Posts Tagged ‘Moscow Film Festival’

What If? Ehud Barak on War and Peace (2020) Moscow Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Ran Tal; Documentary with Elud Barak; Israel 2020, 85 min.

In his immersive new documentary Israeli director/writer Ran Tal (The Museum), interviews former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The upshot? That war has dominated Israel’s history – from before its foundation of to the ongoing stalemate.

Since the State of Israel came into being, the Premier also served as Defence Minister. This changed in 1967, after the war when battlefield hero General Moshe Dayan became Minister of Defence. Since then, five Prime Ministers have been high ranking military men: Yitzak Rabin, Ygal Allon, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Some people may include Menachem Begin, who was a leading proponent of the Zionist Underground, responsible for the death of over 80 British soldiers in the bombing of the Hotel King David in 1946. Barak was only PM for two years at the turn of the 20th century when he met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the failed Camp David meeting in 2000, where President Clinton tried in vain to broker an agreement between the two leaders. It turned out to be the last time a peace agreement seemed possible.

Ehud Barak (*1942) grew up in Mishmar Ha Sharon, a small Kibbutz. He remembers nights round the camp fire when the young members of the modest Kibbutz – a family room was a just 11 square meters, and there was no loo – they sang patriotic songs that told how “it was worthwhile to die for one’s country”. 300 meters down the road was the Arab village, the inhabitants “looking like our biblical forefather”. There was no tension between the two communities, but one day, the Arabs disappeared. The Kibbutz suddenly grew, taking, over the land which had belonged to the Arabs. When Barak became Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army he once asked the Chief of Military Intelligence if they should assassinate Yasser Arafat. The answer was negative, since Arafat was deemed to be a political leader.

A few years later, the situation had changed. Barak saw active service in the 1967 war, which, so he believes, was won, “because we attacked first”. In the Yom Kippur War of 1973 (Barak flew in from California, where he was studying), the roles were reversed: Barak was part of heavy fighting in the Sinai peninsula.

After the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Barak became leader of an Elite Corps, called the ‘Wrath of God’ who targeted terrorist all over Europe, killing, among others, Abbas al-Musawi, the Secretary General of the Hezbollah which he had co-founded. Asked about the civilian victims of these killings, Barak is clear: “When you operate, not to kill civilians, you won’t do anything.”  Referring to the assassination of Sadam Hussain, he claims history could have been entirely different: “Over a hundred thousand lives lost in the Iraq war, might have been saved”.

Strangely enough, the Rabin assassination “is not comparable with the aforementioned terror acts”. Sometimes Barak sounds reasonable: defending the reason to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon, or offering to divide Jerusalem in four sections, an offer Arafat refused at Camp David. But then he slips back into the warrior position: “We can not offer the Palestinians an enlightened occupation, that would be an oxymoron”. In 2001 Elud Barak lost the General Election to Ariel Sharon – an ex-general, responsible for the massacre at Sabre and Shatila.

No doubt Palestinian leaders are thinking on the same lines as the Israeli commanders – but how can you sit down and negotiate a peace treaty with somebody you would have assassinated, had you had the chance. This is the real oxymoron. Ran Tal’s feature is sad proof the military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will go on for a long time: the language of war speaks loudest. AS


Man of God (2021) Moscow Film Festival 2021

Dir: Yelena Popovic | biopic Drama, 110’ |

Venerated Eastern Orthodox Saint Nektarios of Aegina (1846-1920)  certainly had a hard time of it, according to Man of God, screening in  Moscow Film Festival’s competition line-up, chronicling the life of this beloved and highly revered religious figure.

Exiled, slandered and convicted without trial, Saint Nektarios gets a worthy but rather lifeless, sepia-tinted drama dedicated to his memory with clunky dialogue more suited Silicon Valley than a 19th-set religious biopic following the trials and tribulations of the ‘Metropolitan’ who was canonised in 1961. Overall Man of God is well-researched and informative in raising the international profile of a lesser known religious figure. It’s a film that will have great appeal to those of an Eastern Orthodox persuasion.

In her first feature as solo director, and producer Yelena Popovic (who scripted L A Superheroes) adopts a straightforward narrative quickly establishing our hero as a pious and quietly-spoken miracle worker serving his community with abject humbleness – in early scenes we see him offering his shoes to a beggar – and Aris Servetalis (Apples) plays him with conviction although never quite achieving the saintly aura of Enrique Irazoqui in Pasolini’s Gospel According to Matthew.

Nektarios is soon ordained as the Metropolitan of Pentapolis (named after the five sacred places in Italy). But his acts of Godliness and virtue and his popularity amongst his flock, but incur the envy of the Egyptian clergy who fear he might become the next Patriarch of Egypt. He is discredited and quietly ushered out of Egypt, one high official still believing in him (“you seem to be the real deal”) securing him a posting in Mount Athos, Northern Greece.

Despite the magnificent scenery, DoP Panagiotis Vasilakis keeps his colour palette muted in religious respect as Nektarios who continues to impress the locals at the same time honing his literary skills which see him promoted to the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School where he becomes a Christian mentor and prolific author. Retiring to Aegina on the grounds of ill health (he still manages to rebuild a monastery with his own hands) he somehow falls foul of the system once again, accused of immorality, and goes to join his maker. The unlikely casting of Mickey Rourke (as a leper) seems appropriate for this tale of saintly redemption and purity, and he becomes the fortunate recipient of Nekarios’ posthumous final miracle at Aretaieion Hospital, in Greece. MT


Gli Indifferenti | The Time of Indifference (2020) Moscow Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Leonardo Guerra Seragnoli; Cast: Valeria Bruni Tedesci, Eduardo Pece, Vinzenzo Crea, Beatrice Granno, Awa Ly, Giovanna Mezzogiorno; Italy 2020, 82 min.

The Time of Indifference is a modern-day take on Alberto Moravia’s first novel Gli Indifferenti written in 1929 (when the author was twenty-one) about a Roman family’s changing fortunes during Fascism.

Remakes are a tough call – and this one is a pale rider in comparison with Franceso Maselli’s 1964 original, adapted for the screen by award-winning Suso Cecchi D’Amico who worked with virtually all the Neo-Realist post war directors on Bicycle Thieves, The Leopard and Miracle In Milan. Screen legends Claudia Cardinale, Rod Steiger and Shelley Winters are also a tough act to follow.

Leonardo Guerra Seragnoli’s stylish version is lavishly-mounted and entertaining up to a point, but you can’t replace a strong script with visual and theatrical flourishes, and the director’s attempts to integrate a social media/gaming angle feels flaccid. Moravia’s story has lashings of dramatic potential, a salacious page turner oozing sexual politics, corruption, and intergenerational conflict in a down-spiralling economy – it’s all there for the taking, quite literally, in a “fiddle while Rome burns’ kind of way”. All very much in keeping with the unsettling climate today.

That said The Time of Indifference is not without its merits, and one is Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. Always a pleasure to watch, she makes for a supremely sensitive Maria Grazia, a widowed countess who has fallen from grace, unable to escape the pretences of her former glory or its material excesses. Edoardo Pesce is utterly convincing as her conniving lover, a suave conman who has his eyes set on her property, and her daughter, Carla (Granno), while her ineffectual son Michele (Crea) is unable to take the family forward, despite his better judgement.

Maria Grazia is in love with Leo, but her sexual power is waning, despite her graceful attributes. And we feel for her. But like most men of her own age, Leo is obsessed with youth, and fancies her 18-year-old daughter Carla (Granno). Meanwhile Michele (Crea) affair with his mother’s best friend (and Leo’s former lover) Lisa (Mezzogiorno), also doesn’t work, largely down to miscasting.

What is missing in this version is the elegant decadence of Moravia’s novel. While looking down on Mussolini as an upstart, the Italian upper classes and intelligentsia had made peace with his regime. This status quo gave no quarter to the tragedy unfolding, they just kept going by selling their properties and status no a new middle-class, of which Leo is a symbolic member.

In the end Leo’s greed and desperation shows his true colours, and is pivotal to the family’s salvation – of sorts – due to an act of female empowerment that buys the family time. This all plays out off-scene, resulting in a rather vapid denouement in the scheme of things. Enjoyable Saturday night fare. MT




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