May 23

“Disobedience” Film: Desire Faces Oppression

Ultimately, this is a gently humane portrait of an enduring problem facing men and women in all manner of fundamentalist communities: the notion that choice has anything to do with who we desire. Sara Stewart, New York Post, reviewing Disobedience

An award-winning book (2006) of the same title written by Naomi Alderman, the new film Disobedience is about Ronit (Rachel Weisz), who returns to her estranged family in London following the death of her father, an Orthodox rabbi. It turns out an old male friend is now married to Esti (Rachel McAdams), with whom Ronit had had an adolescent love affair.

The trailer:

Selected Reviews

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, advises viewers to “try not to think about where you already know it’s going and appreciate how it builds, and how it’s about a lot more than sex. At its most intense and powerful, ‘Disobedience’ is about courage and claiming one’s life…”

Stephanie Zacharek, Time: “Cuts deeper than your standard forbidden-love story, largely because the actors are so attuned to their characters’ anguish.”

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “…(T)he scenes between Weisz and McAdams are fascinating, each actress listening closely to the other, paying attention to every nuance. It doesn’t reach the scope of Grand Tragic Romance, but then, it isn’t meant to. These were two women whose normal adolescent crush was banned. In a way, time stopped for the both of them.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “‘May you live a long life,’ are the words exchanged frequently in this insular community. But for Esti and Ronit, it’s ultimately the question of how you live a life that gives the film its soulful resonance. Their scenes together achieve a stabbing pathos that never crosses into sentimentality or sham.”

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: “…shows a generosity of spirit toward its three central characters; as with all good movies, it ends with you wondering what happens to the characters afterward.”

Oct 21

“Denial” Film: Silence Spotlights Bigotry

…We’re never going to do away with racism. All we can control is how we answer it. Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt (Los Angeles Times), focus of film Denial

What you can’t do is lie and expect not to be accountable for it. Lipstadt, Denial

Auschwitz was hell on earth, but the moment it’s gone is the moment someone starts to rebuild it somewhere else. Eric Kohn, Indiewire, reviewing Denial

In 1996 Deborah Lipstadt was sued for libel by British author David Irving after she’d written a book about the Holocaust. She won the case and later published her account, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (2005). Now Rachel Weisz plays her in the courtroom drama Denial: Timothy Spall is cast as her accuser.

How does the real Lipstadt feel about the film? As told to interviewer Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times“No movie is going to change the David Irvings of the world. What this can do is confront the people who think it’s OK to change facts as long as you call them ‘opinions.’”

More from the interview with Lipstadt:

Asked if she meant to connect those thoughts to the current election cycle she cut in quickly. “People say Trump.  But I don’t want to limit it to him. It’s not that I don’t want to be political; I’ll be political. But it’s that it’s so much broader than that. It’s the idea that, ‘well, there was a Holocaust but maybe no gas chambers,’ or ‘there were Muslims dancing in New Jersey on 9/11,’ or ‘vaccines cause autism’ even though it’s based on totally junk science.”

Adam Graham, Detroit News, sets up the film’s trial:

The suit is brought in British court, where the burden of proof is on the defense, meaning Lipstadt and her legal team…must prove the Holocaust happened. It is not as easy as simply putting survivors on the stand; it comes down to the complexities of the law and the intricacy of language. It’s more difficult than it sounds.

Adds Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle:

Thus, because Lipstadt’s allegedly libelous comments were unambiguous and because she and her publisher don’t want to settle, she and her lawyers have to prove two things or lose the case: (1) that Irving’s Auschwitz writings were inaccurate; and (2) — this is the hard one — that he did it intentionally, for the purpose of pushing an anti-Semitic agenda.

And Peter Keough, Boston Globe:

Lipstadt’s legal team, headed by dour and deadly barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson at his dourest and deadliest), had determined that the best strategy for Lipstadt’s defense was to silence her, not to have her take the stand and confront her accuser and so give him the platform to present his version of reality.

Hence the denial of the title refers not so much to Irving’s, but to Lipstadt’s — her self-denial in the cause of furthering the case.

While Weisz and Tom Wilkinson are widely admired for their portrayals, “…it’s Spall who waltzes away with the film,” states Graham. “His unrepentant, unapologetic Irving, repugnant though he may be, believes deeply in his own hate-filled views. He refuses to apologize, even when proven wrong, and Spall lends him an air of quiet sympathy.”

From Keough: “…Spall’s performance as Irving is a nuanced masterpiece of patriarchal monstrosity. He puts his character’s essential anti-Semitism and his methods of boorishness and intimidation on the docket and show them for what they are — the pernicious lies of a hateful ideologue.”

We already know the ending. So, how’s the process of getting there? Eric Kohn, Indiewire, offers one meaningful opinion:

This isn’t a debate, it’s a sledgehammer; it’s not inherently compelling drama, but it’s immensely satisfying catharsis to watch as it flattens Irving’s nonsense into nothingness. Likewise, it’s not great cinema (in fact, it’s as milquetoast and middle-brow as movies get, and its third act suffers by trying to gin up additional suspense), but ‘Denial’ does the modern world a great service by refusing to entertain the idea that there are two sides to every story, even if that means it refuses to entertain a portion of its audience in the process.

Watch the Denial trailer below: