Okay – this was worth my whole week at the Festival. I was totally surprised by this film. My postgraduate work was in philosophy and specifically 20th century European philosophy and Jewish existentialist theology (wowzers). I read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition and I thought to learn something about this thinker and writer. However, the book that gained her notoriety and on which this movie is based was her report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann – Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the Banality of Evil. So instead of a somewhat academic look at a 20th Century German Philosopher, I was treated to a brilliant dramatic story of most unusual woman who demonstrated great courage and love.
As a Jew who was incarcerated in a detention camp in France in the Second World War and who only escaped to the US by chance she had much at stake when she was asked by the New Yorker Magazine to go to Jerusalem to witness his trial after he was abducted by the Israeli’s from Argentina. She was stunned by the proceedings and by Eichmann himself who came across as not one of the evil geniuses behind the Holocaust but as a minor and very mediocre bureaucrat who was simply following orders. He put the Jews on the trains but it was another department that dealt with them afterwards. He denied any culpability or guilt in the matter. He was just following orders. Once they were on the trains and off to their designated destinations, the rest was up to other departments. The film is a dramatic presentation of Arendt’s time in Israel and her return and the impact of her articles and ultimately her book on her career and reputation. One of the most dramatic aspects of the film is the newsreel footage of Eichmann’s testimony. It lends so much credence to her argument that the most extreme form of evil is ultimately so banal.
While many were upset at her description of Eichmann as a minor and mediocre bureaucrat the statements that got her most in trouble were related to her claim that the leaders of the Jewish communities in Europe were complicit in creating the Holocaust because they counselled their congregations and communities not to resist. This was seen by many to be blaming the victim when in fact Arendt, a Jew and someone who barely escaped being a victim of the Holocaust herself, saw this as just an extension of the totalitarian system and the banality of evil reaching even into the victims themselves.
The acting in this film is phenomenally good and the story compelling and engrossing despite the intellectual argument that flows through and drives the plot. I can’t recommend this film more highly to you all.
My next film after the vampires was a Chinese version of a classic French play Les liaisons dangereuses which has also been an excellent film in 1988 starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer. I highly recommend the latter but only if you can sit through a play that has yet to capture me despite seeing it performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, great American actors (see above) and a couple of other performances including this one. I have to stop going to see it. At any rate the original is set in pre-revolutionary France and is supposed to show the moral decay of the aristocracy and how their games with one another’s love and affection backfires on them to demonstrate their disconnect from real human emotion. This one is set in pre-war, pre-communist revolution Shanghai (1931). The story is the same as two older and corrupted social dilettantes try to humiliate competitors by taking advantage of younger more naïve and uncorrupted lovers. The motivation and the overall story have no compelling element for me originally and this film even less so. I am not sure if it is that I don’t connect to dramatic Chinese acting or if it is the story itself but this was not a great film.
I will give credit for one element and that is set direction. The filming of 1931 Shanghai is very good and evocative but once the actors show up I am lost. The lead actress is Zhang Xia of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame. If you loved her in that it might tempt you to go for this one.
This is a vampire movie and I figured to broaden my experience of horror films I should get beyond Bella Lugosi and “I don’t drink……wine”. So I swallowed my aversion to Anne Rice and went to see this new film by Neil Jordan(Interview with a Vampire and The Company of Wolves among others). I was attracted because he also did Michael Collins which was amazing and not a horror film at all. Disappointed I was. It was so booorrrrriinng right up until the end when suddenly there was action and resolution but until then it was just gothic in the worst sense of the word. While sitting with another TIFF veteran waiting for my next film we got chatting about what movies were good and bad this year and I mentioned how much I was unhappy with Byzantium. He was surprised, had seen it with me as it turns out and thought it was wonderful. I guess you have to like vampires. I should note that this guy sees five movies a day and will see between 40 and 50 movies this week. I am not sure he isn’t confusing Byzantium with something else at that rate but who am I to judge. Let’s just say that if you like vampires you will likely enjoy this and if you don’t stay away. It is not a great film to introduce you to the horror genre.
The director was there for a Q and A afterwards and that was somewhat interesting but the movie is based on a book and part of the story was about how people became vampires. In the book they were taken off to Turkey and bitten by a giant bird but they didn’t have the funding for this so instead they used this isolated little island of the west coast of Ireland (The director is Irish afterall). At any rate this saved them big bucks and maybe that says something about the movie overall.