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Reviews for August 16th, 2013


Directed by Ana´s Barbeau-Lavalette

      A Canadian obstetrician, Chloe (Evelyne Brochu), works at a clinic in the West Bank where she befriends a pregnant Palestinian woman, Rand (Sabrina Ouazani). She's also friends with her neighbor in Jerusalem, Ava (Sivan Levy), an Israeli soldier who patrols the border between Israel and the West Bank. The more Chloe spends time with Rand and Ava separately in Ramallah and Jerusalem, the more she feels conflicted about the Middle East conflict. Michael (Carlo Brandt), her supervisor at the clinic, doesn't want her to express her politican sentiments, especially if it means putting posters on a wall at work, but supressing her thoughts and feelings just makes things worse for her.

      Could writer/director Ana´s Barbeau-Lavalette have included more thrills and suspense in Inch'Allah? Probably, but then it would have turned into a completely different kind of film. Instead, she opts for a more understated, psychologically disturbing and complex drama that takes a while to become truly absorbing because Chloe bottles her thoughts and feelings more often than not, so observing what's beneath her surface isn't always an easy task. Ana´s Barbeau-Lavalette doesn't provide you with much background info about Chloe which leaves room for interpretation because she trusts that you're an intelligent audience member; otherwise, it'd be like she were spoon-feeding you.

      Images speak louder than words, and in the case of this exquisitely-shot film, there are many scenes that stand out not for their beauty, but for how powerful and haunting they are, i.e. when Rand sifts through piles of garbage scattered around in the West Bank. Even the final scene has images that will stay with you and get under your skin. Although Inch'Allah doesn't take a clear-cut or profound stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or any solutions for that matter, at least it unflinchingly shows how complicated it is, especially for those like Chloe who are caught mentally and physically between both sides.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by E1 Entertainment.
Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Documentary Round-Up

      Herblock: The Black & the White, directed by Michael Stevens, is the most powerful documentary released this week. It centers on the work and life of Herbert Block, a.k.a. Herblock, an editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post from 1946 until his death in 2001 at the age of 91. What made Herblock so unique? He drew cartoons that included very sharp political and social commentary during many of the major events in U.S. history, i.e., the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, McCarthyism and the civil rights movement. He had a moral conscience and wasn't afraid to use it, but more importantly, he was able to use critical thinking to see right through the government's bullshit/propaganda. Between showing you many of Herblock's witty, funny and pointed cartoons, director Michael Stevens infuses interviews with journalists such as Tom Brokaw, Ted Koppel and some of Herblock's colleagues who explain precisely what made Herblock such a brilliant cartoonist who devoted his entire life to his work--he even listed his address in the company directory as his work's address. Beyond his brilliance, though, like any good journalist should be, he was humble, and like any good cartoonish should be, he was essentially a kid at heart and maintained a sense of humor. Stevens uses an actor, Alan Mandel, to portray Herblock during re-enacted interviews. The doc particularly provocative when Herblock expresses how real, competent journalism has been in decline lately--and it still is to this very day with very little fact-checking and news that's filled with mindless entertainment, i.e. celebrities in rehab, instead of what's truly important, i.e. war, thereby dumbing the public down. Very few people truly listen to others who have different viewpoints, and everyone gets different info from different sources. This powerful doc ultimately manages be a provocative, illuminating and vital tribute to Herbert Block. It should be mandatory viewing for every young American. The Stevens Company opens it at the Quad Cinema. Over at Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas you'll find TWC/Radius' Cutie and the Boxer about Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, a husband and wife who struggle to make a living as artists in New York City. 80-year-old Ushio arrived at the USA back in the 1960's in hopes of becoming a successful artist, but his dreams weren't quite fulfilled. Noriko, 22 years his junior, pushed her own career as an artist aside when she met and fell in love with Ushio and took care of their child; instead she became his assistant. She and Ushio desperately needs the money to pay for rent, so now Ushio has a second chance to make his mark in the world of art, hopefully by selling some of his artwork. Meanwhile, their marriage becomes volatile. Director Zachary Heinzerling deserves praise humanizing Noriko and Ushio in such an engaging and unflinchingly honest fashion. The more you observe them, the more you learn about what makes them tick. The doc essentially blends two stories: Noriko and Ushio's struggles as re-emerging artists and their evolving dynamics as a married couple. In many ways, Cutie and the Boxer is a testament to the enduring power and complexities of true love through thick and thin. Heinzerling might as well have titled the film as "It's Complicated" given all of the hardships and dilemmas that Noriko and Ushio go through as a couple and as artists. He wisely avoids including himself in the footage like many self-indulgant directors mistakenly do. Moreover, by watching the couple creating their artworks---Ushio is a boxing painter while Noriko does sketchings and watercoloring---you're able to grasp their fervent passion as well as their talent for art. Cutie and the Boxer is the kind of documentary that you forget is a documentary while you're watching it because you're so emotionally absorbed. It's equally heartbreaking and heartwarming, and one of the best love stories in years. At a running time of just 1 hour and 22 minutes, it never overstays its welcome. In Search of Blind Joe Death, a moving tribute to underrated musican John Fahey, is among the two films that are part of the Guitar Innovatorsdouble feature released by First Run Features at the Cinema Village. At just under an hour, co-directors James Cullingham and Steven Okazaki tread a lot of ground including guitarist John Fahey's childhood growing up in Maryland and his career as a musician in the 1970's during which he became an alcoholic and reclusive. Fortunately, this isn't the kind of thoroughly celebratory, unctious doc you'd find on Bravo!---after all, John Fahey is a flawed human being, and his flaws aren't placed in the back-burner here. What In Search of Blind Joe Death does celebrate, rightfully so, is John Fahey's music. You most likely will be tempted to buy some of Fahey's music, much like you were tempted to buy Rodriguez's music after watching Searching for Sugar Man. Tagging along with this doc is the tedious 27-minute film Approximately Nels Cline which takes place in a recording studio as musician Nels Cline experiments with his music with others. Director Steven Okazaki goes the Frederick Wiseman route by excluding narration or anything in terms of narrative structure (yes even docs needs those), so it feels loose, but also boring.

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