Category Archives: Film Festival Screenings

‘The Tale of King Crab’ (De Granchio) is Superb Cinema and a Parable for Today

The Tale of King Crab (De Granchio) is a cinematically rich and gorgeously landscaped parable of forbidden love, identity, classism, soul freedom, and the power of storytelling to communicate wisdom and human fealty that rhetoric cannot. Written and directed by Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis, De Granchio made its World Premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival-Directors’ Fortnight and was an official selection at the 2021 New York Film Festival. The film went on to win 7 awards out of its thirteen nominations. Stunning and memorable for Simone D’Arcangelo’s cinematography and Vittorio Giampietro’s haunting, striking music, the layered story by de Righi, Zoppis, Tomasso Bertani and Carlo Lavagna moves through conflict and reprisal to suspenseful, eerie adventure before it settles on its mystical takeaway.

The film begins with the image of a bearded man who appears backlit in the shallow edge of a lake, picking up a thin golden hued ornament lying underwater on pebbles. From the shimmering lake image filmmakers transfer to the present evening where Bruno awaits his paesani who are elderly hunters in modern day Tusci, Italy. The established community of friends gather to eat pasta, sing, drink wine and reflect upon generational stories some have heard and others have not, as they enjoy each other’s company and fill in gaps of information for elucidation and edification.

The storytelling and communal singing is a throwback to ancient times when hunter-gathers and indigenous people sat around the campfire and shared lessons which entertained, yet brought a chill of recognition that would heal and uplift in cathartic moments of revelation. Likewise, in their film the directors pay homage to the process of storytelling with their extraordinary images and beautiful shot compositions. The arc of development is surprising because their spare evocative minimalism keeps the viewer enthralled, worried and engaged.

As the filmmakers flit from present to past, they unravel the legend merging the generational aspect of the tale as the elders in the present portray characters from over a hundred years ago. For example Bruno, who is the chief story-teller, singer (Tosca) and local Inn Keeper of Luciano’s village transposes from the present to the past and back to the present when the story takes an incredible voyage to a strange land of monstrous beauty.

Gabriele Silli in The Tale of King Crab (courtesy of the film)

As all great stories combine the fascination of the listeners as they build on the fascination of listeners past, the listeners intrude in the beauty of this legend of Luciano (Gabriele Silli) whose name in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese means light. Indeed, this Luciano is a bearer of light. He manifests this treasure because he has experienced great pain. As we watch his journey from weal to woe, we note his perception and growth as a man who has gained the wisdom to receive the timelessness of spiritual love.

The film progresses after the hunters eat. Bruno sings a refrain of the legend of Luciano, a doctor’s son in the town of Vejano, Italy around the turn of the century, near the place where they now hunt. Bruno sings the second refrain which in two lines summarizes the first chapter of events. Filmmakers use the haunting melody of Bruno’s song carried by a lone flute transporting us into the flashback of the past in the remote town in Tuscany, where the tall, massively dark bearded Luciano drinks from a bottle and meanders along the road, whistling the same melody that Bruno sang, as we seamlessly move from present to past. In Bruno’s voice over we note that the townsfolk have labeled Luciano many things, crazy, a drunk, a saint, an aristocrat, and as the film progresses, he is the full measure of all these characteristics and more.

Luciano lives a life of leisure it would seem, as a doctor’s son with possibly aristocratic patronage in a town of the very poor and a prince who lives in a castle. The “prince” is a vestige of feudal times which have just ended with Italy’s unification twenty years before. Immediately, the story moves to Luciano’s classist conflict with the prince who has blockaded a shortcut path through his property to the other side of the village. It is a path which has been accessible for generations. Seeing the gate has been locked and one of the shepherds has been inconvenienced, Luciano breaks open the gate and the shepherd takes his sheep through, even though he warns Luciano the prince will press charges for the damage.

We understand why Luciano accompanies the shepherd. He has a daughter Emma (Maria Alexandra Lungu) that Luciano has known for years and with whom he has formed a love attachment. They meet and talk to each other and Luciano gives her the thin ornament he retrieved from the lake that he tells Emma is Etruscan gold that has great significance. It is then she tells him of a dream she had about him and a desire for her destiny. How her dream comes true by the conclusion of the film is rapturous, if you understand the profound significance.

Gabriele Silli in The Tale of King Crab (courtesy of the film)

During the course of the next scenes, we learn that the prince has strengthened the locked gate and has hired two uneducated, crass thugs to confront Luciano in the Inn where he goes to drink, though his father warned him not to. When they tell him not to break the gate again, Luciano’s toast reveals his character and the nature of the town’s burden of class inequity between rich and poor. Luciano drinks to the prince, to their rights and to the Republic. When one of the thugs asks what he means, Luciano says, “Who do you think you are? You’re just pawns!” When the brute goes to respond with a smack, Luciano shows no fear and dares him, receiving a blow which knocks him out.

It is clear Luciano is ahead of his time and could be a leader against the prince’s oppressive, arrogant attempts to hold on to power signified by the ungracious act of locking a right of way his family allowed for generations. However, Luciano’s alcoholism provokes others and causes trouble for his father who takes him home, chides him then comforts him. Luciano humbly apologizes, tells his father he loves him and demeans the greatness of his character by claiming he’s just a “drunk.”

During their talk Luciano reveals he’s in love with Emma. His father gives him a piece of advice, that Severino, despite Luciano’s heritage, will not allow him to marry her. He doesn’t approve of Luciano. Knowing his daughter is fond of Luciano, Severino provokes Luciano with the thought that the Prince is interested in her when she goes to the Prince’s castle to prepare for the procession.

Indeed, Severino has given permission for his daughter to be dressed in feudal clothing as La Donna in the Saint Orsio procession. When Luciano confidently confronts her in the presence of the wealthy at the castle while they decide what she should wear, she admits she doesn’t fit in. One of the prince’s friends arrogantly states that Luciano is “a ghost,” as he speaks to Emma. This nobleman refuses to acknowledge that Luciano takes a rebellious stand in attempting to prove that the prince and the wealthy caste are like everyone else in Italy, even if they have money, since it has become a Republic.

Meanwhile, Severino elicits the help of the thugs to go after Luciano who is now the enemy of Severino and the Prince. Luciano, fueled by the wine from the communion table (symbolic), shows he will not be ruled by the prince in a symbolic act which ends in a catastrophe and horrific incident. Ambiguously, the filmmakers infer that Emma may or may not have been attacked and raped as the thugs take her to the prince, a situation that is unbeknownst to Luciano.

Gabriele Silli and Maria Alexandra Lungu in The Tale of King Crab (courtesy of the film)

Filmmakers switch to the present and the hunters discuss that the catastrophe forces Luciano to flee the town and go to Argentina where he lives in exile. And they warn that from that point on, the story becomes unreliable. Filmmakers take us from the comfort of the apparently truthful paesano in Italy and launch out across the ocean where the story transports us into the realms of the mythic.

The next time we see Luciano and hear him in a voice over, he is wearing the cassock of a Salesian priest and on a treasure hunting adventure in “The Asshole of the Earth,” an island in the remote and visually fearsome and beautifully barren Tierra del Fuego. Here the music and cinematography meld in a pageantry of images, sounds and silences that create suspense and drama. Luciano must protect himself from vicious pirates who have nothing to lose in their search for gold as they accompany him in the hunt.

Luciano is the map to the gold with the help of a creature who is the most unlikely traveler up mountains and through rocky terrain, spongy tundra and wind-blasted trees. Together, the men look for the lost gold of the shipwrecked Jacinta owned by the Spanish monarchy. The Jacinta’s captain and crew died because they underestimated that death lurked everywhere on the island where they landed.

As the legend creates a life of its own, the hunters in the present fade away. Luciano becomes the hero living his legend before us. Resilient, experienced in fighting off those out to destroy him, Luciano proves to be far from the ghostly figure the arrogant lord described him to be years before. He has matured and stopped drinking. Valiant and on a mission to return home with gold, he delivers the drama, excitement and amazing revelation in this final chapter of his story. And as a legendary hero, he himself learns the significance of the gold ornament that he picked up in the lake in Tusci where we glimpsed him in the first image of the film.

Maria Alexandra Lungu in The Tale of King Crab (courtesy of the film)

This setting in the second segment of the film, like the tone and mood is stark, desolate and hardscrabble, as the first chapter is romantic, luscious and tragic. Filmmakers add even greater depth to the characterization of Luciano showing he has become more poetic, insightful and ironic in his search for the gold which becomes synonymous with home. Also, the filmmakers continue paying homage to the process of storytelling to uplift and educate in this segment as well. It is through the indigenous peoples’ stories someone wrote down that Luciano learns of the golden treasure on the island and how to find it.

In learning about the gold, Luciano, humorously states words to the effect, “I saw an opportunity. After all, this is America.” We are reminded of the stories that brought the explorers to the new world, and the emigrants who are brought to the Americas because of the streets metaphorically are paved with gold. However, for Luciano, the gold signifies something intangible. Interestingly, the symbolism and multiple meanings of this are revealed at the film’s conclusion. Most importantly, as a result of Luciano’s incredible journey to the other side of the world, he is brought to the greatest depths of his own spiritual growth and golden nature. Of course his greatness was within him all along, he just had to realize it.

The film is just dynamite in its multi-dimensional themes, (one of which is immigrants forever wish to return to home), homage to storytellers who keep legends alive, cinematic beauty, superb music, sound design, pacing and all of what I’ve mentioned above. Filmmakers were anointed ushering in the fabulous inwardly deep performance by Gabriele Silli whose piercing blue eyes seem to have traveled to deeper realms than we can ever understand. As his accompaniment the sweetness and peasant nobility of Maria Alexandra Lungu is graceful and worthy of the object of his forever love.

This is one to see. It opens in New York City on April 15 at Film at Lincoln Center. For tickets and times go to their calendar. https://www.filmlinc.org/calendar/ In Los Angeles The Tale of King Crab opens April 29th.

If you are in NYC why not get a membership to Film at Lincoln Center. With it you’ll be able to get a heads up on some of the finest films in the world as well as Academy Award Winners often predicted at the New York Film Festival.

‘Peace by Chocolate’ Film Review

Starting Over is Bittersweet

The Movie Family Hadhad: Hatem Ali, Ayham Abou Ammar, Yara Sabri, Najlaa Khamri, Harper Salis, and Mark Camacho as Frank. With Jonathan Keijser – Director. (courtesy of the film)

Peace by Chocolate, is the uplifting and poignant film telling the story of a family of Syrian refugees who make a completely new life for themselves in Canada. The award winning film written by Jonathan Keijser and Abdul Malik, and directed by Jonathan Keijser chronicles the journey of the Hadhad family through chaos and darkness into warmth, love and light. The film reveals that an open heart which loves others and helps, creates a sustaining fountain of giving that saves lives and encourages kindness, decency and community despite great differences in religion, language and culture.

Like many successful and loving families who are caught up as casualties of war, the Hadhad’s flee the bombing of Damascus in war-torn Syria where they have lost everything, but their lives. They lived in the once beautiful Damascus on the Mediterranean, the last stronghold of the rebel and jihadist groups that have been trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad since 2011. Al-Assad assisted by Putin’s general, the “Butcher of Syria” and other groups, left at least 350,000 people dead, and caused half the population to flee their homes, including almost six million refugees abroad as of October 2021.

The Hadhads who fled when Papa Isam’s factory was bombed and there was a window of escape, ended up in a refugee camp in Lebanon for three years. Upset with their homeless state and their plight there, they gain sponsorship to emigrate to Canada rather than to stay and wait for the war to end then return to their home. Theirs was a practical decision considering the Syrian Civil War is still going on today. However, the decision to leave their culture, identity, language and future in the land where their ancestors lived for centuries is a momentous one.

Hatem Ali in Peace by Chocolate (courtesy of the film)

The result is fraught with sorrow and hardship, however, the film concentrates on the point that the Hadhads are flexible and never look back as painful as that is. The most important factor on their agenda is that they all be together. Thus, with a brief reference to the backstory, the film centers on Tareq (Ayham Abou Ammar) the oldest son who speaks English and is the first to arrive and make the way for the rest of the family. Tareq is disappointed about many things. Foremost is that he was almost done with his studies to be a doctor when the war dislocated his future. Will he be be able to continue his studies in Canada?

As Tareq’s sponsors drive him to his new home, Keijser emphasizes the humor in the tremendous culture and setting shifts Tareq experiences going from the warm Mediterranean to the freezing snow and wind driven Atlantic North. Unhappy and disappointed, he registers the unappealing facts about small town Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. Nothing seems to be happening; there is little business, and there are no Syrians or Arabs. The Hadhads had preferred to stay with friends in Toronto, Ontario which would provide many employment opportunities and which had a large Syrian population. However, that opportunity is closed off to them. They have ended in the backside of nowhere. Is this their destiny?

Tareq does make one Arab friend and his sponsor Frank (Mark Camacho) is absolutely welcoming and kind. When his parents Isam (Hatem Ali) and Shahnaz (Yara Sabri) finally arrive, his father finds it difficult to settle in. He is displaced and bored. Though they receive public assistance, Isam refuses to take it and tries to ingratiate himself with the town’s candy maker, Kelly (Alika Autran) who is frightened when he comes behind the counter to check out her chocolate making operation.

Yara Sabri as Shahnaz Hadhad in Peace by Chocolate – The Film (courtesy of the film)

At this point we don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Clearly, Isam was, as Tareq tells Kelly, the finest chocolatier in all of Syria and he is impatient to reveal his secrets to her and increase her business. However, he cannot convey to Kelly what he wishes for her to do to improve the taste of her chocolate and she freaks out. Just in time, Tareq comes into the store and saves his father and apologizes to her. But it is the first of a number of road blocks that the Hadhads must break through in order to begin to feel they can offer their gifts to the Canadians.

Above all, it is very depressing because their language, culture, intentions and differences appear to be an impossible leap for any of them to make to the other side to immerse themselves in a society that is vastly disparate from theirs. The only thing they have in common is that they are human beings.

The cast and crew of Peace by Chocolate (courtesy of the film)

On top of this Tareq finds the education that he had in Syria to become a doctor differs from Canadian requirements. He doesn’t have the right paperwork. All was lost to him, so he brings one sheet of paper to show examiners which isn’t hardly enough. As if that doesn’t push all of them near the edge, Alaa (Najla Al Kamri) has been detained and her passage to Canada has been denied. The only thing that keeps them going is their love for each other and Frank’s love and great encouragement. Frank has become a friend and his church does everything it can to help the family feel welcome.

As a last resort against boredom and the need to give back to the country that saved their lives, Isam goes to Kelly’s chocolate shop and buys chocolates with the money allotment that the government gives the family, which will run out in a year. He gathers the things together and makes delicious chocolates in the family’s small kitchen. Frank and Isam bring these to the church and they are a sellout. Because the chocolates are incredibly delicious and there’s a high demand, Frank and Isam collaborate and Isam expands.

Yara Sabri as Shahnaz Hadhad in Peace by Chocolate – The Film. With Producer Chadi Dali and Ibrahim Dali (courtesy of the film)

However, Kelly is resentful especially after she invites Isam to make chocolate in her shop. He declines her offer because her ingredients and method are inferior. He knows if he doesn’t persist in what he can do best, it will be a curse. Isam always relies on God to show him the way and create the best way for him. He cannot leave his first estate. However, he can transfer his gifts to another country. That is a blessing. Of course, Kelly doesn’t understand and later this creates problems.

Meanwhile, Tareq is between a rock and a hard place wanting to become a doctor and helping his father grow the business which is his family’s treasure and legacy. The wedge becomes such a canyon of distrust between father and son, it creates terrible tensions which nearly cost all of them. This is especially so when they learn that Alaa’s husband has been killed in the war and she has yet to receive the proper visa to join her family in Canada.

How the Hadhads overleap the impossible and become known to Justin Trudeau is a miraculous story that has blessed everyone who hears it. Likewise, a blessing arrives to everyone who eats a piece of Isam’s chocolate. Why? It is named for the message the family brings to their new homeland, “Peace by Chocolate.”

Peace by Chocolate // Official Trailer from Magnetic North Pictures on Vimeo.

This is a beautiful film rendered with care. Concerned for the social good, the superb director and wonderful actors. clue us in to what is important in life: family, kindness, decency and hospitality. It shouldn’t be missed especially now that another refugee crises is at our doorsteps and talented, loving individuals are needing to start a new life since their other life has been destroyed. Can we not open the doors to them knowing what they give to us will be a hundredfold of what we give to them?

Peace by Chocolate will be released in select theaters starting April 29th and On Demand thereafter on June 10th. 

‘Pure Grit’ an Athena Film Festival Review

(L to R): Savannah Martinez and Sharmaine Weed in ‘Pure Grit,’ Athena Film Festival (courtesy of Colm O’Meara)

Pure Grit, written and directed by Kim Bartley focuses on the relationship between Sharmaine Weed and Savannah Martinez who “love each other,” but cannot “live with each other.” It is also about Sharmaine’s definition of herself as a winning bareback horse racer. Bareback horse racing is one of the most dangerous sports on the planet.

Bartley’s interest in these two indigenous women and their relationship reveals the concern and love they have for each other. Indeed, Savannah joins Sharmaine around the time that Sharmaine takes a year off her winning streak bareback riding to care for her sister who was severely injured following a catastrophic accident during a horse race. The love of the entire family to become champion bareback riders is in their bones. It is an inherent love bred in their DNA. Part of the love includes the knowledge of the risk that they take riding bareback. Sharmaine’s sister took the risk and badly injured herself.

So in a matter-of-fact way Sharmaine describes the accident and her sister’s paralysis on one side of her body. With Savannah, Sharmaine takes care of her sister’s children and with the help and support of other family, they make a life for each other. The sister must go through a lengthy rehabilitation process. Her paralysis impacts her ability to ride. But Sharmaine has the goal for her sister to become healed enough so she can get up on a horse again without fear.

Because Sharmaine takes a year off from racing to take care of her sister, she has become rusty and needs to practice racing again. She is in a position of greater danger than ever because she hasn’t ridden bareback on a horse and has been redirected helping her sister and smoothing over her relationship with Savannah. When she realizes the racing championships are coming in months, Sharmaine pushes herself to get ready and refocuses. But first she must earn money to purchase the right horse to help her return to her greatness as a winner.

Bartley uses her camera from the perspective of a friend and engages Sharmaine’s family members comfortably. She informally interviews her mother and her younger brother Kashe and her older brother Brandon. With abundant voice overs and portraits of the family’s activities, we learn about their lives. Additionally, each family member shares their impressions of their lives, the reservation and their commitment to bareback horse racing.

Brandon has taught Sharmaine a lot of what she knows and gives her pointers about getting back into her riding. Kashe has returned, having been caught up with friends in drugs and alcohol. Because family members have established a comfortable and trusting relationship with Bartley, the film approaches an ethnography. We become a part of the setting and identify with the family and enjoy learning about them.

Sharmaine Weed in ‘Pure Grit,’ at Athena Film Festival (courtesy of Mark A. Curtis)

Though Savannah loves Wyoming Wind River Reservation where it is beautiful and peaceful, all is not heavenly there and the stresses of daily living encumber them. Thus, both women decide to go to Denver, Colorado where Savannah lives. On the one hand, the fighting atmosphere on the Reservation becomes toxic, but they will still be together in Denver. However, there, they calculate the change of scene will improve their spirits. Sharmaine will more easily find a job since there are no jobs on the reservation. With the money she earns, she will buy a horse to use in the upcoming races.

Denver brings freedom and opportunity. However, there are many distractions and these become a strain on their fledgling relationship. When racing season starts up, Sharmaine and Savannah hit the road and embrace the risks. With a new horse from her city earnings, Sharmaine sees the potential for a fresh start. She is determined to be a champion and she practices hard and wins a few preliminary races. However, she emotionally feels she is not prepared because in order to make up for a year off her racing, she must train and there never seems to be enough time.

Furthermore, Savannah is insecure about Sharmaine’s love for her. There is an age difference and though Sharmaine feels she is expressive enough, Savannah is needy. She requires constant reassurance about Sharmaine’s feelings. The strain between them grows, perhaps driven by Sharmaine’s overriding concern that the training with the new horse she purchases isn’t yielding the results she wants.

Kim Bartley presents these individuals in all their humanity and their desires. As a result they become family and we are devastated when Sharmaine, who tries her best to win the race for the first time, after a year, doesn’t make it. Additionally, the once close Sharmaine and Savannah split. They do agree that they love each other but fight too much to live with each other happily.

Bartley reveals that life goes on for them. And the title indicates that life isn’t always about winning, it isn’t always about getting along with someone you love. And sometimes, family leaves and there is nothing that can be done. These themes of struggle and the grit it takes to continue in spite of pain and loss are the life lessons that Bartley highlights in this beautifully shot, well edited film that has no beginning or ending. We are assured, like this family, the struggle in life goes on. And we are glad to be a part of it because to be a part of it is to be alive to take risks.

To see this fascinating film, look for it on VOD channels or check IMBD for updates.

‘Strong Female Lead’ an Athena Film Festival Review

Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, Q & A Session in Rooty Hill, New South Wales (courtesy of the website)

One in three Australian women experience discrimination in the workplace. Julia Gillard, Australia’s first and last female Prime Minister ran the gauntlet of misogyny, discrimination, chauvinism and sexism from her own party members, members of the opposition and the media. What she endured, no woman should have to suffer in the workplace. Sadly, not much has changed since she served for three years as the 27th Prime Minister of Australia. Filmmaker Tosca Looby’s Strong Female Lead sets the record straight chronicling Gillard’s war years bravely standing up to men assiduously devoted to destroying her career and her resolve.

The documentary that screened at Athena Film Festival makes a leap in the right direction of supporting and denouncing the attacks and vilification of Gillard, a representative of women in political leadership. The film reveals that their brilliance and personal power frightened men unable to deal with their own personal issues with women. Clips of these craven, which Looby culls from mounds of archived film, TV and radio clips disgrace and humiliate themselves. They slander and excoriate Gillard instead of supporting her governance and properly upholding the rule of law with the integrity and grace due the offices they hold for the sake of Australians.

Gillard meets with US Ambassador Jeff Bleich on 26 November 2009 (courtesy of the site)

In her superb, difficult to watch film Looby cobbles together a record of film and TV clips, statements, film clips of protests, radio commentary and quotes in her exhaustive documentary. What she unfortunately reveals is the egregious, childish behavior of the males in their smear campaign to oust Julia Gillard almost from the moment she takes office in 2010. Indeed, she reveals how they worked prodigiously day and night to divide her party so she would be ousted in 2013. That Gillard’s brave leadership as PM got many programs accomplished despite the attacks is to her credit. One wonders how much more she would have accomplished if she had more support from the media.

Unbelievably, the opposition under the leadership of Tony Abbot at the time preferred to abuse her daily, mentoring hatred for the daughters and wives of Australian ministers and citizens. Abbott, a conservative (think anti LGBTQ, same-sex marriage, anti women’s rights) had no problem slamming Gillard’s personal life. Bloodletting was his purpose, not governance. His shameful acts and comments in parliament are recorded historically in Looby’s documentary, for all time, behaviors and comments seen cumulatively in Looby’s film provide a visceral and raw record of behavior antithetical to human decency required of a member of parliament and possibly a future Prime Minister.

Gillard being sworn in as Prime Minister by Quentin Bryce on 24 June 2010 (courtesy of the site)

Thus, Lobby’s film Strong Female Lead enumerates the level and extent of hatred and insult Gillard withstood in parliament and the media. Brave is not the word to describe her. Anointed, Godly, spirited is more the behavior she demonstrated. If anyone deserved to be PM, it was she. Sadly, the citizens have cretins and blowhards to govern them, a complete joke which rivals the United States insurrectionist blowhards in the Republican Party, one whose own brother and family denounced him, stating he belonged in a mental institution and should be removed from office.

However, the parliament and Abbott were not implying Gillard was a witch alone. They were helped by right wing conservative media who whipped up crowds and protests that Tony Abbott self-righteously appeared before as the savior of Australia, while milking the empaths with statements about helping Indigenous populations in various parts of the country. When there was a spotlight shining on Abbott, he puffed up like a red rooster.

Gillard alongside partner Tim Mathieson, Quentin Bryce, Wayne Swan and Michael Bryce on 24 June 2010 (courtesy of the site)

In her commentary before the film Looby apologizes for including the misogyny and hate-filled clips. However, she mentions that out of the resources at her disposal, all archived on television and radio, she selected the ones that were the least offensive. That is amazing. So the signs flashed on TV that Abbott stood next to that read, “Ditch the Witch” and “Bob Brown’s Bitch” were tame. Ironically, this leaves us wondering, what didn’t she include? Additionally, Looby’s extensive coverage of vile Alan Jones of 2GB radio, now, a former host whose contract has not been renewed by Sky News and who has been repeatedly sued for defamation, is particularly loathsome.

Gillard speaking at the National Flag Raising and Citizenship ceremony in Canberra, on 26 January 2013 (courtesy of the site)

For direct hate-filled sexism and misogyny, Jones rivals the most monstrous. During Gillard’s tenure as PM, her father died. Jones takes a salt mine of vitriol rubs it in Gillard’s grieving wounds claiming her father “died of shame” because of her behavior. Mind you, what horrific things did she do? Disagree with his right-wing, conservative politics? Later, Looby includes his apology which of course rings so insincerely the next time he launches out and spews more venom at her. Indeed, he was Tony Abbott’s good little puppy. That was a deal made in the abyss.

However, one of the most uplifting clips Looby makes sure to include is Gillard’s queenly speech, filled with integrity and grace that answers all of what Abbott attempts to smear her party member (sexism and misogyny). The speech went viral and Gillard will forever be remembered for the power and brilliance with which she spoke.

Looby makes an incredible case for Gillard’s abuse at the hands of the opposition, Abbott, the right-wing media and other’s sexism. She seamlessly edits the pre-existing materials, visual and audio, sourced predominantly from television and radio. Interestingly, the indictment falls not only on these guilty of their bravado of sexism. She makes a clear, defining statement about the inappropriate misogynistic media.

Since Gillard retired from politics and her party lost, Abbott became Prime Minister for two years and then was also ousted from the opposition party. Critics and experts agree that he is one of the worst Prime Ministers in Australia’s history. Meanwhile, Gillard has gone on to remain active. In April 2021, Gillard was appointed chair of the board of Governors at Wellcome Trust, a charitable trust which supports research and innovation in medicine, public health, mental health and climate change. Additionally, Gillard was recently honored by the award of the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun from the Government of Japan. This was formally presented to her by the Ambassador of Japan to Australia. Gillard is the 8th Australian prime minister to receive the award.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Gillard, March 8, 2011 (courtesy of the site)

Looby uplifts Gillard’s courage to be who she chooses to be. If it rocks the status quo in conservative circles, so be it. She once stated that she could never run for a political position in the U.S. with her lifestyle. She is an atheist, childless and has lived with her partner Tim Mathieson since 2006. They are not married. During her tenure as PM, Looby includes clips by the media during which she receives incredible pressure about her lifestyle and her relationship with Tim and his career. Gillard’s responses were humorous and clever. Of course Jones and Abbott piled on the heat and abused her with her unhousewifely behaviors, choice of partner, not having children and having a career in politics. In her speech credited and included above, she answers Abbott’s sexism.

This is a film to see if you need the courage of convictions in presenting your choices. Gillard’s strength in being proud and standing up for herself by calling out misogyny is an imperative all should follow. Look for Strong Female Lead on VOD and updates on IMBD.

‘Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino,’ an Athena Film Festival Review

Ida Lupino, They Drive by Night (1940) (courtesy of the film)

Actress, filmmaker, director Ida Lupino was a force for her time (1940s-1960s). When no other woman in Hollywood was able to get around the discrimination against females in leadership positions Ida Lupino was there! Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino, a documentary which screened at Athena Film Festival reveals the extraordinary work of this actress/writer/director/producer. In their documentary Julia and Clare Kuperberg cobble together interviews, film clips, quotes from Lupino’s autobiography, commentary by Lupino experts, current directors and more to tell Lupino’s story. Their film is a fabulous reminder of how women can forge ahead despite the overwhelming odds against them.

Ida Lupino in They Drive by Night (1940) (courtesy of the film)

In the creation of the studio system, actors became the chattel of studio bosses. Their dictatorial control siphoned off creative energy and channeled it in one direction, a narrow commercialism based on the proclivities of the bosses. Thus, walls of paternalism and misogyny were thrown up by these weak-willed, desperate and selfish power hungry, who after the 1920s took over Hollywood. Jealous of their power, intent on exploiting and using women, to not compete with them, they prevented and excluded women from being producers, directors, managers in leadership positions in the studio system. The tool of sanctioning and oppression kept women in line so that they wouldn’t consider moving “above” their submission.

Ida Lupino in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) (courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

Studio bosses perpetuated some of the most damning feminine myths. These psychically abused women actresses highlighting them as sex objects or villainous vamps. Such myths also damned male/female reactions to each other and mentored psychologically warped relationships for decades. Sadly, as housewives and mothers, women characters remained in the background. Only in comedy and musicals did women shine.

Basil Rathbone, Ida Lupino in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) (courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

As an actress Ida Lupino entered this system and “caging the joint,” she brilliantly decided she had enough of women’s stereotypical roles. She wanted to step out of her “designated” lowly position and direct the types of films that authentically related to women. Thus, looking at Ida Lupino’s films one notes a glorious reality that rounds out the lives of women with authenticity. A maverick, she proved that women’s films could be profitable and popular.

Poster On Dangerous Ground, Ida Lupino directed but was uncredited (coutesy of RKO)

In highlighting that Lupino started as an actress and branched out from there as perhaps the first to establish the genre of Film Noir, the Kuperbergs interview Julie Grossman who penned Ida Lupino Director: Her Art and Resilience in Times of Transition and film historian Tony Maietta. With prodigious examples in their interviews, the Kuperbergs reinforce Lupino’s own comments and reveal her revolutionary approaches to creating films.

Importantly, the Kuperbergs use Lupino’s own biography and film interviews she gave to fashion their entertaining and insightful documentary Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino. With quotes, film clips and commentary by Ida Lupino and quotes from her biography, we learn how this creative genius withstood the discrimination to direct important films related to women’s issues. Cleverly, she navigated the all male technical crews by referring to herself as “Mother,” a benign characterization which engendered a nurturing spirit among the men.

Titles Outrage directed by Ida Lupino (courtesy of TCM, Filmmakers, Inc.)

Related to this persona which Lupino wore with pride, the Kuperberg’s also indicate how Lupino learned from working as an actress in the studio system surrounded by men in positions of power behind the camera. With humor Lupino suggests that men hate to be bossed and ordered around. She implies that in getting male cooperation, there’s nothing worse for fragmenting unity than a “controlling” woman. Hence, her mother image worked every time.

Mala Powers in Outrage, directed by Ida Lupino (1950) (courtesy of TCM, Filmmakers, Inc.)

Vitally, when the 1300 men in the entertainment industry were predominately concerned with objectifying women and selling them as whores, prostitutes and sex objects, Lupino created films that dealt with women’s issues like abortion, rape, pregnancy and bigamy. And she did this with empathy and depth moving beyond stereotypes and cardboard cut-outs of female and male villains and heroes. As a director, she emphasized the humanity of both the men and women in the revelation of real-life issues. It is no wonder that her films were popular successes.

(L to R): Ida Lupino, Sally Forrest, Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming in While the City Sleeps (1956) (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images – © 2012 Getty Images – Image courtesy gettyimages.com)

The only woman with a serious career as a director in the 1950s and 1960s, she headed up her own production company with her husband actor Collier Young. Together they created The Filmmakers Inc. As a Democrat and a Catholic, Lupino’s cinema took on sociological and criminal subjects that male directors either feared dealing with or ignored because men engendered the subject matter (i.e. rape).

Lupino’s film about rape (Outrage-1950) is decades ahead of its time in the way she reveals how the victim suffers PTSD afterward in nightmares and reactions to simple sounds. Also, the cinematography is incredible with tall shadows representing the terror and fear as the rapist stalks his victim. Indeed, this and other Lupino films are superb examples of Film Noir before Lupino’s counterparts dealt adequately with the genre.

Ida Lupino and Jean Gabin in Moontide (1942) (courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

In another clip the Kuperbergs interview Martin Scorsese who discusses how Lupino’s cinematography influenced him. Identifying Not Wanted, a film about an unwanted pregnancy, Scorsese comments about the film’s documentary feel and power as a unique and pioneering work. The film shot on location deals with trauma, and the instability of a young woman having a baby with no husband. In dealing with the idea of teenage pregnancy which was against the happy family myths Hollywood perpetuated, again Lupino was a maverick presciently ahead of her time.

Finally, Lupino confronted another taboo related to illness and disease, the one ravaging children at the time: polio. She chronicles how polio sufferers were rejected and treated like lepers. Approaching this subject like no one else did before, Lupino creates empathy and humanity for those who suffered polio and other illness.

Interestingly, Lupino was the brains behind Filmmakers Inc. When Young wanted to go into distribution in addition to production, Lupino disagreed. She attempted to convince him that they knew little about the workings of distribution. Not listening to Lupino, Young tried and failed. They had to shutter Filmmakers Inc. However, Lupino persisted with her directing career after their divorce. Television was burgeoning so she moved to the small screen and directed over 100 works. She contributed her directing efforts to various episodes on “The Twilight Zone,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and many other series. Lupino remains as the most prolific global female director of all time.

Virginia Gregg, Robert Keith, The Twilight Zone, Episode, “The Masks,” directed by Ida Lupino (1959) (courtesy of the series)

No wonder why men have attempted to stomp her from memory. But mother Lupino knows best. The Kuperbergs have resurrected her extraordinary contributions because perhaps the culture is ripe to recognize the genius independent producer-writer-director and learn from her.

Lupino has been out of the Hollywood loop historically. Nevertheless, her films remain timeless treasures where the mass produced typical commercial Hollywood fare have fallen into the garbage heap. Appreciating her brilliance and noting that she was one of the most complete and politically responsible filmmakers of all time, the Kuperberg’s Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino, presents a long overdue focus on her career, themes and achievements. This is a must-see for filmmakers, writers, cinematographers and cinefiles. Check IMBD or your favorite VOD channels for screenings.

Mifune Festival at Film Forum: ‘High and Low’

Toshirō Mifune in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Film Forum’s four week festival screening of 33 films starring iconic Japanese actor Toshirō Mifune (1920-1997) and directed by Akira Kurosawa kicks off Friday, February 11 and ends on 30th of March at Film Forum. What is amazing about this festival is that not only are Kurosawa’s masterpieces included like Rashomon, Seven Samuri, High and Low, Yojimbo and Hidden Fortress, but also found are Kurosawa’s and Mifune’s rarities and rediscoveries in 35mm. These have been imported from the libraries of The Japan Foundation and The National Film Archive of Japan. For the entire schedule of films go to their website: https://filmforum.org/series/toshiro-mifune

Tsutomu Yamazaki in HIgh and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

A favorite film in Japan, but not that well known in the U.S., unless you are a Akira Kurosawa and Mifune fan, is High and Low. In this hybrid crime thriller and human drama, we see a different aspect of Toshirō Mifune’s acting versatility and concentration in inhabiting an uncharacteristic role, that of a modern, wealthy Japanese executive Kingo Gondo. Director Kurosawa’s layered unveiling of the strike zone of danger is a slow boil that begins with a meeting of shoe company executives that are plotting to undermine the owner of the company by pooling together their shares. By the end of the film, the company and the executives, especially Gondo are in completely different places, having gone through an unforgettable trauma that changes their lives.

Toshirō Mifune in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Gondo, a creative entrepreneur, intends to outwit the other executives by buying up more shares in the company alone, than they have pooling their shares together. He refuses to go along with their manufacturing vision because they, mirroring American corporate values, intend to squeeze out greater profits by making an inferior product. His values are high-minded: make beautiful, unique and high quality shoes which have good value for their money. He argues with the executives believing that long term, the company will be better served through his vision of raising the bar and maintaining the company’s integrity.

Toshirō Mifune in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

The executives disagree and close him out of their deal. However, he intends to put his own plan into effect by gathering the money for a leveraged buyout to own over half the shares of the company, by mortgaging his house. At the point where he is about to send his assistant to finalize the deal, he receives a phone call from a kidnapper, who has mistakenly taken his chauffeur’s son Shinichi instead of his own son Jun. However, it is no consolation that the kidnapper wants a “king’s ransom,” for a child who is lower middle class, because the child is his son Jun’s friend.

Toshirō Mifune in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Using the money to purchase the shoe company instead of paying the ransom for a helpless, frightened child is morally reprehensible. He realizes word will get out to the press that he values money over the life of a child, a position of moral bankruptcy. One way or another he will lose. Either his soul will become hardened as he places material things above a human life, or he will lose money but have saved the life of a child who is not his own son. Such grace is heroic and beautiful, even saintly. What will Gondo decide? It is a typical Kurasawa dilemma that his protagonists always have to choose between a rock and a hard place.

Tatsuya Nakadai in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Initially, Gondo is not going to pay the ransom with the money he put together for the buyout. He thinks perhaps he can borrow other money from the bank to tide himself over. The plot thickens and turning points occur frequently. Despite the kidnapper telling Gondo not to call them, the police become involved. They assure him that they will help him get the money back. That, coupled with his wife and the chauffeur’s pleading as well as his own son questioning where his friend Shinichi is, persuades him not to go through with the money deal. Instead, he will give the money to the kidnapper at a specified place, following his instructions. However, first, as they tape record the kidnapper’s voice, they try to find his location as well as verify that the child has not been killed. The suspense and tension increases as the stakes lengthen and we wonder if the child will be killed.

Tsutomu Yamazaki in High and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

In the second part of the film, Kurosawa’s specificity lays out the step by step plan the police use to eventually put together the clues that lead to the identity and place of the kidnapper. On the phone, the kidnapper spills that he is sweltering down in the city ready to die of heat prostration, while he looks up at the cool, beautiful house of Gondo, high atop the cliff overlooking the city. That detail and others, like the sound of the train where the suitcase with the money is supposed to be dropped off and clues that Shinichi gives the police about the place where he was taken, gradually provide the net that the police draw around the kidnapper.

Toshirō Mifune in HIgh and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

The good news is that Shinichi is returned and the money exchange goes smoothly. However, the bad news is that the police eventually find the dead bodies of the accomplices who were keeping Shinichi in a house by the beach. Thus, the police are in a dead heat with the kidnapper, finding clues then arriving at a literal dead end. Meanwhile, as the cat and mouse game continues, Gondo loses everything, forced out of the company because his assistant told the executives of his planned double cross leveraged buyout. Gondo’s creditors demand the collateral in lieu of the debt and he is forced to auction off everything. However, his story is widely reported and he is viewed as a hero and selfless executive which raises his reputation and worthiness to the heavens, while the other executives/owners of National Shoe Company are scorned and excoriated.

HIgh and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

As the wheels of fate turn, lowering Gondo materially, yet raising him morally and strengthening his soul spiritually, the now wealthy kidnapper becomes emotionally unhinged by a stratagem the police detectives use, after they autopsy the accomplices who died of a heroin overdose. The detectives trick the kidnapper by making him think the accomplices are still alive; they give him a note demanding more ,heroin. Through this ruse and going undercover into the most crime ridden street of Yokohama, full of prostitutes and addicts, investigators locate the kidnapper who has given a prostitute a lethal dose of heroin to test it out. Threading this evidence with the kidnapper’s showing up at the accomplices’ house believing them still alive, the police arrest him and jail him with sufficient evidence. Finally, as the last stick of furniture is taken from Gondo’s house, too late, the police recover the money with only a nominal amount missing.

Thus, from wheel to woe to back again, Gondo’s character has gone through the trials and sufferings of a Job. Mifune gradually becomes more stoic by the end of the film. His character has experienced the strengthening of his faith in himself, justice, karma and superb police work. The most amazing section of the film and the acting occurs when Gondo visits the kidnapper who by this point reveals himself to be a raving lunatic.

Tsutomu Yamazaki in HIgh and Low (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

The kidnapper, a young medical intern laughs with ridicule at Gondo until Gondo tells him he is better off as the executive of a smaller shoe company where he can use his own vision and ideas to influence the quality and worthiness of the product. He is starting over again which is fine with him. Indeed, Gondo, regardless of whether he is high or low, learns to be steady and temperate. On the other hand, the kidnapper and murderer is completely unbalanced. Unlike Gondo who can be abased or abounded in life and remain a stolid rock, the kidnapper breaks down and screams in utter lunatic rage and pain. It is a shocking and incredibly memorable scene. One of the greatest acting performances by two actors that I’ve seen in any film. Absolutely unforgettable.

This is Kurosawa at his suspenseful and profound best. From the arc of Gondo’s admirable personal development, to the uplifting of the themes of quality over commercialism, sacrifice over greed, timeless and immutable values are presented as behaviors to emulate. Contrasting the personality of the kidnapper and killer who is psychotic for money and motivated to “get rich at the expense of others,” we are reminded of another path individuals take. Kurosawa offers both up for us to choose: the light and the dark, the ethical samuri vs. the twisted, psychotic who turns inward and self-destructs. This is ultimately, “the high and the low.”

These portraits are breathtaking in another must-see Mifune/Kurosawa collaboration. Don’t miss it. For tickets and times see below, and go to the Film Forum website: https://filmforum.org/series/toshiro-mifune

High and Low at Film Forum

Saturday, February 19 at 8:00
Wednesday, March 2 at 2:30
Tuesday, March 8 at 12:40, 7:50

Mifune Festival at Film Forum: ‘I Live in Fear’ Screens Friday 11th, and February 18th, 19th

Toshirō Mifune and Takashi Shimura in I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Film Forum’s four week festival screening of 33 films starring iconic Japanese actor Toshirō Mifune (1920-1997) and directed by Akira Kurosawa kicks off Friday, February 11 and ends on 30th of March at Film Forum. What is amazing about this festival is that not only are Kurosawa’s masterpieces included like Rashomon, Seven Samuri, High and Low, Yojimbo and Hidden Fortress, but also found are Kurosawa’s and Mifune’s rarities and rediscoveries in 35mm. These have been imported from the libraries of The Japan Foundation and The National Film Archive of Japan. For the entire schedule of films go to their website: https://filmforum.org/series/toshiro-mifune

Toshirō Mifune in I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Unless you go to Japan, or Martin Scorsese and film restoration foundations secure and restore them, you will not be able to see these rare rediscoveries in the Kurosawa/Mifune lexicon. Over the years these films have been given short shrift, occluded by the others that achieved legendary status because they were presented at the right time and place. Nevertheless, the rare ones must be examined and appreciated, not only for their subject matter, but for the earliest performances of Mifune and acute direction of Kurasawa, who also wrote the original screenplays that reveal another view of Japan after WWII. Looking closely, you will find that Mifune was always focused on inhabiting his characters, even before that was completely understood in the cinematic world globally as it is today.

After working in the Aviation Division in the Aerial photography unit during World War II, Mifune arrived at Toho Studios in 1947. He was searching for a photographer’s assistant job since he had worked in his father’s photography shop before the war. Young contract director Akira Kurosaws identified Mifune’s uniqueness and striking features. It takes talent to see the possibilities in others. Kurosawa’s talent lay in recognizing opportunity when Mifune came on the studio lot. Years later, Kurosaw admitted that without Mifune, he would have had no great films. Their artistic teamwork and collaboration produced a phenomenal raft of Japanese cinematic work that has landed on list after list of world cinema greats.

I Live in Fear cast, Toshirō Mifune right corner (courtesy of the criterion Collection)

I Live in Fear (Record of a Living Being) Screening at Film Forum

Friday, February 11 at 12:40, 4:55, 9:10
Friday, February 18 at 12:30
Saturday, February 19 at 2:50

I Live in Fear (Record of a Living Being) is one Kurasawa’s and Mifune’s overlooked films. Mifune (35) in the challenging role of a 70-year old foundry owner is taken to court by his wife and family to determine his mental competence as patriarchal fiduciary in control of his sizable fortune and company operations. Alarmed by the the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the radiation threats with 200 bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean and elsewhere, Kiichi Nakajima increasingly is obsessed with the safety of his family (even his mistresses and children) who he intends to move to Brazil, away from the trade winds blowing the clouds of radiation to Japan’s shores, and possibilities of future H-bomb explosions in their backyard. The family, especially the sons, refuse to leave, despite their father’s authority and leadership success. They assert their standing by obviating their father’s wishes and fears, rendering him a mentally infirm nullity. They insist upon the convenience of their fine lives at home in Japan, rather than to adjust to an uncertain environment without friends or familiar resources in Brazil.

The framework of the film is from the perspective of appointed Domestic Court Counselor Dr. Harada (the excellent Takashi Shimura) who takes time off from his dental practice to arbitrate the suit Nakajima’s wife takes up against her husband. The wife is in turmoil, torn between overthrowing Japanese cultural mores and obeying her sons, or standing with her husband against her children’s petition to take fiduciary authority. Nakajima, indulging his obsession about radiation, has been damaged by the devastation of the bombs dropped in Japan and even reveals PTSD (a prescient observation by Kurosawa) by recoiling to flashes of lightning during a thunder storm. His family uses his fears to justify the declaration of incompetence and senility. In a thoughtful, meditative performance by Takashi Shimura, the dentist considers all sides and acknowledges that all Japanese fear the bomb and radiation for good reason. Nakajima’s panic and obsession is more rational than his grasping family would credit him for.

Takashi Shimura in I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Kurosawa draws the conundrums and human struggle with empathy and richness, revealing that all players have their own agendas, though there is logic and reason for their manipulations. Nevertheless, the father, who indulges his fears goes a step too far; he effects an event, that in his mind will hasten along the move to Brazil, but works the opposite result. Kurosawa reveals the overarching irony that the fear of destruction, too, is a kind of destruction that harms its fearful creator/perpetrator. This is a Shakespearean trope and the film, if seen through the lens of Dr. Harada, truly rises to mythic levels. Consider Japan as the test case, the bombing ground zero of a Christian Church; it is the sacrificial lamb to reveal the results of nuclear disaster in 1945 and possibly forever. This is especially so since weapons of mass destruction have yet to be eliminated so they do no harm anywhere on this planet. We just don’t think about it, nor does Nakajima’s family. Ironically, as a symbolic “crazy” Everyman, that is all that Nakajima thinks about.

Mifune’s performance is authentic and tragic as the shuffling patriarch whose vision is repudiated and vacated because it requires the sacrifice of the familiar and comfortable. That they cannot achieve a compromise, that the family appear to be grasping and cruel is one vital element of this most noxious of all family struggles about who controls the inheritance. And pitted against the sons’ selfish avarice is Nakajima’s obsessive, insistence that the radiation and the dropping of another H Bomb and nuclear proliferation will annihilate them unless they mitigate against it by moving away (South America has yet to establish nuclear facilities, so Kurasawa reveals his character’s judgment wasn’t unsound.)

I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Kurosawa once again presents the untenable and impossible situation where there are no winners, no heroes, only fools and philosophers, who watch the deaf, dumb and blind act like chaotic rats in a cage. Interestingly, this is not history back in the Samuri days. But the Japanese in homely family terms are mundane 20th century Samuri, fighting threats beyond their control, that the governmental leaders themselves have allowed to proliferate to dangerous global levels, caught in power games, knowing full well what a nuclear disaster means. That is the theme and subject matter conveyed by the extraordinary performance of Mifune, who becomes the symbol for human awareness under oppression, considered demented and feeble, though he is the lone, ignored voice in the midst of his family’s oblivion. Either he is a fool or he is acutely sentient, despite the hopeless situation he faces alone to confront the danger for life on this planet with the only rational action being to flee.

Avoiding/protesting against this proliferation of imminent destruction (certainly the effects of radiation in the cancer rates) deemed an insanity or an obsession of the incompetent, is monstrous. Yet, Kurosawa through his actors’ performances, and the way he presents Nakajima’s terror of a fact that the Japanese lived and suffered with is made more real as his family discounts it and him as nuts. The conundrum of either attempting to confront apocalyptic destruction or pretending it doesn’t exist and living one’s life without reflection, becomes more than a philosophical question in this brilliant, layered film which can be appreciated at its most human levels. At once it is about a family taking the reins of authority and control of the money, somewhat heartlessly because they have a great reason to. On the other hand, their justification for their greed is as senseless and heartless as one of the son’s explanations that we all have to die sometime; don’t sweat the bomb and the radiation that is killing you slowly. Don’t sweat the possibility of a few more Chernobyls or Three Mile Islands? Indeed.

Toshirō Mifune in I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

The ending of the film is certainly a gem. This is a spoiler alert. Against his better judgment, Dr. Harada declares Nakajima febrile and demented. After Nakajima admits to criminal measures, after he has been ignored, lost his money, power, authority, family, he still clings to the idea that Japan (indeed symbolizing the planet) is in danger of annihilation. He is placed in an institution where his daughter says that finally he will be safe. She localizes danger only to her father’s mind. In her kind words, she epitomizes the extent of the family’s blindness and deafness.

Of course, Nakajima is not safe anywhere. And he is more tormented than ever. As he looks out the window at the sun, he proclaims that the earth is burning: the effects of a bomb drop or radiation. Or as Kurosawa leaves it up to the viewer, maybe the guy is just uber confused. In the final symbolic shot, the screen perfectly split by a stairway in the asylum, Nakajima’s daughter with a baby on her back walks up and Dr. Harada moves down the stairs. The profound Dr. Harada stops in thought. And, attempting to divine his thoughts, perhaps we remember one of the psychologist’s statements about Mifune’s poignant, desperate Nakajima: “Is he crazy or are those who are unperturbed in an insane world the crazy ones?” Then Harada continues and only the sound of his steps echoes after him, leaving us with this metaphoric film that is even more current for today with the shot of the sun and Mifune’s cries of “burning,” referring to radiation proliferation, nuclear warfare and more trenchant global warming which Kurosawa couldn’t have foreseen unless he was uncanny.

Toshirō Mifune, I Live in Fear (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Kurosaw’s original works are his most personal and vital. His characterization of the foundry owner through casting Mifune is brilliant. Who better than a vital, energetic, powerful, younger actor to contain that vibrance and compact it into the habitation of a much older body. And then to create the dynamism of the elite Nakajima who has lived a full privileged life, only to see its possibilities smashed by a terrifying uncontrollable chain reaction of explosions with the power to disintegrate all life? Mifune delivers the intensity of that understanding in his manifested physical panic and especially in the last statements he makes about burning.

In Record of a Living Being (I live in Fear) Mifune and Kurosawa have outdone themselves, not with flashy action, but with understatement and symbol. Kurosaw boldly affirms nothing can keep us safe, not the government, not the institutions that once conveyed us from birth to death. They can’t when science and industry (or digital technology) have taken us on a trajectory that is little understood until it is too late, and then, the effects are ignored. For tickets to see this must-see film, go to: https://filmforum.org/series/toshiro-mifune

Mifune Festival at Film Forum Part II

Toshirō Mifune (courtesy of the site)

Film Forum’s Mifune Festival originally titled MIFUNE 100 is running at Film Forum from February 11 through 30 of March. The four week long commemoration of genius Japanese actor Toshirō Mifune’s centennial year in 2020 (he was born on April 1, 1920) was delayed because of the Pandemic. With the infection rate subsiding and as attendance at the festival will require vaccination and masking, the decision was made to open the retrospective on the legendary actor this year. Importantly, for film buffs, the Mifune Festival includes rarities and rediscoveries in 35mm imported from the libraries of The Japan Foundation and The National Film Archive of Japan. It has been programmed by Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s Director of Repertory Programming, and Japanese film scholar Michael Jeck.

The 33 films being screened, many of which feature Mifune’s seminal collaboration with director Akira Kurosawa are masterpieces which continue to influence global filmmakers to this day. The commentary in Part II gives a brief review of Mifune and Kurosawa’s collaborations on two films Kurosawa made in 1950, one of which catapulted Kurosawa and Mifune to global stardom and a premier place in global film history. To purchase tickets go to Film Forum’s website: https://filmforum.org/series/toshiro-mifune. For my previous discussions on Mifune’s first films collaborating with Kurosawa (Snow Trail, Drunken Angel and Stray Dog) go to my website: https://caroleditosti.com/2022/02/09/mifune-festival-at-film-forum-february-11-march-30/

Part II

Toshirō Mifune and Shirley Yamaguchi in Scandal (courtesy of the Criterion Collection © 1950 – Shôchiku Eiga)

Scandal (1950) Film Forum Screenings

Sunday, February 13 at 12:40
Monday, February 14 at 3:00

In this 35mm courtesy of the Japan Foundation, Kurosawa presents successful painter motorcyclist Ichirô Aoye (Toshirō Mifune) and attractive singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi) who meet at a mountain resort with no interest in each other except as casual acquaintances because they principally concerned in furthering their careers. Predatory scandal monger photographers read into their innocent conversation, take photos and show them to their editors and owner of Amour Magazine who, in tabloid fashion right out of Enquirer and Rupert Murdock’s fake entertainment fabrication machine, align the painter and singer as lovers. It’s fabulous profit making copy! Who cares if the story is accurate or not. By the time they may have to retract, they will have boosted their readership and followership and made more money than if they suggested there was nothing untoward between the two. Unlike most celebrities at the time and even today, who ride on the crest of the publicity without taking action, when Aoye sees his photograph and Saijo’s plastered on walls, billboards and “newspapers” as well as the cover of Amour Magazine, he decides to sue for libel.

Shirley Yamaguchi and Toshirō Mifune in Scandal (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Enter Otokichi Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) a craven attorney with a weak character and affinity for alcohol and gambling. Hiruta convinces Aoye that he will do a great job with the case and hold Amour Magazine’s editors and owner accountable. When Aoye checks out Hiruta’s decrepit office and sees the racing papers, he understands immediately who Hiruta is and recognizes his capabilities are subpar, recognizing his friend suggestion’s not to hire this dangerous man has merit. However, visiting Hiruta’s home, Aoye meets Hiruta’s wife and angelic daughter Masako (Yôko Katsuragiho). She has been trying to recover from Tuberculosis for years and is incapacitated in bed. Overcome with sympathy and a sense of duty to help the family where Hiruta obviously fails, Aoye allows Hiruta to take his case for the sake of Masako.

Shirley Yamaguchi and Toshirō Mifune in Scandal (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Corruption and predation breeds lies and bribes. Aoye, an artistic personality, yet a successful painter is not bluffed by Hiruta, yet he gives him the benefit of the doubt and says he has faith that Hiruta will do the “right thing.” Aoye cares more to encourage Masako, who tells him her father has a good heart but is a weak man and Aoye agrees with her as both hope his nature improves. However, after days in court Hiruta doesn’t even cross examine witnesses properly. However, Hiruta’s weakness is so acute as it is beyond the pale even for Masako who can no longer abide by what she knows to be of her father’s character and unethical behavior in tanking Aoye’s and Saijo’s libel suit.

Takashi Shimura and Shin’ichi Himori in Scandal (courtesy of the Criterion Collection © 1950 – Shôchiku Eiga)

The tension and frustration we feel is palpable, even horrific, for it is apparent that Hiruta will not change his demeanor in prostituting himself to Amour Magazine despite stabbing his client in the face in betrayal. Meanwhile, Amour Magazine’s owners and editors appear to be sanctified and just. We groan that this is one more instance where the corrupt smash down the ethical and righteous, that evil, slime humanity colludes and conspires to overthrow what is ethical and right making this world a greater cesspool than it already is. This is Kurosawa at his finest thematically! The mendacity of the press that Kurosawa reveals in 1950 remains unchanged; to say this film is prescient is an understatement.

Successful painter/motorcyclist Ichirô Aoye (Toshirō Mifune) in Scandal (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Kurasawa’s direction of the actors and capture of the close-ups of the empathetic, kind Mifune, humiliated but firmly corrupt Shimura and broken-hearted, angel Katsuragiho are genius. Indeed, the performances of the steadfast, quiet, likable Mifune’s Aoye and the wormy, egregious Shimura who grovels in guilt, but does nothing to correct himself, engage us throughout, heightened by the performance of Katsuragiho who is the innocent, sacrificial lamb. Thus, the film’s tragic turning point which reveals Kurosawa’s felt, profound knowledge of human nature, salvation, redemption and damnation carries us through to the end and especially the suspenseful last fifteen minutes of the film which becomes a reckoning. Thematically, Kurosawa’s work undergirded by his great actors is timeless and especially vital for us today.

Rashomon (1950) Film Form screenings

Friday, February 11 at 2:55, 7:10
Wednesday, February 15 at 5:35
Friday, March 4 at 3:50
Saturday, March 5 at 12:40
Wednesday, March 9 at 6:00
Thursday, March 10 at 12:40, 5:10

Perhaps one of the most memorable of all examples of cinematic story telling is Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, based on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short story “In a Grove,” which includes other elements of Akutagawa’s other short story, Rashōmon.” Kurosawa who based his screenplay on Akutagawa’s work twits our comprehension of individual perception and perspective and even twits the film medium itself as an alternate way of understanding our lives in story form.

Minoru Chiaki, Kichijiro Ueda, Takishi Shimura in Rashomon (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Five stories are told in Kurosawa’s film, including the philosophical frame of universal focus that contains the other stories within it. The frame setting is a broken-down Shinto Temple, evidence of a faith diminished and destroyed by the encroaching inviolate social constructs and corrupted values in the Heian period Koyoto (794-1185). A Woodcutter (the always wonderful Takishi Shimura) and a priest (Minoru Chiaki) appear shell shocked and stunned as they wait under cover of the temple (symbolic irony) for a furious thunderstorm to pass.

Toshirō Mifune and Machiko Kyō in Rashomon (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

A commoner (Kichijirô Ueda) joins them to get out of the rain and the Woodcutter and priest relate the story of the testimony they’ve just heard at a trial of a Samuri’s murder. The irony is that the priest and the Woodcutter are less disturbed by the killing and rape than by the accounts of the bandit, the raped wife of the murdered Samuri and the psychic who allows the Samuri to speak through her to relate what “really” happened in the grove where a life was taken. Then Kurosawa in flashback allows the three who were involved in the murder to confess their story of what happened.

Masayuki Mori and Toshirō Mifune in Rashomon (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

As each of the witnesses relate their stories, they cast themselves as the heroes of their own myths reflecting the finest aspects of the identity they wish to present, coupled with the codes and values they hope to emphasize, thus manifest to persuade the judges and all present they are the truth teller. Thus, told from the perspective and identity of the bandit, the wife, and the dead Samuri’s spirit, the stories wildly diverge. The only thing agreed upon is that there was a rape and the Samuri was killed. However, whether the wife yielded to the bandit is a matter of question and how the Samuri was killed, whether it was in an unconscious rage by the wife, noble harikari by the Samuri or a valiant combat between the Samuri and the bandit is up for grabs. Not even Solomon the Judge of Israel, the most wise judge of all time could rule in this case where the truth is amorphous and vague and either everyone is lying or one individual is telling the truth.

Minoru Chiaki and Takishi Shimura in Rashomon (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Considering that someone is going to be punished for the death of the Samuri, no one is pointing the finger at the others for causing the Samuri’s death. This is what perplexes the Woodcutter and the priest. Meanwhile, the practical commoner doesn’t quite understand how clever each of the story tellers are and calls them liars. He misses the conundrum posed. For the three players in this triumvirate of truth-telling take responsibility for killing the Samuri upon themselves. Whether this is a ruse to escape punishment, a conspiracy of silence or an example of the nihilistic ego which places nobility and honor of identity ahead of safety and security from capital punishment is equally opaque. Ironically, what is also disturbing to the priest and Woodcutter who can only exclaim that what they witnessed was terrible is that the truth and accuracy are not considered a worthy value. Rather each of the individual’s beings are paramount. And the truth of what happened has little to do with the bandit, wife and Samuri who are caught up in their own sentience which may not represent factual reality, if there is such a thing.

Finally, the Woodcutter tells his version of the story which proves that the three were lying. In his version their proud identities are shattered and the wife, murdered Samuri and bandit are reduced to the pathetic, pitiable human creatures they are. Interrupting the Woodcutter, a baby’s cries prompt the commoner to steal the items left with the baby and ditch the baby with the priest. We are ba ck to the present and the frame of universal humanity.

Machiko Kyō in Rashomon (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

The Woodcutter chides the commoner for theft who then turns around and accuses the Woodcutter of stealing the pearl handled dagger that was lost in the chaos, stating that all men are liars and thieves motivated by their own personal agendas. With that exclamation point of the truth about humanity, the commoner leaves, self-satisfied he knows it all and doesn’t need to hear any of the priest’s sermons. Desolate, the priest is ready to renounce his faith and purpose, but the Woodcutter tells him he’ll take the baby and care for it. The priest believes he will harm the baby until the Woodcutter says he has six children at home. What is one more? Faith is restored, the rain stops, the sun comes out, but there are still clouds in the sky, typical Kursawa’s philosophical take on what will come.

Kurosawa’s direction of the three players as the killer of the Samuri is powerful and to that their performances are sustained throughout. MIfune glares into the camera and shrieks out the story as the bandit Tajōmaru. He gleefully and wildly laughs taking pride in the murder, full of happiness that the wife (Machiko Kyō) gives herself to him on their first kiss. As he shakes and terrorizes he is brilliant and we understand how a woman might be mesmerized by his famous reputation as Tajōmaru the fierce bandit, attracted and repelled, but softened when he employs his powers of seduction. Mifune’s performance rises to the myth of Tajōmaru and electrifies as Kurasawa makes use of the straight-on camera shot of Mifune cross-legged, then close-ups of him flashing eyes and teeth to horrify and delight. No wonder this sterling performance captivated audiences globally then and now.

Rashomon (courtesy of the Criterion Collection)

Likewise, as the wife Machiko Kyō is convincing and equally terrifying in her incessant weeping and wailing conveying the great harm the violation has done to her soul. Additionally, the husband’s cruelty after her rape is even more damaging emotionally for he blames her with his eyes and spurns her as the rotten goods that he will never touch again. The adaption of Boléro by Maurice Ravel by Fumio Hayasaka is as relentless as her emotional devastation and hysteria, signifying her loss of self, world of beauty, sanctity and safety. Interestingly, Kurasawa interchanges the cinematography varying it from that used with the bandit, implying the helplessness, the softness and the tragedy of the wife.

As the Woodcutter and the psychic who is wonderful relate “what happens” again Kurosawa changes up the shots and varies to close-ups except with the Samuri whom he mostly has in medium shots. However, with the psychic who is inhabited by the dead Samuri’s spirit, he uses close-up to maximum terrifying advantage.

Rashomon put Kurosawa, Mifune and the others on the global map of cinema for all time. It continually makes film lists of cinema greats. At the time it won The Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and an equivalent Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Don’t miss Rashomon or the other films at Mifune Film Forum Festival. For tickets and times go to the Film Forum website: https://filmforum.org/series/toshiro-mifune

‘Mifune Festival’ at Film Forum February 11-March 30

Drunken Angel, Toshirō Mifune (courtesy of The Criterion Collection)

Part I

Mifune, a four-week festival of 33 films is celebrating the legendary Japanese actor Toshirō Mifune at Film Forum from February 11 through March 30. Co-presented by the Japan Foundation, the series features 16 of Mifune’s collaborations with iconic director Akira Kurosawa in what has been identified as one of the most seminal actor-director partnerships in film history. The duo produced some of the greatest masterpieces of world cinema. And Kurosawa’s films continually serve as an imprimatur for global directors mesmerized by Kurosawa’s cinematic storytelling. Indeed, Kurosawa once admitted that without Mifune, he would have no great films.

Snow Trail, Toshirō Mifune (courtesy of The Criterion Collection)

Postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival, originally titled MIFUNE 100, planned to commemorate Mifune’s centennial year in 2020; the actor was born on April 1, 1920. After two years, the decision was made to open the retrospective on the legendary actor. Film Forum Mifune Festival includes rarities and rediscoveries in 35mm imported from the libraries of The Japan Foundation and The National Film Archive of Japan. It has been programmed by Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s Director of Repertory Programming, and Japanese film scholar Michael Jeck. 

Drunken Angel, Toshirō Mifune (courtesy of The Criterion Collection)

This first in the series of articles gives an overview of select Kurasawa films that featured a young Mifune with another seminal actor Takashi Shimura, who often plays the foil to Mifune’s gruff, crude, deep-voiced characterizations. Highlights include a brief synopsis of each film and some points about the cinematography, scenic design and acting. The discussion moves in the film chronology from 1947-1949, beginning with Snow Trail (1947) Drunken Angel (1948) and Stray Dog (1949). In Part II you will find coverage for subsequent Mifune films including Rashomon (1950) which catapulted Mifune and Kurasawa to worldwide acclaim and awards and opened doors to further celebrity, dramatic risk and intriguing opportunities that historically shaped the cinematic art for decades. Film Forum Website for the MIFUNE FESTIVAL https://filmforum.org/series/toshiro-mifune

SNOW TRAIL (1947) At Film Forum: Tuesday, February 15 at 12:40, 6:00

Kurasawa casts Takashi Shimura (Nojiro) and Toshirō Mifune (Eijima) as escaped bank robbers, who with a third older accomplice retreat to the snow covered mountains to hide, though their impossible journey is besieged by one trial after another. Kurasawa configures the robbers with unique personalities and then pulls a switch when they confront the hellish conditions of traversing in six foot snow drifts along sheer mountain cliffs, and their older accomplice falls to his death taking his portion of stolen money with him. This is a wake up call for both Nojiro and Eijima and an important turning point where we empathize with these individuals as they realize the hopelessness of their situation from which they most probably will not get out alive.

All seems lost as the actors struggle against the mountain’s death grip. Kurasawa’s perfectly balanced scenic design and cinematic shots of the dominance of the mountain terrain, the deep snows, isolation and the freezing temperatures threaten their every step. As neophytes against nature’s cold, blasting fury, we see in their faces their yearning for life and sadness that it is over for them. Shimura especially gains our sympathy, but then a miracle occurs. They stumble upon a lifeline, a ski trail which eventually leads them to a resort where its hosts, a grandfather and his young granddaughter, entertain ski expert Honda (Akitake Kôno). It is there in this warm, congenial company where the fibers of the robbers’ characters are revealed and we note Kurasawa’s philosophical perspective teased in through the dialogue and emotional fear and pain of Mifune’s Eijima and Nojiro’s growing grace.

As Nojiro pulls away from Eijima, appreciating the sweetness of the little granddaughter, who reminds him of the daughter he lost, Eijima becomes more crude, violent and angry with him, attempting to dislocate his accomplice from their kindness. After all, Nojiro, masterminded the robbery, but from his icky sentimentality at the granddaughter, Eijima fears Nojiro lost his resolve to escape. It is in these scenes where we see the menace, bluster and extraordinary vitality of Mifune’s acting dynamism. How their characterizations diverge toward inner redemption and damnation as they attempt to scale the mountains after blackmailing Honda to guide them generates suspense, tension and danger. These elements heighten as Honda saves their lives repeatedly but must close down when he breaks his arm and is shot in the leg.

Mifune and Shimura are the perfect duo. Their technique and Kurasawa’s close-ups and medium shots provide the light and the dark, the hope and the desolation that propel the characters’ emotional turmoil up the mountain of fate in this survival story of good and evil that is layered, intricate and metaphysical. Against the mountain, their doom, with Kôno’s Honda bestowing the rope lifeline, symbolic of the code of community and friendship (the mountaineers code) it is up to each of them to work cooperatively to save each other from destruction. This is the lesson of redemption and hope that only one of the robbers learns and with that knowledge, gains the strength to be accountable for his actions.

Drunken Angel (1948)

At Film Forum: Saturday, February 19 at 12:40
Sunday, February 27 at 6:00
Monday, February 28 at 12:40
Tuesday, March 1 at 8:20
Wednesday, March 2 at 5:50
Thursday, March 10 at 2:45

Drunken Angel is Kurosawa’s examination of the soul’s demise to self-destruction. For this journey Kurosawa casts Takashi Shimura as the alcoholic Dr. Sanada and Mifune as Matsunaga a member of a Yakuza gang who controls the area but is evicted from his power when the boss exploits him then puts another in power until Matsunaga self-destructs. Dr. Sanada’s office is by a pond of chemicals and slime which Kurosawa sneaks in as symbolic of the entire community as the cesspool of humanity. The pond water which makes others sick, is likened to the values that make humanity sick: greed, exploitation and selfishness.

Interestingly, Sanada whose character weakness makes him a drunkard, has a kind heart and attempts to make a difference with these individuals who are worse off than he. As his patient, Matsunaga who has tuberculosis doesn’t follow his instructions, though if he did, he would be able to survive, maybe thrive. Sanada has a young female patient who he is helping to heal. However, Matsunaga lacks the will to help himself, regardless of how much Dr. Sanada badgers him not to drink and take care of himself. Clearly, Dr. Sanada puts up with Matsunaga’s manner, invests himself in the gangster attempting to help though the people who surround Matsunaga don’t care if he lives or dies and contribute to making him sicker.

Once again, Mifune’s performance as the soul destroyed gangster who Dr. Sanada sees as worthy to be helped is masterfully, carefully revealed, especially in his revelation that Matsunaga doesn’t have the energy or will to follow Sanada’s instructions, and allows himself a slow suicide. Theirs is an amazing duel of emotions: impatience, helplessness and withering bravado, frustration and love. The symbolism revealed in the scenic design of the various environments and the shot compositions of the dance hall, Dr. Sanada’s tight office, the close-ups of the emotional weariness of Mifune’s Matsunaga and the frustration and anger of Shumira’s doctor is superb. Despite the soul filth of the criminals who oppress, theirs is a relationship that appears noble. Sanada’ concern for Matsunaga leads us to feel empathy that he is dying, caught in his own sorrowful web of sickness and destruction that he let into his spirit when he gravitated toward the criminals in the hope of being “someone” others might respect. It is Matsunaga’s tragedy and the tragedy of all the self-annihilating criminal class, the theme of this superb film.

Stray Dog (1949)

Monday, February 14 at 8:10
Friday, February 18 at 2:40
Sunday, February 20 at 12:40
Thursday, February 24 at 5:50
Wednesday, March 9 at 8:10

Stray Dog is Japan’s first film noir crime procedural influenced by Jules Dassin’s script of The Naked City with Kurosawa’s signature philosophical commentary on the nature of the human soul in its travails through post-war Tokyo and beyond. Kurosawa sets the action in some of the most rubble-strewn sections of Tokyo in a clothes drenching heat wave before air conditioning cooled and refreshed. In every scene the pressure and struggle is evident in the scenic design and cinematography of the gritty, torn up city where vets, finding little work, join the Yakuza (gangster network).

Every character, every actor especially leads Takashi Shimura as Detective Satō, and Toshirō Mifune in an uncharacteristic but athletic portrayal as Detective Murakami, Kurosawa features with close-ups, dripping perspiration tear-drops down noses, chins and foreheads. White suits, dresses and hats show huge swaths of white cloth darkened with dingy, messy, wet stains. The heat Kurosawa uses as a character. And as a symbol, it represents the pressure and tension that Murakami (Mifune) puts himself under, obsessed with guilt that he isn’t up to the task of being a competent detective.

The driving incident occurs when neophyte Murakami, white suited and new to the job, has his Colt-45 pick pocketed while jostling against other sweltering passengers on a crowded streetcar. Realizing who stole it, Murakami charges after the thief on foot but eventually loses him. Thus, set in motion is the race against time to locate the stolen weapon. Murakami, who is shy and quiet with other detectives in the department, is ready to resign when he realizes that the gun was used to commit murder. His upright, honest and sincere attitude (fascinating to see Mifune’s humble versatility in comparison to previous criminal roles) is appreciated by the department head who assigns him to work with seasoned detective Satō (Shimura).

Together as a disparate but cooperative and congenial team they piece together the clues to those who can be traced through to the girlfriend (in an ironic, dramatic scene with her mother) of Yusa who commits two murders with the Colt-45. Look for the famous nearly 10-minute sequence shot by hidden camera in the city’s toughest black market as Mifune’s Murakami goes undercover to buy a gun on the black market and reveals the palpable anxiety and frustration at coming up against dead end after dead end. The taut thriller emotionally magnifies for Mifune’s Murakami, when Satō is almost fatally injured. Mifune is so authentic as he goes to pieces believing his gun killed his mentor and friend. Also, catch the superb dialogue at the conclusion when Satō encourages Murakami not to feel badly for Yusa. Shimura’s comment is eloquent, philosophical and pointed and Mifune’s response is memorable.

The schedule of films beginning the series on Friday, February 11th is as follows or go to the Film Forum website: https://filmforum.org/series/toshiro-mifune

RASHOMON (1950)

Friday, February 11 at 2:55, 7:10
Wednesday, February 15 at 5:35
Friday, March 4 at 3:50
Saturday, March 5 at 12:40
Wednesday, March 9 at 6:00
Thursday, March 10 at 12:40, 5:10

I LIVE IN FEAR (1955)

Friday, February 11 at 12:40, 4:55, 9:10
Friday, February 18 at 12:30
Saturday, February 19 at 2:50

Sundance Award Winner: ‘Hive,’ 94th Oscars® Shortlisted for Best International Feature

Yllka Gashi in Hive directed by Blerta Basholli (Alexander Bloom, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber)

Hive, a triple award-winner at Sundance Film Festival is a beautifully constructed, exceptionally acted and poignantly rendered feature film by writer/director Blerta Basholli. In the film, Basholli simplistically and profoundly examines the aftereffects of the 1998-1999 Kosovo war that impacted civilians and dislocated the cultural mores and society of Kosovo.

It is through this backdrop that Basholli focuses on representative families that suffered the loss of relatives and economic hardship which was felt greatest in the towns where killing, rape, burning and looting took place. One of the largest massacres happened in the village of Krusha e Madhe, the setting of the film inspired by a true story. There, families are still waiting over twenty years later for word of their loved ones in the hope of recovering their clothing or bodies so they might receive a proper burial. Then, the uncertainty of what happened to their husbands and relatives would finally reach closure.

Yllka Gashi as Fahrije Hoti in Hive (Alexander Bloom, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber)

Writer/director Blerta Basholli reveals the strength and resilience of the women whose husbands have gone missing as they attempt to confront their grief, raise their children, take care of their in-laws and put food on the table with their own ingenuity, hard work and home crafted items. Focusing on Fahrije Hoti, Basholli reveals how the enterprising Hoti gradually fights the patriarchal culture of lazy men to gather a collective (a hive) and establish a way for the women to support themselves and their children, launching a business to make and sell ajvar (roasted red pepper spread).

Initially, we see that Hoti attempts to maintain her husband’s bee hives, collecting the honey and having her father-in-law who is in a wheelchair sell it. During the film we learn the bee hives and honey are a remembrance of her husband, though the honey doesn’t provide them with enough money after it’s sold. And she hasn’t found the way to deal with the bees like her husband did, so that she doesn’t get stung. Hoti ends up having to nurse her wounds as the bees sting her when she gets the honey.

Yllka Gashi as Fahrije Hoti in Hive directed by Blerta Basholli (Alexander Bloom, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber)

As Fahrije Hoti, Albanian actor Yllka Gashi teases out an exceptional portrayal of the woman whose struggles inspired the director to create her story from emotional truth. When a car is donated so that Hoti can drive and help the other widows, she gets a license. And because she and the women are destitute, she gets the idea to start a business selling avjar. But the men of the village reject her driving autonomy and her flitting around the village to pursue business. It is a threat to their masculinity and power structure extent for centuries.

When she parks near the cafe to do business, a rock is thrown smashing the car window. Her transgression is clear. Their violent attack forewarns her to stop or worse will follow. However, Hoti doesn’t respond, except to drive home and tape up the back window. She stoically continues about her business without confronting the men at the cafe who despise her.

As Hoti is encouraged by another, older widow, despite the disdain of even her own children and her father-in-law who disagree with her plans, gradually, she and a few women agree to form the business. They chip in money for the supplies. Eventually, they meet at her house to make the avjar. However, she faces tremendous backlash and her own daughter is nasty to her when Hoti attempts to sell a band saw, a memento of her husband to get the money to buy more peppers.

Other obstacles come from the men in the village whose chauvinistic egos are threatened by these autonomous women. They try to destroy their product and stop their sales. Clearly, the men see them as whores who have overstepped the boundaries of the female identity set in the traditions of the town. And the man who sells her the red peppers attempts to collect payment in sex, assuming that she is a whore, for what woman would do what she is doing?

Kumrije Hoxha, Yllka Gashi, Adriana Matosha, Molike Maxhuni, Blerta Ismaili, Valire Haxhijaj Zeneli in Hive (Alexander Bloom, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber)

One of the important conflicts in the film, explores Hoti forging ahead despite ancient mores and folkways that would keep her and her family starving. She, like the other women widowers, is destitute. However, where the other widowers are afraid, Hoti has nothing left to lose. Hoti’s ability to drive strengthens her; one taboo has been overthrown. Why not be the head of a business? Another taboo is overthrown. Initially, the other cowed women reject her plan to sell their product out of fear of censure and a reputation of disgrace.

But with every move she makes, Hoti becomes more determined and she exemplifies to the others that the archaic folkways make no sense in a modern world. The irony is that the complaining, bullying men condemn them for working but do not lift a finger to support them. They approve of their groveling in starvation, another type of ignominy, without their husbands. Either way, the women are disgraced for they are women without men. Hoti and the women defy the men’s backward definitions of who women are. They redefine themselves.

Cleverly, the director subtly shows the harmful misogyny as a destructive nihilistic force which benefits no one, least of all the entire town. Basholli presents this as she tells the story through silences and actions, without haranguing or presenting a political argument. The effect is striking; we feel the full force of the crumbling of the patriarchy as the men fear having to redefine themselves, which these powerful women are forcing them to do.

Basholli’s themes are striking. It is clear that the lazy men begrudge the women’s attempt to survive without their husbands. In other words they are to remain stuck in time with no identity, power, autonomy, sovereignty apart from their husbands. They are expected to curl up and die as an honorable way to remember their men; be with them in death or wait in limbo in a dead zone. The thought that the widowers make a life for themselves to overthrow the former traditions is the death of the old way and the beginning of a new way that Hoti is creating. She chooses hope and life after the massacre of the village. Hers is a bold, vibrant, maverick move. Astounding and revolutionary, she re-emerges a new individual.

Life and hope respond in renewal as the women receive sustenance from each other and appreciate their new unity, inner peace and financial power from their “hive.” Thus, they continue to contract with other supermarket owners who sell what they are making and expand, as the director shows after the last cinematic shots of Gashi. At the conclusion, Yllka Gashi as Hoti is dressed in a beekeeper’s outfit. A bee walks on her hand as she remains at peace, unafraid, knowing the bee will not sting her, like her husband never was stung. Basholli renders Hoti’s metaphoric, symbolic peace in communion with the bee as acceptance of the opportunity and new world that she recognizes is open to her.

This superb debut feature film by Basholli is Kosovo’s official selection for Best International Feature Film, Kosovo’s eighth official entry, and was recently included on the International Feature Film shortlist for the 94th Academy Awards®. Hive is one to see for its dynamic award-winning performance by Yllka Gashi, award winning directing/writing and its current, vital themes about defining one’s life, and persistence in carving out one’s place, especially in a society that is closed, weak and crumbling.

DIGITAL / VOD RELEASE – FEBRUARY 1, 2022
Available on all major digital/VOD platforms including:
Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Kino Now, Vudu, and
The Criterion Channel (starting February 8th)

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