Speaking of alone, today I saw Comme un seul homme (English title -- Alone at Sea) about one of those madpersons (no longer just madmen) who circumnavigates the world alone. Filmed with GoPro type cameras, it shows his daily life, joy and despair, the thrill of encountering another boat, tears about being alone at Christmas, the constant horror of going around Cape Horn, hoping at times that he will have to abandon like the lucky bastards who have already done so, just so that he can go home. There was never any illusion about winning, but he came in 9th after 99 days, which isn't bad. The challenge was for himself. Every year when there is one of these races, they show crowds of up to 500,000 who go to see the boats off, or to be there when the winner arrives, or the runners up, or even the last person. The media tell us how close they are, that they will be expected "between 9 and noon" or things like that, and people flock there for the huge celebration. I keep promising myself to join the crowd some day because it looks fantastic. In this film, it is overwhelming when he approaches the arrival at Les Sables d'Olonne and various speedboats full of cheering people come to greet him, blowing horns and ringing bells... after being alone for so long, it is almost too much.
M (as in Menahem) is one of the most ghastly and upsetting documentaries that I have ever seen. It's about an Israeli cantor in Tel Aviv who returns to the community of his youth, which he left 17 years earlier at the age of 20. He is from Bnei Brak, the most ultra orthodox place in the world, where they don't even speak Hebrew except for religious services because it is a sacred language, so they all speak the heathen language of Yiddish for daily affairs. Menahem left the community because he was repeatedly raped by the head rabbi (and most of the others) for more than ten years. He would like to see his parents again, but there was a bit of acrimony upon his departure, so it is difficult. The most amazing thing about Yolande Zauberman's film is that nobody seems upset or embarrassed about anything, even the victim. He is very happy to see his old community although they are a bit surprised to see him. Paedophile rape seems to be as prevalent in this community as in the Vatican, and it's no big deal. The police are almost never called, because the rabbi is the supreme authority about everything. And anyway, the maximum sentence for rape in Israel is just 6 years, so why bother?
Outside of my moments of supreme outrage, I learned a zillion things about the ultra-orthodox community, including various clans -- big round fur hats, big round hats without fur, wide brimmed hats, long hanging earlocks or earlocks worn up, to name just a few. They all associate for major events, but it is clear that they don't intermarry or become friends with people not sharing their exact doctrine.
As for raping boys, it is just part of growing up. You just don't talk about it much, like you don't have many conversations about measles or dandruff. In any case, you don't spread the news because raped boys are not considered to make good husbands. Menahem finally sees his parents later in the documentary. They seem like not bad people, although the mother has never told any of her children that she loves them because "that isn't done." Two of the sons have drifted away from ultraorthdoxy and tell Menahem that they even kiss their mother from time to time "because she has no say in the matter." In a conversation, Menham realises that his first rape did not take place at age 7 like he thought. It happened when his mother was giving birth to a younger brother when Menahem was 4 years old, with full penetration. Nobody ever asked him why he cried for days. It's all water under the bridge now.
In the closing credits, we are informed that all of the people that we learned about are fine, in spite of their unfortunate past. Horrifying!
One amazing thing about this movie even existing is that the director was welcomed by the community since she could speak Yiddish and was allowed into places where women are normally never permitted.
Still Recording is an absolutely amazing Syrian movie by two ex-students (ex because their university was destroyed) filmed over a 4 year period. They recorded 450 hours of material and managed to edit it down to 2h09. They are in the rebel city of Douma, only 10 kilometres from Damascus, but it is a completely different world. There are scenes of Damascus with everything going on as usual, and then you see Douma, a city of 750,000 originally, now totally in ruins. 250,000 people still live in the ruins, more or less.
Most of what is filmed are the two guys and their half dozen or so friends. One of them sculpts, another has a music studio, and yes, part of the time they are snipers against the Syrian army. MiG jets fly overhead and drop bombs on the city, and tanks blow buildings apart. It is scary as shit, because these people are real and not acting. There are parties, lots of alcohol, even a swimming party with girls in bikinis. And there is also death and times when there is nothing to eat. At one point, the baker is making flatbread with cattle feed.
As the movie comes to an end, there is another photographer following two rebels as they walk down a street discussing the situation. They are both shot by snipers, as is the cameraman. The camera just sits on the ground, still recording.
In the closing credits, there is a list of 15 people who died during the filming, some whom we saw along the way and became attached to, others that we never saw. It's the sort of movie that makes you wonder how on earth such conflicts can still exist.
Gosh, I hope you had Kleenex with you at the movie, as I was tearing up just reading your description. You were very right to include both trailers. The Italian one is much prettier, but the original one is far more affecting. This is one of those documentaries which probably should be required viewing.
I don't really believe in magical celestial beings, but I thought that the documentary Lourdes was extraordinary. It is hard to keep one's eyes dry all the time as it follows a number of people making the pilgrimage, some of whom are alive only because of the intensity of their faith, others hoping for something when all hope is gone, and others just hoping for an improvement of their shitty lives.
There is the father taking his older son, about age 6 but condemned to never grow much. But the reason for the trip isn't this child but the younger brother who stayed home with mom. He is 2 years old and has a condition where every single thing that touches him injures him. We see the family at home just before the departure, and the little one looks like he was thrown off a train or beaten to a pulp. Children with this condition have a life expectancy of... 2 years. The parents have a final conversation about "if he's still alive when I get back" and then off the father goes to Lourdes. The other brother has his sibling's little stuffed animal, which he rubs over the stones of the grotto because maybe some of the magic will rub off.
There is a long scene of the grotto with the afflicted carressing the walls, kissing them, talking to them, because you never know, it might work. There is a man with Lou Gehrig's disease ("maladie de Charcot" in France), who started limping at age 48 and was told that he might live for 2 or 3 years. He is in a wheelchair with an oxygen bottle. There is a man, maybe about 40, who was hit by a car as a child. He can talk a little, but needs to be fed and have all other matters attended to. His mother has brought him. "He will be my little boy forever." But there are also people who are not in a drastic physical condition -- a fat teenage girl who is being harrassed on the internet and insulted in school. She would just like the Virgin Mary to help make it stop. And there is a aging transvestite prostitute who would like to be able to stop whoring ("but I never succeed"). He is very devout even though that he fells true to himself is dressed as a woman, but for the pilgrimage he makes the effort to pretend to be a man. One of the high points of his trip is to be the altar boy one day at mass for the priest who brings a group of prostitutes from Paris every year.
We also see a lot of the activity in the hospices -- the young volunteers (or sometimes employees) who wash the invalids, read to them, feed them, change their diapers, wipe their tears when they cry (although they are sometimes crying at the same time). There are times to laugh also, especially with a man who can only communicate by touching letters on an alphabet sheet. He has a wry sense of humour... and of despair.
I know a lot of people find Lourdes despicable for its crass commercialism and all of its religious mumbo jumbo, but I have been impressed every time I have been there by the power of the beliefs of the people visiting from around the world. The scene when it is time for the pilgrims to go home is heartbreaking. Their visit to Lourdes is practically the only good thing that ever happens to them.
I saw the Russian documentary The Son today. It shows the training of an elite Russian army unit, but the movie was made because the director's nephew died in Dagestan at age 21. So basically it shows how putrid the armies of the world are to send young men to their death when actually the old fat rulers should be killing each other instead. Besides showing a bit of the training, it also shows the father building his son's grave amid many other military graves. There are ceremonies to celebrate the newly trained killers and other ceremonies to honour the dead. Will this shit continue forever?
Peter Jackson's WW1 documentary They Shall Not Grow Old was finally released here, and it is definitely quite impressive. By colourizing the archive footage, sharpening the images and adding sound effects and voice acting, he brought the dead back to life, as well as incredible horror. Most of the film has never been seen before, and it's easy to understand why -- rotting corpses crawling with maggots, rows of soldiers shitting perched on a log, disembowelled horses... Everything that we have seen in WW1 documentaries up to now was a Disney movie compared to this. It is just unbelievable that this was really not the war to end all wars, especially since all of the commentary consists of first hand accounts recorded by the BBC of young boys who went to war and saw their friends die, walked on the faces of the dead, received bullets and shrapnel through their bodies and felt fine after a cup of tea.
The leaders and politicians of the world should be tied up and forced to watch your #220 and #222 on an endless loop until they show signs of evolving. God, humans are assholes. Why do they always buy into the "glory" of war.
The testimony of the veterans recorded over the years was more incredible and upsetting than the images, as they explained how they shot friends to put them out of their misery, or dying German soldiers. They really liked the Bavarians, once they started taking prisoners, and one of them said we said that he wished that the British and the Bavarians had fought against the Prussians and the French instead. Another poignant detail, once the armistice had been signed, was discovering that absolutely nobody back home cared about the war or wanted to hear any stories about it. I'm sure that is true everywhere, which is why there are so many veterans associations everywhere in the world where people who shared the same trauma can talk about it.
You may remember the Hemingway story Soldier's Home, which many of us read in high school or college. Even though it addresses precisely that detail of no one wanting to hear about the war, it seems to have mostly passed into some literary realm where people forget to apply it to contemporary life.
My mother said her father wanted her to write his WWI experiences down, but as a kid, she didn't care about them. He used to tell me things, too, proving that all those years later it was still significant in his life.
Contrary to what the title suggests, Bixa Travesty is not a movie about the dark side of Anyport but is about transgender performer Linn da Quebrada. The title is Brazilian for "Tranny Fag" which is the official English language title. Frankly, the film is a kaleidoscope of discomfort (for me, at least, due to my aversion to disguises, clowns, deceiving appeareances...). Linn seems quite charming in her own strange way. She is really quite pretty, but she performs with a fat friend who has none of her appeal physically. She lives with her mother (showers with her, too) who is a fountain of pure love. Linn herself has trouble finding love, because even though she says she has no trouble finding sex in every imaginable way and place, people do not know how to love an intersex person. She is totally narcissistic in any case, so even before the filmmaker starting making this documentary, she had a ton of graphic material to add about her earlier testicular cancer and chemo and also how she amused herself in the hospital by putting lipstick on her penis or filming her anus from all angles. Anyway, this movie is not for everybody.
Ken Burns has a new documentary now playing on PBS : COUNTRY MUSIC. It’s 16 hours over 8 nights, narrated by Peter Coyote, and though I was never a big country music fan, I’m finding it fascinating.
The first 3 segments covered the 1920’s to 1950’s. With the 4th episode we’re getting into my lifetime. Besides describing all the different country genres (honkytonk, cowboy, Western swing, hillbilly, gospel, bluegrass, rockabilly, country western, etc), there are interesting nuggets like how Nashvile’s Grand Ol’ Opry got its name because the cultured citizens of “The Athens of the South” objected to the term “Barndance”, and that Ray Charles(!) put out a couple country albums when he was finally given artistic freedom to decide for himself what to record.
We have now reached the point in time when Patsy Cline’s plane went down, killing her and three others. Four more episodes will air Sunday-Wednesday.
Update. Episode 5 aired Sunday 22nd. Ray Price (1st black country star), Loretta Lynn (Coal Miners Daughter), Buck Owens and the “Bakersville Sound”... This film is SO worth watching.
BTW, it ends in the 90’s, because Burns as a historian feels more recent events aren’t yet history, and must be viewed though the lens of time.
I saw For Sama yesterday, and it is much more devastating than anything shown in the trailers. Waad al-Kateab filmed her daily life for more than 5 years. It starts with the joyous anti-Assad demonstrations at the university and goes on to the first government repression. And then the first missiles and the siege begin. She is best friends with a young doctor and his wife, but when it starts getting bad, the wife leaves to safety. And as time goes by, the doctor declares his love for Waad, and they get married under the bombs with music and dancing. He sets up a hospital to help the residents, but it is destroyed in a bombing (which is briefly shown in the trailer by a surveillance camera). Waad becomes pregnant and has her baby -- Sama. Bombs become so common that you can watch the baby sucking on her bottle unperturbed as huge explosions occur nearby.
Another hospital is set up, and people are brought in dying, missing limbs, trailing blood across the floor. It is unbearable. At one point Waad films the reflections in the pool of blood covering the floor. A dead boy is brought in, accompanied by his two brothers (maybe ages 6 and 10). They are upset but not surprised. They take turns kissing the forehead of the cadaver, and then the mother arrives, hysterical. She picks up the body to carry it out (and the dead boy is bigger than the others). Various people offer to carry the body for her, but she screams "I will kill anybody who takes my boy from me!" And off she goes into the bloody night. I stopped wiping my eyes after awhile. There was no point in trying. And yet children continue to play, swimming in the bomb craters filled with water spewing from the broken pipes. The adults have them paint a bombed out bus while some of the others sit at the steering wheel pretending to drive through the city.
The government troops take Aleppo street by street and finally they are only one street away. 7 of the 8 hospitals in the rebel zone of Aleppo have been destroyed already. But they are lucky -- the army allows them to evacuate the patients and the staff in a convoy of ambulances and buses. Waad's husband is very worried about being intercepted, because he was giving media interviews to the outside world during the siege, so his face is well known. But somehow they manage to escape, with Waad's second baby. Believe me, this movie made Joker look like light comedy in comparison. And yet it has been criticised for being too clean and pretty, because it has been totally edited by Western filmmakers and movie music has been added to the scenes. I understand the criticism, but who could possibly watch such a movie otherwise?
Strangely enough, the very same morning on the news I saw a report about the reconstruction of Aleppo, still in its very first stages, but with one of the markets restored and some of the shops open. The government is back in power.
I thought this had to be a joke tie-in to Tr*mp's moat-with-crocodile idea, but apparently it's the brain child of people with childishly silly senses of humor and one not very talented artist. Okay, I guess, but why?
The one bright spot was that it brought back a memory of a friend of mine who unabashedly read trash books, claiming they were the perfect relaxation. She convinced me to read one called Wolfen, about clever wolves living in NYC in the '70s. We got a lot of amusement out of the wise elder of the tribe appearing to be a combination of wolf and old eastern European Jewish guy: his pronouncement on the tribulations of the city-dwelling pack was, "Better we should have stayed in the mountains." www.amazon.com/Wolfen-Whitley-Strieber/dp/0553126261/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0