Pecore in Erba (Burning Love), directed by Alberto Caviglia

Trailer: BURNING LOVE – PECORE in ERBA from Gaetano Maiorino on Vimeo.

Review by Mike Fishman

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.

See this page for a fascinating Director’s Note about the film: http://www.filmitalia.org/p.aspx?t=film&l=en&did=77956

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

The Broken Legacy, written and directed by Miguel Garzón Martínez

The Broken Legacy Official Trailer from Miguel Garzón Martínez on Vimeo.

Review written by Shirley Rodriguez

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.

Website: www.thebrokenlegacy.com

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Dog Years, written and directed by Adam Rifkin

Review written by Mike Fishman

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.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

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