The Painted Bird

If you thought Bergman was bleak…

(2019) Drama (IFC) Petr Kotlár, Nina Shunevych, All Sokolova, Stanislav Bilyi, Barry Pepper, Zdenek Pecha, Harvey Keitel, Udo Kier, Lech Dyblik, Jitka Cvancarová, Julian Sands, Marika Procházková, Marie Stripkova, Milan Simácek, Martin Naholká, Stellan Skarsgård, Dominik Weber, Per Jenista, Irena Måchovå. Directed by Václav Marhoul


Some films are made for their times; others seem to exist in no specific time period whatsoever. Then there are movies that are a product of their times and reflect a mindset or an aspect of an era. Given the times that we live in, seeing a movie like this one might not necessarily be something you’ll want to put yourself through – it’s brilliant, but brutal.

During World War II, a young Jewish Boy (Kotlár) – who is never named in the film – is sent to live in the countryside of an unnamed Eastern European country (in the press material, she is referred to as his aunt). She tries to keep him in their isolated farmhouse, but every time he ventures out village boys torment him and in a memorable scene, set fire to his pet mink which runs around, screaming as it is immolated. This is in the first five minutes of the film.

Shortly thereafter, the Boy discovers that his protector has died during the night. Startled by the sight of her corpse, he accidentally sets fire to the farmhouse and burns it to the ground. On his own now with nobody to protect him in an increasingly chaotic and desperate landscape, he meets a variety of people – some kind, some cruel – and witnesses an assortment of disturbing and venal acts, including but not limited to child abuse, spousal abuse, lynching, bestiality, rape, torture and anti-Semitism.

All of this serves to create a shell around the boy’s soul as he tries to survive the horrors he has witnessed, all the while searching for his family. But if he is to find them, will he return to them the same boy as he was when he left? Don’t count on it.

The film is based on Polish author Jerzy Kosinsky’s (Being There) first novel which became controversial when he claimed it was autobiographical, but it turned out to be not the case. Shot in lush, glorious, black and white, the cinematography helps the film feel timeless – the small, rural villages seem to be as much a part of the 15th century as they do the 20th, with superstitious villagers committing acts so barbarous that they can almost never be forgiven. That such things actually happened is almost of no consequence because the filmmakers give us almost no context on which to bolster the film, leaving us to feel like we just had a bath in raw sewage.

That’s not to say that every moment in this film is unredeemable – there are some characters in the film who aren’t out to rape and murder the Boy, such as a kind-hearted but misguided priest (Keitel), a gruff Russian sniper (Pepper) and a good-at-heart German soldier (Skarsgård) who spares the Boy after being ordered to kill him. Such moments, though, are few and decidedly far-between.

At just a touch under three hours long, this is a marathon and not a sprint. An early scene in which a jealous miller gouges out the eyes of a man who he thought was staring at his wife with the intention of fornicating with her (followed by the inevitable beating of said wife by the eye-gouging miller) which the miller’s cats then feasted on inspired literally dozens of patrons seeing the movie at its debut at the Venice Film Festival last year to walk out, or attempt to with increasing levels of desperation (less than half the original audience was left when the lights came back up).

There is some definite talent here and even if Marhoul attempts to stave off criticism by stating that he’s less interested in the truthfulness of the film’s subject matter but rather in the truths of human nature that they reveal. That’s the cop-out response of someone who believes his art (and therefore himself) are Above It All. Nyet to that, comrade.

This isn’t an easy watch and certainly those who are sensitive or squeamish should stay the hell away from this thing. There are some truths revealed here that remind us that we are not so far removed from being these Luddite villagers who feel it is their religious duty to execute the unholy among them, even if they are innocent children. The kind of ignorance and madness on display here seems eerily familiar – and disturbingly current.

REASONS TO SEE: Black and white photography makes the film timeless. Bears some warning in this ear of rampant nationalism.
REASONS TO AVOID: Unrelentingly bleak and brutal.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all kinds of violence (much of it graphic), animal cruelty, disturbing images and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The language spoken in the film is not an actual language, but an amalgam of various Slavic languages and dialects. Marhoul didn’t want the film location associated with a specific nation, so he put together a fictional language in order to leave vague where the action takes place. In the original novel, the film takes place in Poland.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/25/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews: Metacritic: 72/100
We Are the Radical Monarchs


Red Army

The most dominant five-man hockey unit in history.

The most dominant five-man hockey unit in history.

(2014) Documentary (Sony Classics) Viacheslav Fetisov, Scotty Bowman, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladislav Tretiak, Vladimir Pozner, Vladimir Krutov, Felix Nechepore, Anatoli Karpov, Tatiana Tarasova. Directed by Gabe Polsky

There is always talk among sports fans about the greatest team in history of their chosen sports. For hockey fans, they will endlessly debate whether the greatest team was the Montreal Canadiens of Rocket Richard or Jean Beliveau, or the Edmonton Oilers of Wayne Gretzky, or the New York Islanders of Mike Bossy. However, there are many who are absolutely certain that the Soviet Red Army team of the 70s and 80s was the most dominant and the most highly skilled team to ever take to the ice.

There is a good deal of merit to that argument. This was a team that possessed the best goaltender on earth in Vladislav Tretiak, as well as the greatest player in the world – Viacheslav Fetisov, who was in many senses the best defenseman to ever play the game, including Bobby Orr. Fetisov became the face of Soviet hockey; a fast skater, disciplined defender, and maybe as smart a player who ever played the game.

The Soviets played a game in which even the NHL’s best at the time were left chasing their snow. NHL hockey of the period was brutish and slow compared to the grace and artistry of the Soviet players; there were few North American skaters who could keep up with the Soviets. They dominated international competition of the day, spurred on by their embarrassing defeat at the hands of the severely undermanned American team in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Considering that less than a month before the Olympics they’d manhandled the American team in Madison Square Garden by a score of 10-3, it truly was a miracle on ice. The Soviets didn’t believe in miracles and the fall-out was severe.

Behind the grace and artistry was a relentless system that demanded commitment and sacrifice. While much of the style of play of the Soviets was developed by the jovial Anatoli Tarasov, the genial coach who was beloved by his players was dismissed by more political elements within the Politburo and replaced with the icy Viktor Tikhanov. The Soviet players to a man despised their coach who was cold, unfeeling and treated his players as little more than game pieces, denying one player the request to return home to be with his dying father who eventually passed away.

This documentary is told primarily from the perspective of Slava Fetisov who went from being the face of Soviet hockey to a political liability when he spoke out openly against conditions that forced brutal workouts leaving players “pissing blood” as he puts it. Slava, who today is the Minister of Sport in Putin’s Russia, is constantly working his cell phone and often interrupts the interview to take a call or a text. I’m sure Polsky wondered if Errol Morris ever had to put up with this.

The footage of the Soviet hockey team in action is absolutely compelling and of course American hockey fans will still love revisiting the final moments of the Miracle on Ice game in which sportscaster Al Michaels screamed “Do you believe in miracles? YES!!!!” I don’t know about you but that still send shivers down my spine.

It is the footage of the Soviet team though that I found even more interesting as American audiences rarely got to see them in action. The Soviet philosophy was to have five man units that worked together rather than the North American philosophy of having separate forward and defense units. The result was the Big Five, a line-up of Fetisov and Alex Kasatonov on the blue line, and up front Sergei Makharov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov. Makharov and Larionov played early on for the San Jose Sharks, my favorite hockey team, and were part of the team that upset the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs. They are a lasting part of my hockey fan past.

This is a documentary about a hockey team, sure, but there’s more to it than that. We see what life was like in a postwar Russia, rebuilding from the destruction leveled against it by the Nazis in which families were crammed into apartments that we would consider studio apartments meant for a single person. A system in which fish was only available one day a week – “Fish Thursday,” Fetisov chuckles. It was a day most looked forward to.

Fetisov is often acerbic and has a sense of humor that is rather dry. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion except when talking about the car accident that took the life of his younger brother, an accident where he was behind the wheel for. He quickly deflects further questioning on the subject; it’s clearly something he doesn’t like talking about. He went through some difficult times; after quitting the National Team in protest of Tikhanov’s treatment of his players, he was briefly jailed and beaten, his family threatened. He talks about these things dispassionately and without any rancor.

These days Fetisov is an important cog in the Russian sports wheel. He was one of the main players in getting the Winter Olympics to Sochi and is proud of the games that were held there. He is a supporter of Putin’s government, understandably so since he has flowered and prospered as a politician under Putin. He is also clearly proud of his achievements as an athlete, while deflecting praise about his stands against the abuses of the Soviet system in ice hockey that led to players being allowed to play in the NHL, albeit with much of their salaries going to the Soviet government. He seems to have a strong streak of justice in him; one wonders what he thinks of the Russian involvement in the Ukraine although I suspect he wouldn’t say anything negative about any of Putin’s policies. I might be wrong on that score, however; Fetisov is used to speaking out against that which he disagrees with.

REASONS TO GO: Wonderful archival hockey footage. Interesting peek behind the Iron Curtain.
REASONS TO STAY: Fetisov plays his emotional cards very close to the vest. Hockey fans may end up being disappointed at the socio-political content; non-hockey fans may end up disappointed at the hockey content.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s really nothing here that isn’t suitable for all ages.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Werner Herzog was one of the producers of this film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/20/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 83/100.
NEXT: Our Film Library begins!

New Releases for the Week of March 13, 2015


(Disney) Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Nonso Anozie, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Rob Brydon. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

An orphaned girl, cruelly abused at the hands of her stepmother and her two vicious daughters, dreams of meeting a kindred soul and seems to have found one in the form of Kit, an apprentice at the palace. But secrets abound; Kit is really the Prince, he is head over heels for the girl and the Grand Duke plots with the evil stepmother to keep the two apart. Fortunately, the courageous and kind young girl has a fairy godmother on her side and with pumpkin and mice transforms the girl into a beautiful young woman.

See the trailer, clips, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements)

The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest

(Naked Edge/City Drive) Scoot McNairy, Shea Whigham. Sentenced to four years for a petty crime, DeFriest finds his sentence being extended after escape attempts and generally bad behavior. But now his four year stretch has become twenty and as he comes up for yet another parole hearing, hard questions about our penal system begin to surface.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Red Army

(Sony Classics) Scotty Bowman, Vlacheslav Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak, Ken Kurtis (voice). In the 1970s and 1980s, hockey wasn’t just the national sport in the Soviet Union, it was an obsession. The best team in the world was the Red Army team and it formed the basis for the formidable Soviet National team. The captain of that team took exception to the brutal training methods and often heartless treatment of its players and stood up to the system, going from national hero to political enemy in the process but paving the way for a revolution that would transform a nation and change the whole world.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG (for thematic material and language)

Run All Night

(Warner Brothers) Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Vincent D’Onofrio. A prolific hit man for the mob knows he is at the tail end of his career, and as the sins of his past begin to catch up to him, he takes solace in the bottom of a bottle. He remains more or less protected by his boss who is his closest friend. However, when his boss’s son attempts to kill his own estranged son, he is forced to make a choice between his biological family and the Family. On the run with his boy, he has a single night to keep them both alive and to somehow make things right.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong violence, language including sexual references, and some drug use)