Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Autonomies: Episode One

After their increasingly successful collaboration on Shtisel, writer Ori Elon and writer/director Yehonatan Indursky developed another family drama with more explicit political dimensions. In the six-episode TV series Autonomies, the authors posit an Israel in the aftermath of a civil war. 
That war began with a demonstration in which 13 yeshiva students were killed. Thirty years later, the ultra-orthodox have established the Haredi Autonomy, centered in Jerusalem. The secular State of Israel has its capital in Tel Aviv. 
Their respective cultures are instantly identifiable. Two girls with bare and tattooed legs denote Tel Aviv. At the Autonomy’s border entry point Haredim solicit donations to charity. Clearly the modern thrives more than the old.
The central character is Yona Broide, an ostensibly orthodox Jew who uses his Burial Society job delivering corpses for burial as a front to smuggle forbidden materials into the Autonomy. He won’t put pork next to a corpse but sneaks in porn videos and forbidden books. 
In this culture even children’s books are held back if not certified kosher. Broide is surprised that his client for the smuggled Freud and Thucydides is the Autonomy’s leader, the Rebbe from Kreinitz. 
In asking the Rebbe to pray for him, Broide identifies himself as Yona ben Leah. That is, by his mother’s name not his father’s. His motivation remains enigmatic even when we much later — episode six — learn that his father — to whom he was very close —  was killed in the Yeshiva demonstration that prompted the Autonomy’s war of independence. 
Broide seems to grow out of the Lippe character in Shtisel, a man torn between the Orthodox restrictions and secular temptations of freedom. Despite — or because — he has a tight family life, with an orthodox wife Blumi and three small children, he slips into an affair with the blonde jazz musician Anna, whose partner Gabriel Broide returns to Jerusalem for an orthodox burial. In continually calling Anna Hannah, he perhaps stifles the obvious reminder of his wife’s name Blumi in Anna’s surname Blum. 
Broide expresses non-religious philosophy. “There aren’t enough people for all the pain in the world,” he consoles Anna. He turns an adage to seductive purpose: “A Jew mustn’t hold back. We’re held back as it is.” And to the child he’s feeding: “Jews have to eat a lot so when the wolf comes he’ll have something to devour.”
The bulk of the first episode explains the  opening — but later — scene, where Asher and Batia Luzzatto are informed there is a “stay of exit order” against their nine-year-old daughter Gonnie leaving the State of Israel. A nurse had confessed to having accidentally suffocated this couple’s newborn daughter, then switching her wristband with the daughter of Elka and Hilik Rein. The unexplained switch suggests how destructive an impulsive and emotional action can prove, on the individual as well as national level. 
The news shakes both families. In parallel lawyer scenes both sides determine to “go to war” over the girl. The Autonomy legal scene is shot dark and sombre, the State one in gleaming whites. Gonnie’s functional parents are determined to keep her, despite their having decided to separate. The State lawyer insists they conceal completely this intention. 
Against her husband’s reservations, Elke insists on recovering their lost daughter. Elke is passionately supported by her father, the Rebbe of Kreinitz, but for suspect motives.  He turns the family tragedy into a national political issue, in order to reinforce his political standing. The Rebbe declares the Autonomy to be Noah’s Ark, the last refuge of true Judaism — i.e., his Judaism — against the impure State’s resolve to revoke his authority in the name of reuniting the Jewish people. 
At a massive rally the Rebbe insists that the child must by Biblical authority be raised Orthodox.”Not one Jewish soul shall be wasted.” The Rebbe is an amplification of the religious authority that Shulem Shtisel wielded in the writers’ earlier anatomy of the folly of patriarchy. As the modern story echoes Solomon’s famous judgment, a title declares “The incident longed to happen.” It embodies the Biblical challenge to the contemporary ethos.    
Like Shulem, the Rebbe pretends to divine authority:  “We have no choice. It’s time to do God’s will. We must wage war to recover the child.” He pretends to diminish his personal engagement: “This is not my granddaughter but the granddaughter of the Jewish people….  We won’t let the Zionists steal our children.” In an echo of the Rebbe’s pretence to purity, his daughter’s married name is Rein (yiddish for ‘clean’).   
  When the Rebbe tries to persuade Broide to kidnap Gonnie for him, he pretends to an uncharacteristic humility. He does not have divine inspiration, he admits, but he presumes to the authority of knowing God’s will, what God wants of him as well as of others. “If this is what God wants you will do it.” As Broide leaves, the Rebbe looks away, out his window at the darkness. In later episodes he will go to criminal lengths to enforce what he personally proffers as God’s will. 
Clearly the drama’s title goes beyond the political division to address the wider range of autonomy issues among the characters. Blumi, Anna, both sets of warring parents, the arrogant and destructive Rebbe and especially the conflicted Broide all wrestle with the constant battle between their urges and their restraints. Autonomy is their every impulse and affliction. 
The episode ends on Broide lying in bed, contemplative, his peace assailed by Anna’s allure and the Rebbe’s demands. The closing song is “Winter came around one hour too soon. Now I am dancing alone in my room. Rise, rise, only for me.”  Like Gonnie in the opening scene, Broide is unwittingly trapped in his own "stay of exit order," imposed by the Rebbe who uses God to enforce his own will. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Leona

In his debut film director Isaac Cherem uses a young woman’s coming of age to probe the tension between insulation and assimilation in the Jewish community of Mexico City.  When Ariela dates a gentile man the Jewish community and her family assume the responsibility to stave off her possible loss to them. The mother deploys outside help to dissuade her daughter from her romantic purpose. Feeling shamed by her venture, both parents -- now separated -- and her grandmother banish her. This family pressure is buttressed by the community’s history and need for interdependence and renewal. The Mexican Jewish community's rigidity seems a throwback to the North American attitude,
Ariela is a talented mural painter. That is, she finds her self-expression on large outdoor spaces. Not for her the subdued, private paintings of easel and canvas. She wants to be out there. Committed to humanity, she fills the space with faces, amid elegant flourishes. That spirit enables her to take the gentile Ivan as a lover, though ultimately she can’t meet his demand to meet her family. 
Ivan is more respectful of her work than her Jewish lover is. Gabriel presumes she would rather slip into domesticity. But then, Ivan comes from an artistic family, Gabriel from merchants. Still, Ivan sleeps through his father’s production of King Lear and won’t attend his Romeo and Juliet, which would now be too personal. 
Ariela’s intervening suitors are even more inappropriate, Jewish but vulgarians. 
Honouring the community pressure, Gabriel courts Ariela’s family more than he does her. He clears their marriage with them before he asks her. All assume the collective will trumps the personal. At their first bedding, her upside-down view of his collection of National Football League memorabilia should have warned her off more completely. The NFL-nerd bowler wins her family but not her.   
She tries to recover Ivan by painting a mural of his tattoo — “Looking sensational.” But now he has a beautiful new girlfriend, Sofia, whom she meets at his friends’ engagement barbecue. 
The narrative is framed by two women's total nude immersions. The first is the mikvah, the formal Jewish ceremony in which her friend is ceremonially bathed in preparation for her wedding. While the friend proceeds into post-romance marriage pains and child-rearing, Ariela moves from her passion  — which isolates her from her family and the community — through the inapt Gabriel and the loss of Ivan, finally to resign herself to the solitude of independence. 
In the last shot she immerses herself in her tub alone, the solitary asocial alternative to the mikvah. Afloat on her own, like an island in the sea, she will make her own way, choose her own loves, define her own purification, rather than serve her community’s will and rituals.
     In that spirit she signs her new mural Leona, which is Spanish for the “lioness” her Hebrew name Ariela denotes. In name as in spirit, the lioness leaves the herd.      

Monday, July 15, 2019

Driver (Israel, 2017)

“A story is never a lie,” Nachman Rosumani tells his assistant. He encourages him to ramp up the pathos in his personal plea for a charitable handout. 
That’s true insofar as a real story and an invented story can have equal effect on either the teller or the told. The emotional truth trumps the incidental. Indeed Nachman works himself up to tears as he invents a story for his aide to explot. As one bereaved observes, "Everything melts." 
This Orthodox Jewish elaboration upon Paper Moon centers on a conman and his sensitive young daughter. Driver Nachman sends his adult male assistant off to specific addresses with a tale of woe to solicit personal donations. They will split the proceeds fifty-fifty. The con depends upon  the Jewish commitment to tzedokkah, charity. It works, more or less, until someone steals Nachman’s notebook, with personal details on all the wealthy men in the orthodox Jerusalem community of Bnai Brak. Then "What's a driver worth without addresses?"
The film is a gossamer tissue of stories. Characters reprise their dreams. The cafe denizens take turns recalling their first memory. The characters’ lives are enriched by their memory of, for example, a cat discovered nursing its newborn in a dark basement, or recollecting the smell of the rebbe’s wife’s egg hitting the margarine. If not enriched, then explained: Nachman’s is his four-year-old son’s recent death, after which nothing was the same.
Their business schemes begin as stories. One man plans to fill a borrowed truck with stolen prams, to sell in the West Bank. That brainchild is replaced by another, to drive a truckload of snow from Jerusalem to sell as a cavorting pleasure in Bnai Brak, where it never snows.
The climactic revelation of “story” is the film’s last shot. When Nachman’s buddies deliver the snow they discover the neighborhood has just been thus miraculously blanketed. The last shot is that freakish setting, an obviously false image of an urban snowscape pocked with the local citizens. They are static, like cutouts or figures painted into the backdrop. Or they are frozen stiff, caught in the “story” not to be warmed by it.
The last shot’s artifice confesses to the fictitiousness of the narrative we’ve been watching. Of course we know we’ve been watching ”a story” as if it were real life. We always do. But here the artifice is the key message of the shot. Even the false shot is as effective as the “real,” which really isn’t either. 
Nachman is committed to stories. To pass the time he phones any nearby payphone and asks the passerby to tell him “one little story.” 
In the first such episode, the elderly Hedva reports her old husband Shmuel doesn’t remember her anymore. She wants to restore his memory by playing his favourite Beatles record but she has no phonograph. Nachman notes her address, as if planning to help. When she returns home we see her husband remembers her — but she doesn’t recognize him. Truth and pretence are inextricably confused. 
Nachman has become such an accomplished fabulist that even his simple truth can work. Coming upon an amusement park closed for the winter, his simple request convinces the caretaker to open to give Nachman and Channi a ride on the ferris wheel. 
More seriously, Nachman and Channi score big even though the donor recognizes him as the driver who brings him all the beggars. Indeed the donor had cheaply turned away Nachman’s last agent. As it happens, Nachum’s winning story here is apparently the truth —  his son’s death and his broken-hearted wife’s retreat to Tel Aviv. Nachum and Channi don’t need their “story” of her expensive and urgent surgery. Even when Nachman declines the money, "Do me a favour--take it." The emotional story performs a human value, true or false.  
     This superb, quiet drama is written and directed by Yehonatan Indurksy who, with Ori Elon, conceived and wrote the brilliant television drama Shtisel. The interplay between levels of reality is also a central theme in that drama. It’s in the opening scene — Akiva’s dream discovering his recently deceased mother freezing in a deli lunch with an Eskimo. It’s in the first season’s closing scene — Malka isolated from her family, her TV cruelly disconnected, left in its snow. It’s in the first season’s last shot, Malka and her dead husband watching her hospital coma scene in Heaven on the TV forbidden her on earth. It runs through the various forms of art in both seasons, as well. For my episode-by-episode analysis of the structure and themes see my book Reading Shtisel, available at lulu.com, amazon and barnes & noble.    

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Tramway In Jerusalem

Amos Gitai presents the title’s two phrases in reverse: In Jerusalem A Tramway. It first establishes the place, then the means of entrance. This slice-of-life miscellany takes us East-West through the Jewish and Arab districts of the Holy City. In both the political and personal stories, people are on the same tram but going “in different directions,” as the brittle couple Moshe and Didi remark. 
     The film is in the tradition of the old narrenschiff -- The Ship of Fools. A cross-section of human society reveal themselves and their relationships in a confined vehicle of transport, a reduction of the journey of life. The American classic is Stagecoach (1939).
Despite an apparent incoherence, the film has a firm structure. It’s framed by scenes of two beautiful women profiled on the left side of the screen singing. The opening song (declared at 5 a.m.) is the joyous Hebrew hymn Hasheeveinu: “Turn us back, O Lord to You, and we will turn. Renew our days as before” (Lamentations 5:21).  At the end a beautiful Palestinian woman sings an Arabic song (pssst: I’d welcome a translation), accompanying herself atonally with castanets. 
In the pivotal Episode 6 (at 19:12) a Palestinian man declares the Oslo Accord delusional in its treatment of Judea and Samaria. He sullenly predicts there will never be a Palestinian state. The pretty woman with him rejects his despair. She won’t be considered “a demographic problem. A thorn in the ass,” but retreats to a long silent meditation. That’s like the woman at the end of the first episode, but far more melancholy. The film’s finale will finally give the Palestinian woman a voice. 
Between the women’s perspective in #1 and #6 fall scenes of male authority — and folly. In #2 (set at 12:31) the camera zooms past an orthodox Jew’s wordless banjo number to a French father and his young son, lying together in pensive warmth. Other passengers sing along happily. The communal singalong resumes in #3 at 18:45, with a religious/political point: “The world is a very narrow bridge. What’s really important is not to be afraid at all.” 
The singing is replaced by a dubious yeshiva lecture in #4 (19:34). The earnest young scholar explains that the Torah advises that shooing the mother bird away from her nest is humane. It saves her from seeing she is losing her children. That’s a guy thing. Her loss is hardly eased by her not seeing it happen. For this tight exclusive knot of men, religious logic betrays human responsibility and values secrecy over responsibility. The political pertinence is obvious.
In #5 the religious tension is replaced by the purely secular enthusiasm of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club fans, screaming wildly behind the new coach and his team’s loquacious PR man. The woman interviewer (“a journalist and poet”) earnestly asks the  English speaking coach team questions but he is continually drowned out by the PR man’s bulldozing enthusiasm. And lies: “I hate humus!” “It’s so typically Israeli,” the coach observes, “I can’t say a word.” When the scene closes on his long, silent left-screen pensiveness, he shows the same rueful marginalization and impotence the women in #1, #6 and the finale show.
At 21:18 episode #7 introduces the personal, emotional form of the city’s divisions. The blonde Gaby is saved from the security guard’s sexual harassment (“I want to get to know you”) when she spots her older woman friend Mali. She shows off her new, impossibly high-heeled shoes — bought to wear to bed. Gaby is locked into an illicit affair with a man she doesn’t love, hardly knows but can’t bring herself to escape. Like those other women and like the alien football coach, she ends the scene in a long, sad meditation over her troubled relationship. Romance and politics converge in her analogy: “It’s as if we were both secret agents in enemy territory.” 
Both arenas are redefined by religious tradition at 21:22 when a frocked Christian ranter replaces the security guard who’s moved in beside Gaby. The priest brushes her hair, then becomes the mad prophet. “If you don’t scream ‘Long live liberty’” with humility, with laughter, with love, then you’re not supporting liberty. He inveighs against those who scream it with contempt, rage, hate. He retells Jesus saving the adulteress from the crowd of sinners. “Only the truth will set us free,” his Jesus said rebelliously. 
This prophet runs on into another discreet episode, specifying different times, as if in recognition of the Christ story reccurring across time. Here Gitai draws on Pasolini’s realistic film presentation of the Gospel According to St Matthew. At 21:37 the priest is holding an open Bible. At 21:58 he describes Christ at Gethsemane, filled with sorrow at the continuing tragedy of the willing spirit and the weak flesh. He closes on the consignment of all sinners to “the second death,” to eternal Hell. The scene closes ambiguously on “And he showed the holy city of Jerusalem.” Is the modern Jerusalem the holy or the hellish?
In #10, at 23:40, the French tourist reads to his son one answer, Flaubert’s report on his own disenchanting visit. Flaubert is irreverent. Farting at the Holy Gate, even he is “upset at my ass’s Voltaireanism.” Flaubert finds Jerusalem a tomb of rotting religions, fake, propagandist, exploitative, its sects locked ironically in mutual hatred. “We did see hyocrisy, greed…but no fucking trace of holiness.” Deprived of his expected pleasures of either religious excitement or hatred of the priests, Flaubert feels “emptier than a barrel.”  While his father recites Flaubert’s cynicism the son plays on the car’s supporting bars.  
A sadder, funnier parental relationship follows, at 23:12. A mother berates her divorced, loser son for having failed to provide a grandchild. She recalls the squinting nerd schoolboy Aaron Goldman.who used to wear a key on his neck because of bis neglectful mother. Now he’s blossomed into a neurosurgeon with two beautiful daughters. Our heroine is indignant at her own unrewarded sacrifice. 
Gitai centers the camera on her, with her failure son marginalized on the left. To the right is a yeshiva man who can’t touch her or accept a piece of her apple because he’s a bachelor. He feels commanded to ignore the world around him: “Study as you travel.” The woman advises that if a man prays at the Kottle (Wailing Wall) for 40 consecutive days “They will provide him with a woman.” An unseen man across the aisle fell in love with a gentile woman, who converted for him but then grew so religious that he was not Jewish enough for her.  
A parallel relationship follows, at 4:54. Waiting for the tram to take him back to his unit, a young soldier is kept out of focus on the right as he sings, dances and cavorts for his girlfriend. She occupies the left foreground like the solitary women in #1,6 and the end. He plays her “Dark Eyes” (Orchy chornya) on the harmonica, still in soft focus as if viewed through her suppressed tears.  When he says he doesn’t want her to stop living in his absence, to see his friend Moti, she reveals she has already invited Moti to date her in his absence. He has a car. Also another friend, a tall disc jockey. Her beau’s “Have fun” turns bleak. 
The sexual tension thickens in #13, at 5:16. An Israeli woman is paranoid at the perceived threat of an Arab man bringing on the tram  — paradoxically — palm branches. At her aggressive suspicions, the dangerous security guard confronts him, demands his ID, then throws him to the ground and calls for support. The scene closes on the woman’s frightened, aloof face, right screen, looking away.  
Episode 14 implies some context for that paranoia. A theatrical couple get on, with prop cat and dog playing at conflict. The man reveals that when he worked for Jews, he greeted every order with “Inshallah” — “God willing.” While the Jews took that as assent, he meant it as “No.” As a restaurant dishwasher, he had an affair with the 60-year-old woman owner.  Then he got a job as a newspaper reporter from Gaza, dodging snipers form both sides. The end of the war still left a senseless situation, so he turned to interviewing models. 
At 21:03 this politics intensifies. A TV talk show host is recognized by a couple at the station. On the train he previews his upcoming show, by reading a 1917 Trotsky tract calling for a permanent revolution against the injustices of capitalism. 
In contrast, at 20:12 — the carefully calibrated time scheme skips a day here, i.e., is meaningless, a pretence to passively recording an uncreated reality — two women meet over sharing a light in the station. One is an ascetic, mixed nationality Jewish blonde, the other an earthier, fuller lipped, dark beauty. They bond over their resistance to power, whether in their men or against the security guard who probes their IDs. “Considering what this country is turning into,” he says, “I wonder at you two together.” But that’s nothing political. 
As if to embody the women’s danger, at 22:02 a woman on the left side of the screen is forcibly confronted by her ex-lover, the brutish security guard. She leaves with “What I loved about you was your smell.” His scene-end meditation on that left edge has a tense, dangerous tone quite opposite to the matching women’s. 
The next episode is a quiet interlude. A caesura. From the tram’s front perspective, at 23:07 the train arrives at a station. The pause in the human dramas simply re-establishes the setting. It expresses the train’s single direction, in contrast to its conflicted passengers’. That also spans a considerable lapse of time. For at 18:45 a Palestinian rapper resumes the political argument: “How strong are you without a gun?…Palestine is not a land. Palestine lives within us… Who are you, crazy Israel?”  The Israeli passengers read on, unperturbed. We’re told specific times for each scene but not how many days elapse. That’s how the poetic event transcends the historic, happening not just once but over and again.
At 9 a.m. a fiddler performs in front of a Jewish couple. This parallels the harmonious banjoist in #2. But the romantic potential is quickly dispelled. Moshe and Didi broach divorce. Her “constant hostility ruins [his] appetite.” She cites his sterility and reluctance to adopt. He doesn’t want to raise a child in the crazy, dangerous country. He can’t forgive her for sleeping with his best friend five years ago when she thought he’d been hit by a missile. “We’re going different ways.”
  In contrast, an apparently harmonious couple meet the French tourist father at 14:50, and discuss his impressions of Israel. The couple extoll the miracle of their “small and fantastic people,” especially the heroism and democracy of their military. But Mr. Chelsea keeps praising the sun and the sand, the tourist face of the place. Finally Mrs Azoulay confronts him: “What do you have against our army?” He flees to his son. 
From that contrast between the Israeli tourist face and its existential survival, the film ends on two women’s performances. Before the closing Arabic singer, a wildly tressed redhead recites a German poem reaffirming humanity in the face of its threat. “There’s a weeping in the world, as at the saviour’s death. Let’s huddle together.” “When we look at each other our eyes blossom. We’re astounded by our own miracle…. I believe we are angels.” This poem attempts to bridge the abysses between the people we’ve met here, whether as lovers or as political opponents. That is clearly the director’s intention, in traversing the troubled landscape with characters trapped in the turmoil. 
One end credit cites the sources: Flaubert, Pasolini, Deuteronomy, Else Lasher-Schuler’s poem of the Apocalypse, and Israeli writers Asaf Tsipor, Sayed Kashua and Yohosaghua Kenaz, an appropriate mix of Arab and Jewish voices — like the film’s framework of songs.  Gitai confirms his status as a leading creative voice on Israel's endangered species Left.
 

 

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Dead Don't Die

Tilda Swinton plays the new funeral home director,  a dab hand with a samurai sword and an other-worldly (even more than Scottish?) presence. What could possibly go straight?
With the three young travelers’  “hipster irony,” Jim Jarmusch exercises the zombie genre conventions on both the topical and archetypal levels, i.e., the today and the eternal. They converge in Tom Waites’ bushman. 
Topically, Hermit Bob is the outsider who has removed himself from normal society, foraging in the wilds. He is disgusted with the materialism and falseness of the current ”fucked-up world” (his last word on the subject). 
The film’s first word on that currency is Farmer Frank’s (Steve Buscemi) “Make America White Again” red cap — the MAGA message exposed. He wears that racism despite his friendliness towards the town’s black man Hank (Danny Glover). Farmer Frank does catch himself for declaring his coffee “too black.” He flaunts the blatant racism while correcting the minor, inadvertent one. Remember when we thought American racism was dead?
In other contemporary reflections, the zombies stumble through the streets, fixated on their cell-phones,” muttering “Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi.” Ziggy Pop incants “Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!” even as he carries a half-full pot, undrunk.  
In the archetypal scheme Hermit Bob is the Biblical prophet, a self-exiled moralist who rails against the corruption of the age. Indeed the film’s theme song is a country colloquial affirmation of the Christian eternal promise: “After life is over the afterlife goes on.” 
The supernatural film genres have always been a dark parody of mainstream religion. Belief in a saviour allows for mobilizing a devil. Before the Commies infiltrated the culture, Jesus was the first of the great body-snatchers. But where Christianity promises a non-material afterlife, a being of spiritual radiance returned to divine roots, the zombies are the cursed antithesis, rotting flesh with insatiable hunger. Their eternity is an agony — which truly is better to give than to receive.
This film makes no reference to normal religion: no pastors, no prayers, no church. Instead, Centerville (“A nice place to visit”)  is vapid, as boring as decency, secular, free from religious sectarianism. Into that vacuum steps the pop culture society of horror freaks. Hick merchant Bobby Wiggins searches for meaning in pulp fiction and in the platitudes delivered by the UPS parody — e.g., “The world is perfect. Appreciate the details.”
The film’s crowning irony is its formal self-awareness. It foregrounds its artifice. Cop Ronnie (Adam Driver) tells Sheriff Cliff (Bill Murray) that the title song seems familiar because it’s the film’s theme.  How does he know “This is definitely going to end badly?” Director Jim showed him the whole script (not just his own scenes, as Bill’s Cliff was given, despite all he’s done for him).  
Hence the film’s blurring of  the usual distinctions between life and fiction. The name of the funeral home director evokes the Zelda (Fitzgerald) said to have been married to Gatsby (Fitzgerald’s husband F. Scott’s literary creation).  Centerville itself derives from the town in Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels. The three hip tourists drive the very same Pontiac LeMans model that opens George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). Ronnie infers they must hail from Romero’s Pittsburgh, overlooking their Ohio plates. A tombstone for director Samuel Fuller is prominent in the graveyard. As the two lead characters know they are living a script, the film openly admits to being but a performed story. Here lives are roles. 
There again the film walks the two lines at once. Archetypally, we make our life choices with the assumption of free will but aware of restraints and impulses from some beyond. And topically, Americans discover themselves assailed by a nightmarish evil assumed to have been dead and buried forever, now unstoppable save for the removal of “the head.” Though Cliff and Ronnie know they will end badly, they — with American film genre valour — determine to fight to the end.    
Ronnie has an all-American basis for his smooth decapitating sword swing. He “played some minor league ball …. Well, a little Class A, it was a long time ago.” Zelda’s is due not so much to her Scottish origin as from her coming from even further outer space.            But unlike Bobby’s and Ronnie’s faith in the reality of zombie fiction, Zelda knows the truth about Star Wars: “That’s good fiction.” 
But is it just fiction? Ronnie actor Adam Driver knows his Star Wars scripts too, from having acted them. He’s lived there. Anyway, the reality of science fiction enables Zelda to depart our planet safely. 
     The only earthly survivors are the three young teens from the detention center. Their saving grace? They are young, clever, harmonious — and woke enough for the boy Geronimo to keep breaking the center’s laws to reunite innocently with his girl friends. An open humanity trumps the rules whether religious or institutional.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Good Morning, Son

As in his debut feature, Heder (Room 514) writer-director Sharon Bar-Ziv explores the consequences of a single atrocity to reaffirm the need for Israel’s humanity in war. 
A mishandled Gaza operation leaves young Omri in a coma. His parents, sister, friends, comrades, struggle to stimulate him back into consciousness. Wars leave shells of humanity.
At the same time the awake relationships quiver and shift. The parents quarrel. Sis and mom yell at each other. A mate is dating Omri’s unrequited passion. The parents grow impatient with the dedicated hospital staff.
This is an outside-the-soldier version of Johnny Got His Gun, where the insanity of war is summarized in one man’s paralysis, his sentience silenced.
In the saddest scene the grieving parents of his friend, killed in the same operation, swallow their tragic loss and bring Omri a photo of the two boys frolicking in a pool.
Typically, the Israeli soldiers bring the liveliest, sassiest spirit to their visits. Aptly, the l’chaim of a Rosh Hashannah dinner at his bedside prompts Omri’s breakthrough — his own l’chaim (translated here as “Cheers’ but of course meaning “to life”).The film is a profoundly felt reaffirmation of life in the face of war.
      In a fatuous pro forma remark, the mayor asserts that the enemy is also suffering. That doesn’t assuage the grief of Omri’s family, nor justify the decades of war — nor the culture in which older sister Hagar, offered her choice of toy at Omri’s birth, insisted upon a big gun. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Yesterday

So it’s not just the Beatles that have been forgotten in this alternative universe. Coca Cola, Oasis, cigarettes, Harry Potter and Jane Austen have been too. John Lennon casually refers to “prejudice and pride” as if he’d never heard the famous title. 
Ah, yes, the evanescence of human achievement, where even man’s greatest accomplishments can disappear without a trace. Call this the musical version of Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” Of course, with worldly glory so insubstantial and fleeting all that matters is true love. All you need is love, as heroes Jack and Ellie finally discover. Could be a song there.
A familiar theme does not a failure make. Indeed Danny Boyle’s new film is his most satisfying since Trainspotting (1996!), albeit in a tad different key. The idea that the Beatles could disappear from all but three peoples’ memory is intriguing. It reminds us how tentative our apprehension of any reality really is. 
The film is also a well-earned homage to that quartet. As another “memory” puts it: The world would be a far poorer place without the Beatles music so any revival, under whatever terms, is a blessing. That value goes for art in general — the imaginative fabrications that enrich us, our world, out lives. Everything is enhanced by our imagination, the ability to apprehend what never existed — or what did but has been lost. 
     That also reflects on the love story. Jack as kept Ellie in the wrong column all these years because he has failed to imagine her as a lover, them as a couple. His ethnic distinction makes that instinct of self-denial all the more understandable. The happy ending gives him all his beloved — the woman he married and the music he has managed to selflessly donate to the world, no financial strings attached. The school gym performance is more satisfying than Wembley.