Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Paris-Manhattan, Suskind, The Other Son, among this year's Windsor Jewish Film Festival offerings

The 11th annual Windsor Jewish Film Festival runs April 29 – May 2 and features 10 films, all made in the last couple of years with the exception of the opening night classic The Two of Us (1967) directed by France’s Claude Berri. Autobiographical, the film is about a Parisian Jewish child who is sent to live with a friend’s elderly Catholic parents on a farm during the Nazi-occupied era. The boy discovers anti-Semitism up close and personal…..On Tuesday the recent film Paris-Manhattan has been generating a lot of buzz about a reluctant romantic, Alice, who in personal life doesn’t want to date because, well, she’s in love with Woody Allen. A fascinating historical documentary is screened later that afternoon Follow Me - The Yonatan Netanyahu Story about the famed Israeli soldier who led the attack at Entebbe and died. His story is told through friends and family including younger brother Benjamin Netanyahu. My Australia is set in 1960s Poland where a mother, a Holocaust survivor, finds her boys running with the wrong anti-Semitic crowd. She moves them to, not Australia but Israel…..On Wednesday Suskind (2012) is another film that has generated buzz. It’s about a German émigré to Holland during the Second World War who harbours Jews while he liases with the Nazi SS. Salsa Tel Aviv, a light comedy, is about a Mexican dancer’s unlikely romance in Israel. It’s followed by The Other Son, another recent film that has drawn considerable attention. It’s about switched identities at birth between an Israeli and Palestinian child and the later discovery of their heritages…..On Thursday, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is another tender story of reconciliation between two young people, one Israeli and the other Palestinian – “a Romeo and Juliet tale for the Internet Age.” Free Men tells the little known story of a Mosque in Nazi-occupied Paris that sheltered Jews during World War II. It’s followed by Remembrance, a true story about a love affair between a Polish freedom fighter and a Jewish woman who escape a concentration camp only to be separated, then discover each other three decades later……All films are screened at Devonshire Mall Cineplex Odeon.  Tickets are available at the door each day or at the Windsor Jewish Community Centre. Tickets $10.00 cash per film. For more info go to

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

More complexity in a drug store novel

Terrence Malick’s new To the Wonder (opening Friday at the Main) is described as a film that explores “the complexities of love in all its forms.” It’s also lyrical. The characters speak very little. It’s their thoughts – as appear in subtitles – that count. There are four main characters: Neil (Ben Affleck), Marina (Olga Kurylenko), Jane (Rachel McAdams) and Padre Quintana (Javier Bardem), who’s actually convincing as a priest. The film is dreamlike and virtually unscripted with the characters set free by Malick to interact – often in impassioned embraces - over what turns out to be an almost two hour film. So far so good and the score by Hanan Townshend mixes soft classical with something like menacing New Age angst. But exploring the complexities of love “in all its forms” is not what this movie is about. In fact To the Wonder is nothing more than a story about one couple – a seemingly conventional Midwestern oil company worker, Neil, who meets a more exotic Parisian, Marina. The film opens with images among the most romantic scenes in France including Paris and Mont Saint Michel along the tidal banks. (Contemplates Marina: “You lifted me from the ground, brought me back to life.”) It’s reminiscent of Claude Lelouch’s 1966 film A Man and a Woman though that is more romantic. Then jarringly the film cuts to the windswept planes of Oklahoma, where Ben has moved Marina and her daughter. But despite the 180 degree change to the epicentre of Middle America Marina seems only to want to intensify her relationship. It’s Ben who’s the hold out. And here we have a story that is very typical. Ben is the stoic silent type and doesn’t like emotion. Yet Marina is mad for him and wants passion. Marina’s visa eventually expires and she returns to Paris. Ben has a fling with an old flame, Jane. But Jane is just as intense and doesn’t want to make any more romantic mistakes. It seems Ben just can’t find in himself the intimacy women want. As for the Bardem character he is also searching for love and trying to make connection to his God, about which he has unsettling doubts. (“My soul thrusts for you…exhaust me”).He visits the sick and the indigent but whether that increases his passion for the Almighty is hardly clear. At one point I started thinking this film was about emotional weakness: Marina can’t quit an unloving relationship, Ben can’t remove himself from his ambivalence, and Quintana can’t decide whether he’s in the priesthood or not. The best lines go to an acquaintance, Anna (Romina Mondello) who urges Marina to escape. (“Life is a dream…you can be whatever you want.”) Later Marina muses: “Weak people never bring anything to an end themselves - they wait for other people to do it.” So score this movie a few points for naturalism and some nice cinematography. But there’s probably more romantic complexity in a typical drug store novel.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Pushing the fanciful boundaries

Baseball season has begun and I’m batting zero for two when it came to movies over the past week. The first was Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette, 1974) at the Detroit Film Theatre. Many consider it Rivette’s best film. Rivette was one of the main directors in the French New Wave. Rivette is a little more unknown – at least to North American audiences - than his counterparts like Truffaut, Godard and Chabrol. His work is definitely more experimental, perhaps even more so than Godard’s. I loved his La Belle Noiseuse (1991) about an artist (Michel Piccoli) whose mental block put him into a kind of power struggle with his model Marianne (Emmanuelle Béart), having a transforming effect. In Celine and Julie, the leads Juliet Berto (Celine) and Dominique Labourier (Julie), are amazingly spontaneous and unselfconscious in front of the camera. They’re a couple of friends who explore an alternative reality, in which they play roles in a Henry James story. But the question I had at the end: what’s the point? If the characters were supposed to resemble the others or be their alter egos it wasn’t apparent. Maybe, alas, it just is as it is.
The second movie was Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s 2012 film Beyond the Hills (at Landmark's Main), which was shortlisted for this year’s Oscars. Mungiu received lots of critical acclaim over his 2007 film 4 Months 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, which won the Palme d’Or, Cannes’ top prize. I saw that movie, set in Communist Romania. It’s about two female friends who try to obtain an illegal abortion. This film, like that one, is about two close women friends, one of whom is a young nun, the other who wants to lure her out of a religious life to live in Germany. Inspired by a true incident of what was thought to be demonic possession, I thought this film might be a kind of surreal European version of something like The Exorcist. It wasn’t at all. It’s a very straightforward drama about friendship, religious orthodoxy, and mental health. It didn’t seem to have a whole heck of a lot to say about any of them, quite frankly. But it was extraordinarily well acted by newcomers Cristina Flutur (Alina) and Cosmina Stratan (Voichita). This movie could have also been cut by an hour, from its running time of just over two-and-a-half. You might say it was a little repetitive.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Mixed feelings about Ebert

You’d almost think Roger Ebert was the patron saint of movies for all the adulation the guy has been getting since his (untimely) death last week. Many would say he is. But that’s going a little too far. Sure, he was a credible mainstream critic but let’s keep the word mainstream in perspective. He actually walked a fine line between pop culture and serious criticism and won a lot of respect from people on both sides of the fence. Of course his tragic illness with cancer generated an incredible amount of sympathy, which adds to the effusive outpouring of the past few days. There was never this kind of sympathetic response when Ebert’s one time co-host on Siskel & Ebert, Gene Siskel, died, also from cancer, in 1999. Like most other people I liked Roger Ebert for his reviews. My personal story about him is waiting in line at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1989 for the screening of, of all things, Michael Moore’s Roger & Me (a different Roger of course, ha ha). My friend nudged me and whispered, “Check out who’s standing in front of us.” The guy was wearing a sports jacket and jeans, and carrying a small leather satchel over his shoulder. It was none other than Roger Ebert, standing all by his lonesome. One of my thoughts was, “Oh, so famous TV movie critics also wear jeans – when they’re not on camera!” In any case, I soured somewhat on Evert in his later years. His film criticism was obviously still okay. But – and I’m sure the vast majority of people don’t know this – he was a rather strident and even vicious attacker of all things conservative as per his numerous almost daily tweets on contemporary U.S. politics. It was an eye opener for me, and I never quite felt the same about the guy.