I'm a little behind on my film festival intake, but it has been so fruitful, I am going to do my best to catch up.
Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suess (2008) Felix Moeller - Recommended
Director Felix Moeller tackles the lesser known, but more successful, film director of Goebbels' propaganda machine. Veit Harlan was the director of the anti-Semitic film used to propagate the Nazi's agenda, Jew Süss (1940). Unlike Riefenstahl's Triumph of Will, it is obvious that the vicious nature of Jew Süss has kept it in the closet regardless of any artistic merits. Although notorious, especially in Europe, Jew Süss hardly gets mentioned outside academic and historical circles. Instead of doing a straightforward historical narrative of Harlan's life, Moeller spends his time interviewing the living members of Harlan's family. The children, grandchildren and nieces and nephews all give a very personal take on Veit, his film and the after effects on the family. It's a very colorful mix of philosophy, bitterness, and distanced rational. In an irony of irony, it turns out that Stanley Kubrick's last wife, Christiane, was Veit Harlan's niece. The fact is tossed out so quickly and quietly, that I had to do a double take to confirm what I just heard. Christiane noted a meeting between Veit and Stanley with humor, and mentioned that he always wanted to do a film about the era. Some of the relatives feel criminalized by their notorious relative and the film almost feels like an act of catharsis. Veit's first son, who was his most ardent critic while Veit was alive, comes off as the family member most at peace. Veit Harlan died in 1964, and although he was acquitted of war crimes, his career languished under the burden of the War and Jew Süss.
(You have another chance to see Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suess on Wednesday, April 28 at 4:15pm. It will probably not return theatrically to the Twin Cities.)
Mid August Lunch (2008) Gianni Di Gregorio - Recommended
When I first saw the trailer for Mid August Lunch, it offered the tag "Ffrom the creator of Gamorrah." It was pretty obvious that this was no Gamorrah, but I'm not marketer. The relation between the films is that the writer, Gianni Di Gregorio, responsible for the masterful adaptation of Roberto Saviano's book is the director and lead actor in Mid August Lunch. I would see Mid August Lunch as a film meant to wash the bad taste of the Camorra from his palate. In his directorial debut, Di Gregorio creates a charming romp that is more entertaining than it is slight. An aging bachelor, Gianni, acting as a caretaker for his mother, finds himself saddled with three other older women during Ferrogosto, one of the most important holidays in Italy where everything closes down. He takes in the the troublesome trio under coercion: the mother and aunt of the condo administrator to whom his mother is indebted, and the mother of a doctor willing to do a house visit on short notice. Under the dread of obligation to make these three women happy, along with his very opinionated mother, he must prepare a lunch appropriate for Ferrogosto. Di Gregorio does a fantastic job of taking the reigns of the lead character contending with responsibility with resignation that we can all relate to. There is a hilarious moment when a man comes to the door to visit Gianni and they go into his bedroom and shut the door. As the visiting man puts his hand down Gianni's pants, I heard a woman behind me indignantly say "Oh my goodness." The next second, however, the visiting man says, "Cough." He is, of course, a doctor, but that is not revealed until after the film confronts the audience's notions that a single man living with his mother must be gay. At 75 minutes, Mid August Lunch is short but very sweet.
(Mid August Lunch is currently in limited release and is scheduled to open at the Edina Cinema on May 7.)