UNTIL THE BIRDS RETURN – movie review

UNTIL THE BIRDS RETURN (En attendant les hirondelles)
1091
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Karim Moussaoui
Screenwriter: Karim Moussaoui, Maud Ameline
Cast: Mohamed Djourhi, Sonia Mekkiou, Mehdi Ramdani, Hania Amar, Hassan Kachach
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/20/20
Opens: April 28, 2020

Until The Birds Return (2017) Movie Review from Eye for Film

An intriguing first feature by Karim Moussaoui filmed in Algeria is an eye-opener, not the least because it gives us in the West a picture of a country that some of us believe to be merely developing. Instead, by opening up parts of the country via a road trip, we can see well-built highways albeit with a lack of traffic that could make Angelenos turning green with envy. The three stories are only slightly connected, an Altmanesque format is not used, but through a look at three generations of Algerians, we get a picture of a place that few of us here in the U.S. have visited (Morocco gets the lion’s share of the Mahreb’s tourism). In fact much of what we see indulges scenes that I thought would be censored by the Algerian government, showing the cavorting of men and women, the latter taking off their hijabs and shaking up their hair and their hips, which would be obviously condemned by any Saudi official. The freedom exhibited here is mighty refreshing.

The middle story is easily the most interesting, as Moussaoui and his co-writer Maud Ameline appear merely to be warming us up for the delicious tale to come. But first: Mourad (Mohamed Djourhri) is a builder whose problems are not so much with his professional life but with family hassles. His ex-wife Lila (Sonie Mekkious), whom he visits in order to see his son, pressures him to motivate their son to become a doctor, but the lad cannot be budged. At the same time his second wife (Aure Atika) is fed up with Algeria and wants to return to France. In addition, on the road Mourad gets a flat tire and, in a dark, remote area he witnesses a man being beaten “to a pulp,” as he puts it to Lila, who criticizes him for not reporting the action to the police—even when he is safely home.

Better luck comes to Djali (Mehdi Ramdani), Mourad’s employee, who gets a few days off to drive a neighbor to a wedding, though he and Aïcha (Hania Amar), had been secret lovers. Aïcha is in no mood to celebrate the upcoming nuptials to “a good man,” so when her father takes ill and must be hospitalized overnight, he entrusts Djali to drive his daughter to place to spend the night, paying him to get separate rooms at a hotel for the night. Taking a break from the driving, Djali walks behind her and is repelled as though dealing with a woman playing hard to get, but lust will out. When they enter an empty bar, the musicians strike up a vigorous tune. A seductive Aïcha asks Djali to dance, and while waiting for him to make up his mind, she proceeds to shed inhibitions in the film’s most exciting part. Like a Greek chorus, a large group of dancers and musicians follow the two back to their car.

Shades of Harvey Weinstein in the final episode, as Dahman (Hassan Kachach), a neurologist intent on a promotion to a hospital directorship, is caught up in an accusation. The woman (Nadia Kaci) has spent months looking for the physician whom she is accusing of rape during a time that a group of terrorists during the Algeria’s sectarian war of the 1990s subjected her to gang rape. He threatens her, but she sits, confidently crosses her legs, and insists that he is guilty. What’s more she has an autistic son in the rickety house. The doctor is charged not with taking part in the rape but in doing nothing to stop the men. (This is a possible reference to the incident with Mourad in the opener who refuses to call the police upon witnessing a beating.)

Among the happier moments in a generally somber tale the doctor, who is marrying a much younger woman, takes part in a wedding dance to the accompaniment of a large group of enthusiastic guests. Among the good qualities of the movie is that aside from the time that music is actually needed as part of the action, “Until the Birds Return” avoids Hollywood movies’ often intrusive music in the soundtrack.

In Arabic and French with English subtitles.

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

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

WAITING FOR ANYA – movie review

WAITING FOR ANYA
Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ben Cookson
Screenwriter: Ben Cookson, Michael Morpurgo, Toby Torlesse adapting Michael Morpurgo’s book of the same name
Cast: Noah Schnapp, Anjelica Huston, Sadi Frost, Jean Reno, Nicolas Rowe, Thomas Kretschmann, Frederick Schmidt, Gilles Marini, Tómas Lemarquis, Elsa Zylberstein, Joséphine de la Baume
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/23/20
Opens: February 7, 2020

Jean Reno, Sadie Frost, Anjelica Huston, Thomas Kretschmann, Urs Rechn, Nicholas Rowe, Elsa Zylberstein, William Abadie, Tómas Lemarquis, Gilles Marini, Joséphine de La Baume, Phin Glynn, Frederick Schmidt, Raj Awasti, Noah Schnapp, and Lukas Sauer in Waiting for Anya (2020)

Geography is destiny. If you’re born in America or Canada you have less chance of starving to death than if you come from Burkina Faso or Eritrea. If you’re born in Western Europe, you are not much of a candidate for malaria or diphtheria as you would be if you your village is near Mogadishu or Djouba. And if you’ve been privileged to be baptized a Catholic in Sioux City, you are probably not going to be victim of anti-Semites.

However! If you have the distinct disadvantage of entering the world in Germany or Poland during the 1930s and remain there despite warnings, you are in deep defecation. Once the German borders closed, Jews remaining there or in any of that country’s occupations will inevitably be shot or gassed, perhaps tortured in a concentration camp and hanged. So what to do if that’s your state of affairs? You’ve got to forget about your house, your clothing, your bank account, and hightail it into a nearby more tolerant country like Albania and Bulgaria. Ben Cookson’s narrative drama “Waiting for Anya” deals with one hero who escorted a Jewish family over the Pyrenees to safety in (Fascist, ironically) Spain.

Despite how gruesome a movie on this subject looks, you probably should not worry about taking your children, even as young as eight. The movie, like the movie of the same name written by the British laureate author Michael Morpurgo, could not be described as “Holocaust 101,” because that would imply a college level course. This is more like middle school material which might be laughed at by some adults who think that this is a mature film, but clearly the dialogue serves as easily digestible for kids. (Morpurgo’s novel “War Horse” is about a horse fighting in France who longs for the return of his human companion.)

In his sophomore feature, director Ben Cooksen sets his film in the French village of Lescun during the early 1940s and filmed who-knows-where because the IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes are clueless about the breathtaking “Sound of Music”-style mountain range, “Waiting for Anya” centers on Jo (Noah Schnapp), a shepherd in his mid-teens, impressionable, a lad who is obviously not thinking of where can find a date for Saturday night. Why not? He is too busy risking his life to save Jews. Since he and his family—most notably his grandpere (Jean Reno) and a no-nonsense widow, Horcada (Anjelica Huston)—await the return of Jo’s dad (Gilles Marini) from a prisoner of war camp. At the same time Benjamin (Frederick Schmidt), a Jew, had escaped from a train taking his fellow Jews to a concentration camp, not before depositing his little girl Anya through a window into a bus. (Benjamin’s escape is among the less credible points in the movie, as he simply leaves the sealed train, hiding under it until it departs.) Benjamin hangs out hidden in the village, awaiting the return of Anya, who had departed in a different direction by bus.

Though the southern French village is under the Vichy regime, not directly occupied by the Nazis, a group of soldiers under a Lieutenant (Tómas Lemarguis) are guarding the frontier to prevent Jews from escaping over the Pyrenees into Spain. Jo takes time from supervising the sheep and feeding the pigs to make sure a band of Jewish survivors stay hidden in a cave, all means for death (including Jo) if discovered.

Aside from the sheep and pigs, “Waiting for Anya” features a dog, perhaps a Border Collie which is the breed best suited for herding sheep; and a bear, which threatens the life of Jo in one scene. Though the whole town are in on protecting the Jews, there is also one good German, a corporal (Thomas Kretschmann) who may the only one from his country who knows where the Jews are hiding but says nothing. He endears himself to Jo, acting as an unusual mentor to the boy.

A lively performance from Noah Schnapp who is 15 in real life and can be seen on the Netflix series “Stranger Things” should captivate the youngsters in the movie audience with his audacity, his desire to learn (even if it’s from one of the Bosch), and his high ethical conduct. Think of similar Holocaust adventures marketed to kids as well as adults such as “Life is Beautiful” and “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” (which makes you think that the young son of a concentration camp commandant chats amiably with an inmate on the other side of barbed wire). Don’t guffaw at the simple dialogue and the sentiment projected herein, now that you know that Morpugo’s novel is recommended for kids, its scary cover noting that “they only have one chance to escape.”

As Holocaust survivors die off and as teens are riveted to the dumb-phones, many young people have no idea what the word “Holocaust” means. This movie serves as a decent primer. (Hey! It’s not just kids who are uninformed. Even some adults today think that Trump is being impeached for cutting a devil’s bargain with Czechoslovakia.)

Everybody speaking English.

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

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