Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt is a fascinating introduction to what makes philosopher Hannah Arendt significant and controversial back in the 1960's. Director Ada Ushpiz doesn't begin the doc with background info on Arendt's childhood; she hooks you in right away by introducing to you Arendt's theory about the "banality of evil" surrounding the Adolf Eichmann trial before delving into her childhood. Not only do you learn about her love affair with her Nazi-supporting professor, Martin Heidegger, but also how Arendt became a refugee after ending up an internment camp in the 1930s. Her experiences as a refugee served as a framework and catalyst for many of her thoughts on refugees which she had written about. Ushpiz combines narrated excerpts from Arendts' work along with archival footage and modern-day interviews with her friend Hans Jonas and one of her students, Leon Botstein, who now serves as the President of Bard College. Arendt was a fervent believer in critical thinking which is something that's rarely found nowadays, especially among the masses. Her concept of the "banality of evil" remains her most provocative and timely contribution. Fortunately, Vita Activa explains that concept in a way that's easy for those unfamiliar with Arendt to understand. Although the film does clock a little over 2 hours, it covers a lot of territory and provides you with plenty of food for thought as you can't help but wonder how the "banality of evil" theory applies to current events. Zeitgeist Films opens Vita Activa at the Film Forum on Wednesday, April 6th. In the documentary Look at Us Now, Mother!, Gayle Kirschenbaum (the film's director) explores the dysfunctional relationship between her and her 91-year-old mother, Mildred. Gayle is single, works as an artist and lives alone with her cute dog. Her two brothers are essentially the "golden children" of the family while Gayle has to deal with her mother's put-downs, criticisms and other forms of emotional and psychological abuses that accumulated throughout the years. Mildred comes across as a harsh, tough woman on the outside who, according to her friends, doesn't think twice before saying what's on her mind to others even if it might not be what others want to hear or if it hurts their feelings. Gayle admits that when she was a child, she was often trying to please her mother. In a rather bold move, she persuades her to come with her to a psychotherapy session where Mildred gaslights events from the past when questioned by the therapist by saying "I don't remember"---perhaps because those events don't quite make Mildred look like the good parent she thinks she is. Even into Gayle's adult life, Mildred still tries to control her and seems obsessed with more how Gayle looks than how she feels on the inside. While both Gayle and Mildred remain candid, and the evolving dynamics of their relationship are touching, there still are many questions left unanswered that perhaps would have been answered to a certain degree if the filmmaker were someone unbiased outside of the family instead of Gayle. Is Mildred's apology truly genuine? Does Gayle truly believe her mother when she apologized for the emotional/psychological abuse toward her? Or is Mildred just saying that out of "duty" because that's what Gayle wants to hear? Does she have genuine empathy toward Gayle? How is Mildred's behavior toward her daughter not a sign of Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Was it a good idea to bring Mildred along for the therapy sessions in the first place? Has the filmmaker read the book Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Karyl McBride? A glaring red flag that points toward NPD arrives toward the end after Mildred and Gayle become closer and go on trips overseas together: Mildred says to Gayle that she's her friend which is very typical. According to the book by Karyl McBride, a narcissistic parent sees their child not as a son or daughter, but as a friend. The word "narcissist" or "narcissism" isn't even mentioned at any point throughout the film, though. On a positive note, Gayle does, with the help of therapy, learn more about her mother's own childhood and that she's got her own deeply-rooted psychological issues. She also learns how to get along with her in spite of her toxicity. Kudos to the filmmaker and her mother for being so open and honest in front of the camera. A filmmaker with some distance from the Kirschenbaum family would have more questions given his or her unbiased perspective, though. Look at Us Now, Mother! opens at Village East Cinema.
30 Days with My Brother
Two brothers, Alexis (Omar Mora) and Jonathan (Adrián Núñez), reunite for the first time after a tragic in their family caused them to separate 17 years earlier. Alexis works as a doctor and moves from Puerto Rico to Los Angeles in hopes of reconnecting with Jonathan who lives in Los Angeles and has gotten involved in a local gang. Their father recently passed away, but there are more skeletons in their family's closet that rise to the surface. Alexis agrees to cancel all of his patients' appointment for the entire month to spend time with his beloved brother.
Omar Mora and Adrián Núñez both give moving performances in this heartfelt drama. They're both very convincing as brothers, and you can feel the love and respect between Alexis and Jonathan on a palpable level. The more time the brothers spend together, the more the revealing details about their past rise to the surface bringing them even closer to one another. Director Michael May wisely includes washed-out colors that complements and enhances the film's somber tone. Screenwriter Omar Mora deserves to be commended for avoiding the use of flashbacks and incorporating well-needed comic relief which provides levity. A twist in a third act, which won't be revealed here, is quite surprising and adds more depth as well as poignancy to the film.
However, the screenplay's weaknesses wanes the film's momentum somewhat. Mora relies heavily on exposition to the extent that it makes the film feel stuffy and stagy like a play. More subtlety and trusting of the audience's intelligence would have helped ameliorate that. Also, a few implausibilities, i.e. how Alexis cancels all of his appointments for the entire month without raising suspicion or how Jonathan steals something quite essential that belongs to Alexis without Alexis even noticing. Or even small details like the millions of stars shown in the Los Angeles sky at night---despite that L.A. is a city known for its smog---takes away the film's realism. Both Alexis and Jonathan carry a lot of emotional baggage with them, so including a subplot that involves gang violence feels a bit tacked-on, unnecessary and makes the film uneven (imagine if someone suddenly pulled out a gun and shot someone in The Big Chill which shares similar themes with this film). Nonetheless, at least 30 Days with My Brother's heart is in its right place which makes it a refreshing antidote to Hollywood's shallow action-packed blockbusters.
The Blue Hour
Louder Than Bombs/a>