PREPARATIONS TO BE TOGETHER FOR AN UNKNOWN PERIOD OF TIME – movie review

PREPARATIONS TO BE TOGETHER FOR AN UNKNOWN PERIOD OF TIME (Felkészülés meghatározatlan ideig tartó együttlétre)
Greenwich Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lili Horvát
Writer: Lili Horvát
Cast: Natasa Stork, Viktor Bodó, Benett Vilmányi, Zsolt Nagy, Péter Tóth
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/7/21
Opens: January 22, 2021

Film Poster

We’ve all heard this. “Let’s do lunch some time.” “We’ve really got to get together.” “My wife and I want to have you over for dinner soon.” “Stay in touch.” People who take invitations like these seriously are likely to be called rubes by those of us who have enough experience in life to distrust them. What do you think would happen if you took the speaker up on such fake invites? Humiliation, probably, so we shrug off the come-on just as does the inviter. This reminds me of the New Yorker magazine cartoon showing an executive behind the desk on the phone, saying “How about never? Is never good for you?” But you’re not likely to hear that from polite folks.

Now here’s a film that shows what happens to a woman who takes a man’s invitation seriously. She’s a neurosurgeon no less, who in Jersey meets a man in the same field. János Drexler (Viktor Bodó) is from Budapest at an American medical conference. The woman is ethnically Hungarian too. We don’t see what happens in New Jersey but apparently they agree to meet in Budapest in one month by the Liberty Bridge (and you’d better make sure of which bridge because Budapest has seventeen).

A month later, Márta Vizy (Natasa Stork) flies to Budapest to meet him, and later to take up a new job in one of the city’s hospitals. She has been stood up, and here comes a scene that should land this foreign language gem an award for Best Male Fantasy. There is nobody to greet her, so she faints dead away. The scene comes from the pen of director Lili Horvát, whose coming-of-age tale “The Wednesday Child” was her freshman, full-length film. Now she has a fleshed-out narrative that labels her a feminist, a female director with a female lead, notwithstanding the principal character’s anxieties when unable to connect to the first person (at age 40) who makes her feel “like this.”

Building on male fantasy, Márta, about to fly back to New Jersey but determined to connect with János, runs from the airport and takes a job at the hospital at which János does surgery. Never mind that János had later told her that he never laid eyes on her, which takes the film from frustrated romance into psychological mystery. What’s the truth? Did she imagine everything? Because if she did, the story is a cop-out, given that you can excuse all sorts of strange occurrences on a dream. But no, there is an explanation. Wait a while.

Now isn’t it just like a neurologist to think she has a brain ailment, leading her to have a few sessions with a psychiatrist. Is she impaired? She could always hang out with a fourth-year medical student who lusts after her, thankful that she successfully treated his father, but she’s not that desperate. We’ve got a mystery here, one destined to keep us glued to the end to get some answers. Will this mature film be tainted with a happy, Hollywood ending? Will Márta become institutionalized? Is her brief affair with him in her bare, shoddy apartment, imagination or one-night stand?

If we were not wallowing in this one-year-old pandemic, “Preparations To Be Together For An Unknown Period Of Time” could conceivably open in any theater that has room in its marquee to fit the title. Though this is marketed here for those Americans who have no problem reading subtitles, it could draw a larger audience. The plot moves along at a good clip, highlights the impressive talents of Natasa Stork as the blue-eyed, classy but lonely protagonist, has some good shots on Budapest streets by cinematographer Robert Mály, and serves well as this year’s answer to Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” In other words, this is not artsy-fartsy: hey, it’s not brain surgery.

95 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

 

BEANPOLE – movie review

BEANPOLE (Dylda)
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kantemir Balagov
Writer: Kantemir Balagov, Aleksadr Terekhov, inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s book “The Unwomanly Face of War”
Cast: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Andrey Bykov, Igor Shirokov, Konstantin Balakirev
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/27/20
Opens: January 29, 2020 in theaters. May 5, 2020 streaming

Beanpole

War is hell and Kantemir Balagov has a unique way of making that point. Balagov, whose “Closeness” (Tesnota) hones in a small, squalid town in which a Jewish couple are kidnapped with ransom demanded, paints on a larger canvas with “Beanpole.” Artem Emilianov’s lenses bring us up close to a hospital that is treating war injuries, where notably Stepan (Konstantin Balakirev) has apparently been paralyzed and begs for death, but he is most interested in the ways that two women are adapting to a war that killed some twenty million Soviet citizens, or one out of every ten residents.

The action takes place in Leningrad, the movie obviously affording money and artistry in showing the destruction of Russia’s second largest city, here complete with cars from the 1940s and a tram filled to the roof with people. The title character, hospital worker Beanpole (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and her best friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) have been emotionally injured by the war, relying on each other to find solace. Beanpole has been taking care of Masha’s child Pashka (Timofey Glazkov), who joins in the hospital entertainment playing charades. To further sink in the horror of war, Pashka is asked to play a dog, getting the reply “How would he know how to play a dog when all of them have been eaten?” One day, while the child is playing with Beanpole, he is accidentally suffocated. When Masha gets the bad news, she announces that her friend “owes her,” and since Masha is infertile due to removal of some organs, she demands that Beanpole become pregnant, the newborn to be handed over to Masha.

Beanpole is obviously afflicted with PTSD—she freezes like a statue which can easily be toppled over. In fact the director not only punctuates Beanpole’s traumatic acting act but features a great many shots that last longer than anything you might see in a Hollywood movie. Dialogue, then, is only one aspect of the story: glacially-paced shots of people simply staring at one another makes this a film for an audience that is both patient and responsive to what happens to people in a war.

In a scene that could be called the film’s one burst of humor, Sasha (Igor Shirocov), who could be used to act in a biopic about Putin given his resemblance to the Russian president as a youth, is behind the wheel of his car, but is pulled over the cushions into the back seat for a quickie with Masha. Later Sasha, whose family’s residence recalls Orwell’s “Animal Farm” which holds that “some people are more equal than others, is to introduce Masha as his girlfriend, soon to be his wife. The conversation between Masha and her potential mother-in-law is perhaps the strangest but most entertaining revelation of the film.

Strong performances from both Miroshnichenko and Perelygina anchor the film amid the impressive production design, making this feature Russia’s Oscar entry for the 92nd Academy Awards. As best friends the two women look like the odd couple, as Miroshnichenko, who resembles Tilda Swinton, is just under six feet tall while Perelygina looks barely over five. Both are first-time performers who should have no problem getting a great many more parts.

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

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

 

COLLECTIVE – movie review

COLLECTIVE
Magnolia Pictures/Participant
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alexander Nanau
Writer: Alexander Nanau, Antoaneta Opris
Cast: Narcis Hogea, Catalink Tolontan, Mirela Neag, Camelia Roiu
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/12/20
Opens: November 20, 2020

Collective (2019 film) - Wikipedia

During the final quarter hour of this Romanian documentary, you might swear that citizens of that Eastern European state are under the same pressures and problems as the we have in our U.S. politics. An election is held. Opponents of a party rife with corruption complain that those in awe of that reactionary group want to bring the country back to a former time. We hear that only a small percentage of people age 18-24 are voting—actually five percent, and even we in America have a bigger turnout of youths. Ultimately, the problems of Romania are felt in states around the world, as politics and corruption appear to go hand in hand.

As in Steven Spielberg’s 2017 blockbuster film “The Post,” “Collective” takes us to journalists, this time in Bucharest, though Alexander Nanau’s film deliberately lacks the pizazz brought about by music in the soundtrack (there is none here). Strangely, tales of bribery and mismanagement are being uncovered by a sports magazine. Since this is a documentary, professional actors are not used in favor of giving the cameras’ eyes to the actual people involved.

The writer-director, whose recent doc “Toto and His Sisters” tells of a family awaiting their mother’s return from prison, opens with the movie’s most melodramatic moments, a fire five years ago in a Bucharest nightclub called Collectiv, resulting in the deaths of twenty-seven and injuries over one hundred. Many hospitalized patients who died might have survived had they not been infected by highly resistant bacteria, doing their deed in the absence of effective sterility. In the principal role, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Catalin Tolontan, puts the potential story front and center, his staff taking pictures, following nurses and doctors on their rounds, ultimately to find that contrary to the view of the health minister, whose party will soon be up for re-election, the hospitals are unprepared. The disinfectant, Hexa Pharma, was watered down to just ten percent of its proper strength. The guilty
party is likely not the hospital but the pharmaceutical company, its CEO’s death in a car accident deemed a suicide.

The health minister had to go as well, Vlad Voiculescu taking his place. The genius of the film is that while I thought the meetings he held with his staff are reimagined but are actually photographed by the writer-director who is also behind the lenses. The crew is apparently given full access, a kind of transparency we wish were present within our own federal government.

Bribery is not the only corruption taken to task, as journalists under Tolontan discover that the entire health institution is rotten, bonding hospital administrators to the entire medical establishment presumably dipping their hands in the taxpayers’ money for their own use. The film was shot over fourteen months, with editing taking the better part of year. Aside from the film’s audience good luck in not having to listen to Hollywood-style music in the soundtrack, Nanau uses Tedy Ursuleanu’s testimony and her portraits to punctuate the damage done by the nightclub fire. She has a robotic hand that works just fine but her body is largely covered by burns. Hospitals are so ill equipped throughout the country that tourists should take note: if you get sick or have an accident in Romania, get your butt to Vienna’s treatment centers ASAP.

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

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

 

ASIA – movie review

ASIA
Tribeca International Film Festival 2020
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ruthy Pribar
Screenwriter: Ruthy Pribar
Cast: Alena Yiv, Shira Haas, Tamir Mulla, Gera Sandler
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/17/20
Opens: TBD

Asia (2020)

Israel has been academy-award nominated more times than any other country in the Middle East, not surprising given that the Jewish state is considered the freest in that area of the world. Among the Israeli films this year is “Asia,” Ruthy Pribar’s freshman offering, not a political film. Pribar does not cover the tensions between Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic, nor the seemingly intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. However among its attributes is its implicit signaling that while Israeli Jews are Jewish by religion, they are a diverse lot depending on their places of birth. Those who are not sabras, i.e. born in Israel, have made alyiah from many corners of the world. In this case, Pribar, whose 22-minutes short “Last Calls” finds a Russian-born woman dialing the mobile phone of her sister who died six months earlier to put together a sense of her last day. Similiarly, Pribar focuses on the last weeks of a teenager whose mother, just fifteen years her senior, faces her daughter’s rebellious search for independence. Yet her daughter’s desire to lose her virginity is turning out difficult given her fear in one case when she tells a boyfriend to stop, and in a latter case because she is dying too quickly and too soon from a neurological disease.

Largely a two-hander, theatrical enough to find a place on an off-Broadway stage, “Asia” deals principally with the relationship of the title character (Alena Yiv), so young that you might confuse her with her daughter Vika (Shira Haas), thinking that they are sisters. While Asia, a single mother and a nurse, leads a life largely for her own pleasure—going to bars and indulging an affair with Shas (Gera Sandler), a doctor in the West Jerusalem hospital—she has a sudden change of priorities when her daughter is diagnosed with a neurological disease. Gaining the support of Gabi (Tamir Mula), a high-school dropout who serves on the staff of the hospital and agrees to babysit on his free time with homebound Vika, she dedicates herself to being there for Vika, whose adolescent moodiness allows her ultimately to appreciate her love for her mom.

The film is tragic with none of the Hollywood glitz of a similar downers like “Love Story,” “P.S. I Love You,” and “What Dreams May Come,” introducing a film director who bears watching. Tender without being sloppily sentimental, “Asia” is a realistic look at a mother who must experience the most difficult episode in her life, the approaching loss of her daughter.

The film is in Hebrew and Russian and has been selected for the Tribeca Festival of 2020.

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

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

HEAL THE LIVING – movie review

HEAL THE LIVING (Réparer les vivantes)

Cohen Media Group
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: A-
Director:  Katell Quillévéré
Written by: Katell Quillévéré, Gilles Taurand from the novel “The Heart” by Maylis de Kerangal
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Dorval, Bouli Lanners, Kool Shen, Monia Chokri, Alive Taglioni
Screened at: Cohen Media Group, NYC, 3/29/17
Opens: April 14, 2017
Heal the Living Large Poster
“We’re all connected” sounds like a tagline for a phone company and is also a favorite saying of social scientists, peace activists, and miscellaneous do-gooders as well.  Now comes a new interpretation that cuts through anything metaphoric.  We’re connected as well through parts of our bodies.  The expression could be used as a tagline for hospitals that transplant organs, saving lives, when people who have the good will to be organ donors can feel proud of themselves knowing that when they die, parts of the their bodies can be used to heal the living.

Katell Quillévéré, who directs and whose script (co-written by Gilles Taurant) is inspired by  Maylis de Kerangal’s novel “The Heart,” does not intent to duplicate the central idea of TV’s “E.R.” or the more apt “Three Rivers” (the latter about a hospital that does transplants exclusively in a TV offering which did not deserve to be cancelled). Though the actual technology behind heart transplants is on exhibit in the film, featuring the removal of a heart from a brain-dead person and its transfer to a middle-aged woman, the director is more into how we can transcend nature by focusing on the good will in each of us, the good will that motivates at least some to give up their organs upon death so that others may live.  Some of us are connected indeed.

Quillévéré has just two other full length movies to her directing credit.  Her “Love Like Poison” is about a teen who comes home from Catholic boarding school to find that her father has deserted, and her ”Suzanne” focuses on a love affair involving a woman on a journey.  Neither has the impact of her current offering, in which two stories are involved, the relevance of each to the other obvious enough to the folks who treat foreign language films without the horror that seems built into much of the American moviegoing psyche.  She opens on high drama as Simon (Gabin Verdet), a 17-year-old athletic man skilled in both surf and turf (riding the waves and using skateboard and bicycle), leaves the flat of Juliette (Galatéa Bellugi), his girlfriend to meet with his two friends at five in the morning to go ride the waves and drive off.  After a horrendous crash of their vehicle, Simon is brain dead in a hospital, the consultant, Thomas Rémige (Tahar Rahim)left to give the bad news to the boy’s mother Marianne (Emmanuelle Seigner) and father Vincent rapper (Kook Shen).

The devastated parents think it over, agreeing to allow their son’s heart to be harvested for transplant, at which point the scene changes (with several flashbacks) to a sister story.  Claire (Anne Dorval) learns from her surgeon that her heart is decompensating and that despite the imbedded defibrillator will soon fail.  Though seeming as reluctant to make bodily changes as were Simon’s parents, she agrees to the operation.  She is somehow put immediately at the top of the list to receive Simon’s heart.  Quillévéré has no problem using screen time to show how the heart is put on a plane and rushed by ambulance with a police escort (isn’t French Medicare-for-all wonderful?). We are privy to the way the chest is cut open, the aging and deteriorating heart gently lifted out, and a perfect, youthful one sutured in.

Throughout, we are shown incidentals that make “Heal the Living” far more than a medical documentary.  We peer into the lives of the human beings doing ordinary things and extraordinary ones as well.  The hospital administrator, Pierre Révol (Bouli Lanners), is a late-middle-aged man who likes rap enough to play it on the car radio and sing along.  The operating consultant has a hobby of watching goldfinches on TV and remarking how he would like to go back to his home town in Oran, Algeria, to buy such a bird.  Marianne and Vincent, married but living separately, are brought together by the domestic tragedy.  A nurse (Monia Chokri) hallucinates a sexual dream in the elevator with the surgical consultant as her partner.  The lucky woman who is to receive the heart has a lesbian relationship with a concert pianist, whose recital of contemporary music is given several minutes of screen time for our listening pleasure.

Tom Harari behind the lenses captures the interiors of the hospitals with outdoor scenes of Le Havre, where the three youths ride the waves, and Thomas Marchand edits skillfully to allow the flow from young Simon to middle-aged recipient Claire. Though Tahar Rahim takes top billing, this is really an ensemble production, putting the lives of people in crisis under the microscope; actors with the confidence to show the emotional resonance you might expect.

Though human drama takes precedence over socio-political commentary, one would not be surprised if my fellow Americans would rethink their passivity when noting that the section of their auto licenses that grant authority to donate organs remains unchecked.

Unrated.  103 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?