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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

THE GATEKEEPERS

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

First time documentary maker Dror Moreh interviews six former heads of Israel's Shin Bet counter terrorism agency.

Recounting the recent history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the six discuss their actions while each was the head of the agency and the consequences of those actions.

Some of the actions are ruthless but regardless the documentary shows that all state-sanctioned violence has extracted a crippling moral toll on the region.

Some of the responses definitely pass the buck and the speaker skirts taking responsibility for the actions and their result.  However, for the most part the former heads are extremely candid and there's very little regret expressed for their actions which sometimes resulted in high numbers of deaths.

We still don't know what the consequences are for these six speaking out about their activities when they were head of the agency.  The six are pretty forthcoming about things that went wrong when they took action, lives that were lost and how the escalation of violence hindered the possibility of peace.

The documentary doesn't solve anything but it casts light on a difficult and ongoing subject.  All the heads agree that listening to and cooperating with Palestinian intelligence is very important.  Ultimately, the film is compelling because of its moral ambiguity.  All the former heads acknowledge their sense of power when making decisions to take enemy lives but don't address the all too troubling implications of ongoing counter terrorism.





Thursday, November 15, 2012

HOLY MOTORS

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

This is an entertaining but very strange film.  It never adds up but by the time the film ends you're shaken, mesmerized and convinced there's no need for it to add up.

Leaving his wife and house full of children one morning, Monsieur Oscar is picked up by his faithful chauffeur Celine and driven all over Paris where he changes his identity, his costume and his behavior.

Oscar starts out as a captain of industry, transforms into a gypsy crone beggar.  Moving to a digital production facility he becomes a ninja warrior who technology transforms into a reptilian sex god.  His next incarnation is as a troll, spewing gibberish and kidnapping a fashion model from a photo-shoot in the renown Pere-Lachaise cemetery, taking her through the Paris sewers to his underground lair.  Another identity is the melancholy father of a teen-age girl who is stalked by an assassin who intends to kill his doppelganger.  He also becomes a dying man and finally a thwarted lover who revisits an old flame on the roof of a department store next to the Pont Neuf.

Written and directed by the talented Leos Carax,  all of the different identities are played by one actor --- the superbly talented Denis Lavant.  In each personality, Lavant changes not only his clothes and sometimes his sex, but his voice, his stature and his walk.

The film is bizarre and entrancing.  Nothing is ever explained or made clear, it's all up to the individual interpretation of the viewer.  Lavant's characters are sometimes resurrected from other films where he first created and introduced them.

This may not be totally understandable or the greatest film ever made, but it definitely is a film that leaves the viewer thinking.

Monday, November 12, 2012

GINGER AND ROSA

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

Sally Potter's seventh feature is a melting pot of teenage angst and emotions amplified by the fear and politics surrounding the Cold War era.

Focusing on the friendship between Ginger (Elle Fanning) and her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert), two girls born on the same day that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, we see the emotional trauma and internal anguish that the two teenagers experience while living in a society that fears mass destruction.

Despite the setting, the story that Potter has fashioned, is timeless.   Dealing with paternal disillusionment and sexual confusion, Ginger is a typical confused teenager trying to come to terms with her problems and emotions.

We see a mixture of passion and adolescent awkwardness with political activism.  In addition to Fanning and Englert, Timothy Spall and Christina Hendricks give strong performances.  However, the film never excites, and the story has been told before.

While an admirable effort, it's an entertaining but now great film.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

AMOUR

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

Austrian director Michael Hanake's Amour won the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and it's a touching and rather harrowing look at what old age brings and what love costs.  It is definitely not an easy film to watch and no viewer will leave the theater happy.  However, it is realistic and many viewers will relate to incidents in their own lives with their elderly parents or other relatives.

The primary characters are Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva).  The couple is in their eighties and long married, with one daughter, played by Isabelle Huppert.

Both Georges and Anne are retired music teachers living in a spacious and beautiful apartment in Paris.  We see them initially at a concert where one of Anne's former pupils is the guest pianist.  Once home we glimpse a look at the intimate side of their lives - their private jokes and rituals.

Life is good and they are enjoying their retirement until one morning at breakfast when Anne suffers a series of small strokes that result in paralysis down the right side of her body and both physical and mental decline, as dementia sets in.

Georges, her devoted husband, hires, private nurses to care for her but eventually he himself becomes her caregiver, changing her diaper, bathing and feeding her.  He also isolates her, locking her in her bedroom and sparring verbally with their visiting daughter to keep her out of the bedroom.

Georges' love for Anne and his devotion to her slowly but surely destroys him as she deteriorates.   Played by two acting great legends of the French cinema, the characters come alive and are totally believable as is their situation.

Trintignant excels, although we have come to expect extraordinary performances from him throughout his career.  However, it is Riva, who as Anne clings to her dignity as each setback robs her a little more, who delivers the most astonishing performance.  Not that well known on this side of the Atlantic, Riva, at 85, mesmerizes the viewer and delivers an Oscar worthy performance.

It is impossible to remain dry-eyed throughout this film.  The emotions tug at the heartstrings and jog the personal memories of the viewers and their relationships with elderly family members.

Opening with a powerful foreword, the audience already knows the outcome of the film, but that knowledge doesn't lessen the intensity.  The film itself is made up of a series of flashbacks during which we see Georges and Anne during better times, after the strokes occur, and what follows after that.

Hanake has captured the fear of death  and our own mortality in a sensitive and caring manner.  We see that aging is uncompromising, regardless of education, affluence or social standing.  , Without the use of special effects, elaborate costumes or a large cast, Amour gets its message across in a direct and understated way and it sticks with you when you leave the theater.






Monday, November 5, 2012

NOT FADE AWAY

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

David Chase, known for his hit TV show The Sopranos, has written and directed a debut film that has a wonderful choice of his favorite music from the 1960s and also tells the story of the formative influence of music on his generation.

The choice of the title comes from a song made popular by Buddy Holly and The Rolling Stones.  While the story centers on a group of friends in a comfortable New Jersey suburb to take their band out of their garages and into the mainstream music business, the main theme is really about youth coming of age in the 60s.

The film is also a commentary on the changing of society, where youth seeking creative outlets are questioning the stability and traditional existence lived by their parents.

The era of the 60s is so rich that a combination of pop culture, the quest for artistic freedom and politics all helped to shape society and the youth coming of age in that time.  And, all of those are  shown as influences in the film.

Douglas (John Magaro) plays drums in a Garden State band.  The experience is taken directly from Chase's time as a drummer in a similar band.  Douglas and friends Gene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill) play covers of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bo Didley and a host of others at dances and parties.

Smitten with school beauty Grace (Bella Heathcote), Douglas is pretty much ignored by her until he steps in to do vocals when Gene has to skip a gig.  Proving himself to be a superior vocalist, Douglas also attracts Grace's attention and they start a romantic relationship.

Also an examination of the relationship between Douglas and his Italian-American family, the film shows their reaction to his curly hairdo, his pea coat and his adoption of Cuban heels as both poignant and hilarious.

When Douglas' father Pat (James Gandofini) is diagnosed with cancer, we see a sadness and wistfulness as Pat regrets his own sacrificed dreams while watching his son reach for his.  Perhaps the most moving scene is where Pat examines his regrets and lost opportunities while watching South Pacific on TV with the song Bali Ha'i playing.  With tears rolling down his cheeks, it may be this moment that defines his decision to let Douglas break from tradition and follow his dream.

Grace's unstable sister, in a conservative family, helps push and keep Grace and Douglas together and the overall story is told by Douglas' kid sister (Meg Guzulescu), who observes it all from the sidelines.

Although none of the three central characters were musicians when they auditioned, they trained together, learned to play their instruments and actually became the band that plays quite well in the movie.

Steven Van Zandt executive produced the film and acted as music curator.  He also wrote an original song called  The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" which Douglas and his band mates use as their first original songwriting attempt.

Not Fade Away is a very appealing film.  You don't have to be a baby boomer to enjoy the soundtrack and the story and it should provide a foundation for future films to come by David Chase.




Friday, November 2, 2012

SOMETHING IN THE AIR

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

Writer/Director Olivier Assayas creates a look and feel of Paris 1971 in this film.  Here, youthful revolutionaries (who appear to be mostly middle and upper class youth) are seeking meaning and hoping to make a difference through their own radicalism.

The central character appears to be Gilles (Clement Metayer), an aspiring painter and filmmaker who would appear to be an autobiographical character for Assayas.  Gilles sells underground newspapers outside of his school, attends meeting where he hotly debates challenging police policies, and prints and distributes flyers and posters that advocate anti-establishment causes.

When Gilles, Christine and friends conduct a graffiti attack on the school, it looks as though one of them will face serious legal problems.  Following that, when a Molotov cocktail attack on the security guard post leaves a man seriously injured, the group decides to disperse and leave town for the summer.

Gilles, Christine and Alain (Felix Arnard) head for Italy where they meet an American girl, Leslie (India Solvar Menuez),  They continue to participate in creative and revolutionary activities while indulging in drugs, marijuana and swapping sexual partners.

Gilles and Christine fall in with a group of filmmakers and eventually disillusioned, Gilles leaves Christine and the filmmakers to return to Paris and work in his father's traditional movie production business.

In the end, Gilles path may disappoint some viewers because it is something of a compromised of his revolutionary ideals.  However, it's only when he chooses this path that Gilles actually makes a decision instead of just meandering through "trendy" ideals.

While Assayas grew up during this era and is attentive to detail, combining those with a wonderful musical score, the characters are never are fully believable because while they claim to be idealistic militants the reality is that they are the privileged children of the upper class who spend a lot of time in drug induced hazes and appear to be wandering endlessly through life with their parents providing a steady stream of money with which to keep them clothed, sheltered and fed.