Monday, March 31, 2014

"The Flower of My Secret": the problems of authors faking themselves with pseudonyms

The Flower of My Secret” (“La flor de mi secreto”, 1995), is one of Pedro Almodovar’s earlier films that layer fiction and “reality” within the various spaces of a writer’s life.
Leo (Marisa Parides) makes a living under contract from a publisher that expects genre romance novels, with happy endings and no politics.  It guarantees her anonymity by publicizing only her pseudonym, Amanda Gris. 
When her relationship with her husband (Imanol Arias), a peacekeeper in Bosnia whose presence is erratic, flounders (some critics often note the way this gay director understands heterosexual marriage from a distant perspective, like that of an anthropologist) , she becomes depressed and writes a ghostly non-pink novel that actually became the 2006 film “Volver”.  The publisher is insulted, and forty minutes into the film there is an interesting discussion of integrity among authors and publishers.  The publisher says “Reality should be banned”.  Authors should please and give pleasure (Wordsworth-like) to readers, not lecture them on morality (like I do, or like Leo wants to).  If you don’t help your readers, what good is what you have done with your life?
A friend Betty (Carmen Alias) introduces her to a newspaper editor Angel (Juan Echanove), a fan of her romance novels, who persuades her to review her own work, which she trashes. 
The film has rather garish photography, with all those bright Spanish colors, especially red.
It’s hard to imagine a parallel to my own situation.  Suppose I led a double life and was hired to write children’s books under a pseudonym, and could make a living from it.  And then suppose I reviewed my own children’s books on my own blogs.  I wouldn’t give a mouse a cookie, remember.  And no wonder Facebook insists on people using real names.   

Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Chattahoochee Unplugged" and "Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek" at DC Envionmental Film Festival

Today, I saw a double header of two “featurettes” from the DC Environmental Film Festival, at the Carnegie Institute of Science in Washington DC.

The first of these was “Chattahoochee Unplugged”, 56 minutes, directed by Rhett Turner and Jonathan Wickham.  The film presented the process of demolishing two obsolete dams on the river at the Fall Line as the river passes by Columbus, GA (near Fort Benning) and Phenix City, AL.  The purpose was in large part to open the river up to white water rafting and kayaking on this Fall Line.  The film, shot in very high definition with good views of the scenery of the river and of downtown Columbus (there seemed to be a park on the Alabama side), focused heavily on the technical process.

I see that I talked about my own furtive experience with kayaking at a company function (at Great Falls MD) in August 1997 on a “BillBoushka” blog posting Oct. 9, 2007. 

Of course, the river was the setting for the famous 1972 film “Deliverance”, by John Boorman with its dueling banjos, and the journey into moonshine country on the Cahulawassee River, which is about to be dammed up.  Remember that Burt Reynolds, John Voight, and others run into some real sadists, and Reynolds gets his chest scraped, or shaved. And then there’s worse.

I’m also reminded of the 1976 film “Ode to Billy Joe”, with Robbie Benson, directed by Max Baer, Jr. although the river (in Mississippi) involved there is the Tallahatchie.

The second film, two hours later, was “Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek”, 60 min, conducted by Leah Mahan.  The film tells the story of Derrick Evans, who in 2001 was teaching American history in underprivileged sections of Boston.  He returns to his family home at Gulfport, MS, in the wetlands of Turkey Creek, five miles from the Gulf of Mexico.  This was an area settled by African Americans during the Reconstruction.  (I think that is also true of some of Biloxi.)  Gradually, development of Gulfport has encroached on the area, partly for an airport, partly for new real estate following the casino business.  The politics of governor Haley Barbour enter into the picture.  Paving near or in the wetlands reduces the ability of wetlands to absorb storm surge and increases the risk of flooding to residents.

That fear is born out in 2005 Hurricane Katrina (some of the destruction is shown) and later Hurricane Rita.  The film shows FEMA trailers lined up, to show how inadequate the government’s response was.  Derrick returned to help, and then in 2010, the community was devastated by the BP oil spill.  The film says that Derrick had placed himself in great financial jeopardy, owning buildings in Boston but unable to work if he was going to help out his family with its political fights in Mississippi.

This film played before a large, almost full auditorium.  The panel discussion featured statements by Derrick, Leah, and two other individuals.  I’ll include more about these soon on my new “Media blog”. One speaker encouraged people to move South to help out.  Someone has to be willing to live in high risk areas.  

The film was largely in somewhat grainy video, although an ad for the Gulf resorts was ironically in sharp definition. The film was sponsored by Sundance.

Update: April 1, 2014

I've placed the YouTube clubs form the QA for "The Battle for Turkey Creek" on a new media review site, here
Wikipedia attribution link to picture of downtown Columbis, GA.  I made one visit, in Nov. 1994. Some pictures here from Bay St. Louis, MS, taken by me in Feb. 2006. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Big Men" looks at oil industry (Kosmos) in Nigeria and Ghana, with all the social, political, ethical and security problems

Big Men”, a new “environmental” documentary by Rachel Boynton with Brad Pitt as executive producer and distributed by Tribeca, may start a little slow but soon has us engaged with the controversy created by “big oils” activity in west Africa, still sensitive to the history of colonialism. 
The film focuses on a smaller Dallas-based oil company, Kosmos, that went public in 2011 (symbol KOS, on the NYSE; it had tried to work with Exxon-Mobil, which I used to own some of).  In 2007, it had become involved in controversy in at least two countries, Ghana and Nigeria. 

Visually, the Nigerian portions of the film are the most compelling. We see little villages of shacks along the river deltas, and then scenes of young men disrupting oil supply lines to set up secondary businesses to support their own families, often at great physical risk to themselves.  Cinematically, the scenery is sometimes breathtaking, almost something out of Darren Aronofsky. There is a lot of talk that in poor countries, it is “every family for itself.”  Then men usually wear colored ski masks, and play with matches (or oil hardware), as well as guns.   

Back on August 16, 2008, I received a bizarre email from “NDYouths” that claims to be the “Democrats from the Niger Delta” and to have the “keys to oil facilities”.  While it might have been spam picked up by a server looking for email addresses of bloggers who write about energy, it’s very strange that people overseas think that bloggers or journalists will intervene in what seems like a ransom-life theft from oil companies.  The original story is on my International Issues blog, Friday, Aug. 15, 2008. 
The controversy over the underwater project off the coast of Ghana (details in this article) plays out in a series of interviews with executives both back in Dallas (the Kosmos offices appear to be along 175, the North Central Expressway, maybe around Mockingbird; the law firm is in downtown Dallas just as in the TV series about the Ewing family) and Ghana, where one man lives comfortably in a forest villa but soon faces the loss of everything after his firing, Accra looks like a low, flat rather boring and poor place.
The film explains the important of the FCPA, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which starts nabbing som executives.

I lived in Dallas from 1979-1988, interviewed just one oil company for a job (that was Arco in 1983), but I would wonder if I were to work for one today in information technology if I could be expected to travel in countries like these.  Nigeria recently passed a very draconian anti-gay law, making it illegal for gays even to congregate.  (It’s illegal in Ghana, but hasn’t received much attention.)  It can be dangerous to live and do business in any of these countries.  Goodluck Jonathan of Nigerian signed that county’s law, and I believe he appeared in the film.

In the 1990s, I worked for a life insurance company that owned a Liberian ship registry as a subsidiary, and one user whom I had worked for actually took a position there.  Living conditions in poor countries can matter in many employment situations.  And there is certainly a connection between poverty, corruption, instability (for companies extracting natural resources, which are seen as exploiting the people) and social issues including harsh anti-gay attitudes.

The film did not get into the politics of Sharia law in the northern part of Nigeria.  

The official site is here. /   I saw it at E Street om Washington DC Saturday afternoon before a fair crowd; Friday night it sold out.  It will play at the Algelika Theater at Mockingbird and 175 in Dallas, maybe near a Kosmos office, but not at Angelika Mosaic in the DC area (a very similar facility – I’ve been in both) as far as I know.  

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Niger Delta from space (north is on Left).   

Friday, March 28, 2014

"Noah": someday, there may be no choice but to be fruitful and multiply

Darren Aronofsky has essentially made his Biblical epic “Noah” as a sci-fi or fantasy film, with a morality play toward the end that, while it might play well at a table reading for a screenwriting or university literature class, comes across as a little corny, at least to those not up on all the genealogy in Genesis.
The world before the Flood, shot in Iceland for this film, is rather fascinating. The narrative says that an entire technological civilization had covered the globe before Jehovah decided to destroy it.  There are scenes of abandoned mines and iron machinery, and distant ruined cities.  It seems as though the world had used up its fossil fuels and polluted the atmosphere.  Maybe the Flood purged the excess carbon dioxide and reversed the global warming, but it’s hard to see how we could have reinvented an entire industrial age again. The sci-fi parts, especially the Watchers (said to be fallen angels, fsupposedly emanations of plasma energy encased by stone) would fit on anyone’s extrasolar planet. 

Also interesting is the “family values” in this micro-society that is left and deemed to be “good”.  Sometimes the only thing you can do with your life is “be fruitful and multiply” or standby to help those who do, and give up your own artistic pretensions, which could mean nothing without people. Anyone could face a big existential challenge like this.  I just of ask of others, don’t test me to see if I’ll blink.

The ark was actually constructed on Long Island and survived Hurricane Sandy.  It was a rectangular box. It just had to float.

Russell Crowe is essentially himself as Noah, and Anthony Hopkins seems kinder and gentler as Methuselah, who wants to enjoy one last berry before he finally perishes after nine centuries.  (Maybe he was one of the aliens from NBC’s “The Event”.)  Jennifer Connelly, as Naameh, has to refocus Noah’s moral compass.  Douglas Booth appeals as Shem, but Logan Lerman is made too boyish as Ham, whose story is still a bit of a mystery. Emma Watson becomes the new mother of civilization, and Mark Margolis plays the “wicked” Magog, who somehow gets past the Watches onto the ship.

The official site is here. 

The film is shot in 1.85:1, possibly to make it an easier fit for Imax. The Atmos-Dolby is so effective that I thought someone was actually screaming and crying in the audience at one point.  I saw the film at the Angelika Mosaic this evening.

Update: March 30,  2014

Check the Wall Street Journal article in the Marketplace section Wednesday. March 26, 2014, "Fewer Americans go to the movies: Theater owners consider cutting prices one day a week", link here (paywall).   

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"The After Life Investigations", where spirits show up on film; "Lost Angel" features Timo Descamps in appealing short film

The After Life Investigations”, directed by Tim Coleman and featuring Donal MacIntyre, is a somewhat crude documentary (2010) from the UK describing experiments at “The Scole” and other places (like in Los Angeles) to contact the dead through séances, particularly trying to capture audio and photographic evidence.

In some cases, the entities present visages resembling what they looked like alive.  The film claims that Polaroid film left unopened in a particular field in a séance will form the images.

Toward the end of the film, there is a sequence where an entities enters a quartz piece, which dematerializes and then returns. 

The film really doesn’t offer much in the way of speculation on what the afterlife is like. 

The documentary mentions the 2005 film "White Noise" (Universal), by Geoffrey Sax, with Michael Keaton playing an architect trying to contact his wife from the hereafter or "afterlife".  She holds "the dead hand".
The video (with reduced aspect ratio and rather average technical quality) can be viewed on Netflix Instant play. 

The “short film” for today was pretty interesting.  That is “Lost Angel” (2013, 17 min), directed by Derek Efrain Villanueva. Timo Descamps (“Shane Lyons” in “Judas Kiss”, reviewed here June 4, 2011) plays Michael, a tourist arrives at LAX from Amsterdam.  He loses his wallet and drops his cell phone. But Carlitos (Villaneuva) takes him to the motel where he lives to put him up, and tells Mikhael he makes a living as a hustler.  A “customer” shows up and Michael has to hide.  When the customer drives to rob Carlitos, Michael intervenes, chasing the customer and probably saving Carlitos.  A good person finds Michael’s wallet, and life resumes. 

The film comes from “Riot Scene Media”.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Wake Up": You might see an angel if you're alert

In “Wake Up”, Jonas Elrod (who directs his own film with Chloe Crispi), 37 when the film was shot (in 2010) describes his experience of suddenly being able to see angels or supernatural beings in connection with ordinary people.  He says that the ability developed suddenly around 2006 or so while he was living in New York City.
Jonas visits various ashrams around the country looking for an explanation for his ability.  For example, he visits the Ramtha Institute for Enlightenment near Seattle, and also a native American camp where he experiences a sweat-out.  He journeys to the University of Arizona, then New Mexico, as well as to Rome.  Later he visits a professor at Princeton who has placed random number generators around the world to measure the effects of mass “non local” consciousness.  He says that the generators behave different during world events, and started behaving oddly about 4:30 AM on the morning of 9/11 in 2001. Early in the film, he visits his family in south Georgia. 
I lived in New York City in 1974-1978 and made quests in various areas, including Mexico City, several trips to Understanding (Dan Fry’s group) at Tonopah, AZ (west of Phoenix), Seattle, and the Mt. Shasta area in northern CA, as well as Texas.  Later, while living in Dallas, I visited the Lama Foundation (north of Taos, NM) twice, as well as Alberta, Toronto, and Britain, and, well, Belle Glade, FL.  I’m a little surprised that Lama didn’t wind up in Elrod’s film, or that he didn’t come across Dan Fry’s work.
The official site is here.
The film had a narrow aspect ratio.  Elrod composed the music for the film.

My own perception is that an angel would look like the rest of us.  If you weren’t too sinful, you might notice.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"The Corridor": Is it a tunnel to the afterlife, placed in the woods for the unwary?

The Corridor”, directed by Evan Kelly and written by Josh MacDonald, is a Canadian road horror thriller with perhaps an interesting, even disturbing premise.  Unfortunately, the five young men on this “bonding” weekend in the Nova Scotia woods don’t measure up to the challenge enough to make you care.  And maybe their descent into animal wilding when challenged by the supernatural is the point.
As the film opens, Tyler Crawley has gone wild; his mother has been killed (but maybe not by him), and two of his friends are injured.  We don’t know what happened.  But a few months later he gets out of a mental hospital, well controlled on meds. 

Four of his friends invite him on a road trip into the woods, to a cabin.  Indeed the “cabin in the woods movie” has become another genre, perhaps.  They’re careful and a bit cautious in how they talk to him at first.  The first evening, Tyler goes out into the woods, to spread his mother’s ashes, and encounters s supernatural entity that seems like a box of plasma, that can extend into a corridor.  He can step in and out of it, but he gets a nosebleed.  He then sees his mother’s ghost.

When he tells the other guys, they go out the next morning, and sure enough the entity is back, and bigger.   It may have something to do with the blinking cell phone tower nearby. 

After the other men have been exposed by walking inside the thing, they start going crazy and violent.  Tyler, on his meds, remains stable.  So it’s pretty obvious how he might have gone crazy.  The guys do horrible things.  One man scalps another, to put the rug on the bald man.  Guns start getting involved.  In time, only Tyler and one other guy is left. 

As the film draws near and end, we see more pyrotechnics with the entity that gives some idea as to what the entity is.  It can narrow to a thread, providing a near-death portal, and then extinguish whoever is inside to ashes.  Maybe this is what an alien life form could do. 

The implication is that an alien force, with these monsters composed of electromagnetic fields, could destroy humanity and turn it back to savagery. But some viewers felt that the other friends simply lacked purpose and real character and were vulnerable; not everyone would be/ 
The concept of the film draws on a number of cinema traditions:  Stephen King, not just “Dreamcatcher” but also the CBS series “Under the Dome” (TV, July 11, 2013) the Austrian film “The Wall” (Aug. 27, 2013), as well as psychological road movies, ranging from horror (“Bugcrush” and “The House of Adam”) to subtle personal mystery (“Old Joy”), or even “Ice Men”.

Official Facebook is here. The distributor is IFC.

I watched the film on Netflix Instant Video.  The sound quality was unusually fuzzy.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

"Divergent": Being unlabeled means being different, which means being dangerous to the powers that be

After my 2001 layoff, I took enough personality tests online, and was briefed on Myers Briggs during the outplacement process.  There’s nothing new about classifying people or pinning labels on them.  Maybe the ultimate system was the “polarities” of Paul Rosenfels – personality types on a matrix of masculine and feminine, and then objective and subjective, with all combinations.

In “Divergent” (directed by Neil Burger), based on the young adult novel by Veronica Roth, there are five classes: erudite, amity (mostly farmers), candid, dauntless, and abnegated.  The last of these, supposedly selfless, administer this post-apocalyptic Chicago where Lake Michigan has drained and grown in.  Even teenager takes an intrusive medical test to determine which class they belong in, but everyone is allowed to choose a different one. 

The heroine, Tris (Shailene Woodley) gets an inconclusive test result, and is told she should choose her parents’ class, abnegation. Instead, she rebels and chooses dauntless. She also told about a community “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for divergents.  Because society fears them, they are hunted down and are mostly homeless.  (It’s not hard to see the parallel with the situation of homosexuals in Uganda, Nigeria, and Putin’s Russia.)   It’s hard to see why, as she is hardly up to things physically for a while. Eventually, her “divergence” gives her the edge needed to pass the tests her own way, although her instructor Four (Theo James) tries to pressure her to conform. Their training recalls Army Basic, and the shared bunking (and co-ed) seems like an obvious commentary on women in combat and also on the defrocked military "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays.  It's noteworthy also that being a "dauntless" does require "volunteering"; there is no conscription as such. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise that there is a chance for hidden romance.  Or that Four is Divergent himself.  One of the tests insists of injection of a mind-reading drug in the neck.  In one test, Four attempts intimacy with her.  That’s a good parallel to my own screenplay “The Sub” where a character is tested by temptation, but where the level of reality is uncertain.  In her case, she repels him even in this imaginary world.  In my screenplay, the protagonist doesn’t have the same self discipline – leading to what I’ve called the “implicit content” problem.

Tris has a good looking brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), an erudite who informs her of a plot for the erudites to seize control from the abnegated.  Caleb is certainly one of the more likable characters (after Four); Hero Complex in the LA Times gives Elgort's own comments on the role here.  But likewise impressive is dauntless Peter (Miles Teller), even if one of Tris’s competitors.  Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn play the parents.   Aussie Jai Courtney is rather tattooed up. Kate Winslet seems up to playing the role of a female Putin.

The official Facebook site is here.  Webroot warns me on the official site from Summit Entertainment, but I can’t tell what it thinks is wrong with it.

What makes you different makes you dangerous! But does it make you deviant? It certainly makes you "factionless". Or, the world belongs to those who know who they are, or who accept where they belong? 
The movie does make obvious references to predecessors, including “The Birds”, and, of course, “Inception”, although the parallel to the latter is rather incomplete.

Most of my friends (social media and real life) and most of the artists I review often in my blogs are Divergent.  Erudite and Candid seem to be their strongest qualities, with some fearlessness.  Maybe you have to be dauntless to write and sing a song asking people to imagine you naked.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"God's Not Dead": college freshman boy proves his integrity in debate contest with troubled professor

God’s Not Dead” (by Harold Cronk) definitely proselytizes, but it presents one of the most likable college-age male characters ever in film.  That’s tender-skinned Josh Wheaton, played by Shane Harper (20, any relation to the Nationals' Bryce Harper?).  In terms of personality, he is nothing short of Clark Kent without the powers.  The basic setup is that a troubled atheistic philosophy Professor Radisson at a Louisiana university (Kevin Sorbo) orders his students to hand in a sheet of paper reading “God is dead” and sign it, for 30% of their grade.  Josh, out of pure personal integrity and presented as an 18-year-old freshman, says he is a Christian and refuses.   He winds up being given the opportunity to prove to the class that God exists. (Note that Saturday's film "Enemy" was also about a troubled college professor.) 
The class had started with a list of philosophers all of whom the professor said are atheists.  He included Noam Chomsky on the list.  I wondered how Chomsky would react to this film.

I recall, in tenth grade English, we had an assignment to write an argument.  A girl sitting next to me took on the idea of proving that God exists.  The male teacher (former football field goal kicker but very good in class) accepted it.  I don’t remember what I did with this assignment but got an A on the theme, as did she. 
Decades later, at MCC Dallas, a friend would court me and try to win me over to “God”.  He really didn’t know where I was with this.

The film weaves together some current and backstories, Robert Altman style.  Josh loses his girlfriend over his integrity. Another young woman faces a diagnosis of aggressive breast cancer, and is ditched by her middle aged boy friend, a securities lawyer rising to the top, because she is damaged goods. .  An elderly woman living with Alzehimer’s Disease is hand fed by her daughter, while that same  stock market lawyer son, rising to the top of the world, considers visiting her beneath him.  Already the film is making a comment on the way we place value on individual people.  A reverend wants to get to a revival in Florida, and his car and first two rentals won’t start, as if “God” didn’t want him to go yet. (I wondered if they could have been exposed deliberately to local EMP radio flux.  That’s really possible.)

Toward the end, the script has to deliver Josh’s presentation and argument.  He talks about the Big Bang, and the fact that intelligent life appeared only in the last second of a cosmological timeline.  (The film I reviewed Friday, “Particle Fever”, presented the idea that if a certain elementary particle, the Higgs Boson, has a certain mass, that is increasing support for deliberate creation of the Universe so that it would “work”.)  Later he talks about morality.  He says that without God everything is permissible.  (In other universes, where other values of basic constants of physics are permitted, things usually don’t work and life can’t get going or hang on.)  But he finally catches the professor on his own circularity (a word Josh uses a lot).  “How can you hate a God you say doesn’t exist?”  (That’s like crawling into a museum clam shell and pretending you don’t exist.)
The professor has his own back story, having had his mother taken from him at age 12 by cancer.  A just God wouldn’t do this, he thinks.  The film does get preachy at the end, when the professor gets downed by a hit-run driver in Baton Rouge, LA, at a location I remember from a 2006 visit of my own.  Only faith can save him in his last minutes.

Even the controversial A+E "Duck Dynasty" show protagonist (Willie Robertson), which originates from the Louisiana swamps, appears; imdb indicates that is really him.
I think that the idea that without God, anything goes, needs some reaction.  One idea common in the interpretation of many religious scriptures is that sexuality should be experienced only within heterosexual marriage when there is openness to having and raising future children.  That is taken by some as “God’s law”, and it can cause different sacrifices from heterosexuals and homosexuals.   The real point seems to be that, while individuals can do well on their own without complimentary in love, it’s essential for society to sustain itself and, moreover, to give those who are disadvantaged some hope.

Indeed, libertarian ideas of moral compass just based on voluntary contract and harmlessness seem to fall short in addressing inequality and random vulnerability of people.  Moral ideas that people need to learn complementarity, even when it is personally very challenging, do address fairness and sustainability concerns.  But they don’t necessarily require strict rules of religious law.  I think a good analogy can be shown in the picture above.  The person riding the coal train (a metaphor for over dependence on a standard of living provided by the sacrifices of others) needs to get on the track from the next bridge to get to a community where he is going to learn to adapt to conditions on a new planet.  The law literally will allow him to slide down the incline toward the canyon on the left, taking him back to his old world (although there is still a hidden path to the new one involving more difficulties).  But if he can change tracks, he can get on the right path to his new community,  The energy given to him for “free” by the inclined plane won’t get him on the right path.  He needs energy from another source (pure Newtonian physics) to change course and veer to the “right” (pun).  This energy can come only from his own faith or the “work” of his own “Love”.  But the “moral rules” can be more flexible as a result. Not everything is permissible, but much more is OK is he is able to provide some of his own “work of love”.  Maybe even the bisexual character "Nolan Ross" from ABC's "Revenge" would incorporate this idea of morality (because he often talks about right and wrong).  

The idea of "complementarity" as based in scripture is important in one particularly troubling sense:  pure logic alone ("Nietzche") would not guarantee every human a right to life.  That seems to need to be faith-based somewhat. (Without the faith, there is always a risk of slipping to things that Hitler, Stalin and other tyrants have done, capturing whole cultures.)  But (as the film shows, with the backstories) providing that right in a sustainable manner costs others something sometimes.   It requires some kind of political, social and personal commitment to work.
There’s another valuable point here, about loss simply because something is taken from you by things you can control.  That’s the Job idea.  But there’s more than just “believing in Him” and professing it on the deathbed (or when lying in the street after a fatal accident).  It has to do with an entire lifetime based on sound karma.

Official site (Pure Fix and Freestyle Releasing) is here.

I saw that the AMC Huntington in Alexandria Sunday afternoon and it was almost sold out! The audience cheered at the end, and the movie urged everyone to tweet or text “God’s not dead” to their social media lists.  Is that spam?

Note the book review ("The ghost at the athiests' feast: Was Nietzche right about religion?)  by John Gray in the New Statesman, of "The Age of Nothing: How We Sought to Live Since the Death of God" by Peter Watson, and of "Culture and the Death of God" by Terry Eagleton , link here. Time Magazine has a followup to its own April 8, 1966 "God Is Dead" cover here, and we have to remember the movie "Rosemary's Baby" (novel by Ira Levin) that alluded to this idea that year.  

Second picture: local church produces “Wise Guys” in 2011, not so far afield from this film (Plays, May 25, 2011).  I don't think the musical play has ever been filmed as a commercial movie, but it's obvious that it could be. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Enemy": Jake Gyllenhaal plays a double of himself

Denis Villeneuve rehired Jake Gyllenhaal to play a spare copy if himself in “Enemy”, a film that seems like a screenwriting gimmick even if it, once again, borrows from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.  And this time the French Canadian director borrows from David Lynch, Shane Carruth and even William S. Burroughs.  The film, shot in Toronto mostly among sterile high-rise apartment communities, in brown sepia that is almost colorless (perhaps teaching us to experience genetic color blindness) really does seem like a kind of quick baptism.  Toronto is often shown in a gray-brown haze that looks like smog in China.
As the film opens, Gyllenhall is playing Adam, a history professor lecturing his sparsely populated 101 section on how dictators like Vladimir Putin get away with it.  He has a comfortable life at home, grading essay tests, but has somehow lost interest in his girl friend.  A friend recommend that he rent some movies to get up some fantasy and interest.  He has never particularly like movies or fiction before.  But the first one he rents (why not subscribe to Netflix?) seems to be an 18th Century Piece (maybe even “The Prince and the Showgirl”) and he sees an actor playing a swashbuckling double of himself.  He analyzes the DVD to identify the actor, one Anthony Claire, and soon tracks him down.
There’s tension and suspicion of stalking, and pretty soon Anthony thinks Adam has designs on his pregnant wife.  Maybe he just wants progeny.  They finally agree to meet, and they have practically identical bodies.  (The film could do more on this score than it does.)  
The first obvious question is, of course, could they be identical twins.  Adam’s mother (Isabella Rossillini) says she’ll pretend he never asked.  Pretty soon, it seems as though there may be other people around with doubles.  For one thing, the girl friend and wife look at lot alike (though only one is pregnant and both are played by different actresses. Melane Laurent and Sarah Gadon). Then the doorman seems to have an identity crisis brewing.  To say more would be to spoil things, but David Lynch ideas, right out of Twin Peaks, may carry the day.
The official site from A24, E-one and Pathe is here 

The brooding modern chamber music score is by Danny Bensi and Sauder Jurriaans.  Given the closeups on the characters, I wondered if the film really should have been shot 2.35:1.  Most of the time, you know which Jake is on stage. 

I remember being told, at age 20, that I had a tendency to make enemies.  An odd memory. 

I saw this in the best auditorium at the West End Cinema in Washington DC Saturday evening, before a fair crowd (not sold out).  The presentation was sharp, but there was a recurring three-beat clattering noise sequence from the right side of the auditorium for the first half;  I didn’t know if that was in the soundtrack.  

Toronto picture attribution for Wikipedia. My only visit was in July 1982.

A couple of other films to remember, unrelated: "Enemy Mine" (1985), about a standoff between an astronaut and an alien after crash landing (Dennis Quaid and Lou Gosset Jr., by Wolfgang Petersen; saw in Dallas; and "Enemy at the Gates" (2001, Jean-Jacque Annaud) about the Battle of Stalingrad with Jude Law and Ed Harris as Russian and German snipers.

Compare also to "The Double" on May 16, 2014. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Particle Fever": documentary about CERN LHC experiment looking for the "God particle" Higgs boson; the fate of the universe hangs on it

Is it possible to make a compelling, suspenseful non-fiction documentary based on mathematics and physics?  You know, with a beginning, middle and end?  It seems that Mark Levinson has achieved this for Participant Media with “Particle Fever”, giving a chronicle of the physics experiments at the CERN and its Large Hadron Collider in 2008 (web site ).The film appears at the same time that Fox and NatGeo are presenting their new "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" series. 
Physicists come from all over the world and live in an academic village on the border of Switzerland and France, to work at the facility, just barely in Switzerland, with the 17-mile underground circular tube for accelerating particles.  There are similar facilities in Illinois, and Texas (south of Dallas). 
The goal is to find the missing “Higgs boson” particle, and measure its mass.  If it’s mass is just right, there is support for the “supersymmetry” theory of the universe, which could suggest that the universe was created deliberately with exactly the right values for all the physical constants so that all the major forces work properly and ultimately conscious life, capable of free will, can develop in some places.  A high value for its mass would mean that our universe may be one of infinitely (perhaps countably so) many universes in a multiverse, with totally random values for constants, most of them not able to develop meaningful structures leading eventually to life. An intermediate result might suggest symmetry, but an unstable one, which could lead to the demise of the universe. 
A number of the scientists are personally interesting.  Maybe the lead professor is Nima Arkani-Hamed, who came to Canada from Iran with his parents as a boy and is now a physics professor at Stanford.  Other professors include Monica Dumford, Fabiola Gianotti, Savas Dimopoulos, and Martin Aleska, who physically resembles Nima and could be confused with him in spots.
One of the scientists talks about the different between experimental and theoretical physics.  Some problems have their own time to be solved (like the infamous 4-color problem of topology and graph theory which was solved at the University of Connecticut).  These individuals like to find absolute truth for a living, rather than concern themselves with hocking things to people just to support families.  They have their own separate world/   
There were doomsdayers who claimed that the Hadron could cause the world to be swallowed by a black hole or tuned into strangelet grey goo (UK story here ).

Google sponsored a QA with the filmmakers, lasting almost an hour.

The official site is here.

I saw the film before a fair crowd late Friday at Landmark E Street in Washington DC.  The evening shows sold out, though in a small auditorium.
Wikipedia attribution link for LHC components. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Artifacts": a thriller about "body snatchers" shot in Belgium for a Cannes-sponsored contest

Artifacts” (or “Artefacts” in Flemish) is a Belgian thriller film made (in 2007) fon the fly by Giles Daoust and Emmanuel Jespers.  It was written by Giles from a germ of an idea, a young woman hearing noises in her apartment, for what sounds like a shoestring filmmaking contest., in 10 days (in the spirit of the 48-hour project, this one sponsored by Cannes).  Daoust invented the story on the fly and wrote the shooting script in about two or three days.   
The idea comes more or less from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”: the woman Kate (Mary Stockley), an entrepreneur, finds most of her friends being murdered by their doubles, some time after a photo of all of them had been taken together.  Each victim has had some bizarre alien artifact placed inside his body by some kind of surreptitious surgery (without scarring or shaving), which will digitize his memory.  The artifact makes a clattering noise when the double approaches.  The new body will have his memory but no sense of morality or personality.  In a sense, the victim will be “possessed”.  Is the doppleganger really the same person with the same soul? There is some explanation of an existential experiment by a character named Carl Francken (Max Dighby). The boyfriend who could save her (Felix Scott) has to resist temptation. 

There’s a concept a bit like this in my 1969 novel, “The Proles”, with time travel, where a person’s life could be made reversible.  I’ll get to that on my new Wordpress media review blog soon.
The film runs only 75 minutes, but the DVD has a 52-minute featurette “short”, “The Guerilla Fimmaking of Artefacts", where the two directors, composer, sound editors, and others explain how they made the film. The caption is “Don’t try this at home”.
I believe this film script was mentioned in a screenwriting class back in 2006 or 2007.  Film school teachers seem to know about this thriller.
The film was cast in London but shot in Belgium, with scenes in both filmmaker’s apartments.  The car explosion was done with Giles’s old car. 
The film was shot in HD (dogme style)  and the hue and color manipulated to look subdued.

Don't confuse this film with the documentary by Jared Leto called "Artifact", reviewed here Jan. 26, 2014. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"The Grand Budapest Hotel": wonderful satire of all political ideologies, and of filmmaking itself, as well as rich people's resorts

The Grand Budapest Hotel”, by Wes Anderson, is indeed a grand satire, of both fascism and communism, but also of movie making and of the idle rich class.  It simply makes fun of everything.
The film is layered at three levels.  As it opens, in 1.85:1 aspect a girl reads from a book by “the author” in a cemetery, and then the film switches to 1985, where the Author (Tom Wilkinson) tells us that it is a blessing for a writer to be asked to pen someone else’s story.  I like to pen my own, so I thought that was an interesting point.  
Then the film crops to 2.35:1 to show a dinner between the author and Zero, in 1968, after the hotel, located in the mountains (where it can snow in August) in a fictional eastern European country of Zubrowka, obviously controlled by the Soviet Union, has fallen into disrepair.  Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham as a man in late middle age) took over the hotel, during Nazi occupation, which is shown with a “ZZ” symbol rather than a swastika.  Of course, in real life, Budapest is located in Hungary at low elevation and in flat country.
Zero tells the story of his experience as a “Lobby Boy” (Tony Revolori), when he works for the concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a bisexual man who does court old ladies.  When one of them shows up dead, he becomes a suspect, which leads eventually the wild chase and escape scenes in the second half of the movie.
The backstory in 1932 is told in the narrowest aspect ratio of 1:33:1, giving the film a look of an old movie, even though it is sharply filmed in garish color with a digital soundtrack comprising Vivaldi mixed with east European folk music (adapted by Andre Desplat).  In using the narrow aspect, it follows an example set two years ago by “The Artist”.
Presenting the film properly could be a challenge.  I saw it today at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA.  The full screen is set to be used as 1.85:1 (although by some magical sleight the theater sets up 2.35:1 without the audience noticing when the entire film is in Cinemascope).  To show the dinner scene, the theater cropped vertically, but to show the 1932 story (about 75% of the run time) the film cropped the entire screen horizontally.  This worked well.  Now some theaters use “2.35:1” as the default for the entire screen.  You would want the Cinemascope scenes to be shown this way, and not cropped inside 1.85:1, which is often done in “shorts” film festivals.  I don’t know whether the projection equipment can do this automatically with properly formatted digital masters.   This is important to me, because one of my “Do Ask, Do Tell” scripts, a sci-fi setting, uses two levels of backstory, and manipulating aspect ratios is an easier way to keep the narrative level clear.  (This could have been tried with the movie “Inception” but was not, as it was always 2.35:1.)  I would use the same idea if I thought theaters could show it properly.

The 1932 backstory goes to black and white (on the smallest aspect) toward the end, when the Nazis take over. 
There’s another concept in the film, the reading of the will, which had been set up as a tontine (indeed, the title of a Thomas B. Costain novel).  That could figure into why Gustave is a suspect. 
The chase scenes get pretty wild, especially with outdoor scenes near the observatory and the winter Olympics snowboarding scenes, which Shaun White could have inspired, as well as the earlier jail breakout, almost out of “The Shawshank Redemption”.
The cast contains many A-list actors, including Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum and Harvey Keitel. 

Director Wes Anderson, born in Texas, is now around 45 but looks 30 (like the character Nolan in “Revenge”). 
The official site is here.
There have been other major movies about luxury hotels, including “Hotel” in 1967, with Rod Steiger (set in New Orleans), and Edmund Goulding’s “Grand Hotel” presents a mystery in pre-Nazi Berlin, oblivious to what is about to happen.    

Fox Searchlight skipped the Fox fanfare this time introducing the film, the first time I’ve seen Searchlight not play the entire musical introduction by Alfred Newman (the same as for 20th Century Fox, in use since the 1950s when Cinemascope was introduced).  I prefer that it always be played.   

Picture:  Sierra Nevada, CA (mine, 2012).  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"The Past": Iranian director's relationship drama with an improbable setup

Ashgar Farhadi has a new relationship drama in circulation, “The Past” (“Le passe”), this one set in France, and while it is a bit of a mystery and explores the underpinnings of relationships, I felt less stake in the situation in this film that I did in “A Separation”. 
A French pharmacist Marie (Berenic Bejo) takes in her estranged ex-husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) and invites him to stay in her home a few days (for them to finalize a divorce) even though she has a kids predating their marriage and has a relationship with a younger Muslim Samir (Tahar Rahim) with whom she is engaged. 

This all seems pretty artificial and incredible, and the only reason given is that Marie doesn’t trust Ahmad to show up so she doesn’t make hotel reservations.  Why not expect him to?  This turns into a drama about OPC, other people’s children.  It’s true that the script sets up several problematic relationa situations, such as Marie and daughter Lucie (Pauline Buret) or Samir and his young son.  Religious values seem to matter little and Islam itself is hardly mentioned.  Well into the story, Ahmad finds out that Samir’s wife is in a coma and apparently tried suicide, although some heinous behavior by Lucie my have instigated it.  Samir and Ahmad almost become, well, friends.  They certainly don’t act like rivals.  And gradually it’s Samir who turns out to be the most assertive person.

Sony Pictures Classics has actually published the screenplay, translated into English, online.  I’ve never seen a distributor do this before.  (Scripts can be accessed from Scriptorama or Simply Scripts).
I saw the film at the West End Cinema in Washington DC.  The print seemed a bit muffled and off focus.  For two weeks it played only at Landmark Bethesda Row, an inconvenient location for residents in Virginia.
Wikipedia attribution link for map of France showing territorial history.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

"The Flat": filmmaker's late grandmother's apartment in Israel unveils a family secret regarding a member of the SS

Documentary filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger finds that his own family generates an intriguing story after his grandmother dies in Tel Aviv at age 98.  As the autobiographical film "The Flat" begins,.the family moves in, ready to sort through the apartment and dispose of tremendous amounts of stuff.  I wonder if this will happen when I am gone.  People who live alone often do set up mysteries for others to plow through after their gone.  In my case, that would include a digital legacy. 
Pretty soon Arnon unpeels the onion layers of his grandmother’s life,  he discovers that his grandparents had a friendship with German SS officer Leopold Midlenstein even before World War II.  He travels to Holland and Germany, where the film ends in a cemetery in a thunderstorm.  On a personal level, were members of the Nazi establishment always “bad people”?  Perhaps the film anticipates the idea behind Stephen Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”.
The official site is here. The 2011 film can be rented on YouTube (through IFC) for $2.99, or from Netflix.

The film is in English, Hebrew, and German.

For today’s short film, I recommend “Travel Inside a Black Hole” on YouTube (10 min), here,    I don’t know who the speaker is. It’s hard to summarize what he says.  It’s all relative.  Perhaps at death one’ soul goes inside a black hole and time stops, and one can “see” everything just before going in. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Tel Aviv skyline picture. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Arlington VA high school honors alumni with achievements in Hollywood ("Terms of Endearment", "Reds", "Aliens")

Today, at a concert at Washington-Lee high school in Arlington VA, I noticed four movie marquees for achievements in cinema by Washington-Lee high school graduates over the years.

The one that seems most important to me may be Shirley MacClaine, class of 1952, “Terms of Endearment”, from Paramount in 1983, directed by James L. Brooks, from a novel by Larry McMurtry.  The long dramedy depicts a mother  Aurora (Shirley MacClaine) and her relationship with daughter Emma (Debra Winger), through a marriage, while Aurora courts an ex-astronaut (Jack Nicholson) on the Gulf Beaches near NASA and Houston.  I saw the film in Irving, Texas, and it was quite popular in the Lone Star State.  About three fourths through the film, Emma is told by a doctor who notices enlarged lymph nodes when he gives her a vaccination that she may have cancer.  The tone of the film changes at once.  I recall feeling startled by that scene.  A routine visit to the doctor and an almost incidental death sentence. 

There's more: 

Another W-L film is “Reds (1981)”, directed by Warren Beatty (W-L class of 1955). I’ve mentioned it a few times recently.  Warren Beatty plays the journalist plays John Reed, with girlfriend Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) become involved in the Bolshevik revolution and rise of communism in Russia (I think around 1917) and want (and even try) to bring the idealism back home.  They may not understand the implications of what they want to do.  Journalists are supposed to be objective, right?  This very long film (195 minutes) had an intermission, with the stirring Soviet National Anthem by Alexandrov being sung right before the breakpoint.  The film was regular aspect and mono, although the DVD will surely be technically much better. (Don’t confuse with the thriller “Red”).  Beatty had been a heartthrob in “Splendor in the Grass” (1961), where he is a troubled young woman’s boyfriend, in a drama that takes sexual repression into mental illness (a hit at William and Mary my lost semester of 1961), and then in Lilith (1964), where he is gradually seduced by a mental patient in an asylum.

Although not subsumed by W-L posters, it’s good to compare this drama to “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1987, MGM, by Peter Weir who had directed “The Last Wave”), about a journalist Guy Hamilton played by Mel Gibson, with Sigourney Weaver, covering political turmoil in Indonesia under Sukarno, with the help of the dwarf photographer played by Linda Hunt.  Roger Ebert had called this movie “one of the great ones.”

Stan Winston, class of 1964, directed the creature effects in "Aliens" (1986), the sequel to Ripley’s “Alien” (1979), where the planet has been colonized.  In a subsequent sequel “Alien 3” Ripley is given “clippers for her private parts” and in “Alien Resurrection” (1997) she becomes a hybrid being.
I covered Sandra Bullock (1982 class) and her “The Blind Side”  here on Dec. 7, 2009.  

I also made a major update to my review of "The Double" on Nov, 7. 2011 today (regarding current events in Russia and former Soviet Union.) 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"Generation War": a look at how German civilians experienced Nazism and WWII, and it got very personal

I didn’t even realize that “Generation War”, by Phillip Kadelbach, had been a TV miniseries in Germany, and a the theatrical release by Music Box Films of the project certainly is challenging to get a commitment from the audience.  DVD and Instant play rental would have been a lot simpler.  I had seen the previews, which do not tell that the film is a 279-minute miniseries.  Today, I saw both Parts at Landmark E Street in downtown DC, in sequence, before a fairly substantial and, by appearances, diverse crowd.  Landmark charges two separate admissions, and unfortunately wastes some time by repeating the previews before the second half.  The experience reminds me of going to big films with an Intermission:  “Gone with the Wind”, “The Ten Commandments”, “Doctor Zhivago” and “War and Peace” all come time mind, as well as a Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” from Columbia in 1996.
IMDB gives the three 90-minute episodes as “ Another Time”, “Another War”, “Another Land”.  But the theatrical release is just “Part I” and “Part II”, with no repetition of credits. The original title of the series in Germany had been “Unsere Mutter, unsere Vater”.
 Of course, it is showing World War II from the viewpoint of young adult civilians living in Berlin in 1941 is the draw.  I don’t know if any other film (even “The Book Thief” [Nov. 17. 2013} achieves that aim as graphically as this film.  “The Wind Rises” (March 11) achieves some of this for Japan. 

As the film opens, five friends gather at a family apartment in Berlin.  They are two brothers Wilhelm and Friedhelm Winter (Volker Bruch and Tom Schilling), singer Greta (Katharina Schuttler), Jewish tailor Viktor Goldstein (Ludwig Trepte), and Charlotte (Miriam Stein).  Greta is Viktor’s girlfriend, and that already stirs things up.  An SS man shows up at the apartment and dresses them down form listening to swing music, although that visit leads to Greta’s career entertaining troops.  The elder Winter looks forward to his son’s going into the Army, and he thinks that doing so will “make a man” out of the booking Friedhelm.  Charlotte will become a nurse on the Eastern Front in Russia.  The young adults think that the war will be over by Christmas.  They honestly believe that the world is theirs collectively for the taking,  It’s shocking how intrusive the elders and police are in the homes of ordinary citizens.  Viktor’s father even rationalizes anti-Semitism as something to be lived with, and that will go away when the war is won.

The military training does recall my own days of Basic in 1968, such as the repetitions of "I need some volunteers".

In a world like ours where people are expected to develop an individual moral compass, we would wonder how young adults would believe that the right thing to do is to conquer lands from other people for their own demographic future.  But in their culture they were told what their values had to be.  They had been told that the world had been taken away from their ancestors by "Jews" and other "inferiors" and they would have to take it back by force.  Yet out of this on of the most authoritarian cultures in history (except perhaps for North Korea) developed.

We often hear pundits say that individuals need to have causes bigger than themselves as individuals.  Yet, it they don't have free thought, look at what can happen.  There is a line in the film, "This isn't just a war, it's a philosophy."  Or ideology.
As the war progresses, the characters get split up, and become casualties of various parts, and run into one another far too often for credibility.  The character making the most troubling transformation is Friedhelm, saved once with battlefield chest surgery, who in the end cannot give up the Nazi ideology he unexpectedly has embraced.  He will have no life after the war.  But Wilhelm actually deserts his troops, and Viktor turns out to be much more assertive when on the run (even escaping from a train header for Auschwitz) than one would expect.

The violence, against civilians as well as soldiers and often enough against women and even older children, is up front, relentless, and shocking.  We don’t see this in conventional Hollywood films about WWII. 
The physicality of the characters is impressive.  You see officers in underwear with archaic stocking garters; curious is the lack of body hair of several male characters.

The music score is by Fabian Romer and contains a theme that resembles a melody Jake Heggie’s the opera “Moby-Dick”. 

The official site is here

 The film draws on a moral dilemma, on what should be expected of individuals how have only a group vision of the future, and see everything in terms of disciplining the individual and commandeering loyalty.  Authoritarian cultures do that. My own father used to say “To obey is better than to sacrifice”.
Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Russian campaign, here

Friday, March 14, 2014

"The Double Headed Eagle: Hitler's Rise to Power: 1918-1933" shows pre-Nazi Germany on the street with raw video

How did someone with the personality defects of Adolf Hitler rise to power, and how were the people in Germany so easily duped? 

A 1973 video by Lutz Becker, “The Double Headed Eagle: Hitler’s Rise to Power: 1918-1933”, available from Kino through Netflix, gives some insight into this question merely by compiling many historical videos and home movies from the period, without any real narration. 
The film opens with a speech by Hilter on January 30, 1933, about the time of the Enabling Act, where he talks about the enemies of the German people and how their “insolence” will not be tolerated.  The psychological point seems pertinent. 
Throughout the film one sees how propaganda worked.  Information was passed through chains of authority, which might be political, or which might be within a party movement.  People did not develop their own ideas independently, the way we have learned to. 
Some of the clips trace the conflict between fascist and communist ideology.  There was quite a “red” presence in German in the 1920s.  There is a scene late in the video where a father chides his song about singing a German anthem and instead tries to teach him what is now known as Russia’s anthem, sung at the Sochi Olympics (and also appearing in the 1982 film “Reds” right before the intermission). 

Toward the end, there is a chilling book burning, colorized in red, anticipating Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”, a novel in 1953 and film in 1966.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Stranger by the Lake": murder in a "gay paradise", and you can play Clue with this film

Stranger by the Lake” (“L’inconnu du lac"), by Alain Guiraudie, seems like a gay set piece, a sexually explicit film (some would say porn) that might have been a outdoor stage play, and yes, it has an intriguing story (not exactly a valid premise) that sort maps to an outdoor game of Clue.
The physical setting is a lake in Provence, France, and a pebbly beach where gay men cruise in the summer.  In short, it looks like a French Fire Island Pines (or at least the walk path between the Pines and the Grove).  The film never leaves this paradise.  It sort of reminds me of an old West Side Discussion Group in 1973, “are gay resorts really gay?” 
Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) falls for a hunk Michel (Christophe Paou) about the time a body has been found in the water and Franck might have good reason to be suspicious of his idol.  Both men are attractive in opposite ways:  smooth v. hairy.  Franck wonders if he actually witnessed the drowning at great distance in a fleeting moment.  There are plenty of other men around, and rumors that some women actually show up.  One particular omniscient observer is Henri (Patrick d’Assumcao), who looks ungamely with his pot-belly, and says that he seeks mainly friendship.  If it has to remain platonic, that’s OK because this is the best he can do.
All of this does sound like the social environment in the Village (both Villages, that is) and Fire Island in the summers in the late 1970s in New York, pre-AIDS.  Therapy was a big thing, in those days when gay men lived separate but parallel lives with the “real world” and some sort of truce had developed after Stonewall.  I would hear people say things like, “I was just a friend”, or “I like you as a person”, or “all I want is just friendship”.  That point, now long forgotten, comes out well in the script.  Early on, Henri makes an interesting and prescient comment that Michel had asked him (Henri) not to stare at him.  

I think I recall cell phones in the script, but by and large the world seemed unplugged, as it might have been a few decades ago.

There are lines in the script about how these men "spend their lives".  They don't seem to have any idea of a future, at least in terms of it being carried on by others (children).  This almost seems like a kind of purgatory in lieu of a "paradise ghetto".  
Pretty soon a thin inspector (Jerome Chappatte) starts asking questions.  All three of the main characters fall under some suspicion.  One observation follows the adage “Fish are like people, when one of them dies, nobody notices” (Reid Ewing’s “Free Fish” satire short, where “free” is a pun).  To wit, one theory is that some carnivorous free fish in the Lake caused the death (like in the horror film “Lake Placid”), but the men are still going about their cruising and sex as if nothing had happened (“nobody notices”).  Why aren’t they worried that some homophobic serial killer is on the loose in this paradise?
 The film pushes the envelope on explicit gay male sex, and nudity (which usually is not allowed in most US gay beaches).  For example, it’s apparent to the eye that no one is circumcised.

The film is not rated, but theaters treat it as NC-17.  No question, this movie is strictly for adults.   I saw if before a fair late afternoon audience, mostly male, at Landmark E Street in Washington DC today.  The theatrical release in the US comes from Strand Releasing, generally well known for GLBT films, but recently venturing heavily into the European foreign language art film market (the {“Paradise” films) and also films about foreign conflicts.