AGORA
: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.


CRITICAL WOMEN HEADLINES

3/27/08

Tuya's Marriage: Wang Quan

PLOT:

TUYA'S MARRIAGE is the indelible portrait of a strong woman determined to save her family, herself and her husband from separation, starvation and possibly worse circumstances.



Set in the remote inner Mongolian grassland, TUYA (Nan Yu,)is the iron-willed wife of Bater, a herdsman who has been paralyzed. Tuya takes up the sole responsibility to make a living for her family, but her hard labor endangers her health. The solution to their harsh reality is for Tuya to get divorced and remarried to a man willing to take on the responsibility of her children, her husband and tending their herdland the sole source of their livelihood.


Tuya is shown to be a strong-minded, stubborn, but gentle woman whose principles and her love for her family including her husband guide her decisions in life.

The Mongolian setting, the life style so different from our own, adds an element to the quirky plot that keeps the viewer enthralled as this determined mother/wife and woman bring the elements of modern day feminist's desire into reality.


Wrenching and beautiful: educational and empowering:. I recommend this film whole heartedly

Tuya's Marriage Open April 4, 2008


LindaZ
WBAI Women's Collective

3/25/08

The Favor: Written and directed by Eva Aridjis,

The Favor(2006) is an intimate family drama about a working class, middle age man
Lawrence Hull(Tony award winner Frank Wood, The Royal Tenenbaums) whose intimate knowledge of closeness seems limited to the companionship he enjoys with his little dog Lucy until he elects to make his girlfriend of years ago orphaned sixteen year old troubled adolescent son, Johnny(Ryan Donowho OC, Broken Flowers, A Home at the End of the World) his foster child.

This is a powerfully acted and emotionally accurate film with attention to details often omitted in films where success is counted in making money and being the best student, the shining light real parents seldom enjoy during the trying adolescent years. The unforeseen lessons, the moments of learning to know and accept one another are brought to the fore with skillful depiction. Much of the power of the film is in the understatement of the obvious, the simplicity of scene. It is a film where the less said the more is implied with great success and it ends not with doom or gloom or dramatic events. It ends simply with a statment of hope:
Where love prevails so do we.


I recommend this film as a must see moment to be enjoyed by parents and their children, alone or as a family

Linda Z
WBAI Women's Collective





The Favor will open for an exclusive engagement on May 2, 2008 at Quad Cinema, located at 34 West 13th Street in New York City.

The film premiered at the CineVegas Film Festival in June 2006

3/16/08

Wings Of Defeat: Military Machismo As Assisted Suicide


By Prairie Miller

It's nearly a given that Americans learn most about 'history' at the movies, not in the classrooms. And where more often than not, there's always one side to every story. So it's no surprise that people in this country believe that the WW II Japanese kamikaze pilots who deliberately flew their planes into US naval warships, were simply crazed, screaming fanatics trying to impress their emperor. Risa Morimoto's very personal yet historically complex documentary, Wings Of Defeat, sheds a very different light on those young men, some of whom are still alive to tell their quite sad and compelling story.

Morimoto has crafted Wings Of Defeat not only as a cinematic inquiry, but as someone who has an intimate, tragic connection to those times. Though born and raised in New York City, Morimoto discovered only recently that she's the niece of a kamikaze pilot who died twenty years ago in Japan. For the secrecy and embarrassment that exists in connection with those thousands of kamikazes, hundreds of whom survived because they were still in training when the war ended, is not unlike the silence that shrouds the Vietnam War era here in the US.

And so Morimoto made the painful journey to Japan to discover through her film, the mystery surrounding her late uncle's life along with the other pilots. Her inquiry is penetrating and also balanced, as she allows surviving elderly kamikazes, family members of those who were killed, and sailors who were aboard those targeted US ships, a shared spotlight in her film. And it is her initial hope that as an outsider, she can ease the sting of recollection.

While the US veterans are puzzled that the kamikaze pilots would readily give up their lives - several even confessing that they didn't have the heart to shoot them down - while the Americans were fighting for their own survival, the former kamikazes themselves and these families have far greater difficulty expressing their opinions or feelings. In fact, some are speaking about the subject for the first time ever in their lives, to the camera rather than to their own spouses or children. A profound survivors' guilt also hovers in the air, along with chronic despair and buried pain, wherever Morimoto makes her rounds.

And it's not just about the collective shame of being vanquished in a war. What comes to light through Wings Of Defeat, is a military brutality that forced most of these young men to sacrifice their lives. Many were in fact as young as fifteen and sixteen years old, dragged out of their schools, plied full of sake wine, and given a one way ticket so to speak - that is, not enough plane fuel for a return ride - and sent on their way. In effect, those boys not old enough to legally drink or drive, were ironically forced to do both out of obedience to patriotic duty.

Some were beaten and starved into submission, while others were pressured into believing that they were saving their countrymen, who would otherwise be massacred by the poised US invaders. One survivor recalls how a fellow pilot went on his mission only after learning that his young wife had flung herself and their two children into a river, so he wouldn't have to endure the suffering of knowing that he was leaving them behind. Another shows Morimoto his 'funeral portrait' taken just before he was supposed to fly on his own mission. He remembers that everyone was 'dying on the inside' but kept smiling. His parents and sons had never before heard him speak a word of what he describes as a grim time.

What is also striking on a more political level, is the similarity of language contained in the war rhetoric, that continues to be echoed today as rationalization for foreign aggression. The Japanese government so effectively persuaded the country to rally behind the war effort, because they insisted they were pushing Western imperialism out of Asia and 'liberating' Asian countries from US tyranny and predatory designs. And the kamikaze assaults, which were not implemented until late in the war, rather than a novel military tactic, were simply last acts of desperation, as Japan itself metaphorically nosedived into its own demise. That is, when fuel and supplies had nearly run out, and human beings as bombs became a military weapon of last resort.

The numerous melancholy threads of Wings Of Defeat come together in the end with an unanticipated inspirational optimism. Morimoto is saddened about her uncle, but relieved to discover that he was set up to be martyred by his country, not for them. And while the family sweeps and washes his grave during a visit to the cemetery, one elderly former kamikaze feels a renewed determination to fight for permanent peace on an otherwise doomed planet, while expressing a desire to meet those American sailors in the film who had spared his comrades.

Wings Of Defeat is an exemplary scrutiny of the emotional and psychological manifestations of patriotism. And a candid and bold challenge to the whole notion of preconceptions and stereotypes.

Wings Of Defeat will be screened at the Japan Society in New York City on March 18th, and at Georgetown University in Washington DC on March 19th. More information is online at: wingsofdefeat.com.

Edgewood Pictures
4 stars

Prairie Miller
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
2005/DVD 2006
Director: Cristi Puiu
Cast: Luminita Gheorghiu, Ion Fiscuteanu, Daru Ana
Review by Nancy Keefe Rhodes

Both films are about unwanted teen pregnancy, but there’s no mistaking the new and widely respected Romanian film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days – which has just briefly played at Manlius Cinema – with Juno. That mere blink of an eye in which Ellen Page’s chatty teen-ager considers and dismisses the possibility of abortion? Cristian Mungiu’s film is all about that “option” as it played out in 1987, in the depths of Nicolae Ceauşescu’s dysfunctional regime, two years before the dictator’s own bloody demise. Mungiu’s film is harrowing and in one late section, when the student roommate, a soberingly indomitable young woman, is traversing some dark alleys and stairwells to dispose of her friend’s fetus, you find yourself filled with dread, for her safety and really for the well-being of us all.

Inscrutably passed over for Oscar nomination – much to the consternation and surprise of numerous reviewers – Mungiu’s film is part of the surge of new Romanian cinema that came to our attention several years ago with Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005). Mungiu uses the same cinematographer, Oleg Mutu, so both films have a similar look and feel – there’s the strange sensation of events on the brink of chaos that a camera has locked onto, as if only the shoot itself holds things together. And again, there’s a female performance and character of understated yet profound humanity. Luminita Gheorghiu’s portrayal of Mioara Avram, the nurse-paramedic who accompanies Dante Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) on his final night’s journey through four different city hospital emergency rooms, is itself reason enough to rent this movie.

Red-haired and a little blowsy, in her mid-50s, smoking whenever she can and bothered all night by her own gall-bladder pain (nasty, by the way, especially when your job entails hauling heavy bodies around through a night shift in a cold, lurching ambulance), Mioara arrives at Lazarescu’s dismal high-rise at ten o’clock on a late October Saturday night. He has a terrific headache, his stomach hurts, he smells of alcohol and he vomits several times.

Lazarescu has three cats whom the neighbor’s wife hates and you know will not be safe in his absence. He has a busy sister in another city who wants his pension check and a married daughter in Toronto, and lost his wife eight years ago. His gentle neighbor, Sandu (Daru Ana), is so huge he must stoop, emphasizing how tiny Lazarescu’s flat is. Focused, patient, fairly astute medically, Mioara decides Lazarescu must indeed go with her, but first she’s tempted – like every over-worked medical person he encounters – to dismiss his pains as drunkenness.

A huge accident in which a bus carrying children crashes complicates their journey. That carnage overwhelms all the hospitals ahead of them. At St. Spiridon, one doctor calls Lazarescu “you pig” for requesting more courteous treatment. At University Hospital, a morose figure in a flowing black cape meets the ambulance in the parking lot with, “Please go away.” At Filaret Hospital, doctors determine Lazarescu needs surgery after wasting long moments chastising Mioara for challenging their authority by suggesting it. At Bagdasar Hospital, near the end of the night shift, he’s finally prepped for surgery.

Along the way, Lazarescu deteriorates, wets himself, begins to speak deliriously, lapses into coma just before dawn. He’s stripped, washed, his torso draped with a clean sheet. An aide pats his newly shaved skull, calls him “Handsome.” Instead of leaving him at any number of acceptable junctures, Mioara sticks by him, even defends him, touches him from time to time with a reflex that finally becomes tender. They exchange the kind of personal details, largely at Lazarescu’s persistent prompting – Mioara says early on, “This one likes to chat” – that make it hard to see another as an object and send out for croissants, as one doctor does, before his gurney’s out the door.

With great economy, Puiu provides the weary emergency room staffs through whose hands Lazarescu passes with enough traits that they light up for their few moments as individuals. The first physician who lectures and derides Lazarescu wears a haughty pompadour. One young doctor’s constant cracking of his chewing gum somehow summarizes his youth and energy. One woman physician secures a needed test for Lazarescu by tapping into her supervisor’s amorous intentions, while at the next stop the model-glamorous blond doctor – she of the croissants – is locked in a power-fueled stalemate with her male superior that poisons every interaction in their vicinity like fall-out. The aides who finally wash Lazarescu’s body, unlike many of the previous younger women, are older, heavier, their thick hands and waists evoking some rural village where the women wash the dead for burial.

All these deft minor strokes evoke another, more classical journey through the underworld also famously peopled by vivid cameos. Puiu brackets his film early and late with this defining reference, identifying his main character’s full name as “Dante Remus Lazarescu” and the orderly called at the closing to “take him across” as Virgil. Puiu says he also called on the series ER for ambiance and background of a different sort – it’s a favorite of his, serialized on Romanian TV.

After a boatload of international prizes and US DVD release in 2006, this film has not done terribly well here, perhaps because of misguided marketing as an “acclaimed black comedy.” The DVD contains the US trailer with its hyper-edited snatches of dialogue and shots that create a wholly misleading slapstick impression. But Puiu says Romanian audiences did laugh at initial festival screenings, which he allows “surprised” him. If the film at Manlius is no Juno, this one isn’t The Bucket List either. Based on a real incident in which an ambulance visited six Bucharest hospitals in one night – Puiu says the repetition provided a structure that let him explore variations – this launches six films that will portray kinds of love. Puiu starts that series with “love of humanity.” Comedy, yes - but of the divine sort.

*******
This review appeared in the 3/13/08 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a regular column reviewing DVDs of recent movies that did not open theatrically in CNY & older films of enduring worth.

3/15/08

Disgusted About Sexism In Film Criticism: WFCC Women Interviewed

Congratulations to the WFCC women who were interviewed in the Friday Union-Tribune article about the disgusting sexism in the male-dominated movie criticism field, after U-T columnist David Coddon approached the Women Film Critics Circle. And thank you to all who responded. Here's the article and link:

FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH | DAVID L. CODDON
Sexist remark shines a light on shortage of female film critics

SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE

March 14, 2008

The negative review of “The Other Boleyn Girl” that appeared in the Feb. 29 Currents Weekend began this way: “What is the point of a bodice-ripper starring an actress who – how can we put this politely? – doesn't have much to offer in the decolletage department?”

That same day, a female colleague on the U-T features editing team who'd seen “The Other Boleyn Girl” and liked it told me she could tell from that very first sentence that the review had been written by a man. She was right.

It was written not by a Union-Tribune staff member, but by a critic whose review was plucked from the Associated Press wire. I did the plucking. I'm sorry I did. It was a stupid, sexist way to open a critique of “The Other Boleyn Girl.”

Then I started wondering why there are so few female film critics, especially on major newspaper staffs (including this one). Searching for insight, I discovered the Women Film Critics Circle, which dubs itself the “First National Association of Women Critics.” I contacted several of its members and tapped their brains.

“There are a lot of male editors and men in management positions,” said Felicia Feaster, one of two critics (the other is a man) at the alternative weekly Creative Loafing in Atlanta. “I don't think it's seen as essential to have a female voice on that particular beat.

“It's ironic to me because one of the most famous film critics ever was Pauline Kael (of The New Yorker), who was so influential. What's her legacy? There's no one who has that kind of role now.”

Feaster said there are more female voices in the alternative press, but even there, film is a male-dominated beat. “It's unfortunate because women sometimes bring a completely different point of view to films.”

Fellow WFCC member Mary Garcia in New York City writes reviews for the trade pub Film Journal International and for The Progressive. Garcia suggested that “The male voice of authority is still with us. When I was in film school, one of the reasons women weren't trusted behind the camera was because we couldn't carry one. So the men used to say, 'You can try, but why don't you do continuity?' We grew up with that.”

Still, Garcia cautions that having “more women's voices doesn't necessarily guarantee less bias.”

In fact, Nancy Keefe Rhodes in Syracuse, N.Y., who covers film and visual arts for MovieCrossRhodes.blogspot.com, said that some WFCC members “are on the radio, some are online, some are in weekly papers. I don't think there are quite as few of us (female critics) as you might think.”

Do men and women look at a film differently?

“Inevitably, I do look at many films as a woman,” Rhodes said. “Certainly, men have a male perspective, too. I want to be able to review films that everybody makes for all kinds of audiences.”

As online journalism overtakes print, more people – men and women – will be reviewing more and more films. Sadly, though, the line between legitimate criticism and mindless blogging is sure to blur. Film “reviews” may become the first cell phone call or text message one friend makes to another as he or she walks out of the screening. While it can, the printed word must give moviegoers credibility – and it takes the printed words of both genders to do that.

[http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/features/20080314-99
99-1c14closeupm.html]

Women Film Critics Circle: wfcc.wordpress.com
Critical Women On Film: Journal of the Women Film Critics Circle - criticalwoman.blogspot.com

3/14/08

Eliot Spitzer's 'Bank Job'

By Logan Nakyanzi Pollard

It's fun looking at fuck-ups because they take our eyes off ourselves. I can't prove this, but I suspect that in some way we're all hypocrites, we're all frauds. Some of us are even criminals.

I was thinking about this last night as my husband and I were on the way home from watching the film The Bank Job, a take on a "true life" story about a bank heist in the 1970's. The Bank Job takes place in grim, dark London in 1971 -- enter wacko black radicals and white Brits treating other white Brits badly -- depressing but sexy stuff. The subplot of the film involved a series of photos taken of various prominent people having sex with people they shouldn't being having sex with. How sad. How uptight! We laughed on the way home. It's an unfortunate thing... having people see your most intimate desires, when you'd rather keep them private: like that public official in the film, surreptitiously photographed being whipped while wearing pink ladies panties.

And there seemed an odd congruity yesterday -- hearing Eliot Spitzer's big reveal: that he likes high-priced prostitutes. (I like the "high price" part, it adds a certain cache -- what exactly do you get for $5000/hour?) It's not so much of a big reveal though is it? I mean, infidelity is a common thing. And worse still, most of the time the other partner is none the wiser: "70 percent of married women and 54 percent of married men did not know of their spouses' extramarital activity," claims Men's Stuff publication. I've always thought Eliot Spitzer was a handsome man, I don't mind telling you that now. Part of me has often thought a man that handsome would have to get into some trouble. I even felt a smug kind of satisfaction in seeing I was right about him. Around me at work -- I hadn't see this much excitement in the newsroom since Monica Lewinsky. So sexy! So fun! All of us released for a moment from the tension of covering the fight between Obama and Clinton. Love a sex scandal. Look at him, his face. His wife. This is juicy stuff: Good man gone bad.

And then, I suddenly felt chilled -- chastened actually: Spitzer was supposed to be the man to clean-up Albany. Now all the crooks can say to him: you have been brought down. I wondered, why are we gleeful? Are our lives really so boring that we are happy to see a man brought down by -- of all things -- himself? His own weakness? This is a sad thing, I think.

Further along in this direction, I wonder, are we waiting for our leaders to fail? Maybe we want them to fail so we can have an excuse to not believe in anyone anymore. If nobody can be perfect, then nothing will have to change. If nobody can be perfect, then you will not have to do anything. We can all sit around and judge each other. I wonder, maybe, we should stop. Maybe we should not set up people for this. Maybe we should let each other fuck up sometimes.

[http://www.huffingtonpost.com/logan-nakyanzi-pollard/
eliot-spitzers-bank-job_b_90979.html]

Logan Nakyanzi Pollard is an executive producer at Air America Radio and Go Left TV, and writes for The Huffington Post. Logan is also a member of the Women Film Critics Circle.


3/13/08

Irina Palm Review: Sleaze, Social Satire, Feminism and Found Love

By Prairie Miller

With media junkies hooked right now on disgraced New York Luv Guv Eliot Spitzer's comedown - no puns intended and there are many more to come in this review, so pay attention - and little focus from the service provider's perspective, so to speak, the movie Irina Palm may go a long way to change all that. Scarcely scandal-free, former Mick Jagger favorite honey, singing sensation in her own right, and occasional suicidal homeless heroin addict Marianne Faithfull turns the hooker with a heart of gold notion on its head along with well, giving is better than receiving issues, which are all in for a radical makeover in this film.

Marianne is Maggie in Irina Palm, a frumpy, aging suburban London widow and lifelong housewife who endured a loveless marriage through the decades after finding herself pregnant at seventeen. And now she's suddenly saddled with the burden of her young grandson afflicted with a potentially terminal disease, and having to help find the money to pay for a possible life-saving operation in another country.

It also happens to be Christmastime, and in a painfully cruel series of ironic twists on all that fake good will season rhetoric, Maggie is summarily turned down for crisis cash at the bank by a loan officer in a ridiculous Santa Claus hat and surrounded by glittering trees, and later dismissed outright at the unemployment office, as just another marginalized, economically desperate old woman with no work history.

Having led an existence quite sheltered from the real world, Maggie spots a help wanted notice for a hostess job in the window of a sleazy downtown Soho strip club, and applies, taking the job title literally. Miki (Miki Manojlovic), the cranky Eastern European club owner, at first ridicules the serious-minded senior applicant, then notices that she may have a special gift that transcends age or sex appeal - a pair of exceptionally soft hands.

So Miki sets Maggie up for a probationary trial run administering anonymous hand jobs, to put it bluntly, to unseen clients through a well-positioned hole in the wall of a scuzzy back room. Maggie is shocked and revolted to say the least, but with the prospect of her grandson's life coming to an end, she methodically goes about her well-paying chore in her household cleaning smock, until routine eventually replaces revulsion.

Taking to heart more than a little the maxim that beauty's only skin deep, while turning a whole menu of storytelling conventions on their head, the film does just that as Maggie's unique talent - of which she's completely unaware mind you - becomes the stuff of local legend. And long lines of lusty customers to partake of this grandma's great right hook, are soon forming, as they increasingly ignore all those nude young dancers cavorting around the club. Maggie is such a hit, that Miki rewards her - in his own way - by renaming her Irina Palm on her door sign advertising her wares. And when she gets mad enough to bawl him out for issues around worker exploitation, Miki not only begins to notice her as a person and connect to her human side, but may also be becoming captivated by her as a woman.

Director Sam Garbarski has crafted an extraordinarily unique and touching film, combining sleaze, social satire, feminism, and romantic grace to create a tenderhearted tale of found love, female empowerment, and redemption from the collective dehumanization inherent in commercially driven society. And he actually pulls it off, give the guy a hand. On second thought...

Prairie Miller

Further comments on Funny Games 2007

DON'T DO VIOLENCE TO VIOLENCE:

In defense of Funny Games U.S.

By Linda Z

 

 

In my earlier review, see below, I confessed to being so enamored by this film that it rendered me tongue tied.  But Prairie Miller and our readers have sufficiently loosened my tongue that I am more capable of giving those vital details to enable readers to go to the see the film and understand, emotionally and intellectually the work of a true genius.

History has taught us that the genius is rarely understood at the time of his greatest works.  In this regard Michael Haneke is no exception.  However, Michael Haneke addresses this problem.  By remaking the film he has taken up the burden of his intellectual superiority.

In his opinion this film is more true today in the United State than when he originally made it and that is the reason he has remade it.

What he wants is for more people to see and understand what he is saying. 

What is he saying?

Although there is only a seven second difference between his original film and the remake, the substantive difference is important.  These actors are "more professional" Michael Haneke said in the press session I attended.

 If this is just another one of many gratuitously violent films, why should this slight difference in the actors make such a profound difference to the Director?

The answer lies in what he is trying to convey.  The actors are not people but caricatures of real people.  They are like robots, plastic renditions of human beings.  They have no past, no real emotions.  Even the family in the car ride to their summer house are plastic and the music which is not really what it seems to be, is plastic, annoying, because it has no melody, nothing to emotionally grab hold of.  It is a wake up call.  It throws all other thoughts out of one's mind to put us in the moment.  But don't we live from moment to moment with anxiety hovering over all of our lives

Funny Games  is not about violence, the blood and gore type It is about the game, life as a violent, dehumanizing, grossly disturbing game.

This is not Hollywood.  We understand that this is not a Hollywood film  by deliberate effort when the Dircetor  breaks all the rules in film making and gives us a rerun of a tense moment of potential escape.  In Hollywood the good guys win.  I found myself relaxing with the original film take,  the good guys win version and when the scene is rerun, and it becomes obvious that the Director is playing with us just like the media always does, and the truth here prevails:  the good guys will not win,  I found myself emotionally distraught, confused and then educated.  This is a film that says we are so used to seeing the good guys win but the truth is the bad ones are wining every day.   And they win while we watch television and cheer about a sports event with all that superfluity of emotion.  That eliciting of exuberant emotion is a game visited upon us by Hollywood and the media.

 Look at the news.  Designed to entertain.   War reduced to a numbers game peppered with the implicit understanding that we, the perpetrators of  violence worldwide with the dissemination of weapons of destruction and overt acts of aggression, are the good guys and we are winning.

This is not a Marxist film.  It is not about one class struggle against another. 

Every character is of the same class, made from the same cloth, with the same higher education and the same overt display of money, in clothes, life style.  Thus it is impossible to say who is good, who is bad. These characters are "beyond good and evil" as are those school children with guns drawn shooting at those with whom they spend the everyday moments of their lives.   There is even a Biblical reference in the names, Paul and Peter, for the serial killers.

This film says we are all alone even with our new found cell phones and other means of communication that don't work when we need them most.

When we close the gate to our inner selves, our summer estate, we are making ourselves more vulnerable to attack. 

It is a mistake, an important error in judgment, not to see this film.  We must open our eyes to what life really is, accept, and embrace the violence of our world. A prerequisite to meaningful change is the understanding emotionally and intellectually of what is.

 Funny Games gives me/us hope.

SEE IT.  Then tell me how wrong, how right I am

3/12/08

Funny Games: A Different View

By Prairie Miller

With the cult of cruelty wallpapering the mass media more than ever before, and everything from murders, wars and celebrity breakdowns as lowbrow spectator sport entertainment, it was only a matter of time before the cinema of sadism would seek a new, virtually untapped market among the egghead arthouse crowd. And now that German born writer/director Michael Haneke and his warped imagination have ventured into that virgin territory with Funny Games US, the remake, the stampede is on. Or so it would seem.

Film critics, whom one would imagine would know better, have apparently lost their minds over this movie at the moment. Or at least hastily set aside any sense of professionalism and even moral decency, as they've shown up at preview press screenings for Funny Games in droves, with lines snaking around the block, to partake with great gusto and hearty cheerful enthusiasm, in the ambulance-chasing style morbid pleasures of observing a family, however fictional, being tortured nonstop on the screen for two hours.

Haneke decided to remake his original Funny Games, which came out in 1997, for reasons which are unclear, considering that this production remains nearly intact. Except for a new cast of characters, relocation of the setting from Germany to Southampton, Long Island, and a notably passive male head of household victim and contrasting take charge, more aggressive housewife. The director has mentioned in interviews that he had really intended his first film to be made about America, because of the greater inclination of US movies to revel in violence as entertainment.

As Funny Games begins, the affluent Farber Family, George (Tim Roth) and Ann (Naomi Watts) are headed by car to their remote palatial vacation home with their young son, Georgie (Devon Gearhart). While father and son tidy up the family fishing boat at their private dock, Mom makes preparations for a dinner that night with visiting neighbors.

Ann's kitchen duties are suddenly interrupted by the appearance at the door of an odd preppie young man dressed in a golfing outfit and white sports gloves, and with impeccable formal etiquette. Peter (Brady Corbet) asks to borrow four eggs at the request of a neighbor he claims to be visiting, then proceeds to drop and break the eggs, and ask for four more. Soon Peter is joined out of nowhere by his identically attired and likewise strangely verbally polite pal, Paul (Michael Pitt).

When the peculiar pair becomes increasingly demanding and refuses to leave, a confrontation with the couple ordering them to do so leads to an ugly hostage situation, and escalating degradation, violence and psychological torture for this unfortunate family. And the two patrician young men never lose their soft-spoken cool, while casually applying the most despicable forms of suffering and humiliation to these random, doomed victims.

The emphasis is clearly on torture for sport, given the athletic attire of these elite thugs, and their favored wielding of golf clubs as potential deadly weapons. And their stated intentions that the rules of the 'funny games' in progress consist of whether or not the family members can prevail and avoid death at their hands, by managing to survive until morning.

There's also the implied intended collusion of the audience, devised by a mischievous filmmaker not without his own culpability in this extended atrocity, in a kind of depraved spectator sport. And sorry to say, the assembled film critic viewers at the screening I attended, appeared to themselves be taken agreeable hostage with pleasure and even laughter, for the ride. Will the real monster stand up, please.

This sort of having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too indulgence in torture porn, however arty, while pretentiously and simultaneously implying a vague critique of the proceedings, is nearly as repulsive and pointless as anything observed on the screen. Is Haneke suggesting deadly home invasion with its initial, deceptively gracious diplomatic overtures, as symbolic of imperialism? If so, there's not much merit to that premise, as the perpetrators and victims alike are all upper class. Perhaps the most striking irony at work here, is that the wealthy have devised all sorts of technical measures and gadgetry like elaborate electronic gated communities to protect their interests, but in doing so may also be trapping themselves within, in a crisis. Well, so what.

The idea itself for Funny Games, though, is not necessarily far fetched. The most notorious patrician killing spree on record, that of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr. who kidnapped and murdered a child in the early 1920s simply for thrills, subsequently inspired two movies, Compulsion (1959) and Swoon (1992). But Funny Games sheds no new light in this arena on either the complexity of pathological human relations, or psychological depravity.

Hopefully Funny Games is not indicative of a new trend where the arthouse crowd gets their own stylistically upgraded B slasher fare too. That ominous cruelty-is-cool, polite homicide-is-hip mentality is nothing more than a new low in the movie world.

Warner Independent Pictures
Rate R

Prairie Miller

3/9/08

Barrio Cuba
Director: Humberto Solás
Cast: Luisa María Jimenez, Mario Limonta, Jorge Perugorria, Adela Legra, Rafael Lahera
2005/DVD 2008
Review by Nancy Keefe Rhodes

It’s remarkable how you remember some films, how you find they are crisp and clear in your mind much later and just as good now as when you first watched them, surprised and unsuspecting. Cuban director Humberto Solás’ Barrio Cuba, just out on DVD here, screened almost exactly a year ago – March 3, 2007 – at the DC Independent Film Festival in Washington, thanks to the persistence of DCIFF’s founder and director, Carol Bidault. She had seen Barrio Cuba abroad at another festival and endured lengthy negotiations to make the DC appearance happen. Barrio Cuba had its international theatrical premier later – in mid-July – in Spain. Perhaps needless to say, it has never opened theatrically here.

Two staff attached to the Washington Cuba Section Office came with the film that Saturday night, keeping to themselves in a strategic corner of the mezzanine balcony overlooking the main lobby on the University of the District of Columbia campus in northwest DC – this year’s DCIFF opens this weekend at George Mason University – even during the lively, pretty much continuous reception between and during screenings. The second in a trilogy of films about life in Havana’s slums, Barrio Cuba was extremely well-received by that festival crowd.

Many seemed to know Solás’ most recent previous film, Honey for Oshun, about a young man who searches for his lost mother after he discovers he was taken out of Cuba illegally as a child by his father. Honey for Oshun released in 2001, the year after the notorious Elián González affair in which a boy brought to Miami by his mother was returned to his Cuban father after court battles by Miami relatives and middle of the night seizures by federal agents. I had seen Honey, which shares four principal cast members with the newer film, at a May Memorial Church fund-raiser several years ago here in Syracuse, and watching Solás at work in Barrio brought memories rushing back. Whatever else has been going on under Fidel, the 67-year-old Solás – who started his film career in 1961 with shorts and docs, appreciates and explores women as few male directors do, and survived Cuba’s aggressively anti-gay state policies that began in the 1970s – can sure still make movies.

In the past year since DCIFF, three have become available in the US, notably through First Run Features’ 5-disc Cuban Masterworks set, which has come out one disc at a time: A Successful Man (1987), about two brothers’ divergent political paths and their family newspaper from the 1930s through Castro’s revolution; Amada (1982), about a cross-class Havana romance in 1914; and Cecilia (1981), about racial tensions circa 1830. Solás’ 1968 sensation about three women who embody three critical time periods, Lucía, exists on DVD but sadly not in US format.

The plotline of Barrio Cuba also revolves around three women and their trials, partings, longing for children, family, connection and reconciliation. The nurse Magalis (Luisa María Jimenez) rides her bicycle to the hospital – already exhausted by her father’s bickering with her younger brother Willy over his decision to come out as a gay man and by husband Alfonso’s wandering – past the shop where much older Ignacio (Mario Limonta) watches her daily, besotted. Chino (Jorge Perugorria) picks up Vivian (Isabel Santos) from her all-night shift at the pharmacy. Prodigiously passionate, their marriage breaks under the strain of her miscarriage and his own family’s grief as a younger brother leaves Cuba, taking the young grandsons with him. Amparo (Adela Legra) welcomes the pregnant wife Maria (Ana Dominguez) of her son Santo (Rafael Lahera) into her tiny barrio home, only to have Maria die in childbirth. We measure the film’s time frame – years longer than we might think without this yardstick – by the growth of the boy Miguelito, whom Santo leaves with Amparo when he takes to the road, unable to bear Maria’s death.

We meet all of these characters, save Miguelito, in the film’s opening moments, as Havana sets out en masse, gamely, even energetically for its worn, tattered day. One of the shocks of this film, which steals over you gradually, is the depth of material privation in everyday Cuban life after decades of embargoes and sanctions. Yet this city is gorgeously filmed and these emotional lives rich, full-bodied, nuanced, utterly convincing. Every major character weeps at some turning point. Esteban Puebla provides a musical score of startling lush emotional power. Such filmmaking has a confidence and sweep that leaves much of American mall cinema seeming rotely hesitant by comparison, even in Solás’ refusal to create artificial connections among his subplots. Instead, he simply pans across the sky to the next location, picking up that story where he left off, relying on the momentum of emotional resonance to keep its balance and coherence. Remember that first time you rode without training wheels?

*******
This review appeared in the 3/6/2008 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a regular column reviewing DVDs of recent movies that did not open theatrically in CNY & older films of enduring worth.

3/4/08

Funny Games 2007

Funny Games 2007

Michael Haneke

A remake of the Michael Haneke 1997 film of the same name

 

Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corrbet, Devon Gearhart

 

 

Plot

A wealthy family (mother, father and son) goes on vacation to their palatial summer home  and is met by two serial killers.

 

 

Usually when I see a film I can walk out of the theater and say something about it.  But with this film I was so blown away by the sheer brilliance that I became tongue tied.

 

Where to begin?  With the opening music.  The sound isn’t soft, melodious, gently pulling you into the experience as you read the credits.  No.  The music that ushers in the film is loud, too loud, jarring and that is just what the Director Michael Haneke wants.

 

To make his audience uncomfortable, to make us think about what we are seeing rather than just sitting in the theater taking in the moments without a critical eye.

 

From the opening he then introduces the viewer to the principle actors, well, some of them, the family.  They know classical music and this sound is soft, beautiful.  It indicates that Michael Haneke does know pleasant music in contract to what he initially exposed us to.

 

Michael Haneke never forgets his audience.

Some might object to this, the interruption to talk to you as you sit through one tense grueling violent or potentially violent scene after another.  But he is saying, this is our world, as the television racecar meet accompanies the violent act of gratuitous murder.  But isn’t that exactly what we do.  We watch the football game while we continue to finance the murder of women  and children in iraq, In Afghanistan?

 

And if you didn’t understand the television as background music, Michael Haneke gives us a not uncommon experience with the cell phone to show that all these new age devices seem to  promise communication and protection and help but when we need them most, they don’t work.  Unfortunately, that too resonates with our all too frequent life experience.

The rerun of a scene   also a unusual addition to the film’s evolution, reminds us that new age technology can make anything happen and often takes what is real and not real and mixes it all up.

 

 But the most intense moment of horror for me was when Naomi Watts, an actress whom Michael Haneke specifically wanted for the part of the mother, and attractive wife, is thrown like a piece of unwanted banana peel into the lake as the boat sails on.

 

Oh the discomfort, the profound image of eggs to symbolize life and pending death, the entire concept of games being nothing that comes close to fun or funny. 

 

There are no winners in this film.  There is only a statement, a statement that I think needs to be said,  to be seen, to be understood.  Our world is a violent, disconnected, isolated place and the very educated that everyone in the film seemed to be including the serial killers, does not diminished isolation from “the essence” of life, the substance that makes it all worth while.

 

You can be part of the wealthy set with their lavish summer houses that,  kept  gated, protected, insured, and still

not escape the ravishes of this world.   There is no worthwhile preyer in the film and no God to protect us from ourselves.

 

This is a brilliant, intelligent and unfortunately accurate film that was not only made twice but should be seen many many times.

 

Thank you Michael Haneke for reminding me that I am not alone in this ever escalating nightmere.

 

LindaZ

WBAI Women’s Collective