Tuesday 31 May 2016

THE WAITING ROOM - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Living Death of War *****

The Waiting Room (2015)
Dir. Igor Drljača
Starring: Jasmin Geljo, Zeljko Kecojevic, Cynthia Ashperger

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Even when a war is 20-years-ago and thousands of miles away, it sears its ugly imprint upon your soul forever. It's even worse if you've been forced to abandon all you know and love for a new country with few prospects for immigrants and refugees.

Jasmin (Jasmin Geljo, a tough, pug-faced Buster Keaton) knows this all too well. The popular actor and playwright fled the violent dismantlement of the former Yugoslavia and settled in Toronto. Estranged from his first wife, he still finds time to visit her in the terminal cancer ward, alternating the death-watch with his youthful adult daughter. Married to a much younger woman, with whom he's sired two children, Jasmin grows increasingly distant from her.

Eking out a living as a construction labourer whilst endlessly auditioning for stereotypical television roles requiring Eastern European gangster "types", he dreams of recapturing former glories (of the thespian kind) by returning to Sarajevo to mount the hilariously bawdy theatrical comedy he's been performing for Toronto's Yugoslavian community.

War, however, forces dreams to either die hard or at best, reside in a kind of purgatory. His attempts to move forward seem to create an ever-increasing stasis. Taking part in the filmed portion of a political avant-garde art installation about the turbulent events two decades earlier is what finally ignites memories of the war he's tried so hard to closet. One repression usually leads to another and Jasmin's purgatory intensifies.

Writer-director Igor Drljača has taken several astonishing leaps forward from his dazzling 2012 debut feature Krivina.

This sophomore effort is even more richly layered, but on this occasion, he's splashed the movie with healthy sprinklings of (mostly sardonic) humour amidst the angst. What consumes us, though, is Drljača's rich mise-en-scène - gorgeously composed still-life shots, the drab, grey Toronto juxtaposed with a fake backdrop of the gorgeous Yugoslavian countryside. The pace is miraculously measured and calculated; so much so that the picture's guaranteed to mesmerize.

Like his first feature, Drljača has crafted a devastating film about war with nary a single shot fired from a gun, nor a single bomb exploded. The echoes, explosions and shots heard round the world are burrowed in the film's devastating silence and the pain etched into the faces of those suffering strangers in a strange land are like silent screams ever-reminding us of the true casualties of war - those who live a living death.


The Waiting Room opens June 3 in Canada via A-71 Entertainment with its inaugural theatrical play date at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and additional dates to follow.

Thursday 19 May 2016

TO LIFE (À la vie) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Auschwitz survivors get some fun in the sun.

Sand, surf and fun in the sun
await this trio of MILF Holocaust survivors.

To Life (aka À la vie) (2014)
Dir. Jean-Jacques Zilbermann
Scr. Zilbermann, Danièle D'Antoni, Odile Barski
Starring: Julie Depardieu, Suzanne Clement, Johanna ter Steege,
Hippolyte Girardot, Mathias Mlekuz, Benjamin Wangermee

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I suspect I'm going to burn in hell for this, but about thirty minutes into the ludicrous post-holocaust melodrama À la vie, a most (shall we say?) unusual notion crept into my brain, thus making the entire turgid affair watchable without having to nail my feet to the floor. My thoughts began swirling with possibilities when it occurred to me that Three MILFs from Auschwitz might be the more appropriate title for this abomination and its tag-line could be something like: "Hot MILFs at the Beach! They've survived the Holocaust and now they're gonna: Live! Laugh! Cry! Most of all, though, these girls just wanna have fun!"

Ugh! That's really what the picture boils down to.

15 years after meeting, befriending and caring for each other in Auschwitz, three plucky MILFs: Helene from Paris (Julie Depardieu, yes, she's the daughter of Big Daddy Gerard Depardieu), Lily (Johanna her Steege) from Amsterdam and Montreal-based Rose (Suzanne Clement), get together for some sun, fun and frolics on the beaches of the northern French coast town Berck-sur-mer. (Uh, for the uninitiated a MILF is a "Mother I'd Like to Fuck" and the soon-to-be-utlized FILF is a "Father I'd Like to Fuck".)

"Mais oui, but I am a castrato, and you're not!"
Our MILFs are staying in the resort town gratis thanks to the largesse of handsome FILF Raymond (Mathias Mlekuz). He's well aware of the special nature of this reunion and donates the use of his rental property. It doesn't hurt that Raymond still carries a torch for Helene (she turned down his marriage proposal years ago, but they've maintained a close friendship). Instead of a potential union between this perfectly matched couple, Helene married her sad-sack childhood sweetheart Henri (Hippolyte Girardot). Why is he so dour? Well, in Auschwitz, his testes were blasted with radiation, then snipped off.

In a nutshell (so to speak), Helene has been married to a castrato for fifteen years. He can't get it up and is only able to provide kissing, cuddling and caressing. No matter. She loves him dearly. In spite of this undying love, Helene confides to her fellow MILF Holocaust survivors that this state of affairs has been depressing the living crap out of her, especially since she is still a virgin and longs for schwance instead of the (no-doubt) nimble digits drilling into her needy, greedy mutersheyd. Like some MILF Holocaust Survivor version of Porky's, the gals make it their business to get Helene laid.

As luck would have it, klafte-pronging is just around the corner. Jilted hubbie-to-never-be Raymond introduces the gals to the buff figure of Pierre (Benjamin Wangermee), proprietor of Club Mickey, the local beach day camp for kids. This 20-something God of Love turns out to be an Algerian orphan who lived in state care most of his life - it wasn't quite Auschwitz, but traumatic enough to give him some cred in the suffering sweepstakes.

Luckily, he's got a raging hard-on due to being a virgin and he's so smitten with virginal Helene that she is on the verge of getting some strokin' from a bonafide MILF lover.
A young, buff virgin Algerian orphan looking for MILF.
Of course, as this is a film about Holocaust survivors, there's plenty of serious issues to be dealt with. Alas, they're handled very clumsily and rife with cliches. All three women have deep secrets they want to reveal and the screenplay too conveniently allows each woman a shot at spilling the goods which have haunted them for fifteen years.

Everything about the picture is by rote and nothing ever rings true - so much so, that one wonders why director Zilbermann even bothered. Ah, he bothered because this is A TRUE STORY, based upon his own mother and her two friends. "Based on" seems to be the operative phrase to apply here. This is clearly a fictionalized version of the events. Though I've not seen it, Zilbermann has already made a documentary about his mom called Irene and Her Sisters. As it deals with the real subjects, I suspect it's not as ludicrously dappled in the perverse fluorescent colour scheme he employs to capture this empty fictional rendering.

In addition to the dreadful script, lacking as it is in genuine shadings of character, complexity and genuine emotion, the production design goes out of its way to be as accurate as possible in capturing period detail, but nothing ever seems to be "lived in". One of the more egregious elements soiling the picture is the jauntily horrendous ooh-la-la score which makes the film far too similar to a horrendous Claude Lelouch affair with music (if one can call it that) by the (mostly) insufferable accordionist Francis Lai.

About the only positive note is that the performance of Depardieu is extraordinary enough to evoke a genuine tear or two. One scene where she first discovers that one of her friends in Auschwitz is not dead is pretty extraordinary. Sadly, she struggles with attempting to find a character amidst the film's dross.
MILFs have secrets. Whaddya say they're gonna share a few?
Nothing in the film rings true.

"But it's a true story," you say.

I say, "So what?" If a movie can't make itself truthful, then it betrays all tenets of good storytelling.

The most disappointing aspect of the film is dashed when the MILFS declare they will meet regularly every year at the same resort. Damn! There goes the potential for a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby "on the road" franchise (albeit with MILF Holocaust survivors, 'natch). All through this wretched excuse for a movie, I kept imagining different locales for our girls to cavort about in endless sequels. Disappointingly we'll never get to see what shenanigans these wacky MILFs from Auschwitz could have had in Bali, Waikiki and Morocco. The list is endless, but merely relegated to my feverish imagination.


TO LIFE (À la vie) is an Unobstructed View release which opens May 20 in Canada.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

LEAGUE OF EXOTIQUE DANCERS opens theatrically on May 20, 2016 in Toronto (Bloor), Vancouver (Rio), Edmonton (Metro Cinema) via KinoSmith

Legendary Burlesque Queen and Russ Meyer Star
KITTEN NATIVIDAD, her cutey cartoony still emblazoned
on the equally legendary gentlemen's club, The Body Shop.
League of Exotique Dancers (2016)
Dir. Rama Rau
Prd. Ed Barreveld
Starring: Kitten Natividad, Camille 2000, Delilah Jones, Gina Bon Bon, Holiday O'Hara, Judith Stein, Lovey Goldmine, Marinka, Toni Elling


Wednesday 11 May 2016

SUNSET SONG - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Oh Dear, Another Terence Davies Masterpiece. What else is new? UK's Greatest Living Director Serves Up Epic of Romance and War.

Sunset Song (2015)
Dir. Terence Davies
Nvl. Lewis Grassic Gibbon
Starring: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Kevin Guthrie, Jack Greenlees, Daniela Nardini, Douglas Rankine, Ian Pirie, Linda Duncan McLaughlin, Mark Bonnar

Review By Greg Klymkiw

To my mind, Terence Davies is a National Treasure and easily the United Kingdom's greatest living director. Over the course of 30+ years, he's brought us eight feature length diamonds. Some have been exquisitely in the rough like 1983's The Terence Davies Trilogy of short films, the 1993 Southern Gothic of The Neon Bible and the shimmering 2008 Liverpool documentary Of Time and the City.

The carefully hewn diamonds are something else altogether - one picture after another to take their rightful place as cinematic equivalents to the priceless Persian Koh-I-Noor diamond. Blending painterly tableaux, to-die-for lighting, sweetly breathtaking camera moves (often slow and subtle), replete with Davies's virtually trademark recurring themes of time and memory, are, with few peers, amongst the best films of all time.

The masterpieces include 1988's Distant Voices, Still Lives, the gulp-and-tear-inducing exploration of a family seeking solace in "old songs" at the local pub to allay the constant physical, verbal and psychological assaults from a brutal patriarch, 1992's The Long Day Closes, a ravishing ode to movies in post-war Britain, 2000's The House of Mirth, the finest Edith Wharton film adaptation anyone will ever make, and 2011's The Deep Blue Sea, the finest film adaptation of any Terence Rattigan play that (you guessed it) anyone will ever make. (That said, Anthony Asquith's adaptation of The Browning Version with Michael Redgrave is a pubic-hair-close-second in the Rattigan movie sweepstakes.)

And now, a new masterpiece can be added to the pile.

Sunset Song is the ravishing, romantic story of a young woman who gives up her dreams of a higher education to care for farm and family. Her father is a brute who physically abuses his eldest son and demands constant sex from his wife, turning her into a breeding machine long after she is physically able to handle it. Upon the matriarch's death, Daddy Dearest gets a stroke and attempts to demand sexual favours from his only daughter. As she always has, she fights back against the unfairness and evil of patriarchy. Though her dreams of teacher's college were dashed, she discovers that her real dream consists of a deep love for the land, its people and the sweet-faced kindness offered by marrying a handsome, caring young man.

All seems well and then, war.

What's precious about her life is about to flip topsy turvy, but her strength, indomitable courage and intelligence will constantly be set upon the greatest of life's challenges. Davies charges this simple, yet complex tale with an astonishing mise en scène. Never has an on-screen courtship been sweeter and the love experienced by the young man and woman beats its heart constantly through joyous events, strife and hardships of the most devastating order and beyond.

We're faced with a myriad of life's moments with Davies's masterly direction: a deliriously romantic exchange amidst a sea of sheep, a glorious wedding sequence and barn dance, the cruelties of shell shock and the horrors of war.

There's a sequence in Sunset Song which is blessed with one of the most moving series of images and sounds that you're likely to see in any films - period. It's pure Terence Davies, yet also worthy of the very best of John Ford. The sequence is especially reminiscent of those stirring moments from Ford's screen adaptation of novelist Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley - a cornucopia of knockout moments wherein Welsh miners sing songs of sadness and joy at key points in Ford/Llewellyn's narrative of the land and its people.

Davies, of course, is not in Ford's Wales, but delivers his narrative of the land and people of Scotland in this heartbreaking, but ultimately moving and soaring film adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's immortal book "Sunset Song", the first in his important trilogy, "A Scots Quair".

As this is a Terence Davies film, music and song carry us to euphoric and elegiac heights. Using what might be the ultimate contemporary recording of Hugh Robertson's arrangement of Katherine Tynan's gut wrenching "All in the April Evening" (performed by The Glasgow Orpheus Choir), Davies and cinematographer Michael (Winter's Bone) McDonough's dazzling camera follow the people of the Estate of Kinraddie in Kincardineshire Mearns of northeastern Scotland as they slowly make their way over the rolling fields of yellow grasses until they converge upon the parish cathedral to prepare for a very solemn Sunday Service.

As beautiful and rich as the images are, along the country road and past the ancient rock buttressing the House of God, the camera, then dollying slowly backwards inside the cathedral as the townsfolk sit whilst sun streams through the majestic windows, waiting for the words of Reverend Gibbon (Mark Bonnar), there is a portent we cannot help but feel to our very core. It doesn't seem lost upon the townspeople either - what begins as a happy parade to worship, soon betrays visages of both melancholy and trepidation and the gait of the assembled, is ultimately not unlike a funeral march.

Tynan's song tells the tale of Christ's Passion, but given that Scotland has been corralled into war by England against The Hun, we cannot help but ascribe the meaning of the lyrics to reflect what really awaits the folk of Kinraddie:

The sheep with their little lambs
Pass'd me by on the road;
All in an April evening
I thought on the Lamb of God.

The lambs were weary, and crying
With a weak human cry;
I thought on the Lamb of God
Going meekly to die.

As the camera passes by the newly, happily married couple, Chris (Agyness Deyn) and Ewan (Kevin Guthrie), the lyrics are timed thusly:

. . . but for the lamb, The Lamb of God
Up on the hill-top green;

Here, Davies and McDonough reverse the angle upon the pulpit as the grim-faced Reverend slowly makes his way to the "holy" perch above the people. And the lyrics lament:

. . .Only a cross, a cross of shame
Two stark crosses between.

The Reverend ascends the stairs to his lectern of doom, lowers his head, then raises it, staring straight out at the congregation as the final lyrics hang in the air like a harbinger of death:

I saw the sheep with their lambs,
And thought on the Lamb of God.

The light then shines upon the suitably creepy Reverend as if it's been cranked-up by God Himself. Taking its place amongst such hellfire and brimstone cinematic sermons like John Gielgud in Joseph Strick's 1977 film of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Orson Welles in John Huston's film of Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Davies is blessed with the casting of Mark Bonnar to have us (and the congregation), quaking with horror.

With his brogue pitched to hysteria and meanness, Bonnar's rendering of the sermon seems to be the very core of the film (even though the picture is essentially a grand coming of age story). It goes thusly:

"As you know, we are now at war with Germany. This NEW BABYLON has as many corruption as the old one. How long it will rage is what God in His wisdom will only know. But it's a chastisement by blood and fire that the nations must arise and prevail against this enemy. And Scotland, not the least of these, in its ancient health and humility to tread again the path of peace and courage that will ultimately lead to our victory.

Their King, which they also call Kaiser, is the Antichrist - a foul evil upon this Earth that must be swept away by the righteous.

Those who will not fight to defend their country, must be exposed for that they truly are.

Cowards. And pro-German cowards at that."

History proves that the needs of the state are always bolstered by organized religion. Worse yet, World War I notoriously sacrificed the youngest and largest number of men from Scotland, Ireland and the colonies (including Canada, Australia, etc.) to ensure victory. Whole swaths of generational promise were sacrificed in this dirty war fought between the "ruling classes".

God forbid Davies should ever be politically obvious in a didactic fashion, but in so far as he chooses his material and presents it, he still exposes as many terrible truths about humanity as only the best filmmakers/artists do. Sunset Song is a love story, a coming-of-age story, but most of all, it serves as one of the most heartbreaking and potent antiwar films of the new millennium.

And here's my guarantee, you will shed copious tears.


Sunset Song Opens in Canada via Unobstructed View:
May 13: Toronto, Cineplex Cinemas Varsity and VIP (55 Bloor St. W)
Toronto Holdover, Magic Lantern Carlton Cinemas
May 27: Vancouver, Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour St.)
May 28: Winnipeg, Cinematheque (100 Arthur St.)
June 3: Calgary, Globe Cinema (617 8 Ave SW)
June 3: Waterloo, Princess Twin (46 King St. N)
June 17: Montréal, Cinéma du Parc (3575, av. du Parc)
Cinéma Beaubien (2396, rue Beaubien Est)
June 17: Ottawa, ByTowne Cinema (325 Rideau St.)
June 17: Québec City, Cinéma Le Clap (2360, chemin Sainte-Foy)
June 17: Cobourg, The Loft Cinema (201 Division St.)

Tuesday 10 May 2016

THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Retro Romp Rock, Rock, Rocks

Not only was Johnny X shot on FILM,
The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)
Dir. Paul Bunnell
Starring: Will Keenan, Creed Bratton, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Williams,
Reggie Bannister, De Anna Joy Brooks, Les Williams, Kate Maberly, Jed Rowen

Review By Greg Klymkiw

How in the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Ed Wood, Jack Arnold, Edward Ulmer and Good God Almighty Himself, does a movie like this slip through the cracks?

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is a low budget marvel crammed with style galore, loads of laughs, gorgeous black and white cinematography (by Francisco Bulgarelli, using the very last rolls of 35mm Kodak Plus-X 5231 film ever sold), imaginative costume/production design, a humdinger of a score (by Ego Plum), idiotically entertaining musical numbers, cheesily delightful SFX, a diverse range of (mostly) straight-up performances (and a few judiciously-utilized over-the-top ones), big beautiful cars, testicle cheeks, babes, hunks and a genuinely loving appreciation for those bygone days when cinema haunted the highways and byways of rural drive-inn theatres and grind houses across North America.

Oh, and the movie is overflowing with babes.

Really, now? What in the Good God Damn Hell is wrong with the world? This is a movie that deserves to be screened in every last, living independent rep/art cinema (and maybe even a few mainstream ones). Yes, it's available on DVD and VOD, but it's a movie that's been lovingly crafted to be enjoyed on big screens with throngs of in-the-flesh appreciative fans. Any indie rep-art houses and/or genre film festivals that did NOT play this film deserve to prostrate themselves before a Minotaur wearing an anaconda-sized strap-on dildo adorned with ribs of rusty Gillette razor blades to deliver a prostate massage of white hot holy terror. (It's not too late for any of the said programmers of said venues to seek redemption, mind you.)

Not since the Lady in the Radiator in David Lynch's Eraserhead have there been testicle cheeks as delicious as these on display in The Ghastly Love of Johnny X
Yes, the movie has a plot. Not that the picture needs it, but thankfully it's there and works as a decent enough wooden coat hanger for writer-director Paul Bunnell to drape lots of cool shit from.

In a nutshell, the handsome, black-leather-jacketed alien heartthrob Johnny X (Will Keenan) and his merry band of juvenile delinquents have been exiled by their elderly, unhip leaders to the dull purgatory that is the planet Earth. Worse yet, they're stranded in a lonely desert town with a diner that serves up delicious, shakes, grease and inspires musical numbers.

This is of little concern to Johnny. Earth is where he wants to be. At least, for now.

Johnny has two goals. He's searching for the powerful interplanetary alien invention called the "Resurrection Suit" - a device so powerful that it could alter all existence, like, everywhere, Daddy-O! Johnny is convinced he'll find his quarry on Earth, and when he does - watch out!

Secondly, he's got a goal not tied into interplanetary domination. You see, Johnny is not a juvenile delinquent for nothing - he's been raised as an alien bastard child. However, his birth father is none other than the rocking-est dude on Earth, the hip musical sensation Mickey O'Flynn (Creed Bratton) - a reunion with Dad is going to set a lot straight in our naughty lad's life. There is, however, a secondary problem to all this - Mickey is a has-been and, uh, he's dead. Well, not dead-dead, but in enough of a state of decomposition that a father-son reunion, a triumphant comeback concert and maybe, just maybe, a "Resurrection Suit" will come in mighty handy.

Add to this mix: a sexy femme fatale (De Anna Joy Brooks) with her own, shall we say, desires, a scum bucket music promoter (Reggie Bannister), a Tor Johnson/Lobo lookalike (Jed Rowen) ineptly wreaking havoc and one of the most gruellingly soppy and perversely sexy love stories on celluloid, twixt a Jim Nabors look-alike (Les Williams) and a sweet Annette-Funicello-crossed-with-Donna-Reed honey-bunch (Kate Maberly).

THE NATURAL ORDER: Juvie Delinquent & Femme Fatale
THE NATURAL ORDER: Dead crooners make comebacks
Of course, what science fiction musical would be complete without magnificent extended cameos from "Swan" himself, the ageless, timeless crooner-songwriter Paul (Phantom of the Paradise) Williams and, ever-so deliciously, the late, great Kevin (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) McCarthy?

Sure, this is a low budget effort and it occasionally bears a few ragged edges. Not all the laughs work and the mostly terrific musical numbers sometimes go on a tad too long. However, what really helps The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is the fact that, writer-director Bunnell doesn't go out of his way to create an intentional cult film. Yes, the homages are there, but so much of the picture plays itself straight that it feels like a labour of love by someone who knows and loves movies from a bygone era.

Oh, and have I mentioned yet that the movie has babes?

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3-and-a-half-stars

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is available on an extras-packed DVD and VOD on Amazon. That said, DEMAND your local indie art house and/or local genre film festival play this film on a BIG, BIG SCREEN. You'll be happy you saw it there first and THEN you can watch it over and over again on the home entertainment format of your choice.

Monday 9 May 2016

The Royal Cinema in Toronto is the Best Independent Movie Theatre in Canada. Why? Here is one very good reason: "Children can be nasty, don't you think?"

Retropath is The Royal Cinema's series of truly demented masterworks of the 50s and 60s. Mervyn LeRoy's 1956 chiller, THE BAD SEED, is playing 2016-05-11 in the grand College Street cinema in the heart of Toronto's Little Italy. The Bad Behaviour Pre-Show begins at 7:30pm (you must NEVER miss The Royal Cinema pre-shows) and the feature film starts at 8:00pm. You can buy advance tickets HERE or get them at the door.

The Bad Seed (1956)
dir. Mervyn LeRoy
Starring: Patty McCormack, Nancy Kelly, Henry Jones,
Eileen Heckart, Evelyn Varden, William Hopper, Gage Clarke, Joan Croydon

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"I thought I'd seen some mean little gals in my time, but you're the meanest." - Henry Jones as Leroy in THE BAD SEED

The Bad Seed has yielded a cornucopia of depraved little buggers who've sliced and diced their way through a variety of thrillers and horror films with all the requisite aplomb required to deliver maximum visceral impact.

Few will forget the shot of little Michael Myers in John Carpenter's Halloween, in the leafy suburban innocence of Haddonfield, Illinois, grasping a butcher knife, staring with the eyes of a shark and splattered with the fresh blood of his nubile teenage sister who was previously lolling about in post-coital bliss.

Damien, the pubescent Antichrist from Richard Donner's The Omen remains one of the more memorable killer children in movie history - especially the magnificent moment when he pedals furiously on his tricycle and knocks his pregnant Mom off her plant-watering perch and sends her crashing to the floor from the balcony.

Then there's my personal favourite of all kids-who-kill pictures, Alfred Sole's criminally neglected 70s thriller Alice Sweet Alice, which features some of the most repulsive killings imaginable and for most of the film's running time, we're convinced the killer is sexy tweener Paula E. Sheppard. Etched upon our minds will always be this lovely young miss, the most sickening smile plastered upon her face as she grabs a kitten by its neck and strangles it in front of its owner, the disgustingly corpulent, unwashed Mr. Alphonso, adorned in piss-and-shit-stained pants as he screams at her in his whining falsetto, "You little bitch! You killed my cat!"

The cinematic child-bride matriarch of this delightful genre is, without question, smarmy little Rhoda Penmark in Mervyn LeRoy's still-astounding film adaptation of William March's bestselling novel and Maxwell Anderson's hit play The Bad Seed.

When Daddy, Col. Penmark (William Hopper, "Paul Drake" from Perry Mason), departs for an extended business trip to Washington, we're immediately introduced to his beautiful, love-starved wife Christine (Nancy Kelly) and their insanely precious daughter Rhoda (the unforgettable Patty McCormack), adorned in a frilly white frock, tap-dancing delightfully into everyone's hearts, her blonde pigtails bobbing, her smiles ever-so warm, her language precise and formal and greeting all who enter the home with a curtsy.

Rhoda is the perfect child for the perfect All-American family.

Wrapping her arms around Daddy, she chirps: "What will you give me for a basket of kisses?"

Daddy responds, as he clearly does every time she asks: "Why, I'll give you a basket of hugs!"

Rhoda is perfection incarnate.

She's also spoiled, jealous and a sociopath.

With Dad out of town, Christine begins to notice a few oddities in Rhoda's behaviour (odder than usual). Her daughter expresses the most vitriolic banter about a schoolmate, little Claude Daigle who has won the penmanship medal at the exclusive private school she attends. Rhoda is convinced she deserved the medal and obsessively natters on about how Claude was singled out for favouritism - pure and simple.

There might be some truth to this.

Rhoda is almost insufferably aware of her perfection and Claude is an adorable young lad from a "lower-class" family who have sacrificed and scrimped to get their boy into a good school.

At a school picnic, the unthinkable happens. Claude drowns. Foul play isn't suspected, but there are some very odd crescent-shaped marks on his face. We eventually learn these quarter moons are identical to the steel plates affixed to the soles of Rhoda's tap shoes. As the tale progresses, Rhoda engages in behaviour that becomes ever-more nasty and self-centred. Christine discovers a few surprises in Rhoda's room and also learns how she herself was an adopted child - that her own birth mother was, in fact, a notorious serial killer.


Is Christine's own flesh and blood afflicted with the bad seed?

Was that previous accidental death in the town they used to live in, all that accidental? Was little Claude Daigle murdered? Who tossed lit matches into the basement storm shelter, locked it and listened to the blood curdling screams as the suspicious caretaker (Henry Jones) burned to a crisp?

Not much of this is presented as all that mysterious. We know pretty early on that all is not right with Rhoda and soon, her Mom knows it too. What we get is not so much a thriller, but a delicious melodrama. And who better to deliver the goods than the brilliant Mervyn LeRoy? Retaining much of the claustrophobic atmosphere of the play and its original Broadway cast, he lets the actors emote as if they were on stage and renders many of their key moments in closeup so that the melodrama is heightened further.

LeRoy, of course, delivered the goods on some truly great melodramas from his old studio days: the grand amnesia romance Random Harvest, the weepy orphanage tale Blossoms in the Dust and one of the finest tear-jerkers about the effect of war upon the women who are left behind in his great remake of Waterloo Bridge. He also presided over the nobility of Margaret O'Brien suffering in Little Women, the grand melodrama of Christians being led into the lions' den in Quo Vadis and, lest we forget, Edward G. Robinson croaking out his final words in Little Caesar, "Is this the end of Rico?"

With The Bad Seed, LeRoy acquits himself magnificently. There are a few tiny clunky moments, but they're easily forgiven. When the movie is working at the peak of its power, it has few equals. The subplot involving Claude's alcoholic mother is especially heart wrenching. Played by the brilliant Eileen Heckart, her handful of appearances in the film are accompanied by one of the most astonishing pieces of music from Alex North's score. (I highly recommend the soundtrack album - in particular, the piece referred to which is titled "No More Children".) Heckart's performance is bigger than big - she suffers and stumbles through her scenes with all the passion required AND a mordant wit. One of the movie's great lines is when the booze-soaked Heckart matter-of-factly quips, "It's a pleasure to stay drunk when your little boy's been killed."

Henry Jones as the demented, half-witted borderline pedophile caretaker is also a high point of the picture. Jones oozes creepiness and slime with such abandon, that he might well have rendered one of the greatest on-screen villains of all time. He recognizes the evil in Rhoda because he feels it within himself. It's implied that he might have even sexually assaulted Rhoda, so his death, while shocking, also feels strangely justifiable.

The movie's pace, at first deliberately slow, gradually amps itself up to a shattering climax and a very weird conclusion - tacked on by the Hays Code so that Rhoda doesn't get away with murder. Strangely enough, this censor-initiated coda seems even more horrific than what was there to begin with.

The Bad Seed is completely and utterly over-the-top. Some have suggested it's a product of the time it was made. I'd dispute this vigorously. The movie is a melodrama, and as such, is GREAT melodrama.

At one point, Eileen Heckart remarks: "Children can be nasty, don't you think?"

Indeed they can. And nasty children deliver first-rate entertainment value.


Retropath is The Royal Cinema's series of truly demented masterworks of the 50s and 60s. Mervyn LeRoy's 1956 chiller, THE BAD SEED, is playing 2016-05-11 in the grand College Street cinema in the heart of Toronto's Little Italy. The Bad Behaviour Pre-Show begins at 7:30pm (you must NEVER miss The Royal Cinema pre-shows) and the feature film starts at 8:00pm. You can buy advance tickets HERE or get them at the door.

Sunday 8 May 2016

THE SINGING ABORTIONIST - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF 2016) continues to deliver the goods with films ideal for their audiences, but frankly, they are playing films which should be played in a myriad of film festivals, Jewish or not. This fine documentary tells the story of a Canadian Hero who performed heroic feats the whole world should acknowledge and know about.

The Singing Abortionist (2015)
Dir. Dara Bratt

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Dr. Henry Morgentaler was a one-man army. Given his strength and perseverance, one is tempted to affix him with Schwarzenegger-like Commando-Terminator-Predator and Rambo attributes all rolled into one pumped-to-the-max-fighting-machine.

Morgentaler was pumped, alright, but not with freakishly enhanced testosterone, but rather, a passionate distaste for rules, regulations and laws which made little sense except to those who decreed them as such (and unlike cinematic one-man-armies, he was geeky, spindly, bespectacled and bearded).

The fact of the matter is that this brilliant, charming and committed "soldier" (who died in 2013 at the age of 90) fought valiantly for the rights of women in Canada, and by extension, the rest of the world.

Both loved and hated in his adopted country of Canada, his influence was felt the world over, yet very few outside its borders know his name. Dara Bratt's superb documentary The Singing Abortionist skilfully details his career as a kind, caring physician who specialized in providing abortions at a time when it was a criminal offence. He faced police harassment, prosecution, hatred, death-threats and prison, but nothing stopped him from allowing women the choice to safely terminate unwanted pregnancies.

His credo was simple: "to help people is not a crime" and in 1970, he delivered his famous press conference in which he admitted to having performed over 7000 "illegal" abortions - all with the highest level of medical care.

The film details all of this through a deft blend of interviews with the late Morgentaler (in addition to friends, family and supporters) and superbly chosen archival footage. It also provides an excellent summary of the landmark de-criminalization of abortion via two constitutional challenges he launched, one in 1975, which he lost (but bringing the issue to the fore), and then in 1988, which he won.

It's a thorough, loving biographical portrait which tells the story of a man who lived through Nazi-occupied Poland, first in the infamous ghetto of Łódź and then as a survivor of Dachau, through to his immigration to Canada, then his groundbreaking medical career and eventually, his life-long commitment to the rights of women.

Bratt does not avoid his personal life either - his complex, but eventually failed marriage, as well as his insatiable charm over a myriad of brilliant, beautiful women (not to mention his loving, but oft-estranged relationships with his children), all adds fleshing out a truly great man.

Morgentaler's experiences during the Holocaust also do not take a backseat - Bratt demonstrates how they fuelled him to always put what was right and just, first and foremost. The sadness and heartache of Dachau, did not crush him, it fuelled his desire to fight - not with bullets, but medicine and a huge sense of rebelliousness (he did, after all, perform an abortion - LIVE - on TV during Mother's Day of 1972).

On the surface, this is a simple, straightforward documentary, but it's executed with skill, passion and, in so doing, provides an extremely moving glimpse into the heart and soul of a warrior.

One sincerely hopes it will be seen as widely as possible so the world, beyond Canada, will be able to appreciate and acknowledge a true hero whose battles against the injustices so many women faced (and still, sadly, continue to face). As such, this film has considerable potential to continue Morgentaler's own unflagging war against ignorance and injustice.

By the way, The Singing Abortionist is such a great title, so apt, so inspirationally impudent, that I'll let you discover why when you make a point of seeing this important work.

The Film Corner Rating: **** 4-Stars

The Singing Abortionist enjoys its Toronto Premiere at the TJFF 2016.

Saturday 7 May 2016

BY SIDNEY LUMET - Review By Greg Klymkiw - AllLumetAllaTime@TorontoJewishFilmFestival(TJFF 2016)

By Sidney Lumet (2015)
Dir. Nancy Buirski

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Though By Sidney Lumet might not have the Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow ultra-geek imprimatur at its helm like De Palma did, director Nancy Buirski holds her own quite artfully with an extended interview shot three years before its subject's death in 2011. She crafts a sterling documentary portrait of the late American master-filmmaker who gave the world Network, Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict, Serpico, 12 Angry Men, The Hill, The Pawnbroker, Prince of the City, Daniel, Long Day's Journey Into Night and some 60+ other movie and television productions.

Like De Palma, By Sidney Lumet has only one voice. Buirski's terrific film is ALL Lumet, ALL the time and what a marvellous gift that she (and Lumet) have bestowed upon the world. And Lumet, like De Palma, talks straight to the camera.

Father and Son: Lives in the theatre
Fathers and Sons: Recurring theme in Lumet's Films

In a series of warmly lit and sumptuously, evocatively composed head and shoulders shots (accompanied by archival film, photos and film clips) he delivers fascinating biographical details of his life before the movies, a narrative of his family's involvement in Yiddish theatre in New York, Lumet's career as a successful child actor, his expulsion from the Actors' Studio after one day and then, a series of blow-by-blow reminiscences about many of his pictures.

There's no denying the appeal of Lumet's early days. His father, Baruch Lumet was a successful working actor in Yiddish theatre. Lumet recounts that his first exposure to William Shakespeare was in Yiddish. Baruch was lucky enough to land a radio drama which he wrote, directed and starred in (along with young Sidney and his Mother). The program was so popular that the $35 per week it paid was more than enough to allow the family to survive throughout the depression. Baruch even rented huge theatres and mounted live theatrical adaptations of his radio show which, more often than not, packed the house.

When Yiddish theatre began to dry up, Baruch introduced Sidney to a few leading lights on Broadway and he became one of the most successful child actors on New York's Great White Way, appearing in 14 Broadway shows including Sidney Kingsley's immortal "Dead End" (the precursor to a number of Bogart/Cagney gangster and juvenile delinquent pictures at Warner Bros as well as the long running comedy movie franchises of The Dead End Kids and The Bowery Boys).

The film brilliantly follows Lumet's philosophies of both life and art - alternating between subtlety and on-pointedness when either approach is most necessary to the film's narrative and pedagogical journey. This is no mere anecdotal exploration of his life and work, but rather, a vitally practical one. The generous clips from his top-drawer pictures not only remind us of just how great a filmmaker Lumet was, but are always rooted in the narrative he provides, which Buirski and her creative team follow religiously, but with deft variations to never instil sameness to the proceedings.

Especially poignant are Lumet's memories of his father and their special relationship. These memories are hammered home with clips from Lumet's later films which dealt with father-son relationships like Long Day's Journey Into Night, Daniel, Running On Empty and Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.

Lumet and Fonda: To do the right thing. Or not.
Buirski wisely chooses to begin the film proper with the great scene from 12 Angry Men wherein a seemingly privileged, well-to-do all-White male jury quickly dispenses with their first vote in a murder trial in which a guilty verdict will bring an automatic death sentence to the accused, a young man from the deepest, darkest, dirtiest slums of New York. Only one man, Henry Fonda ('natch) adheres to the basic principles of the law and votes not guilty as he believes there is reasonable doubt. Buirski ends the clip on a haunting image of Fonda, with one of the eeriest half-smiles of benevolence any actor has ever had to deliver, which she freezes, then fades to black.

We then find ourselves on Sidney Lumet, deep in reflection. He begins to recount the horrific story about something he witnessed in a post-war Calcutta train station. A 12-year-old girl on the platform is dragged into a train compartment by a burly American G.I. Lumet is stunned by this and can't even believe it's just happened in plain view and ignored by the throngs.

He musters enough fortitude, marches to the compartment and knocks on the door. When it opens, he realizes the G.I. has taken on the role of a pimp and is charging other soldiers an entrance fee for the pleasure of fucking the little girl. It's clear they're tossing her between them like a rag doll, viciously, callously, greedily pulling train on this child. The soldier asks Lumet if he wants a piece of the action, for a price, of course. He refuses to partake.

It is at this moment when he is seriously faced with a dilemma that's clearly haunted him his whole life. Does he say something, do something, do anything to stop this gang-rape upon a child by his fellow American soldiers?

The aforementioned clip from 12 Angry Men, so infused with the question of doing the right thing and linked to this shocking real-life situation in Lumet's own life, is what informs the rest of the picture, as well as laying out both the structure and mise en scène of the documentary itself.

"I'm not directing the moral message," Lumet offers after this harrowing introduction. He then becomes especially succinct and emphatic on his statement: "I'm directing that piece and those people. If I do it well, the moral message will come through . . . you say it's a conscious choice, I say it's an unconscious choice."

"Guess who got shot? Serpico."
"You think a cop did it?"
"I know six cops who said they'd like to."

Choices, of the "unconscious" variety comprise a great deal of Lumet's analyses of his own work and it all appears to be rooted in his childhood memories of growing up poor. To his way of thinking, being poor and having fun were not mutually exclusive because of the fact that as a kid, he only knew one way of life. It was just the way it was. As the documentary progresses, it becomes apparent just how rooted Lumet's films actually were because of the reality of his childhood - growing up in New York in cramped apartments, neighbourhoods boxed in by multi-tenant dwellings and the sheer vibrancy of always being surrounded by throngs of people.

This brilliantly explains how Lumet had a genuinely distinctive voice as a filmmaker. He seemed to always go out of his way to set films or to shoot scenes in the most constricted locations and, of course his love affair with the grime and boxed-in qualities of living in New York. He even admits how in life and his art, being anywhere but New York caused him a great deal of anxiety.

That the documentary places huge emphasis upon the seeming constrictions of Lumet's long career as a television director is especially telling. In the clips and in Lumet's own words, we experience how he was able to move quickly and effectively, bringing an innate cinematic eye to his television drama and continuing on a larger scale with feature films.

And film after film, By Sidnet Lumet charts a world of humanity and vibrancy within world which, for the most part, are closed in. If anything, Sidney Lumet thrived on claustrophobia. Furthermore, it was this sense of claustrophobia which resulted in cinematic two-by-fours to one's senses whenever his pictures exploded fro within tight confines into the wider world. Network, with its boardrooms and television control rooms are always vibrant, but whenever he whips us out of doors - think Peter Finch in closeup in the TV studio delivering his "mad as Hell" speech, juxtaposed with smash cuts to the outside world as people fling open the windows upon the streets to do the mad news-anchor's bidding, screaming out to the world, "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

This incredible mise en scène in film after film is what tantalizes us, excites us, presents the moral message and, in many cases, elicits huge laughs and feelings of elation on our part. Who will ever forget the hot, sweaty confines of a bank under siege, juxtaposed with Al Pacino leaping onto the streets screaming: "Attica! Attica! Attica!"

We also get a sense of how Lumet's cinematic renderings of words, dialogue and monologue continually flew in the face of what had become common wisdom in film. One picture after another has characters dominating scenes they're in with some of the most astonishing, heart-wrenching monologues. His adaptations of theatre were especially brave as he sought to not "open-up" the properties, just for the sake of moving us out of the "stage bound" settings. In Lumet's deft hands, the phrase "stage bound" never existed. All he cared about was creating drama on film, placing his subjects directly in the eye of the storm of his eyes.

Most of all, the nice thing about Buirski's film is that she never lets's us forget any moments of Lumet's filmmaking genius. They're inextricably linked to Lumet's words and both are proof that sometimes, silence is not golden.


By Sidney Lumet can be seen at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF 2016).

Friday 6 May 2016

DEMON - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF 2016) - The late Marcin Wrona's dybbuk thriller one of the scariest, sickeningly creepy horror films of 2015

Demon (2015)
Dir. Marcin Wrona
Starring: Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Żulewska

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The dybbuk has always been one of the most bloodcurdling supernatural creatures, yet its presence in contemporary horror films has, for the most part, been surprisingly absent. Rooted in Jewish mythology, it is the spirit of someone who has suffered a great indignity just before death and seeks to adhere itself to the soul of a living person in order to end its own purgatorial suffering. Alas, it causes as much nerve-shredding pain to the spirit as it does to the body of the one who is possessed. Invading the physical vessel in which a fully formed spirit already resides is no easy task and can result in a battle of wills, which not only implodes within, but tends to explode into the material world with a vengeance.

Demon successfully and chillingly brings this nasty, unholy terror to where it belongs, upon the silver screen, as opposed to the natural world. The late Polish filmmaker Marcin Wrona (who died suddenly and mysteriously at age 42, just one week after the film’s world premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival) hooks us immediately and reels us in with an almost sadistically gleeful use of cinema’s power to assail us with suspense of the highest order.

On the eve of his wedding to the beautiful Zaneta (Agnieszka Żulewska), the handsome young groom Peter (Itay Tiran) discovers the remains of a long-dead corpse in an open grave on the grounds of his father-in-law’s sprawling country estate. He becomes obsessed with this ghoulish treasure lying within the unconsecrated earth of a property bestowed upon the couple as a wedding gift. Not only will the nuptials be performed and celebrated here, but the happy twosome have been blessed with this gorgeous old house and lands as their future home.

Much of the film’s stylishly creepy events take place over the course of the wedding day. Wrona juggles a sardonic perspective with outright shuddersome horror during the mounting drunken celebrations at this extremely traditional Polish wedding. As the band plays, the guests dance between healthy guzzles of vodka, whilst the dybbuk clings to the poor groom, his body and soul wracked with pain.

When Peter begins to convulse violently, the lone Jewish guest at the Roman Catholic wedding, an elderly academic, is the one person who correctly identifies the problem.

Wrona’s camera dips, twirls and swirls with abandon as the celebratory affair becomes increasingly fraught with a strange desperation. Are the guests merely addled with booze, or is the estate a huge graveyard of Jews murdered during the Holocaust?

Is it possible that an army of dybbuks is seeking an end to their lonely, painful purgatory?

Demon raises many questions, but supplies no easy answers. What it delivers, however, is one of the scariest, most sickeningly creepy horror films of the year. If anything, the dybbuk has finally found a home in the movies, and we’re the beneficiaries of Wrona’s natural gifts as a filmmaker, as well as the largesse of this ancient supernatural entity, which so happily enters our own collective consciousness as we experience its nail-biting havoc over a not-so-holy matrimonial union.


DEMON can be seen at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF 2016). My review was first published at Electric Sheep - a deviant view of cinema.

Thursday 5 May 2016

NATASHA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Stellar Opener for Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2016

Natasha (2015)
Dir. David Bezmozgis
Starring: Alex Ozerov, Sasha K. Gordon, Aidan Shipley, Deanna Dezmari

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Given the ongoing richness of the immigrant experience in Canada, a country with an official policy of multiculturalism, it's so important for our cultural industries to tell these stories and reflect our mosaic as it shifts across time. Natasha, written and directed by Canadian filmmaker David Bezmozgis is an especially layered, intelligent and evocative portrait of immigrant life in Canada.

To think of the utter waste of Canadian taxpayer dollars on a mind-numbingly mainstream and mediocre international co-production like Brooklyn (uh, a period piece about an Irish colleen finding romance in post-war New York) leaves a bitter taste, especially considering all the great stories to be told by talented filmmakers in Canada. Thankfully, the bilious sapidity forced upon our country's cultural palate by the sickeningly twee Brooklyn is replaced very nicely with the exquisite taste of Natasha.

Based on an original story by Bezmozgis, he has skillfully adapted it from a 90s setting to the contemporary northern suburbs of Toronto. Using the rich backdrop of the Eastern European (primarily Russian) Jewish community, we follow the story of handsome 16-year-old Mark (Alex Ozerov) as he whiles away his summer days amidst the relatively affluent greenery of the pleasantly sleepy enclave of wide streets, big garages and the seemingly endless rows of tastefully-designed (though unexceptional in their very modernity) homes.

Into this world comes the beautiful 14-year-old Natasha (Sasha K. Gordon). She is the daughter of a recent middle-aged immigrant from Moscow who will be marrying Mark's nebbishy Uncle. Family is family, though and Natasha will be Mark's cousin, if only by marriage. As such, he's recruited to be a tour guide to this seemingly shy young girl who speaks only Russian. She's not shy for long, though - at least not in Mark's presence.

It seems inevitable that they should fall for each other, but as the film progresses, deep secrets of Natasha's life in Russia are parcelled out and several family conflicts begin to rear their ugly heads to threaten the relationship. What's especially telling is the differences between the "new" immigrants (Natasha's Mother) and those who've had time to establish themselves in the "New World" (Mark's family). These contrasts are brilliantly juggled throughout the film since it is the differences which tend to provide the greatest conflict, but they do so in tandem with "old world" values which tend to creep into the proceedings.

The film is gorgeously written, most notably in terms of charting its narrative and rich characters in ways you never expect. Its very surface simplicity is what yields so many layers of complexity, humanity and rich, believable surprises. The film's subplots involving Mark's family and his friend, an amiable wealthy young man with a not-so straight-up interior, are also woven perfectly into the fabric of the story in ways that always surprise us.

There is, ultimately, no denying that Natasha is a love story within a coming-of-age tale, but in spite of its occasional forays into the familiar (that come with the territory of the genre) and the delightful gymnastics of youthful romance, Bezmozgis delivers a film that is as bitter as it is sweet. Bittersweet qualities in this genre can also be a dime a dozen, but happily the film shies away from the all the aforementioned tried and true elements by etching story beats that twist the familiar, all in ways closer to life itself.

As well, the movie is blessed with a stylistic adherence to letting drama play out naturally and the picture succeeds because of the filmmaker's very deft approach to neorealism.

Visually, Bezmozgis seeks simple, but dramatically resonant shots. With expert cinematography by Guy Godfree and first-rate production design elements (in particular the nice, subtle touches in the interior set dressing) and in addition to the very real locations, Bezmozgis allows his drama to play out with flourishes that are always discriminating. What's nice, and not unlike so many of Vittorio De Sica's masterful visual approaches, is that the film blends very classical shot structures with those that are as equally naturalistic (especially inherent in Godfree's lighting).

As a director with far more experience than this sophomore effort implies, Bezmozgis blocks the action of his cast so that they seem genuinely rooted in the place and time they occupy and the occasional plumes of breathtaking visuals occur in terms of both camera and the gorgeously paced and narratively effective editing by Michelle Szemberg. Like the best neorealism, we always feel like we're in a real place and time with equally real people (thanks also to a perfect cast), but, when dramatically necessary, our filmmaker sneaks a delicious frisson into the film to tantalize us and move us forward.

Bezmozgis achieves this by investing his imagery with several important visual signposts which have the effect of working on us inconspicuously - rooted naturally in setting and, most saliently, in the dramatic language of the film. Perhaps the most glorious example of this is the basement window of Mark's home, one which looks into his living quarters and reflects the light of day (or night) as the story proceeds. It's so evocative that it eventually becomes a kind of deliriously romantic image via Mark's point of view in the basement. When Bezmozgis reveals this point of view in reverse, the effect is heartbreaking.

Darkness is what ultimately wends its way through this moving, romantic tale. It makes the light seem brighter when it needs to be, but on occasion the light of day - in both exterior and interior settings - take on a portent which ultimately delivers on a classical coming-of-age story that hurts as much as it offers hope.

The hurt, is familiar - not familiar in terms of the filmmaking, but in the haunting and decidedly unidealistic experiences felt by the film's characters that we, as an audience, recognize in our own experience.

This, of course, is what makes terrific pictures. Natasha is one of them.


Natasha is the opening night film of the 2016 Toronto Jewish Film Festival and opens theatrically May 6, 2016 in Canada via Mongrel Media.

Wednesday 4 May 2016

I, DALIO - OR THE RULES OF THE GAME - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Kudos to Toronto's Jewish Film Festival (TJFF16) presenting the NorthAmerican Premiere of one of the best portraits of acting in film in years, maybe ever! A startling portrait of racism in casting.

To be a great Jewish actor like Marcel Dalio
in Pre-War Paris meant to always play a Jew or Arab
and in either ethnicity, play a pimp, 
snitch, woman-beater,
gun-runner, smuggler, usurer, killer or coward.

I, Dalio - or the Rules of the Game (2015)
Dir. Mark Rappaport
Starring: Voice of Tito De Pinho as Marcel Dalio

Review By Greg Klymkiw

To be a great actor in pre-war France meant you were marginalized in ways that today's diversity-in-film whiners can't even begin to imagine.

I, Dalio - or the Rules of the Game is so damn wonderful. The picture completely immerses you the world of French actor Marcel Dalio and though it runs a mere 33 minutes, the picture never feels rushed and yet, when it's over, one feels replete in all the good ways movies should make you feel. You hope, youou wish it could keep going. Director Mark (Rock Hudson's Home Movies, From the Journals of Jean Seberg) Rappaport achieves what all filmmakers really want and that's to leave their audiences wanting more.

Meticulously, lovingly researched, we hear Dalio as a "character" telling his experiences as an actor in pre-war France, wartime America and postwar France and America. Dalio's "voice" is superbly rendered by Tito De Pinho with such passion and verve, we feel no doubt that the words are literally diary/journal/autobiography writings.

Using generous film clips, we discover how antisemitic France was. Dalio's looks forced him to play the Jew, or in some cases, the Arab. In every case he was portrayed as a snivelling pimp, black marketeer, snitch, gun-runner, petty criminal, usurer, killer and coward. Though his characters were never directly referred to as "a dirty Jew" (or Arab). In one film he is described as France's most successful usurer which was tantamount to saying he was a Jew.
Dalio as "Frenchy" in To Have and Have Not.
Dalio in Casablanca: "Your winnings, sir."
The only role he played in which he was allowed to be a Jew, but with a fully fleshed-out character and a positive spin in France was in Jean Renoir's WWI prison war drama, La Grande Illusion, and years later in Renoir's The Rules of the Game.

Leaving France for America, just prior to the Nazi occupation, Dalio was no longer singled out to be cast as a Jew or Arab. He became the dashing "Frenchman". In Howard Hawks's To Have and Have Not, Dalio played the heroic resistance smuggler "Frenchy". Inexplicably uncredited, Dalio gets one of the best moments in Casablanca when he approaches local constabulary Renault (Claude Rains) after the Vichy cop complains about the illegal gambling in Rick's Café Américain and Dalio, immediately shoving a wad of cash into Renault's hand, utters the immortal line, "Your winnings, Captain."
Dalio in the title role of Rabbi Jacob!
Post-war France brought somewhat less racist roles, but again, he was better cast in American cinema, once again, as a charming Frenchman. Finally, in France during the 1970s, Dalio was cast in the great comedic role of Rabbi Jacob

Rappaport's film is an exquisite memory piece and blessed with a very cool narrative structure. Ultimately, we see the story of a great actor, Jew or not, eventually playing what he was more than qualified to play - a romantic figure and a Frenchman. The whole affair, though, is played with a heartbreaking blend of triumph and sadness.

And I reiterate, what the great Dalio went through, makes contemporary "Oscars so White" actors in comparison, sound like mere killjoy crybabies.


I, Dalio - or the Rules of the Game makes its North American premiere at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2016. Try to see it on a big screen, preferably on a programme featuring Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion and The Rules of the Game, but if the opportunity does not arise, you can watch it on Fandor.