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

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L’hermine (Courted)

Let’s start with the good news first: L’hermine is a procedural film about a French murder trial. A young father, Martial (Victor Pontecorvo), is accused of killing his 7-month-old baby. Court President Racine (Fabrice Luchini) has caught the flu and that makes him seem even more crabby than usual. From what we ear from the lawyers and his staff, Racine has a bad reputation as an unfair, expeditious and taciturn judge. The jurors are chosen in a kind of lottery when the President picks those who will be in the jury and those who will be alternates. The trial is intriguing because the accused refuses to talk except to say that he did not kill the baby. His partner, Jessica (Miss Ming) seems to be at lost about what happened and does not contribute much. We start thinking, as does everybody in the film, that Martial is not guilty. But what happened? Now, here’s the bad news: We never find out. This is a Fabrice Luchini film, and L’hermine‘s intrigue got sidetracked when President Racine picked Ditte Lorensen-Coteret (Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen) to sit on the jury. Instantly he recognizes her. She is an anesthetist and he was her patient some years earlier. They unethically meet at a café, where he tells her that he’s been thinking about her all those years. Why? Well, she touched his hand. She touches all her patient, she tells him. And he answers, that maybe it is like that in Denmark, but this is France. Yes indeed, and in France they have Fabrice Luchini, dirty old man par excellence, who always has a much younger leading lady in every one of his films. To his credit, Luchini is good and effective as Court President Racine, The judge’s reputation is not confirmed by what we see. I found him to be fair and impartial. And although he never smiles, he is nice to everyone and assures that the court proceedings are running smoothly. In short: Very professional. The problem with L’hermine is that I found the murder and trial more compelling than the masturbatory fantasies of a 65-year-old teenager in love with a woman who is 20 years younger. Instead of finding out who killed the child, we get to see vieux cochon Luchini get the girl. Yet again. Enough already! C’est assez!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

L’hermine (Courted)

Directed by:
Christian Vincent

Screenplay by:
Christian Vincent

Starring:
Fabrice Luchini
Sidse Babett Knudsen
Evan Lallier
Corinne Masiero
Miss Ming
Victor Pontecorvo

98 min.

In French and English with English subtitles.

 

Labyrinth of lies (Im labyrinth des schweigens)

Although based on the real Frankfurt Auschwitz trials (1963 to 1965), Labyrinth of lies rearranges some of the facts. During that trial 22 defendants were charged under German criminal law for their roles in the Holocaust. The main character is fictitious prosecutor Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling). The writers created Radmann from three of the real prosecutors who worked on the trial. It all starts in 1958 when journalist Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski) gets Radmann in touch with Jewish concentration camp survivor Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch). Simon Kirsch is convinced he has found one of his persecutors now working as a teacher. Radmann’s boss is District Attorney Fritz Bauer who was the real DA in charge of the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. Bauer is played by late German actor Gert Voss who died in 2014 at 72. Labyrinth of lies is his last film. German authorities are no help and they refuse to reveal their lists of former SS officers. From an American officer Radmann gets a list of 8,000 names. After hundreds of gruelling interviews with camp survivors, Radmann, his secretary (Hansi Jochmann) and Gnielka have to find the whereabouts of the guilty. With no computers, they have to go through pages and pages of phone books from all over Germany. understandably, not everyone are happy as the trial is bound to dig up secrets and skeletons. At some point the lawyer thinks he might be able to get Dr. Josef Mengele, but with no success. Radmann finds that even in his family and some people very close to him there were SS officers. In fact, the whole country is in denial even twenty-years after the end of the war. Labyrinth of lies is director Giulio Ricciarelli’s first film, and it is interesting because it tells a story that has never been told from this particular angle. But I find it is too conventional and its narrative style too cold to be really compelling. I am happy I saw it, but would not see it a second time.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Labyrinth of lies (Im labyrinth des schweigens)

Directed by:

Giulio Ricciarelli

Screenplay by:

Elisabeth Bartel

Giulio Ricciarelli

Amelie Syberberg

Starring:

Alexander Fehling

Gert Voss

André Szymanski

Johannes Krisch

Friederike Becht

124 min.

In German with English subtitles

 

Difret

Difret chronicles a legal-precedent setting court case that outlawed an Ethiopian tradition. The story starts when Hirut (Tizita Hagere) (Fictional name), a 14-year-old girl from a small rural village, is abducted by a group of horsemen. One of them wants Hirut to marry him. He rapes her. If she becomes pregnant, he will then marry her. Hirut tries to escape and shoot her rapist with his own shotgun. Hirut is brought to the police and charged with murder. This could mean the death penalty. Lawyer Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet) (Real name) from Adinet Women’s Lawyers Association is called to defend Hirut. But Ashenafi has to deal with the local police an uncooperative district attorney. We can feel the lawyer’s frustrations as she tries to help her client as best she can. Meanwhile at the village, a tribunal of men have exiled Hirut, forbidden her to go there. And the family of the man she killed are threatening to kill her if she goes back home. Although this is a fiction film and some of the facts may have been changed. One example: Time is compressed. The case started in 1996 and lasted 8 years. The young girl was 22 when it was over. In Difret, she remains a teenager throughout the film. Except for a few professional actors (Meron Getnet among them), most are non-professional. It looks and sounds real and authentic. Getnet and Hagere are particularly touching in scenes of Hirut sleeping at the lawyer’s apartment. The young girl seems surprised to see that a woman can be independent and without a husband. I understand that there is disputes about the importance given to lawyer Ashenafi in the film, but this is such an important film to see. The law has changed but this is still happening in some area of Ethiopia. Bravo to director Zeresenay Mehari for this first feature film and to executive producer Angelina Jolie.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Difret

Directed by:
Zeresenay Mehari

Screenplay by:
Zeresenay Mehari

Starring:
Meron Getnet
Tizita Hagere
Haregewine Assefa

99 min.

RatedParental Guidance

In Amharic with English subtitles

 

The hunting ground

The most shocking thing about The hunting ground, the new documentary about rape and sexual assault on American college and university campuses, is that the young victims are sapped of the self-confidence, the innocence and the hope of a promising future. We see young women say that to report the rape and seeing no charges being laid, not even an eviction, from the college’s administrators or sometime by the police, is, for some, worst than the rape itself. Why do they let so many rapists go unpunished, free to remain on campus and rape again, and again? Are they aware that most students who rape are repeat offenders? Well, if it is known that students are not secure on their campuses, they’re going to lose funding, enrollment is going to go down and it is going to hurt their reputation. And colleges and universities insist (while refusing to speak to the filmmakers) there is no cultures of rape on their campuses, and that they protect the victims. And they will fire any staff members who disagree with them. But the women and men who are interviewed by writer-director Kirby Dick have stories to tell. The hunting ground‘s claim is that college university football players and other athletes who are rapists, are protected by the universities, the coaches, the police, sport commentators and sport fans. The athletes/rapists are getting praised, scholarships, and even get drafted in the NFL, while the young women they raped have to leave school because of the harassment and threats they receive. A man tearfully speak about how the depression brought on by the lack of support from the university caused his daughter to commit suicide. And there is a young man’s painful memory of how hard it was to tell his parents he had been raped. The film’s focus are Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino. Both women were raped at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and have filed a Title IX complaint to force the university to address sexual assault and rape more seriously. Other students have filed complaints against colleges and universities across the US. So there is hope.

And the Oscar went to… One of the most moving musical moment in the history of the Oscars was when Lady Gaga performed the nominated “Till it happens to you” from The hunting ground. Gaga, herself a sexual abuse survivor, was joined on the stage by rape victims from Universities around the US, women as well as men. They got a well deserved standing ovation. The song was introduced by Vive-President Joe Biden. Biden called on every one to intervene when they see a person being abused or raped. Powerful. But the winner was “Writing’s on the wall” from the James Bond film Spectre. It became the biggest upset of the evening.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The hunting ground

Directed by:
Kirby Dick
Screenplay by:
Kirby Dick
104 min.
Rated 14A

Woman in gold

Helen Mirren could play Maria Altmann in her sleep. Woman in gold tells the true story of Altmann’s legal fight to reclaim the artworks that was taken from her family by the Nazis. The film’s main focus is on Gustav Klimt’s painting The woman in gold (real title: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I), so-called because of Klimt’s use of oil and gold on canvas. The model was Maria’s aunt. Now living in California, Maria contact lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), to see if she can get back what rightly belongs to her. Schoenberg accept mainly because of the fact that his grandfather was Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, and a friend of Maria’s family. Traveling to Austria for the first time since she escaped from the Nazis, brings back bad memories for Maria. Young Maria is played very effectively by Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany. And there is a peculiar cameo from American actress Elizabeth McGovern as a judge. She is married to the director. You think that with such a poignant topic and a performance by a great British leading lady, Woman in gold might be better. It should have been. But the screenplay is full of clichés and riddled with corny sentimentality and even failed attempts at humour. Of course people will be moved, but even though she still a joy to watch, Mirren should have better material to work with.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Woman in gold

Directed by:
Simon Curtis
Screenplay by:
Alexi Kaye Campbell
Starring:
Helen Mirren
Ryan Reynolds
Katie Holmes
Daniel Brühl
Elizabeth McGovern
Tatiana Maslany
Charles Dance
Jonathan Pryce
111 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

Gett: The trial of Viviane Amsalem

According to Orthodox rabbinical courts (Beth din), the only way for a woman to obtain a divorce, is for her husband to grant her one. Gett: The trial of Viviane Amsalem is an apt title for Israeli sibling directors Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz’s film (“get” is the Hebrew word for divorce). Even if Viviane’s husband, Elisha (a marvelously taciturn Simon Abkarian), refuses to grant her a divorce, Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) can sue him to obtain it. From the start, it is clear that this is a loveless marriage, and that Viviane has put up with Elisha for far too long. So why won’t he give her a divorce? Honor, pride, or simply because he’s a mean SOB. The three elderly Rabbis/judges are no help to Viviane. To say that they  decide in favor of the husband is an understatement. In private, Elisha promises divorce, only to refuse once in court. Some times Elisha does not show to court at the schedule time, dragging the case for months and years. Meanwhile all the judges tell a frustrated Viviane is that they can’t do nothing about it. But her husband’s counsel (Elisha’s brother, a Rabbi) and the judges are allowed to question Viviane’s morality, even accusing her lawyer of having sex with her. It has indeed, as the title say, become her trial. If the point of the film was to denounce how misogynist and unjust such laws and tribunals are, the filmmakers have effectively done so. Everything in the Gett: The trial of Viviane Amsalem seems to strike the right balance. The whole film is set inside the court and its waiting room, so the direction is minimalist and restrained. Screenplay and dialogue is most important in such film. One of main the reason the works so well is because of the excellent company of actors, topped by the powerful performance from Ronit Elkabetz as Viviane. Although the film is fictional, not based on an actual trial, this is a believable account of what probably sometimes happen. Unfortunately.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Gett: The trial of Viviane Amsalem

Directed by:
Ronit Elkabetz
Shlomi Elkabetz
Screenplay by:
Ronit Elkabetz
Shlomi Elkabetz
Starring:
Ronit Elkabetz
Simon Abkarian
Gabi Amrani
Dalia Berger
115 min.
Rated Parental Guidance
In Hebrew and Fench with English subtitles

The secret trial 5

The secret trial 5 comes at the right time. After the attack on Ottawa on October 22, some think it is important to remember how easy it is for our government to erode our individual rights in the name of a so-called “War on terror”. This documentary tells the story of five Canadian men arrested between 2000 and 2003 under a weird process called “security certificates”. Around since 1978, they were mostly used by Chretien’s Liberals following the attack on the World Trade Centre. Security certificates are used in order to detain and deport an individual (in most cases what the government calls “foreign nationals” or refugee), if that individual is deemed a threat to national security. Only problem is neither the accused or their lawyer know what the charges are (actually there is no charges) or see the proof against them. They are not able to view their file and as a result, unable to defend themselves. And there is no trial. In The secret trial 5 we get to meet those men and their families, feel the pain of waiting in vain. Deportation for some of them means torture. Some of the security certificates detainees have had some degrees of success fighting this unfair process, but most are still under strict house arrest. Mohamed Harkat’s wife, Sophie has taken centre stage during the protest. We also meet lawyers and constitutional experts. Looking at The secret trial 5 reminded me that on August 16, 2013, film director John Greyson and Dr. Tarek Loubani were jailed in Egypt. There was no charges or trial. Their release came on October 5, 2013. If we found it unacceptable from the Egyptian government, why would it be acceptable from ours? Is the film biased? Sure. All films are biased. But the government refused to be interviewed. Of course.

On the following link is a petition supporting Mohamed Harkat : http://www.harkatstatement.com

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 The secret trial 5

 

Directed by: 
Amar Wala
 
Screenplay by: 
Amar Wala
 
84 min.
 
Rated Parental Guidance

 

The case against 8

In June 2008, the California Supreme Court allowed same-sex couples to be married in the state. In November 2008, a ballot initiative called Proposition 8 was adopted by California voters, amending the California Constitution to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples. The case against 8 is about Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the challenge to prove that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. To that effect the newly founded American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) hired two of the best lawyers in the country. David Boies and Theodore (Ted) Olson knew each other very well. They were on opposite sides of Bush v. Gore, about the 2000 presidential election recount controversy. Conservative Ted Olson was greatly criticized by both by his conservative friends and by the gay community, but proved to be a staunch defender of marriage equality. The film is an overview of the five-year battle Boies, Olson and their team go through, from District court hearings in 2010 to the Supreme court decision in 2013. But the heart of the film belongs to the four plaintiffs. AFER chose two couples to represent the gay couples who were wronged by Proposition 8. Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier are a lesbian couple with four sons. Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo are the other plaintiffs. As they get quizzed by the lawyers and talk about the commitments they feel towards their respective partners, but also of having been denied a right granted to everyone else, of being second class citizens, they get emotional, as we do. The amazing thing about The case against 8, is that most of us were aware of the case and already knew the outcome. Yet, this documentary is exciting, full of suspense, and also works as a tear-jerker. “I love him more than myself”, Jeffrey Zarrillo tells the court about his husband Paul Katami. And love is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The case against 8

 

Directed by: 
Ben Cotner
Ryan White
 
112 min.
 
Rated Parental Guidance

Pussy riot: A punk prayer (Pokazatelnyy protsess: Istoriya Pussy riot)

Russia and Vlademir Putin have certainly been in the news these days and any film that can inform us is welcome. The Pussy Riot is a female punk rock group who put on guerrilla performances. They do that as a protest against Putin and his regime. After a performance in a cathedral, three of them got arrested on February 21, 2012. In the film they are called Nadia, Masha and Katia. Are those young women so dangerous a threat that during their trial  they have to be put in cages surrounded by a small army of guards? What is Putin afraid of? The parents seem supportive and worried for their daughters. We also meet the lawyers from both sides and the religious leaders from Orthodox churches. Wearing black tank tops and leather coats these religious men look more like they belong to a biker gang and talk and act like rednecks. The film ends at the appeal (one of them was released) and the international outcry. Since then, the two other women were released (just in time for the Olympics games) but later suffered injury in violent attacks. People who will see the film strictly for the music may be disappointed. Instead, see it for an open window into modern of Russia and for the Pussy Riot.

You should know… Although in the film they are called Nadia, Masha and Katia, their actual names are Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yakaterna Samutsevich.

 Rémi-Serge Gratton

Pussy riot: A punk prayer (Pokazatelnyy protsess: Istoriya Pussy riot)

Directed by:
Mike Lerner
Maxim Pozdorovkin
88 min.
Rated 14A
In Russian and English with English subtitles.