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‘The Substitute’ Danish Highlight of 2007 Hamptons Film Festival

Here are some reviews from the fifteenth Hamptons International Film Festival (aka ‘HIFF’). ‘The Substitute’ from Denmark, and ‘Four Minutes’ from Germany, were the most enjoyed of the festival feature films viewed by the author during the 15 shows attended. But don’t forget the shorts!!

‘House Of Life’

The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague is the second largest tourist attraction in Prague. It closed a few hundred years ago, but was the only park Jewish children could play in during the Nazi occupation. This movie annotates a lot of the history of Prague, especially interlocking the Jewish history of the ghetto and a famous respected rabbi, Rabbi Lowi, who was an adviser to kings and princes, and died in 1601, into the story. Legend has it that Rabbi Lowi saw the Angel of Death with a list of those soon to be taken. He was not afraid of this creature, and pulled the paper away from it/him, leaving only a little fragment of paper in the angel’s hands, with one name on it: his. He died the next morning.

The graveyard is photographed in all seasons, in all forms of weather. It is told that in the Jewish religion/culture, where you will be in the future is not stressed, so much as living your time on Earth right now, and respecting the past and your heritage.

‘The Substitute’ is a Danish film that is an instant classic, extremely well done, with a fantastic story. Watch out for Ulla and all the brilliant twists and turns involved with her, portrayed excellently by Paprika Steen [that’s her name…as noted in the programs]. She becomes the substitute – – teacher – – in this small town. The children are all terrific, with each of their personalities well brought out by director Ole Bornedal. The special effects and sound are phenomenal, and quite 2007 futuristic: what we expect when we go to a film festival like this one, bringing us the world, into our town and cinema screens, so we get a great overall picture of the world as it is today, or how our artists and cinematographers portray it for us and our senses and our minds. The allegory in this movie is that the Earth is a planet that has one thing no other planet has: love. Then there is another planet out there that only knows war….from there goeth the plot, and the tale unfolds. There is plenty of suspense, and the interplay between parents and kids. Sometime the latter are not believed. Sometimes parents can be fooled, if the acting is very good, and their ignorance is played upon. Note the Minister of Education in this movie….

With the allegory, we can think of how people who only know war are affected, and how they would act in certain situations, comparing them to us who do know love. But then, we have to think about what is happening with us today, us Americans, who are being brought up on war and empire and torture being approved by our Cheneys and Bushes and Gonzalez’s and Rices and Yoos and Millers and Rumsfelds [next movie, ‘Taxi To The Dark Side’]. What is this mentality of hate and greed and killing depersonalized prisoners and rationalizing all this, manipulating our hate-filled violent video games, turning our souls to Ulla-like nutsiness?….you have to see this movie, and hopefully you will. It is Danish, it will have subtitles, but like ‘Les Visiteurs,’ the most popular movie in the history of French film, this movie shall live on and on and on to entertain lucky audiences until the end of this century, at least.

‘Taxi To The Dark Side’ takes its name from an Afghan taxi driver who, instead of farming, decided and was encouraged by his family, to bring home the meat and potatoes via his taxi. However, soon after he got himself a taxi, he was arrested in Yakubi, the regional capital, sent to a prison called Bagram, tortured, hung up by wristcuffs attached to a metal ceiling for long hours, beaten about the legs until they were ‘pulpified,’ as we see it worded on his death certificate, dying after only five days of captivity. His death was labelled as a ‘homicide.’ His inquisitors,
er, ‘interrogators,’ young U.S. men, later fed as fodder to the empire machine as fall guys for Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and George Bush and Alberto Gonzalez for their turning our nation, our government, to torture, in the wake of September 11th, 2001, are prominent in the film telling what happened to the prisoners at Bagram, and then at Abu Ghirab, where they were sent next to continue their yelling and dog-in-the-face intimidations, and later waterboarding, where a person has water poured into him via funnel or tube until he thinks he will die and might confess just about anything. This practice is illegal specifically via the Geneva conventions, which the Bush administration has chosen to deem irrelevant, and circumvented around, even after the Supreme Court decried elsewise.

This is a movie that very detailedly annotates our humiliating descent into torture, fact by fact, incident by incident, including the supposed ‘twentieth highjacker”s experience at Guantanamo Bay, and his false confession that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Al Qaeda, because that is what he thought his torturers wanted him to say, and apparently was intimidated to say, which was then the focus of a later embarrassed humiliated Colin Powell infamously telling the United Nations and the world why the U.S. and every other country had to invade Iraq. That footage of Powell tapping his finger against the table, saying he had the information, the confession, from the twentieth highjacker, we see in the heart of this film. Which won the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival award for Best Documentary Film.

The movie ends with the father of Alex Gibney, (the director and writer and producer of the film, who also was nominated for an Academy Award for his ‘Enron, The Smartest Guys In The Room,’ a terrific and essential must-see movie for all Americans, reviewed for you on this website) who was an interrogator during World War II, express his disgust and abhorence concerning what is being done today in all of our names, all of us Americans, who know better, and always have taken the higher ground. Torture not gaining the truth all too often, because when you are tortured you will say anything to stop your torturers from continuing what they are doing to you. This is a movie for your libraries, evidence that all the leaders responsible in the Bush administration, should be tried at Nuremberg trials today, and put away for their crimes against humanity. Torture humiliates human dignity, and the sanctity of the individual, what we believe in, what mankind has developed toward preserving and elevating, as civilization has progressed out of the dark ages – – and now, today, descended back into again, in these greed/power-filled first years of the 21st century, led by George Bush and Dick Cheney and their inhumane vacuum-moraled policies.

Also seen in this movie is footage of a young captured John McCain filmed by his Vietnamese captors, talking to his wife, telling her he loves her. Yet, when the torture-gestapo feet come down, McCain, we are informed, voted in favor of torture, when he could have voted otherwise within the past few years as a U.S. senator.

Also, we are told by the interrogators, young men, who were betrayed by the higher-ups like Rumsfeld – – who visited Bagram, saw that prisoners, human beings, were being hung in cuffs from the ceilings in isolation, yet denied that he had seen such a thing – – these interrogators tell us that they reckoned the taxi driver was innocent, yet what could they do? No clear policy was being written down for them, they were told to just get the information, any way they could. The machine was in gear, confessions had to be gotten, whether people were truly innocent or not. These young men ended up being disciplined, discharged, put in jail, yet Carolyn Wood, not of the speed-reading school, but the commander of Bagram, and later a prime superior at Abu Ghirab, instead of getting the same punishment, was sent to an interrogation school in Arizona to be an instruction leader there. A reward for her indecent and criminal behavior!

Turns out this is one of about ten films in a ‘Why Democracy’ series, another of which we were also granted the pleasure of seeing at the festival. ‘Please Vote For Me’ was made in Central China, where we experience an intense experience with a word that is taboo in public: democracy. The kids are told they will be voting for their Class Monitor soon. They do not even know what the word ‘vote’ means. The ins and outs of the election process, the taunting and remorse of the children in one scene, the perqs, the trips given to gain favor, the speeches, the practicing, the intervening of the parents in the one-child reality of modern day China, are wonderful to see within the culture of China today. All of the children are adoreable, especially some of the campaign managers. Plenty of tears here, and youthful passion and humor. And, GUESS WHAT! YOU can see this movie on TV! Yes, on this very Sunday at 10 PM Eastern Time on PBS! So we were told in the Q & A period by editor Jean Tsien.

‘Please Vote For Me’ is a classic. Of course, isn’t it the same way with our politicians right here in America? Check it out on October 21st on PBS. This film runs 55 minutes. I think you will LOVE it!

Another movie that is terrific is ‘Resolved’ about the debate subculture in America. We see the black California duo who won the California championship as juniors proceed with a change in philosophy as they campaign toward a national championship in Kentucky as seniors. They decide that the way debate is currently is set up is not quite right. They want to make it more personalized, more interactive, more of a dialogue. Their three prime ideas to lay out in each debate henceforth are: identity, purpose and method. We see them talk about racism, and how the current structure may have come out of this, at least to some degree.

What stunned me was the way these debaters spew out words at 3-4 times the speed of normal talking, so that the words are basically unintelligible. It seems ridiculous. This is one of the things we see confronted by the California duo. We also follow a duo from Texas, two white boys, one initially a sophomore, the other a senior, who proceed up the competitive chain.

Basically, ‘Resolved’ is insightful, like any intelligent and sensitive look would be, into
a subculture most of us will never even imagine exists. I would like to meet some of
these folks when they get a little older, and make their niche in the world as adults.
Surely, they will be the leaders of America. Will they be able to do their leading, however, with perceptive ominiscience, or rigid insensitivity to other human beings like they are?

‘Beyond Belief’ is also a look into the post 9/11 world. A very positive one.
Two 9/11 widows meet and decide that their fate is linked to the many widows
of Afghanistan, where war has been continuously waged for the last 23 years, the movie says. Though it has to be longer, evidenced by the Russian invasion back around 1980. There are 500,000 widows in Afghanistan, and most of them have to wear burquas when they go into the street. In their culture, if a widow remarries, she must turn her children over to their late husband’s family. Naturally, who will choose such a thing in Afghanistan? Not many. So, when we finally get to Afghanistan in the movie, we meet a mother who lost three children to starvation, one who lost seven sons in one U.S. attack on her house. It’s a real tear jerking experience, watching this inspiring and enlightening movie. The two American widows are two bright vital tough visionary loving women who raise money for their Beyond the Eleventh fund that donates chickens and other supplies to widows in Afghanistan so they can support themselves with the eggs and chickens they can produce and sell.

The process of grieving, and learning from each other is discussed before the camera, by our two real-life protagonists. Plus, the inspiration of the duo biking from Ground Zero in Manhattan, to Boston, 250 miles in three days, shakes up the soul of the fortunate viewer of this movie. Remember, we are told in the movie, none of the twenty terrorists responsible for the plane crashings on 9/11 were from Afghanistan, though they were trained there. Most were from Saudi Arabia. Beyond Belief. Very good. And the ladies do have a website, which I believe is tho I never did get a card. If interested,

‘Four Minutes,’ is a German film, perhaps the best film overall in the festival. Heavy. It takes place
in prison. With the finest performance of the festival by a new young actress named
Hannah Herzsprung. What a dynamic character she portrays with fire and flare!
Very explosive; a dangerous character that might shoot off at any moment, as we
quickly find out. But it all comes from her piano prodigy background, and then
when she got exhausted from living that life, her father/manager “f&#^#d her senseless,”
at age 12. Which sets the poor thing off for the rest of her life.

The film basically has her lonely music-loving older teacher and Ms. Herzsprung
interrelating, vexing each other, in between making successful progress. But
Monica Bleibtreu’s ex-lesbian Nazi nurse character adds tension as the foil
to her younger student’s wild, often enraged, behavior. The film has quite an
ending, with great credit to Ms. Herzsprung’s musical genius.

After the film, though, the young actress told us the story of how she got the
part, then later confessed that she could not play the piano, which was
essential to the part. Then she begged to be allowed to learn, and took five months to
do so, working at it four hours per day. Plus, she had never punched anyone, so she took
three months of kick boxing to fit the character better.

Personally I adored the modernity and fantastic nature of ‘The Substitute’ a bit better
than this film, but many people felt ‘Four Minutes’ topped the charts for this version
of the HIFF.

‘Caramel’ comes from Lebanon, within the subculture of the beauty parlor.
The women are beautiful who work there for this movie, and the director,
Nadine Labaki, who also runs the beauty parlor, was, in my opinion, the
most beautiful woman I’ve seen on the screen in a few years. The shots,
the angles, the close-ups, focused on the beauty of these lovely ladies,
and what is going on inside a beauty shop. For a man who has never spent
more than a few minutes inside one, it was quite a revelation, though
usually, I wouldn’t expect most women to look as enticing and interesting
as these actresses did.

This festival had several movies and shorts on this type of theme, including
a short entitled ‘Ode To The Eyebrow,’ which didn’t show Mike Lowell [“biggest
eyebrows in baseball” – Kevin Millar – – Lowell plays third base for the Boston
Red Sox, game one of the world series 2007 vs. Colorado Rockies tonight, Oct.24],
but showed all sorts of eyebrows on all sorts of people in its 6 minutes of running.

There is one scene in ‘Caramel’ where the officer who Nadine’s character savors,
coming into the shop, and the women evaluating what could be done to beautify
his face and moustache. He walks out a kind of different man. The title
‘Caramel’ comes from the use of this sticky sweet/delicacy as a depilatory,
which sometimes is ripped off rather roughly to remove those hairs from unwanted places.

‘Valerie’ is about a very tall thin model in Berlin during December, trying
to make her way, posing for a photo shoot, dressed in all sorts of clothes,
looking very different in each outfit. But everything is not caviar and
gravy. She spends a lot of time in her car, and is not totally innocent in
her adventures, trying to just survive. Agata Buzek, the star, is from Poland.

Then there is macabre insightful cartoonist Gahan Wilson, and the very
interesting life he has led. He came from Evansville, Illinois, and
lived in Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY, for much of his life. Many of
his cartoons are displayed in this 98 minute documentary about him,
entitled ‘Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird.’ We journey with him
on the Hampton Jitney as he visits the cartoon editor of the New Yorker
magazine (and gets all his cartoons rejected for publication during the visit we see,
though he is received as a God by the editor); listen to stories about
him, and his insight into circumstances and life itself in general. We see
commercial photos of him when he was the Ivory soap baby, and he tells us
he still uses it, that’s why his skin is just like a baby’s, even today. We hear
all sorts of comedians from Bill Maher to Lewis Black to Stephen Colbert talk
about Gahan and how he influenced their lives and aspirations because of his
unique perspective on life and comedy and the philosophy thereof.

Hugh Hefner participates, telling how he started up Playboy magazine, and always loved
cartoons, wanting to have his own stable of cartoonists, picking Gahan as one
of the first, and using Gahan’s cartoons in nearly every Playboy issue thereafter.
Mr. Wilson’s infatuation with the horror genre is explored, giving us a background
for the monsters that he loves that he creates and portrays in his cartoons.
This one is worth owning in DVD form, because you probably will wish to linger a
bit longer than director Steven-Charles Jaffe has allowed himself to do on the
cartoons that fascinate you, in this enlightening movie.

Another German movie, ‘Pool Of Princesses,’ should have been called ‘Cesspool of
Princesses,’ because it was dark and dirty and full of cigarette smoke that will give
you carbon monoxide poisoning if you do not heed this lonely paragraph about it.
If you want to see lovely looking, ever-smoking, troubled teenage girls in Deutschland
babbling about their day to day, telling each other that organic is crap, living
to party, attending truancy school and liking it (only four people in blonde haired
Klara’s class), this might just joyify you. Otherwise, it was rather redundant, and
the only show of 15 my palesse Farrell and I walked out of in this 2007 festival.

We attended four shorts shows, and saw ‘The Guarantee’ before the Gahan Wilson movie
feature film. ‘The Guarantee’ was unique in that the illustrator pencilled in the story
images as the voiceover rolled through the story itself. Eleven minutes, and very impressive,
and cute. About a male who goes to ballet school but has a big schnozzola and is told
if he wants to be a lead dancer, he needs a nose job, which he contemplates. The outcome
is not ideal for the laid out possibilities, but it is consistent with the character’s
culture (Italiano) and cultural look. Humorous and I liked the art/drawings.

There was a very interesting short during the host of Youth Media offerings, which are
always worth seeing, as kids create shorts that are not exactly what you would expect,
and the music is always surprising, as is the overall point of view. ‘Touching Sound’ dealt
with the new new technology of the cochlear implant, pro and con. With this device and
surgery, the hearing-impaired patient/person can remarkably hear, tho perhaps not as
us lucky enough not to be hearing-impaired do.

Then there were the magical animations like ‘Pavel and Gavel’ out of Poland, where the
two apartment dwellers who live on top of each other, have their homes as their castles,
but the ceiling leaks and the noise is loud. The moral at the end was ‘Don’t do to
others, what you yourself can’t bear.’

Three short animations with adoreable children’s voices came out of Liege, Belgium.
One was about a green Queen snake that ate two baby elephants (‘Greedy Pig’); and another,
‘Scrounch,’ about a steaming dark chunky bellied monster who went to the witch for help.

I loved ‘The Quimby Files’ featuring a youngster of about seven years of age, out
of Lynn, Massachusetts, who shares all sorts of information and images about his
older adult neighbors, to his mother’s consternation. But as the kid sez, “Quimby’s
the name, spying is my game.” Very funny.

Two heartfelt angsted slices of life came from two Palestinian refugee camps, where ‘the
wall’ has torn children from their families and their life on the other side of this wall,
built by the Israelis. ‘Ruining Our Play’ told how the wall separated the youths
from the soccer field they had fixed up, so they had to organize a next one within
their side of the wall, but roving motoring troops had fired at them, killing
one child at play, and severely wounding the narrator, who told us this disturbing story.

‘The Great Magician’ was an Estonian/Swedish/French production about a gift under-used.
The magician being moved in on by his nasty aggressive unpleaseable aunt, but not fighting
back as she eats his food, and generally abuses him. We see the possibilities of his
magic fantasized, but the smoke and transformations do not actually happen in the real world
time of the fellow’s life here on northern European turf. This was the most engaging of all
the six women’s shorts programmed for us.

Another was about a sand artist who frolicks thru his creation at the bottom of the tide
on the sands of New Zealand. New Zealand, by the way, has very big tide differentials,
sometimes dropping ten to twenty feet in one tide change. Once the tide comes back in,
the artwork created is washed away. With this film, perhaps, the sand dancer got to see
some of his creations, which, otherwise, he remains in the middle of, as he leaps, and hoes the
sand, and drags his stick to make circles and other shapes.

‘The Butcher’s Wife’ was a very painful short about an abused New Zealand woman
whose husband beat her, broke her light when she tried to read in bed,
hit her and kicked her on the ground for just about anything, and finally
died at her hands one night when he told someone on the phone that either he’d kill her
tonight, or perhaps vice versa would happen. The story occurs on film some time
after the trial that did NOT convict her of murder or manslaughter.

‘Milk Teeth’ was a very different cartooning depiction of children that engaged me
just because of the artwork, and the expressions on the character’s faces, in addition
to the story.

‘The Guitar Lesson’ was a complete cycle of learning how to play the guitar and one
piece done pretty well before the young teacher, to finish the 17 minute French work.

‘Tis The Season’ is a very cute fascination with the similarity of the bearded rabbi
and Santa Claus. A little girl knows who he is and gives the man her letter to Santa.
Does he give it back?….Directed and created by the film festival’s own Bob Giovanelli.

Shorts are something that is a truly magical experience to view at festivals like HIFF. Because these are items that seldom make it out into your movie houses or into your video stores. The ‘Gray Matter’ set was terrific in my estimation. The cartoon entitled ‘Veterinarian’ was 17 minutes of magic from Latvia. Now, when are you ever going to see any movie or short from Latvia in your life? This one is extremely well done, a bit anatomical, very funny, though I am sorry for the expanding chicken here. The colors are great, the technique is unique.
This one replays on Saturday at 2:30 PM in East Hampton, with the 4 other shorts in this collection.

‘Blood Will Tell’ is very graphic and, yet, subtle, as its images rise up a building to a sun-beamed panorama of what is supposed to be 16th century Holland. Artwork is very Escher, and rather fine, though also a bit over-intestinal as were three of the five shorts in this Gray Matter quartet. Nonetheless, the music here was great, the overall affect wondrous, though perhaps gastrically disturbing to some. ‘Blood Will Tell’ is only six minutes long, so I reckon you can probably take it, if you are forewarned, and still decide to adventure into the movie house today. This one is Canadian.

‘The Ballad Of Mary Slade’ is an animated, and also chompy incisive (anatomically) melodrama/animation. Only three minutes long, with a bullet, and the main characters are bugs, not real purty ones either. Cute. Made in the UK.

‘Futures (And Derivatives) is a fantasmagoric look into a business deal, that flies off
into the magical/artful. 15 minutes long. Made in the USA. Watch out for the
saviour who bicycles into the movie to ?do or procrastinate about doing, the
powerpoint disc/presentation for the dinosaur doofuses who can’t do….

‘Film Makes Us Happy,’ is an annoying 12 minutes of film about making film, where
the filmmaker’s wife lets out her frustrations about supporting her oft-sleeping
husband/film artist on camera, with a lot of tears. Yeah, some might find it
interesting. Yes, artists should definitely be supported in America, as they are elsewhere. OK, well, good try after 12 years of basically nada for ya, Bryan Wizemann. Hope ye are up to your name if your lot does not improve; however, for the sake of your little family, your cute little girl, and your immigrant trapped wife, it could be time to change your stripes.

One last jab, piece of info, on a movie called ‘Vivere.’ Set mostly about Rotterdam, in the Netherlands in Europe, at night, it is inconsistent, and thus, annoying to try to figure out. Somebody must’ve cut out too much meat in the editing room. In other words, don’t twirk yer brain about this one, if it ever comes to your town, go out and have a nice dinner, or make love the whole night long, instead.

All the Best,

Conrad Miller M.D.

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