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Showing posts from January, 2006

La Mystere Garrel

I can't make up my mind about Phillipe Garrel. Les Amants Reguliers was my favorite unreleased film from the 2005 New York Film Festival, a giddy re-enactment of Mai '68 as remembered through a haze of dope smoke and burning automobiles. His Prix Jean Vigo-winning film L'Enfant Secret will be playing at the Museum of Modern Art (see link on the right) on February 10 and 13, and after seeing it Thursday, I find myself as conflicted as ever.

L'Enfant is another Garrelian tale of amour fou and, as seems his wont, it's a mad love experienced at a remove. My friend and colleague Daryl Chin pointed out to me that this is a thinly disguised recounting of Garrel's putative affair with the chanteuse-model-heroin icon Nico, yet for all the personal passion on display, the film has a strangely detached quality. There are intimations throughout that we are seeing a film-within-a-film version of events, although Garrel is careful to make this unclear. The result feels a bit …

La Petite Jerusalem

(This post appeared in a different form in this week's issue of Jewish Week.)


La Petite Jerusalem which opened this weekend in NYC, represents the fortuitous intersection of two significant trends, one academic, the other cinematic. The latter is easier to describe: La Petite Jerusalem is the lastest in a new wave of films about Orthodox life made by Orthodox Jews. Films like Ushpizin, the documentaries of Anat Zuria and the collaborations of Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky are something new in Jewish film, a chance for the traditionally observant to speak for themselves through movies.

Karin Albou, the writer-director of La Petite Jerusalem, grew up in the banlieues, the grim high-rise projects outside Paris that birthed last summer's riots. Like the protagonist of her film, Laura (Fanny Valette), she was the rebellious daughter of Algerian Jews (Tunisian in the film); she was the one who studied philosophy (and later filmmaking), who tried to reconcile modern thought with Juda…

After two days of jury duty, two German films about Jews

I am a firm believer in the jury system. Despite telling many lawyer jokes and being almost terminally cynical, I have a deep and abiding faith in the Bill of Rights, most of the Constitution and the legal system. So I usually do jury duty with a light heart. (The fact that I'm a freelance writer and don't have much of a schedule to disrupt makes it easier, of course.) This time was a bit of an exception. For once I actually did have appointments that would be hard to reschedule and when I was faced with the prospect of a felony trial that promised to last at least three weeks, I was appalled. Fortunately, that bullet whizzed by my head and I am now back at my desk writing this entry to the blog.

I should have run out and bought a lottery ticket.

Back to business.

Film Forum (link to the right) opens an interesting recent German film later in February. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, by Marc Rothemund, is at least the third German feature film to retell the story of Scholl and her…

I promise to keep up. . .

I have promised myself -- and you -- that I wouldn't let this go the way of my old website, with months between updates and, eventually, silence. Maintaining a website is a lot more work than keeping up with a blog, so hopefully this is one promise I will keep.

On the other hand, being a full-time freelance writer makes its own demands and the bank that holds the mortgage on our apartment is even less forgiving than people who read a blog. (Hmm, I wonder if the bankers are reading this blog . . . naaah.) And Walter and Stella, our cats, insist on being fed regularly. So when an editor at the Jewish Journal of LA asks for a story on an art exhibit, I gladly agree, even though the time might be as well spent watching a film for the benefit of you lovely people. And when the lovely and wise Margo, my better half (or as the late Earl Wilson used to call his spouse, the b.w., i.e., beautiful wife), says "Let's watch a crime show on BBC America, I need to see lots of people …
This blog takes its name from the column (and later two books of those columns) that the late Serge Daney wrote for Liberation in the early 1980s. Until his tragic death from AIDS, Daney was one of those rare film critics who could hold simultaneously in his mind the aesthetic, political and industrial importance of a film or filmmaker, and could draw on that complicated set of cognitive grids to put the film in its context. (Plus he dabbled in sportswriting, so he and I combine an unusual set of interests.)
Who am I? As a film critic, I have been published in numerous places -- the New York Times, Newsday and Jewish Week (NYC) most prominently. The work that will be most familiar to readers, however, isn't really signed by me at all; for six years I was senior contributing editor of the Blockbuster Entertainment Guide to Movies and Videos. In that capacity I reviewed (literally) several thousand films and, once the book was published and being annually updated, well over…

Who I am and what this is about

Sometime in March I will be marking the completion of 35 years as a published film critic. It seemed like a good time to start a blog. Inevitably, that blog would be mainly (but not exclusively) about film. And this, apparently, is it.

In recent years, I have published mainly on Jewish film, music and religion. My most recent book, Essential Judaism and its follow-up, Essential Torah (which will be published this fall by Schocken Books), are lengthy studies of Jewish practice and thought from the point of view of a serious lay person, and my principal outlet as critic is Jewish Week, the largest-circulation Jewish newspaper in North America. So much of my film writing has been confined to Jewish-themed films, a focus that will be redoubled in my next book, Wounded Images: American Film and the Holocaust. Needless to say, I see a lot more movies than that. And I have intended for some time now to find an outlet for my writing on those other films. I do a quarterly column for INSIDE Maga…