The Touch of an Angel follows the story of Henryk Schönker, a Polish Jew from the the town of Oswiecim (a.k.a. Auschwitz) in Poland. During World War II, the Nazis gave Henryk's father the task of organizing the Bureau of Emigration of Jews to Palestine, but not a single country agreed to save any Jews by taking them in. Henryk recalls in vivid detail how he and his family struggled to escape Nazi persecution. The documentary's title refers to an ordinary man who's responsible for saving their lives by leading them to safety. Director Marek Tomasz Pawlowski blends talking-head footage of Henryk Schönker with archival photos and dramatic reenactments to bring Henryk's story to life. Much of it feels moving and suspenseful. Were The Touch of Angel merely just a long talking-head interview with Henryk, it wouldn't be as cinematic. Pawlowski doesn't include himself in the doc nor does he interrupt Henryk to ask him challenging questions. To be fair, though, the lack of probing questions is forgivable because Henryk turns out to be a coherent storyteller, and it's important to hear his own account of the Holocaust as a survivor sans interruption (would you have interrupted him while he's getting teary-eyed?). Every account from a Holocaust survivor is necessary in order to preserve the memory of such a horrifying event from the past. At a running time of just about 1 hour, The Touch of Angel manages to be emotionally resonating, gripping and vital. It opens at the Quad Cinema.
Life Inside Out
Cecilia 'Cissy' Santos (Chuti Tiu) works for a political consulting firm and lives with her husband, Phil (Kipp Shiotani), their own house. Everything may seem like it's going well for Cissy, but under the surface and behind-the-curtain, so to-speak, she suffers from a stale marriage and resorts to having an affair with her boxing trainer, Alejandro (Oscar Torre), on the side.
Pretty Rosebud benefits from its simple plot that becomes more compelling and character-driven as it progresses. You might dislike Cissy for her infidelity, but at the same time there are reasons to dislike Phil which makes you grasp why Cissy feels unhappy with him physically and emotionally. Neither of them come across as monsters or villains, but as flawed human beings. Director Oscar Torre is wise for letting a woman, Chuti Tiu, write the screenplay because that helps to make Cissy quite believable. Usually female characters seem like nothing more than a male's simple-minded interpretation of a female.
Unlike many female roles in Hollywood, the role of Cissy is complex, meaty and more interesting than the male roles---that in and of itself makes the film all the more refreshingly un-Hollywood. Her character arc feels authentic and honest, while the same goes for Chuti Tiu's solid performance. Pretty Rosebud is proof that strong roles for women do indeed exist if you look beyond Hollywood.