CINÉSALON: WATER LILIES (NAISSANCE DES PIEUVRES) (Céline Sciamma, 2007)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, September 27, $14, 4:00 & 7:30
Series continues Tuesdays through October 25
This past spring, the FIAF CinéSalon series “EDM Anthems: French Touch on Film” concluded with Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, an award-winning coming-of-age drama about a sixteen-year-old girl who is trying to find a workable path to a worthwhile adulthood but is continually thwarted by socioeconomic and cultural issues. The 2014 film stars Karidja Touré, who was nominated for a César for Most Promising Actress. On September 27, Sciamma’s first feature, Water Lilies, another poignant and provocative coming-of-age drama, will be shown in the FIAF CinéSalon series “Beyond the Ingénue.” The 2007 film stars Adèle Haenel and Pauline Acquart, both of whom earned nominations as Most Promising Actress, along with a Best Debut nod for Sciamma. Mousy Marie (Acquart) wants to become part of her school’s synchronized swimming team, so she cozies up to squad captain Floriane (Haenel), who has a reputation as a rather loose girl. Marie’s best friend, Anne (Louise Blachère), dreams of having her first kiss with the hunky François (Warren Jacquin), a swimmer who is dating Floriane. Marie is caught in the middle, especially as she develops feelings of her own for Floriane.
The French title of Water Lilies is Naissance des Pieuvres, which translates as Birth of the Octopuses, referencing the eight interweaving arms of the four main characters as well as the synchronized swimming team itself. The film is a bold and honest look at young love, teen angst, and body image. While Floriane flaunts her alluring figure, Marie is small and flat-chested, and Anne is big-boned and fleshy, with large breasts that she desperately wants François to see. Writer-director Sciamma creates uniquely believable and intimately touching scenes that reveal the different problems the protagonists face as regular teenagers who might not quite be ready for what they are getting themselves involved in. As with Girlhood and Sciamma’s other full-length feature, 2011’s Tomboy, the cinematography, which goes from underwater shots to long, shadowy hallways, is by Crystel Fournier, with music by Para One, aka electronica maestro Jean-Baptiste de Laubier. Winner of the Louis Delluc Prize for Best First Film, Water Lilies is screening September 27 at 4:00 and 7:30; the later show will be introduced by Columbia French literature professor Elisabeth Ladenson. “Beyond the Ingénue” continues Tuesday nights through October 25 with such other films as Éric Rohmer’s Pauline at the Beach, Patricia Mazuy’s The King’s Daughters, and Jacques Rozier’s Adieu Philippine.
MAPS TO THE STARS (David Cronenberg, 2014)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Wednesday, September 28, 4:30 & 9:30
Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg and American novelist and screenwriter Bruce Wagner, a match made in Hollywood Babylon, paint a savage portrait of celebrity culture in the absolutely incendiary and off-the-charts satire Maps to the Stars. The darkly funny comic drama centers on Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who returns to Hollywood after having been put away for a long time for a dangerous deed, her face and body marked by burns. Befriending limo driver Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson), who is an aspiring actor and writer, Agatha gets a job working for disgruntled actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who is desperate to star in the remake of Stolen Moments, playing the role that made her mother, Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon), famous, but Havana fears that according to Hollywood she is much too old. Havana undergoes regular intense physical and psychological therapy to deal with her mommy issues with television healer Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), Agatha’s father, who has banished his daughter from ever contacting the family again. Meanwhile, Agatha’s younger brother, thirteen-year-old child star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), is a Bieberesque character fresh out of rehab who is negotiating the sequel to his massive hit, Bad Babysitter, with his very serious stage mom, Cristina (Olivia Williams). Slowly but surely, everyone’s lives intersect in a riot of fame and misfortune, drugs and guns, ghosts and incest.
Cronenberg, who has made such previous cult favorites as Scanners, The Fly, Naked Lunch, and A History of Violence, and the L.A.-based Wagner, author of such stinging novels as I’ll Let You Go, Still Holding, The Empty Chair, and I’m Losing You, which he also turned into a film, leave nothing and no one unscathed in this thoroughly brutal depiction of Hollywood as a haunted La La Land of dreams and nightmares, both literally and figuratively. Rising star Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, In Treatment, Jane Eyre) is superb as Agatha, her inner and outer scars revealing more and more of themselves as she reinserts herself into the life of her crazy family, with Cusack channeling a bit of Nicolas Cage as the overprotective patriarch, a self-help guru who could use a little help himself. Moore was named Best Actress at Cannes for her harrowing portrayal of an actress teetering on the edge of reality. Shooting for the first time ever in the United States, Cronenberg captures the sights and smells of Los Angeles and its environs; most of the film was shot in Canada, however, but Cronenberg kept Wagner, a former Hollywood limo driver himself, close by, trying to attain as much authenticity as possible. Twilight hunk Pattinson, who spent all of Cronenberg’s previous movie, Cosmopolis, in the back of a limo, gets in the driver’s seat here, playing an alternate, reimagined version of Wagner. The severely screwed-up Weiss family serves as a microcosm for Hollywood’s own severely screwed-up dysfunction, as Cronenberg melds the ridiculous with the sublime, the tragic with the comic, the bizarre with the, well, more bizarre, creating a modern-day fairy-tale mashup of Shakespeare and Williams, Sunset Boulevard and Less than Zero, a caustic, cautionary tale of the price you pay for getting what you wish for. Both Maps to the Stars and Cosmopolis are being shown September 28 in the one-day BAMcinématek presentation “Pattinson x Cronenberg,” highlighting the unexpected pairing of the actor and director.
Multiple community gardens on the Lower East Side
Saturday, September 24, and Sunday, September 25, free
More than fifty community gardens on the Lower East Side are participating in the fifth annual LUNGS (Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens) Harvest Festival, a weekend of free special events, including music, dance, film screenings, walking tours, workshops, art, poetry, karaoke, meditation, and more. Below are only some of the recommended events for Saturday and Sunday; there are also activities at the M’Finda Kalunga Garden, Fireman’s Garden, Liz Christy Garden, Secret Garden, El Sol Brillante, Doroty Strelsin Suffolk St. Garden, East Side Outside Garden, Umbrella House Rooftop Garden, Creative Little Garden, Lower East Side People Care Garden, Kenkeleba House Garden, Children’s Magical Garden, Green Oasis, Elizabeth St. Garden, Toyota Children’s Garden, Sam & Sadie Koenig Garden, and many others. The festival is a great way to become familiar with and support these small gems that can be found all over the Lower East Side.
Saturday, September 24
Permaculture tour with Ross Martin and Marga Snyder, La Plaza Cultural, Ave. C at Ninth St., 12 noon
Live music with Elizabeth Ruf, Ben Cauley, Avon Faire, Tammy Faye Starlight, Witch Camp with Amber Martin & Nath-Ann Carrera, Salley May, and Val Kinzler, DeColores Garden, East Eighth St. between Aves. B & C, 1:00 – 5:00
Guided meditation, with Matthew Caban and Jaquay Saintil, the Lower East Side People Care Garden, Rutgers St. between Henry and Madison Sts., 2:00
Collaborative poetry workshop with Rhoma Mostel, La Guardia Corner Gardens, Bleecker & Houston Sts., 3:00
“The Bride” performance piece by Theresa Byrnes, La Plaza Cultural, Ave. C at Ninth St., 4:00
Dance performance with Heidi Henderson and students from Connecticut College, Kizuna Dance, John Gutierrez, Sheep Meadow Dance Theater, Rina Espiritu, Lauren Kravitz, and Shantel Prado, Cornfield Dance, Rod Rodgers Teen Dancers, El Jardín del Paraíso, Fourth St. between Aves. C & D, 4:00
Dimensions of Ecology panel discussion, with Stuart Losee, Felicia Young, Anna Fitzgerald, and Chloe Rosetti, La Plaza Cultural, Ave. C at Ninth St., 5:00
Sunday, September 25
Pysanky workshop: How to Make Ukrainian Easter Eggs, with Anna Sawaryn, 6B Garden, Ave. B at Sixth St., 11:00 am – 2:00 pm
“Garbagia Island” Creatures Performance and Fashion Show, El Jardín del Paraíso, Fourth St. between Aves. C & D, 1:00
Vangeline Theater’s “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee,” contemporary Butoh dance, El Jardín del Paraíso, Fourth St. between Aves. C & D, 2:00
“Garden to Table Nutrition,” with Vanessa Berenstein, La Guardia Corner Gardens, Bleecker & Houston Sts., 3:00
Fountain installation: “Jeux d’Eaux” by Nicholas Vargelis, Le Petit Versailles, Second St. between Aves. B & C, 4:00
Laughter Yoga, with Sara Jones, La Guardia Corner Gardens, Bleecker & Houston Sts., 5:00
Photography show: George Hirose’s “Midnight in the Garden,” Campos Garden, Twelfth St. between Aves. B & C, 6:30
Dance party with Ray Santiago Band, Campos Garden, Twelfth St. between Aves. B & C, 7:30-9:30
THE RUINS OF LIFTA: WHERE THE HOLOCAUST AND NAKBA MEET (Menachem Daum & Oren Rudavsky, 2016)
Lincoln Plaza Cinema
1886 Broadway at 63rd St.
Opens Friday, September 23
Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky’s The Ruins of Lifta: Where the Holocaust and Nakba Meet is built on a faulty premise, but the film still manages to be a rather provocative and intriguing documentary. In their previous collaboration, Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance after the Holocaust, Rudavsky and Daum examined Daum’s relationship with his parents, Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust and taught Daum to distrust all non-Jews. Their latest film takes viewers to Lifta, the historic but now crumbling Palestinian village at the western entrance to Jerusalem that was abandoned during the 1948 war and has never been resettled by Palestinians or taken over by Israelis. A recent plan calls for it to be razed in order to make way for luxury villas. “Its ruins bear witness to the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Daum, an Orthodox Jew, says about the village. “The story told by Lifta’s ruins challenges the narrative that I, the son of Holocaust survivors, believed in for most of my life.” Daum meets with members of the Coalition to Save Lifta, a small group of Jews and Palestinians, including cofounder Daphna Golan, Ilan Shatyer, and Yacoub Odeh. Daum also speaks with historians Benny Morris and Hillel Cohen and Palestinian lawyer Sami Arshid, who offer different perspectives on the conflict.
The mistake Daum makes is drawing parallels between Odeh, who was expelled along with the rest of the Palestinians in 1948, and Holocaust survivor Dasha Rittenberg, creating a false equivalency between the Nazis’ Final Solution that murdered six million Jews and the Nakba, the exile of the Palestinians. “The Holocaust and Nakba narratives are not exclusive. I do not have to choose between them,” Daum says as he attempts to bring the outspoken and angry Odeh and the calmer, soft-spoken Rittenberg together, as if their rapprochement might signal the possibility of a larger peace between the Jews and the Palestinians. But it is clear early on that Odeh is never going to be satisfied, which serves as a microcosm of any potential agreements about land and self-rule in Jerusalem. In his previous film, Colliding Dreams, made with Joseph Dorman, Rudavsky (A Life Apart: Hasidism in America) examined Zionism and Palestine’s history, specifically how Palestine did not belong to the British to give to the Jews when other people were already living there. In his director’s statement, Rudavsky explains, “We all need to throw Hail Mary passes on the subject of peace in Israel and this is our Hail Mary pass. If we don’t try — each and every one of us — to understand each other — then the future may truly be hopeless.” Although it might be a misguided pass — and one named after a Catholic prayer — in a game that seems to never end, The Ruins of Lifta still raises some important questions and is likely, at numerous moments, to stoke viewers’ ire.
THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT (Rob Cannan & Ross Adam, 2016)
Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway at 63rd St., 212-757-2280
Landmark Sunshine Cinema, 143 East Houston St. between First & Second Aves., 212-330-8182
Opens Friday, September 23
In 1978, desperate to become an important international film producer, Kim Jong-il, son of North Korean supreme leader Kim Il-sung, kidnapped popular South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her ex-husband, director Shin Sang-ok. For the next several years, they made seventeen pictures together in totalitarian North Korea. Kim gave them complete artistic freedom while also manipulating them, trying to inject the films with propaganda that was favorable to North Korea while denigrating South Korea. “Let’s show the West what we are capable of,” Kim explains to Shin. This incredible story is told in the superb and exciting documentary The Lovers and the Despot, which plays out like a gripping thriller in the style of Argo, and it’s all true — although questions still abound all these years later. Together, Choi and Shin had made such award-winning films as A Flower in Hell, The Houseguest and My Mother, and Red Scarf. After their abduction, they experienced a kind of love-hate relationship with Kim, who became supreme leader in 1994. “I thought they were going to kill me,” Choi, now eighty-nine, says in the film. But she also notes, “It was one of the happiest times of my life.” The main controversy has always centered around whether Shin and Choi willingly became part of Kim’s propaganda machine or were merely just trying to stay alive, making the movies even as they plotted escape attempts. Shin and Choi secretly tape recorded hours of conversations between the two men, who appear to develop a real friendship. “In a way, we really hit it off. When he meets me, he leaves his guards outside. He completely adores me. There’s no way I can betray him,” Shin says on the tapes. But later he adds, “Whatever it takes I have to get out of here.”
In their first feature-length collaboration, directors Rob Cannan (Three Miles North of Molkom) and Ross Adam play amazing segments from the utterly fascinating tapes, which, as Shin notes, “ultimately . . . will be the only evidence.” They also speak with classified U.S. intelligence officer Michael Yi, U.S. State Department official David Straub, South Korean writer-director Lee Jang-ho, film critic Pierre Rissient, former Kim Jong-il court poet Jang Jin-sung, and Choi and Shin’s children, offering numerous perspectives of this remarkable tale. The film also features clips from such Shin projects as Homeless Wanderer and Runaway, archival home movies and photographs, and footage of North Korean propaganda films and carefully choreographed public gatherings. Composer Nathan Halpern, who has scored such other documentaries as Rich Hill, Hooligan Sparrow, and The Witness, keeps the mood tense and unnerving as Choi and Shin’s fate plays out. The Lovers and the Despot is an utterly captivating film about the love of movies and the immense power they hold over us, as well as a chilling look inside the mind of a brutal dictator.
SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY (Taggart Siegel & Jon Betz, 2016)
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, September 23
“We’re fooling with Mother Nature,” Montana organic wheat farmer and U.S. senator Jon Tester says in Seed: The Untold Story, a crunchy activist documentary opening September 23 at Cinema Village. Produced, directed, and edited by Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel, the film focuses on how ninety-four percent of vegetable seed varieties have disappeared over the last hundred years and how farming communities around the world are now trying to save and protect seeds while battling the government and such chemical companies as Monsanto. The facts are staggering; the number of varieties of cabbage has gone from 544 to 28, beets 288 to 17, cauliflower 158 to 9, artichokes 34 to 2, and asparagus 46 to 1. Betz and Siegel, who previously collaborated on Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?, travel from India, Mexico, and Namibia to Hawaii, New Mexico, and Washington, DC, among other places, meeting with Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and organic farmers who talk about the importance of the relationship between people and the land and how seeds, and corn in particular, are an intrinsic part of so many cultures. “Seeds are so crafty. There is a power . . . to me it’s magic. It’s a life force so strong,” anthropologist Jane Goodall says. “Corn ignited the sacred connection we have with seeds,” Mohawk Rowen White of Sierra Seeds explains. Bill McDorman of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance and Native Seeds/SEARCH compares a seed bank to Fort Knox, Will Bonsall of the Scatterseed Project says that bean and seed collections are like jewelry stores, while environmental lawyer and author Claire Hope Cummings proclaims, “Hybrid corn was the atom bomb of agriculture.” Also discussing the need for biodiversity and respect for nature’s bounty are Hopi Nation leader Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan, Center for Food Safety lawyers Andrew Kimball and George Kimbrell, Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, Kauai councilman Gary Hooser, an emotional Emigdio Ballon of Tesuque Pueblo, and Native Hawaiian and teacher Malia Chun, who calls what the chemical companies are doing “a disgrace to our culture.”
But as bleak as things might look — climate change continues while Monsanto keeps patenting seeds, suing so they don’t have to reveal what pesticides they use in experimental farming, and fighting legislation requiring labeling of genetically modified food products — the battle is far from over. “We will refuse to obey laws that force us to accept GMOs and patents,” says the ever-hopeful and brightly positive physicist, activist, and author Dr. Vandana Shiva, adding, “We need to protect the diversity, integrity, and freedom of life, give seed its own freedom so that we as humans can have our freedom.” The film is beautifully photographed by Siegel, with gorgeous shots of nature in almost every frame, aside from those that feature, um, corny animation. And Betz and Siegel make no bones about their message; this is a film that is meant to stir viewers to action, and it’s hard not to want to do something to get involved after watching it. Betz and Siegel will be at Cinema Village for Q&As following the 5:10 (with Stephen Ritz of Green Bronx Machine), 7:10, and 9:20 screenings on September 23 and 24; other special guests include Alex Beauchamp of Food and Water Watch on September 26 at 7:10, Clara Parks of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank and Heather Liljengren of the Greenbelt Native Plant Center on September 27 at 7:10, and Carol Durst-Wertheim of the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance on September 29 at 7:10.