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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

Page Two of Angela Pressburger's January/February DVD Reviews

The Last Blues
2002, Hungary/Italy/Poland, 96 min., subtitles
Director: Péter Gárdos

Recognitions
Silver Award for Best Independent Romantic Feature, WorldFest, Houston, 2003; Golden Pyramid, Cairo, 2002; Best Cinematography, Hungarian Film Week, 2002

For years Andris has lived a double life: as a happily married family-man with his wife, Judit, a school teacher, and their eight-year old son, Dani, he's a successful Hungarian businessman in Budapest; and as a talented artist, he lives in Cracow with his beautiful girlfriend, Bea, a church painter, and is currently painting The Creation on the walls of a local chapel.

Up to now, he has pretended "business" in Poland as the excuse for his many trips to Cracow. As the film opens, Andris has discovered that Bea is pregnant and insists on marriage. As he drives towards his wedding in Poland, he is forced for the first time to make a choice between these two lives which, up to this point, have blended together so successfully for him. Sitting in his car, he hopes for a miracle — and indeed something does happen that changes the whole story ….

The War Within
2005, USA, 90 min.
Director: Joseph Castelo

Recognitions: Nominated for Best Screenplay, Independent Spirit Awards, 2006; Nominated by the Political Film Society as the best film on human rights of 2005.

An attempt to explain the psychology of Muslim suicide bombers after 9/11 through the story of Hassan as played by newcomer Ayad Akhtar who also co-wrote the script.

As the film begins, Hassan, a Pakistani engineering student in Paris, is apprehended by Western intelligence services for suspected terrorist activities. He is drugged and flown to Pakistan, where he is interrogated and tortured. While incarcerated, he is befriended by an Algerian terrorist and becomes radicalized.

Three years later, Hassan is seen emerging from a container in the port of New York and being informed of the “arrangements” for his mission. Having nowhere to live, he calls an old friend, Sayeed, who is now a physician and a fully Americanized Muslim, with a family and a nice house, in New Jersey. Hassan tells his friend that he has a job opportunity and is invited to stay with them until he is settled.

Then one day, Hassan arrives at the warehouse where the bomb-making for the mission is taking place only to discover that everyone has been arrested. Wanting to get going with his revenge, Hassan begins to secretly make his own bombs in Sayeed’s basement. His activities are first discovered by Sayeed’s son, Ali, and then by his daughter, Duri. Sayeed arrives, and after a struggle Hassan escapes. Sayeed immediately summons the police — but they are more interested in arresting him than in tracking down Hassan.

Meanwhile, Hassan is out there somewhere….

Why It Matters
As The New York Times reviewer said: “the story is staggeringly plausible.”

Julia
1977, USA, 118 min.
Director: Fred Zinnemann

Recognitions
Oscar for Best Writing (Screenplay based on material from another medium), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jason Robards) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role Vanessa Redgrave, 1978; BAFTA for Best Film, Best Actress (Jane Fonda), Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay; 1979; Golden Globes for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, 1978; and just about every film critics award in the western world.

Based on Pentimento, the memoirs of playwright Lillian Hellman

A moving recollection of Lillian Hellman’s (Jane Fonda) childhood friend, Julia (Vanessa Redgrave).

A rebel since childhood, Julia was studying medicine in Vienna when Hitler came to power and is now an attractive, prosperous intellectual who has dedicated herself to working with the anti-fascist underground in 30's Europe. The film focuses on Lillian and Julia’s relationship through flashbacks interspersed with scenes from Lillian’s long, tumultuous and often agonizing relationship with author Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards), who was her lover, friend, and most severe critic.

At the heart of the film is the episode when Lillian, now a celebrated playwright, is invited to a writers’ conference in Russia and Julia enlists her help to smuggle a substantial sum of money into Nazi Germany enroute. This is a dangerous mission.

In Germany, things are closing in on Julia and Lillian is a Jewish intellectual on her way to communist Russia. Nonetheless, Lillian manages to complete her assigned task and meets briefly with Julia, to learn that she has a child who has been named Lilly. Shortly after her return to America, Lillian is informed that Julia has been murdered. She travels to England to search for her namesake, the child she had promised Julia to care for in such an event.

Meticulously made and superbly written, acted and directed, this is a moving film, which most definitely has its heart in the right place. We found it both romantic and absolutely gripping in 1977 and feel it has been out of circulation far too long.

Page Three January/February DVD Releases>>

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©2006 Angela Pressburger
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