Bernardo Villela is like a mallrat except at the movies. He is a writer, director, editor and film enthusiast who seeks to continue to explore and learn about cinema, chronicle the journey and share his findings.
The main objective of a documentary is to inform and illuminate subject and bring it to a larger public’s attention. More often than not the subjects of a film’s investigation will be one that is greatly unknown. It is generally in learning new things and in examining difficult questions that the best documentaries are made.
Killing Kasztner is just such a documentary as it brings to light a largely unknown, suppressed and unexplored chapter of the history of World War II and the infancy of the Israeli state. It examines the polarizing figure of Rezso Kasztner a Hungarian Jew who negotiated with Adolf Eichmann for the release of more than 1,600 Jewish prisoners. It investigates the controversy that exists surrounding the negotiation itself, the postwar implications, a trial Kasztner faced in Israel and his subsequent assassination at the hands of a young extremist Ze’ev Eckstein. Even walking into the film knowing all this beforehand you will still learn a great deal and it will provoke much thought and emotion throughout.
The film is an interesting one in as much as you not only hear the director/interviewer, Gaylen Ross, ask certain questions but also see the director on occasion, typically accompanying voice over she wrote and performed. It is most definitely an auteur’s approach to documentary film wherein the director is not an invisible hand but is to an extent involved and invested in the tale being told not unlike Werner Herzog is in some of his works. This involvement, however, is never obstructive and both sides of the story are presented and certain questions asked are never answered because they have no answers and so one could leave the film with either opinion of the man based on the facts presented. Moreover, this involvement works to the benefit of the film as just getting a little taste of what the story means to the person behind the camera raises the stakes for us as an audience a bit.
It is a film that tackles its subject matter from as many different angles as possible talking to many people on all sides of the tale from Kasztner’s family to his assassin, from the son of the man who tried him to the survivors who were saved by him and also journalists who covered him and were against him. A very full picture, in terms of participants, is painted of this very intricate story.
One of the truly great things about watching this film at Theatre N was that there was a Q & A with director/producer Gaylen Ross via Skype after the screening, where I was able to ask her about her handling visually of some of the interview footage with the assassin Ze’ev Eckstein. There was a different visual approach to him than all the other interview subjects. The shots were more close-up, sometimes extreme-close up on his mouth or eyes. Ross said she didn’t want him looking too “natural or dramatic” and that she wanted to “separate him from the others in the story as just a force that’s present.” Thus, he’s differentiated from both those for and against Kasztner but he is not commented on by the filmmaking process itself, which is preferable.
It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking film that brings to light a story which should be part of common knowledge regarding the holocaust. The change in attitude regarding Kasztner even as Ms. Ross was in production is rather impressive. It is a well-crafted and well done documentary. It is also one with an evocative, haunting and moving score which is well-placed throughout.
It’s a sprawling tale that does deserve our full attention it uses just about all of its two hour running time to its advantage. It also deftly avoids sensationalizing potentially combustible confrontations and renders the situations with calm, insight and art.
To keep tabs on where this film is playing next please visit their official website.
This is an idea I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.
Favorite Film Discoveries of 2015
This list kicks off with three disparate short films by Carol Ballard that I watched on the Criterion Collection release of The Black Stallion:
The first is…
The Perils of Priscilla (1969)
The story of a cat told from its POV.
With amazing technique and engineering this film shows the process of crystallization bigger than life.
Seems Like Only Yesterday (1971)
A series of interviews with centenarians about the changes they’ve seen in the world.
Seen as one of my few 61 Days of Halloween selections this one was long overdue, but well worth the wait. Not what I’d call a discovery but rather a confirmation. This is Burton at his finest and weirdest.
Our Gang Follies of 1936 (1935)
The gags in this short, unlike some of their shorts, are varied and plentiful: there is a monkey shoeshining, cross-dressing, animal hiding in a bodice, things go wrong and it’s live, hiding in hay, running skull, gunshots at boots, and animated eyes.
It’s no wonder there was a sequel was a sequel to this short a few years later. This version is well done and allows great variety in scenes, different talents to be displayed and many jokes.
Mr. Boogedy (1986)
This is another Disney viewing during 61 Days of Halloween that I saw thanks to TCM’s new Disney Vault special programming block. This is another mid-’80s title from Disney, this one playing on The Wonderful World of Color and at current is available digitally or thru Disney Movie Club. Richard Masur, David Faustino of Married …. with Children and Benji Gregory of ALF are the standouts. Historien om en Gut (1919)
The movie has a simple thru-line:
After being accused of stealing the teacher’s watch, Esben escapes with a ship and gets work at a farm. He then works his way back home, to get justice.
So this is an old one and curiously is listed as a 90-minute run time but this version runs about 48 (not sure if there’s anything missing) but it seems complete. One of my pet projects may be to put more proper titles on it and upload it.
Francesco is a film I had not even heard of, much less seen, and one I was glad to have a gander at. I’m also thankful this is the first full version of St. Francis’ life I took in. While any one can identify with his naturalist tendencies and love of birds, this earnest devout portrayal; a man fighting peaceably for a belief in conducting oneself he firmly believes can inspire all and I can see why he continues to have such a following.
Francesco is a wonderfully re-presented title that should delight viewers for secular and holy reasons alike.
Being a Mac Sennett comedy the to-be-looked-for staples are slapstick comedy and insane chases, this film most definitely has both. The runaway house trailer being chased by any number of police and fire engine is breathtaking and frequently hilarious. Much of this hilarity due to Billy Bevan whose milieu when he headline was the wild marital farce, per Wikipedia, and this title certainly fits into that realm
Tom und Hacke (2012)
Transplanting a story to another culture, especially a classic like Tom and Huck doesn’t always work. This German rendition does.
The Legend of Rockabye Point (1955)
The old fishing boat captain tells the story of Chilly Willy, a singing polar bear and a bulldog who quickly falls asleep when he hears a lullaby.
Did a lot of Woody Woodpecker watching in the early part of 2015, but Chilly Willy will always be my favorite in that gang and I loved this one and don’t think I’d seen it.
Not entirely dissimilar from Bedknobs and Broomsticks here you have adults that are not necessarily altruistic, but the lead Russel (Bill Bixby) does change and come to genuinely care for the kids. Meanwhile, Dusty (Susan Clark) does come to care for Bill even though she ends up with him only for the kids’ well being at first.
The Apple Dumpling Gangis a humorous enjoyable tale that looks brilliant in this Blu-ray upgrade. If you are a member of the Club and a fan of the film it is definitely recommended for the picture alone even though it offers no extras.
The Playful Pelican (1948)
Another Walt Lantz title, this one features Andy Panda and a Pelican. The creativity seemed to break out when Woody wasn’t there.
The Tin Drum (1975; Director’s Cut in 2012)
As I mentioned here I have a long history with The Tin Drum. However, I agree with Schlöndorff’s assessment that this version is almost like another movie and superior to the version we al got to know, and many of us appreciate greatly.
I loved this film before and I love it more now with the longer cut, much in the same way the TV cut of Fanny and Alexander is better than the theatrical.
Knick Knack (1989)
I honestly cannot remember if saw this one before or not. It seemed new at the time, either way it’s really neat.
Miami Connection (1987)
Is Miami Connection a good movie? Not at all, is it more readily embraceable as something asa bad movie I love than much of Rifftrax’s fare? Absolutely.
Perhaps what’s most refreshing about this film, from a production value and aesthetic standpoint, is the fact despite being a 2011 domestic release in the Netherlands it does not shy away from practical effects work. Yes, CGI is use where it’s truly beneficial like making the lycan child run about, but for more settled scenes he’s in a suit and make up. It is very well-done indeed.
Alfie the Werewolf is an enjoyable film for all members of the family, and perhaps most intriguing for parents is that it is a fairly benign way to reach a compromise with your kids on viewing material. It could satisfy the desire to see a werewolf movie but would not be potentially emotionally scarring in the process.
Most family films would only be tasked with resolving the concerns of one family unit. The Magicians decides to take the task of trying to sort out two family situations. There is also the ongoing struggle Sylvie faces in her house with her father living overseas and her mother being detached leaving her mostly to the care of an Au Pair. This dual purpose is most refreshing and combine that with the unusual-though-not-unprecedented disappearing foible it keeps you engaged.
The Magicians is well-edited and paced. It tells its story briskly, in a manner lacking pretension but conversely it’s not devoid of content. The whole family can enjoy, laugh, and learn from this film.
Astro Boy (2009)
Astro Boy has become an increasingly bigger thing for me. It started with many of the graphic novels and now I finally saw the movie and enjoyed it and felt it a very good representation of the character.
So Much for So Little (1949)
Post-War Chuck Jones, and sadly relevant now because it tells you that you should: VACCINATE YOUR CHILDREN!
Brother Bear (2003)
This is the Disney movie where you know ahead of time someone turns into a bear. It’s Native American themed which always appeals to me, and when it was out my brother really wanted to see, but it slipped through the cracks for years. Glad I finally got to see it and the better than expected straight-to-video sequel.
I happened upon this film by chance. I had yet to see a film by Jiří Trnka. Having seen many of Švankmajer’s works I always wanted to. The clay-animation herein is quite excellent and the subject matter appropriately surreal. Enjoy!
Rubber Tires (1927)
The way in which this one is a discovery is that I finally found it. I knew that Rubber Tires existed, long before I finally caught it and read Junior Coghlan’s autobiography. This photo has been around a bit teasing its existence.
I thought it may have been lost. Then I saw it. Not as mad-capped as I would’ve liked but funny nonetheless.
Thia is a sort of representative pick. Here is how I introduced the Blondie films when I first posted a few of them on my Free Movie Friday post:
Firstly, anyone lamenting that sequels are “ruining movies” today, this is one of the easiest examples to cite proving that everything old is new again, meaning sequels are not a modern scourge. There were about 25 of these films released over a thirteen year period. Also worth noting is that long before the Harry Potter films Larry Simms grew up on film – at least in real life if not so much as Baby Dumpling.
I finally started watching a box set of these short, easy-viewing comedies this year. They are in the public domain, readily available and usually quite enjoyable even if the formula has few variables. The series may bolster this section for quite some time as the completist in me does want to get through all of them.
Of particular interest in this one is that it seems to play right into the Good Neighbor Policy.
This film was noteworthy especially for the casting of a Native American in the lead role. The character is only a few times referred to as having any native blood, this is unique as it had not happened yet. Some of my thoughts on why it’s significant below:
The reason that is, is true inclusion and universality means casting actors from all over, as rounded characters and in mixed films. Having all films be a melting pot is utopian, and I get arguments against films for targeted audience, but for the time being they are sadly a necessity. Roles in general for African Americans, Asians, Latinos, women, Native Americans, little people and other groups are limited. Roles for the aforementioned groups in a dimensional piece they play a part of are more limited still. Roles for these groups are usually reserved, in the US, for race-specific films like civil rights tales.
Therefore, when I was under the impression that Ashton was just in the film I was intrigued. However, that only lasted so long as a fractional Cherokee heritage of his mother was referenced. So it does not meet the Love Actually standard, but one thing it did is fully embrace Billy’s heritage. Another thing it does is cast an actor of Native American lineage in a film not ostensibly about his lineage as The Education of Little Tree was.
In one regard it acts as the origin of how Sandy and Flipper meet, how Flipper becomes his de facto despite the fact in most regards Flipper is not really held captive. In a rather forward-thinking way he’s only really penned when injured and a short while after that. Beyond that her stays fairly free-roaming and seems to seek human companionship almost more than they seek him.
Santa Claus (1898)
The oldest Santa Claus movie can’t be that bad, can it? It’s short and sweet.
The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972)
The film works sight gags in a fashion that is eternally accessible and hilarious, and does indeed make gorgeous use of visual storytelling from Parisian backdrops, to instrument-adorned apartment walls, ornate opera houses and spy offices.
Add to that the catchy, cheeky score by Vladimir Cosma, the physical virtuosity of Pierre Richard, and the clockwork precision of the script crafted by Yves Robert and Francis Veber and you have an unqualified comedic success.