Older and wiser
Driven by Dreams (À force des rêves)
France, Canada - 2006, 83 minutes
Not since Deeper Than Y (cross-reference below) has the elder generation been presented in such an honest, caring and thoughtful manner. Director Serge Giguère has wisely stood back and let his subjects speak, play, laugh, create and die for themselves. The deeply personal portrait is glued together by a big band in rehearsal (“Lady of Spain” seems too slow to my ears and “In the Mood” sends the screech trumpets into the stratosphere and beyond) whose combined experience would put my “expert” knowledge into the “new guy” category and a squadron of airplanes—most of them made by hand and guided by remote control. Like their pilots, some crash and collapse but are soon repaired and put back up into the air—ready for the next adventure no matter what. Ray Monde, the thick-oil painter, whose hands shake like hell until the brush finds the canvas has real talent. There’s a marvellous scene as she ruthlessly prunes (so like Brahms in his early, uncertain days) her collection so that only the very best will remain as her legacy but, thankfully, opts to keep the U.S. flag whose 50 stars are actually bombs: brilliant! The shot-du-film is the gnarly ancient maple whose ravaged trunk should have doomed it to an early mulching. But like those long-lived characters that populate this testament to the human spirit, it may have to settle for “maybe twenty-five more years.” We should all do as well.
Powerful understatement sears the soul
Kikes Like Me
Canada - 2006, 85 minutes
In Sarcelles, an apparent refuge from rampant anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant feelings and brutal acts of violence in metropolitan Paris, a young man and his buddies rail against Jewish domination of the economy to the point of irrational thought: “If you’re Jewish we don’t like you, … you’ll fuck me,” is strongly declaimed to Jamie Kastner towards the end of what started as a tolerant bit of discourse with a multi-racial slice of the neighbourhood. Kastner’s premise is to craft a road movie where the curly haired, factually circumcised filmmaker wanders the world as a Jew, but never really states if he’s a Yid or a Goy. In Brooklyn he’s given a Bar Mitzvah (“It’s never too late”) and rides a synagogue on wheels. Manhattan features cheeky merchandising “You had me at Shalom” T-shirt. There’s a wonderful Charlton Heston/Michael Moore moment as his interview with the “pit bull of the right” Pat Buchanan is truncated by the nattily dressed friend of Nixon’s after hearing his own words: “We’re predisposed to lead the world to hell for Israel.” The possibility of emigrating to Israel is dashed once the mattress and dirty washroom is known. Contending for Bigot of the Year honours in London is columnist Richard Ingrams in his reply to the if-he-isn’t-a-Jew-he-may-as-well-be-with-his-liberal-attitudes-and-telltale-looks “Anti-Semitic? I’m not the only one.” At a football match in Amsterdam the largely Christian lads self-describe as Ajax Jews just to further enrage their Rotterdam rivals. Berlin features the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews”: 2,711 slabs of graffiti-proof assuaged guilt. The good citizens of Krakow (Jewish population now ~150; “then” 65,000) with their Goyzmer bands and trendy Gentile-owned Jewish eateries convincingly demonstrate their “love of dead Jews.” But by the time Kastner’s journey reaches Auschwitz, his early gentle sarcasm has hardened at every stop and a burning influx of anger gives his words as much heat as the dutifully restored ovens in their prime. The brilliance of this fascinating chronicle is that by the end of the trail, it matters not a wit who’s Jewish and who isn’t. Untested assumptions will continue to poison the planet: ignorance is a much deadlier enemy than any race, colour or creed.
Words escape me
Canada - 2006, 89 minutes
Another dark corner of the human experience comes under the very personal microscope in John Paskievich’s courageous examination of those, like himself, who stutter. One percent of the world has this debilitating speech impediment. Famously, Moses, Claudius, Isaac Newton, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill and James Earl Jones can be included in the stammer club which has no known cause. In the tradition of “if you’re ailing, cut it off,” Johan Friedrich Dieffenbach (1792-1847) developed a method of cutting a triangle out of the errant tongues as a remedy. In the film, Paskievich demonstrates the technique to his son using a tomato, they wryly quips how successful it must have been! As he comes to terms with his particular situation, the filmmaker opts for self-therapy combining the best parts of “fluency shaping” (effectively relearning how to create sounds, syllables, words then sentences) and Charles Van Riper’s “stuttering modification” (whose self-awareness and acceptance as the first step resonate with any number of self-help interventions from alcoholism to obesity). Before you can say “twelve steps,” Paskievich outs himself with a custom car licence (STUTTER) and a series of interviews with non-stuttering subjects, who readily reveal the fear of anything different that lurks (to varying degrees) in us all. The film is populated with a wide range of subjects: a young boy rapping at the annual convention of the National Stuttering Association is a marvel; longtime stutterer Marty Jezer’s T-shirt (“I’ll say it my way”) says it all. But while tolerance and acceptance of many exceptional conditions is now more the rule than the exception, don’t expect to see any mainstream television or radio newscasts read by those whose words take a little extra time to deliver. JWR