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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Favorites, Least Favorites, and an Exception

Favorites, Least Favorites, and an Exception

by Marinell Haegelin

What do my two favorite films’ themes—sex, drugs, taxation, and heaven—have in common? Aristotle: dramatic structure, i.e. Poetics. And Joseph Campbell: screenwriting theory, i.e. the hero’s journey. Bottom line, first-class storylines. Diametrically different narratives. My two least favorites are death-and-a-half. Hopeless. But they had won awards at other festivals, which is probably why Filmfest Hamburg chose them. Let’s start in heaven and work our way to death.

Dad’s dying as Nimod anxiously searches for Rabbi Simchu, who avoids him. Subsequently Simchu tells his friend how, during the war of ’52 in “wild west” Palestine, a Commander sold his heavenly slot to a cook. Flashback: Bambi treats his men like sons, is honorable and inspiring albeit not religious. Until he meets Alaya: for a year he radically changes his life, even using the hand-tefillin worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers. Years, and two daughters later, during battle Bambi takes up the solider Nimod, who dies concurrently with Alaya during difficult birthing. When dad falls from grace, during their move young Nimod finds Bambi’s forgotten tefillin, and a contract. Nimod fervently embraces Judaism, which dictates life choices but drives a wedge between father and son. Only in his quest to regain his father’s place in heaven does Nimod find his spirit, and soul. Delightfully, we overhear the antidotes the Commander and cook exchange during their walk to claim A Place in Heaven.

1965: At a 15-year reunion two “geezers” meet again, plan, plot and takeover a company. Simon Spies has the money, Mogens Glistrup the know-how. Their ensuing success is a Scandinavian phenomenon. Simon’s excessive lifestyle is extreme: profuse, multiple-partner sex and drugs. Scandalous! Yet Spies Travel becomes synonymous with Mediterranean fantasy vacations. Attorney Mogens is the perpetual family man: his obsession, taxes: his inner demon, one-upmanship. As Simon commences mind-tripping hippiedom, steady Mogens runs the business. Years—highlighted through archival footage, and news clippings—pass. Glistrup applies provocative tax tactics, forcing Spies’ hand. We coast in to the present, passing where the film began. Their journey is incredible, right up to the bittersweet end. Based on facts, Sex, Drugs & Taxation is captivating. If you are averse to seeing naked women or erect phalluses, simply screw your eyes shut occasionally, but don’t miss this droll Danish diversion.

P3ND3JO5 is equivalent to stretching a short story over a grueling two-and-a-half hours. A group of teens live for skateboarding, spending all day practicing—indoor in an arena, and outdoors in a plaza. Girls. Puberty. And ubiquitous drug dealers. Parental appeals are ignored. When a dealer is murdered, repercussions are swift. No dialogue, just title cards and muted gestures. The creative music, sound design and camera work mitigates, but cannot save this film’s ennui. Likewise Coast of Death is nothing more than a collection of disconnected shots dawdling on/off the screen. The filmmakers must be allergic to human contact; we merely see long shots, with occasional medium or extra-long shots. Without the personal connection, listening to ant-sized locals’ stories gives the impression their ancestors were thieves and squanderers. Audiences should have received prizes for sitting through either of these films.

Any foreign-language film an audience can follow without subtitles deserves to be labeled exceptional. Born with an incurable, rare genetic disorder hampering neurological and muscular development, Alphée’s fifth birthday is approaching. She eagerly anticipates kindergarten and catching up to big-brother Colin. Québec’s school administrators advise the Latulippes that a specialized establishment would better suit her. Adamant belief in his “little ladybug” sends the filmmaker and family to mom’s birth-village high in the Swiss Alps for a year. Nature, patient home schooling, and unbiased villagers cultivate Alphée’s delayed progression. Familial love is unwavering. Alphée’s front tooth grows in, the bottom two fall out, seasons pass. Through Alphée’s eyes we see, share her secrets, and become au fait with her and her father’s special connection. We, too, cherish Alphée of the Stars. Exquisite visual storytelling, from the perspective and pace of Alphée, told with love and patience by her father. That power transcends dialogue.

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