Monday, March 19, 2018

“A Paris Education”– Movie Review


On the final weekend of the French Film Festival, I attended the North American Premiere of the drama, “A Paris Education” at The Film Society of Lincoln Center.


When a young man goes to Paris to study filmmaking, he learns as much about himself and life as he does about his craft.


Etienne has an easy life in Lyon, France; he lives with his parents and in Lucie, he’s got a devoted girlfriend.  Despite this, his ambition compells him to make a difficult decision:  he will leave all of this behind and travel to Paris, where he will enroll in filmmaking school.  As with many young students, he is forced to live on the cheap and rent an apartment he must share with a roommate.  In his first semester, he is paired up with Valentina, who is also a film student. Once an already insecure Lucie learns his roommate is an attractive young woman, she grows increasingly fearful that she will lose Etienne. 

As Etienne tries to make friends at school, he learns of the elusive Mathias, a fellow film student who has been ostracized by many of his peers due to his controversial nature; his negativity results in Mathias denigrating the film projects of other students and his air of superiority renders him obnoxious in the perception of others.  Finding such an outcast curious, Etienne tries to befriend him, causing Etienne himself to be shunned by students who dislike Mathias. Nevertheless, Etienne finds his conversations with Mathias intellectually challenging, so they both wind up enjoying the other’s company.

In the next semester, Annabelle becomes Etienne’s new roommate; she is quite different from Valentina in both personality and scholastic pursuits.  Annabelle is less interested in the arts than she is in politics; she is studying sociology and is increasingly politically active during her time in school.  Eventually, Lucie tells Etienne that she is breaking up with him; while initially upset, he quickly comes to terms with it as he winds up having many trysts with a wide variety of women.  Just when Etienne thinks he might be interested in Annabelle, he is disappointed to learn that she is having a relationship with Mathias. When Etienne learns disturbing news about Mathias in the following semester, how will this impact his studies and career?           


When people say they are turned off to French cinema because they find it pretentious, they were probably thinking of “A Paris Education”.  This entire endeavor comes across as if the filmmaker is exalting himself and his fellow auteurs who regard themselves as artists worthy of deification.  While Etienne’s soulful artistic angst may be intended to induce sympathy, it will more likely induce a major eye-roll.  Also, the fact that the director chose to shoot this in glorious black-and-white appears to be his way of screaming at the audience, “Make no mistake about it -- this movie is a work of art!”. 

The character of Etienne does not exactly present himself as saintly; he cheats on Lucie every opportunity he gets, despite his assurances to her otherwise.  Despite being a bit of a scoundrel in this regard, it would seem that we are to forgive him because he’s an “artist” and because of his intellectual pursuits.  That, and the fact that his belief in being faithful to his girlfriend is something that some of his associates find naive because they are so much more worldly and sophisticated than he (these same risibly snobbish dilettantes also find Paris boring and would much rather be in either New York City or Berlin because those are far more exciting cities).

Following the screening, there was an interview with its Writer/Director Jean-Paul Civeyrac.  Civeyrac admitted that to some degree, this story is based on his own life in the sense that he was originally from the Provinces and did go to Paris to study film and he has taught filmmaking for the past 20 years.  He maintains that the decision to become an auteur filmmaker is not a commercial path.  The auteur has to be tough because he shares his personal experiences through his work.  An auteur is not a narcissist – rather, he is exposed to the audience.  The idea to shoot in black-and-white came late in pre-production and was suggested by his producer; he felt it was right because there is a timeless allure to old films.     

A Paris Education (2018) on IMDb

Sunday, March 11, 2018

“C’est la vie!”– Movie Review


This weekend, I attended the French Film Festival at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center and saw the U.S. Premiere of the comedy “C’est la vie!


When an event planner coordinates his last wedding, can he get things back on track when one catastrophe after another hits? 


Max has owned and operated his event planning business for decades, but this one grand event will be his last.  While he’s experienced, capable and professional, his staff does not always follow his lead.  Despite the fact that he has worked hard to make his business successful, he now feels that he’s had enough and has begun looking into selling the business to someone else so he can finally take some time off and relax; his employees, however, have no idea that this change is coming.  But his final wedding will not be an easy send-off. 

For one thing, his wait staff is rebelling against him; since the event is taking place at an 18th century mansion, the waiters are being required to wear garments of that era – including powdered wigs which smell.  With their protests falling on deaf ears, Max concerns himself with other matters, including the band that’s been hired to play the wedding.  While they rehearse the numbers they plan on playing that evening, Max becomes aware of the fact that the band’s lead singer can’t sing – which might be problematic. 

Another problem is the unwanted photographer Max has foisted upon his clients, against their objections.  Although he is a long-time associate of Max, this wedding photographer has become something of a dinosaur in this age of cell phones that are perfectly capable of taking high quality pictures.  But Max is experiencing something of a personal problem, too.  Josiane, his associate, confidante and girlfriend, has threatened to leave Max if he does not finally break up with his wife.  With utter chaos surrounding him on the eve of a pending sale, can Max somehow successfully pull off one last wedding before he retires?        


Whether you regard “C’est la vie!” as a frisson of gags or a soufflé of sheer silliness, this is a delightfully farcical comedy for which the French have long been expert.  From the start where one of the servers is wearing pajamas to the end where he’s headed home on foot while simultaneously arguing grammar with a fellow waitron, this impeccably plotted comedy has been brilliantly offered up by the same directorial team that gave us the art house hit, “The Intouchables”.  For those in the mood for a raucous lark on the light side, this will hit the spot perfectly.

The jokes in this movie are relentless; the screenwriters (who directed their own script) are able to wring one twist after another out of every character and every situation, giving the audience plenty of surprises and scenes you won’t see coming.  While it is ultimately Max’s story, it’s the craft of this ensemble cast that pulls it off expertly.  In some cases, the comic timing can be attributed to the actors and in other cases to the editing; either way, the filmmakers manage to pull it off perfectly.  There are so many truly excellent lines and visuals that sharing even one would ruin the experience. 

Despite all of the comedy, there is plenty of heart in “C’est la vie!”, too.  There is the matter of Max’s collapsing marriage and his affair with one of his employees, as well as the dwindling career of his photographer.  It also touches somewhat on immigrants and their ability (or lack thereof) to assimilate into the new society in which they find themselves.  One interesting thing about this movie is that at almost two full hours, it is unusually long for a comedy, especially one as fast-paced as this.  Usually, comedies of this nature come in at around an hour and a half – but this is so good, you won’t have time to look at your watch.   

C'est la vie! (2017) on IMDb

Saturday, March 10, 2018

"Montparnasse Bienvenüe" -- Movie Review


This week, I attended the opening weekend of the French Cinema Film Festival at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center, screening the New York Premiere of the new drama, "Montparnasse Bienvenüe". 


When a directionless young woman breaks up with her live-in boyfriend, will she be able to rebuild her life on her own?


At the age of 31, Paula hasn't known an adult life of much responsibility; for much of the past decade, she has been in a relationship with Joachim, her much-older boyfriend, who's long-since established himself as a successful photographer.  Unexpectedly, Joachim now seems to have become bored with her and tosses her out of his apartment in the Montparnasse section of Paris where the two have been living for quite some time.  With no place to go and no one to help her, Paula suddenly finds herself homeless.  She has no job, no prospects and no friends. 

Paula takes what few belongings she has -- including her cat -- and sets out on her own.  Encountering difficulty trying to find a job, she instead travels the city in search of some cheap eats.  While on the metro, she runs into Yuki, a young woman who mistakes her for a former schoolmate.  Alone and desperate, Paula lies to Yuki and claims that she is indeed her old friend; Yuki then hooks up Paula with a woman who will hire her to watch her daughter in exchange for boarding in a small maid's room.  Soon after, Paula is able to secure a subsistence job as a clerk in a lingerie shop at a mall. 

Just as it seems Paula is finally getting her feet on the ground, Yuki discovers that she has been lied to and their friendship ends.  Shortly thereafter, Paula learns that she's pregnant by Joachim, who hounds her upon learning she's working at the mall; he begs her to return to him.  Once Paula reveals that she is now expecting their baby, Joachim becomes even more insistent that they become a couple again so he can take care of her and their child.  By now, Paula is not so sure she needs him any longer.  Will Paula keep the baby and return to Joachim or will she end the pregnancy and leave him forever?  


"Montparnasse Bienvenüe" (also known under the title "Jeune femme") is one of those movies that is more episodic than narrative; as a result, it never gives the viewer the sense of dramatic momentum driving toward some kind of a resolution -- at least, not until the issue of the pregnancy is introduced.  However, that doesn't come until late in the story; this leaves the audience wandering around for most of the film's hour and a half (not unlike the heroine herself).  From a viewpoint of the screenplay's structure as well as that of dramatic conflict, it might have been better for the character to have learned this earlier, thus forcing her to make different (and arguably) better decisions. 

Another problem is that the character of Paula is virtually rudderless and seems neither interested nor motivated to alter that; instead, her only concern is to survive from moment to moment, however that must be done.  As a result, it's very difficult to have much of an emotional investment in a character who can't (or won't) care about herself.  This is especially true because of the fact that she is shown to lie in order to get whatever she wants or needs at the time.  Is Paula and interesting character?  Definitely.  Complex?  Certainly.  But is she sympathetic?  Maybe not. 

One of the points that the movie seems to try to make is that certain types of people can feel somewhat lost in a big city -- especially one like Paris, where it is competitive and snob appeal is high (Montparnasse is a section of Paris on the left bank, near the river Seine).  A similarity can likely be drawn to New York City; either you figure out a way to survive here or you don't.  And if you do survive, will you merely lead a life of keeping your head above water or will you figure out a way in which you can stand apart from others?  Depending on your definition of the word "success", the answer may have different meanings.   

Montparnasse Bienvenue (2017) on IMDb

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

“A Wrinkle In Time”– Movie Review


This week at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center, I attended a screening of the new fantasy by Ava DuVernay, “A Wrinkle In Time”, with Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. 


When a girl sets out on a journey to find her missing father, will she be able to survive the opposing forces of the universe to reunite her family?


In the four years since scientist Alex Murry (Chris Pine) has been missing, his daughter Meg (Storm Reid) has grown increasingly morose.  Nevertheless, she keeps the faith that he will someday return to her, her prodigy younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and their mother, Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).  One day, Charles Wallace introduces Meg to three magical women:  Mrs. Which (Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Kaling).  Together, this mystical trio promise Meg that they will help find her father.

Meg, Charles Wallace and Meg’s classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) join these women in tessering – a type of multi-dimensional travel that transcends time and space in the traditional sense.  In search of Alex, they wind up in a dangerous land that is inhabited by a dark, evil force known simply as The It.  In this environment, the women start losing their special powers; as a result, they are forced to abandon Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin to resume the quest on their own.  As it turns out, the evil forces in this strange land draw in Charles Wallace, who now tries to use these dark forces to destroy both Meg and Calvin.

With Charles Wallace now in charge, he brings Meg to Alex, who it turns out has been trapped in this other-worldly dimension.  Alex confesses to Meg that it was his own selfish ambition that caused him to desert his family.  Now that Meg has finally located her father, neither of them are able to leave.  Charles Wallace, being controlled by the dark forces, brings Meg to meet The It.  With The It taking over, Charles Wallace gleefully watches as The It begins to overwhelm Meg.  But can Meg figure out how to overcome The It and return home with her brother, Calvin and her father? 


Perhaps the greatest challenge when it comes to reviewing “A Wrinkle In Time” is trying to talk about it without sounding cruel.  Ava DuVernay, who introduced the film and participated in a question and answer session with the audience afterward, is a great big bundle of positive energy and comes across as one of the most likeable people you’ve ever met.  Suffice it to say that she’s an incredibly gifted filmmaker who has turned out something that’s a bit of a disappointment.  We know just how good she really is (she opened the 54th New York Film Festival with her documentary 13th), so a movie like this is a genuine letdown.

“A Wrinkle In Time” could easily be renamed “President Oprah Saves The World” because she’s such a large presence in this movie.  By “large”, this doesn’t merely refer to her time spent on-screen – it’s also referring to the physical size of her character.  If regular Oprah isn’t scary enough, King Size Oprah is arguably the most frightening thing in the film (not to mention her aluminum foil eyebrows).  Between the get-ups and the make-up, all three of these mystical women look like transvestite hookers you’d be afraid to run into at The Holland Tunnel entrance after midnight. 

The screenplay doesn’t prove particularly helpful, either.  It seems lazily written, both in terms of the hackneyed dialog and dependence on the visual effects to evoke awe in the mind of the viewer.  A usually funny Zach Galifianakis is totally wasted in his small role as a medium who tries to come to the aid of Meg.  Apparently, the message of the story is to not put yourself before your family and to embrace your flaws.  “A Wrinkle In Time” has plenty of flaws, and embracing them should be discouraged at all costs.  Maybe very small children or fans of the book will enjoy this cinematic version, but most adults will be left unimpressed and bewildered.

As mentioned above, DuVernay took questions from the audience following the screening.  She said that she wanted to make the movie because the last adaptation of the book had been about 25 to 30 years ago and she felt the story could be updated for a 21st century audience.  DuVernay mentioned that her next project would be shot here in New York City during the summer; it’s called, “The Central Park Five” and is about the five young Black men who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in Central Park and wound up spending years in prison before being proved innocent of the crime.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

“Icarus”– Movie Review


This week at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center, I attended a special screening of the Netflix documentary “Icarus”.


When a documentarian tries to make a film about performance enhancing drugs, he accidentally stumbles upon a secret that creates a worldwide scandal.


Bryan Fogel, long time documentarian and cycling fan, was for years fascinated by the many achievements of famed Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.  When it became public knowledge that Armstrong had cheated by using PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs), Fogel became intrigued and thought it would be interesting to make a film about the extent to which these drugs could actually impact an athlete’s ability to compete.  In order to have a baseline against which to measure, Fogel participated in a multi-day cycling competition for amateurs called Haute Route.  It was no surprise to him that he finished with rather mediocre results. 

Fogel then sought out experts from the Olympics who had experience with checking for these types of drugs and knew which ones were best.  His goal was to then take the drugs and race Haute Route again to compare the difference.  Although he was able to collect a considerable amount of useful information, Fogel ran into a dead end when he tried to get their assistance to effectively serve as a “doping coach” – none of them wanted to touch a situation like that.  One productive outcome from this was that he was referred to Grigory Rodchenkov, a scientist who was the director of a Russian lab that was approved by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), an organization that vetted laboratories such as this to test for drugs that Olympic athletes might use.

Grigory was glad to share his knowledge and experience with Fogel and agreed to help him with the little experiment for his documentary.  Over time, however, it became clear that Grigory was sitting on information that would soon become an international incident once it was uncovered:  the Russian athletes had been getting away with doping their Olympic athletes for many years.  Fogel not only recorded many interviews with Grigory about what the Russians did and how they got away with it, he helped Grigory get in touch with the American news media to report what he knew.  But will the Russian government let Grigory get away with this or would they exact revenge?


“Icarus” is one of the most draw-dropping documentaries of our time and needs to be seen immediately.  It is easy to see why this has been nominated for awards.  Obviously, its relevance goes far beyond merely the Olympics, although it’s quite a fortunate coincidence that the 2018 Olympics are ongoing at the time of this screening.  The doping scandal is just a microcosm of typical Russian behavior and illustrates a larger issue of the depths of dishonesty to which they will sink.  After seeing this movie, you don’t need the U.S.A.’s Intelligence Community to tell you that they meddled in the 2016 Presidential campaign. 

As Grigory himself said in the movie, if the Russians deserve a gold medal in anything, it’s cheating.  He fully admits his complicity as well as that the government has been doing this long before Putin took over – they estimate doping goes back at least as far as the 1968 Olympics, if not earlier.  The film is very endearing, both in terms of Grigory’s sincerity and his friendship with the filmmaker, which seems equally genuine.  What makes the ending even more tragic is the fact that the two men are unable to communicate directly any longer because the federal government placed Grigory in the witness protection program in order to keep him safe from any Russian government operatives who may be out to do him harm.

Following the screening there was an interview with producer Dan Cogan and director Bryan Fogel.  Fogel said they deliberately made the choice to omit any reference to the 2016 election because it would appear to be pontificating.  It seems getting one over on authorities gives the Russian government the feeling of power; in the case of the Olympics, it was soft power, but in the case of the Presidential Election, it was hard power.  He mentioned that they can only communicate with Grigory through a lawyer for his safety.  The whirlwind promotion schedule that he has been on has kept him from giving any thought to his next project.  Although saying he was a cyclist for 30 years, he admitted that he had quit the sport for quite some time before taking it up again solely for the purpose of this movie.

Icarus (2017) on IMDb

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

“Western” – Movie Review


Recently, I attended the opening night screening of the new foreign drama “Western” at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center.


When a German travels to Bulgaria for construction work, can he cope with the hostility of the locals?


Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) is so desperate for work that he’s even willing to leave his home in Germany for an assignment in a small rural area of Bulgaria.  There, he will join a team of other men who will spend the next couple of months trying to enhance the town’s infrastructure by building a hydro-electric foundation that will, in time, improve the life of everyone in the vicinity.  That is, if they are able to complete the project.  It seems that the residents aren’t too keen on having a bunch of Germans come in to perform this work, no matter how much better off they will be as a result.

Seeing this, Meinhard makes an effort to befriend the locals, which does not go over terribly well with the project’s foreman, who takes a more antagonistic view toward these people and goes out of his way to make enemies rather than ingratiating himself.  One thing that turns off the townspeople to these workers is when the foreman winds up harassing some of their young women.  While he may think he’s flirting, he instead comes off as intimidating and threatening, causing everyone to be wary of this group of German construction workers who may be there to make trouble.

Meinhard’s own background, however, remains something of a mystery.  Generally a reserved and quiet type, he is believed to have a background as a solder in Iraq.  While this impresses some of the crew, others are skeptical and they ostracize him.  Eventually, his attempts to befriend the residents pays off as he unexpectedly bonds with one of the town’s leaders and manages to attract a young woman who is the daughter of one of the townspeople that has been brought in to translate between the two groups.  But will the Germans be able to finish their work or will the Bulgarians drive them out before the project can be completed?


In many ways, “Western” is deeply relevant to Trump’s America because it shows a form of nationalism that can tend to poison a culture.  The Bulgarians are resentful of these Germans who come in to perform work that they themselves are ill-suited to do on their own because they lack the expertise in this particular area.  Yet they do need the Germans, just as the Germans need the Bulgarians for the work itself.  For this reason alone, it is a sensational idea.  The execution, however, is something else altogether.  Its two hour running time seems to drag along.

At its essence, “Western” is an episodic tale rather than a narrative; the problem with this is that these sort of slice-of-life movies feel very much like a documentary in the sense that there is very little if any dramatic momentum that thrusts the story forward.  As a result, one gets the sense while watching “Western” that you are just meandering.  The filmmakers give you the feeling that they have no particular place to go and aren’t in any kind of a hurry to get there, either.  Instead, you are left with scenes of watching a slender man smoking, drinking and occasionally either fighting or bonding with other men.

It is disappointing because “Western” could have been so much more.  Not just a timely political fable, but one that could have had the capability to respond to the current climate where men are generally being made out to be inhuman and unfeeling.  There is precious little in this film that gives you the sense that men are bonding with each other and if you are looking for anything remotely resembling a romance, well, good luck with that.  Ultimately, this rudderless movie will have you going around in circles with one of those non-ending endings that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. 

Western (2017) on IMDb

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

“A Fantastic Woman”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a screening of “A Fantastic Woman” at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center


When a transgender woman’s lover dies, can she cope with the open hostility from his family and society as she mourns? 


Marina (Daniela Vega) could not be happier; she is celebrating her birthday with her lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a much older man.  The two are very much in love with each other despite the fact that Orlando’s family – and much of society – consider their love to be of the forbidden kind.  Not because he, at 57, is old enough to be Marina’s father, but because Marina is a transgender woman.  Everyone – including Orlando’s ex-wife and his adult offspring – find the whole idea both revolting and completely unnatural.

Complications develop on the night of Marina’s birthday celebration.  Overnight, Orlando suddenly falls ill and Marina decides to take him to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.  Before she can get him into the car, Orlando falls down some stairs and incurs some bruises.  By the time Marina can get him to the hospital, it is too late; he has succumbed to his illness, which turns out to be an aneurysm.  Not technically being part of his family, Marina has to summon Orlando’s brother to take care of the details.  It turns out that he is the only member of Orlando’s family that is sympathetic to Marina’s situation.

Orlando’s ex-wife meets with Marina and informs her that she is not welcome at Orlando’s funeral.  As if to make matters worse, the police suspect Marina as being complicit in Orlando’s death; after inspection of his corpse, they believe that the bruises on his body may have been the result of a beating given to him by Marina.  Although she is innocent, they don’t believe her story and the scrutiny upon her only increases.  Lonely and feeling victimized by both the police and Orlando’s family, will Marina be able to mourn her loss and continue with her life? 


There is no doubt that “A Fantastic Woman” displays a considerable amount of heart.  This is evident from beginning to end and at all points in between.  But to regard it as one of the Best Foreign Language Films (as the Academy has it nominated) is something of a stretch.  Perhaps the most honest explanation for this is merely the fact that there is an effort (which may or may not be earnest) to be politically correct.  After all, this is a story about the lack of humanity displayed towards a transgender woman as she copes with her loss and it has occurred during the time of the #MeToo movement as well as the response to #OscarsSoWhite from a couple of years ago.

Is “A Fantastic Woman” a good movie?  Yes.  Is it a great movie?  Maybe not so much.  However, it is definitely an interesting and an entertaining movie, made all the much more compelling as a result of the performance by Daniela Vega, who makes the character of Marina all too real to us.  That said, the fact that it has been nominated for Best Foreign Film this year speaks more to the fact that there is a paucity of truly extraordinary films from outside of the United States (in fact, the United States itself may have had a paucity of extraordinary films this year as well, but that may be another conversation altogether).

“A Fantastic Woman” is certainly a motion picture worthy of viewing and discussing as our society – not just in the United States, but worldwide – changes in terms of its viewpoint toward acceptance of the LGBTQ community.  It is important to confront the bigotry and hostility toward a transgender woman who engaged in a non-traditional (albeit mutually consensual) relationship with a man who has a history of heterosexual preferences.  If any good comes of this film, it will be to continue that conversation in order to arrive at some kind of understanding so our culture can move forward.

A Fantastic Woman (2017) on IMDb

Sunday, January 14, 2018

“Lover For A Day”– Movie Review


This week, I attended the opening of the new French drama “Lover For A Day” at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center.


When a young woman is dumped by her boyfriend, she moves in with her father – but after learning his new lover is her own age, what will this do to their relationship?


When Jeanne (Esther Garrel) shows up at the front door of the apartment belonging to her father Gilles (Eric Caravaca), it’s not for a friendly visit.  Jeanne is moving in with him because her boyfriend just kicked her out of their apartment.  While Gilles is happy to see his daughter, the living arrangement causes something of an awkward situation:  he’s now living with Ariane (Louise Chevillotte), a former student at the university where Gilles is a professor.  Making matters even more uncomfortable, it turns out that both Jeanne and Ariane are the same age.  

Despite the unease that the two young women feel at each other’s presence, they manage to bond due to shared frustrations over their various romantic involvements.  Jeanne is so distraught over her break-up that she is constantly bursting into tears and even attempts suicide.  Ariane, on the other hand, is beginning to question her pursuit of Gilles; while she is comfortable in the constancy of their relationship, she wonders what sexual adventures she may be missing in her youth.  Has she made a huge mistake in taking up with an older man?

Although Gilles has opportunities to cheat on Ariane with other university co-eds, he nevertheless remains steadfastly faithful to her.  Ariane, on the other hand, is being increasingly tempted by the young men she meets in chance social encounters.  All the while, Jeanne is now trying to socialize again with the hope of not only forgetting her ex-boyfriend, but also jumping back into the dating pool.  Soon, she becomes aware that her ex has apparently had a change of heart and is now trying to woo her back.  Meanwhile, Gilles is becoming increasingly suspicious of Ariane’s mysterious behavior.  Will the two remain lovers as Jeanne must decide if she’s still in love with her boyfriend?


Keeping it short and sweet is usually a good tactic – but at less than an hour and a half, “Lover For A Day” is surprisingly short, suggesting, perhaps that the director didn’t have too much to say with this movie.  If that’s the case, it’s understandable as to the reason why:  neither the characters nor the story go very far by the film’s conclusion.  In fact,“Lover For A Day” doesn’t really have an ending – it just stops.  There is precious little in the way of a resolution; instead of going from Point A to Point B, the characters go full circle.

It seems that the director may be trying to make a point not only about relationships (that they are inherently unstable because they have a life of their own) but also trying to show the immaturity of young women.  While the females in “Lover For A Day” come off as emotionally erratic, the character of the father seems more disciplined and serious in terms of how he views his familial and romantic obligations.  In that regard, viewing the movie is almost uncomfortable because it feels like the director as father is trying to lecture the actress as daughter. 

Following the screening was an interview with the film’s star, Esther Garrel, whose father, Philippe Garrel, directed “Lover For A Day”.  She said that his directing style requires a considerable amount of rehearsal; the cast rehearsed on a Saturday afternoon (once a week) for 30 weeks before shooting.  This winds up saving a considerable amount of time and money as the shoot is usually pretty quick – most scenes are done in only a single take.  The real work between the director and cast is done during the rehearsal; once the director is on the set, it’s all about the technical crew, getting the lighting and camera set-ups correct. 

Lover for a Day (2017) on IMDb

Friday, January 05, 2018

“Why I Am Not A Christian”– Book Review


During my recent vacation, I read “Why I Am Not A Christian” – a collection of essays by philosopher, writer and teacher Bertrand Russell.


Probably the people most in need of reading this book will never do so and the people who cleave toward Russell’s viewpoint will make up the majority of its readership.  In that regard, perhaps you could say that Russell is preaching to the choir.  Yes, that was a pun and no, I’m not apologizing.  The essays in this book were all written decades ago, which is part of what makes it all so interesting.  We don’t often think of discussions of atheism, divorce and birth control from our parents or grandparents generations.  It is therefore refreshing to read the essays with that perspective in mind.

The reason for the whole “preaching to the choir” issue is due to the fact that many people do not like to have their belief system questioned.  Often, this is because they fear that they can’t articulately and logically defend it in the first place.  This obviously begs the most necessary question, “Perhaps if you can’t defend your belief system doesn’t that seem to suggest that your belief system is of questionable value?”.  Unfortunately, people usually respond to this emotionally rather than rationally; they are infuriated by the thought that what they were taught by their family, their clergy and their school growing up was all untrue or unhelpful.

As you might expect, many of the views set forth by Russell are quite similar to those of the late Christopher Hitchens.  That said, however, Hitchens’ work is a more entertaining read; by comparison, Russell’s essays, despite the fact that they all have a sound basis in thinking, can be a bit of a slog – at least at times.  Many of these chapters are somewhat dry and you almost get the feeling that you are reading an undergraduate-level philosophy textbook.  It’s not an easy book to get through, especially given that Russell’s background is as an academician and he is prone to using language that doesn’t sound particularly natural. 

There is an essay titled, “Do We Survive Death?” where Russell almost predicts the terrorism that we are seeing today.  He says that nothing productive would come if we stopped fearing death – thus, this fear of death is mostly useful.  Having read that, consider how today’s terrorists – especially the suicide bombers – who give little or no regard to the thought of death because they are focusing on the afterlife where they will be greeted by 72 virgins (although I’m not sure how much fun just one virgin would be, much less 72). 

In “A Free Man’s Worship”, Russell almost foresaw climate change, by stating that natural physics leads to the destruction of man.  Additionally, there is the rather provocatively titled essay, “Sexual Ethics”, where the author discusses birth control, infidelity and how theology determines our attitude toward sex rather than our attitude toward sex determining our view of religion.  Consider two men:  one a pastor, the other a layman.  The pastor has 10 children with his wife, who dies from exhaustion.  The layman has sex with a woman he is not married to and uses birth control to ensure they don’t have any unintended children.  Which man is the more moral of the two?

One thing that might be seen as a serious flaw in the book has to do with the organization of the various essays.  Specifically, the fact that the essays are not presented in chronological order may pose something of a problem.  It might be better to read them in the order in which they are written.  Doing so would allow us to see how Russell’s views evolved, matured and refined over time.  Arguably the best part of the book is its Appendix; it deals with the 1941 court case in which Russell was involved resulting in a judge deciding that Russell was unfit to teach philosophy at the College at the City Of New York.  

“On Paris”– Book Review


On my recent winter vacation, I read “On Paris” by Ernest Hemingway.


When the 20th century was in its early 20’s, so was Ernest Hemingway.  After his service as an ambulance driver during World War I, he lived in Paris with his wife Hadley and worked as a journalist for the Toronto Star.  Periodically, he would file pieces on a wide variety of topics – political, cultural, sports-related, you name it.  As a nascent writer, this young man was all over the place. While some may find these writings rather inconsequential, Hemingway devotees might in fact get a kick out of it because it shows the master as he’s figuring out how to perfect his craft.

This is a short, easy book to read, especially if you’re on vacation.  However, do note that if you’re on vacation in Paris (or are planning to go there), keep in mind that the places the author references in his florid writing may no longer exist since these articles are nearly a century old.  That said, it’s rather entertaining to see the references to prices with a favorable exchange rate between French Francs and U.S. Dollars (ah, the pre-Euros days).  That said, his love for the city of lights will still ring true for its most ardent fans. 

His view of French politics is particularly interesting, especially given the fact that the memories of The Great War are still fresh among its citizens.  What’s amusing, though, is the twenty-something Hemingway railing against the “old” politicians remaining in office.  He gives a peek behind the curtain of journalism describing the trials and tribulations of being a newspaperman.  The story related is about the installation of a new Pope and how the Vatican (like the politicians) didn’t trust journalists.  An appreciation of French History and world politics is not necessarily a pre-requisite for this book, but if you have this knowledge, it’ll certainly come in handy.     

In contrasting the way we currently express ourselves now as opposed to then, text dripping with racism was rampant.  As an example, there was an author of African-American descent who was notorious for writing a controversial novel.  Having met the man, Hemingway not only mentioned the man was Black, he went on to try to describe exactly how Black by comparing his skin color to that of a known boxer of the day who was also African-American.  Reading this particular piece, it is hard to imagine it being written in this manner today.

One of the funnier items is “American Bohemian”, where he writes about American artists (or artist wannabes) who come to Paris seeking networking with other such artists and, hopefully, to be discovered and get a shortcut to fame and fortune.  Hemingway describes these people as “the scum of Greenwich Village”.  He also writes harshly of the tough, gritty nightlife of the real Paris where you can be robbed by a waiter just as easily as you can by a young street thug with a weapon (although the latter method will induce considerably more physical pain). 

Besides writing about dilettantes, Hemingway also notices that Russians abound in Paris and they seemingly are able to get away with anything because the French are so gullible.  He also complains about how absinthe was outlawed and how Berlin tries to compete with Paris in terms of its nightlife (he says that Berlin is overrated because of the abundance of cocaine there, which is readily available almost everywhere you go).  The French themselves don’t get let off the hook quite so easily; Hemingway whines about how rude they are and that everywhere you go, they will harass you for tips. 

On Paris (On Series): Ernest Hemingway: 9781843916048: Books

ISBN: 1843916045
ISBN-13: 9781843916048