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Friday 22 November 2013

The Manor, Film by Shawney Cohen 7* out of 10

Shawney Cohen is running the bar in The Manor, the nightclub and associated hotel his father Roger took over and made the family business when Shawney and his brother Sammy were children. Roger, born in Egypt emigrated to Israel and then to Canada where he started penniless as a taxi-driver. He married Brenda, the daughter of holocaust survivors. Successfully running a night-club with its lap-dancing girls in the small Canadian city of Guelph requires street-smarts and a certain robustness. The nightclub has made Roger’s family a comfortable living, but a lap-dancing club is not a respectable business for a "nice Jewish family", is it? Moreover, as it seems that both sons will follow their father into this shady family business, the psychological problems and family conflicts can no longer be kept under the surface. The Manor chronicles the trials and tribulations of Cohen family, as its members try, each in their own way, to cope with their problems - business, health, personal.  Should they arrange themselves with the "golden cage" that is the family business or free themselves from its materially comfortable yet psychologically and socially toxic embrace?

Though a documentary, The Manor feels like a family drama/comedy. It is the first documentary made my Shawney Cohen. He paints a a sensitive and moving portrayal of his family, without covering up conflicts or character flaws.  The extent to which members of the family are able to switch between suppressing conflict and openly discussing problems and their desire to look out for each other despite all the personality conflicts makes this a spellbinding film. Despite all the unfavourable odds there is a spark of love and connectedness among all the protagonists which gives rise to the hope that that this family will manage to deal with its problems in persistent, cautious and authentic. Meanwhile The Manor, warts and all,  is a very watchable family portrait. Another example of UK Jewish Film Festival bringing a entertaining quality film to an appreciative audience at the Tricycle Cinema.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Enough Said, Film written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, 8*out of 10

Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a massage therapist, divorced, and mother of a teenage daughter. When she joins her friend Sarah (Toni Colette) for a cocktail party she meets Marianne (Catherine Keener) a potential new client and Albert (James Gandolfini) a potential new love interest. Eva’s daughter will soon be off to college and Eva is trying “pre-adapt” to the time when she will have left home. And for Eva things are about to get really complicated. How will she fare in untangling the pile of emotional spaghetti that life, not entirely without Eva's own complicity, is about to serve up? 

With Enough Said Nicole Holofcener has done a remarkable job. She tells a plausible story about middle-class, middle-aged people who behave like normal middle-aged people would and manages to turn it into a highly entertaining drama/comedy. Moreover the film is perfectly cast with star actors who know how to deliver the subtly understated performances Holofcener’s writing and direction ask for.  The moments of humour are organically woven into the story; they do not appear contrived as in many of the romantic comedies coming to us from the United States. 

Unfortunately, the great James Gandolfini (unforgettable for his portrayal of the neurotic Mafia-boss Tony Soprano) died suddenly while on holiday in Italy this summer. We’re left here with his perfect portrayal of the eminently huggable Albert - and an immense sense of loss.