High Museum of Art: Films

Review: Nora’s Will (Atlanta Jewish Film Festival) by hmablogmaster
Nora's Will

Nora's Will

If you missed Nora’s Will at the High’s 2009 Latin American Film Festival, here’s your chance to catch it. It screens at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival on Sunday, January 17 at 1 p.m. (introduced by Linda Dubler) and Friday, January 22 at 3:40 p.m. (introduced by Eleanor Ringel Cater).

Visit www.ajff.org for more information, and read on for Eleanor’s review of the film.

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In Honor of Snow and Ice by Linda Dubler

As we collectively emerge from the recent  deep freeze, let’s not lose those afghans, Snuggies and warm couch companions just yet. Here are a handful of snow films as chilly as any Hitchcock blonde.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Robert Altman’s revisionist western is notable for all sorts of reasons, from its Leonard Cohen score to its brilliant pairing of Julie Christie as a savvy, opium-smoking madame and Warren Beatty as her smitten business partner, a gambler and a romantic fool.  The film ends in an extraordinary gun battle during a blinding snowstorm, a masterpiece of choreography and cinematography.

Nanook of the North

Enormously popular when it was first released in 1922, Robert Flaherty’s landmark documentary about an Inuit hunter and his family has been restored and released with a new score by Criterion. The film, which was financed by a French fur company and shot near Hudson Bay,  isn’t a pure work by any means–(Nanook’s wives and children were played by people who weren’t his wives and kids; a scene in which Nanook fights to land a harpooned seal was completely staged)–but as Ephraim Katz observed in The Film Encyclopedia, “What made Nanook so remarkable was not its validity as an anthropological study of an exotic ethnic group but its success in capturing the essence of primitive man’s struggle for survival against the hostile forces of nature.”

Noi the Albino

If you felt stir-crazy after being cooped up for a day or two in Atlanta, (where a recent glimpse outside revealed greenery frosted with snow) try trading places with Noi, a poster boy for teenage alienation hailing from the bleak, colorless end of nowhere otherwise known as  Iceland. This very deadpan comedy about a Nordic rebel  is for those who prefer absurdist situations to jokes, and who like their humor espresso dark.

Dr. Zhivago

Who knows how many animals sacrificed their skins so that women around the world could wear fur hats like Lara’s in Dr. Zhivago? Or how many human nerves were frayed by the tinkling of music boxes playing her theme? Dr. Zhivago was roundly booed by critics upon its release in 1965, but the public ate it up.

When it was  restored and revived for its 30th anniversary, Roger Ebert declared that it was “an example of superb old-style craftsmanship at the service of a soppy romantic vision, and although its portentous historical drama evaporates once you return to the fresh air, watching it can be seductive. ” Ebert observed that “the story, especially as it has been simplified by [director David] Lean and his screenwriter, Robert Bolt, seems political in the same sense Gone With the Wind is political, as spectacle and backdrop, without ideology.”

And like Gone With the Wind, it’s the epic sweep, and all that snow, that impresses. Lean built an ice palace out of wax, and resorted to simulating snow with marble dust and plastic during filming in Spain at the height of the summer.

Still yearning for a polar blast? Consider Fargo, March of the Penguins, Encounters at the End of the World, or the Turkish film Climates. And here’s a great YouTube video:

Have any favorite snowy movies? Post them in the comments!

Linda Dubler

Review: Nora’s Will by Linda Dubler

This film will show Saturday, October 24 at 8 p.m. as part of the High Museum’s Latin American Film Festival.

We barely meet the Nora of Nora’s Will, but her presence permeates this bittersweet yet unexpectedly amusing Mexican movie.

As the title suggests, Nora spends most of the picture as a corpse. However, the “will” referred to isn’t a legal document; it’s the force of Nora’s posthumous inner control freak. This, after all, is a woman who plans ahead: she even leaves a pot of hot coffee for whoever discovers her.

Her suicide isn’t exactly unexpected. According to her longtime ex-husband, Jose (Fernando Lujan), who still lives across the street from her though they divorced 20 years ago, she’s tried to off herself 14 times before. So, losing Nora, though sad, isn’t really the point.

What to do with her body is.

You see, her timing is really bad. Passover is about to begin and due to various rites and rituals of Orthodox Jewish law, she can’t be buried for several days. In the meantime, there’s ice for her corpse and an irascible older rabbi who insists everything be done by the book.  As in, THE BOOK.

Further, Nora has determined her Passover Seder will go on exactly as she planned. The table is set and the refrigerator is packed with food, each item accompanied by a post-it instructing what is to be done and how.

Much of the film’s considerable humor comes from self-proclaimed atheist and all-around curmudgeon Jose’s determination not to follow orders, be they from Nora, their adult son, the finger-waving rabbi, or even Nora’s devoted housekeeper.  At one point, Jose brings in a pizza slathered in bacon as an adamantly non-Kosher snack.

As more people arrive and differing agendas collide, the film takes on an increasingly farcical tone. Yet first time director Mariana Chenillo never loses sight of the essential humanity of the situation which, at its core, is the on-going friction between those who believe and those who don’t. “All religions are the same,” Jose insists. “All manipulation and money.”

Winner of the best film direction award at the 31st Moscow International Film Festival, Nora’s Will ultimately (and unexpectedly) recalls the under-appreciated “Pieces of April,” a Thanksgiving-themed film starring a pre-TomKat Katie Holmes. In both, people of all backgrounds come together to share a special meal and a spiritual connection.

And even dear unhappy Nora finally gets to rest in peace.

Eleanor Ringel Cater

Food Glorious Food by Linda Dubler
September 8, 2009, 11:51 am
Filed under: General, Top Picks | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”  Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren

With Julie and Julia launching three books  to the best seller list and a trio of  Atlanta chefs still in the game on Bravo’s Top Chef,  I’ve been thinking about  food in the movies. There’s a familiar handful of titles that pop up whenever anyone puts together a list on this theme — Babette’s Feast, Eat Drink Man Woman, Tampopo, Mostly Martha, Big Night, and now Ratatouille. To that, add Stephen Chow’s hilarious The God of Cookery, in which he plays a jaded, arrogant chef who has lost his mojo and has to rediscover it ; his triumph involves creating a meatball that squirts.

Then there are the documentaries that make eating a worrisome venture, including Super Size Me and Food, Inc. If actual foodstuffs seem too  scary to contemplate, consider Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, a documentary by Les Blank that’s been added as a bonus to Blank’s estimable Burden Of Dreams. It features Herzog, the German filmmaker, fulfilling the  promise  he made to then aspiring filmmaker Errol Morris, that he would literally eat his shoe if Morris ever completed his first project, Gates of Heaven. Shot at the Gates premiere, it shows the ever passionate Werner H. chewing away on  a boot  seasoned with duck fat, garlic, tomatoes and herbs, boileded into  submission, and washed down with  a bottle of Heinenken.  Or revisit Chaplin’s Goldrush for the famous boot-eating scene, (the boot was made of licorice)  which required 3 days and 63 takes to suit the master; supposedly Chaplin was rushed to the hospital in insulin shock following this ordeal.  Here’s that same movie’s bread ballet:

Alfred Hitchcock was notoriously phobic of eggs, declaring “Blood is jolly, red. But egg yolk is yellow, revolting.” One of the most disturbing food images I can think of  is from Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.  It’s a simple black and white shot of a piece of fish sitting on a lonely plate in the protagonist’s refrigerator — but there’s something about the near empty ice-box and the pale fillet sitting on the white plate that is unappetizing in the extreme.

Here’s a cooking demo that my Asian food enthusiast son showed me. I think that Julia would approve.

What’s whetted your appetite or put you off your feed? Write us and share your thoughts.

Film Festival of India: Greatest Hits by hmablogmaster
August 31, 2009, 3:28 pm
Filed under: Film Series: High, Top Picks | Tags: , , , , , , ,

If  the High’s  Treasures From India’s National Film Development Corporation has you inspired to put together your own festival courtesy of your local or online DVD outlet, consider these selections shown over the past few years in the High’s Film Festival of India. When I checked, all were available on Netflix so they shouldn’t be hard to find.

The Terrorist
Indie director Santosh Sivan (who began his career as a cinematographer) made this penetrating, visually stunning psychological drama about  a young woman in an unnamed guerrilla group who embraces the chance to sacrifice herself for a cause. As timely now as when it was made in 1999, The Terrorist was inspired by the 1991 murder of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.  It’s a movie less interested in politics than in exploring the question, “What kind of person would choose martyrdom and murder?”



Got a couple of hours? Paheli is shorter than many Bollywood extravaganzas, gorgeous to look at, full of folkloric charm, and its songs and dances seem fresh and unformulaic. Plus it features two superstars: Rani Mukherjee as a bride who’s been abandoned, and Shahrukh Khan in the double role as her workaholic husband and a love-struck ghost who assumes her spouse’s identity.

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In The Garden by Linda Dubler
July 28, 2009, 12:45 pm
Filed under: General, High Museum | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Standing before the shimmering expanse of the largest of Monet’s Water Lily paintings now on view at the High, I’m reminded  — of all things — of Cinemascope, that most immersive of big screen movie formats. It’s true that Monet wanted to create an in-the-round experience with his monumental water lily series, but it’s strange to think of gardens and Scope in the same breath — gardening isn’t really a theme that’s inspired great cinema, epic or otherwise, and the gardener’s greatest asset, unflagging devotion, isn’t a quality that we look for in movie stars.

As a not-entirely-successful tomato grower, I can attest to the fact that the  emotional investment made fighting black spot, root end rot, and gigantic green caterpillars approaches the drama of home renovation, but there’s no digging-in-the-dirt version of Mr. Blanding’s Builds His Dream House or The Money Pit.  The movies are full of hunky male gardeners like Rock Hudson in All That Heaven Allows, or Marlon Brando in The Nightcomers, a prequel to The Innocents set at a remote English manor (have to admit I haven’t seen it) as well as dotty ladies whose devotion to raising  prize-winning roses makes them objects of fun; the hip counterpart to these genteel matrons is the heroine of Saving Grace, a sweet British widow who turns to raising marijuana after her husband commits suicide.

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Apocalypse Now: Staff Picks by Linda Dubler
July 10, 2009, 10:36 am
Filed under: Staff Picks | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ve asked Museum staff again for their two cents on their favorite apocalyptic movies. (Learn about the inspiration for the current exhibition Richard Misrach: On The Beach here >>)

Johan Harper, Security
Damnation Alley and
Night of the Comet

Why does the end of the world have to be so depressing? Damnation Alley has everything you need in a Post-Apocalyptic movie. Bad special effects, cheesy dialogue, a strange monster truck that floats called “The Land Master”, man-eating cockroaches, George Peppard, and Jan-Michael Vincent! What more can you ask for? O.K. the movie’s beginning is pretty grim and serious, but the low production values turn the whole mess into an unintentional comedy before too long. The scene where the actors fail to pretend to be afraid of tons of plastic cockroaches tied to long strings pulled across the floor is comedy gold! “This whole town is infested with killer cockroaches. I repeat: KILLER COCKROACHES!” Too funny! damnation_alley_ver2

Another enjoyable end of the world movie is Night of the Comet. If you wake up one day and everybody else has become little piles of red dust, wouldn’t you really rather just go shopping at the mall? If everyone is dead, everything is free! Night of the Comet has it all – zombies, mad scientists, and gun-toting valley girls! It is a comedy, it is a horror movie, it is a time capsule from 1984!

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