Articles by

<Julia Pasternak>

03/14/12 4:00am

Directed by David and Stéphane Foenkinos

Delicacy, a romantic and heavily depressing adaptation of co-director David Foenkinos’s novel, is one for the ladies’ book clubs. Audrey Tautou plays Nathalie, a recently widowed Parisian executive, who throws herself into her work and forgets about love for a while. Finally, her grief begins to wear off, and Nathalie struggles to regain normalcy in her life, and start dating again. It’s not her boss who wins her affection, however, but an office subordinate named Markus, a hulking Swede always dressed in beige and average in every way, played by french comedian François Damiens.

Insecure, with his large body, receding hairline, and book bag, Damiens plays a convincing unlikely companion for the beautiful and successful Nathalie, who roams the office corridors with sunken cheeks, pursed lips, and dark eyes empty as black holes, as she adjusts to being single again. Yet, Nathalie finds herself laughing at Markus’s jokes. While Markus battles his fear of getting hurt, she matter-of-factly chases the spark she hadn’t felt in a long while, and together they overcome some of the obstacles towards becoming a couple: her friends don’t get it, and everyone in the office is talking about it.

There’s plenty of wet eyes in the film, and if that’s the trigger, there’ll be plenty more in the audience. But it all gets tiring; perhaps that’s really why Nathalie finally falls for Markus. Nathalie in her pursuit of normalcy is already too normal: Tautou plays her as a super-rational woman, who knows she needs to move on but, as she tells her teary-eyed meilleur amie, still feels the weight of her love for her deceased husband. The audience too. It permeates through the entire film, perhaps too much; the film’s ending is the only lift or real relief from Nathalie’s depression and Damien’s hang-ups.

Opens March 14

02/08/12 4:00am

In Darkness
Directed by Agnieszka Holland

Agnieszka Holland’s latest Holocaust film, up for a Best Foreign Film Oscar this month, retells the story of Leopold Socha, a Polish man who helped a group of Jews take refuge in the sewers of Nazi-occupied Lvov. Holland has a penchant for antiheros, and Socha is no angel. A petty thief with a prison record, Socha is the city’s Chief Supervisor of Sewers; when he stumbles upon the escaping Jews, he agrees to help them, at a price. Robert Wieckiewicz gives a suburb performance, bringing conviction to this war profiteer who transforms into a hero. The Jews manage to survive fourteen months underground, long after the funds to Socha run out.

The sewers were formidable: rats, sewage, endless darkness. Shooting digitally, on reconstructed sets, Director of Photography Jolanta Dylewska and Production Designer Erwin Prib convey the sense of endless darkness, yet still light the attractive Polish and German cast. They’re so attractive, in fact, that despite the harrowing times, everyone’s getting it on: in the ghetto, in front of the kids, and in the sewer, where everything feels dirty and grimy and cold and wet.

Holland insisted that In Darkness not be filmed in English, as was originally intended; here, the characters speak Yiddish, German, Ukranian, and even a bit of Balak, a local dialect that will have even those in the Polish-speaking community scanning for the subtitles. (In one particular moment that’ll go over the head of most American viewers, people hopscotch from one language to another until Socha demands everyone speak Polish, because he needs to understand what’s going on.)

Falling somewhere between Schindler’s List and Holland’s own Europa Europa, In Darkness isn’t particularly fresh, but its meditations on morality and survival make it a solid exploration into the labyrinth of man, during one of history’s darkest moments.

Opens February 10

01/12/12 4:00am

Sing Your Song
Directed by Susanne Rostock

Day, me say day-o… Sing Your Song narrates the remarkable life of Harlem-born singer Harry Belafonte. Moving beyond music history, Susanne Rostock’s directorial debut is a documentary about the American civil rights movement, celebrity activism, and the changing American consciousness, told through the biography of an American artist who, as he says, used “the power of art as an instrument of resistance and rebellion.”

The film opens up with an onslaught of charged imagery—footage of genocide, race riots, gang violence, poverty, war—and Harry Belafonte begins speaking out, in color and much older now than the b&w icon best known for “The Banana Boat Song.”

“It was never my intention, to become a singer,” the older Belafonte admits early on. Before he began singing, Harry Belafonte was taking acting classes with Marlon Brando, Sydney Poitier, and Tony Curtis (then still Bernie Schwartz). After becoming a commercial music success, Belafonte moved to Hollywood and became a controversial figure in American cinema and popular culture due to his white leading ladies, on-screen and off.

It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who enlisted Belafonte into becoming a facilitator of change in America, using his financial success and celebrity clout to bring a voice the civil rights movement. In 1985 many of us were still being born when every radio disc jockey on the world played “We are the World.” The song was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and produced by Quincy Jones, yet it was Belafonte who orchestrated the collaboration, seeing the project through all the way to the gutted 747 that flew into Ethiopia with pallets of food and medicine.

Beyond mobilizing famous friends, Harry Belafonte was moving into the realm of policymakers and activists, fundraising, and serving often in the role of ambassador. Not just an American celebrity who could sing and act, he was confidante to Nelson Mendela, Eleanor Roosevelt, John and Bobby Kennedy, the SNCC, and Bill Clinton. Powerfully told, Sing Your Song is a moving and insightful portrait of Harry Belafonte as a of a human rights activist who’s still fighting towards social change.

Opens January 13 at IFC Center

11/23/11 4:00am

Crazy Wisdom
Directed by Joanna Demetrakas

Chogyam Trungpa is recognized for his role in bringing Buddhist traditions into Western culture, but to many he is remembered as a drunk monk, a spiritual expatriate who fled from the communist invasion in Tibet and, upon arriving in America, fell into the company of hippies, poets and artists. Twenty-three years after his death, documentarian Joanna Demetrakas presents Crazy Wisdom, a chronicle of the life of a teacher who shattered preconceptions of how an enlightened master should behave, guiding Westerners down the path towards awakening through unconventional, and sometimes controversial, methods.

Exiled after 1959’s Tibetan Uprising, Trungpa looked to the West as a potential haven for the survival of the Buddhist lineage. To lay the foundation, he needed to translate Buddhism. His first move was to better understand Western culture. Trungpa embraced it. He renounced his vows, went to Oxford, eloped with a 16-year-old, went to America. Trungpa smoked. He drank. He committed adultery and openly slept with his students. Yet, he is responsible for the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the West. He started Shambhala Centers all over the United States. He founded the Naropa University, the first Buddhist university in America. Scholars, artists, poets were his devoted students. High spiritual leaders like the Dali Lama recognize Trungpa still as a preeminent teacher of the Buddhist tradition.

Demetrakas, a former pupil of Trungpa, interviews other students, scholars, and family members, providing a kaleidoscopic portrayal of a man who was difficult to understand. Allen Ginsberg, Baba Ram Dass, Robert Thurman and Pema Chodron are among the talking heads, as well as former lovers and pupils, his sons, and his wife. Trungpa never hid his flaws, and despite them, those close to him unceasingly loved him, exalted him, and continue to follow his teachings. Demetrakas asks one of his students, a martial arts master, what made him devote three years of his life to Trungpa. He wasn’t committing, he replies, he simply loved being with him.

Though Demetrakas fails to bring any conclusions to the mystery behind the monk, her rambling narrative of his life and accomplishments enlightens audiences with rare, first-hand accounts of how Tibetan Buddhism was disseminated into the West, through a unflinchingly courageous monk who seemed mad at times, yet nevertheless wise.

Opens November 25