Sep 4

"Luce" written by Gregory Mann



(London Film Festival, October 6th, 2019, Vue West End, 3 Cranbourn St, Leicester Square, London WC2H 7AL, United Kingdom, 10:00am)






It’s been ten years since Amy Edgar (Naomi Watts) and Peter (Tim Roth) adopted their son Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) from war-torn Eritrea, and they thought the worst was behind them. Luce has become an all-star student beloved by his community in Arlington, Virginia. He's a poster boy for 'The New American Dream'. His 'African American' teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), believes he's a symbol of black excellence that sets a positive example for his peers. But when he's assigned to write an essay in the voice of a historical twentieth-century figure, Luce turns in a paper that makes an alarming statement about political violence. Worried about how this assignment reflects upon her star pupil, Harriet searches his locker and finds something that confirms her worst fears and Luce’s stellar reputation is called into question. But is he really at fault or is Harriet Wilson preying on dangerous stereotypes?

Luce is a deeply complex and conflicted character who contains multitudes. Who's he in a nutshell, does he even know who he's? Luce is like a kid with a 'Lamborghini' who doesn't have a license to drive yet. He's incredibly smart and contains multitudes, but he's still trying to figure things out. While he outwardly projects this idealized perfect image, there's a roiling tension beneath the surface, he's trying to figure out who he's, but he's also wondering if he's selling himself out. He sees the world around him, in his school, and his community, and senses that something isn't right. This is a young man in search of himself who wants to attack the idealized versions of ourselves that we all sell, which he feels guilty of selling as well. But at the same time, he understands that he's the beneficiary of privilege gained by selling some of those same platitudes. Yet despite the privileges afforded by his proximity to whiteness through his parents, he’s still black. He still faces many of the challenges blackness brings, most obviously, he's profiled for writing a paper about violence in a way a white peer would most likely not be. Luce is a budding revolutionary. In the play, where a certain kind of abstraction works well Luce wrote about an unnamed 'Eastern European Revolutionary'. But for the movie it required a specificity that's psychological, emotional and historical.

Revolutionary movements in 'North Africa' in the 50s shaped thinking on what's necessary for the true liberation of colonized peoples. It's about the idea that violence is a cleaning force that would produce new men. And this liberation is both from imperialists oppressors and internalized imperialist thinking. This is also part of Luce’s conflict with Harriet, he's seeking to liberate himself and decolonize his mind in ways he thinks she hasn’t. So, it's important that the substance of his paper spoke to ideological values that directly related to how Luce explores his identity in America. Luce is a bit like 'Uncle Charlie' in Hitchcock's "Shadow Of A Doubt", we're not sure if he's good or evil or something in between. Everything you see with Luce and his family is an effort to tell the story from the outside in. You're on the outside initially, but as you peel away the layers of the story, you come closer and closer to seeing Luce's true nature, but never definitively. Some people will be faster than others in piecing together his reality, but that shadow of a doubt remains throughout. That's important because in life we're always going to be limited by our perceptions, and that sense of perception is so critical to understanding Luce and his surroundings. If you're to see Luce walking down the street, or watch him give a speech in an auditorium, all you would know about him is what you see.

We always bring our own personal history and assumptions and impose them on others. We pigeonhole people, and oppress them based on appearances, class, gender, and other factors, though we're seldom cognizant of the limits of our ability to understand what's in front of us. Part of the thriller component of this story is seeing those shifting perceptions in play, especially through the character of Amy. She's trying to figure out who her son is at the same time we're trying to figure out who he is, through the web of relationships he has with the people in his school. Barack Obama and Will Smith are the apotheosis of a cool, but non-threatening black masculinity. Not long-ago characters like John Prentice and Phil Huxtable gave America a vision of this non-threatening and respectable sense of black masculinity, but it's quite old-fashioned and sort of defiantly un-cool. What Will did, and what Obama was able to do in his shadow, was much different. They allowed black masculinity to stay non-threatening but also be cool and youthful and particularly with Obama, be highly intelligent. This became a counterpoint to the recent image of black masculinity that emerged with 90s hip-hop, with rappers like 'Ice Cube', 'Snoop Dogg' or 'Dr. Dre.', who were seen as oversexualized and criminal. Will Smith and Barack Obama came along and provided something new that lived between those poles and was widely embraced. So, it's an ideal template for Luce.

As Luce's mother, Amy undergoes the most dramatic shift in perception of all the characters. It's essentially the story of her awakening. Peter, Principal Dan, Harriet Wilson all have specific points of view, but Amy has a more conflicted perspective. Things happen over the course of the story and she has to decide where she ultimately stands, and what she's willing to accept and not accept as a mother and a member of this community. At the end of her journey she isn't the kind of person you necessarily want her to be. She winds up being a reflection of what we’re all capable of when we're under pressure and placed in similar situations. Luce's parents are liberal, well intentioned people whose values become tested. We know a lot of people like Amy and Peter. People who are educated, smart, privileged and profess certain liberal values. What's interesting about the story is what happens when people who look good on paper discover tension between the values they profess and having to actually live those values. For the film to work Amy and Peter have to be relatable, theyre people who believe in the kinds of things we generally want to say we believe in, but when placed in a difficult situation we find they might not have the vocabulary or experience to deal with tension in sophisticated ways. They've a degree of obliviousness as well, their good intentions become a path to a destructive place without it necessarily being rooted in some malevolent impulse.

The tension between Ms. Wilson and Luce is fascinating because they're both black people; what might have been the ultimate lifeline for Luce becomes something else. The film focuses on the generational schism between Luce and Harriet in this movie. She's a product of 'The Sixties', and civil rights, the liberal movement that was about erasing the differences between people and focusing on a language of uplift; you can see the direct line of this from Martin Luther King to Barack Obama. Here's a colorblind, non-confrontational ethos of how we address issues of race, power and privilege in this country. Luce is a product of something completely different, he's saying to Harriet that if the point of that movement, and of revolution in general, was to give us the freedom to be who we want to be, then he should have the freedom to define himself entirely on his own terms. This means not having to sentimentalize himself or subscribe to a kind of respectability politics in order to be accepted or tolerated. This notion of respectability politics is still so pervasive in an older generation of 'African Americans'. Somebody like Luce, who has incredible intellectual horsepower and who's so well read and sophisticated for a 17-year-old, understands that to subscribe to this philosophy would be to imprison one's self in an even more limiting way. This is the argument Luce is having with Harriet, if we continue to play the game of having to be perfect, and fit this narrow definition of acceptability, then we're not actually making progress in being fully human. But Harriet wants him to understand that the reality of life is harsh, and as much as he may want to believe he can be anyone he wants to be, he has to be prepared for a world that may not accept that. Harriet has power over Luce abecause of her position within the school system, but Luce has power relative to Harriet because of the privilege his white family affords him. The ideological rift of who we get to be, and who truly has power and privilege to define that, is the core of the tension between them

It's easy to feel like Dan Towson (Leo Butz) is on the periphery of the story, but he represents the entire community outside of Luce's family and Harriet Wilson. He has a legitimate desire to see Luce succeed, never mind what Luce symbolizes to the community, he's the dream package; the black immigrant who also represents what a star student who goes through this system can become. Principal Dan stands for that self-congratulatory strain some of these communities can have. Certainly, and it's not all diabolical but at the same time it's complicated and some of the elements involved can have a negative effect. We've to make Principal Dan just right on the page; he couldn't come across as a monster, a dolt or a saint. You've to find a way to walk a fine line between being a little bit aloof, while you know there's a lot more going on underneath, in the person as well as the system he represents. Because of who she's, a woman, a person of color, Harriet faces certain vulnerabilities and so does her sister Rosemary (Masha Blake), who has the added complications of being poor and mentally ill. She faces vulnerabilities because of his race and class that others who engage in similar disruptive behavior don’t, while Luce’s proximity to whiteness affords him certain privileges that other black characters don't enjoy. Rosemary not punishing the character, she's a illustration of how insidious and destructive the systems of power that exist today are.

This character reveals how interrelated and overlapping factors can grant someone power in one situation while depriving them of it in another. Stephanie Kim (Andrea Bang) is one of the most ambiguous characters, as we see from her relationship to Luce, Harriet believes there's a symbolic burden of representation those in marginalized groups have to carry. Just like she spotlights Luce’s symbolic value of black success and of black delinquency, she also spotlights Stephanie Kim for the symbolic value she represents as a victim of abuse. But much like Luce, Stephanie rejects this reductive assessment of her personhood. Stephanie doesn’t want her traumatic experience of sexual abuse to be used to label her only as a victim in order to prove a point. The complicated and sometimes hard to comprehend ways she reacts to her attack exist in the same shades of gray as Luce and every other character in the story. Stephanie’s assault is real, but the ambiguity of her response reflects her complicated inner life and her efforts to define her own identity. In portraying those ambiguities, it's important to be honest about how the limits of our perception come into play with Stephanie, Luce and all the characters.

The other approach in raising questions is rooted in the use of language in the play and film. The story’s emphasis on language is as a means to explore how it can be utilized as an instrument of power and privilege. In well meaning, liberal environments there are not the same overt symbols of prejudice and supremacy. But language becomes a way to establish codes of acceptability and also to inflict psychological and emotional power on others by way of what is said and what isn’t. The ability to decide when and how issues of identity are raised and resolved and to code it in language that can be weaponized is a privilege reserved for those in positions of dominance. Letting the characters engage in the seemingly simple act of talking is essential to dramatize how language plays a critical role in the wielding of power. Arlington, Virginia, it's distinctively suburban, but it's also a melting pot. 'South Arlington' has a big immigrant population, mostly 'Salvadoran' and 'Bolivian', and while it's not actively segregated, it's divided by real estate values. Arlington has progressive ideals that run up against internalized prejudices that people either aren't aware of or refuse to acknowledge. There's a reference to 'black white' in the movie, someone who's really black versus someone who's black but accepted among whites.

Adapted from JC Lee’s play 'The Standards', the film skillfully stretches the epidermal pores of 'The American Dream' to emit the unseemly elements seething beneath it's surface. It's about a kid from 'Long Island' who cheated on 'The SATs'. The play was produced in 'The Obama Era'. It's created around blackness and black identity and how it played out between a woman who's 'African American', who's born and raised in this country and a kid who's an immigrant from Africa. It's about the notion of being an outsider. If you an 'African American', you've this whole history thrust on you that's something entirely organic to who you're than the color of your skin. The film envisions a different beast in 'The Trump Era'. Between the play and the movie things changed. 'Black Lives Matter' emerged, 'The Me Too' movement broke out. These events are happening parallel to the development process and touches on elements of the script. The original play consisted of five characters and two settings; so the film shows more of Luce’s world in Arlington to ground it and bring it to life. That said the play already has the architecture of a thriller so the movie, adapts it in a way that feels organic to JC's original storytelling but shifted some of the ideas into a more cinematic space. It's never a case of superimposing beats onto the existing story in order to gin up the action. Everything in the movie comes organically from the decisions and beliefs of the characters.

Despite how different we're on some levels, we've a similar sensibility when it comes to explore ideas and issues. Neither of us want to tell stories that are prescriptive or didactic in how they explore complex social issues. The film wants to ask people to consider their blind spots, and to recognize their experience of the world will never be identical with anyone else's. The questions of power and privilege are clearly central to the film. One of the key concerns with "Luce", and intertwined with exploring identity, is exploring power, who has it, who doesn’t, and how our institutions uphold the rigid systems of power that disadvantage certain demographics. So much of the dialogue in our culture right now is about confronting systems of power that disenfranchise women, 'The LGBTQIA' community, people of color, people with disabilities and a myriad of other marginalized groups. "Luce" explores how life can be experienced by those on the receiving end of exploitative and unfair power dynamics. Elegant and energetic, "Luce" is a complex and psychological thriller about trust, privilege, and the human need to categorize the world as we see it. The film creates an intense, multi-layered and deeply entertaining look at identity in today’s America.

"Luce" represents the best and worst of black identity. He’s got this effortless brilliance and charm, is a great speaker, and a talented athlete. But at the same time, he has a history of violence as a child soldier. His story is very complicated. There’s a segment of 'The African American Community' that feels it's important that stories that come out dealing with black identity must be aspirational, they should convey a positive message and lift up the race. It's understandable why so many of us seek stories of wish-fulfillment and uplift after a long history of being marginalized, objectified and criminalized in popular culture. But the challenge comes when confronting the systemic conditions that oppress many groups. The catharsis of wish-fulfillment can often distract from the reality so many actually face and allow systems of power imbalance to go without being confronted or interrogated. It absolves those who hold power from having to reflect on their role in contributing to the marginalization of others. This happens on every level; class, gender, sexuality, race and more. If those systems of power are not truly confronted or interrogated, how can they be dismantled? Without tension, without conflict, and without ambiguity in the stories and characters, it’s very difficult to discover how to move forward.

As Americans we seem unable to discuss in a forthright way the things that make us uncomfortable, or the things that terrify us, without sentimentalizing them or reducing them to their most symbolic value. If our stories only pacify us, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. The film gives people an opportunity to reflect and ask questions. Whatever they feel about the movie is theirs to feel, it's more about the opportunity to reflect upon and engage with ideas. It challenges them to stand outside of their own experience and 'POV' and forces them to ask how they're participating in the way privilege and power operates in this country and in our world.



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  • (Release Info UK schedule; Leeds International Film Festival, November 10th, 2019, Hyde Park Picture House, 73 Brudenell Rd, Leeds LS6 1JD, UK, 3:45 pm) "Greener Grass" Jill (Jocelyn DeBoer) and Lisa (Dawn Luebbe) live in their perfect homes in their idyllic suburban community with their happy families. Their days are spent in the grocery store exchanging fashion tips and at birthday parties complimenting their neighbor's potluck dips. In this dark comedy of manners, soccer moms Jill and Lisa seek the approval of their friends; at all costs. This surreal world is just on the edge of consciousness; suburbia through the looking glass. Every adult wears painful braces on their straight teeth, couples coordinate meticulously pressed outfits, and coveted family members become pawns in this competition for acceptance. In a day-glo-colored, bizarro version of suburbia where adults wear braces on their already-straight teeth, everyone drives golf carts, and children magically turn into golden retrievers, Jill and Lisa are locked in a passive aggressive battle-of-the-wills that takes a turn into the sinister when Lisa systematically taking over every aspect of Jill’s life. As the women desperately vie for validation, they struggle to maintain pleasantry and normalcy, even when things get weird. And they do get weird. When Jill gifts Lisa her newborn baby in an altruistic gesture, paranoia overwhelms Jill while her fears and anxieties quickly unravel. Meanwhile, The Ref (Londale Theus Jr.), a psycho yoga teacher killer, is on the loose and Jill’s husband Nick (Beck Bennett) has developed a curious taste for pool water. That’s just the tip of the gloriously weird iceberg, a hilariously demented, 'Stepford Wives'-on-acid satire destined to be an instant cult classic. These girls are idiots! They might not have seemed like your typical baseball-cap-wearing, video-village-lurking characters. Jill, in head-to-toe pink with her son Dan (Sutton Johnston) by her side, a golden-retriever wearing khakis and a 'Purple Heart' pinned to his polo. Lisa, with a soccer ball pregnancy tucked up under lavender tulle, both of them wearing braces on their teeth. Years ago, they're put on a house team together at 'The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre' in New York. They bonded one chilly night when all 'The East' coasters had left early and the two girls are putting the chairs away. There was one piece of a black-and-white cookie left and, like an overplayed 'My Fair Lady' CD skipping, they entered a loop of 'No, please, you've it' and so on. Neither of them ate that piece of cookie that night. And after only a few short half-hours, they threw it away together. And it was at that moment the girls would be incredibly productive working together. Now, Earth to Little Helen (Dot Marie Jones). Would a couple of idiots choose to triple-threat their future? A movie that stars children, a baby, and a seven-month-old puppy. A movie where we chose not to show any vehicles other than golf carts. A movie that co-stars a soccer ball with half a dozen costume changes. And most importantly, a movie featuring so many of our aging friends that we've to make a 'Hail Mary' decision to give every adult in the damn thing braces to look younger. But, alas. Dot Jones can say whatever she wants because she’s a 15-time world arm wrestling champion and we've delicate elbows. But just like non-idiots George R.R. Martin, JK Rowling, and Rand McNally before, they've created a world with it's own logic, hand-drawn maps, and board games based off it. This world is a demented version of suburbia. And who better to satirize oh-so idyllic, polite America than these two Midwestern middle girls? Suburbia has never been so hilariously absurd as it's in "Greener Grass", where two eccentric housewifes are driven by her eagerness to please. In a residential suburb with a killer on the loose, the two housewives compete to have the best children, the best husband and, above all, the most beautiful teeth. In this stinging satire on 'The WASP Community', a baby is given away like a piece of clothing and a child morphs into a dog without anyone being shocked. Politeness is taken to extremes and the realm of appearances reaches the point of lunacy. An overly colorful, deliciously warped version of suburban America that feels like 'The Stepford Wives' at a lawn party and then snuck off to do acid, the film plays soccer-mom frenemies in deranged competition with one another. Golf carts, braces, golden retrievers, soccer balls, and yoga teachers all play way bigger roles than you’d expect. This 'Desperate Housewives' on acid throws a nasty blow at the clichéd image of American suburbia. 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  • (London Film Festival, October 7th, 2019, Odeon, Tottenham Court Road, Central Cross, 30 Tottenham Court Rd, London W1T 1BX, UK, 15:10 pm) "Jojo Rabbit" "Jojo Rabbit" is a 'World War II' satire that follows a lonely German boy Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) as whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a young Jewish girl, in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind 'Nationalism'. Based on Christine Leunens novel 'Caging Skies', first published in 2004, the story begins in fictional 'Falkenheim'. In this quaint town under 'Nazi' rule, the end of the war is rapidly approaching. However, in 10-year-old Jojo’s bedroom, anticipation is mounting. For today, he finally has the chance he’s been waiting all his 10 years for, to join The Hitler Youth'. To Jojo, so credulously gullible and susceptible to the pervasive propaganda that surrounds him, it feels like his first opportunity to do something big and important, to help protect his single mother he loves beyond anything, and maybe even to feel like he belongs. To sooth his insecurities, Jojo brings along an outsized imaginary friend; a clownish, hare-brained apparition of Hitler, who with all the emotions of a child dispenses advice Jojo might have sought from his absent father. With Adolf in his head, Jojo feels invincible. But in fact, Jojo’s troubles are just beginning. Humiliated and nearly decapitated in 'The Hitler Youth' camp, his frustration only grows deeper. Then, Jojo makes a discovery that slowly, yet radically, transforms how he sees the world. Chasing what he believes to be some kind of phantasm, he finds instead that his mother has been hiding a 'Jewish' girl in the wall at terrible risk to them all. The shock nearly undoes him, here's the danger he’s been warned about living in his own home, under his own nose, mere feet from where he regularly confides in his imaginary friend Hitler. But as Jojo endeavors to keep tabs on the mysterious Elsa, his fear and vigilance grow into something even Adolf cannot seem to fathom. For the more he gets to know Elsa as a person, the more she becomes someone Jojo can’t imagine allowing anyone, including his 'Nazi' idols, to harm. While "Jojo Rabbit" is very much a comic allegory about the costs of letting bigotry take hold, whether in your bedroom or a nation, Jojo also takes a very real journey as a child coming-of-age. For in finding the courage to open his mind, he discovers the power of love to change your path.   Jojo is a very, very conflicted boy, so that's a big challenge. When you first meet him, he truly believes all the propaganda he’s seen. All Jojo knows about 'Jews' is from propaganda and the teachings at school which says they've got horns and devil tails and they're monstrous creatures. But you also see that he’s just a sweet kid who doesn't really know what he's talking about! He’s looking for something in 'The Nazis' that's missing in his life. His father is gone, and his mum is busy with things she doesn’t talk about, so he has no one except his imaginary friend, and he imagines that the only one who can really help him is Hitler. Jojo is a mix of blind gusto and untamed emotions in stride. He has that sparkle in his eye and the extreme enthusiasm for life. He mixes anger, anxiety, discovery and other subtle emotions into the humor. He reminds people of the harrowing history of bigotry, and how deeply it can affect not only entire societies, but especially children. Jojo’s awakening seemed to mirror how the world reacted after 'WWII'; stunned by a collective human loss of innocence, then uniting to affirm that hateful ideas would never again be allowed to take hold like that. As bizarre and unexpected as it's to interact with Hitler, some of the most demanding scenes come as Jojo wrestles with how to react to Elsa, who he truly believes has devilish powers. Yet, even Jojo cannot keep up his suspicion of Elsa for very long. While at first, he merely keeps her secret for fear of his mother getting arrested, the more he gets to know Elsa, the more he can’t resist what starts to feel like an authentic, eye-opening friendship that's rocking his world. In many ways, Elsa has all the bravery and sense of dignity Jojo only dreams of having. In spite of everything he thinks he’s supposed to think, Jojo really starts to like her. It’s quite confusing for him; how can he have such affection for Elsa despite his strong beliefs? It makes him question everything, even Hitler.  Elsa is basically living in a cave, almost starving and all alone, so it's difficult to find such strong feelings and go on pro-'Nazi' rants at her. At first, you don't really know if she's a monster or a ghost. You don't know who she's or what her intentions are.  You’re in Jojo’s point of view, so you start off with a fear of Elsa. But then, like Jojo, you see more and more of who she's and all that she's going through. As Elsa and Jojo start to see each other more clearly, outside of all the propaganda that surrounds them, they develop a relationship almost like a brother and sister. She's mysterious to entice Jojo to want to know more, but with a humanity that strips away Jojo’s illusions and confronts him with the discomfiting fact that everything he’s been led to believe about 'Jews' is all a terrible lie. Elsa’s situation is so vulnerable the whole way through, trapped in this small crawlspace, but the film wants to counter that by showing that Elsa is actually stronger and fiercer than anyone. She's a girl who isn’t a victim at all and definitely doesn’t see herself that way. The character of Elsa represents nothing less than the hope and resilience of humanity when confronted with unbridled hate and evil. She doesn't want pity, she just wants to be able to live her life without all this crap happening. Elsa transforms Jojo in spite of himself. The film likes the dynamic where, contrary to what Jojo expects, Elsa holds most of the cards and calls the shots. But also, they're in a 'Catch-22' that binds them together because both face terrible stakes if their secret gets out. Also vital is creating all 'The Nazis' in the film to be ridiculous and mockable, full of all the same flaws and quirks as the rest of us, which makes their participation in the fascist realm that much more of a chilling warning of how easily malevolent ideologies can take root on a large scale. This is especially true of Jojo, who initially reveres what he sees as Hitler’s might, until he sees in Elsa and his mother a principled strength that's so much greater. It's important that Jojo be clearly seen as a 10-year-old-boy who really doesn’t know anything. He just basically loves the idea of dressing in a uniform and being accepted. That's how 'The Nazis' indoctrinated kids, really, by making them feel part of this really cool gang. It's about the idea of seeing the madness of war and hate, something grown-ups very much manifest, through the eyes of a child. Adults are supposed to be the people who guide children and raise them to be better versions of ourselves.  Yet when children look at us in times of war, adults seem ridiculous and out of their minds.   You’ll go to Morocco, take up lovers and make them suffer, look a tiger in the eye and learn to trust without fear. That’s what it's to be a woman, or at least what it could be. You don’t get to see the full extent of their relationship, but Rosie Betzler is someone that’s saving her life and putting a lot on the line just to have Elsa in her house. Elsa feels admiration and a longing to establish a relationship, a longing to have a mother and someone to speak to. The film turns Rosie not only into a single mother, but also a defiant woman who decides that so long as ideals of empathy and tolerance are being pushed to the margins, she will work fearlessly to uphold them. Contrary to Jojo, she sees all too clearly the poisonous world Hitler is forging, so her natural response is to help, as she says, by doing what she can, which in her passionately practical way is a lot. But that also means hiding the truth of her life from Jojo to keep him safe, while hoping her little boy comes to his senses. She's really strong solo mom who's trying to save her son and others from this horrible situation, but at the same time trying to retain Jojo’s innocence. She's trying to balance her need to live boldly and be true to herself while doing all she can to keep Jojo safe through loss and peril. Being a mother is a big part of her identity but it's just one part. She also is full of fervor and ideas and the film wants her to have all those different shades so that she might feel really full of life. Rosie is unabashedly imaginative, poetic and romantic and at the same time, she's this very grounding force for Jojo. She's fighting for 'The Resistance' and is really a very modern woman. She's such a bright light in this very dark time. Even though Rosie is a dreamer and a bit of a comedian, she's also very pragmatic. Very much part of being a parent is that constant balancing between your practical, responsible, adult side and the side who can create a magical world for your kids. She's truly the strongest character in the film. Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) is really recent in terms of human history and we’ve got to keep talking about it, because the dynamics that caused it aren’t going away. He’s a figment of Jojo's imagination so his knowledge of the world is limited to what a 10-year-old understands. He’s the little devil on Jojo’s shoulder, basically. He’s also a bit of a projection of Jojo’s heroes all combined, including his father. Jojo’s fantasy version of Hitler is hardly the historical figure. Instead, he’s a loony, larger-than-life mashup of Jojo’s own impulses, desires, things he’s read or overheard and his yearning for a father figure. Jojo’s version of Adolf can actually sometimes be quite nice, which might seem a bit weird because he's Hitler, but at other times he's properly scary. He’s very light in the beginning, like Jojo, but by the end of the film he's just this sad, sad despot. Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) is the cheekily imperious trainer of 'Hitler Youth Troops' who's at various times Jojo’s idol, nemesis and confidante. He has one eye, zero faith in the military command and a growing number of secrets. Captain Klenzendorf lives in a world of his own. He has all this flamboyant creativity that we want to give expression to at the end, when he explodes onto the scene.   Providing deadpan comic relief throughout "Jojo Rabbit" is Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson), the instructor who teaches the girls how to perform their womanly duties in war time but dreams of joining the frontlines herself. Fraulein Rahm follows in this tradition, ever-willing to believe every absurd 'Nazi' myth that makes the rounds. Despite her satiric portrait of a woman who questions absolutely nothing she hears, Fraulein Rahm is representative of many German women who took lead roles in the war. She serves in every way she can; teaching girls their womanly duties, giving Jojo physical therapy, then manning a machine gun. Perhaps the most hilariously dark and frightening character of all in Jojo Rabbit is Captain Herman Deertz (Stephen Merchant) of 'The Falkenheim Gestapo', who meticulously investigates reports of hidden 'Jews' and resistors. The character reminds people of just how outrageous cults of personality can become. There's something laughable about the worship of this little man with his little moustache who looks like an angry accountant and that’s one of the things that the film plays with. There’s a sense of how people can be swept up by, for lack of a better word, bullshit. It’s something still resonating right now. We still see people all over the world being up in these things, especially when there’s a uniform and an identity involved, so it seems well worth satirizing.   'The Hitler Youth' was first created in 1922 to indoctrinate kids and teens into 'Nazi Ideology' and train them to ultimately be tools of war. This gives us a sense of just how dark the reality of Jojo’s world is, no matter how much he just wants it to be a glorious adventure, as any 10-year-old would. What 'The Nazis' did to children was really awful. They wanted to have an army of fanatics to help them take over the world. Nazis' were parodied on screen as early as the 1940s when they're still very much a global threat, with the key being that the last laugh was always on them. Both during and after the war, Hitler was routinely mocked because it was a way of people dealing with the horror they're seeing. If you can reduce Hitler to something laughable, you win. The book is more of a drama, though it has comic moments. The film has more fantastical elements and obviously more humor, creating a kind of dance between drama and satire. The film creates something like a jazz riff on Leunens book, whipping up the structure of her story into an antic allegory of how fear mongering can take root in naïve mind, and how love can come out of left field to topple down the walls we put up against other people. If the book is a classical, panel painting, the film is more like Picasso’s 'Guernica'.   Like the story, the design of "Jojo Rabbit" presents the world through a 10-year-old’s confined but vivid lens, full of bright colors and bucolic beauty even amid the oppression and destruction of 'Nazi Germany'. At that age, you remember everything but with a kind of brightness to it all. Everything looks like a Spring morning. The film has all those 'Neorealist' qualities where there are sunny and charming moments but also very dramatic moments, and the mood can go from funny to tragic in a snap. That era between 1930 and 1945 was actually a revolutionary one for style in Europe, despite the war. In a lot of 'WWII'-era films, everyone dresses in brown and gray and it just feels kind of sad and dated. But if you look at the fashions of the time, though, there's really lots of bright color and high style. It's an era that in most people’s minds unspools in black-and-white. To see that world in color, the way Jojo, Rosie and Elsa would have experienced it, gives it a whole new dimension and aliveness. We've seen so many muted period films from 'WWII', whether in black & white or in more somber colors, that we're shocked to see such a vibrant spectrum of color.  But that's the reality and once the film decides to reflect this, it's an idea that circulated through the set design and the costumes and helps to set the tone for the story. At Jojo’s age things are a little more rosy-tinted and the world seems bigger and more amazing. So, the film recreates this feeling, the feeling we all have in childhood, but within 1940s Germany. For most of the film, we’ve been in Jojo’s imagination, with his playful view of war, but when the battle hits the town, we’re suddenly struck with the reality of what war really is. The frightening atmosphere and noise of it feels very real. In some ways it feels very visceral and real, but the film also creates something that becomes a kind of magical and surreal moment in the film. As the events in the film grow darker, so too do the colors. For the happier, more playful moments in the film, we've a diverse palette of oversaturated colors.  Then, the film tapes those off as more drama comes into play. Most of the film takes place in 'The Autumn" so we've lush greens sprinkled with gorgeous reds, oranges and pinks into the street scenes. However, hidden deep within the lightness of the house is Elsa’s dark, cramped space behind the wall, which forges an opposite feeling, mirroring the nearly unbearable tension under which she's forced to live. Rosie’s look has to be so distinctive that the audience recognizes her, in a flash, in the scene that's a devastating emotional turning point of the story. The butterfly seemed to express who she's, and the film uses a very distinctive pair of shoes, which stand out for a lady in that era. It's more powerful when you just see the shoes and make the connection to the butterfly in this moment. The camera always tries to make sure the audience is aware of Rosie’s shoes. For example, you really notice them when she’s dancing by the river in that light moment. The best comedy has always come out of the hardest human situations and 'Nazi Germany' is one of the hardest situations in history. "Jojo Rabbit" offers a sharply funny, yet profoundly stirring, child’s-eye view of a society gone mad with intolerance. The film makes a powerful statement against hate with this pitch-black satire of 'The Nazi Culture' that gripped 'The German Psyche' at the height of 'WWII'. It's a story almost too appalling to approach with sober solemnity, that of a boy who, like many at that time, has been brainwashed into absolutely gung-ho devotion to Hitler. He then mines from it a dark, mesmerizing comedy that ultimately unravels the toxic ideas of 'Anti-Semitism' and persecution of the other. Balancing on a comedic high-wire, the film mixes the fury of satire with an insistent sense of hope that fanaticism and hate can be overcome. The film follows very much in the footsteps of Mel Brooks, Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch and Stanley Kubrick to name a few. The script has a charged, satirical edge in the vein of say "Dr. Strangelove" and other black comedies that confront heavy subject matters by making them very funny. "Jojo Rabbit" is a fresh way to re-visit the most unsettling of topics through the paradoxically moral force of out-and-out parody. But much as the film owes to its bold forbearers, The film feels very much of our times, with it's deeply human characters whose blinded foibles might amuse but whose inner predicaments are deadly real and pointedly relevant right now.     The film opens a comfort zone but also any notion that stories about 'The Nazi Era' have been played out, especially when the lessons of those times are so urgent right now. With 'Nationalism', 'Anti-Semitism' and other forms of religious and racial intolerance on the rise, the stakes of grabbing people’s attention felt sky-high. The film brings the audience in with laughter, and once they’ve dropped their guard, then start delivering these little payloads of drama that have serious weight to them. Even if you don’t see them right away, you’ll feel them. It’s after the laugh that the strings start to be felt, drawing one’s consciousness to things that aren’t quite right, aren’t entirely funny, into deeper, more complex emotions, amongst these, the realization of the absurdity of the situation, and the tragedy and pain. In the end, as much as "Jojo Rabbit" showcases the tragically absurd realities of authoritarianism and nationalistic fervor, as well as the personal wages of prejudice and hate, the film equally reminds us of our human connection and the simple responsibility we all have to do what we can, including simply trying to be good to one another. This feels like exactly the right time to tell this story, because this is a case where you don’t want it to be too late to tell it.
  • (London Filn Festival, Thursday October 10th 2019, Odeon Tottenham Court Road, Central Cross, 30 Tottenham Court Rd, London W1T 1BX, UK, 18:15 pm) "Cunningham" "Cunningham" traces Merce’s artistic evolution over three decades of risk and discovery (1944–1972), from his early years as a struggling dancer in postwar New York to his emergence as one of the world’s most visionary choreographers. The '3D' technology weaves together Merce's philosophies and stories, creating a visceral journey into his innovative work. A breathtaking explosion of dance, music, and never-before-seen archival material, the film is a timely tribute to one of the world’s greatest modern dance artists. During the years 1942-1972, he made his dances against all odds. He was always ready to place himself in unfamiliar situations and find new solutions. Throughout his career he embraced new technologies, from 16mm, television and video to the use of computers, body sensors and motion-capture technology. Cunningham had arrived in the city in 1939 with an invitation to join Graham’s company. In the 1940s, Merce Cunningham, along with John Cage, began a journey that would change the relationship between contemporary dance, music and art. Cunningham proposed the revolutionary idea that dance could exist independent of music, a concept that would dominate his unparalleled career for more than half a century. He popularized the idea of dance as a visual experience and trained some of the greatest dancers of his time, including Paul Taylor, Viola Farber, Douglas Dunn, Charles Moulton, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Ashley Chen and Jonah Bokaer. 'The United States', and New York in particular, was becoming the global center of artistic innovation. 'Abstract Expressionist' painters like Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, radical composers including Arnold Schoenberg, and Martha Graham’s revolutionary troupe dominated the cultural scene. In 1944, he presented his first solo concert with composer John Cage, who became his frequent collaborator and lifelong romantic partner. Together they explored groundbreaking artistic philosophies, incorporating experiments with chance into their work as a way to free themselves from preconceived ideas. The pair acquired a third creative partner in 1952 when they met the then- emerging artist Robert Rauschenberg at the experimental, arts-focused 'Black Mountain College' in North Carolina. Like Cunningham and Cage, Rauschenberg resisted labels during his lengthy career, but is widely acknowledged as a forerunner in many art movements that developed after 'Abstract Expressionism'. Without a steady source of income, they collected scrap wood off the street and burned it to keep warm in winter. Cunningham rehearsed in his living space and often alone. In 1953, Cunningham launched 'The Merce Cunningham Dance Company' so he could concentrate full-time on his explorations. "Cunningham" includes a treasure trove of archival materials, a visual record of the dancer’s singular talent, Merce alone and with his company, rehearsing, performing, choreographing, and teaching. Often dressed in rehearsal clothes, he and his dancers bend, leap, spin and fall with abandon, combining what he thought were the best elements of classical ballet with the most interesting innovations in modern dance. One of the most memorable is a Rauschenberg-designed pointillist backdrop used for the original presentation of 'Summerspace', a 1958 collaboration. In the 1960s, Andy Warhol, the major figure of New York avant-garde film world, spent quite a bit of time in Merce’s studio. By the early 1970s, Merce began working with film and video himself primarily with filmmaker Charles Atlas. When Carolyn Brown, the last original member of his first company, left in 1972, that, the end of an era. Dance pioneer Merce Cunningham created some of the most iconic, influential work of his generation, incorporating the groundbreaking artistic ideals of mid-century visual arts and music, and redefining his art form. During a lifetime of artistic engagement with such diverse musicians as John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol, Cunningham created a new dance technique and celebrated movement as manifestation of being human and of being alive. After his death in 2009 at the age of 90, many felt uncertain about the future of his legacy and his fearless innovations. The new documentary "Cunningham" guarantees that his work will live on, in a stunning immersive experience that preserves some of his greatest works. Neither a straightforward biopic nor a traditional concert film, "Cunningham" was conceived as a 93-minute art piece that would tell the master’s story through his work. Combining Cunningham’s fascinating life experiences with his landmark artistic achievements, the film forges a delicate balance between facts and metaphors, exposition and poetry. A tribute to the visionary artist’s creative genius in a journey through the first 30 years of his career in New York City, the film traces the evolution of his thought and channels his spirit. Personal photographs, intimate letters, 16mm and 35mm footage, and home movies of performances, rehearsals, tours and gatherings offer the audience a glimpse of the choreographer’s visionary mind, while excerpts of iconic Cunningham works are performed by the last generation of his dancers and reimagined for '3-D' cinema. A '3D' movie about an avant-garde choreographer? We can make documentaries about choreographers or dancers as people, about life of a dance company and so on. But how to make a film that will allow the audience to experience choreographers work? "Cunningham" is based on an iconic photo of Merce’s dancers posing in the Robert Rauschenberg’s pointillist décor of his piece 'Summerspace', which was taken by Robert Rutledge in 1958. Merce staged this photograph himself by dropping Rauschenberg’s canvas on both the wall and the floor so it surrounded the dancers. It becomes that even back in the 1950s, before Merce developed the idea of an event, he had been longing to create immersive environments for his dances. The film is drawn to the genius of Merce Cunningham, the intricacies of his mind; his approaches that he invented making his dances; and his philosophies that he followed living his life and re-defining ideas about being human. His story is an incredible triumph of the human spirit. During the first 30 years of his career, between 1942-1972, he persevered, with great determination and stamina, to make dances against all odds. He was always ready to get outside himself, to place himself in unknown situations, and find new solutions. All this took place in a unique artistic climate, during the 1950s and 1960s in New York, when Cunningham and his collaborators were united by their poverty and ideas and art and life had virtually no separation. Merce’s dances evoke a sense of timelessness, a space in between rational and irrational, intellectual and emotional, immediate and eternal, that truly renews us. '3D' offers interesting opportunities as it articulates the relationship between the dancers in and to the space, awaking a kinesthetic response among the viewers. It also favors uncut choreographed shots, moving camera, and multiple layers of action in relation to the setting, everything that allows working with Merce’s choreography on screen in new ways. Merce and '3D' represent an idea fit, not only because of his use of space but also because of his interest in every technological advancement of his time, from 16mm film to motion capture, and his willingness to adapt and work in unconventional settings/locations, creating over 700 Cunningham Events, I.e. performances comprised of excerpts from different dances adapted for a specific location with the audience following the dancers. Today, '3D' allows for his dream to come true. The film is a 90-minute artwork in itself, which tells Merce’s story through his dances. It's a hybrid, rooted in both imaginary worlds and moving life experiences. A delicate balance between facts and metaphors, exposition and poetry. A single camera approach is used to choreograph the viewer’s eye, highlighting the dimensional relationships among performers and settings, uniquely enabled by '3D' technology. The aspiration has been to develop a unique language, integrating all the elements of the film in a subtle, distinct and poetic way, in Merce’s spirit. Seeing a dance through the lens of a camera changes everything. While viewing a dance on a stage you are free to look anywhere in the space, whereas the camera has to be carefully and strategically placed as it guides the eye within the limits of its perspective. The lens often skews a shape. For instance, it can make an arm look lifted when it should simply be horizontal or it can distort the spacing dramatically. With the true artistic collaboration that we developed, these small details could be worked out seamlessly and we developed a true understanding for one another’s point of view. Film is forever, so there's an enormous amount of pressure for the performers and an enormous responsibility in making the final choices on the takes. But beyond that trigger of emotion is the fact that he and his early collaborators and dancers tell the story, in their own voices, which gives a weight and power to this film that's undeniable. His willingness to break boundaries has been infectious and engendered courage in all of us. You've to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.