SYNOPSIS: During one fateful weekend, the family of brilliant astrophysicist Albert James has a complete meltdown, setting in motion a raucous and hilarious series of events that mirror his radical theories of the behaviour of the universe.
The film will be screening as part of the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema on August 10th and is in competition for five awards, including Best Feature Narrative, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. Its world premiere took place at the Beijing International Film Festival in April 2016.
Mike Fishman recently sat down with Alberto Caviglia to discuss the Italian filmmaker’s latest film, the comedy mockumentary Pecore in Erba, English title Burning Love. (See Mike’s review of the film HERE). Exceprts from their conversation follow.
Mike Fishman (MF): Where did the idea first come from to make a film about anti-Semitism? Has anti-Semitism been on the rise in Italy?
Alberto Caviglia (AC): The idea of Burning Love arrived after quite a long time in which I was questioning myself and looking for a new way to talk about anti-Semitism. My research began because I started to feel that the common ways of telling stories about anti-Semitism were losing their impact because prejudice is so pervasive and because I think it is a very delicate theme with many taboos. I don’t know if anti-Semitism is rising in Italy, but I think it is evolving and we need to be careful and aware to recognise its different shapes.
MF: Why did you decide to make a comedy, and at that, a mockumentary? Were there certain jokes or areas of humor that you decided not to explore during the writing or filming? Were there scenes or moments that you filmed that you decided to leave out of the finished film?
AC: I think that using a satirical point of view, it was something that could make this film different because I wanted to use comedy as a weapon to face anti-Semitism instead of using it just for laughs. I didn’t want to have limits but at the same time I was aware that I had to be very careful using satire with such a delicate theme. I cut some scenes at the end of the shooting, but only because I wasn’t happy about how they come out or because I considered them superfluous, and never because they were “too much.”
MF: What has the reaction been like? How have Jewish audience members in general reacted?
AC: Reactions were really different, including in italy at the many screenings that I attended. I was happy to see people understood the main intent (and humor) of the film abroad, in France, Russia, Sweden, and also Germany where people seemed very struck by the film. Jewish audience members have felt the most direct emotional impact but I think they also mostly enjoyed the movie. They are so involved in the topic that it is almost impossible to have an impartial discussion about the film with them.
MF: How did you fund the film? How long was the shoot? Were there particular challenges to making a mockumentary?
AC: The shooting lasted about 5 weeks. It was very intense because I had about 340 scenes in the script. It was really hard to shoot all of them and in some cases I had to give up if I wanted to repeat different takes because otherwise I would never get through all my scenes. Post-production as well was a real challange in order to finish it in time for the Venice Film Festival. I edited it with my editor Gianni Vezzosi in less than one month and a half, working day and night…I think we needed at least one more month but we did a kind of miracle finishing it on time!
MF: What is the status of the film? Has it been picked up for distribution and will it run in theaters? Do you have plans to stream it?
Went to a screening of the 2015 Italian comedy Pecore in Erba (Burning Love) at the beautiful Casa Italiana at NYU on West 12th Street. Standing room only for the film screening and a Q&A with the writer/director Alberto Caviglia and co-writer Benedetta Grasso. The film, set in Rome, is a mockumentary in the style of such classics examples of the genre as Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest’s Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration, and especially Woody Allen’s Zelig, 1983, which the director pointed to as a particular influence during the discussion after the screening. Pecore in Erba relates the life story of Leonardo Zulliania, an infamous if satirically popular anti-Semite who we learn at the start of the film is mysteriously missing. Through “home movies,” the film traces the life of the notorious Jew-hater from his very odd and troubled childhood to maturity as a wildly popular cartoonist, writer and speaker. Along the way, we see a priest congratulating his very young students when they “correctly” answer who killed Jesus (the Jews, of course) and young Leonardo suffering a hives attack when he finds out, to this horror, that Jesus was a Jew.
It all unfolds in classic mockumentary style, swiftly moving along its realistic timeline, every scene punctuated by a wink, followed often enough by a laugh from the audience. A smart satire, the film broadens its themes beyond anti-Semitism to the very topical issue of of fake news and the oppressor claiming oppression, with an anti-anti-anti-Semitic movement springing up to defend those anti-Semites being persecuted by the larger public and to defend their freedom of expression. If that sounds outrageous, it is, and mostly outrageously funny, Caviglia’s directorial pen like a sword slicing open some of the darkest corners of society.
The mystery of Leonardo’s disappearance is made subtly clear at the end (I’d rather not spoil it for those who have not seen the film) and proves to be a bit of an ironic comeuppance. But the meat of the film is the life journey of Leonardo, the plot really just there as a framework to support the absurd situations, pointed dialogue and deeply ironic humor. It’s a fascinating accomplishment of the director, an Italian Jewish man himself, to articulate the painful and very sensitive topic of anti-Semitism in a mockumentary format. As one audience member wondered during the Q&A, where will the film, which screened in 2015 at the Venice Film Festival, play in the U.S? Perhaps on the two coasts? At least hopefully, but it is doubtful very much in between, but certainly hopefully on some widely available streaming platform. Which means it will be a challenge to find its audience, a pity because it’s a film well-worth seeing for the discussion it might generate, not just specifically about anti-Semitism but about the nature of bigotry and racism as experienced in this day and age of Facebook, Twitter and Fox news.
It’s also very funny, a fact attested to by the audience members’ reactions, with the notable exception of one individual who proclaimed to not find the film funny at all. Whether this was due to her particular sense of humor or that she felt it demeaning to the issue to make a satirical film about it was not clear. It was perhaps reminiscent of some of the reactions people had to Tropic Thunder, 2008, not a great film and certainly not as serious in intent as Pecore in Erba. But that film also, albeit with a broader stroke, touched upon racism in an interesting way by having Robert Downey, Jr.’s character, an actor, sport black face in an effort to be “more black” for a role he is playing in the film . Controversial, perhaps, but thought-provoking at least to some degree. Pecore in Erba is certainly more thought-provoking and that makes it well-worth seeking out for those who can appreciate a good laugh, and serious glance, at the underbelly of society.
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Mark 8:36
It has been said, everyone has their price and The Broken Legacy from director Miguel Garzón Martínez explores this theme. What would you do and how far would you go for something you want, and what point does morality really come into play?
Opening with the main character Steven (Michael Stahler) a young screenwriter, we see him seated at a bus stop reading a flyer for a drug trial he is headed to. At the facility, Steven and five other young people gather to participate in testing a new cholesterol drug. They take a pill every morning and for one month are isolated from the outside world. Their only meal consists of a bowl of what looks like oatmeal and they are prohibited from any intimacy with others while there. They are treated coldly and as what seems to be prisoners.
Tomas (Marcos Esteves), a somewhat charming and arrogant member of the trial group, introduces himself on the first day attempting to impress and charm, especially the three young ladies in the group. He is the rule breaker, often not wearing the required uniform and rebelling. Tomas sees that Steven likes Emily (Rayne Bidder) a young woman in their group. He offers Steven advice on how to go about approaching her romantically. Tomas’ advice and behavior seem to shift between altruistic and self-serving. He seems to be obsessed with the concept of immortality.
Upon discovering Steven’s aspirations as a screenwriter, Tomas attaches himself to Steven and offers a trade. He will help Steven talk to Emily and in turn Steven will collaborate in writing a screenplay with him. This is part of Tomas’s quest for immortality. He pushes Steven forward but you wonder who he is really helping. Tomas gives Steven a copy of Friedrich Nietzsche’s book, On The Genealogy of Morals in which the origin of moral prejudices are broken down and, depending upon your position of power, being in or under it informs your perspective. We see how each action has its consequences and each character comes to their own realization. As they get to know each other better, they clash, work together and learn more about who they really are and what truly matters in life to each of them.
The other three drug trial participants Jacob (Oren Dayan), Jenny (Cynthia Bravo) and Liz (Justine Herron) serve to round out the story. They initially seem like background characters, but serve a greater purpose in the end. Jacob, a religious young man with aspirations of becoming a Minister, Jenny a very lively and social young lady with a heavy tech addiction and Liz the tough, no nonsense girl who looks to distance others with her mean exterior. They all need the money from the study for their own reasons, but learn that money isn’t everything when you have to sell your soul to get it. In a tense conversation with Jacob, Steven and Tomas, Jacob warns the other two that they will burn in hell for their choices.
Symbolically, they allude to hellfire, then there is actual fire (Liz carries a lighter) and the descent into the kitchen (a recurring scene of conflict and possible metaphor for Hell). Steven’s deal with Tomas may even be seen as a deal with the devil, causing him inner turmoil. The uniform they are provided includes a red shirt with a letter O with a smaller letter z inside of it. It made me think of Oz as in The Wizard of Oz and the “seemingly” all powerful that remains so until questioned. That heightened arrogance and hunger for power that can be a product of extreme insecurity which in turn can bring about the ugliest of scenarios and circumstances. Without elaborating too much or being too political, that theme is very timely right now.
The effects of the drug trial steadily become more evident and bring everything to a head. At what point do you decide or continue to let others decide for you? Do you make a deal at any cost? The film examines power, the exchange of it and the choice to keep it or give it away. With choices there comes accountability and standing firm in what you believe in.
Went to a screening at the Tribeca Film Festival of Dog Years, the new film written and directed by Adam Rifkin and starring Burt Reynolds as Vic Edwards, an octogenarian actor who travels to the International Nashville Film Festival to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award. The problem is, this is the (fictional) International Nashville Film Festival, not the much-admired and very real Nashville Film Festival and Edwards finds himself facing a mixed crowd of about 40 people (to their credit enthusiastic fans) in the backroom of a bar with a projector and a make-shift film screen. Some of the expected clichés are in evidence: the rundown motel room the festival booked for him; a drunk Edwards lashing out at at the festival staff; the protagonist in need of saving doing some saving himself; even a reconciliation with an old lover who has Alzheimer’s but who peers out clear-eyed from her cloudy mind at the right moments. But the quality of acting and the level of commitment from Mr. Reynolds and co-star Ariel Winter as Lil, his reluctant, nose-ring wearing caretaker/chauffer for the duration of the festival, bring to their roles make most scenes utterly believable and the film as a whole ultimately moving.
Rifkin (whose previous work ranges from the comedy Detroit Rock City to the gritty Night at the Golden Eagle) wrote the screenplay specifically for Reynolds. And one can see why the actor, reportedly looking for one last great role, would be game for boring deeply into the semi-autobiographical storyline. The film embraces the aging process with Reynolds, at 81 himself, staring directly into the camera, then later edited into scenes of his actual films Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance, humorously yet pointedly engaging his younger self in conversation, generally to warn him about the quick passage of time, hence the title Dog Years. It makes for a fascinating revealing of a fictional life reflected by the actor’s real life. Shot differently, the film could have been a mockumentary.
Along the way we are treated to snapshots of Reynolds in his prime: spraying a can of whipped cream down Johnny Carson’s pants; conducting interviews in his trademark winking, self deprecating style; and even his infamous nude pose for Cosmopolitan magazine, which the director interestingly utilizes onscreen while Lil soaks in a huge bathtub. Happily, the film goes nowhere near a romantic entanglement between the two, saving the real relationship complexities for a reunion with Claudia, his first of five wives (!), played by Kathleen Nolan. Vic and Lil “rescue” his now wheel-chair bound ex-lover from her nursing home, hurriedly wheeling her out to freedom with the staff nearly chasing after them. They take her to the picturesque spot where Vic had proposed to her decades (and a lifetime) ago. If this particular sequence sounds predictable, it is, but Reynolds’ palpable regret and Nolan’s unadorned responses make for a truly poignant and affecting scene. That such a powerful moment can occur within such a familiar framework is part of the magic of movies and while some scenes are stronger than others, the film gains impressive momentum and succeeds beyond expectation at ruefully portraying a man nearing the end of his road, lamenting the passage of time.
Co-Hosts Michal Sinnott & Jessica Rotondi curate an inclusive & intimate conversation in their living room with one woman from a rotating & diverse list of entertainment industry professionals. Based on The Bechdel Test, ‘The Test’ helps raise awareness to create greater gender equality both in front of and behind the scenes of film & television, while also collectively providing a ‘how to guide’ of sorts for how to make it in Hollywood as a member of the female tribe.
The Test is derived from The Bechdel Test and is essentially what The Bechdel Test is all about: 2+ women sitting in a room together, NOT talking about a man within the context of the movies. Inspired by The Bechdel Test and Mark Maron’s WTF long form interviews, The Test is intimate, personal and will explore one female in entertainment for each episode (producers, casting directors, show runners, actresses, editors, directors, etc), from their upbringing to early inspirations to what they’re up to right now to where they’re headed next, with a focus on their career in film & tv. It’s a digging in that’s equally light, funny, and feminist.
Synopsis: While voluntarily testing a new drug at a research facility, a lost screenwriter recruits the help of an egotistical philosopher in order to attract the girl of his dreams.
Starring Michael Stahler, Marcos Esteves, Rayne Bidder.
Written and Directed by Miguel Garzón Martínez
Produced by Miguel Garzón Martínez, Casey O’Brien and Cynthia Bravo
Well, the Academy has spoken (after a shambolic mix-up) and, I’m happy to report, the news is heartening: With Moonlight emerging as the winner, the Oscar for Best Picture has actually gone to the top Anglo-American film of the year for only the second time in my life (along with Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave in 2014). And I was born a while ago, which means that dozens of mediocre films have been honored with this prestigious award over the past few decades.
Aside from Barry Jenkins’s new classic, 2016 was, overall, a deep and powerful year in the movies. There were a series of memorable offerings across genres, in sci-fi, horror, coming-of-age, and even a spry musical of note (yes, La La Land). But for me, the year was marked by a series of impressive auteurist dramas by some of world cinema’s still early-career innovators: Jenkins, Ade, Mendonça Filho, Hansen-Løve, Lanthimos, Larraín, Guadagnino. And the most outstanding of all this year, just a hint above Jenkins, would be the Colombian wunderkind Ciro Guerra, whose films are simply astonishing. I look forward to more features from all of these ambitious and talented filmmakers.
As with any year, there are promising films I have yet to see. With apologies to I, Daniel Blake, 13th, Certain Women, Under the Shadow, American Honey, Hell or High Water, and many others, I present to you the 2016 list:
TOP TEN (in order):
Embrace of the Serpent* (Ciro Guerra): This hypnotic and disturbing film, which details contact between European travelers and indigenous Amazonian communities in the first half of the 20th Century, is a sui generis masterpiece by one of the world’s most promising and inventive directors. There are shades of Heart of Darkness here, but with a stronger perspective afforded the local community than is evident in most works derivative of Conrad’s novella.
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins): Jenkins’s second feature, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, is a magnificent piece of pure cinema, with its exceptional photography and pacing, but also a film anchored in textured, subjective storytelling, overwhelming with its aching pain, its deep tenderness. There are scenes of such beauty and sentiment (e.g., young Chiron being taught to swim by mentor Juan) that the scope and impact of this film continue to grow in my mind.
Paterson (Jim Jarmusch): Jarmusch, now thirteen features in, is the most consistently stellar American film director of the past three decades. In this ode to verse, Jarmusch trains his camera on the basement poet-cum-bus driver played by Adam Driver, revealing his protagonist’s meditative daily rhythms as well as the post-industrial grace of rugged and worn Paterson, New Jersey. This sublime film’s only flaw: an underwritten part for Golshifteh Farahani as Driver’s partner.
Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho): Sônia Braga captivates as a single, middle-age music critic who stands up to rapacious real-estate interests in Recife, Brazil by refusing to move out of her apartment, the last inhabited unit in a beachside building pegged for demolition and redevelopment. Mendonça Filho’s keen eye for social critique gives this complex character study a broader agenda.
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade): This jaunty, off-beat father-daughter comedic drama from one of Germany’s finest directors keeps the audience on its toes (what a housewarming party!) while likewise skewering the sheltered English-speaking business-consultant class who traipse about Bucharest, Romania like a nouveau white-collar capitalist-colonialist clique. Remember: Never leave home without your spare teeth!
The Measure of a Man (Stéphane Brizé): Speaking of capitalism and its discontents, Brizé’s timely parable captures the pitiless professional drift of Thierry, a sacked factory worker in France, played with sensitivity by Vincent Lindon. This is the tale of one of the have-nots in this dog-eat-dog neoliberal economy; Thierry’s ‘rebound’ job as a security guard at a supermarket is both dispiriting and all-too symbolic.
Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan): Lonergan, one of the most important dramatists of his generation, constructs a quietly devastating film out of material that could, in the wrong hands, play as overwrought melodrama. Instead, buoyed by expert performances, he delivers an indelible piece of cinema, the sorrow and heartbreak of which remain palpable and resonant months later.
Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve): Top-class French actress Isabelle Huppert was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for the underwhelming Elle, but her standout performance—and one of the few very best this year— was certainly in Things to Come, Hansen-Løve’s rich story of Huppert’s Nathalie, a philosopher who seeks new ways to imbue her life with purpose and meaning after a series of life-shocks.
My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin): This Proustian film of early love mesmerizes with its abundance of sharp, novelistic detail, its blending of the intellectual and the pop, its cross-decades expanse, its stinging wistfulness.
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve): Few mainstream sci-fi flicks have delivered the goods like Arrival. The assured Amy Adams paces this clever, taut film depicting a contact moment between humans and extraterrestrial life. Adams’s linguist-driven diplomacy and time-bending insight prevent carnage. One fault: the poorly-realized Jeremy Renner physicist character.
NEXT BEST FILM: The Witch (Robert Eggers): This bleak, eerie horror film is set on a Puritan homestead in 17th Century New England where a tangled, foreboding, and unknown forest beckons these new arrivals.
BEST DOCUMENTARY: I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck): One of the top films of the year. Peck’s tour-de-force is a sophisticated examination of racism in America via Baldwin’s own words from an unfinished manuscript.
HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order): A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino); Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig); Fences (Denzel Washington); Jackie (Pablo Larraín); La La Land (Damien Chazelle); The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos); Sing Street (John Carney).
*Embrace of the Serpent was up for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award for 2015, but it did not premiere in New York until 2016, making it eligible for this list. Similarly, this year’s Foreign Language winner, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, which opened in New York in 2017, will be eligible for next year’s list.
Synopsis: A college student named Winnerbeme loses a cellphone while approaching a woman on a NYC train platform.
About the filmmaker: Mansu Edwards is a prolific artist who continually challenges art forms with boldness and creativity. He delights in using autonomous monikers to signify a transformative experience when engaging in innovative artistic creations. In 2016, Mr. Edwards produced, wrote and directed his first short film, Texting In New York City. A work inspired from people’s responses to the street marketing of its paperback (text) edition.