Judaism may be matrilineal, but that doesn’t mean that women are treated as equal to men, especially among sects espousing fundamentalist religious beliefs, although women are considered holier than men in Orthodox communities. In Emil Ben-Shimon’s absolutely wonderful debut feature, The Women’s Balcony, that all comes to a head when wives, mothers, girlfriends, and daughters, relegated to a balcony in the back of a small, local shul — as if on a pedestal, farther away from the Torah but closer to G-d — come crashing down when the structure breaks, suddenly putting them on the same level as the men. It’s no coincidence that this happens during an Orthodox bar mitzvah, when a boy becomes a man, which is much different from an orthodox bat mitzvah, when a girl becomes a woman. When a fundamentalist rabbi from a nearby congregation offers to help rebuild the Mizrahi synagogue, the place of women in the shul are far from his main concern, leading to a furious and delightful battle of the sexes. With the elderly Rabbi Menashe (Abraham Celektar) flustered because the accident has left his wife in a coma, Rabbi David (Avraham Aviv Alush) is only too happy to step in, demanding further separation between the men and the women, which causes problems for such couples as gabbai Aharon (Itzik Cohen) and Tikva (Orna Banai); mild-mannered Nissan (Herzi Tobey) and Margalit (Einat Sarouf); and warmhearted shopkeeper Zion (Igal Naor) and Etti (Evelin Hagoel), who have a terrific marriage and equal partnership until things start changing at the shul. Meanwhile, everyone is hoping that Yaffa (Yafit Asulin) finds the right man as she expands her dating search, until she and Rabbi David’s assistant (Assaf Ben Shimon) take an interest in each other, a potential Romeo and Juliet romance.
The Women’s Balcony was written by first-time screenwriter Shlomit Nehama, Ben-Shimon’s ex-wife, who was inspired by the religious extremism she saw in an Israeli neighborhood where she had once lived. The film evokes such sweet-natured favorites as Local Hero and Waking Ned Devine as well as Aristophanes’s Lysistrata as the women fight for their rights. Ben-Shimon (Mimon, Wild Horses) maintains an infectious pace throughout, as cinematographer Ziv Berkovich puts the audience right in the middle of the action, accompanied by Ahuva Ozeri and Shaul Besser’s playful, Jewish-flavored score. Naor and Hagoel are outstanding as Zion and Etti, the emotional center of the film, a lovely couple with a bright view of life, at least until exclusion and sexism get in the way. Asulin is excellent as Yaffa, the young woman who is part of the next generation of Judaism — and who is not extremely knowledgeable about her religion. But even when situations are at their most tense, Nehama and Ben-Shimon keep it all lighthearted; if only more religious (and marital) disputes could be handled with such grace and wit. Nominated for five Israeli Academy Awards, including Banai for Best Supporting Actress, Rona Doron for Best Costume Design, Vered Mevorach for Best Makeup, the late Ozeri (who passed away recently at the age of sixty-eight) and Besser for Best Score, and Alush for Best Supporting Actor, The Women’s Balcony opens May 26 at Lincoln Plaza and the Quad.
LIQUID SKY (Slava Tsukerman, 1982)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Saturday, May 27, and Sunday, May 28, 7:20 (both followed by Q&As)
“Everybody wants euphoria; what’s wrong with that?” a character declares in Slava Tsukerman’s 1982 sci-fi cult classic, Liquid Sky. First, a tiny alien spaceship lands above a rooftop apartment in the shadow of the Empire State Building. Margaret (Anne Carlisle), a Connecticut native who dresses in shocking makeup and clothing, lives there with Adrian (Paula E. Sheppard), a performance artist and heroin dealer specializing in Liquid Sky. Their world is all about sex, drugs, and punk / new wave music. Later, at the club, they meet Vincent (Jack Adalist), who claims his father is a bigwig in the movies, and Paul (Stanley Knap), a middle-class junkie whose wife, Katherine (Elaine C. Grove), is trying to get him to kick the habit. Katherine’s brother, the androgynous, Bowie-esque Jimmy (also played by Carlisle), is a friend of Adrian and Margaret’s who is going to model with Margaret in what turns out to be a very strange fashion shoot for Midnight magazine with an oddball crew that includes a cool designer (Nina V. Kerova), an eager photographer (Alan Preston), and a snappy hair stylist (Christine Hatfull). Meanwhile, UFO hunter Johann Hoffman (Otto von Wernherr) is on the trail of the midtown alien ship and being wined and dined by the hot-to-trot Sylvia (Susan Doukas), whose window offers an excellent view of Adrian and Margaret’s apartment. The plot thickens when Margaret discovers that she seems to have a rather special power whenever a sexual partner (or rapist) has an orgasm with her.
Released in August 1982, Liquid Sky was ahead of its time in its treatment of gender identity and sexual orientation (and even bathroom usage); in fact, it’s already postgender. It also presages the AIDS crisis and the protest motto “Sex = Death.” And the special effects, which were created by Russian cinematographer Yuri Neyman and combine science with psychedelia, might look cheesy now but they were cutting edge (and still slyly funny) thirty-five years ago, as were the freaky costumes and production design by Marina Levikova. Marcel Fieve was responsible for the fab makeup and hair. Written by Soviet émigré Tsukerman (Stalin’s Wife, Perestroika), his wife, Kerova, and Carlisle, the film, inspired by Wendy Steiner’s The Scandal of Pleasure and Tsukerman’s own emigration, is an avant-garde look at the immigrant experience in America, whether coming from outer space, the Soviet Union, or Connecticut, as well as the Reagan-era counterculture. The Empire State Building rises tall in numerous shots, a large phallic symbol of personal freedom. There is also a brief shot of the Twin Towers, echoing Carlisle’s performance as both Margaret and Jimmy. The acting is mediocre at best and the plot doesn’t always make sense, but Liquid Sky is more than just a captured moment in time, as it explores issues that are still controversial today. The hypnotic, synth-heavy soundtrack is by Tsukerman, Clive Smith, and Brenda I. Hutchinson, but nothing can top Sheppard’s performance of “Me and My Rhythm Box.” Carlisle appeared in nine movies between 1981 and 1990, including Desperately Seeking Susan and Crocodile Dundee, but hasn’t made another one since, and Tsukerman has directed several nonfiction works but Liquid Sky is his only feature; however, they are collaborating on a documentary about the making of the movie (and perhaps a sequel as well). Among other things, the film is about death, and the original negative is decaying, so the Quad will be presenting the last-ever 35mm New York City screenings of Liquid Sky on May 27 and 28 at 7:20 as part of “Immigrant Songs,” with Tsukerman and Carlisle participating in Q&As after both shows. The series concludes May 26-29 with Brian De Palma’s Scarface and May 27-31 with Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth.
RESTLESS CREATURE: WENDY WHELAN (Linda Saffire & Adam Schlesinger, 2016)
Film Forum, 209 West Houston St., 212-727-8110
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Francesca Beale Theater, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Opens Wednesday, May 24
“I’ve always been extremely devoted to what I do, and I love being a part of the New York City Ballet. But I do feel the ticking clock, and at times I’ve thought, if I don’t dance, I’d rather die. I’ve actually said that,” longtime New York City principal dancer Wendy Whelan says in the intimate and revealing documentary Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan. Whelan gave directors and producers Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger remarkable access as she faces a turning point in her life and career. In 2013, she began to notice she wasn’t getting the parts she used to excel in and decided to get reconstructive hip surgery, hoping that she could return to dancing full-time, at top level. She allows Saffire and Schlesinger into the operating room as Dr. Marc J. Philippon performs the procedure on her torn right labrum. “Ballerinas are probably God’s best athletes,” Dr. Philippon, says. The film then documents her hard-fought battle to return to the stage, as it’s unclear that she will ever regain her skills — or if Peter Martins and the New York City Ballet will even want her back. “What the fuck is this gonna be like when I can’t do this anymore,” she wonders, later adding, “I need to get back in the game, because I don’t have a ton of time left at my game.” With an inspiring dedication, brave honesty, and self-deprecating sense of humor, Whelan, who turned fifty earlier this month, works with physical therapists Marika Molnar and James Gallegro and discusses options with her husband, choreographer and creative director David Michalek; her manager, Ilter Abramowitz; her mother, Kay; and friends Adam Barrett and Maria Scherer, holding nothing back about the choices she must make. Concerned that soon she will not physically be able to be at her best in ballet, she starts the “Restless Creature” contemporary dance project with choreographers Kyle Abraham, Josh Beamish, Brian Brooks, and Alejandro Cerrudo. But she still aches to return to her home of thirty years, the New York City Ballet, where decades of balletomanes, twi-ny included, have thrilled to her technical precision, insight, musicality, and breathtakingly beautiful line.
Saffire and Schlesinger, who previously collaborated on such documentaries as Smash His Camera and Sporting Dreams, combine home movies and photos with lovely clips of Whelan in pieces by Christopher Wheeldon, George Balanchine, William Forsythe, Jerome Robbins, and Alexei Ratmansky. They mix in scenes of her being interviewed by dance writers, partying with friends and colleagues, talking with former dancers Jock Soto and Philip Neal, and rehearsing with NYCB soloist Craig Hall and principal dancer Tyler Angle. Only once during the year-and-a-half shoot did Whelan ask for privacy; otherwise, her life is an open book, and it’s both exhilarating and heartbreaking to watch, as the film is about much more than just one artist’s struggle to remain relevant; it’s an inherently relatable story about the effects of age, how each of us might react to the inevitable decline of the body. Whelan expresses how hard it is to know that there are certain moves she will never be able to perform again, no matter how well her rehab goes, so there is an underlying sadness throughout the film even as we cheer her on to accomplish her lofty goals. But what really makes the film work is Whelan herself; all of the behind-the-scenes intrigue and personal reflections are fascinating, but Whelan proves to be an extraordinary human being. “You changed how people behave in this profession,” former principal dancer and current Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal tells her. Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan will likely make many viewers take a good look at their own future with new enthusiasm as they approach critical crossroads. The film opens May 24 at Film Forum and Lincoln Center; there will be Q&As with Whelan, Saffire, and Schlesinger (sometimes joined by executive producer Diana DiMenna) at the former on May 25 and May 26 at 7:00 and May 27 at 4:40 and at the latter on May 24 at 7:00, May 25 at 5:00, May 27 at 7:00, and May 28 at 1:00.
Film fan and historian extraordinaire Kevin Maher will be taking a scary look at monster movies for the May entry of his monthly Kevin Geeks Out presentation at Nitehawk. On May 25 at 9:30, he’ll be joined by Amber Dextrous, Jon Abrams, Kevin Rice, Kevin Harrington, Chris Smith, and Jack Theakston, who will each discuss their favorite monster. There will be rare footage of classic films, not-so-classic remakes, and other strange versions of well-known and not-so-well-known behemoths. The trailer includes clips of numerous hellions — if you can recognize most of them, you need to be at this event — from Count Chocula to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, so clearly anything goes.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and other locations in all five boroughs
Pier 86, 12th Ave. & 46th St.
May 24–29, pier activities free unless otherwise noted
The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard will be pouring into New York City for Fleet Week, which takes place May 24-29 at the Intrepid and other locations. The annual celebration, which began in 1982, leads into Memorial Day weekend, reminding everyone that the holiday is not just about barbecues and beaches. Below are only some of the highlights; all pier events are free and open to the public. Admission to the museum is $17-$33 but free for all U.S. military and veterans.
Wednesday, May 24
Parade of Ships, New York Harbor, 8:15 am - 1:00 pm
Fort Wadsworth Fleet Week and National Park Centennial Celebration, Fort Wadsworth Overlook, Staten Island, 9:00 - 11:30 am
U.S. Navy Divers, New York Aquarium, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Thursday, May 25
U.S. Coast Guard Silent Drill Team Performance, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 11:00 am
U.S. Coast Guard Silent Drill Team Performance, 9/11 Memorial Plaza, 1:00
Thursday, May 25
Friday, May 26
Public Tours of Visiting Ship Research Vessel Neil Armstrong, end of pier 86, 10:00 am – 12:30 pm
Thursday, May 25
Friday, May 26
Saturday, May 27
U.S. Navy Dive Tank in Times Square, plaza between 43rd & 44th Sts., 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Thursday, May 25
Monday, May 29
General Public Ship Tours, Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, Homeport Pier in Staten Island, Pier 92 in Manhattan, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Friday, May 26
Movie on the Flight Deck: Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986), introduced by former NASA astronaut and T-38 pilot Gregory C. Johnson, 7:00
Navy Band Concert, with Navy Band Northeast Rhode Island Sound, Military Island, Times Square, 8:00
Friday, May 26
Monday, May 29
Giant Leaps Planetarium Show, Intrepid, Hangar 3, Rotunda, 12:15 – 3:15
Saturday, May 27
Marine Day, with a formation run, military static displays, demonstrations, and a performance by the USMC Battle Color Detachment, 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Broadway Showcase: Cats, Kinky Boots, School of Rock, Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking, and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, emceed by The Play That Goes Wrong, Pier 86, Main Stage, 12 noon
U.S. Coast Guard Search & Rescue Demo, Homeport Pier, Staten Island, 12 noon
CAMMO Voices of Service, Pier 86, Main Stage, 1:30 & 4:30
American Military Spouses Choir, Pier 86, Main Stage, 3:30 & 5:00
Navy Band Concert, with Navy Band Northeast Rhode Island Sound, Military Island, Times Square, 6:00
Battle of the Big Bands, with Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, Glenn Crytzer Orchestra with guest vocalist Hannah Gill, Gunhild Carling with the Swingadelic Big Band, Jason Prover and the Sneak Thievery Orchestra, swing dancing lessons, the Bathtub Ginnys, the Intrepid Swing Dance Brigade, contests, MC Dandy Wellington, DJ VaVa Voom and Odysseus Bailer, Flight Deck, $55-$95, 7:00 pm – 1:00 am
U.S. Marine Corps Battle Color Detachment Performance, Father Duffy Square, Times Square, 8:00
Saturday, May 27
Sunday, May 28
Activities, displays, demonstrations, tours, and more, including “Dive into Density,” U.S. Coast Guard Silent Drill Team, SeaPerch Pool Demonstrations, antique military vehicles, “Signal Flags,” CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation’s STEM activity, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division, “Catch a Cable,” 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Saturday, May 27
Sunday, May 28
Monday, May 29
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Navy Divers, New York Aquarium, Coney Island, $11.95 - $14.95
Meet the Author: Julia Maki, My Mom Hunts Submarines, Hangar 2, Stage, 11:00 am, 12 noon, 1:00
Sunday, May 28
Performance by Tap Life, Pier 86, Main Stage, 12:30
Performance by America’s Sweethearts, Pier 86, Main Stage, 1:00 & 3:00
Performance by Deployed: A New Musical, Pier 86, Main Stage, 1:30 & 4:30
Performance by the 78th Army Band, Pier 86, Main Stage, 2:00
Performance by Exit 12 Dance Company, Pier 86, Main Stage, 3:30
Navy Band Concert, with Navy Band Northeast Rhode Island Sound, Military Island, Times Square, 4:00
Monday, May 29
Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Day Observance, commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Midway, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Riverside Dr. & 89th St., 10:00 am
Activities, displays, demonstrations, tours, and more, including Minus 5 Ice Sculpting Experience, CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation’s STEM activity, FDNY Fire Safety Experience, Dina Parise Racing 3,000HP Fallen Heroes Cadillac and Porta Tree display, Veterans Vision Project and Arizona State University, U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, Veteran Artist Program, Hudson Valley Paws for a Cause, Intrepid former crew members, “Dive into Density,” SeaPerch Pool Demonstrations, “Signal Flags,” “Catch a Cable,” “What Floats Your Boat?,” Pier 86, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Memorial Day Ceremony, Pier 86, 11:00 am
Search & Rescue Demonstration by the U.S. Coast Guard, end of Pier 86, 2:00
Bubble Garden by the Gazillion Bubble Show, Pier 86, 2:00 – 6:00
In his final film, Polish master Andrzej Wajda makes a grand statement about the importance of art and its place in society. Afterimage, which was the opening-night selection of the thirteenth New York Polish Film Festival earlier this month, is based on a true story while also serving as a stern warning. Bogusław Linda, who has previously appeared in Wajda’s Man of Iron and Danton, gives a towering performance as real-life Polish avant-garde artist Władysław Strzemiński, a one-armed, one-legged painter considered one of the greatest Polish artists and theoreticians of the twentieth century but whose legacy was destroyed during the rise of Stalinism and social realism. The film begins with a bright, gleeful scene in which Professor Strzemiński and his students roll around a lush green field, smiling and laughing and loving life. Hanna (Zofia Wichłacz) arrives, wanting to study with the professor as well. “The image has to be what you absorb from this,” he tells her, pointing at the beautiful landscape while his students listen with rapt attention. “When we gaze at an object, we get its reflection in our eye. When we stop looking at it and move our gaze elsewhere, an afterimage of the object remains in the eye — a trace of the object with the same shape but the opposite color. An afterimage. Afterimages are the colors, the inside of the eye which looks at an object. Because a person really only sees what he is aware of.” He then gazes out with a big grin and closes his eyes — and Wajda cuts to him in his apartment in 1948, with the Polish United Workers’ Party now in charge; cinematographer Paweł Edelman switches to a very different color scheme, primarily dank grays save for the pervasive red of the Communist party. Virtually day by day, Strzemiński has his ability to make art and to teach stripped away a little at a time as the party enforces a strict code of what is permitted and what is not under its regime. “The purpose of art is to improve its truth on reality,” Strzemiński explains, and he has to face a series of disturbing new truths himself, especially when his young daughter, Nika (Bronislawa Zamachowska), whose mother is famous sculptor Katarzyna Kobro (Aleksandra Justa), starts falling in line with Communist ideals.
The film, written by Andrzej Mularczyk based on an idea by Wajda (The Maids of Wilko, The Promised Land), is a fitting finale for the Polish auteur, who won such prestigious prizes as the Palme d’Or, an honorary Golden Bear, and an honorary Academy Award before passing away in October at the age of ninety, following a sixty-five-year career. (In addition, four of his works were nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscars.) Afterimage might take place between 1948 and 1952, but it is frighteningly relevant today with so many countries around the world under dictatorships and the value of art and arts education in schools facing scrutiny even here in the United States. Much of the film has an elegiac tone, including the score, which features the music of the late Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik. Linda is brilliant as Strzemiński, who is almost always deep in thought, finding it hard to believe the lengths the party will go to in order to silence artists, including his eager students and his good friend, poet Julian Przyboś. The disheartened stares he makes while watching Nika become part of the problem instead of the solution are intensely moving. Rising Polish star Wichłacz (Warsaw 44) gives a touching performance as Hania, the new student who wants to fight the authorities and is determined to help Professor Strzemiński finish his master opus, The Theory of Vision, before everything is taken away from him. Even though the film shows Wajda at the top of his game, it might not be a stretch to suggest that the aging director identified with Strzemiński, a man who didn’t let the loss of two limbs prevent him from creating art, just as Wajda, approaching ninety at the time, didn’t let anything stop him as well; he joined up with the Polish resistance in 1942, trained to be a painter and then a filmmaker after the war, and was a major supporter of Lech Wałęsa’s Solidarity movement in the 1980s, ultimately making the film Wałęsa: Man of Hope. In the end, both Wajda and Strzemiński are inspiring figures whose works seal their legacies, from the former’s many films to the latter’s paintings and theories as well as his revolutionary Neoplastic Room, which was reconstructed in 1960 at the Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi. “Everyone sees differently,” Professor Strzemiński says in the film, which is likely to leave a long-lasting afterimage on those who watch it.
ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (Terry Zwigoff, 2006)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Saturday, May 20, 4:00
Series runs May 19-21
Director Terry Zwigoff, who has claimed to “not be interested in comics too much” and who made the fab 1995 documentary Crumb, about comic book artist R. Crumb, reteamed with comics legend Daniel Clowes for the outrageously entertaining Art School Confidential, inspired by a four-page black-and-white strip Clowes wrote in a 1991 edition of his comic book Eightball. (The two previously worked together in 2001 on the outstanding Ghost World, earning them an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.) Clowes has expanded Art School Confidential into a very funny satire/murder mystery set in a New York City art school based somewhat on Pratt in Brooklyn (though the film was shot in Southern California). Max Minghella (The Social Network, The Handmaid’s Tale) stars as Jerome Platz, an art student from the suburbs who dreams of becoming the next Picasso. Used to being beat up by bullies, he is desperately looking to fit in somewhere, and he might just find his place in Strathmore art school, along with Beat Girl, Kiss-Ass, Army Jacket, Vegan, Filthy-Haired Girl, Preppy Girl, Nympho, and other stereotypes, as well as the art teacher claiming to be preparing for his own exhibition (John Malkovich, also one of the film’s producers). Jerome is befriended by Bardo (Joel David Moore), a disillusioned student who can’t figure out yet which stereotype Jerome is. Bardo introduces Jerome to Jimmy (Jim Broadbent), a drunken, failed artist who represents many a Strathmore student’s future. Jerome falls hard for Audrey (Sophia Myles), a part-time model who is also being courted by the ridiculously straitlaced and seemingly talentless, though celebrated, Jonah (Matt Keeslar). And one of Jerome’s roommates, the hyperactive Vince (Ethan Suplee), is making a movie about the Strathmore Strangler, who has claimed several victims and is still on the loose. Art School Confidential gets just about everything right (save for two brief appearances of the boom mic), turning clichés inside out in hysterical ways. You don’t have to be a comic-book fan geek to love this film, which is screening May 20 at 4:00 as part of Metrograph’s weekend tribute to Zwigoff, who will be on hand to discuss the work. The series also includes Ghost World, Louie Bluie, Crumb, and the New York premiere of the director’s cut of Bad Santa, with Zwigoff at Metrograph for all screenings.