Undressing Israel

This slight film from Michael Lucas is an exploration of what it means to be gay in modern Israel.  Despite being slightly arch in its central conceit that the audience will be shocked by the idea that Israel is a modern country, welcoming to gay people, there are some interesting moments and the people featured come across as well adjusted individuals.

The two men getting married, surrounded by their family, were my favourites but there was also the couple parenting two boys, an Arab- Israeli journalist, and a host of talking heads all explaining that it was a wonderful country in which to be gay.  The film director Eytam Fox was interviewed and he is always worth listening to.  Most attention is given to Tel Aviv and there are many questions left unanswered by this film such as what is it like to be gay in a rural community or far away from the vibrant party scene?

BlogUndressingIsrael

An openly gay MP hosted a Pride event in the parliament near the start of the film and talked about the progress already made but the steps still needed.  The film provides an entirely positive look at gay life in Israel which is no bad thing when most films in this arena have issues to face.

 

The Man Who Knew Infinity

This film, while not destined for classic status, reminded me of the Merchant Ivory films of the 80s when historical settings showed Britain as a good-looking country at the same time as reminding us that the views and standards of the time are best left in the past.  In this case, the story from the early part of the Twentieth Century is based on the real case of an Indian man whose genius with number leads him from his home to Cambridge where he studies with the famous G.H Hardy.

BlogManInfinity

Srinivasa Ramanujan was born into a poor family in Madras, India.  He performed menial tasks to earn a living but found beauty in mathematics.  His employers realised he had exceptional skills and used him for accounting purposes until they decided his personal journals on number should reach a wider public.  This led to Britain, Cambridge and Professor Hardy at Trinity College.

The stuffy and hierarchical nature of Cambridge is well portrayed along with the stereo-type that academics are not quite part of the real world.  Real enough, though, is the racism Ramanujan faces in pre- First World War Britain.  Not only are the dons suspicious of his ability but they also see him as an upstart for moving into their world without moving through the proper channels.

There is a sub-plot set against the First World War showing how academics split in terms of their support for the war.  Key figures from that time took different paths: Bertrand Russell to pacifism (and consequently to prison) and John Edensor Littlewood to the army (to help with ballistics).

Dev Patel played Ramanujan and Jeremy Irons played Hardy, the significant difference in their ages not reflected in the real story!  It works as a film, though, because it shows that some people will fight against racism and pursue their ambitions despite it.  It also shows that academic endeavour is worth the years of struggle.  For Ramanujan, the return to India, while in triumph as an accepted academic, was personally difficult and he did not have a long life.

Jeremy Irons is always worth watching and so, it seems, is Dev Patel.  This film is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

The Little Traitor

I loved the novella by Amos Oz called ‘Panther in the Basement’.  This film is based on that book and, even though the title is a touch too ‘cute’ for my taste, it is an interesting transposition of the story to film.  The wonderful Alfred Molina is terrific as Sergeant Stephen Crabtree, the British soldier posted to Palestine during the British Mandate.  He is a man fascinated by this land of the Bible and delighted to meet a young boy who looks able to help him understand the language. They strike up a friendship which is odd since the boy, Proffy to his friends, is brought up to hate the British and declares himself a sworn enemy.

The political is personal, though, and soon Proffy is conflicted by the difference between what he has been told about the British and what he likes about Sergeant Crabtree.  The two spend time together, usually at the British mess, and Proffy helps the sergeant with Hebrew while Crabtree teaches Proffy English.

Proffy’s friendship with two friends of the same age as him is based on their sense of fighting back against the British Mandate.  They plot ways of attacking the enemy as young boys do, oblivious to the dangers involved.  Proffy sees an opportunity to use Crabtree as a source of military information to further their freedom fighting cause but things do not turn out that way and when he is followed by his friends his secret visits to the British mess are misinterpreted.

The resulting interrogation of Proffy by a Jewish group was confusing to me: who were they and on what authority did Proffy’s parents subject their son to such treatment?  A sub-plot showing their involvement in the Haganah might explain this.  In any case, Proffy is branded a traitor in his community and he questions the nature of friendship; learning  too late that Sergeant Stephen Crabtree was more of a friend than he realised at the time.  The final scene is worth waiting for since it brings a resolution not found in the book.

On balance, the book is far better than the film, even with the presence of Alfred Molina, but the location filming adds a dimension that I could not see in my mind’s eye when reading.  The sense of Jerusalem in the 1940s is brought to life.  For this reason, the film is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

The Invisible Men

This documentary by film- maker Yariv Mozer is a sad portrait of the lives of three gay men adrift in Israel. The Palestinians are there because their lives are in danger if they stay at home.  The danger comes, mostly, from their own families.  In some cases the men came out to family members but it is also the case that exposure came from perceptions about their personalities or because they were caught with boyfriends.

BlogInvisibleMenThere is a sadness to this story of men living under the radar in Tel Aviv, a city chosen because it is the most accepting of their lifestyles.  Louie is an illegal, though, and he is regularly deported back to the border even though this places him in great danger each time.  Fares enters the film when Louie is asked to help him.  His family is actively searching for him, possibly to kill him, and it falls to other gay men to rescue him.

The third person in this film is Abdou, an out and proud Arab who believes his future lies in Europe where he may be better accepted.  The gay rights group supporting the men believe this is the best route for young gay men who are not given permission to stay in Israel.

The film follows two of the three to Europe where they, individually, hope to build new lives but they can’t escape the idea that this is not the homeland they would have chosen. The rejection from their families still stings and probably always will.  One of the saddest parts of the film was when Louie looked over the valley to his home village before departing for Europe.  He dared not visit and he longed to return.

‘The Invisible Men’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Fire at Sea

This wonderful documentary is both sweet and very sad.  By contrasting normal life in Lampedusa, an island off Sicily in Italy, with the refugee crisis, director Gianfranco Rosi has made a film that shows the human aspects of newspaper headlines.

BlogFireatSea2Two locals in particular dominate the film: a young boy through whose eyes we see ‘normal’ Lampedusan life; and a doctor who comes into contact with refugees because of his vocation.

What makes the film so powerful is the way it shows the details of island life and then the logistics of rescuing migrants; time is taken over both.  As the film progresses, the two strands support each other to make a central point that this migrant crisis is taking place among us.  People die trying to cross the Mediterranean.  Apart from one small scene where the doctor talks about his work in relation to the migrants brought ashore from their un-seaworthy boat, the two worlds do not meet so we do not find out what local people think of the crisis.  This is not the point, however, and it serves to remind us that our lives often continue oblivious to the pain of others.

BlogFireatSea

 

My Nazi Legacy

This documentary from Philippe Sands was fascinating even if somewhat painful to watch at times.  Sands, an eminent Human Rights lawyer accompanies two sons of prominent Nazis as they visit sites of their fathers’ notorious careers.  The trip is made more poignant by the fact that the extended family of Sands himself were victims of the very men the sons are talking about.

Niklas Frank is the son of Hans Frank, the governor of Poland.  He has long ago denounced his father’s crimes and he does so again in this film, making it clear that we can only move on if the atrocities of the past are exposed.  At no time does he try to defend his father’s actions.  Horst von Wächter on the other hand will not concede that his father did anything wrong despite documentary evidence to the contrary.  His father was Otto Wächter, the governor of Galicia in modern Ukraine.  The tension between the three men increases as Wächter maintains that, although the regime was criminal, his father was not.  At times he suggest that things would have been worse if a man other than his father had been in charge.

Throughout it all, Sands acts with great dignity even though the position taken by Wächter exasperates him.  The film is best when it expresses the historic through the personal.  The city of Lviv or Lemberg is important in this story since it is where the family of Sands lived.  This film is in my hinterland.

BlogPhilippeSands

Heatwave

BlogApresLeSudThis film with the title ‘Apres le Sud’ in the original French is an interesting study of four people each facing a personal crisis.  The setting is the South of France in what seems to be a heatwave.  Directed by Jean- Jacques Jauffret, the 2011 film plays with time so that when things unfold we pass moments that we have already witnessed.  What makes it all the more interesting is the way the characters cross paths with each other as their personal stories unfold.

Amelie is a young woman with a holiday job at the supermarket.  She urgently needs to speak to her boyfriend, Luigi, but tracking him down is hard and when he appears, she cannot be released from her work.  He has his own issues as his father is harsh with him and he wants to return to his mother in Italy.  He is unaware that the news Amelie has for him could change his decision about leaving.

Amelie’s mother has her own concerns and leaves for another city telling her daughter she is visiting a relative overnight.   Instead, she goes to a clinic that could help with her weight problem.  Georges is the fourth character we follow.  He is a retired man who relies on public transport to go to the local supermarket.  Quite lonely, but not without reason, he listens to classical music and fights off the irritation of teenagers playing football against his garage door.

As you would expect on such a hot day, everyone moves slowly and the camera lingers over small details so that there is a documentary feel at times.

When the paths cross in a final tragic scene, earlier scenes fall into place and the layers built up by the director come together.  It is an accomplished film.  It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?