Wednesday, March 11, 2015


By D.E.Levine

The cinematography by Raphael O'Byrne is fabulous and the score which incorporates Claudio Monteverdi, an early baroque master soars, but La Sapienza may not be to every viewer's taste.

The basic story revolves around a successful architect, Alexandre Schmidt (Fabrizio Rongione) and his wife Alienor (Cristelle Prot Landmann), a social psychologist, who fed up with city commissioners reneging on contractural  promises, decide to take a break and finish an earlier literary project of a study of seventeenth century architect Francesco Borromini, a celebrated baroque master of church and palaces that emphasized upwards movement within geometric enclosure.

Alexandre and Alienor drive to Borromini's birthplace in Tocino and then on to Stressa.  Once in Stressa they notice Lavinia (Arianna Nostro) and Goffredo (Ludovico Succio) in the park and when Lavinia has a fainting spell they offer to take the two home.  Lavinia has been ill since her father's death years before and now studies at home and worries about her older brother's impending departure to study architecture in Venice.

Alexandre and Goffredo go off to Rome to study the architecture and do research while Alienor decides to remain behind with Lavinia.  Once in Rome, the camera lovingly studies the various architectual delights while the older architect gives somewhat of a series of lectures in answer to the young student's questions.

From the beginning, Green's method of directing his actors is to have them look at and talk to the camera rather than looking at each other during conversations.  This gives them the appearance of being stilted and alienated in their relationship.  And, that is exactly the case.  Green lets us see the suffering relationship through the acting techniques he uses.

In the end, the rather strange relationship that develops between the older couple and the younger siblings breathes new life into the long-suffering marriage.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A New Directors New Films 2015 Selection

This film proved to be fascinating because it has no spoken dialogue.  The writing and directing debut of Ukranian filmmaker Myroslav Slaboshptyskly, the entire film is performed believably by a deaf and mute cast of non-professional actors who communicate completely in sign language.

Action centers around a government run school for the deaf and mute where the youthful attendees have dealt with their disabilities and challenges by turning to prostitution and crime.

Initial opening scenes show Sergey (Grigony Fesenko), a newly enrolled student at the school, who makes his way there and arrives during a celebration.  While welcomed by the staff, he encounters hazing by fellow students who quickly initiate him into less educational pursuits.

Having passed the hazing rituals and been accepted into The Tribe, Sergey starts at the bottom of the thug/criminal hierarchy.  Starting off as a thief, he rises to the role of pimp, scheduling two female classmates who service truck drivers at a local truck stop.

The school's wood shop teacher is not only the van driver for pimping the girls out, but also plans to send the girls to Italy.  Sergey has fallen in love with Anna (Yana Novikova) one of the student prostitutes.  This liaison constitutes a break in the rigid laws of The Tribe which leads to a brutal finale.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that each character retains his individuality despite being part of a regimented and exploitative society.  Despite not being professional actors, the young men and women in the film are totally believable as their sign language, body language and facial expressions clearly convey the emotions of individuals struggling to retain that individuality.

Friday, March 6, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A New Directors New Films 2015 Selection

Americans have been through their mortgage crisis and here we see what capitalism has done to the Republic of Georgia's society and mortgage system.

Nino (Nino Kasrdze) has a small restaurant in Tbilisi that was, we learn, solvent under the old Soviet regime.  She has family responsibilities for her aged mother, her son, her husband and a variety of friends and relatives.  With the rise of capitalism, Nino encounters severe economic problems.

Not only can't she make a living from the shop, but she has to keep spending money for expenses in the family and in her home.

She's no Wharton graduate, so she borrows money from a variety of sources, pawns her jewelry and enters into agreements where she's unable to pay the interest on the loans and doesn't have a chance at paying the principal.  She has a multitude of schemes to get money for her immediate needs but no plans for how to get money for repayment of the loans.

Coming from an aristocratic family and living in an old (an decrepit) mansion, Nino gives the impression to the neighbors of still having money.  However, to pay for her mother's birthday party she has to pawn the older woman's wedding band and we sense quickly that Nino and her family's former expensive lifestyle ended in 2008 when Russia and its economy changed.

This is an interesting but depressing film about people forced into poverty by political changes beyond their control.  A disclaimer at the end says the film is based on historically true fact, but doesn't offer any solutions.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A New Directors New Films 2015 Selection

With only minimal experience in film, 27-year-old writer-director Chaitanya Tamhane has proven to be one of the "shining stars" among filmmakers under 30.

Set in India, this legal drama points out the realities of caste prejudice, social and legal injustice and venal politics when an elderly folksinger/activist is arrested on trumped up charges of inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide.

As the trial drags on endlessly and the prisoner, dubbed the "people's poet" remains in jail, we witness the endless procedural delays, the incompetence of various key players, the coaching of prosecution witnesses and the constant privileging of outdated colonial law over reason, mercy and justice.  If this is how the Indian legal system works, then very simply, it doesn't work.

India is a complex nation with a society that is stuck partially in colonial 19th century India and partially in 21st century modern India.  We see that that the old outdated laws have not been modified to reflect the modern society and that the system is rife with corruption.

There is no mercy towards the elderly prisoner, who in reality has done nothing to justify the charges.  His attorney is empathetic and prepared for each court session but the injustice of the law itself and the rulings of the judge make the quest for justice seemingly in vain.

Watching this 2-hour film the viewer squirms in his seat in frustration over what he sees on screen.  We can only imagine how much worse it would be to be living through this accurate portrayal of the Indian legal system.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


By D.E.Levine

When a film costs $95 million, the has a right to expect the film to be something special.  And Disney certainly delivers.

A 2015 remake of it's internationally acclaimed animated classic, the new version of Cinderella has live actors and is blended seamlessly with sophisticated CGI techniques so that the animals and special effects look real.

Two hours of pure fantasy with beautiful actors, stunning production design, and gorgeous costumes, this rendition will create an entire new set of Cinderella lovers.  So beautiful are the costumes that some were recently displayed in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City, as art as well as clothing.

Directed by famed British actor/director Kenneth Branagh, the cast is mainly British, starring Lily James of Downton Abbey fame, Cate Blanchett, recipient of numerous British, Australian and American awards (including an Oscar),  Richard Madden of Game of Thrones notoriety, the revered Derek Jacobi, this Cinderella is for all age groups.

You don't have to be a little child to totally enjoy the lavish sets by Dante Feretti and the elegant, colorful costumes of Sandy Powell.  And, the story line remains true to the original tale of Ella (James), a child beloved by both parents whose Mother falls ill and dies, leaving her father to remarry to the evil Lady Tremaine (Blanchett), who comes with two insufferable daughters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera).  Instead of embracing Ella as their half-sister, the evil stepsisters immediately demote her to scullery maid and servant and rechristen her "Cinderella".  Of course, Cinderella's fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) is looking out for her best interests and happiness.

Having met the Prince, who identifies himself as an apprentice named "Kit" in the forest, Cinderella, through the magic of her fairy godmother, attends a ball at the palace, where she captures the prince's heart but at the stroke of twelve with the magic ending, dashes off leaving one glass slipper behind.

The new script remains basically true to the old script and the original fairy tale, so Disney isn't attempting to recreate Cinderella, simply to enhance the tale through modern technology.

Sadly, although we have the ballroom scene filled with music, the rest of the score, basically the well-known songs from the original, aren't heard until the very end of the film when the credits are rolling.

This version of Cinderella is fun and fantasy, it requires no deep thinking although in typical Disney fashion there are lessons of self-esteem and kindness towards others taught.

Naturally, the film opened abroad before coming to the US and in it's first week in China it cleared $62 million.  American audiences are bound to be just as enthusiastic.  This is definitely a film not to be missed.


Friday, February 27, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2015 Selection

French national treasure Catherine Deneuve stars as Mathilde, a retired woman who lives at the top of a rundown Parisian building.  Against all odds she interviews, likes and hires a solitary and rather isolated drunkard, Antoine (Gustave Kervern), as concierge of the building.  Antoine needs the job to survive, but he's not especially interested in it or even a good concierge.

Mathilde's husband Serge (Feodor Atkine) thinks she may be slightly crazy and Kervern's character is definitely antisocial.  Antoine has been sent on the interview by a job center and Serge he's hopeless, very strange and a bad liar but Mathilde thinks he's perfect for the job.  Mathilde feels if Antoine is a bad liar it's because he doesn't lie very often.

Given the job, Antoine moves into a tiny studio at the entrance of the building.  As he meets the eclectic group of tenants he changes, becoming more social, more accommodating and even a decent janitor.  Of course, Antoine has his own way of doing things.  Deciding to plant trees and flowers in the courtyard, he steals them from a public park.But, it seems that every day he is placed in situations that are rather absurd and comical.

The most unlikely occurrence is the bonding between Mathilde and Antoine, who become friends and conspirators in building improvements.  It's an unlikely friendship and yet totally believable due to the actors.

When Mathilde discovers a large crack in the wall of her apartment, she becomes convinced that the entire building is going to collapse.  Becoming an activist to save the building and the neighborhood actually increases her eccentricities and "craziness".

Actually, all the characters are eccentric and humorous but they're definitely not cookie cutter roles. Although in many cases the story is similar to other French indie films the story twists and acting by established stars carry this film to a level above most.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


By D.E.Levine

A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2015 Selection

Definitely one of the most interesting films at this year's festival, Ariane Labed is also one of the most engaging actors.

Alice (Labed), a sailor in the merchant marine, joins a ship as a mechanic.  She is happily engaged to Felix (Anders Danielsen), a non-nautical Norweigian, and although her profession takes her away for weeks or months at a time, they communicate via Skye.  It seems like a calm, happy relationship.

Alice gets the job as a replacement for Patrick, a crew member who died at sea.  She's genuinely surprised to find that the Captain is her old flame Gael (Melvil Poupaud).  With torn emotions but adopting the attitude that no one need ever know what goes on at sea, Alice becomes involved with Gael again.

In the cabin she's given, one that belonged to Patrick, Alice finds Patrick's diary which she proceeds to retain, read and contemplate.

Accepted by the male crew and comfortable in the restricted environment of the ship, Alice does her job and carries on discreetly with the Captain.  Needless to say, there are romantic and professional complications with which Alice must deal, not the least of which is the possible damage to her relationship with Felix..

The backdrop for the film is basically the ship, with some bedroom scenes and some vistas of the open sea as seen from the ship.  Although she's then only female, the emphasis is not on surviving in a man's world but rather on the complexity of the  relationships between Alice and Felix, and Alice and Gael, and how those relationships are handled.

The Greek-born Labed shines in the role of Alice and seems born to play the part.  Much of the success of this film is due to her performance., which should not be missed.