May 23

“Disobedience”: 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.”

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. No one who sees the groundbreaking trail that the movie blazes is going to shut up about it. And why should they? You can discover a lot about yourself by getting lost in such a transcendent ode to passion. Surrender to it.

Bruce Demara, Toronto Star: “…never seeks to condemn the orthodoxy of faith or to offer any tired bromides. Rather, it speaks to the frailties of ordinary human beings riven by competing desires and convictions, giving us an ending that is unexpected, moving and powerful.”

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”: Deliberate 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 with Timothy Spall 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 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.

His character bears similarities to a certain current political figure, making ‘Denial’ feel ripped from today’s headlines, and even tomorrow’s.

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:

May 30

“The Lobster”: In Which Singlehood? Not So Good

In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods. IMDB, describingThe Lobster

Eileen G’Sell, Salon, calls The Lobster “your wedding season anxiety antidote,” and  Amy Nicholson, MTV, “a cynical sci-fi comedy about life’s most clichéd script: pair off or perish.” Because? The premise of The Lobster is that it’s just not okay to be single.

Watch the trailer here or read on first for some explanations:

Dave Calhoun, Time Out, offers more plot details:

If you’re not in a relationship, you’re in purgatory: straights are fine, so are gays, but bisexuals are outlawed just like half shoe sizes. If you don’t find a partner within 45 days, you’ll turn into an animal ([Colin] Farrell, our main focus, has already decided he’ll be a lobster). If you escape, your fellow captives will hunt you down with tranquiliser darts: for each ‘kill’, you gain a day.

Leah Pickett, Chicago Reader, notes that Farrell’s David has been left by his wife, which explains why he’s now in this predicament. He arrives at the hotel with his sheepdog—who, by the way, used to be his brother—and there he meets other singles:

Except for the myopic David, each of them is named after his or her defining characteristic: the Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), the Lisping Man (John C. Reilly). The singles are told that their soulmate must share their defining characteristic for their match to be ‘well suited.’ Otherwise, they needn’t bother looking; they’ll never find the One.

“Lovers are not mutually drawn by their most attractive virtues, [director Yorgos] Lanthimos appears to argue, but by the shortcomings that they recognize in each other,” Guy Lodge, Variety, points out. “If common myopia or vulnerability to nosebleeds seem tenuous bonds on which to build a relationship, are they any less so than shared enthusiasms for Mexican food or long walks on the beach?”

Are there individuals who forego society’s demands for pairing up? A.O. Scott, New York Times:

Out in the woods, the loners practice guerrilla warfare and declare their opposition to the sexual regulation and tyrannical monogamy represented by the hotel. Their leader (Léa Seydoux) tells new recruits that they can masturbate whenever they want. But as is so often true of revolutionary movements, this army of freedom fighters mirrors the dominant society in its capacity for brutality and coercion. Any kind of romantic or erotic attachment is forbidden, and disciplinary methods range from comical to horrific.


Eileen G’Sell, Salon:

…’The Lobster’ isn’t really against romantic love, or even romantic monogamous love, but rather the bedrock weight that society has placed on such a union, and the inevitable failure of faux unions forged out of fear of stigmatization. The connection developed between Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz about halfway through the film is among the most tender affairs rendered onscreen in some time, in part because it is not prescribed but forbidden…(T)he film even acknowledges that sometimes two are better than one…

Leah Pickett, Chicago Reader:

Rather than present romance as a panacea, as so many other films do, The Lobster not only questions the value almost every society in the world places on procuring a mate but also rejects the notion that finding the One is the ultimate prize. Lanthimos forgoes easy sentiments about the transformative power of love; this may turn off some viewers, but there’s a certain liberation and even some relief in knowing that societal pressure to settle down can be just as cruel as loneliness.

Guy Lodge, Variety: