MIDNIGHT COWBOY (John Schlesinger, 1969)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight star as the worst hustlers ever in John Schlesinger’s masterful Midnight Cowboy, screening November 21-28 in a new 4K restoration at Metrograph in advance of the film’s fiftieth anniversary. The only X-rated film to win a Best Picture Oscar, Midnight Cowboy follows the exploits of Joe Buck, a friendly sort of chap who leaves his small Texas town, determined to make it as a male prostitute in Manhattan. Wearing his cowboy gear and clutching his beloved transistor radio, he trolls the streets with little success. Things take a turn when he meets up with Enrico Salvatore “Ratso” Rizzo (Hoffman), an ill, hobbled con man living in a condemned building. The two loners soon develop an unusual relationship as Buck is haunted by nightmares, shown in black-and-white, about his childhood and a tragic event that happened to him and his girlfriend, Crazy Annie (Jennifer Salt), while Rizzo dreams of a beautiful life, depicted in bright color, without sickness or limps on the beach in Miami. Adapted by Waldo Salt (Serpico, The Day of the Locust) from the novel by James Leo Herlihy, Midnight Cowboy is essentially a string of fascinating and revealing set pieces in which Buck encounters unusual characters as he tries desperately to succeed in the big city; along the way he beds an older, wealthy Park Ave. matron (Sylvia Miles), is asked to get down on his knees by a Bible thumper (John McGiver), gets propositioned in a movie theater by a nerdy college student (Bob Balaban), has a disagreement with a confused older man (Barnard Hughes), and attends a Warholian party (thrown by Viva and Gastone Rosilli and featuring Ultra Violet, Paul Jabara, International Velvet, Taylor Mead, and Paul Morrissey) where he hooks up with an adventurous socialite (Brenda Vaccaro).
Photographed by first-time cinematographer Adam Holender (The Panic in Needle Park, Blue in the Face), the film captures the seedy, lurid environment that was Times Square in the late 1960s; when Buck looks out his hotel window, he sees the flashing neon, with a sign for Mutual of New York front and center, the letters “MONY” bouncing across his face with promise. The film, which was nominated for seven Oscars and won three (Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director), is anchored by Harry Nilsson’s Grammy-winning version of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” along with John Barry’s memorable theme. Iconic shots are littered throughout, along with such classic lines as “I’m walkin’ here!,” that can be seen and heard better than ever in this restoration, which was approved by Holender.
MONROVIA, INDIANA (Frederick Wiseman, 2018)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Wednesday, November 21, 7:00
Series runs through January 8
Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman shows a compelling slice of Middle American life in his forty-third film, Monrovia, Indiana, screening November 21 at 7:00 in MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders,” consisting of works the museum believes will last the test of time. Wiseman, who will turn eighty-nine on New Year’s Day, directed, edited, produced, and did the sound for the 143-minute documentary, gorgeously photographed by John Davey. The camera makes its way around the small town, showing zoning discussions at a town council meeting, an award given out by the Freemasons to one of its members, a trio of old men in a café comparing maladies, a high school teacher talking about the importance of sports, people getting their hair cut, women in an exercise class, employees at a pizza place making a special item, and pigs being rounded up into a truck. Wiseman goes to the local market, a farm equipment auction, the church, a fair, a veterinary office, the high school gym, and a gun shop, all shot with natural sound and light. In between are beautiful, short scenes of streets, farms, and buildings, with no voice-over narration or informational text. However, even in this age of Trump, with an ever-growing disparity between the two coasts and the rust and Bible belts, politics never enters the film, which instead focuses on genuine humanity and day-to-day existence.
“I thought a film about a small farming community in the Midwest would be a good addition to the series I have been doing on contemporary American life,” the Boston-born Wiseman, whose previous films include Titicut Follies, High School, Central Park, Ex Libris — The New York Public Library, and Boxing Gym, explains in his director’s statement. “Monrovia, Indiana, appealed to me because of its size (1,063 residents), location (I have never shot a film in the rural Midwest), and the shared cultural and religious interests within the community. During the nine weeks of filming, the residents of Monrovia were helpful, friendly, and welcoming and gave me access to all aspects of daily life. Life in big American cities on the East and West Coasts is regularly reported on and I was interested in learning more about life in small-town America and sharing my view.” And that’s exactly what the film, which is also showing at Film Forum through November 22, is, a helpful, friendly, and welcoming document of small-town America in the twenty-first century. “The Contenders” continues through January 8 with such other 2018 films as Spike Lee’s BlacKKKLansman (followed by a discussion with Lee), Paul Dano’s Wildlife (followed by a discussion with Dano, cowriter Zoe Kazan, and actors Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal), Paul Schrader’s First Reformed (followed by a discussion with Shrader and Ethan Hawke), and John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place (followed by a discussion with Krasinski).
To celebrate the theatrical release of Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest work, Shoplifters, the Palme d’Or winner that opens November 23, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is presenting six of the master’s earlier tales, concentrating on his exquisite depiction of family life. Running November 19-22, the mini-festival provides a terrific entry into the oeuvre of Kore-eda, a visionary who tells a story like no one else. “Six by Kore-eda” begins with his first fiction film, Maborosi, which followed three documentaries (Lessons from a Calf, However . . . , August without Him). After Yumiko’s husband, Ikuo (Tadanobu Asano), mysteriously commits suicide, she (Makiko Esumi) gets remarried and moves to her new husband’s (Takashi Naitō) small seaside village home with her son (Gohki Kashima), where she begins to put her life back together. This stunning film is marvelously slow-paced, lingering on characters in the distance, down narrow alleys, across gorgeous horizons, with very little camera movement by cinematographer Masao Nakabori. Maborosi, the only one of his films he didn’t write — the screenplay is by Yoshihisa Ogita, based on the novel by Teru Miyamoto — is a stunning debut from one of the leading members of Japan’s fifth generation. It is screening at the Walter Reade Theater on November 19 at 6:30 and November 22 at 9:00
AFTER LIFE (WANDÂFURU RAIFU) (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 1998)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
Monday, November 19, 8:45
Thursday, November 22, 7:00
Kore-eda’s second narrative feature, After Life, is an eminently thoughtful film about two of his recurring themes: death and memory. Every Monday, the deceased arrive at a way station where they have three days to decide on a single memory they can bring with them into heaven. Once chosen, the memory is re-created on film, and the person goes on to the next step of his or her journey, to be replaced by a new batch of souls. The way station is staffed by guides, including Takashi Mochizuki (Arata), Shiori Satonaka (Erika Oda), and Satoru Kawashima (Susumu Terajima), whose job it is to interview the new arrivals and help them select a memory and then bring it to life on-screen. Some want to take with them an idyllic moment from childhood, others a remembrance of a lost love, but a few are either unable to or refuse to come up with one, which challenges the staff. Twenty-one-year-old Yūsuke Iseya declares, “I have no intention of choosing. None,” while seventy-year-old Ichiro Watanabe (Taketoshi Naito) is having difficulty deciding on the exact moment, reevaluating and reflecting on the life he led. As the week continues, the guides look back on their lives as well, sharing intimate details, one of which leads to an emotional finale.
Kore-eda, who previously examined memory loss in the documentary Without Memory and explored a family’s reaction to death in the brilliant Still Walking, interviewed some five hundred people about what memory they would take with them to heaven, and some of those nonprofessional actors are in the final cut of After Life, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. After Life is also very much about the art of filmmaking itself, as each memory is turned into a short movie created on a set and watched in a screening room. In fact, the film was inspired by Kore-eda’s memories of his grandfather’s battle with what would later be identified as Alzheimer’s disease; the director has also cited Ernst Lubitsch’s 1943 comedy, Heaven Can Wait, as an influence, and the Japanese title, Wandâfuru raifu, means “Wonderful Life,” evoking Frank Capra’s holiday classic. But Kore-eda never gets maudlin about life or death in the film, instead painting a memorable portrait of human existence and those simple moments that make it all worthwhile — and will have viewers contemplating which memory they would take with them.
NOBODY KNOWS (DAREMO SHIRANAI) (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2004)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
Tuesday, November 20, 6:00
Thursday, November 22, 4:00
Based on a true story that writer-director Kore-eda read about back in 1988, Nobody Knows is a heartwarming, heartbreaking film about four extraordinary half-siblings who must fend for themselves every time their mother takes off for extended periods of time. Japanese TV and pop star YOU makes her feature-film debut as Keiko, a young woman who has four kids by way of four different men. When she’s home, she shows affection for the children, but the problem is, she’s rarely home. Instead, twelve-year-old Akira (Yagira Yuya) must take care of the shy Kyoko (Kitaura Ayu), who handles the laundry; the troublemaker Shigeru (Kimura Hiei), who can’t follow the rules; and sweet baby Yuki (Shimizu Momoko), who likes chocolates and squeaky shoes. At first, it is charming and uplifting watching how Akira handles the complicated situation — the other kids are not allowed outside because the landlord will evict them if he finds out about them, and Akira even helps teach the family, who do not attend school — but as Keiko disappears for longer periods of time, the children’s lives grow more dire by the day as food and money start running out. Kore-eda, who also edited and produced this powerful picture, has created a moving, involving film that nearly plays like a documentary, avoiding melodramatic clichés and instead wrapping the audience up in the closeted life of four terrific kids whose tragic existence will ultimately break your heart.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (SOSHITE CHICHI NI NARU) (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2013)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
Tuesday, November 20, 8:45
Wednesday, November 21, 1:30
International cinema’s modern master of the family drama turns out another stunner in the Cannes Jury Prize winner Like Father, Like Son. Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) thinks he has the perfect life: a beautiful wife, Midori (Machiko Ono), a successful job as an architect, and a splendid six-year-old son, Keita (Keita Ninomiya). But his well-structured world is turned upside down when the hospital where Keita was born suddenly tells them that Keita is not their biological son, that a mistake was made and a pair of babies were accidentally switched at birth. When Ryota and Midori meet Yudai (Lily Franky) and Yukari Saiki (Maki Yoko), whose infant was switched with theirs, Ryota is horrified to see that the Saikis are a lower-middle-class family who cannot give their children — they have three kids, including Ryusei (Shôgen Hwang), the Nonomiyas’ biological son — the same advantages that Ryota and Midori can. Meanwhile, the two mothers wonder why they were unable to realize that the sons they’ve been raising are not really their own. As the two families get to know each other and prepare to switch boys, Ryota struggles to reevaluate what kind of a father he is, as well as what kind of father he can be.
Kore-eda wrote, directed, and edited Like Father, Like Son, imbuing the complex story with an Ozu-like austerity, examining a heartbreaking, seemingly no-win situation — one of every parent’s most-feared nightmares — with intelligence and grace. Musician and actor Fukuyama gives a powerfully understated performance as Ryota, a work-obsessed architect struggling to keep everything he has built from crumbling all around him. Novelist and actor Franky is excellent as his polar opposite, a man with a very different kind of verve for life. In Like Father, Like Son, Kore-eda, whose own father passed away ten years before and whose daughter was five years old when the film was made, once again explores the relationship between parents and children, this time focusing on the strong bonds created by both love and blood.
I WISH (KISEKI) (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2011)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
Wednesday, November 21, 4:00
Thursday, November 22, 1:30
Kore-eda’s I Wish is an utterly delightful, absolutely charming tale of family and all of the hopes and dreams associated with it. Real-life brothers Koki Maeda and Ohshirô Maeda of the popular MaedaMaeda comedy duo star as siblings Koichi and Ryu, who have been separated as a result of their parents’ divorce. Twelve-year-old Koichi (Koki) lives with his mother (Nene Ohtsuka) and maternal grandparents (Kirin Kiki and Isao Hashizume) in Kagoshima in the shadow of an active volcano that continues to spit ash out all over the town, while the younger Ryu lives with his father (Joe Odagiri), a wannabe rock star, in Fukuoka. When Koichi hears that if a person makes a wish just as the two new high-speed bullet trains pass by each other for the first time the wish will come true, he decides he must do everything in his power to be there, along with Ryu, so they can wish for their family to get back together. Kore-eda once again displays his deft touch at handling complex relationships in I Wish, the Japanese title of which is Kiseki, or Miracle.
Originally intended to be a film about the new Kyushu Shinkansen bullet train, the narrative shifted once Kore-eda auditioned the Maeda brothers, deciding to make them the center of the story, and they shine as two very different siblings, one young and impulsive, the other older and far more serious. Everyone in the film, child and adult, wishes for something more out of life, whether realistic or not. Ryu’s friend Megumi (Kyara Uchida) wants to be an actress; Koichi’s friend Makoto (Seinosuke Nagayoshi) wants to be just like his hero, baseball star Ichiro Suzuki; and the brothers’ grandfather wants to make a subtly sweet, old-fashioned karukan cake that people will appreciate. Much of the dialogue is improvised, including by the children, lending a more realistic feel to the film, although it does get a bit too goofy in some of its later scenes. Written, directed, and edited by Kore-eda, I Wish is a loving, bittersweet celebration of the child in us all.
STILL WALKING (ARUITEMO ARUITEMO) (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2008)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
Wednesday, November 21, 6:30
Thursday, November 22, 9:15
Flawlessly written, directed, and edited by Hirokazu Kore-eda, Still Walking follows a day in the life of the Yokoyama family, which gathers together once a year to remember Junpei, the eldest son who died tragically. The story is told through the eyes of the middle child, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), a forty-year-old painting restorer who has recently married Yukari (Yui Natsukawa), a widow with a young son (Shohei Tanaka). Ryota dreads returning home because his father, Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), and mother, Toshiko (Kirin Kiki), are disappointed in the choices he’s made, both personally and professionally, and never let him escape from Junpei’s ever-widening shadow. Also at the reunion is Ryota’s chatty sister, Chinami (You), who, with her husband and children, is planning on moving in with her parents in order to take care of them in their old age (and save money as well). Over the course of twenty-four hours, the history of the dysfunctional family and the deep emotions hidden just below the surface slowly simmer but never boil, resulting in a gentle, bittersweet narrative that is often very funny and always subtly powerful.
The film is beautifully shot by Yutaka Yamazaki, who keeps the camera static during long interior takes — it moves only once inside the house — using doorways, short halls, and windows to frame scenes with a slightly claustrophobic feel, evoking how trapped the characters are by the world the parents have created. The scenes in which Kyohei walks with his cane ever so slowly up and down the endless outside steps are simple but unforgettable. Influenced by such Japanese directors as Mikio Naruse, Yasujiro Ozu, and Shohei Imamura, Kore-eda was inspired to make the film shortly after the death of his parents; although it is fiction, roughly half of Toshiko’s dialogue is taken directly from his own mother. Still Walking is a special film, a visual and psychological marvel that should not be missed.
LIYANA (Aaron & Amanda Kopp, 2017)
Museum of the Moving Image, Bartos Screening Room
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Saturday, November 17, and Sunday, November 18, $15 ($9 ages three to seventeen), 11:00 am
Liyana is a bittersweet, heart-tugging film about the power of storytelling and the depth of the human mind and heart. In 2003, husband-and-wife filmmakers Aaron and Amanda Kopp visited the rural Likhaya Lemphilo Lensha orphanage in their native country of Swaziland. Most of the children living there lost their parents to violence or the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic. A few years later, they asked South African actress, writer, and activist Gcina Mhlophe to come to the orphanage to work with the kids: Their project is for the kids to make up their own fairy tale. The boys and girls do not talk about princes and princesses, fancy balls and lush palaces. Instead, the group, primarily Phumlani, Nomcebo, Sibusiso, Mkhuleko, and Zweli, develops a tense and thrilling adventure about a young girl named Liyana who takes off with a prized bull to try to rescue her twin brothers who were captured by marauding thieves. “The kids that we are working with, they come from the very dark side of life. They’ve been hungry, they’ve been in so much pain and abused and suffering so early in life,” Mhlophe explains. “They have those images playing over and over and over in their minds. Working with a fictional character allows a child to delve into places that you’ve covered and stored away. So many of these children’s real-life experiences are going to end up on this fictional character.”
As the kids continue describing the tale in impressive depth, the Kopps, who directed, produced, and photographed the film, show them working on the orphanage farm; going to a health clinic for checkups; wandering through the gorgeous landscape as if on their own adventure; and painting, drawing, and making collages about Liyana. Nigerian visual artist Shofela Coker, who serves as art director with Amanda Kopp, brings Liyana’s story to life through compelling 3D animation that editors Davis Coombe and Aaron Kopp beautifully weave into the main narrative, which features a compelling score by South African composer Philip Miller, William Kentridge’s longtime collaborator. What’s happening in the animation often references what the children are doing and saying, forming a lovely, often subtle juxtaposition. The tale is a brutal one, as Liyana faces one frightening situation after another; the kids do not make it easy for her. But as the story goes on, you don’t have to be a psychiatrist or child specialist to see how the fictional world they are creating relates to their own lives. When they say that Liyana must “overcome fear” and “hold on to hope,” they are really talking about their own approach to daily existence. “It’s more difficult to live your life than writing a story,” one child notes, while another says, “In your own life maybe there is no hope but sometimes you need to keep pushing.” These are remarkable statements coming from such young children; clearly, they have already experienced heartbreak and terror in their brief lives, although they also burst with bright smiles. One child gets right to the point: “I want my story to end well,” he declares.
Executive produced by actress and activist Thandie Newton and winner of more than two dozen festival awards around the world, Liyana is a stunning achievement, a unique and powerful film about the human spirit even in the darkest of times. Mhlophe, who has written such books as The Snake with Seven Heads, Love Child, and Queen of the Tortoises and toured the world with her play Have You Seen Zandile?, does such a wonderful job with the kids, getting their creative juices flowing in such positive ways. It’s a joy to watch her and the children come up with a genuinely exciting tale that just happens to be layered with such meaning in a country where 25% of the adults have HIV/AIDS and there are 200,000 orphans. Liyana is screening at the Museum of the Moving Image on November 17 and 18 at 11:00 in the morning as part of the “Family Matinees” series. Don’t miss this genuine treasure of a film.
“You are very well informed,” Holocaust survivor Ruth Elias tells filmmaker Claude Lanzmann in The Four Sisters: The Hippocratic Oath. Thanks to the Paris-born Lanzmann, a French resistance fighter during WWII, we are all very well informed about so many of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis, told to him in moving, powerful stories by “living witnesses” for decades. In The Four Sisters, which made its world premiere at the New York Film Festival in October, the Shoah director, who passed away in July at the age of ninety-two, focuses on the extraordinary experiences of four strong women who survived concentration camps, each one originally interviewed for Shoah. “The more I thought about these four women, the more the necessity to bring the spotlight on these female faces of the Shoah seemed important,” Lanzmann explains in his director’s note about deciding to turn them into four separate portraits. “Each of them deals with a little-known chapter of the Holocaust, each from a unique point of view. . . . The incredible strength in each of them has to exist in its own right, and yet the exceptional quality they all share also had to come through — that searingly sharp, almost physical intelligence, and an irrepressible survival instinct which could not be extinguished, despite an apparently certain death awaiting them.” The four-part film is being told in two parts at the Quad beginning November 14, Hanna & Paula and Ruth & Ada.
In The Hippocratic Oath, Ruth Elias tells her remarkable story from the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 to her deportation in April 1942 to Theresienstadt, where she was reunited with and married her boyfriend, to her pregnancy in the winter of 1943, which led to her being sent to Ravensbrück and Auschwitz, where she met Dr. Josef Mengele, who chose to use her baby in an inhuman experiment. Filmed in a little garden, Elias, an accordion player, is firm and direct as she shares the details of precisely what happened, her dark eyes seemingly sent back to Eastern Europe as her words bring it all to vivid life; one can visualize each location, each movement, each glance. The camera occasionally turns to Lanzmann, smoking a cigarette as he listens to her, mesmerized, just as the audience is. Lanzmann is more active in Baluty, walking along the shore in Panama City, Florida, with Paula Biren, whose story begins in Lodz, Poland. An elegant woman, Biren needs a little more prodding to speak, which she does very carefully, with a brutally cold honesty. She describes how Lodz was turned into a ghetto, how she became a police officer there, and then was sent to Auschwitz, where her younger sister and mother were killed, followed by her father’s death shortly thereafter. Lanzmann supplements the film with archival photographs of Lodz. Throughout The Merry Flea, Ada Lichtman is cleaning and mending dolls; it is eerie as viewers eventually find out why. Lichtman, from the Polish town of Wieliczka, relates her story of being captured by the Germans and sent to Sobibór, speaking at a determined, almost eager pace, sometimes skipping around so that Lanzmann has to interject to get her back on track or to go into more specifics, particularly regarding her treatment at the hands of a Nazi officer named Wagner and her description of cattle cars where naked men, women, and children were forced to dance with one another. The camera occasionally shifts to her husband, who she met in the camps; he stares ahead almost blankly, with hollow, haunted eyes, then hides his head in his hands. The sound of traffic outside can be heard, as if coming from another time and place.
Finally, in Noah’s Ark, Lanzmann introduces Hungarian native Hanna Marton, who sits calmly in a chair, holding a small notebook as she speaks in Hebrew, the director sitting right in front of her, nearly knocking knees; in the film’s production notes, Lanzmann explains, “I’ve never heard an account that is as constantly, relentlessly painful as the one that Hanna Marton gave me when I filmed her during the shoot for Shoah in her Jerusalem apartment.” Her eyes sometimes tearing up, Marton, continually on edge and at times defensive, talks about the early Zionist movement in her hometown of Cluj, the capital of Transylvania; discusses how Jews were used by the Hungarian army, which supported Germany and Italy, as living mine detectors; details the creation of the Kolozsvár ghetto in May 1944 as a way to quickly exterminate Jews; and delves into her involvement with the Kastner train, a deal made between Jewish-Hungarian lawyer Rudolf Kastner and Nazi Obersturmbannführer Adolph Eichmann. The Four Sisters is no mere addendum to Shoah, nor is it a footnote to Lanzmann’s long, important career; together, the four films make a powerful statement about hatred and bigotry, about violence and war, and about the indomitable strength and spirit of women, especially during the war and its aftermath. They are also a terrifying reminder that given the state of the world today, it’s not impossible that something like this could happen again, even right here in America, as there are fewer and fewer concentration-camp eyewitnesses, Holocaust deniers litter the internet, nations build walls and fences to keep out refugees, and a sitting president insists that some white supremacists are “very fine people.”
THE LAST OF THE UNJUST (LE DERNIER DES INJUSTES) (Claude Lanzmann, 2013)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Wednesday, November 14, 6:35, and Monday, November 19, 6:35
For more than forty years, late French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann documented the Holocaust and the birth of the state of Israel in such provocative and powerful films as Israel, Why; Sobibór, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.; and his nine-and-a-half-hour masterpiece, Shoah. In 1997, he made A Visitor from the Living, built around a 1979 interview with International Red Cross worker Maurice Rossel, who led a delegation inspecting the Nazis’ so-called “model ghetto” of Theresienstadt, which turned out to be a glorified concentration camp. Lanzmann returns to the Czech camp in The Last of the Unjust, an utterly fascinating 218-minute documentary consisting of a series of interviews he conducted in Rome in 1975 with Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein, the only Jewish Elder to survive the Holocaust. For years, Murmelstein, who was appointed directly by and reported to Obersturmbannführer Adolph Eichmann, has been declared a Nazi collaborator, by writer Hannah Arendt and many others, even being arrested, imprisoned, and tried by Czech authorities. But in The Last of the Unjust, he paints a vivid portrait of everyday life in Theresienstadt, claiming he was not a collaborator but instead was doing whatever he could to improve conditions for the Jews there.
He poignantly describes not knowing about gas chambers and trains to Auschwitz and proudly defends his actions, referring to himself as the “last of the unjust.” Murmelstein has a spectacular memory, vividly recalling specific moments, answering all of Lanzmann’s questions with a bold honesty and correcting long-held misbeliefs concerning Theresienstadt. A cool, cigarette-smoking Lanzmann is seen in the old interviews and he also appears in new footage shot as he visits the camp and other relevant locations, geographically linking the past and the present. Between Murmelstein’s amazing storytelling ability and Lanzmann’s sharing of his personal perspective, the film never gets boring or repetitive over the course of its three-and-a-half-hour length. In the written introduction, Lanzmann states, “It took me a long time to come to the realization that I didn’t have the right to keep this to myself.” He indeed did a great service by not keeping this to himself, making yet another poignant document of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of a unique and thoroughly intriguing witness. The Last of the Unjust is screening at the Quad on November 14 and 19 at 6:35 (the November 14 show will be introduced by Lanzmann assistant Laura Koeppel) as part of the “Claude Lanzmann’s Cinema of Remembrance” series, which continues through November 21 with such other works as Napalm; Sobibór, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.; Israel, Why; A Visitor from the Living and The Karski Report; Shoah in two sections; and Tsahal.
Danish director Gustav Möller’s debut feature, The Guilty, is a furiously intense, brilliant edge-of-your-seat procedural. Jakob Cedergren stars as police officer Asger Holm, who has been demoted to working in an emergency call center pending an investigative hearing into a mysterious incident; if the investigation exonerates him, he’ll be back out on the street, where he wants to be. The night before the hearing, he’s at the center, sitting in front of a computer, taking calls on a headset, mostly dismissing people’s problems with a shrug and a lack of concern, although his prowess is evident when he quickly gets to the bottom of things with callers who don’t tell him the full story. But then Iben Østergård (Jessica Dinnage) phones in, a distraught woman who apparently has been kidnapped by a crazed man (Johan Olsen), leaving her six-year-old daughter, Mathilde (Katinka Evers-Jahnsen), and infant home alone. Holm faces many of his own demons as he desperately tries to save Iben, demanding favors from dispatchers, including his friend and colleague Bo (Jacob Hauberg Lohmann); his partner, Rashid (Omar Shargawi), who is supposed to testify for him the next day; and others even as they warn him he is overstepping and needs to back off. It’s a pulse-pounding race against time as Holm continues to break the rules and protocol in order to rescue Iben — as if saving her would save him too, achieving the redemption he seeks.
Denmark’s official submission for the 2019 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, The Guilty, which was written by Olsen with Emil Nygaard Albertsen, is a nonstop thrill ride and character study that takes place completely in the call center and in real time. Olsen, who also is the lead singer in two rock bands, maintains the frantic pace primarily through words, in addition to Cedergren’s facial expressions; the audience is caught up in the fierce action even though it is only heard, never seen. Cinematographer Jasper Spanning, editor Carla Luffe, and supervising sound editor Oskar Skriver expertly upend the claustrophobic nature of the story by making it seem like we can see the car chase, Iben’s terror, and Mathilde’s horrible situation. Of course, each viewer will see things slightly differently, bringing their own experiences and biases into the tale. Winner of audience awards at Rotterdam and Sundance, The Guilty is centered by an unrelenting performance by Cedergren (Submarino, Terribly Happy) as a man on a mission — and harboring some dark secrets — as the plot twists and turns. Don’t miss it.
WELCOME TO THE BEYOND (Brent Huff, 2018)
260 West 23rd St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday, November 13, 7:30
Festival runs November 8-15
In the summer of 1978, Hoyt Richards, a gorgeous blond athlete from a large, successful family, was approached by a man on a beach in Nantucket who offered him a bright future. Richards, aka John Richards, appeared to already have it all, but he eventually followed the man, who turned out to be Frederick von Mierers, the leader of the Eternal Values cult, who claimed to be an alien from the planet Arcturus. Former model Brent Huff tells the bizarre story, in many ways a cautionary tale, in Welcome to the Beyond, screening November 13 at DOC NYC. In 2012, while filming a Ford Models reunion, actor, writer, and director Huff (Behind the Orange Curtain, Chasing Beauty) recognized Richards and approached him about making a documentary about his experience with Eternal Values. Richards agreed, and speaks extensively about what happened to him; Huff also meets with many of Richards’s friends and relatives. “There’s definitely a dynamic in this family that’s regrettable,” younger brother Garth says. “That dynamic had to do with, John was always my father’s favorite, and John epitomized what my father would have loved to have been: the blue-eyed, blond-haired, good-looking football player. There’s a cruel twist in all that, is that by my father making John his favorite, he created resentment from every other sibling of John. He put John on an island, and I don’t know how John internalized that, but that wasn’t a pretty place to be.”
Talking about his mother, John, who is one of the film’s producers, admits, “I always just felt like she was on a different planet.” John was the first male supermodel, went to Princeton, partied at Studio 54, and had a major career, but ultimately he came to understand that he was in a cult and that he had to get out. The psychology behind his story is related by Steven Hassan, a former cult member who became a deprogrammer and has written such books as Combatting Cult Mind Control. Richards’s five siblings, cousins, parents, and close friends as well as a fellow former cult member all share their thoughts on a situation that they still don’t really understand: Just why did Richards fall for von Mierers and Eternal Values? Welcome to the Beyond is screening November 13 at 7:30 at Cinepolis Chelsea in the Portraits section of DOC NYC, with Huff, producer Shawn Huff, and editor Pete Speneuk on hand for a Q&A.