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Thursday 27 July 2017

The Party, Film UK (2017), written and directed by Sally Potter, 8.5* out of 10

Oscar nominated writer and director Sally Potter has assembled a stellar cast of British actors at the top of their game to deliver a witty, entertaining and devastating piece of criticism of the current state of a London liberal left elite in a turbulent display of their less than stable social, political and sexual orientations. 

Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is preparing a small dinner party for friends to celebrate her nomination to shadow health secretary. As she parries the various congratulatory callers while preparing the chicken vol-au-vents, her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) seems preoccupied. Staring into space, he is getting seriously drunk while playing an eclectic mix of music at high volume on his 1960s-style record player. The first guest to arrive is Janet’s formerly idealistic, now sarcastic friend April (Patricia Clarkson) and her German esoteric life coach partner Gottfried (Bruno Ganz). Soon to be joined by University professor Martha (Cherry Jones) and partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer) the latter of child bearing age and disposition. Investment banker Tom (Cillian Murphy) turns up without his wife Marianne and is even more hyper than usual. The somewhat frayed relationship among the couples will be subjected to a steadily rising crescendo of turbulence as revelations begin to made and Gottfried the imperturbable, sweetly smiling German esoteric decides to try and calm the stormy atmosphere with the strong dose of the kind of vacuous banalities that is sure to drive even the most docile English stoic to contemplating bloody murder.

Filmed in the UK over a period of just two weeks in June 2016, writer and director Sally Potter’s film delivers a hard-hitting critique of the leftish liberal intellectual elite at home in the trendy and comfortable districts of North London (Islington, Hampstead). At the heart of the success of this film is Potters sharp and witty screenplay brought to life by excellent direction and top performances by an ensemble of excellent actors at the top of their game.  The outstanding black and white cinematography by Aleksei Rodionov puts the action into full relief.

Sally Potter has described The Party as a tragedy wrapped in a comedy.  It also is a devastating social commentary delivered in witty and entertaining style. 

The packed audience at the Swiss avant-premiere in Zurich’s Le Paris cinema loved it. The enthusiastic applause for Sally Potter and Bruno Ganz who joined them for Q&A led by local film-maven Marcy Goldberg after the session was genuine and well deserved.


Tuesday 25 July 2017

Rabbi Wolff, Documentary Film Germany 2016, produced and directed by Brigitte Wauer, 8.5* out of 10

Are you looking forward to life in your late 80s? No? Perhaps it's time to think again. You need not be interested in Judaism or any religion for that matter to be amazed and inspired by Brigitte Wauer's deceptively deep and unexpectedly feel-good documentary film about the unconventional Mr William Wolff of Henley-on-Thames and Schwerin.

At the age of 87, William Wolff is not only the Rabbi of the Jewish community of North Eastern Germany, but a bundle of positive intellectual and emotional energy. The Jewish community in the former communist part of Germany consists almost exclusively of people who came to Germany in recent years from the former Soviet Union and Jeremy Wolff has taken the not always rewarding job to be its Rabbi. Soon it will become clear that Mr Wolff has more than one string to his bow and that is a good thing, because his flock and its elected leaders are not as friendly and accepting of their spiritual guide as it might at first appear.    

Producer Director Brigitte Wauer follows William Wolff, who not only commutes between the North-Eastern-German cities of Schwerin and Rostock to serve his community, but whose actual home is in Henley-on-Thames near London from where he commutes regularly to his job in Germany and sets out on other adventures. Between, London, Schwerin, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Wauer manages to gradually draw out the many facets of Wolff’s professional and personal lives and the people whose lives he touches. On the way, we find out, why William Wolff is an expert on British political life and particularly the Houses of Parliament, where the former British Foreign Secretary Lord Owen explains how Wolff was his go-to- man for learning about its workings, when Owen first entered it as a young member. 

Like it’s subject, this documentary is a tour-de-force, showing us an unconventional multi-faceted man in his late 80s with his human strengths and weaknesses, but using sheer intellectual and emotional energy and an innate positivity to live a uniquely interesting and fulfilled life. Moreover, in doing so, he energises and inspires those around him whatever their background, job or outlook on life. 

Director Brigitte Wauer and her team have done an excellent job in transmitting to their audience the feeling of wonder and sheer joie-de-vivre that emanates from Rabbi Wolff. 

You need not be interested in Judaism or any other religion for that matter to be amazed and inspired by this unexpectedly feel-good documentary film, which is sure to come to a cinema or film festival near you. Currently it can be seen at the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco.

Monday 17 July 2017

Gifted, Film USA (2017), written by Tom Flynn directed by Marc Webb 8* out of 10

A very good screen play by Tom Flynn and great understated performances by Chris Evans and Lindsay Duncan make Gifted very worthwhile and watchable summer viewing.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans), a single man in his 30s who repairs motorboats for a living lives in a small Florida seaside town. He has taken on the custody of his niece Mary as a baby after the unexpected death of her single mother, who was Frank’s sister. Frank’s neighbour Roberta (Octavia Spencer) child sits to ensure Frank retains a bit of a private life beyond his duties as a single parent. Following in her matrilineal heritage, six-year-old Mary is a genius at mathematics. Frank is determined to let her have a normal childhood, and after some years of home-education registers her at the local school. Thanks to Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) things start settling down a bit at school, after a bumpy beginning. But as Mary’s grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) arrives on the scene with different ideas about her grand-child’s education, events take a dramatic turn.

Gifted is a family drama with some very witty bits. Screenplay writer Tom Flynn has done a very nice job of depicting the complex characters of this story and making their interactions and complicated relationships plausible and human. He avoids the trap of good versus evil: the “good” are somewhat flawed, the “evil” have reprieving characteristics. Chris Evans and Lindsay Duncan, the latter as the inevitably British accented evil grandmother, do an excellent job with their intelligently understated performances. Sensitive direction by Marc Webb (director of Spiderman films) allows the grown-up characters not to be overwhelmed by appearing with cute gifted child or its slightly handicapped cat. The result is a very watchable enjoyable and optimistic movie.     

Last week the Maryam Mirzakhani the Iranian Fields-Medal winning Mathematician died of cancer, much too young and much too soon. The Field’s Medal is the equivalent of the Nobel-Prize in Mathematics. Mirzakhani a mathematics genius with a warm outgoing personality, a real-world role model for Mary, Gifted’s fictional child prodigy.