Here is my essay for the Criterion edition of the Paul Morrissey film, written in 1998.
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Yaron Shani’s Love Trilogy culminates in the bleakly optimistic Reborn (2019).
Like the surprise revelation of radical flashback in the first film, Stripped (2018; see analysis on this site), the entire Reborn occurs within the period covered by the first two films.
The second film, Chained (2019; ditto), focused on Avigail’s marriage, which ended in her husband’s double murder and suicide. The third film reaches back to trace the beginning of her love affair with Yael. This woman initially helps her to get pregnant, overcomes her own traumatic childhood to adopt a baby girl, and becomes Avigail’s lover.
Avigail’s relationship with her teen daughter similarly rewrites the family tone from the earlier view. Here they are warmly intimate as the daughter frees Avigail from her burdensome, inhibiting long braids. However tragic the Chained shadow casts upon Reborn, the film celebrates love in the women’s community.
Where Chained centered on the violent cop husband, Reborn establishes his victim wife’s superior sensitivity. This heightens the overall sense of tragic loss even as the film closes the trilogy upbeat — until we remember.
In Stripped the motive energy was the younger male Ziv, the music student turned rapist soldier. Here his victim Alice is revisited, as she has recovered from her assault and is reading from her new novel.
In Reborn the two new men represent opposite concepts of manhood. The positive is the new husband who slides into the bath where his wife has just given birth to their son. (Like the rest of this trilogy but perhaps most obviously, this scene is presented with non-professional actors, with no script and is the product of a single take.) This man is loving, supportive, eager to join in his wife’s immersion.
But the implicitly central maleness in Reborn is the dying, comatose father. Insentient, unresponsive, he still drains the energy, confidence and harmony of his two daughters, Yael and Na’ama. Both women were traumatized by their mother's abandonment and their father's treatment. The clear implication is that he sexually abused the adopted Na’ama, leading to her troubled life as a prostitute and her clashes with Yael. After the two violent male heroes of the first two films, the lingering power of the vegetable father further indicts the male sense of love as dominance.
The final image summarizes the trilogy’s faith in the generous community of women. The novelist has joined an organization that visits brothels to offer the women free and anonymous medical tests and treatment. That is, they non-judgmentally remediate their abuse by men. This action countermands Na’ama’s comment at novelist Alice’s reading, where she observes the writer presents women as they are defined by their men.
In the film's and the trilogy's last shot the novelist (who has been raped by the young man she trusted) hugs the weeping prostitute (abused by her father) and speaks for both and for all women: “You are not alone.”
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Yaron Shani’s Love Trilogy began with Stripped (2018), which very subtly introduced the violence and macho psychodrama later amplified in Chained (2019), previously discussed here.
The central theme inheres in Alice’s assignment to her Cont Ed collage portraiture class: “Make yourself out of parts that aren’t you.” Both the artist/writer/teacher/filmmaker Alice and the aspiring classical guitarist Ziv uncover uncharacteristic dimensions in themselves through their experiences, especially with each other.
In the early sections of the film I was troubled by the apparently asynchronous conversation scenes. The dialogue and even music did not quite fit the characters’ movement of lips and fingers. This may have been a technical problem in the print.
Or not. This might be exposed as a narrative strategy at the very end, when the sounds of Alice’s school drawing class continue over the end credits. The image and the sound are more pronouncedly disjunctive than in the earlier conversations.
More significantly, the narrative pivots on a radical shift in time. A present drama is revealed to have occurred much earlier — and most tellingly. If we do make ourselves up out of parts that aren’t us, it’s because time changes us, for better or worse, as our experiences require. Experience uncovers — or creates — our hidden elements. This is the film’s primary psychological theme.
That also gives the film a political dimension. It pointedly addresses the psychological cost of Israel’s perpetual self-defence, in the national draft that forms the vital army and in the citizenry that depends on it. This is the focus of the young guitarist’s “maturing” into a muscular, possibly overly assertive soldier. Initially he's apparently too shy to accept a girl's overtures. His family name is Zukerman, Sugarman. Such a sweet boy. But he changes -- to the detriment of all concerned.
Alice’s three — dramatically unmatched — dogs represent the life energies that can be harmonized, apparently domesticated, but their savage animal nature persists. Pent up, they growl danger. So, too, shy Ziv ripens into the hardened wiry warrior. This is the human — and social — nature that is stripped of its initial sensitivity.
The teenage boys’ sexual initiation scene is an exercise of pathetic bravado, in the face of death, that the army will replay on a more serious level. In Alice we see the antithetic movement, into vulnerability, psychological disintegration and the labour of recovery.The titles of her two novels -- before and after the dramatic events of the plot -- record her movement from Rattling the Cage to Open Doors. Similarly, in the two exercises she assigns her class she moves from composing a presentation of one’s self to exploring another person.
The boys’ sex scene contrasts to the scenes of women’s counselling and supportive companionship. Alice is initially drawn to include Ziv for her documentary on new combat soldiers because he is so atypical, apparently too sensitive, too feminine, for that reduction. Ziv proves himself with a vengeance.
Thursday, September 10, 2020
Yaron Shani’s Love Trilogy: Chained examines the paradox of Israeli male force on both the personal and political levels. However left implicit, the political extrapolation from an Israeli domestic film is compelling.
The 16-year veteran cop Rashi Malka is a forceful but feeling agent of justice. He faces increasing pressure both at work and in his two-year marriage to Avigail, with her 13-year-old daughter Yasmine. In both the issues derive from his strong will and assertive principles.
In the opening scene the man Malka arrests for beating his son claims to have a broken hand. “We’ll put a cast on it,” Malka promises. But as his brusque discipline of Yasmine increasingly alienates Avigail, Malka breaks his own hand. In this domestic procedural Malka dwindles into his opponent. He becomes the Other he prosecuted earlier.
Malka falls under investigation when his invasive examination of boys for possible drug possession leads to an unfair charge of sexual assault. Malka is here quite just. He was acting on a lead, that boys were selling drugs in the park. As he is not in the youth division Malka may lack the protocol but he acts on principle. He deals firmly but properly with the boys’ suspicious resistance. He’s innocent of the particular charge but his persistence has left him vulnerable to the accusation. Under that pressure, he fails the lie detector charge.
Malka suffers a parallel excess in his family life. He and Avigail are struggling to have a baby. But their relationship is undermined by his rough disciplining of her daughter. The report of a rapist in the neighbourhood helps to justify Malka's concern. But at home as at work, Malka's principles are sound but his action possibly excessive, as when he forcibly hauls Yasmine away from her friends.
The aggressiveness that served his policing undermines his family life. That is, his principled strength becomes a weakness. His forcefulness only makes him vulnerable. That’s the paradox in the English title: the strong cop, not the the weak arrested man, is the one who’s “chained.” To that point, the cop hero is named Malka, yiddish for "queen." His name denotes his potential feminine power.
In the central scene of macho posturing Malka drinks with two younger buddy cops. All three are large, powerful men flaunting sexual prowess and liberty. The meeting is supposed to provide relief from his office persecution. Instead it establishes Malka’s radical vulnerability. Here he learns that Avigail has just had an abortion (contrary to her claim that their insemination attempt failed) and that she’s planning to leave him. Malka discovers his greatest vulnerability in the scene that initially flaunts masculine strength.
Malka's story ends tragically because he is unable to modulate his male force. With Avigail he retreats to childish petulance, spurning her sexual initiative, blocking the exit with a tantrum, in short, turning passive aggressive. His "I'm nothing without you" proves quite true but that dependency is her burden, not a gift. The same assertive ploys also fail with the police investigating team. Malka's tragic end is the extremity of masculine attack, the ultimate end for a man who can deploy nothing but force.
Across our various cultures there are ample revelations of the weakness inherent in male power: the need for emotional understanding and expression, an openness to others’ will and needs, the development of a less aggressive sensitivity. This theme assumes broader relevance in a society that across its entire 72-year existence (and historically before) has had to be constantly vigilant against mortal enemies. The toughness and resolve that defensiveness requires may have its tragic cost if it fails at temperance.
Malka's first name is Rashi, an allusion to one of the sagest rabbis in Judaism. Though the justice of his actions in both plot-lines define his virtue, he fails to live up to the tempered wisdom of his first name and the feminine control of the second. If the tragic ending seems surprising, the idea of family violence was introduced in the opening scene and emphasized in the story of the father who dives to his death after his children.
In Israel another dimension emerges from the class distinctions in the characters. Malka, his family and colleagues are all clearly Mizrachi, working class, helpless before the system that oppresses them. The police investigators and the arrested boys are Ashkenazi, the power class. When one boy threatens to sic his father after Malka the hero's persecution is set. As soon as he is charged Malka knows the fix is in. He can't afford a lawyer to defend him.
The original Hebrew title evokes "The apple of his eye." In that context the drama warns against the excessive defence of what one most prizes. It can lead to a fatal blindness.
Chained (2019) is the middle film in Shani's Love Trilogy. Regrettably, I haven't seen the other two films. [CORRECTION: I now have and have analyzed them elsewhere on this site: Stripped (2018) and the finale, Reborn (2019).
And from Wikipedia; "Yaron Shani works with a cast of non-actors, who work without a script, improvising the scenes on-camera. The film is shot in single takes, without rehearsals. The lead actor, Eran Naim, is a former police officer, and played a main role in the film Ajami as well."