Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations


Bullet holes and bibles: a message from God?

(2020) Documentary (Dark StarBill Clinton, Tony Blair, Julianna Margulies (narrator), Fareed Zakairia, Deborah Lipstadt, George F. Will, George Soros, Ben Novak, Viktor Orban, Yair Rosenberg, Brad Orsini, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Eric Ward, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, Rabbi Elisar Admon, Luciana Berger, Johnathan Weissman, Ken Livingstone, Rachel Riley, Valerie Braham. Directed by Andrew Goldberg

 

Antisemitism is nothing new. It has been around as long as Judaism has been, or very nearly. After the end of World War II, there was a feeling that now that Nazism was gone, so would be antisemitism. That hasn’t proven to be the case; in fact, antisemitic hate crimes have been on the rise over the past few years.

Emmy-winning filmmaker and journalist Andrew Goldberg takes four very different types of antisemitic behavior and tries to explore each one. There is state-sponsored antisemitism, which is going on right now in Hungary where billionaire George Soros has been demonized as a “laughing Jew” trying to overrun Europe (and Hungary in particular) with Muslim refugees. A public smear campaign against Soros in particular and Jews in general is taking place there, which is disturbing to watch; 42% of Hungarians, according to the film, display at least one form of antisemitism.

There is also the sort we see here in America as practiced by the far right, which is an offshoot of neo-Nazism and has led to the tragic mass shootings in synagogues I Pittsburgh and California, as well as numerous defacing of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues with Nazi swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans.

In the UK, the Labour party has been rocked by a move towards what is described as antisemitism; there have been several Jewish politicians, television personalities and journalists who have been subjected to savage antisemitic hate mail. While there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with Israeli policies vis a vis the Palestinians, linking Hitler with Zionism as one former London mayor has done, or insisting that Jewish people are loyal to Israel first and the UK second is actually pretty condescending. Are then Lutherans loyal to Germany first, Presbyterians to Scotland first, Episcopalians to England first? Of course not.

Finally, an intense wave of antisemitism has swept through France, largely through the Muslim community. Radical Muslims there have carried out acts of terror against Jewish businesses, including one Kosher market where four people of the Jewish faith were gunned down before Parisian police killed the shooter.

Goldberg has explored this territory before in his TV doc Antisemitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence which I haven’t seen. This seems to be a deeper dive into the subject, with lots and lots of interviews, from well-known politicians like Clinton and Blair, journalists like Zakaria and Will, academics like Lipstadt, and survivors of hate crimes. I would have liked a little less hagiography in the UK section; disagreeing with Israeli political policies doesn’t make you an anti-Semite and that’s where the left-leaning Labour party’s issues really began, but they went over the line and you see that happening in left-leaning places here like Berkeley as well.

The movie opens up with police communications that occurred during the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jewish worshipers were murdered by a far-right white supremacist. There is an interview with Valerie Braham, a young woman whose husband died in the kosher market in Paris. She breaks down several times recalling that terrible day, and then matter-of-factly states that she feels she has to hide her and her children’s Jewishness when they go out in public. She is terrified and has every right to be.

Things tend to be cyclical and we’re entering an era of global nationalism. It’s easy to blame Trump for some of these things – and his rhetoric certainly bears some responsibility as far as fanning the flames goes – but this is a global phenomenon, not just an American one and the rise of antisemitism can’t really be laid at the feet of just one man. It is, very sadly, part of who we are as Christians. When we learn to accept those who are different as us as no better and no worse than us, maybe on that day Jews and Muslims and gays and dark-skinned minorities won’t have to live in fear. Until that day comes, it seems only prudent to be cautious.

REASONS TO SEE: Chilling footage of police taking down a white supremacist in Paris, as well as the police band chatter from the Tree of Life massacre. Very intelligent throughout.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit scattershot and lacks context from time to time.
FAMILY VALUES: There is adult material, some of it fairly disturbing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lipstadt is the woman upon whose experiences Denial was based on. She was played by Rachel Weisz in the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews, Metacritic: 46/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Antisemitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence
FINAL RATING: 7/10
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A Private War

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)


Love in flames.

(2019) Romance (NEON) Noémie Merlant, Adele Haenel, Luána Bajrami, Valeria Golino, Christel Baras, Armande Boulanger, Guy Delamarche, Clément Bouyssou, Cécile Morel, Michéle Clément. Directed by Céline Sciamma

 

The Darkwave band Black Tape for a Blue Girl did a song “A Love That Dare Not Be” which is heartbreaking in nearly every respect; the music itself creates a melancholic mood and there’s the realization that few people have ever heard the song and it so deserves to be heard.

In fact, their Ashes in the Brittle Air album dovetails nicely with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the latest from French writer-director Sciamma and her most exciting work to date. It is a period piece, set in the mid-to-late 18th century in an isolated chateau on the seacoast of Brittany.

Marianne (Merlant) has been commissioned to paint a portrait of Hélöise (Haenel), the daughter of the countess (Golino) who lives there. Hélöise has just been yanked out of the convent to take the place of her sister in a marriage to a Milanese nobleman; the portrait is to be used to pique interest in the girl as potential marriage material. However, Hélöise is wise to the game and refused to sit for a portrait with the previous painter, who grew frustrated at her obstinance and quit.

Marianne is there in the guise of a companion to accompany Hélöise on walks around the chateau. The countess is concerned that Hélöise might suffer the same fate as her sister, who fell from the cliffs. The house’s sole servant, Sophie (Bajrami) believes it was suicide because the girl didn’t utter a sound on the way to her death.

Marianne is meant to paint surreptitiously in the evening hours. Her canvas and painting supplies are hidden behind privacy partitions. During the day the two women hang out and soon develop a friendship. Marianne is forced by circumstances to notice the details of Hélöise; the curve of her neck, the cartilage of her ears, the elegance of her fingers. Before long, the friendship develops into something deeper – the proverbial love that dare not speak its name.

This is one of the most beautifully shot movies I’ve seen in a while and I’ve seen some good ones. The composition is exquisite, done with a painter’s eye. Whether it is Hélöise standing alone in front of crashing waves on the shore, or Hélöise, Marianne and Sophia cresting a hill at dusk in the wild light of sunset, or Marianne alone before the fire, naked and puffing on a pipe contemplatively, each shot has purpose, each shot conveys emotion.

The emotions are at the center of the performances of Haenel and Merlant. Both are up for Best Actress awards at the César awards that are being presented this coming Friday – the French Oscars. Either performance is award-worthy, although I don’t know how you would choose between the two. Haenel is more reserved, somewhat more melancholy. Merlant has the advantage of being the narrator and setting the tone in that sense. The chemistry between them is natural and believable.

\Throughout the film there are references to the legend of Orpheus – he’s the bard whose love Eurydice died young, so he made the perilous journey into the underworld to beg Lord Hades for him to release her back to the world. Hades, moved by Orpheus’ artistry, grants the request with the caveat that Orpheus must lead the way and not turn back until both of them have left the Underworld; if he obeys, they will live whatever time they have left. If not, Eurydice goes right back into the afterlife, not passing go nor collecting $200. Human nature being what it is, Orpheus looks back as the end is in sight and loses his girl forever.

Hélöise, Marianne and Sophie discuss the meanings of the myth but there are also some other references; appearances of paintings based on the myth and near the end of the movie, as Marianne is leaving the chateau with her Hélöise promised to another, she hears the admonition to turn around and beholds Hélöise in a white wedding-like dress behind her. As Marianne shuts the door, Hélöise disappears from view.

There is a lot of depth here, too much to get into in one article but enough that you’ll be talking about it with your film buff friends for a long time to come. The two-hour movie takes a bit of time to get going, but once it hits its stride it holds your attention firmly. This had a one-day theatrical preview event back in December but is just now hitting a general release. Their distributor, which is still in a celebratory mood after one of their films won the Best Picture Oscar, can start celebrating again; this is another amazing film for their library and one which could very well be part of next year’s Oscar conversation.

REASONS TO SEE: A master class on camera composition. A haunting choral piece really heightens the mood. Wonderful use of the Orpheus myth.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit too long; it drags a bit in the beginning.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity and sexuality including one brief scene of graphic sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the festival scene, the women sing a choral version of Non Possunt Fugere which is Latin for “They Cannot Escape.” The song is repeated during the closing credits.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/20: Rotten Tomatoes:98% positive reviews: Metacritic: 95/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Breathe In
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
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Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations