Review of A Movie with Catherine Deneuve

Poster for A Movie with Catherine Deneuve I don’t enjoy movies, or people for that matter, making fun of others’ pain. On the surface “A Movie with Catherine Deneuve“* is not one of films, but if you are like me you get uncomfortable watching this comedy.  For causal viewers it follows an unconventional roadtrip of two friends: men in their fifties who are the opposite of each other. Halperin is shy, hesitant, afraid of decisions and a stereotype of neurosis. Mano, on the other hand seems worldly, loud, outgoing. During the course of their adventures (read the synopsis) though the role of being reluctant goes back and forth between the two of them. As they go through phases of chasing various elusive women they keep switching leadership roles.

Where does the pain seep in? When you realize that it is not just Halperin whose introvert life and self-esteem is broken, but Mano is less of a success than he seems. They are both victims of modern society’s alienation. One seeks refuge in isolation, but the other, with all his charismatic persona, is as much a victim, that hides his loneliness in plain sight. Nowhere comes this clearer than in this exchange at the end of the movie:

‘See Halperin, we’re in paradise. You can stop suffering,’ Said Mano to Halperin.
‘And what fun is that?’ replied Halperin.

Suffering is the basis of his existence and cannot imagine or even enjoy life without it. That is hard to comprehend in a comic mindset. If you need a kind of redemptive ending don’t get too disappointed as this movie provides only a mixed bag of that.

  1. It is a very light movie with plenty of easy visual and verbal jokes, and it even verges on slapstick, e.g. the scene when the auntie get stolen from the hospital with the help of a stolen van of a conned clown.  However it is also a deep movie, suggesting that the journey counts more than the destination. It also points out that the forces you think are driving you are not always the real ones. For those you have to look back to your past journey and actions and deduce from them what took you where you are.

A major theme in the movie is sex, sexual frustration and its opposite: tantric sex. The representative of the latter is shown as en enlightened guru, who brings light to others’ life and even has a brighter aura though a editing. He not just helps women to reach orgasm, but like the god Pan, can use his panpipe to create magical music. This touch and him being  a goat-herder makes one wonder what other aspects of Pan this guru embodies,

An integral part of narrative is a recurring puppet show with two characters, who are comparable to Mano and Halperin. This, the puppet characters’ conversations that do not seem to relate directly to the actions of the movie, adds another layer of complexity to this “simple” movie. I leave it to you to decipher what fragment of the identities are projected into them.

The acting and directing wasn’t top notch, but the story, particularly if you take the time to ponder upon the undertones, can hold your attention enough to enjoy Omri Yavin’s movie.

* As a member of the committee helping to put on the Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, I preview movies to help decide which ones to play at the Festival. I watched this movie as part of this volunteer effort.

** Crossposted at Jewishfilmfestivals.org

Books posted on my Jewish Books blog in November 2014

I have a blog about Jewish books. Most of the time I post about new books, sometimes about events, book sales or older books. Here is the list of books that made it there during the month of November 2014:

  1. the-synagogues-of-central-and-western-pennsylvania-a-visual-journey-by-julian-h-priesler-book-coverBeyond the Forest: Jewish Presence in Eastern Europe, 2004-2012 by Loli Kantor
  2. Bus on Jaffa Road: A Story of Middle East Terrorism and the Search for Justice by Mike Kelly
  3. The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel by Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm
  4. Catch The Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom
  5. The Cave 4 Apocryphon of Jeremiah and the Qumran Jeremianic Traditions by Kipp Davis
  6. Challah: A Chewish Guide to the Torah by Rabbi Susan Abramson
  7. Choose Light!: Chassidic Tales for Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah, Sukkos, Passover & Shavuos by Libi Astaire
  8. Creation, Covenant, and the Beginnings of Judaism by Ari Mermelstein
  9. Dear Darwish by Morani Kornberg-Weiss
  10. Death by Pastrami by Leonard S. Bernstein
  11. The Early Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings by Dr. Everett Fox
  12. Every Picture Tells a Story, Volume One: Bereishis by Chaim Natan Firszt
  13. A Family of Veterans by Mattityahu Yarom
  14. Four Mothers: Historical Fiction by Shifra Horn
  15. The Gelt Giving Golem by Carolyn Greenwald
  16. The Gender Challenge of Hebrew by Malka Muchnik
  17. GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation by Deborah Dash Moore
  18. God is In My Backpack: A Young Rabbi’s Epic Adventure by Rabbi Ben Tanny
  19. The Innocents by Francesca Segal
  20. The Jewish Confederates by Robert N. Rosen
  21. Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh by Janna Gur
  22. Kuzmino Chronicles: Memoirs of teenage Holocaust Survival by Nathan C. Moskowitz
  23. Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death by Otto Dov Kulka
  24. Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Toward Traditional Rabbinic Ordination by Haviva Ner-David
  25. Masorah and Text Criticism in the Early Modern Mediterranean by Jordan S. Penkower
  26. The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner
  27. Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen
  28. New York 1, Tel Aviv 0: Stories by Shelly Oria
  29. No Ballyhoo by Mauro Mevlud Martino
  30. Out of the Shoebox by Yaron Reshef
  31. People of the Book: Five Hundred Years of the Hebrew Book from the Beginning of Printing to the Twentieth Century by Akiva Aaronson
  32. The Pomegranate Pendant by Dvora Waysman
  33. The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein
  34. Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Okon Rael
  35. Saxa judaica loquuntur, Lessons from Early Jewish Inscriptions by Pieter W. van der Horst
  36. Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano
  37. The Synagogues of Central and Western Pennsylvania: A Visual Journey by Julian H. Priesler
  38. Three Early Modern Hebrew Scholars on the Mysteries of Song by Don Harran
  39. The Veterans of History: A Young Person’s History of the Jews by Mitchell Silver
  40. Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead

Angry Samoans + 4 bands (Concert videos)

Flyer for Angry Samoans' show in Sebastopol's AubergineI used to go to lots of concerts as a teenager. When I first came to the US in 1990 I was still in that phase and when I learned about a punk club in Berkeley I was happy to frequent it. I’ve seen many bands at 924 Gilman, but don’t remember a lot of them. Somehow, maybe because of their unusual name, Angry Samoans is a band that I know I’ve seen there. So now, 24 years later, when I saw the flyer that they will be playing nearby, at the Aubergine, I couldn’t miss them.

Considering that there were 6 support bands and my stamina isn’t as fresh as a quarter century ago I tried to be as late as I could. I still saw three and a half bands before the headliners. I go there in the middle of Thought Vomit‘s set. I didn’t care for their vulgarity, but I am familiar with the mindset, which dictates that punk equals that. Still I appreciated their energy and classic punk attitude. (I recorded two of their songs.) Next up was Flesh Gordo, more of a hardcore band where the singer was signing in the audience. It  was musically a bit more interesting as you can see from the song I captured. The last local band of the night was No Brainer, which had a local following as the pit became more active. (Check my video out.) Fourth up was Fang from the 1980’s Berkeley scene. They were clearly in a different age and experience group as seen in their mature stage presence. A touch slower, but more melodic.

Finally around 12.30 Angry Samoans started. Unlike the previous bands they were funny, didn’t take themselves as seriously. As a result they seemed to have more fun too. Unfortunately the sound mixing or amplification wasn’t as good as the previous bands, so they didn’t sound so full. Here is my whole video playlist of the evening, including the five songs from them.

And a few pictures:

My last memory of GDR (East Germany)

Trabant on the Berlin WallThe Berlin Wall came down exactly 25 years ago today and this is a good day to share in writing my last memory of the system that created and enforced it. In the fall of 1989 I visited a friend in Stockholm, Sweden. On the last leg of my trip back to Budapest, Hungary I got onto the train in Berlin. I did this ride several times before and had mixed feeling about it. On one hand I was young and loved to travel, even under harsh conditions. On the other hand this train was usually very full and I was concerned how uncomfortable the stuffed cabins would be for the long ride. This time it ended up being almost empty, but I was scared and my stomach was in a hard knot.

Before I tell you why I need to give you a bit of a context. Freedom of movement was limited in Eastern Europe. Most people were allowed to travel to other fellow “communist” countries although you still needed a passport and an “exit visa”. The latter referred to the permission/stamp in your passport that the country you were travelling from issued, allowing you to travel to another specific country. It had nothing to do with what one usually meant by visa: another country’s permission to let you in.  The East German authorities, bastions of the old rule, didn’t like the political changes the region’s countries were going through that year. So they further limited the countries they allowed their citizens to travel too.

Starting mid-September Hungary, already ahead in breaking down the system, allowed East Germans to leave Hungary towards the west, i.e. Austria and then West Germany. For this reason it became an even more prime “destinations” for those East Germans who wanted to leave for good, than before. The day I got on my train Berlin was the day the East German government announced that their subjects (sorry, at this point can’t really call them citizens) are not allowed to travel to Hungary any more. By then this was the last country they were allowed to have an exit visa for, so it must have felt like a crushing closing gate around them. Nevertheless, or exactly because of this edict, plenty of people tried to get onto my train.

On the East German leg of the ride we accumulated an unscheduled, extra 9 hours. Every single station where the train was supposed to stop felt like being under siege. The train stopped before pulling in to those stations, because they were surrounded by people who tried to sneak on the last train leaving their country to freedom. I saw angry and scared crowds when I looked out the window. And a few kilometers after the train left the station it stopped again and was cleansed from people without proper papers. People in uniform– I have no idea whether they were border patrol, military police, Stasi or who–went through the train with big dogs looking or stowaways and new passengers. When they found someone they removed the unwanted people. Sometimes with force. My strongest memory was seeing a skinny, hippy looking man being pulled by his long hair along the corridor and then down the stairs by men with huge German Sheppard dogs. This picture has been a haunting, vivid memory ever since and I consider it the symbol of that evil system.

Seeing this kind of treatment disgusted me to the core. This was the strongest, physical manifestation that I personally ever saw of the system’s brutality and it made me sick. I knew and read about lots of other incidents and systemic abuse, but never saw it in person to this extent. I feared for myself, although having a Hungarian passport ensured my safety. But I couldn’t be sure, I felt unsafe as one little mistake by one of those armed men and it could have been me, being dragged away. After leaving Germany the rest of the trip was unremarkable. Except, I had a whole cabin, usually full with 8 people, all to myself. My body was as comfortable as it could be on a train, but my soul was trembling.

A week later the Berlin Wall and the system that created it, thinking of itself as strong and unbreakable, crumbled and my trip seemed like an unreal nightmare. But it was real and I will never forget it.

Books posted on my Jewish Books blog in October 2014

The Angel of Losses by Stephanie FeldmanI have a blog about Jewish books. Most of the time I post about new books, sometimes about events, book sales or older books. Here is the list of books that made it there during the month of October 2014:

  1. All the World: Universalism, Particularism and the High Holy Days by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD
  2. The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman
  3. Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism by Ithamar Gruenwald
  4. At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora Is Good for the Jews by Alan Wolfe
  5. Catalog of Judeo-Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America by Vera Basch Moreen
  6. The Demons’ Mistake: A Story from Chelm by Francine Prose
  7. Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer by Bettina Stangneth
  8. Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter by Maggie Anton
  9. Ghosts and Golems: Haunting Tales of the Supernatural by Malka Penn
  10. Hayyim’s Ghost by Eric A. Kimmel
  11. The Hilltop by Assaf Gavron
  12. Hitler’s Priest by Salvatore Tagliareni
  13. The Hormone Factory by Saskia Goldschmidt
  14. I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy from Anthrax by Scott Ian
  15. Liesl’s Ocean Rescue by Barbara Krasner and Avi Katz
  16. The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. by Gina B. Nahai
  17. Miracle for Shira: A Chanukah story by Galia Sabbag and Erin Taylor
  18. Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya
  19. Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind by Sarah Wildman
  20. Rabbinic Traditions between Palestine and Babylonia by Ronit Nikolsky
  21. Reconstructing the Talmud: An Introduction to the Academic Study of Rabbinic Literature by Jason Rogoff and Joshua Kulp
  22. See Under: Shoah; Imagining the Holocaust with David Grossman by Marc De Kesel
  23. The Stones Weep: Teaching the Holocaust Through A Survivor’s Art by Miriam M. Brysk and Margaret G. Lincoln
  24. Tel Aviv Noir by Etgar Keret and Assaf Gavron

Books posted on my Jewish Books blog in September 2014

I have a blog about Jewish books. Most of the time I post about new books, sometimes about events, book sales or older books. Here is the list of books that made it there during the month of September 2014:

  1. the-war-on-women-in-israel-how-religious-radicalism-is-smothering-the-voice-of-a-nation-by-elana-maryles-sztokmanApple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story by Allison Sarnoff Soffer, Bob McMahon (Illustrator)
  2. Apples and Pomegranates: A Family Seder for Rosh Hashanah by Rahel Musleah, Judy Jarrett (Illustrator)
  3. Barricades and Banners: The Revolution of 1905 and the Transformation of Warsaw Jewry by Scott Ury
  4. The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis
  5. A Climbing Journey Towards Yom Kippur: The Thirteen Attributes of the Divine by R. Margaret Frisch Klein
  6. David: The Divided Heart by David Wolpe
  7. The Day of Atonement by David Liss
  8. Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub
  9. The Duel for Consuelo by Claudia H. Long
  10. Eating in Isaiah: Approaching the Role of Food and Drink in Isaiah’s Structure and Message by Andrew T. Abernethy
  11. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
  12. Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
  13. The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman
  14. Goldie Takes a Stand: Golda Meir’s First Crusade by Barbara Krasner
  15. The Golem of Hollywood by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman
  16. Graphic Details: Jewish Women’s Confessional Comics in Essays and Interviews by Sarah Lightman
  17. Henna House by Nomi Eve
  18. Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays by Lesléa Newman and Susan Gal (Illustrator)
  19. The Imagined and Real Jerusalem in Art and Architecture by Jeroen Goudeau, Mariëtte Verhoeven and Wouter Weijers
  20. The Ladder by Hamutal Bar-Yosef
  21. Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician by Allen Shawn
  22. Lucky Jews: Poland’s Jewish figurines (Na szczescie to Zyd: Polskie figurki Zydów) by Erica Lehrer
  23. Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage, and Fatherhood by Keren R. McGinity
  24. A Member of Two Tribes by Emily Bowen Cohen
  25. Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman
  26. My Grandfather’s Gallery: A Family Memoir of Art and War by Anne Sinclair
  27. My Yiddish Vacation by Ione Skye
  28. Naming Jack the Ripper by Russell Edwards
  29. Penguin Rosh Hashanah by Jennifer MacLeod
  30. The Pillar of Fire by Karl Stern
  31. Storm by Donna Jo Napoli
  32. Tears: Reclaiming Ritual, Integral Religion, and Rosh Hashanah by Marc Gafni
  33. The War on Women in Israel: How Religious Radicalism Is Smothering the Voice of a Nation by Elana Maryles Sztokman
  34. Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant
  35. With Heart in Mind: Mussar Teachings to Transform Your Life by Alan Morinis

Statement of Accomplishment for Scandinavian Film and Television course

Statement of Accomplishment for  Scandinavian Film and Television courseThe course I finished couple of weeks ago and I still hope to blog through it. Meanwhile today I got my “Statement of Accomplishment“, which I earned with distinction. In theory on need to reach more than 90% on the course to get the distinction. Guess what % I did? 139?! *(click picture on side for larger size as proof) I knew I can be a bit of an overachiever, but this was a bit too much, I suspect something was wrong with the calculation method. Nevertheless they cannot take my certificate away. Here is the PDF version and a screenshot of it below:

Statement of Accomplishment for  Scandinavian Film and Television course

Lost Town (2013, USA)

Lost Town (2013, USA)One of the ways you can categorize documentaries is based on what they “document”. An event, a person, a place, a time, a process… The title of “Lost town” would suggest that it is about a town, that is lost. It is, however, much more time and energy was spent on the process of rediscovering, remembering, recreating the town. I was hoping to find out much more about Trochenbrod, the only all-Jewish town to ever exist outside of Palestine” than I did. On the other hand I know a lot how the person whose passion this process was felt about it at any given time.

Maybe I was after the impossible, because there is so little left from the town. No structure of any kind is left and most of the photographs in the movie were saved by the only non-Jewish resident and mostly showing people. I haven’t seen Regina yet–which is a movie about the first female rabbi, based on the single photo left of her–but this must be similar in the sense that there was only one photo left where at least some of the town’s main street is visible. Clever animation was used to make that into a town, but after a while it got repetitive, no matter how fancy the animation looked at first.

At the end I was left with the feeling that this movie is more of a mental construct than a physical one. The creator of the project keeps going back to the same empty road and envisions the life that used to surround it. He created this special mental and emotional image even before he went there and then became obsessed with it. (His words, not mine.)

Having said that you do meet the survivors and descendants of this special town in the movie and hear their stories too. For that it is worth watching. Than you hope there will be a movie or book that will tell even more about the place and its inhabitants. Seeing the movie also wet my appetite to read the Safron Foer’s ‘Everything Is Illuminated‘, which is ending up at the same place.

Links:

  • Page at Jewishfilmfestivals.org
  • Official site
  • Facebook page
  • IMDB summary: Lost Town’ tells the story of one man’s obsessive search to get closer to his deceased father by uncovering the story of his family’s town of Trochenbrod. First made famous by Jonathan Safron Foer’s ‘Everything Is Illuminated’, Trochenbrod was the only all-Jewish town to ever exist outside of Palestine. Trochenbrod’s 5000 Jews were obliterated by the Nazis, except for 33 townspeople who escaped the massacre there. This personal search triggers a resurgence of interest in the town and reconnects the few remaining survivors who hadn’t seen each other in over 60 years. ‘Lost Town’ utilizes contemporary documentary footage, original animation, and survivor testimonials to tell the story of how far one will go to claim their sense of identity.
  • Trailer:

* As a member of the committee helping to put on the Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, I preview movies to help decide which ones to play at the Festival. I watched this movie as part of this volunteer effort.

** Crossposted at Jewishfilmfestivals.org

Kabbalah Me (2014, USA)

Kabbalah Me (2014, USA)For most viewers Kabbalah Me probably seems light-hearted and deep. For me it just seemed shallow, but that might be might fault. I was hoping to learn something new, but all I got out of it was the personal story of a man. The problem is I’ve heard this or a variation of it so many times. This is a typical story of an American Jew, who is assimilated or disenfranchised from organized religion and is looking for spirituality instead. Then he gets surprised that it is possible to find it within Judaism.

My beef with the film was that instead of embodying a generation it was just repeating things I read in half a dozen book. Starting with “Nine and a Half Mystics: The Kabbala Today” by Herbert Weiner, which does the same thing: getting familiar with different teachers and variations of Kabbalah. But that book was first published in 1969, so it was time to get a new overview of current trends in Kabbalah.

I have to give kudos that Steven Bram, whose journey this movie is about, was honest, curious and thorough. He went to lots of different rabbis and sources to find what he was looking for, including a trip to Israel. However the things he learned or at least the ones he voiced in this movie only scratched the surface of Kabbalah. I read dozens of books on the topic, so me it was boring. However, I can imagine that someone with less knowledge about the topic some of this may even come through as revelatory.

The tone was entertaining, sometimes funny, and the film making (lighting, sound, editing) was top-notch, no complaints there. I just wish I would be at a point of my journey, where I could have gained more from this film.

Links:

  • Page at Jewishfilmfestivals.org
  • Official site
  • Facebook page
  • IMDB
  • Summary:Throughout history, Kabbalah was studied by only the most holy Talmud scholars. The misinformation, innuendo and prohibition surrounding Kabbalah kept its wisdom from most Jews; many were even unaware of its existence. In KABBALAH ME, co-director Steven Bram embarks on a spiritual investigation that leads him to reunite with the Hasidic branch of his family and connect to the community of Judaic scholarship. Eventually his curiosity takes him on a pilgrimage to Israel, where he immerses himself in history and traditions of the Holy Land. Along the way, leading authorities discuss the complex, mystical world of Kabbalah – its varying interpretations and the myriad paths of its rituals and lessons. Bram’s new commitment to spirituality and religious observance draws skepticism from family and friends but ultimately leads to profound changes across all aspects of his life.
  • Trailer:

* As a member of the committee helping to put on the Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, I preview movies to help decide which ones to play at the Festival. I watched this movie as part of this volunteer effort.

** Crossposted at Jewishfilmfestivals.org

Yalom’s Cure (2014, Germany)

Yalom's Cure (2014, Germany)I admit I haven’t heard much about Irvin D. Yalom in the past. News of his latest book, The Spinoza Problem, reached me, but otherwise I was unaware that he is “an American existential psychiatrist who is emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University” (wikipedia). Having no preconception of him I can honestly say that the movie with him came was unexpectedly terrific. I say “with” him, because it is more than a biopic. Yes, we learn about his childhood, his relationship to his wife and even see mini-interviews with his kids and grandkids.

However the strength of the movie came from the deep reflections he shared that were accompanied with great visuals and soothing music. As he is musing on the big topics of life, human existence we see some great connections. For example when he talks about the reasons people are afraid of facing things in themselves we see people playing frisbee on a rather foggy meadow. It is a nice metaphor for a, pushing things around passing responsibility to others, and b, the fog shows how difficult it is to become clear about our own inner life.

Another scene I enjoyed was when he was talking about love: “It is not just a passion, spark between two people. There is infinite difference between falling in love and standing in love. The idea is that you stand in love and not fall in love. And try to live in such a way that you always bring something more to life than the other.” During these words we see giant hoses spreading water in large circles on some sort of the wheat field, all shown from above. It shows the continuous tending love and relationships need. The film is full gentle words that are worthy to listen to and the images combined may create new connections or strengthening the integration of the messages.

I used to think of old age along the lines of this joke: An elderly man was asked how does it feel not having a sex-drive. His answer was: like finally getting of a wild horse. Yalom offered a more peaceful and appealing answer: being old is like finally being able to see the night sky. Throughout life we are bombarded with stimulus and when you are older you can slow down and savor every little experience. It was quite clear from the movie that Yalom is a balanced individual who is enjoying the stage he is at, being over 80. He was not shying away form the question of death either.

This is  a movie worth watching multiple times. Not just for the peaceful and artistic editing, the careful pacing, but for the wisdom this professor shared with vigor and humor.

Links:

* As a member of the committee helping to put on the Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, I preview movies to help decide which ones to play at the Festival. I watched this movie as part of this volunteer effort.

** Crossposted at Jewishfilmfestivals.org