Obit.

The art of writing obituaries comes to the forefront in Obit., a new documentary about death that celebrates lives. The writers/journalists from The New York times obituary department are dedicated to accomplish what looks like a very hard task. Most impressive of all is that every morning, every day it all start again. There are always new personalities to write about, to research. There is a printing deadline to respect and, depending on what time of day or night the person has died, a lot of pressure rests on the writers shoulders. It is also important that they get it right. That means a minimum of errors. It is fascinating to watch Bruce Weber, for instance, call the wife of man he’s writing about and ask her questions about her husband as she mourning. This is necessary in order to have more accurate informations, and not some unverified versions of the truth. We are told that sometime a family will have entertained some myths about the deceased (a kind of wishful thinking). The New York times obituary archives (appropriately called “the morgue”) is the place where they store some of the photos and articles that are used to compose the obituaries. Archivist Jeff Roth is keeper of the gate. Although it may differ for some people, I did not find Obit. to be morbid at all. It is conventional, yes, but well made. And a very interesting topic.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Obit.

 

Directed by:
Vanessa Gould

93 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

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Christine

When I write about Christine, I can’t tell what happened in 1974 that made Christine Chubbuck famous because that would be a spoiler. Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) was a 29-years-old news reporter for WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida. Christine had her own talk show called Suncoast digest in which she talked about local and social interests. But she is always at odds with news director, Michael (Tracy Letts) who would like the newscast to be more sensational and cover murders and crimes (“blood and guts” someone says) to bring in higher ratings. The news that there might be positions opening in Baltimore, brings even more tensions and competition at the station. If that wasn’t enough, she suffers from sharp pains in the stomach, and as a result will have her ovaries removed. It is clear after a while that Christine’s depression is coming back. At times, it comes very close to manic depression. She lives with her mother, but always picks a fight with her. Her incoherent thinking is all over the map: she wants the job in Baltimore, she’s a virgin but wouldn’t it be nice if she finally had a romantic life now, especially before her ovaries are removed because she wants children, she wants that job in Baltimore, she buys a CB radio to listen to police calls and be the first to report it to the news, she needs that job in Baltimore. She does puppet shows for children at a local hospital, but they get increasingly weird and disturbing. There is a yelling match between Christine and Michael where Christine goes too far. There is a ray of hope when the handsome anchor, George Ryan (Michael C. Hall, no relation to Rebecca) invites her out on a date. The screenplay by Craig Shilowich is successfully showing the slow drip of mental illness. It is a relentless enemy. Shilowich and director Antonio Campos sets the film squarely in a realistic mid-1970s, complete with 70s long dresses, 70s pants, 70s hair and moustaches, and a fun soundtrack of songs from the 70s. Christine is such a difficult part to play, with all her contradictions, her mood swings and sudden shifts. Rebecca Hall’s Christine is an unvarnished portrait of a mentally ill woman, warts and all. With the marvellous Tracy Letts as her boss, there is a feeling of watching a harsher and less likable version of Lou Grant and Mary Tyler Moore (from The Mary Tyler Moore show). Lets hope these two will be remembered at Oscar time.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Christine

Directed by:

Antonio Campos

Screenplay by:
Craig Shilowich

Starring:
Rebecca Hall
Michael C. Hall
Tracy Letts
Timothy Simons
J. Smith-Cameron
Maria Dizzia

118 min.

Rated 14A

Denial

David Irving is a British self-described historian. But he is really a Holocaust denier and a Hitler apologist. In 1996 Irving sued Penguin books and American author and (genuine) historian Deborah E. Lipstadt for libel. In her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt made the claim that Irving (Timothy Spall) was twisting the facts in order to promote anti-semitic ideologies. Because the book was published in England, Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) could be sued there where the burden of proof for libel laws falls on the accused. She has to prove that she is not guilty. For an American this is the world upside down. Denial seems to be an accurate description of what really occurred. The legal team was headed by solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), with libel barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) as lead counsel. This is a grand affair. A class act. The screenplay is by British playwright David Hare. Beside a haunting visit at Auschwitz’s gas chambers, most of the scenes consists of lawyers discussing their legal strategies. At first Lipstadt wants to bring Holocaust survivors as witness. Her legal counsel disagrees. They say that Irving, who is representing himself without legal counsel, will make a mockery of the survivors. Denial’s big draw is the acting duel between Spall and Wilkinson. Although Spall has an imposing figure, he paints Irving as a frightened bulldog (if such a thing is possible), with shaking lips and jowls, who stares back at people with the incredulous, confused look of someone who doesn’t know what hit him. Tom Wilkinson is my favorite English actor. Here he exudes warmth and likeability underneath a gruff exterior. But what is most stunning with Wilkinson is that it seemed so easy and natural that I did not see the acting. In other words: completely believable. Irving v Penguin Books Ltd is was a fascinating court case. This film is equally gripping.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Denial

Directed by:
Mick Jackson

Screenplay by:
David Hare
Based on the book by Deborah Lipstadt History on trial: My day in court with a Holocaust denier

Starring:
Rachel Weisz
Tom Wilkinson
Timothy Spall
Andrew Scott
Mark Gatiss
Alex Jennings
Caren Pistorius

110 min.

Rated Parental Guidance