in his office, he’d probably tell us he had a great idea for a naked David placed right in the public’s eye: where they’d have to look up at his penis from below. “Wow, ” he’d say with his feet on his desk and his hands gesturing, “I can see the crowds!”
THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX
Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek
Well-educated twenty-something Americans suddenly become Al Qaeda and Pakistani terrorists. Go back to 1967, substitute German names, and you have Baader-Meinhof. The pressure to preserve wealth and power always creates outliers.
Ulrike Meinhof was a journalist. She was married with two children. Her generation grew up in the shadow of Hitler and could not understand how Germany would consort with dictators and support the United States in Vietnam. If the Nazi era was supposed to never be forgotten, what was the lesson?
Benno Ohnesorg was killed in 1967 in a Berlin riot protesting the brutality of the Shah of Iran. We know today that the policeman who killed him was actually an agent for the Stasi, the East German secret police. But no one would know that for 40 years, and it still isn’t clear whether Karl-Heinz Kurras pulled the trigger because he was instructed to escalate the demonstration by his Stasi handlers.
But this act, the Kent State of Germany (the Kent State killings were in 1970) was proof that no justice would ever be achieved, and that only terrorism and violence would purify a western society corrupted by capitalism. Sound familiar? If we were not so afraid to actually hear what the current wave of terrorists have to say, maybe it would sound similar.
And let’s not forget that Islam has always been a religion of profound intellectualism. Isn’t it strange we believe all the young Islamic terrorists are being corrupted by deceitful mullahs? Isn’t it odd that some of the best and the brightest of a new generation are planting the bombs? The press remains incurious. To get press attention it helps to have a catchy name with “bad” coupled with a word that sounds like Mein Kampf (Hitler’s best-seller). The exploits of the Baader-Meinhof gang with its Bonnie and Clyde overtones were great for tabloid journalism.
The Baader Meinhof Complex is about how terrorism starts, why it starts, and how it grows in every generation that is summoned to action by the affront of corrupted power. How it ends is another story; that too is covered in this long, detailed, and very important film. Know the past and know the future,or you are doomed to know only what those who own the present think you should know.
Watch for Martina Gedeck as Ulrike Meinhof. She plays Martha in Mostly Martha, also on Movie With Me. Only here you get to see what’s underneath that chef’s uniform.
Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges, Gary Oldman, Sam Elliott, William Petersen, Christian Slater, Muriel Hemingway
It would be fun to re-write The Contender with present and future nuances. In fact, it would be fun to re-write it every ten years.
It’s hard to remember there was a time when we were so curious about the President we made movies and TV shows about him. That was while we had guys in the White House who philandered and lied. Now we’ve got a guy who seems more honest and nobody cares.
Rod Lurie is a West Pointer who is best at making political movies about the secret world of Washington. The Contender has a Hillary premise: what if the vice president died and the president had a chance to name a woman to the job.Â Not any woman; a woman senator with great creds except for two: pictures of her giving a blow job to two guys in a college frat house; and her seduction of, and marriage to, her best friend’s husband.
Lurie has given us Bill in Hillary’s body! This would truly be a hot concept if Joan Allen had any heat. Actually, I think I blow job from Hillary would be more interesting. Joan/Hillary is surrounded by guys who are brilliant at tactics and politics. Everyone in this movie is so smart you marvel that we once thought Washington was like this. Even the president is a cool guy who smokes a cigar at night with Joan/Hillary out on the White House lawn.
While we had a succession of opportunistic assholes running the country, we yearned for smarts, truth, and leadership. Obama brought a measure of those qualities but nobody rushed to make a movie about him. What happened?
I think the deceit of George Bush (credit to Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove) followed by the Crash Of ‘08 removed any shred of respect for Washington. Americans’ approval of government has always been low, but now it is what Nielsen calls BLM (below measurable standards).
When The Contender was made, the Internet only mattered because it could spread nasty rumors (probably a reference to the Drudge Report, which now seems tame). No bloggers, no YouTube, no Digg, No Gawker. Not even the phrase “social networking.”
Joan/Hillary gave a blow job in college? What’s the web address for it? Let’s see it in slow motion. What do color commentators on cable news think? Fox interviews a woman who specializes in blow job therapy. She says the photos show a gagging reaction (very common) that is probably a manifestation of childhood EDDS (Emotional Denial Distraction Syndrome). Lord, how can we have a Vice President with EDDS?
Yes, it would be fun to re-write The Contender. Today it would be a crowdsourcing project on Facebook with enraged contributors accusing Mark Zuckerberg of rewriting them. What will it be tomorrow? That is why The Contender is far more interesting today than when it was made and why it deserves to be seen to show how far we have come and to be amazed we once believed in moral rectitude. Disqualified by a blow job in college: no way. Give that lady her own political talk show!
Read more: http://www.moviewithme.com/blog/?p=1197&preview=true#ixzz0uY1hlfSK
Vanessa Redgrave, Oliver Reed
THE EDGE OF HEAVEN
Baki Davrak, Nurgul Yesilcay, Hanna Schygulla
Daniel Bruhl, Julia Jentsch, Stipe Erceg
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
Emilie Dequenne, Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Demy, Ronit Elkabetz, Michel Blanc
Tough enough to make a good film about something real that really happened. Almost as tough to make a film about something real that really didn’t happen. The Girl on the Train never comes to grips with the dark mind of the paranoid imaginer who made up this amazing story; or her motivation.
Jeanne (Emile Dequenne) is a young woman in bitter battle with her mother Louise (Catherine Deneuve). She finds her revenge against mother and the world by claiming she has been attacked by black toughs on a suburban commuter train outside Paris.
The commuter lines of the RER go lots of places around Paris. The trouble with Andre Techine’s movie is it doesn’t go anywhere. At the end we learn that she faked the whole episode. That’s disappointing for a film so interesting to watch; and gripping while you still think there’s a truth lurking around the corner.
Where The Girl on the Train becomes even more intriguing is when you look beyond the movie to the event that inspired it. In 2004 Marie Lionie Leblanc claimed that she had been attacked on the RER by a gang of blacks who ripped her clothes, cut her hair, and drew a swastika on her stomach. In the violence they knocked over her infant baby’s carriage. Passengers looked on but did nothing to help.
French politicians wasted no time in condemning the incident and Ariel Sharon told French Jews they had better pack up and immigrate to Israel to avoid this new “wildest Anti-Semitism.” The only problem was: Marie made it all up. No witness every came forward and within days the police proved she was lying.
That happened in 2004. But it echoed a 1987 incident that is almost the flip side. A 15 year-old black girl from Wappinger, New York (less than an hour north of New York City) claimed six white men raped her. Tawana Brawly said several of them were policeman, and one was a district attorney. The politicians went wild.
Black politician Al Sharpton seized upon it as proof of police hatred of blacks just as Ariel Sharon grabbed on to the RER incident as proof that the French hated Jews. Tawana never recanted her story. The grand jury did it for her. They failed to vote even a single indictment.
So the real story of The Girl on the Train should have been more about the mind of the fibber. What kind of person makes up this stuff? In the case of Tawana, and I suspect the same might apply to Marie; it is a hopelessly paranoid individual who can best make human contact by playing the victim. Tawana converted to Islam and moved from Wappinger Falls to tiny Claremont, Virginia. She changed her name, bought an attack dog, and began working as a nurse in a nursing home.
She’s never married, keeps to herself, and rarely ventures beyond Claremont except when she accepts free flights and limousines on returns to New York as a guest at United Africa Movement events.
I wish the film made clearer the pattern of a paranoid mind that understands how to jump on a hot button issue and sprinkle just enough truth to feed the flames. The reward is 15 minutes of fame and a celebrity glow that, if you play your paranoia right, can last your whole life.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Niels Arden Oplev
Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace
The Social Network is about an unsociable guy who is out to prove being a runt Jew from Long Island is no handicap to making billions of dollars. Northern Europe is cold to this kind of money hugging. Swedish geekdom is caused by incest, trying to burn your father alive, and giving forced blow jobs to your parole officer. The reward is being a lifelong outcast who can play a computer keyboard like a harpsichord.
Mournful characters who have seen enough depression to jump over a bridge never falter in being fascinating in the three movies in this trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest). Depression seems to grow wild in Scandinavia. Every wonder why every restaurant has candles burning in the windows, even in summer? They’re trying to let a little light shine in.
Meanwhile the plot of Tattoo skips along with enough holes to swallow an 18-wheel truck. Let’s excuse novelist Stieg Larsson from these excesses: he wrote and died before anyone challenged his logic. The movie makers should take most of the blame because they had a chance to fix it.
A woman drives across a bridge to an island and vanishes. So naturally we think she is either kidnapped or dead. Later we find out she was fleeing someone. Later we learn she is still alive. And finally we are told she actually did drive back across the bridge, but she was hiding in her cousin’s car.
At this point we should throw rotten tomatoes at the screen. But what saves Tattoo from disgrace is the frigid mist that invades the story. It is filled with lost love, loneliness, and existential confusion. Mikael and Lisbeth so isolated in their self-created solitude that the love seen between them, actually more or a rape of Mikael by Lisbeth: is thrilling in its crude intimacy. The both really need it.
Despite the appearance of old Nazis and demented sadists (why do European films keep flogging the Nazis as villains, let’s have some Serbs or Belarusian’s for a change), the story works because Noomi Rapace is magnificent as Lisbeth.
No wonder that on all of the awards shows she made a point of being a glamorous as possible. Every actress who plays a weird character wants to say, “look at me, I’m really beautiful and sexy and quite normal.” Just once I’d like an actress to keep in character as the witch or jezebel she played. We’d like her better; she’d get more work. Look at Bette Davis, who made a whole career out of playing Bette Davis.
THE KILLING ROOM
Chloe Sevigny, Timothy Hutton
THE KITE RUNNER
Khalid Abdalla, Shaun Toub, Homayoun Ershadi
The short list of films shot in Afghanistan includes The Kite Runner, Kandahar, and The Horsemen. All are journey films, but The Horseman is about travels in country, whereas the other two are travels to the country. In The Kite Runner, Amir leaves California for his homeland, honor bound to find redemption for a horrible mistake of his youth.
The core of the story is this: Amir was born Pashtun. That means he is entitled to everything. His childhood friend Hassan was born Hazara: meaning he is entitled to nothing. Understanding this starts to make some sense of Afghani tribal society and the winless war we fight against the Taliban.
The story that peels like an onion: exposing new layers and filled with tears. Amir learns the secret of his childhood relationship with Hassan, and what he must do to redeem himself. There’ more to The Kite Runner than just seeing the movie. Do a search in Netflix for the 1971 film, The Horsemen, starring Omar Sharif (it is so rare that Amazon and eBay sell copies for five times the normal price). The Horsemen was shot in Afghanistan long before the Russians invaded, and long before the Taliban even had a name.
Seeing the rough, tribal way of life among primitive peoples (with Omar Sharif playing an Afghan) is an ethnographic experience. Add to that the artificial legs in Kandahar, and the brutal sodomy of the Taliban in The Kite Runner and you begin to understand a country few in the West have bothered to know. And then read Robert D. Kaplan’s “Soldiers of God” and Rory Stewart’s “The Places In Between.” And then see The Kite Runner.
Catalina Saavedra, Claudia Celedon, Anita Reeves, Mariana Loyola
Hattie McDaniel said "Better to play a maid than be a maid" and this applies to Catalina Saavedra as well. She acts the part of Raquel, the maid to a family of wealthy Chileans who seem to play all the time and fret about having breakfast ready in bed.
Catalina has actually played several maid roles through her career on Chilean television. Which leads to the question nobody wants to ask: what is the future for an actress with a dumpy body and Indian features in a culture that worships light skin and curves like Blanca Lewin (if you want to see all her curves watch En la Cama on MovieWithMe).
The answer doesn't need to be said. The class divides of many South American countries make The Maid both a contemplation on the career of this very talented actress as well as the lives of the upper classes.
Pilar, the mother of the family (Claudia Celedon) keeps her brood together and manages meals and household chores (all done by servants). Her husband is a cheerful academic who goes to his study each night to build model ships. It is a perfect expression of the idle rich that director Sebastian Silva is portraying for us. In fact, this first feature of Silva is based on his experience growing up in just the type of family portrayed here.
Perhaps his path to filmmaking is echoed in the storyline. Raquel sabotages attempts by the family to install a new maid. Sonia (Anita Reeves) is locked out of the house and has to crawl over the roof. But third maid Lucy (Mariana Loyola) is a free spirit who rises above Raquel's wrath to show her the path toward personal empowerment.
It's a small step but enough to free Raquel from belonging to a family that will never have her as a member and start searching for small joys and pleasures that can bring her some fulfillment of her own. That's the message of The Maid, and it is a good one.
Wood Harrelson, Ben Foster, Samantha Morton
The true historians of war are gravediggers. By the time their battle begins the others have all ended. The smoke has cleared. All that is left is a lot of questions without answers. Shakespeare employed a couple of these shovelers in Hamlet.
Modern times demand a more psychological approach. The Messenger is about Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), just retuned from Iraq and assigned to be an army Casualty Notification Officer. He works in a two-man team with hard ass Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson). Their job is to drive around notifying dead soldier’s wives and parents that their lovers and sons have bought the big one.
Owen Moverman directs from his own script; and the film has a writerly feel. It’s not so much the drama of war’s nihilism, like Hurt Locker, as it is a mindful reflection.
If you ever want a downer evening try double billing The Messenger with Gardens of Stone. The latter is Francis Coppola’s 1987 film about men assigned to the ceremonial burial details at Arlington Nation Cemetery (during the Viet Nam War).
The first movie notifies the next of kin, the second movie blows the trumpet and folds the flag as the coffins slide into the ground. Both are very good films. Together they offer a requiem for America’s recent war adventures.
We can hope The Messenger is not damage Moverman’s career the way Gardens of Stone was for Coppola’s. In Coppola’s case it was not the movie, it was the making of the movie. During the filming, Francis’s son Gio (Gian Carlo) was killed in a gruesome accident. The speeding motorboat in which he was a passenger passed under a towline and he was beheaded.
Coppola retreated into his Silverfish video command trailer and never came out. He directed the rest of the picture in seclusion. Each day word came from the unseen director for set ups and shots of military burials.
An experience like that is ample reason to lose your love of making films. Gardens of Stone was (in my opinion) the last great chancy subject for Coppola. Afterward he settled into another Godfather sequel and a lot of executive producer credits. The few films he has actually directed since are minor works that smell of easy money.
Owen Moverman is luckier. Or is he? There was no personal tragedy we know of while making his death trip film. But the writer-director’s worldview is a tad mawkish. His Casualty Notification Officers must offer emotional justification as they act out the futility of war. To make them emotionally interesting, Will has to have a love affair with a soldier’s widow, Jena (Samantha Morton).
Coppola was felled by a bizarre personal tragedy. Moverman seems to hunt bizarre emotional situations on screen.
Look at his past writing credits like Jesus’ Son, Face, Married Life, and The Big Blow you feel he’s a kinky dude. Where he goes next is going to be interesting. Where he has been with The Messenger is certainly worth experiencing as long as you’re not feeling suicidal.
Truc “Charlie” Nquyen
Johnny Nguyen, Thanh Van Ngo, Veronica Ngo, Dustin Nguyen
Some movies don’t work, but have enough good stuff in them to fry a couch potato for an hour and a half. We’re in Vietnam, 1920’s, during the era of French Colonial rule. Anti-French rebellions are starting to shake the county and the French employ an undercover Vietnamese agent to assassinate the head of the resistance.
No one tells him two important things about the assignment: first, he’s going to see all the terrible consequences of French rule on his own people. Second, he’s going to fall in love with the beautiful daughter of the resistance leader while he’s plotting to assassinate him.
A knockout of a daughter, a tortured journey, continually challenging moral assumptions about the French: this is challenging to any braveheart. But forget romance and politics. There is only one plot stew that can cook in an Asian adventure movie: action.
Get another beer from the fridge, heat some frozen spring rolls in the microwave, and don’t miss the action scenes. The art of The Rebel is in the stunts, and these are tops in imagination and execution. You won’t learn much meaningful history about French rule in Indochina, but you will learn it’s been a fucked up country for a long time. Maybe the current era of tourist beaches and time share condos in Ho Chi Min City is actually the best.
THE SEA INSIDE
Javier Bardem, Belen Reuda, Lola Duenas, Mabel Rivera
It takes balls for the top leading man of Spain to do a movie in a bald cap. It also takes guts to make a movie that’s never going to be seen on date night. The Sea Inside takes place in a bedroom where Ramon Semperdo (Javier Bardem) has been confined for 30 years since a dive into the ocean left him a quadriplegic (nothing works except his head).
His battle is to die; rather than being served day and night by people who must change his soiled bedclothes every four hours, he wants to end it all. But Spanish law is no more helpful than American law (see the Terri Schiavo case). So he gets himself a smart lawyer who is also living with a degenerative disease, and she starts the court challenge in motion.
You wouldn’t think it would be fascinating to watch someone try to die for two hours and five minutes. In action movies people die in five seconds. The remarkable idea here is to make the movie not about understanding dying, but understanding living. Ramon loves life. But he sees that life is more than dreams, and he dreams a lot. He knows his dreams must satisfy him: he knows they cannot. Hence his life is torture with no end except death.
One of the hottest scenes in the movie is the kiss between him and his lawyer, Julia (Belen Reuda). Yet it never happened. Along the way to death there is a constant parade of people who come to him trying to persuade him that life is worth living because everyone goes through terrible times. What is good for one is not for another, he argues, and all he wants is to make his own decision.
The magic of The Sea Inside is not, for me, about everyone having a different idea of the value of life. It is about the director, Alajandro Amenabar, who made this amazing film. I think he is one of those geniuses of movie making that come along so rarely. His ability to work magic on so many different films is beyond explanation. This guy started with a student film, Tesis, and has never stopped. Take a look at his credits and wonder how he could go from Open Your Eyes (remade badly with Tom Cruise) to The Sea Inside.
THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
Juan Jose Campanella
Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil
If Ricardo Darin were an American actor, he’d be getting all those Liam Neeson roles. Obsessive, frantic, single minded but never quite getting the girl. His films on Movie With Me include Son of the Bride and Nine Queens. The Secret in Their Eyes is another amazing addition to the list. (Both Son of the Bride and The Secret in Their Eyes were directed by Juan Jose Campanella; a master who is always emotionally on target)
Here Darin is a retired justice department investigator writing a book on an old case that went cold. A woman was brutally raped and murdered when he was a young agent working under department head Irene Menendez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil). She was the upper class lovely who got her superior position after returning from her Ivy League education in the US. The last thing she wanted to do at the time was jeapordize her career because of suspicions about this one case. Especially because she was atracted to Benjamin (Ricardo Darin) and he to her. Both resisted their feelings because of the difference in their ages and the class barrier between them.
But now it is many years later. She’d risen to the top of the justice department, and he is grey-haired and ready for his pension. What could have been between them was never was. But the old never-solved case still links them together. And that is enough to light the flame between them once again and bring them to admit two things: they love each other and always did; their passion for justice has never slackened.
Together they open up the can of worms that is Argentina’s answer to the Holocaust: the years when the military junta ruled the country (called The Dirty War), and “disappeared” tens of thousands of people to unmarked graves. It was a ten year reign of terror from which the country, or at least the country’s filmmakers, have yet to recover. Like the Germans, everyone knew and didn’t know. Everyone wanted to save themselves even if it meant turning their back onon friends.
The Secret in Their Eyes opens an old wound and new passion. That it what it makes it such an interesting mix of emotions between Darin and Villamil (she’s in Life Accroding to Muriel, also on Movie With Me). Some fires never die, some embers burn forever – is the old saying. An intricate story and a fine range of emotions give heart to an old love made new again in this very excellent movie.
THE STONING OF SORAYA M.
Mozhan Marno, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jim Caviezel
Jim Caviezel played Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. In The Stoning of Soraya M. he plays a reporter happening upon a story about a modern woman who must walk her own steps to her village's version of the crucifixion. This actor's personal passion expressed in his adopting of special needs children, and his support of politically incorrect causes; makes his participation in this singular, powerful movie all the more interesting.
A movie is what it is on screen: that is everything. Or is it? The writer/director of The Stoning of Soraya M. is known for taking on non PC subjects and making statements of personal conviction. Both Caviezel and director Cyrus Nowrasteh are drawn to a story that defies audience sensitivities to paint truth, harshness, courage and sadness. Soraya (Mozhan Marno) brings dignity to her own death.
Mozhan too, is no stranger to speaking out. She starred in a one women show 9 Parts of Desire about women in war-torn Iraq. The play, written by Heather Raffo (also the title of a book about the Middle East by Geraldine Brooks), comes from Ali ibn Abu Taleb, an early leader and scholar of Islam who said, "God created sexual desire in ten parts: then he gave nine parts to women and one to men."
Soraya M's husband accuses her of adultery so he can be free to marry a younger woman he has found in a nearby city. That the punishment for adultery is death by stoning doesn't disturb him. Nor does he flinch at throwing the first stone at the head of the mother of his children as she waits defenseless: buried to her waist in the village square.
It's easy to eject the DVD after seeing The Stoning of Soraya M. and condemn Iran as a primitive country driven by the intractable dogma of the Ayatollahs. But Iran is, in may ways, actually quite permissive: if you are a man.
Soraya M. is about that one part of desire granted to men and how the rage, feared impotence and lust for domination over those other nine parts propels men towards madness and grisly murder. Ali ibn Abu Taleb did not restrict his observation to Muslims. Violence towards women can happen anywhere, and it does.
THE SYRIAN BRIDE
Clara Khoury, Hiyam Abbass, Makram J. Khoury
Marrying within your faith means finding your husband-to-be on a TV news show. Your parents can’t come to your wedding and you can never come back. Ethnic Chinese? Hutus? No, Israelis. The Druze is an ancient Arab tribe of warriors and religious independents that got caught between the lines of Syria and Israel in the1967 war.
Since then, they’ve lived in a no-man’s land between the two countries. They are recognized as citizens of Israel (they trace their lineage and religion to Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses). Because they are recognized by Israel, the Syrians won’t let them in unless they renounce their Israeli citizenship. But they must marry within their religion and the Druze singles scene is in Syria (actually, there are so few Druze they have their own world-wide dating site, DruzeCafe.com. Take a look at some Druze cuties).
Director Eran Riklis builds his story on the Catch-22 that plagues the Golan Druze. She lives the Golan. He lives in Damascus where he hosts a Syrian TV show she watches. They’ve only met by phone and mail. To marry, she must renounce her Israeli citizenship, and walk into the no man’s land between the borders. Her only witness will be a UN inspector. Once married, she will enter Syria and never be able to come back home. It would be funny if it were not so sad.
Leaving everything you know for an unknown life with a stranger is the dramatic conflict on which Riklis builds his story. In Lemon Tree, also reviewed on MovieWithMe.com, the conflict is: the price of security is walling out humanity. Both films star the amazing Hiyam Abbass, who seems to have carved out a career as the long-suffering Arab who wears the weariness of generations on her face.
The Syrian Bride, The Lemon Tree, Laila’s Taxi (different director) are all political films that explore society, not sociology. As director Riklis said to Tikkun Magazine, “I see myself as a relevant director. I believe in movies that relate to political and social circumstances. I think it’s impossible, particularly in Israel, to say that what happens around you is of no interest to you, that you are an artist and that you make movies like the Americans do. In Israel, you have to acknowledge that you live in a very complex and problematic region.” If there is hope for a peace plan in Israeli, bet on the filmmakers.
THE WHITE RIBBON
Christian Friedel, Ernst Jacobi,Lionie Benesch, Susanne Lothar, Urlich Tukur, Ursina Lardi, Detlev Buck.
Director Michael Heneke is not good on conclusions. The Piano Teacher, Funny Games, and Cache are fascinating to watch but frustrating. So it is with The White Ribbon.A small German town witnesses a horse and riser felled by a cruel trip wire, a woman falling to her death on a rotten plank, a man hanged upside down in the mill. What does it all mean? God’s warning about the war to come that will change life here forever? The scenes are brilliant, the intellectual postulations lofty. I only wish Michael Heneke would bevel his story with a finer corner at the end.
His trademark has become the fade out and credits while his audience is left to puzzle the meaning. You can’t but be caught up in the story, the setting, the characters and fine performances by all. As if to emphasize the small rooms and camped world of the story, Heneke rarely moves the camera.
Take a look at the scene where Eva’s father (Detlev Buck) grills the school teacher (Christian Friedel) about his intentions to marry his daughter. We rarely cut between faces and reactions, but the charged emotions fly around the room.
Shooting in black and white adds to the period feel, as does the weary voice of the teacher as an old man (Ernst Jacobi) telling us his recollections of the events we witness.
I’d love to put Heneke in a room with a writer and see who comes out alive. It might be another hanging or garroting by trip wire.
TURTLES CAN FLY
Soran Ebrahim, Avaz Latif
UNDER THE SAME MOON (LA MISMA LUNA)
Adrian Alonso, Kate del Castillo
WALK ON WATER
Loir Ashkenazi, Knut Berger, Caroline Peters
This Israeli film asks whether there is really a purpose anymore in the Israeli final solution of killing old Nazis. Museums are being built everywhere to chronicle the Nazi’s “Final Solution” to exterminate the Jews, but what about the Israeli’s state sanctioned retribution?
Trained as a hit man whose life is measured in assassinations, Israeli agent Eyal (Loir Ashkenazi, also in Late Marriage on MovieWithMe.com) is ordered to kill an elderly ex Nazi mass murderer “before God does.”
The way to flush this old Black Shirt out of hiding is to get close to his granddaughter and grandson. Pia (Caroline Peters) lives in Israel as a kibbutz worker and maintains close contact with her gay brother, Axel (Knut Berger). Eyal manages to befriend them both. Although his purpose is information, he finds himself drawn into their picnics on the sand and running barefoot.
For I guy who doesn’t even take his socks off between killings, this is a major life change. Little by little, he learns their view of humanity. It offers a reboot of history by seeing a bigger picture than Jews versus Germans.
A song by Esther Ofarim that Axel plays on the car radio while driving Eyal to the family home in Wansee, outside Berlin (coincidentally, the town where the Final Solution was hatched back in 1942), underscores the point of the movie. Ofarim is an Israeli who sings in German. She’s built up a huge following in Germany where her music symbolizes the improbable bond between the two cultures.
He doesn't know they’re driving to attend Axel’s grandfather’s birthday party, where Eyal will get his chance to give the old man a final present from the Mossad: death.
The strength of this movie (mainly in English, with some subtitles for the Hebrew and the German) is two cultures pushed to confrontation: the diabolic Nazi killer and the new assassin under the same roof. The former is a feeble old man. The latter has to confront the question of why he is doing what he is about to do.
Eyal faces a moral quandary he can’t answer. So he drives back into Berlin to talk to his boss. The way back form the western suburbs takes him on Hitler’s first autobahn. (You can’ t make a film in Berlin without running on or over a lot of history). His boss, the Mossad chief, is calling the shots form his hotel room. Eyal suggest they capture the old man and smuggle him to Israel for trial (like the Israeli’s did with Adolf Eichmann decades before). He argues that that it makes no sense to kill an old man who is near death anyway.
“Terminate him before God does,” is the boss’s answer. It is the logic of the efficient and practical assassin with no room for the questions of why.
Eyal drives back to Wansee. “Why” is the question on his brain, and then “how”? While he is pondering, Axel takes the moral high ground and frees Eyal from his dilemma. Meanwhile sister Pia gives the promise throughout the movie that sex is so much better without moral confusion.
Easy for me to see the lighter side of Eytan Fox’s film very rich and thought provoking film; but this doesn’t take away from it being an extremely intelligent, effective, and watchable movie.
WALTZ WITH BASHIR
Ron Ben-Yishai, Ronny Dayag, Ari Folman (voices of themselves)
Sarala, Lisa Ray, Ronica Sajnani
All movies shot in India are fabulous on a 46-inch flat screen. Water makes you want to swim in the Ganges. Seeing Water it’s hard to imagine this sacred river is filled with pee, chicken feathers, dead cows, and worse. Sacred sewer is probably a better description.
But Deepa Mehta is not a filmmaker focused on ecology. His river is serene even though the people who live along it are troubled, spiritual and venal. This doesn’t include Kalyani (Lisa Ray) or her hopeful lover, Kunti (Ronica Sajnani). Both are beautiful.
And even though the movie takes place in 1938 against the rise of Gandhi and Lisa Ray plays a prostitute; she looks like she has her hair styled at Jean Louis David. Ronica Sajnami wears three-day whiskers a la mode. I don’t think Indians in 1938 were anything but clean-shaven.
But then, I don’t want to seem petty.
The story is about Chuyia (Sarala), who was wed in an arranged childhood marriage and saw her old husband die soon after. She’s carted off to the windows’ ashram where she is supposed to live the rest of her life. Her she has her head shaved and meets the group of flinty old harpies she must live with and who try to crush her childish yen for freedom and fun.
Kalyani befriends her. She’s the pretty one so the harpies have not shaved off her hair. This way they can make some money pimping out her sexual services to pay the rent. Wouldn’t you know, handsome Kunti falls in love with her without knowing she’s servicing his father?
There’s a lot that is good in Water, even though it’s fun to pick apart the plot contrivances and glamor excesses. Not the least of the important stuff is the rise of Gandhi, the awakening of women, the injustice of the caste system, and the transformation of the British colony to an independent state.
It’s also worth noting that Lisa Ray gives an impressive performance. For a Canadian girl who started as a swimsuit model and didn’t speak a word of Hindi (she learned for the film, but was later dubbed), Water is quite an accomplishment.
Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi, Audrey Dana, Derya Ayverdi
There is a peculiar monument in an obscure traffic circle of Sangatte, France that looks like a giant electric shaver. It is actually one of the tunneling machines that burrowed the nearby channel tunnel to England. For immigrants from Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa it is as symbolic as the Statue of Liberty.
Sangatte and nearby Calais have become the jihad destination for armies of young men seeking passage to England and the promise of a better life. Their fantasy is hopping a train for the twenty-minute ride to British amnesty on the other side. The reality is you can’t hang on to a train going 160 miles an hour.
The next bet if the trains will kill you is the sea-going ferries that load trucks for England day and night at the port of Calais. But the police have CO2 detectors they can insert into the truck cargo areas to detect clandestine travelers. Bilal (Firat Ayverdi) and his companions try to smother themselves under plastic garbage bags to hide their breath. They fail.
So they become casualties of the immigration system that neither will legitimize them, nor send them back to their war torn countries. They are limbo people roaming the streets of Calais where residents are instructed it is against the law to help them.
Bilal (Firat Ayverdi) must get to England to save his lovely girlfriend Mini (Derya Ayverdi) from a forced marriage to her cousin. If he can’t get there by train or boat, he must swim. As crazy as it is; he is obsessed. Simon is the swim instructor at the municipal pool. Bilal seeks his lost love, Simon has just lost his soul mate: ex-wife Marion (Audrey Dana) has signed their divorce papers.
The improbably friendship between the embittered Frenchman and the romantic young Iraqi could easily descend into bathos, but it doesn’t. Nor does it end well for either of them. Welcome is anything but. And the point of Philippe Lioret’s provocative movie is that the imbalance of human suffering and aspiration knows no boundary.
Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN
Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna
Is this a coming of age movie for two teenage boys or a loss of innocence movie for a whole country? Sex is a big part of it (and Maribel Verdu does it so well). But there is one scene, never commented upon by the characters. The two teenage boys driving Luisa to the beach in hopes of fucking her pass police rounding up Mexican peasants. As the car passes, the police roughly line up the peasants in a scene where we fear the next image will be their execution. It is chilling, but the car drives on without comment. We want to say, “Stop so we can see what happens?”
Many films, like many songs, wear disguises. “Puff the Magic Dragon” has been a favorite children’s song but is really about the pleasures of smoking dope. “Ring Around the Rosie” is about death from the bubonic plague in 14th Century Europe. High Noon is about the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950’s. Bound for Glory argues for socialism in America. The creators of these works knew one thing: if you want to send a message, you are better wrapping it in entertainment.
The mystery of what lies beneath Y Tu Mama Tambien was answered by a film professor and historian, Ernesto R. Acevedo-Munoz. He saw references throughout the movie to class struggles between rich and poor in Mexico. Luisa (from Madrid) has the last name Cortes. Julio, the working class kid, is named Zapata. The rich boy’s first name is Tenoch. Cortes was the Spanish conqueror of Mexico. Zapata was the peasant who started a revolution. Tenoch is from Tenochtitlan; the Aztec name for Mexico City. Professor Acevedo-Munoz explains that rich politicians of the ruling PRI party often named their children Aztec names as a way of conveying upper class patriotism.
Once you catch on, you can find several more instances of class conflict in this sweet and sexy film. Julio’s sister studies sociology and supports the revolution in Chiapas. The boys are stopped in a Mexico City traffic jam caused by a political demonstration.
The Mexico of Y Tu Mama Tambien was going through a debt crisis, an uprising on its southern border, and a bloody attempt to unseat the corrupt right wing ruling party. Sometimes the only way to tell a serious story is to pretend it is something else that will prove popular enough for wide distribution. Those who understand will push farther to find the real message.
Ana Geislerova, Gyorgy Csehaimi
Do all of us want to walk through an unmarked door into a secret life better than the one we thought we wanted? Eliska/Hana has two names in Zelary because she has two lives. One is as the big city hospital nurse who assists her surgeon boyfriend in saving the life of a rough country peasant by giving him a transfusion of her own blood.
That is before the Gestapo gets wise to the hospital staff’s resistance activities. Suddenly, that night, she must flee. It has all been arranged. She will accompany the peasant laborer she helped save back to his mountain village. There she will pose as his wife until the war is over.
The best war movies are about uprooted people and the generous acts by strangers who preserve the flame of life and compassion. The best of these stories must sometimes age with the storytellers. Kveta Lagatova didn’t think of writing a book until she was in her 80s. Then she took out a story she had written thirty or forty years before, based on what she had heard when she was a schoolteacher in the isolated mountain region were Joza (Janda) takes his new bride, Hana (known as Eliska before she went into hiding).
“The characters there (in the mountains) have very sharp contours, that which elsewhere is not so well-defined” commented Kveta. Her book, Jozova Hanule, became a best seller in the Czech Republic and the basis of Zelary. Like Hana in the movie, Kveta witnessed a culture that hadn’t change is a century, and would soon disappear with the rush to modernity.
Zelray is a love story, large and romantic, about the most unlikely lovers in a place far removed from history. Yet it makes its own history. The tragedy of the ending, and Hana/Eliska’s return, reminds me of the ending of Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala. Both films confront their protagonists with the loss of something wild and free not only in the wilderness, but also in themselves. They know it can never be replaced. They mourn for themselves.
Their tragedy is ours too, because we’ve all joined a more civilized world. It is even more perplexing to us because our choice was also for survival: of a kind just as necessary as in the forests and mountains. Hana can never go back, and she knows it. Could Kveta Lagatova have written this book as a young woman? Kurosawa was in his sixties when he directed Dersu.
Perhaps only a lifetime lived through the 20th Century could connect the brutality of the Nazis-feared as the destroyers of civilization; to the destruction of nature and traditional life actually caused by civilization. These two films are my idea of an amazing double feature.
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