The Promise (2016)

Rated PG-13. Running Time: 2 hours 13 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 5; Language 2; Sex/ Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

Ana comforts some of the orphans in her care. (c) Open Road Films

Thanks to director Terry George’s film we now have a second feature film set amidst what some historians have called the 20th Century’s First Holocaust, the mass slaughter of Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 during WW 1. There had been numerous pogroms inflicted by their Muslim rulers on the Arminian Christians during the 19th century, but their death tolls mounting into the thousands paled in comparison to the well over a million men, women and children who were murdered a little over a hundred years ago. George and his co-writer Robin Swicord based their script on Austrian Franz Werfel’s 1933 novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a talented Austrian writer* whom historians have affirmed, got his facts right. (With Hitler’s rise to power in that year, the book was burned and banned, and the author forced to emigrate when the Germans annexed Austria.)

The film opens in the village of Siroun in 1914 where Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), working in an apothecary, hopes someday to be able to attend medical school. His father arranges a marriage with a wealthy family that includes a large dowry that can pay tuition expenses for medical school in Constantinople. He will be able to live with his uncle during his studies. He assumes that he will fall in love with the woman, Maral (Angela Sarafyan) he has just been introduced to, but because she is not his co-star, we know otherwise.

Sure enough, in Constantinople on his arrival at the uncle’s mansion, he is introduced to Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), just returned from dance school in Paris and currently teaching dance to the two lively young daughters of his uncle. She is currently the love interest of the American AP correspondent Chris Myers (Christian Bale), in the city to report on the growing ethnic tensions in Turkey. Thus, a love triangle develops, with Ana and Mikael drawing every closer as ethnic violence rises in the city and across Turkey. Before fleeing the city, Mikael and Ana barely escape from a street mob of Turks bent on smashing Arminian-owned shops and beating anyone they come across in the streets.

During the course of the story we see round-ups and forced marches of Armenian victims. Chris has hired a car to take him into the countryside where he sees at a distance soldiers shoot a woman who has fallen out of line. When they spot him taking a picture, they chase after him, but fortunately their horses cannot catch up to the speeding car. Mikael is seized and sent to a slave labor camp where the prisoners work laying down tracks for the new railroad. After witnessing many cruelties, he escapes when a fellow prisoner blows himself and his guards up.

Their love story climaxes on the mountain called Musa Dagh where some 5000 Arminian refugees hope to find safety. Having seen the bodies of everyone from his home village piled up just outside the town, Mikael is able to convince the column of refugees and their leaders that their rulers are indeed bent on exterminating all Armenians so that they will have to defend themselves. The mountain offers them a means of setting up a better defense against their pursuers, and a view of the sea from which maybe the French warships patrolling the area might spot their signal fires and come to rescue them.

People of faith will be glad to see that the role of the church is recognized by the filmmakers. There is a fairly long scene of Mikael and his villagers worshiping in their village, all joining in the singing led by the priest. Much later at an orphanage run by Protestant missionaries this beautiful liturgical music comes in on the soundtrack over the French-Canadian song “Alouette” as Ana leads the children’s singing, making for a lovely blend. The head of the orphanage is Pastor Merril (Andrew Tarbet), a missionary dedicated to serving the weakest of the victims. (There was a huge relief project mounted in Europe and the United Sates to bring food, shelter, and safety to Armenians and other groups driven from their homes in Turkey.) Another minister (or priest) is the

Reverend Dikran Antreassian (Daniel Giménez-Cacho), a real-life Armenian who, according to an account I read, was an organizer of the resistance at Mount Moses (Musa Dagh).

Chris had been arrested as a spy and saved from execution  by their Turkish friend Emre Ogan (Marwan Kenzaro), who paid for his life for his gallant effort. The journalist now joins the group at the mountain as, with just a few rifles but lots of rocks and sticks, the people dig in and await the arrival of the Turkish troops. After a fierce skirmish, the over-confident Turks are forced to run away, leaving behind many bodies—and rifles and ammunition. The government promptly dispatches from Gallipoli a unit equipped with artillery commanded by a veteran general. However, the ragged band of Armenians prove far tougher than anticipated, this sequence reminding me of the fierce resistance of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto during the next World War. (For a riveting retelling of this heroic saga see my review of Uprising.)

Although sad and depressing in depictions of the ways that men can drive themselves and their subordinates to mass murder, the film is also inspiring in that it also shows people rising to heights of bravery and compassion. The latter includes a Muslim pair who offer aid at one point, and, of course, the Turkish playboy friend of the three lovers who served as the means for Chris’s escape from death, but at the cost of his own life, And the battle atop the mountain, though it involves a measure of tragedy for our three fictional characters, concludes with a note of triumph which I will leave to you to discover.

The major cast members are excellent, and there is a great cameo by James Cromwell as real life U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, who serves as a wonderful example of what a skillful diplomate can achieve. Although some critics are right in judging the love story as “predictable,” this in no wise detracts from the dramatic power of the scenes of persecution and execution spread throughout the film. Other than Canadian-Armenian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s Ararat, we have no feature film that brings the horror of that action to public attention. (Hopefully, documentarian Joe Berlinger, who spent much time on the set of this film, will be releasing a non-fiction account of this genocide.) During our time of nationalistic xenophobia and tendency to reject refugees, such a film as this is needed. In a 1939 speech, Hitler** said cynically, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Well, Terry George, director of the powerful film about genocide in Africa Hotel Rwanda, has. Embittered by the murder of his family and neighbors, it is understandable that Mikael wants to get even with the killers. At one point, he says to Ana, “I want revenge.” “Our revenge will be to survive,” replies Ana. Survive some did, and this film is a tribute to them. To this day, the government of Turkey continues to deny that a genocide took place on their soil, but Terry George and Atom Egoyan are two filmmakers who have tried to make the world listen and care.  It behooves us to support and affirm their witness to human depravity and nobility.

*From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Genocide

**Also worth reading is the article about the battle on Musa Dagh found at:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Forty_Days_of_Musa_Dagh

 This review with a set of questions will be in the May 2017 issue of VP.

Born in China (2016)

Rated G. Running Time: 1 hour 16 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 0; Language 1; Sex 1; Nudity 2

Our star rating (1-5): 4

 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so.

Genesis 1:24

 Postr BC 2

The film focuses upon 3 animal species.

(c) Walt Disney

It is appropriate that the Disney people engage Chinese director Lu Chuan to helm this beautiful nature film, most of which was shot in the China highlands. We start with glorious shots of the legendary cranes in the lowlands, but quickly move to heights of 8,000 & 14,000 feet to explore the lives of a family of golden snub-nosed monkeys and pandas at the lower level, and of a snow leopard mother and her two cubs and their antelope prey at the highest altitude. The photography is astonishingly beautiful, from the long shots of mist flowing across the tree-lined mountains to the extreme close-ups of the animals, their expressive faces filling the screen at times.

John Krasinski serves as narrator, the script following the usual Disney practice of imposing human thoughts and motivations upon the animal scenes, all carefully edited to make a story arc. This practice, so abhorred by nature purists, is probably necessary to keep its intended audience of youngsters tuned in for 80 minutes, but it will make many adults squirm a bit. Not only are the various animals given names, but the narrator claims to know their thoughts, especially of the members of the monkey family. After the brother named TaoTao saves his little sister from being snatched away by a large goshawk, Krasinski says, “Maybe TaoTao is finally learning the true value of family…He’s certainly a hero in his sister’s eyes,”

Along with the story about the little monkey thrust aside when his little sister is born (and joining a group of other single males until he is at last welcomed back into the family fold), the film jumps back and forth between two other species, a panda and her cub, and a snow leopard and her two babies. The stories are organized around the passage of the four seasons—and also the concept from ­The Lion King “The Circle of Life.”

There is much humor in the monkey story—we see the outcasts playing a game in the trees by plunging down and breaking branches that cushion their fall—and more of poignant drama in the panda story and even tragedy in the snow leopard episode. Ya and her adorable cub Mei spend their days munching on bamboo leaves and shoots, the mother eating up to 40 pounds a day. Her goals are conflicted in that she wants to protect and keep her cub close at hand, and she must teach the fearful little creature how to climb tall trees for food and protection. As the seasons pass, Mei Mei increases in size and skill in climbing, until the sad day in which the offspring must go off alone to find her own territory, leaving her mother to live alone again. (I wondered why the filmmakers did not show us her meeting up again with a male. Because they didn’t have the footage, or a reluctance to interject sex into a film aimed at a young audience?)

Dawa the snow leopard is a first-time mother raising her two cubs alone. She must bring down one of the near-by antelopes if the three are to survive. At one time she successfully defends her territory against an intruder, but when it returns with two grown offspring, she and her cubs must move out of their cave. When she injures her paw, her hunting days are over, especially when she is badly injured by the horns of an antelope mother defending her baby against Dawa. The shots of Dawa lying on the snow-covered ground with blood oozing out from her side and paw, as well as of the two cubs back at their lair awaiting her return, are truly moving. The narrator does not go into their fate, but the adults in the audience, perhaps recalling the tragedy of Bambi’s mother, will have no doubt as to what it is. As we watch the young antelope walking away beside its mother, we learn a harsh lesson in Nature, that one creature’s success can be another’s tragedy.

We must commend the Disney people for including this tragedy, even though they do try to soften it at the end with talk about the circle of life and the legend that the cranes carry a soul from death to reincarnation. It is also commendable that Disney releases its nature films to coincide with Earth Day, helping parents bring to their children a deeper appreciation of the natural world and our stewardship to care for the Earth. Despite its flaws, this is a fine film to bring children to see and discuss.

This review with a set of questions will be in the May 2017 issue of VP.

After the Storm (2016)

 (Umi yori mo mada fukaku)

Unrated. Running Time: 1 hour 57 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 0; Language 1; Sex 1; Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots?

Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.

Jeremiah 13:23

 Famly

A broken family due to the father’s failure to grow up.
(c) Film Movement

In Japanese director/writer Hirokazu Koreeda’s film, set in the small city Kiyose just outside of Tokyo, there are two storms, an oncoming one, and a past storm in the life of Shinoda Ryôta (Hiroshi Abe). The one was in his past, the emotional storm enveloping him and his wife Shiraishi Kyôko (Yoko Make) that resulted in her divorcing him. The second is a typhoon that TV weathermen have been warning about for the past few days.

Once an aspiring, award winning writer, Ryôta has not been able to write anything since that first novel of 15 years ago. He has been eking out a living by working at a detective agency. With his younger partner Machida (Sosuke Ikematsu), he follows wayward spouses and takes photographs of them for use in divorce cases. He justifies his sleazy work by claiming to be doing research for his next novel.

Ryôta is months behind on his child support payments. His relatively small salary would barely be enough for living and making payments, but he also cannot resist gambling at the bicycle races and a pachinko parlor. No matter how much he loses, he keeps borrowing from his partner and from his sister Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi) for further bets. After the death of his father, he makes a rare visit to his mother Shinoda Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki) in her small apartment in a public housing project to snoop around for any valuable items he can pawn. All he finds are some pawn tickets and his father’s old ink stone. His mother tells him that has given away almost everything, that she is far better off now, feeling a sense of freedom that she had never known before. From her remarks and the pawn tickets we can see that father and son were far too much alike in her eyes.

Some of the best scenes are between mother and son. Early on she points to a small tangerine tree that he had planted during his childhood, and observes to him, “It doesn’t flower or bear fruit, but I water it every day like it’s you.” When the tree became a home for caterpillars, she saw one turn into a butterfly. “So, it’s useful for something,” she remarks.  Ryôta wistfully repeats, “I’m useful for something.” “I’m the great talent that blooms late,” he continues. “Well you’re taking too long,” she replies. “Hurry up, or I’ll haunt you.”

Ryôta, to his credit, does want to keep his relationship with his 11-year-old son Shiraishi Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa). He uses his primary detective tool, a pair of binoculars, to spy on his wife and son, feeling especially upset when he finds the two with her new boyfriend at a baseball game in which the boy is playing. Though overbearing, the boyfriend is taking an interest in the boy. The cash-struck father had wanted to give Shingo a baseball mitt, but he sees the man has already done this. Worried that he now has a serious rival, he later asks Shiraishi to report to him on how his mother and boyfriend are getting along and whether this is a serious relationship.

Kyôko is so upset with her ex-husbands continual failure to pay her child support that she threatens to refuse him time with the boy. This might not be a bad idea, because we see the father use some of his scarce funds to buy several lottery tickets and give them to Shingo. He tells him they are his, but that because he paid for them, they will split the winnings. Is this the start of the boy traveling down the same road? Elsewhere Yoshiko tells Ryôta that his father was just like him, and she does not mean this as a compliment.

Still hoping to win back his wife and son, Ryôta and his mother hatch a scheme that brings him, Kyôko, and Shingo to Yoshiko’s apartment where the latter invites them to stay for supper. Reluctantly, Kyôko agrees. The typhoon is about to start, so then they talk her into staying overnight until the storm has passed. It turns out to be quite a time for all of them, though the outcome is not the same as it would have been in an American movie (think The Parent Trap), making this a more poignant and realistic film.

Ryôta is a character so flawed that it is difficult to like him. Besides his obsessive gambling and wheedling of money, he also steals from his mother. He even shakes down one of the subjects he has been spying on as a detective, accepting money from an adulterous spouse in exchange for his destroying the incriminating photos and promising to show his client just the innocuous ones. However, I felt better about him during the stormy night when Shingo asks his father if he is the man he had wanted to become when he was a boy. Ryoto replies that he is not, but that he is trying to become what he had wanted to be. He seems to be struggling to accept his responsibility as a parent and a grown-up man.

Hirokazu Koreeda explores the broken life of a Japanese family in both a dramatic and humorous way (with the delightful mother providing most of the latter), bringing out well the universal theme of not living up to one’s early promise. Kyôko is as much a failure as Willy Loman, but there is a faint hope at the end that, whether or not he writes again, he might become a better human being than when we first met him–especially after the pawnshop owner reveals something he had not known about his father. Maybe Ryôta will be able, as his mother had urged, to let go of his Peter Pan ways and move on with his life.

This review with a set of questions will be in the May 2017 issue of VP. Please consider supporting this site by going to The Store and buying a single issue or a year’s subscription.

Personal Shopper (2016)

Rated R. Running Time 1 hour 45 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 4; Language 3; Sex 1; Nudity 3.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,

 for they will soon fade like the grass,
and wither like the green herb.

Psalm 37:1-3

OnBike

Maureen travels about Paris picking up dresses & jewelry for her fashion model boss. (c) IFC Films

In director/writer Olivier Assayas’ film American Maureen (Kristen Stewart) has reason to be envious of her German employer Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten) an excruciatingly demanding supermodel with her own designer label. As the woman’s personal shopper and assistant, Maureen is sent racing on her motorbike all around Paris to pick up high couture dresses and diamond jewelry Kyra plans to wear at fashion events. In stark contrast to the high fashion garments she carries, she almost always dresses in the same old jeans and leather jacket, her hair hidden by her biker’s helmet. Her employer spends more time traveling round Europe  than at her luxurious apartment, so Maureen has started bunking overnight at the digs and trying on some of the gowns, even though Kyra has expressly forbidden her to do so.

Maureen herself is alone in Paris because her boyfriend Gary (Ty Olwin) has accepted a techie job in Oman, the two sporadically keeping in touch via Skype. She is grieving over the death of her twin brother Lewis a few months earlier. Both had been mediums and had made a pact that whoever died first would attempt to contact the other. She also is afflicted with the disease that killed her brother, a serious heart disorder.

The film begins with Maureen being dropped off by Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz), her brother’s ex-girlfriend, at the old mansion Lewis had bought in the hope of turning it into a carpentry workshop. She hears noises during the night, and we see a smoke-like apparition, but nothing definite. “Lewis?” she calls out at one point. The next morning, she says, “You must make contact.”

As the story progresses, Maureen grows bolder in transgressing her employer’s rules, even donning a gorgeous gown one night and masturbating in her boss’s huge bed. She meets Ingo (Lars Eidinger), Kyra’s kept boyfriend, and encounters a female spirit, very angry over something. Perhaps the creepiest sequence is a series of text messages she receives during her trip on Eurostar to London on still another errand for Kyra. (The woman travels so much that we see her just one time with Maureen.) The texter apparently has been watching her for some time and asks a series of personal questions, becoming demanding whenever she hesitates to reply. As a viewer, I felt almost as unsettled as Maureen, the texts become threatening. Though prepared for something unpleasant to happen, Maureen’s stumbling upon a body lying in a pool of blood is especially shocking. Her hesitant answers to a detective place her under suspicion for a while.

Mr. Assayas proves to be a master at mixing genres so that we are almost always kept wondering, indeed, kept in tense suspense, as to what will happen next. The first part of the film is a ghost story, with the usual creepy old house, mysterious sounds, a lone woman searching through it, and even a spectral appearance. It becomes a thriller during the texting sequence, this time the audience wondering about the identity of the manipulative texter and what are his motives (presumably sinister). Then the film becomes a horror/murder mystery, with perhaps Maureen being manipulated into stumbling upon the victim’s body. And also, a psychological study exploring the intertwining of the supernatural and the real in the mind of a young woman whose physical illness contributes to what might or might not be a mental disorder.

I was so intrigued by the German song sung by Marlene Dietrich during the erotic scene in which Maureen is trying on one of Kyra’s fabulous dresses that I Googled it. The song is “Das Hobellied,”  translated as “The Planing Song.” the title referring to a carpenter’s plane.  A couple of times we see Maureen in her brother’s carpentry shop using a plane to shape a table leg. The song’s first verse ends with the couplet, “The most ardent man is too much too rich :/Fate sets the plane, And planes everything equal.” (The crude translation is arrived at  by  using Google’s “translator.”) This film is so surprising, and ambiguous in so many ways, that I am not sure at all what it is about—perhaps not envying the rich because the leveling (or planing) power of death will even things out, or…? I know I missed Maureen’s last few words before the fade to black, so my failure to hear her mumbled words is a factor in not comprehending. If any of you catch the words, I would appreciate your letting me know. Despite this, the film is an engrossing journey into fear and suspense, one that I am glad I made. If you do not want everything neatly wrapped up and explained at the end, I highly recommend that you take the same journey.

This review with a set of questions will be in the May 2017 issue of VP.

Frantz (2016)

(German/French with English subtitles)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 53 min.

Our content ratings  (1-10): Violence 2; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 3.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,[b]
and my bones waste away.

Psalm 31:9-10

Adrn&Fam

Pierre is a welcome guest at the Hoffmeister home. (c) Music Box Films

Most of the main characters are in distress in French director François Ozon’s post World War 1 tale set in the small town of Quedlinburg, Germany. Twenty-some Anna (Paula Beer) is the depressed fiancée of Frantz Hoffmeister (Anton von Lucke), but they will never marry because he was killed in the trenches near the end of the war. She is currently living with his grieving parents, Dr. Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stoetzner) and his wife, Magda (Marie Gruber). They regard her as a daughter, perhaps more so because Frantz had been their only child. Thus, when the middle-aged patient he is currently examining, known only as Kreutz (Johann von Buelow), reveals his desire to marry Anna, it is from the doctor that he seeks permission to court her. When Kreutz tells her that he can make her forget Frantz, she promptly turns him down, saying that she does not want to forget him.

During her daily pilgrimage to the cemetery where the family has created a symbolic grave (Frantz’s body having been tossed into a mass grave at the front), Anna spies a young man placing roses on it. When she asks around, she is told that he is Adrien Rivoir (Pierre Niney), a Frenchman staying at the local hotel. Later that day he comes to the Hoffmeisters’ to speak with the doctor, but the embittered old man orders him out of the house when his visitor tells him that he is French. Hans would not allow for any explanation. “Every French man is my son’s murderer,” he exclaims, his visitor agreeing that all soldiers are murderers. However, when Pierre returns and speaks with Anna and Magda, they are won over by his claim to have been a good friend of Frantz, the latter such a Francophile that he had become fluent in French, even as he had learned German. Hans, who has been listening in on their conversation, soon joins them.

Over the course of the next few days Pierre brings comfort to the household by recounting their visits to the Louvre where they were drawn to a Manet portrait of a young man with his head thrown back. The two men were also bound together by their love of and performance of music, with Pierre, a violinist in an orchestra in Paris, helping Frantz to improve his violin technique.

A most emotional sequence is the one in which Hans opens his son’s violin case and asks Pierre to play, saying the instrument is a gift to him. Pierre gently declines, but later, with all three Germans together, he does play a lovely melody for them. It looks like he and Anna are destined for each other when she joins in on the piano, their playing perhaps a symbol of the two once warring nations overcoming their old hostility and living together in harmony.

Countering this good feeling is a gnawing suspicion that the relationship between Pierre and Frantz might have been more than brotherly love, this fueled by the somewhat effeminate look of actor Pierre Niney. However, this conjecture is short lived. Pierre discloses something to Anna that is so shocking that she withdraws from him. She does not tell Hans and Magda Pierre’s secret, and soon after this he leaves town.

From Paris Pierre writes to her, but she hesitates to respond, torn so by her emotions. Before his abrupt departure, he had been scheduled to dine with the family. She lies to the couple about him, and this too is so disturbing to her that she confesses to her priest, revealing the terrible secret Pierre had confided to her. The cleric kindly observes that sometimes a lie can be better than telling the truth if the latter would bring only pain, and that there can be forgiveness for this.

By the time Anna replies to Pierre, her letter is returned, marked address unknown. In a turmoil, she does something irrational and deadly, but eventually emerges from her despair with the determination to go to Paris to search for Pierre. Her “parents” strongly support this, they also being very fond of their former enemy.

Besides the issue of telling lies to protect loved ones from pain, the film deals with the dark feelings of anger and resentment that war leaves in its aftermath. While in the village, some of the villagers express their hatred for the visiting Frenchman. Kreutz appears to be the head of a group that meet at the pub to grouse over their defeat in the War and to look toward a day when their country will be strong enough to thrust aside the humiliations forced upon it—we can easily imagine that in a few years they will be wearing Nazi armbands. When Pierre takes Anna to a local dance, Kreutz, upset because Anna had refused his invitation to take her, stirs up the crowd against the Frenchman.

Much later in the film, Hans enters the pub where Kreutz and his gang have been criticizing the doctor for his hospitality toward Pierre. One by one the men turn down Hans offer to buy them a round of drinks. When they attack the French for killing their sons (almost all of them had lost a boy), Hans launches a diatribe that ends with, “Who killed your boys? Who sent them to the front?” he asks accusingly. “We did: their fathers. We are responsible.” In Paris Anna also experiences the narrow, hostile patriotism of the French when at a café, the crowd joins in singing “La Marseillaise.” Ozon probably intends for us to recall the stirring scene in Casablanca when the patrons at Rick’s nightclub sang the anthem as a means of protesting the presence of the Nazi officers. What a difference the context makes, as in this film it is used to show the exclusion of Anna due to the lingering hatred between the two nations.

In the last act of the film the focus is almost entirely upon Anna’s emerging from the protection of and dependency upon the Hoffmeisters during her journey to Paris to find Pierre. She visits the Louvre, seeking out the Manet painting that Pierre had said was so impressive. She is surprised to discover that it is “The Suicide,” a subject as dark as the state of Pierre’s and her soul. Tracking down Pierre to an estate some distance from Paris, ruled over by Pierre’s aristocratic mother (Cyrielle Clair), leads to another unsettling discovery. And yet Anna’s message to the kind Hoffmeisters at the end seem to bear out Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Still, we wonder about her future and the wisdom of lying in order to protect loved ones from the pain of truth.

This is a fascinating film about complex people dealing with emotions that still resonate almost a hundred years later—the hostility between nations and their people. The film is shot mostly in crisp black and white, slowly morphing into color a few times: when we see Frantz and Pierre in France visiting the Louvre and playing their violins; and Anna and Pierre emerging from a dark tunnel in a huge rock overlooking the village and relishing the beautiful view of village and surrounding area; and, especially the film’s closing shot of Anna. Not knowing of the 1932 Ernst Lubitsch dramatic film Broken Lullaby upon which Ozon has based his film, I was surprised by Pierre’s revelation that led to his sudden departure from Germany. The film is time specific, but the themes of guilt and grace are not. Even if you are averse to subtitled films, you should see this one.

This review with a set of questions will be in the May 2017 issue of VP.

Logan (2017)

Reviewed by Markus Watson

A spoiler in the last third of the review.

Rated R. Running time:  2 hours 21 min.

Our content rating (1-10) Violence 8; Language 8;

Sex/Nudity 6. Star rating (1-5): 5. Our star rating (1-5): 5

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,

that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame,

and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

1 John 3:16

ProfX

The young mutant Laura with Prof. X & Logan. (c) 20th Century Fox

Logan is the final chapter in the story of Wolverine, a member of the Marvel Comics X-Men.  The year is 2029 and Logan (Hugh Jackman), AKA Wolverine, is now an old man.  He doesn’t look much older than 50, but he is actually 170 years old.  His body no longer regenerates the way it used to and the Adamantium metal that coats his skeleton is slowly killing him.

Logan now works as a chauffeur in El Paso, Texas, but lives south of the border where he and a clairvoyant mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) take care of an old, senile Charles Xavier, AKA Professor X (Patrick Stewart).  Most of the world’s mutants are dead, the X-Men have been long disbanded, and the world is far from safe for people like Logan and Charles.

Early in the film, Logan connects with a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) who is being hunted by an organization called Alkali Transigen.  With pressure from Charles, Logan reluctantly takes responsibility for the girl and promises to deliver her to a secret location where she’ll be safe.

Logan is a man who does not trust anyone.  For Logan, the world is not safe and relationships are a burden—which is exactly how he experiences this little girl.  And, yet, he eventually finds that there is a place for love and care in his heart for Laura.

At the end of the movie, Logan sacrifices his life to save Laura and several other mutant children from those who are hunting them.  Just before he dies, Logan looks into the eyes of Laura, smiles, and says, “So this is what it feels like.”  Here, at the very end, Logan has found the joy of selfless love—of giving himself wholly for another person and receiving love in return.

This experience of giving up oneself for the good of another person is a key human experience that is rooted in the love of God.  God is a giver.  “For God so loved the world that he gave….”  And when God gives, God gives big!  God’s giving is “lavish” (1 John 3:1).

As human beings created in the image of God, we find our deepest fulfillment in giving ourselves in love—to our children, to our spouses, to our neighbor.  As counter intuitive as it seems, this is where real joy is found.  And this is the joy that Logan has finally found.  At long last, Logan can truly rest in peace.

This review with a set of questions will be in the May 2017 issue of VP.

Land of Mine (2015)

Rated R. Running Time: 1 hour 40 min.

Our content rating: Violence 5; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 0.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Matthew 5:43-45

 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-21

Serg&boys

In his Oscar-nominated film, Danish director/writer Martin Zandvliet gives us a new slant on WW 2, as well as an always needed lesson on human decency. It is May, 1945, and though there is much fighting still ahead in Germany, the five-year-long nightmare of Nazi occupation is over for the people of Denmark. But as we will see, there are two lingering effects of that Nazi occupation—a deeply embedded hatred for their conquerors, and the dangerous land mines that the Germans had planted along the long western coast of the country just in case the Allies might try to come ashore there. Indeed, there are from a little over one million to two million of them.

Just before the title the film begins, we see a long column of German prisoners being marched along a country road. Danish Army Sgt. Rassmussen (Roland Moller) is heading in the opposite direction when he spots a prisoner carrying a Danish flag, obviously intending it as a souvenir. Stopping, he springs out and starts beating and kicking the man. He even hits another German who protests the cruel beating as he cries out that they must, “Get lost!” They do not belong, nor are they welcome here. “This my land,” he says. Thus, the film’s title takes on a double meaning.

Jump to a group of a group of German teenage boys who ae members of the Volkssturm, a German national militia created by the desperate Hitler because there were no more adult men available for fighting.  The gruff-voiced Lt. Ebbe (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) is telling them that since Germans planted the mines, it will be Germans who will clear them. He informs them, “Denmark is not your friend. No one wants to see you here.” Their brief training period of defusing the mines ends with each of them entering an enclosed area to defuse a live mine. As each boy nervously unscrews the cap and slowly removes the fuse, tension mounts. The exceeding nervous boy is the one whom we expect to fail, but—.

The remaining boys are given over to the care of Sgt. Rassmussen, who harbors the same hateful hostility toward them exhibited by Ebbe. He harshly addresses them on the section of the beach they are assigned to clear. They must clear 45,000 before they will be allowed to go home. Among the dozen and a half boys are twins Ernst and Werner (Emil and Oskar Belton), bricklayers who are looking forward to returning to their homeland because there will be so much work for them in restoring its bombed-out buildings. Helmut (Joel Basman) is the cynical malcontent, always seeing the worst side of things. The opposite of Helmut is Wilhelm (Leon Seidel), always looking on the bright side. Emerging as the group’s natural leader is Sebastian (Louis Hofmann), and even he looks like he should be attending high school classes rather dressed in a German uniform.

The boys are set to work, toiling fearfully as they unscrew the mine caps and slowly remove the fuses. The Sergeant drives them relentlessly, herding them before sundown into a shed that he locks by dropping a bar across the door. About a hundred or so yards away a woman (Laura Bro) whose beach side farmstead they’re quartered on often gazes at them with disdain. Her little daughter Elizabeth (Zoe Zandvliet) is too young to know to hate them, so when one of the boys approaches her to talk and bandages the damaged leg of her doll, the girl is all smiles. Their friendly exchange ends abruptly when the mother storms over to them, sternly warning her daughter to stay away from the Germans.

As the days pass, hunger grips the boys. Neither when they arise, nor when they are penned in at night is there any food. At first there are just complaints among the boys about their lack of meals, but as the days go by, they become faint, even sick, with hunger. The latter effect comes about after one of them sneaks out at night and brings back some grain from the woman’s shed. The next day the boys are vomiting. When the angry Rassmussen investigates, the woman explains that there were animal droppings amidst the grain. Sebastian tries to apologize that he did not prevent the boy from sneaking out, but Rassmussen wants no talking from him.

At last, concerned for the slow progress of their work, rather than for the boys’ welfare, Rassmussen takes it upon himself to go and appropriate some food. The next morning the first boy out the door is pleasantly surprised to find loaves of bread and a small pile of vegetables awaiting them. Slowly as the boys make progress Rassmussen’s attitude begins to change toward Sebastian as they begin to talk together.  One night as he is putting the cross bar in place, he drops it, leaving the door unbarred. No doubt an incident from another night hastened him on a new course. He had witnessed Epp and a couple of his men viciously humiliate one of the boys and had hastened to stop the abuse.  Also, Epp had criticized him for sneaking food out for the boys. When the hands of one of the boys are blown off, the Sergeant especially softens. He even joins the group in a spirited game of soccer and cheers them on when they set up foot races on the beach. During a conversation with Sebastian he almost becomes fatherly toward the boy. The film seems to be following the usual path of the curmudgeon coming over to the side of the despised, but then something terrible happens that revives Rassmussen hatred of all things German, and the boys are abruptly worst off than before. By now we have become to care deeply for these boys, so that when one of them breaks under the intolerable strain with tragic consequences, we feel their hurt and despair. What transpires in the last act of the film  lifts our spirits again, reviving our hope in humanity.

This is a film that could not have been produced during the years following the war when everything pointed to the bestiality of the Germans and the nobility of the Allies. Only with the passage of years have filmmakers shown that there is a dark side to all humans, that the Danes, who so nobly saved the lives of so many Jews, were also capable of cruelty toward the enemy. It helps that the filmmaker chose boys as the prisoners rather than hardened older soldiers. It would be almost impossible to arouse in the audience compassion for Nazis guilty of so many atrocities toward peasants and Jews alike. There is no talk of politics among the boys, no indication that any of them had been fanatical members of the Hitler Youth pouring out with uplifted arms their adoration for their  Führer. Only boys expressing their hopes and dreams of returning to their homes. When Epp betrays them (the remnant, that is, who survive a horrendous accident) by sending them to another beach encampment to remove still more mines, instead of to their homeland as promised, we see that he is little better than the Nazis who had driven him so deeply into hatred and prejudice. (As I write this, the end scene of the animated version of Orwell’s Animal Farm comes to mind in which the farm animals, once enslaved to a human, watch their leader, the pig named Napoleon, in the house playing cards with a human and they cannot tell the difference between the two.) Powerless to counter the orders of his superior, Rassmussen is left to decide what he should do in the face of such injustice.

This review with a set of questions will be in the May 2017 issue of VP.