Sunday, 4 May 2014

RAQUEL: A MARKED WOMAN & FROM HOLLYWOOD TO NUREMBERG: JOHN FORD, SAMUEL FULLER, GEORGE STEVENS Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2014 (TJFF 2014) - Two Docs, Great Material, Mediocre Execution

Raquel Liberman
Forced Into Sex Slavery
Raquel: A Marked Woman (2013) **1/2
Dir. Gabriela Böhm

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There's a great story here. At the turn of the 20th Century, a wave of Jewish immigrants settled in Argentina to begin a new life. Alas, the Old World has a way of following everybody. When Raquel Liberman and her two sons came to join her husband in the South American country, unexpected hard times weakened her husband to a point wherein he fell ill and eventually died of tuberculosis. Duped into accepting a seamstress job, she's coerced into prostitution by the powerful criminal organization Zvi Magdal.

She services so many clients that eventually she can buy her freedom and sets herself up as a successful business woman. The gangsters feel this will send a wrong signal, so they assign one of their own to seduce Raquel then marry her. The wooing is successful and under Argentinian law at the time, all her money and property is transferred to her husband who squanders it and sends her back to work in the brothels. Unwilling to accept that this will be her fate, Raquel does the unthinkable and takes on the mighty Jewish Mafia of Argentina. Her brave efforts smashed the criminal organization and she was single-handedly responsible for saving thousands of women from sexual slavery.

Is this not a great story? Of course it is, and it's a true story as well. Unfortunately, the film leaves a fair bit to be desired. It's a very conventional television-style documentary with a competent assemblage of archival footage and interviews. Dragging things down to even more conventional levels, the filmmaker foists a whack of cheesy dramatic recreations upon us that are also reminiscent of television doc tropes of the most egregious kind.

Perhaps someday, this will be made into a great feature length dramatic film by a director with some style and panache like Steven Spielberg or Darren Aronofsky and then Raquel's haunting, strangely uplifting story will get the royal treatment. In the meantime, we will have to make do with this by-the-numbers work that at least presents the material to make us aware of this tragic tale in the lives of Jewish women in South America and the bravery of one of them to not take it anymore.

Kudos are in order for bringing the tale to light, but that's about all one can recommend here.

Harrowing Footage from WWII
From Hollywood To Nuremberg: John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens (2012) **1/2
Dir: Christian Delage
Review By Greg Klymkiw

This should have been a great film, but it's far too compact to do little more than skim the surface. The film focuses upon the film unit of the American Armed Forces during World War II and their mission to capture footage of America's war effort. This resulted in several powerful Academy Award winning documentaries and important propaganda films in favour of America's war efforts. We get glimpses into the official work of directors John Ford and George Stevens and the unofficial work of infantryman Samuel Fuller who shot footage with a small movie camera as his unit, The Big Red One (also the title of his 1980 autobiographical war film), made their way from D-Day to the liberation of Nazi concentration camps.

There is an attempt to look at the filmmakers' output before and after the war to display how the carnage they shot changed the way they made movies in later years. This is, sadly, the least successful portion of the movie. A project of this scope and complexity deserved an exhaustive Ken Burns-styled documentary epic crossed with Scorsese's monumental filmmaking documentaries. The approach here, though, is cursory at best and goes so far as to virtually ignore the efforts of Frank Capra during this period when so many filmmakers turned their attention away from what they were doing in order to do this duty for their country.

Still, the film is worth seeing for explaining how and why this motion picture unit existed and most importantly, the haunting footage provided of battle, camp liberation and the aftermath of the war. Until such a time as someone does tackle this important story in a proper manner, this middle of the road effort will have to do.

Raquel: A Marked Woman and From Hollywood To Nuremberg: John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens are both playing at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF 2014). For tickets, visit the festival website HERE.