The 39th Cleveland International Film Festival : A (Film) Festivus for the Rest of Us!

On Saturday, a friend of mine came to visit me in Cleveland for one purpose; to attend the Cleveland International Film Festival.

I took her to see Short Films.  I think that’s the best way to start.  First of all, it’s less “risky” (you’re likely to see at least one good film) and it’s a rare opportunity to see short films.  We sat down in one of the front rows of the theater, and a man and a woman sat next to us.  We found out a few minutes later that they were an actor and director of one of the short films!

My friend had a great time and was completely hooked on the film festival by the end of it.  (Another convert!)  As we walked out, she had a great point.  She told me she was so impressed with the fact that the theater was filled with ordinary people.

It’s a point worth remembering.  A film festival in a place like New York or Cannes is likely full of major players in the film industry or wealthy elites.  But in Cleveland, with tickets as cheap as $15 a seat, the average person can easily attend the film festival and see movies from across the globe as well as local films.

It is truly a (film) festivus for the rest of us!

CIFF39-web

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The Annunciation by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

I really love this painting. The color is so rich.

Annunciation Bartolome Esteban Murillo

I also love the color scheme of the Virgin’s outfit, and the fact that she appears to be kneeling in front of an empty basket. The basket is, of course, reminiscent of an empty crib.

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Svetlana Zakharova and Andrei Uvarov in Don Quixote

The epitome of grace and loveliness.

Andrei makes the lifts look so easy. He betrays no exertion in his face. Svetlana also has beautiful extension and lines.

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Maus Misgivings

Maus, published in 1986, was the first comic book ever to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize. the author, Spiegelman, wrote the book to describe and record his father’s experiences in the Holocaust. My brother purchased a copy at one point, and Barnes and Noble push it as “Books Everyone Should Read.” And yet, in this instance, I ignore their recommendation. I don’t refuse to read Maus, but I have serious misgivings about it.

The most well known aspect of Maus is that the comic uses animals to stand for various ethnic groups; the Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, the Poles are pigs, and the Americans are dogs. This approach is actually well grounded in comic tradition, where animals are often anthropomorphized. The conceit has been controversial, needless to say.

Many people have pointed out the difficulty with portraying the Jews as mice. This draws on the stereotypes of Jews as “rats” or possessing “rat like features.” Moreover, mice are vermin. They eat grain and crops. We set traps for mice when we find them in our houses and barns, or keep cats in barns in the hope that they will keep the mice population under control. (More on cats later.) By portraying Jewish people as mice, critics argue, Maus is unwittingly conceding the Nazi’s argument.

Maus

The depiction of Poles as pigs is no less controversial. Pigs are unclean, or rather not kosher, animals. Many people in Poland find this depiction offensive. Many Polish publishers refused to publish the story and it’s eventual Polish edition in 2001 was greeted with protests.

However, I have found no one complain that the Germans are portrayed as cats. This is not surprising. The cat is a beautiful, noble, graceful animal. Indeed, the cat is the greatest animal of all. (I love cats.)  I, on the other hand, find this depiction very troublesome, and the implications very problematic.

The depiction of the Germans as cats is, on the surface, comforting. To examine the Holocaust is grapple with atrocities, with who commits them and why. Our natural reaction is to separate ourselves from the perpetrators. I remember a conversation I had with a woman about the Rwandan genocide. The woman asked, “Do they wear clothes?” The woman wanted to think of the Rwandans as barbarians, nasty, and uncivilized.

Cats reinforce this desire. A cat is a predator. Evolution has made a cat a predator. Cats have the teeth and claws of predators, the soft paws and the sharp eyesight and hearing to help them hunt. They exhibit predatory behavior instinctively, stalking and pouncing. For a cat, hunting and killing is its nature.

That is why the image of Germans as cats in Maus is so comforting. It implies that the Holocaust happened because Germans are predisposed to killing Jews and other atrocities. It is their nature. We all feel better. Unfortunately, this is simply untrue.

This hypothesis ignores the fact that Germany, before the rise of the Nazis, was a far cry from barbaric. German culture was very high, and admired all over the world. Germany was the home of many great philosophers and musicians. (I am constantly amused by how many composers hailed from Germany over the centuries, besides the obvious 3 B’s.) Germany was also the home of modern religious studies. When I saw God In America a few years ago, I was struck by the fact that two revolutionary figures in American religion, one Christian and the other Jewish, spent time in Berlin, which was apparently THE place to be. It also ignores the fact that Germany was not always particularly hostile to Jews. In The Story of the Jews, Simon Schama showed a large synagogue that was built in 19th century Germany. Bizmark himself attended the opening of the synagogue. I do not mean to suggest that pre-Nazi Germany was a haven for Jews or devoid of anti-Semitism. However, to suggest that this was inevitable, or worse, natural (!) is woefully ignorant and simplistic.

Far more dangerously, the cat depiction allows us to ignore the presence of Antisemitism and racial hatred in other countries. I could write at length on this subject, but instead, I am going to show some videos. (Because this is a blog post, I can do that.)

If the Holocaust happened because Germans are simply predisposed to commit these kinds of acts, then how do we explain this?

And this?

Or Jobbik in Hungary as shown here?

And here?

Or more pertinently, I remember being at a friend’s birthday party 10 years ago. She, and many of her friends were Jewish. I was surprised to hear a number of stories about experiences with Antisemitism. They laughed and brushed them off but I found it deeply unsettling. After all, this is America!

I don’t blame Spiegelman. He is trying to understand that which surpasses logic. Even so, I think it is crucial to point out the shortcomings in Spiegelman’s vision.

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The Raven By Edgar Allen Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”-
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;-
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door-
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered-
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before-
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore-
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never- nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore-
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite- respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by Horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore-
Is there- is there balm in Gilead?- tell me- tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore-
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked, upstarting-
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted- nevermore!

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Films About Women 24

1 Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes is a story about the bonds between women. The story centers around four women; two young women in the beginning of the century, and two older women at the end of the century. Kathy Bates plays Evelyn, a middle aged Southern woman who is unhappy with herself and her life. She enrolls in self improvement classes to try to gain self confidence and bring the passion back into her marriage without success. One day, as she was visiting a nursing home, she meets Ninny, an elderly patient played by Jessica Tandy, who begins to tell her a murder story. Intrigued, she keeps coming back to hear more.

The story revolves around two young women in the early twentieth century, Ruth and Idgie.. They are good friends bonded together by a series of hardships and tragedies, from the death of a brother to an abusive marriage. Despite this, they form a powerful friendship (or is it love?) and run a successful restaurant. However, one day this bond is threatened when Ruth’s abusive husband goes missing and Idgie is charged with his murder.

Fried Green Tomatoes

This film has great performances from fine actresses, including Mary Louise Parker, Kathy Bates, and Jessica Tandy. It is certainly not without it’s problems, especially in it’s portrayal of its black characters. However, the film is a moving and heartwarming look at the bonds between women and the perils of aging.

2 Lady Vanishes

Once again, we return to Alfred Hitchcock; this time to an early film; The Lady Vanishes. The Lady Vanishes tells the story of a young socialite named Iris, vacationing in a fictional European country. On the train ride home, she encounters an elderly governess named Miss Froy. When she awakens from a nap on the train, she discovers that Miss Froy has vanished and everyone denies seeing her.

The Lady Vanishes was Hitchcock’s first hit in America. He filmed it in his native England, where he had far fewer resources. (Shortly after this film’s release, he was lured to America, where he had far more money and far more toys.) Hitchcock appears at the end of this film in the crowd of people at the train station. Hitchcock’s tradition of appearing as an extra in his films was originally an act of necessity. In large crowd scenes, all members of the crew had to appear as extras in order to give a sense of the crowd. The film also serves as a commentary on the political situation in late 1930’s Europe. The English passengers try to stay out of the conflict, but are eventually drawn in to the fray.

Lady Vanishes

This is still one of Hitchcock’s earlier films and lacks the technical sophistication (and means) of his latter films. But despite that, the film shows Hitchcock’s consummate skills as a storyteller. The story is well structured and easily balances suspense and humor. He also populates the film with a wide variety of colorful characters.

3 Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s story of a woman brought low by her husband’s criminal behavior. Jasmine is a woman who was married to a rich and powerful man in New York. When is arrested and all of their money confiscated, she must move into her sister’s apartment and find a job. Shocked at her sudden fall from grace, she dreams of returning to the top and tries to separate herself from her past. As she schemes of returning to her former glory, she sinks lower and lower.

In many ways, Woody Allen crafts this movie as a modern day Streetcar Named Desire. Cate Blanchett is a modern day Blanche DuBois, moving in with her sister, whose boyfriend does resemble Stanley Kowwalski. She is shocked by the crassness of her sister’s lifestyle and disapproves of the men in her life. Jasmine tries desperately to hold on to her sense of identity in a place where she is “ashamed to be.” Like Blanche, Jasmine slowly loses her grip on reality and becomes increasingly desperate. The final scene of this film is so simple, but it has stayed with me very strongly during the past year.

Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett returned to film in style in 2013. She had not made a film in a number of years; choosing instead to focus on theater in her native Australia. She and her husband served as co-CEO’s of the Sydney Theater Company. This film is enough of a reason to celebrate her return to the screen. Cate Blanchett brings both the subtle sense of class and superiority that she uses to carefully hide her instability. She is marvelous. This film also ties with Midnight in Paris as my favorite late Woody Allen movie.

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Geronimo

I really like this song.  

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