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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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

The Beaches of Agnes by Linda Dubler
Agnes Varda

Agnes Varda

Just when I thought that I had exhausted every beach-related film theme apart from D-Day, along comes the American release of Agnes Varda’s latest autobiographical film, The Beaches of Agnes. Regulars to the High’s annual spring series French Film Yesterday and Today may remember that we showed Varda’s  similarly personal The Gleaners and I a few years back.

If Beaches doesn’t open commercially in Atlanta (it’s playing now in New York) , I’ll certainly include it in our 2010 edition of FFY&T. But spring is a long way off, so I’ll share a few impressions of the film now.

Though women played a major role as muses to the French New Wave of the 1960s (think Jean Moreau, Anna Karina, and Catherine Deneuve), Agnes Varda was the only female  director in that influential movement. She began her career as a still photographer, taking family photos in a Paris department store to support herself. When she felt the need to add words to her images, she turned to filmmaking.

The elfin Varda, now 81, introduces herself as a someone acting the role of a pleasingly plump old lady, a sly way of letting us know that fantasy and embellishment count as much as documentary truth in her playbook. Standing on the shore with the waves pounding behind her, Varda tells us that she believes that people hold landscapes inside themselves. “If we opened me up we’d find beaches,” she says.  Surrounding her are myriad production assistants, setting up mirrors in the sand. These mirrors capture the water (fluid and changing as memory) and announce the introspective, reflective, and fragmented form that her film will take.
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Summer Movies/YouTube, Part 3 by Linda Dubler
Endless Summer

Endless Summer

Summer bliss has been distilled for as long as moving images endure in Bruce Brown’s 1966 glorified home movie, the surfing classic Endless Summer. A daring example of a filmmaker taking on his own distribution, the film remains a cult favorite.

For the funhouse mirror version of the surfing life, see Doug Pray’s Surfwise. It’s a dysfunctional family doc that will leave you grateful for your own less-than-perfect upbringing. Surfwise focuses on the lives of Paskowitz family, dominated by dad Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, a surfer, health nut, and self-appointed sex god. Doc (a one-time physician) and his Mexican-Indian wife Juliet had nine kids — eight sons and a daughter — who were raised to be natural creatures, not products of American middle-class conformity. Everyone lived together in a minivan and like the surfers in Endless Summer, chased the waves.

Paskowitz, who was 85 when the film was made in 2007, is Jewish, and the film explores how his devotion to fitness, strength, and self-sufficiency was a direct response to the widespread vision of Jews as helpless victims during the Holocaust. As one son wryly comments, “Doc wanted to repopulate the world with Jews.”

YouTube Diversions

Summer Movies, Part 1 by Linda Dubler

Landscape photographer Richard Misrach‘s works are on view at the High, so the next few posts will spin off from the exhibition On the Beach, a show of exquisite, large scale pictures shot from an overhead vantage point in Hawaii after 9/11. Some of the images are populated, some devoid of human presence, but all suggest both seaside paradise and doomsday unease. This duality is embodied in the exhibition’s title, a forthright statement of what to expect from the images, and also a reference to Nevil Shute’s book and Stanley Kramer’s  post-apocalyptic film of the same name about a bunch of Australians awaiting the appearance of a nuclear cloud that promises to annihilate them all.

Beach Blanket Bingo

Beach Blanket Bingo

OK, impending extinction may not be your idea of summer fun. So let’s consider beach blanket escapades, amusement parks, surfing, and all things sweaty and summery, with just a quick side trip into the apocalyptic.

To begin on an historic note, Blake Leland, a poet and longtime professor in the Science, Technology, and Culture program at Georgia Tech, points out that “many of the beach movies (Beach Blanket Bingo, Beach Party, Muscle Beach and the like) were released after the Cuban missile crisis (as close to actual apocalypse as we’ve come so far).” He continues, “I wonder if these atrocious movies aren’t part of a kind of pre-apocalyptic denial of the possibility of annihilation–at least for teens!”

Well, partying on the eve of destruction is a hallowed tradition, so in retrospect maybe the spunky teens were trying to tell us something. I suspect that all that American International Pictures saw when they produced the cycle of beach party movies made in the mid-1960s were dollar signs. The films starred Philadelphia teen idol Frankie Avalon and a curvy grown-up  Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello.

Funicello was still under contract with Disney when these films were shot, and AIP had to promise that she wouldn’t appear in a bikini since exposing too much flesh would tarnish her wholesome image. I must admit that during the time when Beach Blanket Bingo et al appeared in theaters, I was too busy being a junior high school existentialist to see them and I haven’t revisited them since. They did make lots of money, and they may still have some campy charm.

From Here to Eternity

From Here to Eternity

Before Annette and Frankie were kicking up sand and singing rock n’ roll,  some other Hollywood icons were grabbing Oscars for a World War II era saga, From Here to Eternity, which features an indelible image of  Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster locked in a wave-wetted embrace. The 1953 drama directed by Fred Zinneman, ends with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which in a sense presages the looming atomic disaster of On the Beach. When From Here to Eternity was restored and re-released in 2003, J. Hoberman wrote in the Village Voice, “Contemporary audiences may not see why, even in its toned-down simplification of the novel, From Here to Eternity was the most daring movie of 1953, but it remains an acting bonanza”

Linda Dubler