Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy [2004)

The world is fucked up.

This is probably the craziest year most of us have ever lived through.

When has the world, in its entirety, faced such chaos in recent memory?

9/11 brought us terror on a horrific, spectacular* level.

Guy Debord predicted this in 1967 with his seminal book La société du spectacle.

No, he did not pull a Nostradamus (who happens to share my birthday).

He did not predict the three towers (including the 47-story WTC7) falling into their own footprints.

But he predicted something much more useful, or at least applicable, to our present times.

The “locus of illusion” that Debord talked about remains (though it be besieged on all sides) television.

For our purposes, we shall call it “video”.

Moving pictures.

Debord also predicted our current age of social-media dominance.

Though he could not name it then, he described it perfectly as, “a social relationship between people…mediated by images.”

What does the word “Facebook” evoke when you hear it?

Does it sound a bit like a dating site?

What role do memes (manipulated images) play in our social discourse?

“The spectacle”, Debord told us, “…turns reality on its head.”

How much of what you hear “on the news” (whether that be television, radio, Internet, social media) do you trust?

Because you are smart, dear reader, you consider the source.

And so do I.

Debord wanted to say something about fakes.

The epigrammatic beginning to the first chapter of The Society of the Spectacle gets right to this point.

It was the philosopher Feuerbach who said that in, “…the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to essence…illusion only is sacred, truth profane.”

Ludwig Feuerbach wrote those words in the 1800s.

But the Irish rock band U2 would come to a similar epiphany in their song “Even Better Than the Real Thing”.

Debord wanted to talk about fake-ness.

But he also wanted to qualify his description of “the spectacle”.

For Debord, “reality erupts within the spectacle, and the spectacle is real”.

To translate (from French to English to philosophy to layman’s terms), there are some aspects of our image-driven information culture that are real (though a good deal of fake news exists).  But owing to the lack of a competing narrative to the overwhelming chorus of voices in agreement (corporate news), “the spectacle” (whatever the talking heads tell you) is, de facto, real.  Never mind that it might all be rubbish.  The sheer repetition of certain truths–day after day, hour after hour (from all the many “options” [ABC, CBS, NBC, New York Times, Washington Post])–renders those “truths” the currency of “factual” discourse.  Without an independent, competing narrative from alternative news sources (which currently lack the scale and reach to pose a symmetric threat to “legacy media”), whatever the aforementioned “usual suspects” (ABCBSNBC…) tell you is TRUE becomes “truth” the moment they report it.  The national news coverage of American current events is indistinguishable whether one has ABC, CBS, or NBC dialed up on the tele.

But the times, they are a-changin’.

Donald Trump’s 3+ years in office have been “a moment of falsehood”, which is to say, truth.

As Debord wrote, “In a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood.”

Debord seemed to be describing the “legacy media” when he wrote of an entity “out of reach and beyond all dispute”.

Of particular concern in this current situation (which already existed in Debord’s day) is the role that vision plays in our mediated understanding of the world.

As Debord wrote, “…it is inevitable that it should elevate the human sense of sight to the special place once occupied by touch…”.

He goes on to describe “sight” as, “…the most abstract of the senses, and the most easily deceived…”.

Think about a painting by Monet.

Waterlilies.

What are you seeing?

You are seeing the work of someone [Monet] whose eyesight was impaired.  Literally.  But though it be impaired, he still painted wonderful, huge canvases which EVOKED the atmosphere of a pond with waterlilies.

You are seeing blurry images.

Your brain has to fill in the details.

You are not seeing a high-definition photograph.

Furthermore, you are seeing oil paints which have been applied to a cloth canvas.

You are seeing a depiction.

This takes us all the way back to Plato’s “cave”, but I digress…

What happens when the big three TV networks in the U.S. get something wrong?

What about the New York Times and Washington Post (to just name the two most widely-distributed offenders)?

Do any of these entities make a concerted, SINCERE effort arising from true integrity to correct their previous, faulty coverage on events?

Debord could answer before the question was asked…because he knew the nature of these organizations (even in his native France).

He wrote, “The spectacle is by definition immune from human activity, inaccessible to any projected review or correction.  It is the opposite of dialogue.”

Social media changed this briefly.

But now, Twitter is acting like the generalissimo of a banana republic by banning accounts which “promote” the “conspiracy theory” known as QAnon.

This is just one example–from one social media platform–where the fleeting dialogue which threatened (?) “the spectacle” has been shut down.

Google, working closely with the communist Chinese government, is all too happy to facilitate similar totalitarian censorship in China…all for a buck (or yuan).

So let’s talk about vision/sight for a moment.

Did George Floyd die under the knee of Derek Chauvin?

All of the “usual suspects” (ABCBSNBC) tell me he did.

And there’s video!

Video never lies, does it?

I mean…movies are all true, right?

Is the video that Darnella Frazier ostensibly shot on her cell phone “documentary” footage?

It may be more than one thing.

It is possible to honestly document fake-ness (without knowing you are filming a pageant).

Have you ever seen an actress cry on command?

I have.

It is quite an astounding thing.

I have a friend who is a major motion-picture actress.

She once burst out in tears…right next to me.

I started to offer my condolences.

I was generally concerned.

I almost started crying.

Then she abruptly jumped out of character with a smile…to let me know she was just pranking me.

It was VERY convincing.

She had never done that to me before.

It was novel.

I had no experience against which to measure her crying fit.

I thought of her as a friend first and as an actress second.

I forgot, temporarily, that she was unequivocally a professional faker.

But Guy Debord saw more to “the spectacle” than just a stream of fake-ness.

Debord seemed to also sense an approaching hour when human relations would become totally stifled.

To hear Debord tell it, “Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle.”

Both its goal and its essence.

While mass media seems to bring us together (shared touchstones, talismans…), in actuality, it separates us more from one another.

We are always obliged to mention what “the news” says about a certain topic.

It is rare (almost impossible) that two people have a conversation where they each give their opinion of a recent event and “the spectacle” (a mass, homogenized media) is not invoked (in deferential terms) at some stage as a reference point.

Debord describes the “weapons of that system” as ranging “from cars to television”:  all meant to “reinforce the isolation of ‘the lonely crowd'”.

But Guy Debord was not merely taking aim at television and mass media.  He saw further.  He seems to have, though writing in 1967, seen the inevitably of the Internet.

As he describes it, “The spectacle is a map of this new world–a map drawn to the scale of the territory itself.”

While this is indeed a reference to a story by Borges (the world=the map), Debord’s insight in applying this to mass communication and information dissemination is extraordinarily prescient.

Guy Debord, it must be said, was not without fault.

Most importantly, he was an avowed Marxist.

So his perspicacity ended where mass media stops and economics begins.

Which brings us to the film Anchorman…

Will Ferrell is awkward here.

And gloriously so!

We get gender division.

1970s.

As today we continue to get race divisions.

Who is driving this?

Cui bono?

The British were quite good at “divide and conquer”.

In the Indian subcontinent, Hindus and Muslims had lived relatively peaceably together…until the British decided to stoke this latent division for cynical ends.

“If the Hindus and Muslims are fighting each other, they can’t pose a unitary threat to us.”

That is what I can imagine British military strategists saying at the time when India was under their occupation.

And it worked.

It was brilliant.

Evil, but brilliant.

Ask yourself a question:  who benefits (cui bono) from blacks and whites and Hispanics and Asians and police and civilians in America being divided and at each other’s throats?

What series of events led to the isolation (frustration) needed to create the current powder keg that went up in smoke with the George Floyd event?

Ron Burgundy will read anything that is put in front of him on a Tele-Promp-Ter.

…as evidenced by his most unfortunate sign-off, “Go fuck yourself, San Diego!”

Which brings us to Joe Biden.

FDR managed to keep it a secret that he was stricken with polio.

He was carted around in a wheelchair during his Presidency.

He had the Resolute desk in the Oval Office modified so that a panel on the front obscured the prying eyes of news cameras.

You could not see his legs fastened to his wheelchair.

And the press obliged.

They loved FDR.

Good old liberal, Democrat FDR.

Elected to the Presidency FOUR times (an American record).

In the White House for over 12 (!) years.

Our Constitution was amended to make this impossible from there on out.

Now the limit is eight years (two terms).

All that notwithstanding, FDR never lost his mental faculties to any significant degree.

He had a physical disability which prevented him from ambulating fully.

Joe Biden can walk fairly well.

Sadly, there is no desk panel that can hide his mental deterioration.

It is there.  It will be there.  And it will get worse.

Which makes Joe Biden a FAR MORE RIDICULOUS candidate than Donald Trump.

And again, “the spectacle” is running defense for Biden.

Making excuses.

Tossing softball questions (if any at all).

The best thing that vicious, Marxist Democrats in the United States can come up with is a dud missile named Joe Biden.

He is harmless (to extend the missile metaphor), and in that he is very harmful.

He is, as regards the responsibilities of the Chief of the Executive Branch, useless.

Which gives us just one more example of how fakes are being foisted upon us.

Never has there been such a poor candidate for the American Presidency as Joe Biden.

It is becoming apparent to all that, if elected, he would not run his own government.

What a sham!

Why didn’t the Democrats have the foresight to nominate Cory Booker or Kamala Harris?

It couldn’t be because they are RACIST, could it?

Remember, Donald Trump is such a horrible misogynist.

How was it that the Democrats failed to nominate Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar?

Democrats REALLY care about Latinos in the U.S.

That’s why they failed to nominate a guy named Castro.

Democrats are so diverse!

That’s why they passed on nominating a guy named Yang.

And what did the Democrats end up with?

A halfwit, old, white man named Joe Biden.

Halfwit is really too kind a descriptor here.

The mobs wanted Ron Burgundy’s head.

Because he told them to “go fuck themselves”.

But it was a false-flag.

Did Ron Burgundy write the line, “Go fuck yourself, San Diego!” on the Tele-Promp-Ter?

No.

Veronica Corningstone did.

Did the truth about who REALLY wrote it come out?

No.

Not even from a news organization.

Burgundy was summarily fired and his life went to shit.

He ended up wandering the streets like a cross between fat Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer-influenced) and Brian Wilson.

Bathrobe and cheeseburgers.

Nilsson Schmilsson.

Drinking milk in the…hot sun!

But what goes around comes around.

Ms. Corningstone is pushed into a bear pit at the zoo.

An unenviable position, that.

And it takes a little dog to diffuse the situation.

A mob of bears.

A proud species.

Wronged by this intrusion into their hibernation.

But Baxter, the little dog, has a message.

“These are not the droids you are looking for.”

The bears consider the source.

They will not take Ron Burgundy’s word for it.

They will not take Veronica Corningstone’s word for it.

But they will listen to a fellow creature from the animal kingdom.

“I know your cousin,” Baxter says (and I paraphrase).

Baxter’s message rings true.

The bears reconsider.

They are able to retreat gracefully.

Baxter has just acted as crisis negotiator.

A feel-good movie ends with former enemies expressing respect for one another.

Respect.

Not total reconciliation.

But a cessation of the mad chaos.

Brick Tamland (played brilliantly by Steve Carell) ends up (we are told) becoming a “top political advisor” to the Bush administration.

Mass media.

The spectacle.

Hollywood could not help taking a pot shot at a Republican President (even in a light-hearted comedy [and even though the bastard Bush deserved it]).

Why?

Because Bush was a (shitty) Republican (and a war criminal).

But for the eight years of Obama’s Presidency (and the eight years of Bill Clinton’s Presidency), you never saw Hollywood comment (on film) about the merits of these two Democrats.

Why?

Because the Democrat Party is inseparable from the mass media in the United States.

So let me ask you one final question:

do you think you are getting the truth about President Trump, coronavirus, George Floyd, or anything else from this tight-knit cabal of fakers?

Stay classy!

 

-PD

Frank [2014)

My dear friends, it is so good to be alive 🙂

But very difficult to be sick.

I must admit, it took me two days to watch this film.

This one hit a little too close to home.

But that’s ok.

Yes, I am finally feeling better on the allergy front.

Now I am struggling with that old nemesis of mine:  nicotine.

Yep, that’s right.

Trying to kick that habit.

Whoa (woozy feeling)…

Maybe did that a little too fast 🙂

But most of all, you know, every day I struggle with anxiety.

I don’t usually address it in such naked terms.

But it is fair here to talk about this biggest of all struggles for me.

Because Frank is a film about mental illness.

You know, if you apply for a job, you might get a “questionnaire” enquiring about your health.

America is very “democratic” and “fair” in hiring processes, but still these questionnaires persist.

And I suppose the last round of jobs I applied for (merely two) opened my eyes to the reality of my situation a bit.

Looking down the list of “conditions”, I realized I must (to be honest) check two boxes.

[Though the questionnaire was “voluntary”]

So I have “anxiety disorder” (big time!) and asthma (not so bad, but it can pop up).

So wow…I thought…man, these are listed as “disabilities” (if I remember correctly).

While some people might celebrate a disability condition, for me it’s not really cause for cheering.

But then I thought, “Wait…are these really disabilities?”

Well, I’m not going to give a medical/legal ruling on that (because, frankly [no pun intended] I don’t know).

But I know one thing:  anxiety can be totally debilitating.

I’ve had a really hard time readjusting to “life” after two and a half years of intense graduate studies.

I graduated about a month ago.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…

My body just kinda shut down…gradually…in different ways.

That momentum which had carried me across the finish line evaporated.

And so life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries.

Anxiety is a bitch!

When I have nothing to realistically worry about, I find something.

If there is something from which worry can be derived, I will find it.

And it will drive me nuts.

At a certain point, one has to laugh at the ridiculousness of such an impulse.

[It’s not something I can very well control, you understand.]

And that brings us to our film Frank.

Frank is a fucked up guy.

Imagine the Jack in the Box guy from the commercials with the big fake head.

And then have that guy lead a rock band.

Yeah…

This film really defies all description.

So we have to dig a bit to really delineate what is going on in this masterful film.

First of all, this film has caused me to create a new category in my global survey of cinema for a country which I love (for a multitude of reasons):  Ireland.

Yes, Frank is an Irish film.

Funny enough, no one in the film has an Irish accent.

[Which begs the question, “Is it really an Irish film?”]

But I’m calling it an Irish film because I really admire the balls it took Lenny Abrahamson to make this picture.

Our director, Mr. Abrahamson, was born in Dublin in 1966.

Ok, it’s Irish (at least as far as “auteur theory” goes).

So what?

There’s something about Ireland which I get from the eccentrics.

James Joyce was the master of them all.

I will read Finnegans Wake till my dying day and still glory in the fact that I have no REAL idea what it’s truly about 🙂

But this film, Frank, takes us to a place I know very well:  rock and roll.

And more specifically:  indie rock.

It is a “genre” which attracts the most far-out individuals in the world.

And I must say, there were several times in this film where I could feel the spirit of one of my favorite bands of all time.

An Irish group.

Rollerskate Skinny.

Our director is 50.  I’m 40.

Maybe our frames of reference are different.

Youngsters might think Animal Collective or even the arduous process which produced Arcade Fire’s tortured Reflektor.

But Frank makes me think of that early-90s noise-pop wave which was spearheaded by bands like (my favorite group ever) Mercury Rev and Rollerskate Skinny.

When I see Frank, I see David Baker.

But I know my history.

I’ve studied weirdos all my life.

So I also see David Thomas of Pere Ubu.

And of course Don van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart).

Frank is certainly a film which the “Pitchfork generation” should be able to get behind.

I’ve had dinner with Roky Erickson.

I’ve seen what Frank is groping for.

Yes, it’s that madness which made Syd Barrett great.

But such madness comes with a price.

We can listen to that first Pink Floyd album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)…songs like “Lucifer Sam” where Barrett is brilliant.

And we can trace that brilliance to his solo album The Madcap Laughs…songs like “No Good Trying”.

But to be SO fucked up…to be SO far out…it ain’t fun.

I’ve heard about Roky Erickson’s time at the Rusk State Hospital for the criminally insane.

It’s not a pretty picture.

But let’s talk about this damn film 🙂

It had me hooked once I caught faint traces of those first two Mercury Rev albums (Yerself is Steam and Boces) in the sounds I was hearing emanating from Soronprfbs.

Yes, Soronprfbs.

The perfect name to describe the obtuse band at the center of our story.

Here’s a band so weird, they don’t even know how to pronounce their own name (when they show up at SXSW).

[But I’m getting ahead of myself]

First, I was wrong about Irish accents.

Indeed, Frank is such a bizarre film that one soon forgets that Domhnall Gleeson is speaking in one for the entirety 🙂

Gleeson is in the right place at the right time.

It’s happened to me.

I once got a MySpace message (remember those days?) and spent the next four years in a Cajun punk rock band.

It can happen.

Those were the best years of my life.

But it’s HARD!

Taking a van back and forth (and back and forth) across the country.

Flying (I hate flying) to awesome, bizarre locales.

For someone with bad anxiety, these aren’t easy tasks.

And we see that in the character of Frank.

As I said, Frank has problems.

Somehow, Gleeson joins Frank’s band Soronprfbs.

And the rest is a whipsaw of insanity.

No, Frank is not a relaxing watch, but it is hilarious!

And very meaningful!!

Soronprfbs, as a band, is a shambles.

[not to be confused with Babyshambles]

There were several times when I caught glimpses of the weirdness that is another of my most favorite bands:  The Homosexuals.

But, this film can hardly be reviewed properly without talking about The Residents.

Soronprfbs are mythic (if only in their own minds).

Their fame, however, grows.

And with fame, stage fright.

It happens to even the most grounded individuals (like Robbie Robertson).

But nothing fits the bill quite like Mercury Rev.

Soronprfbs are apt to have fights on stage.

Perhaps one member tries to gouge another’s eye out on a transatlantic flight.

That kind of stuff.

Sure, Oasis have had mid-air spats about blueberry scones.

And maybe The Sex Pistols only played to twelve people (or whatever) at their first show.

But Soronprfbs, for me, is that band which would hang electric guitars from the ceiling and let them feed back for the entirety of a show.

Which is to say, Mercury Rev.

But let me pull in the younger folks.

Think, for example, The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Fights onstage.

Obvious mental problems.

Or is it just a put-on?

And let’s go back…

The Doors.

Jim Morrison being totally whacked out of his gourd onstage.

But no, Soronprfbs is weirder…and far more obscure.

Think, for instance, Alan Vega leading Suicide in a performance at CBGB’s.

The writers of our film (Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan) will probably know everything I’m talking about [were they to ever read this].

Because they (or at least one of them…Ronson?) know the mechanism which attracts so many of us to BANDS.

[“those funny little plans/that never work quite right”]

That mechanism is mystery.

But in this case, it is the mystery of reclusive eccentricity.

Put simply, madness.

[not to be confused with the band Madness]

So Ronson and Straughan even include the perfect musical instrument to act as a talisman for their tale:  the theremin.

And they even get the character’s name right:  Clara.

[after theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore]

The theremin has a long history in eccentric rock and roll.

Indeed, late in Frank when we see our dejected main character sleeping in his bathrobe at the French Quarter Inn (a fleabag motel), his sartorial sense evokes Brian Wilson’s rough years.

Yes, the theremin goes back to at least “Good Vibrations” and the zaniness which was The Beach Boys’ album Smile.

But the theremin has come to embody the obtuse and pretentious in rock and roll.

And so it is no wonder that bands such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion picked up on this wooziest of all instruments.

Which brings us finally to a salient point.

Frank includes at least one star:

Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal plays stone-cold bitch Clara:  Frank’s girlfriend.

[remember, Frank is the guy with the papier-mâché head…and he never takes it off…ever]

Gyllenhaal’s character is unlikable in just about every way imaginable.

And it makes me appreciate her acting.

Indeed, God bless Ms. Gyllenhaal for taking this film role.

It’s a lot like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s role in Misunderstood (2014) and makes me appreciate the dramatic tension of Gainsbourg’s role more than I initially did.

Which is to say, Gyllenhaal is very much the villain of Frank.

A bit like a dominatrix version of June Chadwick in This Is Spinal Tap.

Which is to further say, Gyllenhaal is playing off her typecast from Secretary of being one bad bitch.

And she pulls it off.

But Gyllenhaal is the least important element of Frank.

It would ruin things to tell you just how Michael Fassbender figures into this film, but let’s just say he’s indispensable.

[Fassbender, by the way, is half-Irish (his mother being born in County Antrim)]

A lot of our action happens in what could pass for Tarbox Road Studios.

Indeed, there is a lot of Wayne Coyne in the character of Frank as well.

But the sounds are closer to those which Mercury Rev conjured at SUNY-Buffalo for their debut album.

Likewise, the seclusion which goes into making the great Soronprfbs album reminds me of the ramshackle (yet bucolic) process which led to my favorite album of all time:  Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs.

As alluded to earlier, Soronprfbs eventually make their way to my old stomping grounds:  the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

I was a bit wistful seeing the Ritz Theater (now an Alamo Drafthouse) on 6th Street in one shot.

Indeed, I remember playing an “unplugged”, solo gig there back when it was still a cavernous, multilevel, piece-of-shit music venue (pool hall).

Funny enough, a lot of the tension in Frank revolves around that old chestnut of a band “selling out”.

Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie is when Frank presents his “most likable music ever” in the motel room.

Which is to say, this movie may not appeal to everyone.

But if you’re a rock musician (especially a weirdo like me), you’ve gotta see this.

There are a couple of scenes which make the whole thing worthwhile.

It’s funny that Soronprfbs bassist François Civil bears a striking resemblance to Dave Fridmann circa-1991.

[just another detail which cemented the genius of this film for me]

But there are other seeming references in this film.

A bit of Stereolab (with all the Moogy wonder).

The stilted “artfulness” of Blonde Redhead.

And even the bollocks, pulseless blech of Low.

Yes, Soronprfbs and their “side projects” seem to catch just about every hue in the indie rock kaleidoscope.

Director Abrahamson (and writers Ronson and Straughan) do a nice job of converting Domhnall Gleeson’s internal monologue into a social media thread which runs through this movie.

Gleeson is on Twitter, YouTube, a blog, etc.

But the funniest is the beginning…and it is the hook which reeled me in.

To hear Gleeson’s musical mind attempt to craft quirky pop songs out of mundane details of his Irish town is a real knee-slapper.

Because, as they say, IT’S SO TRUE!

So if you’ve ever written songs, witness in the first five minutes of this film the real torture it is to make lemonade out of a lemon life.

Be forewarned (or enticed):  Frank is WAY OUT THERE!

Some elements of this film are so non sequitur that they were a bit hard for my weakened, nicotine-craving immune system to handle.

In the end, this is a sad story.

But with joy, pain.

There is great joy in Frank.

Sometimes we realize we’re not in Kansas anymore…

and it’s a rough patch.

The Technicolor of life can be too much to handle.

But take courage, dear friends…

Like Gong’s great song “Rational Anthem”…from that hard-to-find Magick Brother…their debut.

[Get on that, Spotify]

Miracles can happen.

And, to quote Albert Ayler, “music is the healing force of the universe”.

-PD

חתונה מנייר [2015)

[WEDDING DOLL (2015)]

This may be the most important film I’ve ever reviewed.

And it also may be the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen.

Cinema challenges us to drop our prejudices.

And so, this is the first Israeli film in Hebrew I’ve ever written about.

We must give each side their chance.

And we must stop seeing each other as “sides”.

To the best of my pathetic ability, I am going to attempt to describe a work of cinematic art that I have no right to enjoy.

Wedding Doll is a film which may change your opinions of Israelis.

I must keep my mind very focused to do it justice.

Because our aim is art.

My aim.

Our aim is beauty.

And my main aim is love.

We learn from our peers and our forebears what is right and cool.

We take on archetypes.

We try them on like hats.

Or like dresses.

And we feel comfortable in these metaphorical garments.

Because someone has blazed the path before us.

But the great humans take a step on their own.

If I take faltering steps, then I give the glory to God who has guided me even in such meager efforts.

Let me tell you about this film which celebrates harmony in our tearstained world.

First of all is due all credit to the director:  Nitzan Gilady.

His direction is on par with the great Kiarostami.

But it is equally on par with the great Ingmar Bergman.

It is that good!

Our story takes place in the Negev Desert.

And it behooves us out of an abundance of humanity to place the Negev in a new perspective.

This film does just that.

We see the Makhtesh Ramon.

A crater caused by water erosion.

Unique to Israel and Egypt.

And Makhtesh Ramon (makhtesh meaning “mortar grinder” in Hebrew…as in mortar and pestle) is the perfect analogy for this film.

In a mortar, things are ground up and crushed by the pestle.

Useful, lifesaving things like medicine.

But for the characters in our film, their circumstances are crushing them.

And like in life, some substances will be healing…and some poison.

Perhaps God is the great pharmacist.

I believe that to be so.

But let it be known:  there is not a single mention of God in this film.

And that is fine.

Because God speaks through his creation.

Let me please tell you about the wonderful actors who make this film sheer magic.

Above all is the astounding, stupendous, beautiful genius Moran Rosenblatt.

Her character, Hagit, is 24.

She is obsessed with getting married.

But she is also “special”.

It is a sad story.

She was apparently the victim of a head or neck injury at a young age.

At the hands of childhood bullies (it is intimated).

So she is developmentally disabled.

I hope I have worded it the right way.

Because no person deserves more deference than this character.

Rosenblatt makes her come alive as the most joyous, glowing human being imaginable.

But sadness is all around.

Hagit has unreasonable expectations of life.

Considering her situation.

Especially regarding employment.

And I can certainly understand.

She has a dream.

Her wedding dolls made out of toilet paper are miniature works of art, but she longs to be a fashion designer and work in a bridal shop.

As is the case with every human, we often cannot see our own limitations.

We push.  We dream.

And sometimes we are crushed by the cold reality of a world which doesn’t understand.

But one guy understands.

And he is Hagit’s coworker at a factory.

With just two employees.

A toilet paper factory in Israel.

What could have been maudlin in the hands of a lesser director is transformed into pure poetry by Nitzan Gilady.

But he needed the genius of Moran Rosenblatt.

And she needed help.

Roy Assaf is wonderful as Omri.

Omri watches out for Hagit the best he can.

He has good intentions.

Perhaps he is not perfect, but he brings Hagit so much happiness.

And yet his best efforts are unsustainable.

Only God can perform miracles.

Fortunately for Hagit, she has a mother who would go to the ends of the Earth for her.

Assi Levy plays her mother, Sara.

This is a lady who cleans rooms at a local hotel.

A very small town.

In the desert.

And a lady who sits by the washing machines and hot dryers perhaps in the basement of the same hotel.

Washing bedsheets and blankets and towels.

Sara devotes her whole life to her disabled daughter.

[the father is not around]

Hagit is simply not able to be on her own.

As much as Hagit wants that, the world is too cruel.

And Sara knows this.

She is protective of her little flower Hagit because her daughter is so kindhearted that she makes an easy target for unsavory individuals.

I will not tell you the plot twists.

I’ve probably said too much (to paraphrase Michael Stipe).

But this film is a masterpiece.

It is currently available on Netflix in the U.S. as Wedding Doll.

I have done my best to preserve the Hebrew title at the top.

If it is not visible, I apologize for the website template limitations.

My words cannot adequately do justice to the brilliance of this film.

And thus I will just leave you with its title.

חתונה מנייר

-PD

Aaltra [2004)

Everything happens for a goddamned reason.  I wanted to type.  So I did.

It leaves me uneasy.  It’s the start of a faux writer.

But it fits this film.  If ever a film was accursed (like the archetypal poète maudit), then it is this immortal piece of cinema.

Long ago…in a messy room not so far away…I took a gamble on this Belgian film.  Because it was Belgian.

Belgium.

What is Belgium?  It’s not France.  It’s not Netherlands.  For the world of art, it exists as a sort of other Switzerland.

(At least that’s how I had it in my mind.)

I think of the great César Franck.  The great Symphony in D minor.

And I think of René Magritte.  [particularly L’Assassin menacé]

And so I jumped into this film as blindly as anyone.

What I could not have predicted was the sheer perfection which followed upon rolling tape.

There is strictly zero plot outlined on Wikipedia for this film.

Thus, you needs must only remember two names:  Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine.

These two directors blessed the world with a film equal to any of the nouvelle vague triumphs (not least because they chose to shoot in grainy black and white).

These two writers concocted a story which only Louis-Ferdinand Céline could have dreamt up.

And finally, these two actors (the same two gentlemen) schooled thespians the world over on how drama should be approached in the 21st century.

We must trust the images.

There are two handicapped spaces for rent, but a veteran from the Belgian Congo pushes them aside.

“Bwana, bwana”…like he’s in his Popemobile.

When you have lost the function of your legs, a bottle of rum is not begrudged.

The tide is high.  Now that we’ve fallen asleep.

Two heads bobbing in the water.  Wheelchairs in wet sand.

But it is sad as anything.  Two grown men.  A level of breakdown sobbing which is painful to watch.

Why me?

I can’t believe this.

The gags in this sob story (juxtaposition intended) modulate ad nauseam like Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” sung in Finnish.

Ah, Finland…

From Belgium to Finland.

Beware of pity (warned Stephan Zweig).

Maybe it’s best just to suck on the tailpipe of your Motocross dreams in Brazil.

Two crippled chaps on their way home.  Ambulance blues.  Drivers stop at a pub to shoot the shit (out in the agricultural boonies).  Two extra pints grasped at intervals by disembodied, transient hands.

Have you ever been cold and hungry?

Think about it (Jerry Lee implores).  Next time you see a beggar.  They may have the most unbelievable backstory imaginable.

Because people are nice and charitable (on average) for a maximum of about 10 minutes (if at all).  Usually nothing.

Must be a drug addict.  Doesn’t really need that wheelchair.  Probably got it at Homeless-Props-Are-Us.

When you’ve just been fired and you come home to find your wife fucking another man.  And he doesn’t even stop.

When you live in a barn and cook your miserable meals on a hotplate.

I’ve slept on that cot.  That’s why this film might be unbearable (and absolutely necessary).

Did I mention that this is a comedy?

Two blokes paralyzed and the doctor a paragon of efficiency (drumming for reflexes as they lay ridiculously side-by-side on parallel provincial hospital beds).

Meet me in my office in 30 minutes or you’re fired.

Nothing is more awkward.  Crammed in the same room to convalesce.  Enemies whose childish fight has left them forever outcasts.

Adding insult…(mugged…no money…no IDs…no passports)…to injury.

Bloody jawdropping genius.

-PD