Friday, September 28, 2007

Bath House Blues and French Racism

This post is a movie review Jewfer (2 Jewish items in one post..I coined this term about 10 minutes ago). Let me explain the choices. I saw Eastern Promises last night which was directed by Canadian Jew David Cronenberg and since one of the stars of the film is French actor Vincent Cassel (married to smoking hot Monica Bellucci - look her up) who is not Jewish but wait for it..played a Jew in my 2nd borrowed review La Haine (The Hate). This film came out several years ago and is a very unique view into the multicultural ghettos of France and how youths growing up a 2nd class citizens vent their social economic frustrations. Kind of like a French Outsiders.

As you may have noticed from past postings I don't really do my own movie reviews. It is not that I can't or won't but more so that like all art forms it is subjective and when some of my favorite movies on garnered (Side not in my game back to Jew where I can take anything within 6 degrees back to something Jewish, garnered reminds me of Jennifer Garner who was in Alias with half-Jew Micheal Vartan who was born in France just like Cassel, get it? I digress..) 1.5 stars out of 4 like 3 O'Clock Hight from so called critics and others that I thought just sucked like The Kung Fu Hustle get 4 stars.
When I put someone else's review on my blog it is because I find the way they wrote the review interesting. 'Nuff said

From NY Times.com
September 16, 2007
Exploring Humanity, Violence and All
By KATRINA ONSTAD
TORONTO
IT is the kind of scene that comes to stand for the movie itself, like Travis Bickle’s balletic slaughter in “Taxi Driver” or the rape sequence serenade in “A Clockwork Orange.”
Late in “Eastern Promises,” directed by David Cronenberg and in theaters now, is a four-minute, two-on-one gangster fight set in a Russian bathhouse in London. The tile quickly becomes slick with blood, curved carpet knives cleave flesh from bone, and yet, perversely, what’s somehow more shocking is that the man under attack by two sweaty thugs in leather jackets is naked. That nakedness happens to belong to Viggo Mortensen, a k a Aragorn, the pleasingly least-hobbitish star of the “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. (Note from the Blog Master BPositive when my wife saw him naked she said "I wonder why he would do this kind of a nude scene" then before she finished that thought she said "With a body like that he can do whatever he wants" I hit the gym extra hard this morning.)
This isn’t glancing art-house nudity, but a kind of nakedness rarely seen in films not Borat.” Mr. Cronenberg delivers the human body in all its ugliness and glory, part and parcel of a violence mediated by nothing, not even clothing.
“I knew I wasn’t going to do ‘Bourne Ultimatum’-type quick-cutting where you don’t really see anything,” said the 64-year-old Mr. Cronenberg, sitting in a grimy diner in the otherwise tony neighborhood of Toronto where he lives. (He chose the location.) He spoke in a gentle voice and wore his usual uniform of black T-shirt and jeans, a vertical, exclamation mark of grey hair his most aggressive attribute.
“I used relatively wide lenses to see a lot of the bathhouse. I wanted to see full bodies, and it couldn’t be impressionistic, but linear. So when I said to Viggo, ‘O.K., what are we going to do with the towel?’ He said: ‘Well, I’m going to have to do it naked. It’s obvious.’ And that was the end of the conversation.”
Theirs is a trust forged a film ago on the set of the 2005 film “A History of Violence,” in which Mr. Mortensen played an average American dad, a man who turns out to be something more baleful. “Eastern Promises” feels like a relocated companion piece to that movie, another film about colliding tribes and shifting identities.
Despite Mr. Cronenberg’s demurrals these two films, and “Spider” (2002), seem to show a director turning away from the special-effects-driven fantasies of his earlier work, from “The Fly” (a love story about a man-fly mutation) and “Crash” (a group of sexed-up car crash victims) toward a starker, less amusing brand of human violence. “In his last two films he shows the consequences of the violence, where normally the camera looks away and absolves us of our guilt,” said Steven Knight, the screenwriter of “Eastern Promises.” “There’s no glorification.”
“Eastern Promises,” a $25 million production by Focus Features, started as an original script about Eastern European human trafficking for BBC television. Mr. Knight earned an Oscar nomination in 2004 for “Dirty Pretty Things,” a Stephen Frears film about a handful of London’s illegal immigrants and their tumble into the black-market organ trade.
“Eastern Promises” too pulls back the scrim on invisible Londoners. A midwife, played by Naomi Watts, delivers the baby of a young Russian woman who is abandoned, beaten and fatally hemorrhaging, in her emergency room. The midwife attempts to track down the baby’s father and runs afoul of Russian gangsters called the vory v zakone, a criminal order that gained strength in Stalinist prison camps and now trades in goods and women. Their leader is a part-time restaurateur and full-time godfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl) whose closeted son (Vincent Cassel) is quietly being replaced in the organization by a foot soldier named Nikolai (Mr. Mortensen). Swaggering, yet hinting of unplumbed depths, Nikolai saws apart a frozen corpse with the indifference of a rock star signing an autograph, one hip cocked. But these are not merely Corleones in Ushanka hats. Instead Mr. Cronenberg casts his eye at the uneasy international mosaic of modern urban life.
“When you have a culture that’s embedded in another, there’s a constant tension between the two,” Mr. Cronenberg said. “In the U.S. the melting pot was supposed to mean you come and you absorb American values. But in Canada and England the idea of multiculturalism was something else. At its worst it’s you come and you live there, but you live in a little ghetto of your own culture that you brought with you. I suppose that’s happening in the States with the Spanish language. Can multiculturalism really work? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting study.”
Mr. Cronenberg was born and raised in an area of Toronto that was once Jewish, but in his childhood the Jews moved north, and Italians moved in. He remembers hearing Dean Martin through the walls and learning about Fellini from an Italian-Canadian boy. “That’s the good part of multiculturalism,” he said. “That’s the dream of it. The bad parts are the animosities brought from other countries.”
He offers a rather chilling example: While “Eastern Promises” was shooting last year in London, the Russian dissident spy Alexander Litvinenko was fatally poisoned. In Hyde Park, about a half block from where Mr. Cronenberg and much of his team were staying, traces of radioactive polonium were found in a building owned by the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, one of the accused in Mr. Litvinenko’s murder.
On a cellphone in New York, Mr. Mortensen described traveling in Russia for research, relishing the sensation of being invisible for two weeks. “In Russia I could communicate awkwardly, but mostly I chose not to communicate,” Mr. Mortensen recalled. “My goal was to make sure my character had a particular class, an ethnic and geographical background. I worked really hard on translating the slang and getting the body language right.”
He decided that his character had emigrated to London from the Ural mountain region, on the edge of the Siberian plain. Mr. Mortensen also brought Mr. Cronenberg a book on Russian criminal tattoos and showed him a film by the artist Alix Lambert, “The Mark of Cain,” a 2000 documentary in which Ms. Lambert interviews Russian prisoners about their tattoos.
In a pivotal scene Mr. Mortensen — naked again — stands before a group of senior members of the vory v zakone. As Nikolai renounces his birth family for this new one, his tattooed body maps his life: his crimes, his time behind bars, even his sexual history. “The tattoos became the main metaphor because it’s the body in transformation done in a realistic way as opposed to a sci-fi or a fantasy way,” Mr. Cronenberg said.
Mr. Cronenberg’s most famous films are marked by shocking instances of the body made fantastic: the stomach turned VCR in Videodrome,” or the pulsating, vaguely gynecological video game console in eXistenZ.” But in 2002 along came “Spider,” a quiet horror film whose setting was, essentially, the mind of a man, a former mental patient played by Ralph Fiennes. The horror in that film came mostly from Spider’s internal visions of violent acts. Along with “A History of Violence” Mr. Cronenberg has made three features in a row where the audience is shocked not just by another clever abstraction from his active imagination, but by something wholly concrete, and scarier for it.
“It’s so difficult to get a movie made that unless you’re Spielberg you can’t really calculate anything,” Mr. Cronenberg said. “ ‘Eastern Promises’ happened because the script was good, and Viggo has what I thought were very Russian cheekbones, and he was available. And the money came together. I could just as easily have made a musical comedy if those pieces had fallen in place.
“I’ve been through this before with ‘The Dead Zone,’ where people were saying, ‘He’s going to a more naturalistic kind of less violent thing,’ and then I did ‘The Fly,’ which is an out and out horror sci-fi, very gory. To me that was just natural.”
He added: “And I myself don’t know why. It’s only after the fact that I might say, ‘Yeah, I guess at that point I was tired of doing effects, or whatever.’ The one thing that I don’t want to do is bore myself. Really it’s all the same philosophical enterprise. I’m exploring what it is to be a human being from my perspective and my context and my life.”
Although “Eastern Promises” seems to reverberate with carnage, there are only three violent scenes in the film, all knives and fists and no guns. But if the film feels more vicious, it may be because the violence is entirely without poetry.
“Look at ‘The Departed,’ that body count is much higher,” Mr. Cronenberg said. “But killing someone with a knife is a very intimate thing, and that’s good. A certain understanding of your own morality comes out of your reactions to the movie. If you find the fight in the bath scene very erotic, and that disturbs you, that’s great. For me to filter it for you, to edit it so you don’t have to look at it, means that you don’t have to confront your own reaction. Now what you do with that reaction is your own business, but I’m probably gleeful behind the scenes saying: ‘See, you didn’t know that you could react that way. Know thyself.’ ”
La Haine
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Directed by
Mathieu Kassovitz
Written by
Mathieu Kassovitz
Starring
Vincent Cassel,Hubert Koundé,Saïd Taghmaoui
Music by
Assassin
Distributed by
Canal+
Release date(s)
May 31, 1995
Running time
96 min. Language French

IMDb profile
La Haine ("Hate") is a French black-and-white film directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, released in 1995. It is a dark urban thriller which has been called France's answer to Do the Right Thing. It explores themes of racism, violence and disaffected youth in modern suburban Paris. A riot has broken out in a suburban ghetto, and been quelled by the police. The film depicts 24 hours in the lives of three teenage friends in that suburb.

Plot and characters
Vinz (Vincent Cassel), who is Jewish, is filled with rage. He sees himself as a thug ready to win respect or take it by killing a cop, modeled after Robert DeNiro's "Travis Bickle" from the American film Taxi Driver. Hubert (Hubert Koundé) is a black boxer, who quietly contemplates the ghetto and the hate he sees around him. Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui), an Arab, is the trio's constantly-talking voice but not necessarily of reason; Said tries to find middle ground between his two friends' response to life and the ghetto. A friend of theirs, called Abdel Ichaha, who has been beaten up in police custody, lies in a coma. Vinz finds a policeman's gun, lost in the riots that preface the film, and vows that if their friend dies from his injuries, he will use it to kill a policeman.
This sets off a series of events that take the three down a path of destruction. Travelling into central Paris from the suburbs they live in, the three friends find themselves viewed as social outsiders in the middle-class surroundings of the French capital, and having missed the last train back, they are effectively locked out in the city. Trying, unsuccessfully, to return to their home, they are obliged to sleep in a shopping center. In the morning, they learn that their friend has died in the hospital. For a moment it seems as if Vinz will go through with his boast when they are confronted by a group of skinheads, but when actually faced with the frightening power and possibility of killing one of the "skins," Vinz makes himself ill and cannot go through with it. As day breaks again and they are returning to their homes, Vinz gives Hubert the gun as a conciliatory gesture.
Hubert walks away from Vinz and Saïd, but is drawn back to them shortly afterwards when he hears a car pull up. When he sees that it's a cop car, he walks quickly towards them. Vinz is harassed by the same racist police officer he met in the preface; and the cop's careless grip on his gun leads him accidentally to shoot Vinz in the head. Hubert pulls his gun on the cop. In the final scene, Hubert points the gun at the cop, and the cop points his gun to Hubert. The end result is ambiguous, and the camera cuts back to Saïd who closes his eyes, then two gunblasts are heard as the screen goes black.

Impact of the film
Director Mathieu Kassovitz delivers a powerfully emotional comment on the state of French society and the problems caused by urban deprivation and its underlying causes La Haine was praised for strong performances by all three main actors, especially Cassel, whose portrayal of Vinz launched him to stardom.
La Haine was shot in colour but it was transferred to black and white during editing. A colour version was made for re-release in case the black and white version failed at the box office. However, the film was a huge commercial success and provoked much debate in France over its unflinching presentation of urban and police violence. The then-prime minister Alain Juppé arranged a special screening and ordered his entire cabinet to watch the film; police guards at the screening at Cannes turned their backs on the director, cast and crew as they walked past in protest of its portrayal of police brutality. Kassovitz won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996 and the movie was nominated for the Palme d'Or; the film also picked up the César Award for Best Picture.
The British band Asian Dub Foundation recorded a track called La Haine as a tribute to the film.
It is said that Kassovitz based the script on the actual death of 22-year-old French Arab Malik Oussekine, who was beaten to death by police following a 1986 university demonstration. However, in interviews Kassovitz has said that the idea came to him after a young Zairian, Makomé Bowole, was shot and killed at point blank range while in police custody and handcuffed to a radiator - the officer was reported to have been angered by Makomé's words, and had been threatening him when the gun went off accidentally.
The film prompted something of a backlash from French audiences, who questioned its authenticity. The director was accused of being an outsider who was merely fascinated by the urban culture represented.
This film has been put on the syllabi for French studies for specific universities, as well as A-level Film Studies in the UK as a part of study of foreign films.
The film is also considered to be a classic. It holds a place on the Internet Movie Database's Top 250 films list, and is one of the rare films to have scored a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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