THE SACRIFICE – movie reveiw

THE SACRIFICE

Kino Classics from Kino Lorber – new 4K restoration
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Andre Tartovsky
Screenwriter:  Andre Tartovsky
Cinematography: Sven Nykvist
Production Design: Anna Asp
Costumes: Inger Pehrsson
Editing: Andrei Tarkovsky, Michal Leszczylowski
Cast:  Erland Josephson, Susan Fleetwood, Allan Edwall, Guorún Gísladóttir, Sven Wollter, Valérie Mairesse, Filippa Franzén, Tommy Kjellqvist
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/17/18
Opens: For complete schedule download https://KinoLorber.com/Film/TheSacrifice.  Blu-Ray and DVD available from Kino Lorber.

The Doomsday clock is ticking and while it ticks, the world remains whole, if deeply fragmented.  Now at two minutes to midnight, or is it three? No matter.  You cannot blame everything on President Trump.  John F. Kennedy moved the minute ever-so-close in the early sixties by challenging the Soviet Union on the high seas but the only bang we heard was from Khruschev’s shoes.  Now, though, with climate change competing with nuclear weapons as the ultimate globe-buster, we need something, but what do we need?  Is it more spiritualism?  More home town religion? A different President and a more flexible Congress?  Who knows?  Maybe Andre Tartovsky can clue us in as he has already done with his final film “The Sacrifice,” which he wrote and directed while dying from lung cancer.  Facing imminent death and the loss of everything, Tartovsky, an expat Russian filming in Swedish with the Ingmar Bergman’s favorite lenser Sven Nykvist, Tartovsky unfolds a drama with no music on the soundtrack save for a Bach aria, a quick melody on the flute, a movie devoid of humor, unless you get your funny-bone tickled by watching a grown man having sex with a witch.

Is that what we need?  Sex with a good witch to end the Iran crisis, the North Korea crisis, the Russia crisis?  Apparently the technique worked then, in 1985 which is the time period of the film, as the world survived thanks, perhaps, to the machinations a small group of neurotic Swedes which included not only the sex (we don’t see much of that since the film is rated PG but don’t even think of taking your eight-year-old to see it) but a sacrifice made by the principal character. Alexander (Erland Josephson), in a Faustian bargain with God, agrees to give up everything, his house and all his possessions if the Almighty would save his loved ones.

The plot, though, takes a back seat to D.P. Nykvist’s capture of the bleak landscape of rural Sweden, here a Baltic island, a scene that makes the viewer understand instantly while Northern Europeans flock to sunny Spain whenever they get a chance.  As the DVD from Kino Classics states, the film evokes an “arresting palette of luminous grays washing over the bleak landscape.”  Characters are shot at first from a distance as in the absorbing opening scene featuring Alexander, a philosopher and critic undergoing a mid-life crisis as anyone living with his neurotic friends and family might.  With his six-year-old mute Little Man in tow, he converses with Otto (Allan Edwall), a dour part-time postman and former history teacher.   Even before the thunder erupts and military jets zoom over the remote island, the two despair.

Aside from the Bach aria, the picture is highbrow, throwing names around like Nietzsche, Gandhi and Jesus while capturing close-ups of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Adoration of Three Kings,” which causes the postman fear.   And about the other neurotics: Alexander’s wife Adelaide (Susan Fleetwood) delivers a monologue to which some in the audience will relate, “I have loved one man and married another,” implying that Victor (Allan Edwall), a doctor, is having an affair with her but wants to chuck it all for a post in Australia “to get away from all of you.”

The postman, a bit of a mystic, sees that a Maria (Guarún Gísladóttir), a weird housemaid, is a witch and directs Alexander to bike out to her digs.  And what woman can resist a seduction that promises salvation for the world if she would “lie” with the rich man?  Well, he doesn’t exactly reveal her importance yet, delivering an impassioned monologue about how, in trying to bring order to his mother’s garden, he has destroyed natural beauty.  To restore the natural order, you’ve got to see the real fire that forms a dramatic conclusion to the film.  (In the Kino Lorber DVD we learn something quite interesting about the filming of this fire.)

Message alert: Science is destroying the world!  And this movie was made before young people became addicted to the soul-crushing technology of the iPhone!

Stay with it.  If you’re into Ingmar Bergman, you’ll have no trouble doing so.  This is not middle-brown Woody Allen entertainment but a thoughtful tale with imagery superimposed on and even more important than dialogue.  See it on the big screen as it has been updated to a new 4K restoration to play in several cities.  The film is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

Rated PG.  146 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B
Technical – B+

Overall – B

RED COW – movie review

RED COW
Menemsha Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Tsivia Barkai Yacov
Screenwriter: Tsivia Barkai Yacov
Cast: Avigayil Koevary, Gal Toren, Moran Rosenblatt
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/28/19
Opens: June 4, 2019 at the JCC in New York

Image result for red cow movie posters

The five books of the Hebrew Bible contain information about Jewish customs in ancient times, and specifically, in the fourth book, Numbers 19:2 there appears this item. “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke.” In other words a sacrificial cow must be a redhead, must never have worked, and must be without flaws. Does anybody today put this ancient ritual to use? Surprisingly, one fellow in Jerusalem-born Tsivia Barkai Yacov’s feature length directing debut actually raises a red heifer as a calf preparing to do just that, despite the affection that this fellow’s teen daughter has for the shy and lonely animal kept outside their home. Specifically Yehoshua (Gal Toren), a politically extreme Orthodox Jew believes that the sacrifice will bring about an age in which Jews would no longer be banned from walking on the sacred Temple Mount in the holy city.

His daughter Benni (Avigayil Koevary), who chafes under her dad’s helicopter upbringing, is confused about religion, politics, and especially sexuality. She hears her father’s lectures to like-minded right-wingers who protest a possible evacuation from their illegal East Jerusalem settlement, but she cannot for the life of her understand what’s happening to her country politically. (The action takes place before the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a Jewish zealot opposed to his leader’s willingness to give up territory to Palestinians.) And though she is awakened by her father regularly and forced to put on Tefillin with him (the Tefillin contains parchments from the Bible), she has no particular feel for religion.

Most important, when Benni meets Yael (Moran Rosenblatt), more or less the same age but more mature, she is drawn to her. Their mutual feeling results in a lesbian relationship, which is trouble, because Judaism does not condone homosexuality. Dad senses what’s going on between the two girls but restrains himself for the sake of his daughter, though similar leniency may not be in store for Yael. (The scene where the two young women “get it on” is filmed tastefully. Sorry.)

“Red Cow” has universal resonance given that Yehoshua mourns the death of his wife in childbirth, and at the time of the film’s action is sitting Shiva for his own mom, Benni’s grandmother. Yehoshua is so wrapped up in religion and politics that he hasn’t much of a clue on how to deal with his girl’s sexual coming of age, nor can Benni “come out” given that she cannot confess her feelings to another adult notwithstanding her attendance in a class in sexual education. Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov behind the lens makes good use of close-ups, allowing us in the audience to read Benni’s emotions, as she gives in to her rising sexual needs both with and without her young partner.

Extremist politics is woven seamlessly into an intimate family drama, the three principal performers doing their jobs with authenticity. Leaving the film, I felt that Benni will manage to make accommodation with her community but her dad is destined to drive his daughter completely away. Still, I felt bad particularly for the fate of that cute red calf and disgusted by people who feel a need to conform literally to the Bible, not only for the silliness of animal sacrifice but for the prohibition against homosexuality..

“Red Cow” was selected for the Israel Film Festival and will open in New York at the JCC on June 4.

91 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

PAPER SPIDERS – movie review

PAPER SPIDERS
Cranium Entertainment/Idiot Savant Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Inon Shampanier
Writer: Natalie Shampanier & Inon Shampanier
Cast: Lily Taylor, Stefanía LaVie Owen, Peyton List, Ian Nelson, David Rasche, Max Casella, Michael Cyril Creighton,
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/18/20

You do not often see a movie featuring the closeness that a mother and daughter can have for each other, which makes it all the more fortunate that Dawn (Lili Taylor), a middle-aged widow, might be helped to a semblance of emotional health by her daughter Melanie (Stefanía LaVie Owen). Bearing the possibility that “Paper Spiders” is semi-autobiographical, given the details cited by the husband-wife writing team of Natalie Shampanier and Inon Shampanier and directed by Inon Shampanier, “Paper Spiders” gives its audience the feel of what it’s like to be not schizophrenic, but almost hopelessly delusional (if that brings to mind anybody in the present U.S. government, you’ve been following politics).

You can almost swear that Owen and Taylor are an actual mother-daughter team; that’s how empathetic they are, and that’s how convincing albeit unwise that an eighteen-year-old girl might actually give up a full scholarship to a prestigious college and transfer to a local one to take care of her mom. There’s nothing fancy about the direction here; little of no animation, special effects, flashbacks, all the more bringing a sense a authenticity into the action which is at first comic, then spiraling into a more serious analysis of what it means to have a treateable, but uncurable, emotional condition.

Lacy’s paranoia would be comical if it were not pressing. She believes her neighbor is spying on her, throwing rocks at her house, stalking her; even at one turn when she develops a serious pain in her head, she is certain that he has a machine in his home that can mess with her mind. She is a constant embarrassment to her daughter; causing an uproar at her high school graduation that stops the proceedings, and earlier, during a tour of potential students, suggests that a library open to students even at 4 a.m. is flirting with danger, and by the way “What are the crime statistics of the college?”

For her part, Dawn possesses maturity in her sacrifices to help her delusional mother but enters movie coming-of-age territory when she learns, through Daniel (Ian Nelson), a persistent, handsome and rich boyfriend with a Beemer convertible, to drink beverages stronger than Virgin Mary and at about the same time to lose her virginity.

Comic interludes include meetings of the principal characters with Mr. Wessler (Michael Cyril Creighton), an awkward campus social counselor who relies on reading descriptions of mental illness right out of the DSM, the antics of a private investigator, Gary (Max Casella), and the frustrations of Lacy’s lawyer boss Bill Hoffman (David Rasche) who after six years finally gets the nerve to fire his paralegal.

If the writers and director are getting things right, we find out that paranoia does not come up to the surface at every moment, but relaxes enough to allow for unforced comic moments from the fine acting of Lily Taylor.

109 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B