Miriam Rinn
Miriam Rinn

CultureJew: New Movies and Old TV

Sometimes I’ll go to a screening of a film that is not slated to show up in theaters for months, and although I take notes, it can be hard to recall just how I felt about it when it finally opens. That’s true of “My King,” which I saw in February. That’s a long time ago and my memory isn’t what it used to be. I do remember that I was struck by what a toxic relationship exists between Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot) and Giorgio (Vincent Cassel), the two lovers in the film. The French are more fascinated by, or perhaps more respectful of, what they call “l’amour fou” than we are, but maybe no one can resist a truly crazy love story.

Director Maiwenn frames the film as an extended flashback while Tony is in a rehabilitation facility recovering from a ski accident. The counselor there asks her to reflect on her trauma and what may have caused her knee to give out, which leads to her memories of her ten-year relationship. I remember thinking at the time that French rehab hospitals look like glamorous vacation resorts, filled with attractive, athletic young people hobbling around on crutches. Nothing like the places I’ve gone to visit friends after back or knee surgery. Where are the old people in wheelchairs and the orange plastic chairs in the visitors’ lounge?

At rehab, Tony spends a lot of time flirting with a group of teenage boys, which may be a clue to her taste in men. She likes them reckless and funny. When we meet Giorgio, he is extravagantly charming–playful, mischievous, seductive. Bingo! Tony falls hard, and they quickly set up house together and have a baby. One recurrent problem is Giorgio’s suicidal ex, a model who looks about 15, part of the new group of friends Tony finds herself among. Restaurateur Giorgio runs with a fast crowd, and Tony, who is a lawyer, doesn’t quite fit in. There are arguments and make-up sex and lots of high voltage emotion. Nothing unexpected happens, but the two leads are believable, and it’s always fun to watch someone else wreck her life.

Morris from America

A funny, sweet, and original coming-of-age story, which is also a fish-out-of-water tale, “Morris from America” is an entirely different film. Thirteen-year-old Morris is the fish trying to stay afloat in the waters of Heidelberg, Germany where his father Curtis, a former player, has accepted a job as a soccer coach. Morris’s mother recently died and the two of them are trying to make a new start. It’s not easy. Curtis and Morris are the only black people in town, and Morris is at a sensitive age–not a child anymore but far from being a man. Struggling to learn the language before school starts, chubby, baby-faced Morris has to get past the cultural differences between the U.S. and Germany. The Germans he meets are horrified by any implied violence, but their naive racism shows in their assumptions about his basketball and rapping skills. In Inka, he has a kind, friendly tutor, but she too trips over cultural barriers when she brings Morris’s notebook with its obscene, misogynistic rap lyrics to Curtis.

The movie benefits greatly from a wonderful performance by comic actor Craig Robinson as Curtis and an impressive debut by Markees Christmas as Morris. The two have a natural rapport as well as a physical resemblance, so it’s easy to see them as father and son. Curtis is also struggling to find a place for himself in a strange, new environment as he tries to help his son adjust. Their easygoing banter and obvious affection is refreshing in a medium that almost always focuses on the conflict between fathers and sons.

Needless to say, there’s a girl, the somewhat older and much more experienced Katrin, who introduces Morris to electronica and drugs. She’s fond of Morris, but not in the way he wants her to be, and he does some foolish things to impress her. This is not a dark and heavy look at the dangers of teenage culture, though. “Morris from America” is funny and touching and even heartwarming.  It’s not surprising that it won the 2016 Sundance Film Festival screenwriting award for Chad Hartigan, writer and director, and a special jury award for Robinson. A nice film to share with teenagers.

The People vs. Fritz Bauer

The second movie I have seen recently about the early-1960s German Auschwitz trials, “The People vs. Fritz Bauer” focuses on the attempts of Jewish attorney general Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaussner) to capture Adolf Eichmann. Bauer is an annoyance to all the former Nazis who now fill central positions in the police and judiciary, and the lawyers under his supervision routinely stall on their investigations or misplace important evidentiary files. Germany at this time wants to forget its past and move on. Frustrated and angry, Bauer reaches out to the Mossad when he gets a letter from Argentina saying Eichmann is there. The Israelis have their own reasons to mistrust Bauer, but they are just as eager as he is to find Eichmann.

The People vs. Fritz Bauer” is a somewhat plodding procedural, but the story’s inherent drama keeps you interested. The earlier film on this historical event, “Labyrinth of Lies,” felt more like a traditional feature, with an attractive leading man and a love story.  An interesting subplot invokes Germany’s laws against homosexuality, which had been strengthened under the Nazis. Bauer is a closeted gay man, and the police try to blackmail a transvestite to inform on him in order to end his career. It isn’t integral to the Eichmann story, but it is an informative sidelight into the situation of the gay community at the time.

And Then There’s TV

Talking about Nazis and other fiends, my favorite TV trash is about to return with the third season of “The Strain,” which starts on August 28 on FX. The German Nazi here has become a horrifying vampire, and it is up to an ancient Holocaust survivor to defeat him. Written by Guillermo del Toro with his exuberant relish for the lowest forms of entertainment, “The Strain” is scary, ridiculous, and fun in equal measure, so much better than “Stranger Things,” the latest hit on Netflix. Can’t wait.

About the Author
Miriam Rinn is currently a freelance writer based in NJ, where she has lived for several decades. She worked as a children's book editor, a freelance writer and editor, and a communications manager for a nonprofit organization. She is the author of the children's novel "The Saturday Secret," which was recently selected by PJ Our Way. She has two married sons and four granddaughters.
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