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+

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST – movie review

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST

Film Rise
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Screenwriter:  Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele, book by Emily M. Danforth
Cast:  Chloë Grace Moretz, John Gallagher Jr., Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Jennifer Ehle, Emily Skeggs, Owen Campbell
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 7/27/18
Opens: August 3, 2018
The Miseducation Of Cameron Poster
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals of Mental Disorders, which classifies emotional problems with codes, eliminated homosexuality as an illness in 1973 but still calling it a “sexual orientation disturbance.”   In 1987 the term was dropped entirely.  That did not stop millions of Americans from dissenting from that view, with religious organizations particularly mean-spirited in their outright disagreement with the shrinks.  Our Supreme Court legalized gay marriage and legislatures codified gay rights in general, but as recently as the 1990’s, some parents, guardians and religious organizations pushed for what is called gay conversion therapy.

Desiree Akhavan, whose freshman feature “Appropriate Behavior” focuses on a Persian daughter struggling with her identity as a bisexual, is in her métier with “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.”  This feature is satirical but never lowers itself to sit-comish, three-laughs-a-minute clichés.  Its theme should be old-hat to Americans who tuned into the weekly sitcom “Will & Grace” which arguably helped Americans to moderate and even reverse their antipathy to homosexuality.  “Miseducation” has humorous moments but at base it’s a serious drama about adolescents, some miserable not because of their so-called same sex attraction, but because elements of society continue to denigrate them to this day and beyond. Their parents and guardians—not the type to carry signs “I’m pride of my gay son”—would rather to spend their money on trying to “cure” their children.

Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz), the orphaned title character who prefers to be called Cam, is sent by Ruth (Kerry Butler), her guardian to “God’s Promise,” a camp that deals with curing what is not in any way an emotional illness.  She is outed as gay after the boy who escorts her to the school prom discovers her in the back seat of his car making out with her best friend Coley (Quinn Shephard).  Internalizing the views of the straight adults in her life and believing that she needs saving, she is impressed by the camp’s counselor, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), who claims to have been “cured” and Rick’s sister Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), who runs the camp.

The biggest problem with God’s Promise is not that it fails to “cure” young people with same sex attractions, but in a way, the reverse.  It causes them, or at least some, to hate themselves for having a “sickness,” a hatred that will turn one boy into such a self-destructive act that the camp may be closed by the authorities.  Most of the action revolves around Cameron’s relationships with the others, especially Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane), who in one scene removes weed from her prosthetic leg, Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), whose hair is shorn by the director, and pixie-like Erin (Emily Skeggs).   Surprisingly each camper gets a same-sex roommate instead of a private room but Lydia and Rick make calls at random times with flashlights to ensure that nobody is “sinning” against God.

The strangest statement is by Lydia, who announces that “there is no such thing as homosexuality,” preferring to believe as do some deplorable Americans that being gay is a choice.  Twenty-year-old Chloë Grace Moritz comes across as the least idiosyncratic member of the group, preferring to be a good listener rather than acting out.  She does come out of her shell near the conclusion in a dramatic move that she makes with Adam Red Eagle and Jane Fonda.

Director Akhavan does not play around with melodrama, preferring to let the camp’s wrongheadedness play out to an organically believable climax.  She shows a genuine affection for the adolescents and for Reverend Rick, even holding back against demonizing the director—who also displays an affection for her charges.  The film fits right into the Sundance Festival scheme where it won the U.S. dramatic grand jury prize.  Get the book from Amazon for eight bucks.

Unrated.  91 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B

Overall – B