BERLIN SYNDROME

Berlin Syndrome is named for both the city in which the film takes place, and Stockholm Syndrome, the psychological condition where a prisoner falls in love with their captor. From that title, you might guess that it’s a story about Stockholm Syndrome, taking place in Berlin, and you’d be very correct. Director Cate Shortland takes us on a wild, dark ride that explores the emotional and physical lengths one woman will go to survive. (GPG: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

While traveling in Germany, “Clare” (Teresa Palmer) meets a sweet, friendly local named “Andi” (Max Riemelt). After starting a conversation on the street, they feel an instant connection, and go on to spend several days together, which culminate in them making love at Andi’s place and Clare sleeping over there. It’s all very cute, but from there the romance decidedly drops off as Clare realizes that Andi has locked her in his house while he goes to work for the day. That night, Andi pretends this was a mistake, but when he gives her a key the next day that turns out not to fit the front door at all, Clare has no choice but to face up to the fact that she is now trapped in a stranger’s house, with no one she knows aware of where she is.

Clare attempts to get out of the house: she throws furniture at windows only to find they’re reinforced, she tries to get the attention of people on the street, and she even tries to attack Andi when he gets home at night—all to no avail. In the meantime, we get a glimpse into the jumping-off point for Andi's pathological dating preferences in his scenes with his dad, where we hear bits about his absent mother--I'm no psychologist, but the basic point seems to be that Andi's mother left him and his father, giving him abandonment issues that drive him to physically imprison his lovers for fear they will leave him too.

While Clare is initially horrified and scared of Andi, emotional lines begin to blur when Andi's father dies--he and Clare have a moment that leads to a sexual encounter, and soon she is left untied during the day so she can cook Andi dinner and learn to play his accordion. When they spend Christmas together, she asks how Andi "chose" her as they drink wine together on his couch, opening each other's presents. She even asks somewhat jealously if he still thinks about the girl he kept prisoner before her, the semi-gruesome evidence of whom she has found around the house.

While I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending, it’s fairly predictable. This film has a great premise, but I felt that it repeatedly turned down opportunities to go deeper into its subject matter, and ended up remaining at a fairly unremarkable level of psychological horror as a result. However, it was technically very well done, and was overall a gratifying watch.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto FF2 Media (5/27/17)

Photo credit: Aquarius Films.

Top photo: Clare explores Berlin.

Middle photo: Clare begins to fall in love with her captor, Andi.

Bottom photo: Andi, during Berlin Syndrome's climax.

Q: Does Berlin Syndrome pass the Bechdel test?

No. All the female characters other than Clare are plot devices or ways to show Andi’s public facade.

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THE WOMEN’S BALCONY (2016): Sneak Peek by Jan Lisa Huttner

Set in a close-knit community in Jerusalem, The Women's Balcony is a parable about what happens when bad things happen to good people. But rather than weep and wail, screenwriter Shlomit Nehama, and director Emil Ben-Shimon create a joyous dramedy about faith and fellowship.

Highly recommended! One of the best films of the year in any language. (JLH: 5/5)

Sneak Peek by FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner (NOTE THAT THIS FILM OPENS IN NYC TODAY -- 5/26/17 -- BUT DOESN'T OPEN IN CHICAGO UNTIL 6/16/17. MORE WILL BE POSTED AT THAT TIME.)

Theodicy. Etymologically, the word "theodicy" derives from two Greek words: Theos (the Greek word for "God") and dikē (best translated as "trial" or "judgement"). But used colloquially, this heavy philosophical concept concerns a question we have all asked ourselves at one time or another: Why do bad things happen to good people?

In the Biblical Book of Job, the Theodicy question is an urgent one. A righteous man who seems to have done everything right is suddenly brought low. Why is God punishing Job? Is he not, in fact, a righteous man? Clearly, that is the immediate assumption of some of his neighbors.

In the Biblical Book of Job,  the Theodicy question -- like most questions in Western Culture -- is asked and answered by men. Job dismisses the words of his wife in Chapter Two, and spends most of the remaining 40 chapters debating with the guys before receiving his ultimate answer from the Almighty Himself.

However, women finally get their say in the joyous new Israeli film The Women's Balcony, in dialogue penned by screenwriter Shlomit Nehama, and vividly brought to life by director Emil Ben-Shimon. Hooray for Shlomit and Emil!

© Jan Lisa Huttner (5/26/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Evelin Hagoel as "Ettie" consoles one of her neighbors. Note the subversive juxtaposition of the head covering and the cigarette.

Bottom Photo: Member of the community stare in shock at the closed off entrance to their synagogue. Evelin Hagoel ("Ettie") is on the far left standing next to her husband "Zion" (Igal Naor), the tall guy to her right.

Q: Does The Women's Balcony pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

Absolutely!

The women in The Women's Balcony have way too much on their minds to waste any time "talking about a man." Whatever thoughts they may have as individuals about Rabbi David's motivations they wisely keep to themselves.

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EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING (2017): Review by Georgi Presecky

Stella Meghie’s Everything, Everything is a sweet teen love story between a young woman who has never gone outside and the cute boy who moves in next door and shows her what it means to really live. Though screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe prevents it from becoming a “boy saves girl” tale, the cliches and melodrama keep this feature from being as beautiful as it has the potential to be. (GEP: 3/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

“Maddy” (Amandla Stenberg) was diagnosed with severe combined immune deficiency as a toddler, a deadly disorder that keeps her body from properly fighting viruses. Her hyper-protective mother (Anika Noni Rose) keeps her 18-year-old daughter safe by sterilizing their sealed home, never letting anyone in or out besides their trusted nurse. Maddy doesn’t go outside—never has, never will, and her carefully-designed home with gorgeous wall-to-wall windows is the only world she knows.

She escapes into books and has internet "friends," but her life still feels suffocatingly small—her illness could serve as a metaphor for those who feel like they can't escape their circumstances, but it's a stretch. The windows are her saving grace, because they ultimately connect her to “Olly” (Nick Robinson) when he moves in next door and catches her eye through the glass. A basic teen love story ensues—as basic as one can get when the two parties can't actually be in the same room, and Meghie handles that plot point effortlessly by bringing Nicola Yoon's young adult novel to life in creative ways. The trademark humor that Robinson brought to more than 100 episodes of Melissa & Joey is unfortunately never truly utilized—Olly could just be another hunky male lead, but this promising young actor brings another layer to him that isn’t explored enough.

There’s a lot you can see coming in Everything, Everything. Maddy does eventually meet Olly in real life, and she does risk her life by going outside. These aren’t spoilers, but they reveal a lot about the film’s message of seeing the world’s beauty—I mean, if the first full day you spend outside your house involves a trip to Hawaii with Nick Robinson, you’re bound to think the world is pretty damn great. 

Meghie’s first wide-release feature has the potential to be just as good, and to send a message about the health and freedom we take for granted. Yoon’s intention in the novel was likely to show that ordinary life should be appreciated: the ability to be able to do simple things like knock on your neighbor’s door or go to school should be valued. But some sentences that seem beautiful on paper - and to the teenage mind - don’t always translate to the big screen, no matter how hard Robinson and Stenberg try to make their words feel meaningful and real. Opportunities to show that life can be just as beautiful as it is complicated are bogged down in plot and repetition.

Goodloe’s track record (The Best of Me, Age of Adaline) is a good indication that stilted dialogue should be expected, but the poorly-executed message of the YA novel is the most frustrating aspect of his adaptation. The young love story is sweet and just the right amount of awkward (but also frustrating for those of us who can leave our houses and still don’t end up with Nick Robinson...but it’s fine, I’m fine).

Everything, Everything isn’t amazing, amazing, but it will probably be an enjoyable jaunt to the movie theater for teens who need a break from those excruciatingly long final weeks of school - and the limits in Maddy’s life might even inspire them to embrace the freedom of summer with open arms.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (5/18/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Robinson and Stenberg as Olly and Maddy on a risky trip to Hawaii.

Middle Photo: The teens must find creative ways to see each other despite Maddy’s dangerous illness that prevents her from interacting directly with others.

Bottom Photo: Maddy and Olly get to know each other in some of the film’s lighter exposition scenes.

Photo Credits: Alloy Entertainment

Q: Does Everything, Everything pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes.

Maddy and her robotic mother frequently discuss her illness and daily life. She also bonds with her nurse, exploring more than just her relationship with Olly (but not much).

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ICAROS: A VISION (2016): Review by Lindsy Bissonnette

When one young woman refuses to accept the hopelessness of her diagnosis, she travels to the Amazon and prays that an ancient psychedelic brew can save her. Filled with interesting imagery and unusual cinematography, Icaros: A Vision, written by Leonor Caraballo, Abou Farman, and Matteo Norzi and directed by Leonor Caraballo Matteo Norzi, is a film unlike any other.  (LMB: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Lindsy M. Bissonnette

American “Angelina” (Ana Cecilia Stieglitz) has traveled all the way to the Peruvian Amazon in hopes that a psychedelic brew can cure her disease, or at least save her soul, after American doctors have deemed her incurable. She stays in a healing center with drug addicts and people with speech impediments, who are all hoping that the shaman can help them.

With the help of shaman “Arturo” (Arturo Izquierdo), who administers the psychedelics, each night the foreigners drink the ancient plant ayahuasca and attempt to embrace the chaos that ensues, and unfortunately all of the nausea and vomiting that come with it. Little do they know that their shaman is facing a battle all his own, as his eyesight continues to fail him.

Arturo tells Angelina that she has susto, or a disease of fear. The only cure is an icaros, or a song of power, used to ward off bad spirits and disease, throughout the rest of the film she begins to accept and understand her fears, and helps Arturo do the same.

Icaros: A Vision is a fascinating idea. The film is framed much like a psychedelic journey all its own with fragmented and distorted images that seem to make no sense, and then come full circle. All throughout the film is poetry and bizarre sequences: a woman planting a tree in her boat, a young girl with an electric balloon, heartbeats, cells splitting, various shapes and colors all flickering at once. Much of the film feels like a hallucination, with little or no explanation, which unfortunately becomes distracting.

If the psychedelic camera tricks had been saved and used only when the characters are going through their shamanic journeys, the images would have had a deeper meaning, but instead they are tossed in all throughout the film, with no order. Instead of furthering the plot and deepening the audience understanding of what each character is going through and experiencing, it is confusing and hard to follow. The editing does not push the story forward, but instead brings the film to a grinding halt.

There are several really beautiful sequences, when Arturo views his passengers as televisions, and when he sees his mother during a phone call, but the overwhelming number of times the visionary, yet extremely aggressive, psychedelic style interrupts the film, unfortunately brings it down in ratings. Writer/directors Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi and writer Abou Farman have an interesting style, and definitely have found some interesting film tricks to use.

© Lindsy M. Bissonnette (5/22/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Angelina with Arturo’s daughter.

Middle Photo: Angelina’s tent.

Bottom Photo: Arturo observes Angelina as she experiences a psychedelic adventure.

Photo Credits: Factory 25

Q: Does Icaros: A Vision pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

 Yes.

There are several scenes between Angelina and a female shaman, Arturo’s wife “Disney” (Disney Lopez), and his daughter “Lizeth” (Lizeth Ariana Izquierdo López).

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PAINT IT BLACK (2016): Review by Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Paint it Black is a tour de force showcasing the brilliant work of three women: director Amber Tamblyn, and actresses Alia Shawkat and Janet McTeer. With Tamblyn’s visionary guidance, Shawkat and McTeer give performances that will by turns make you laugh, cringe, and shudder. I highly recommend this emotional thriller about men with mommy issues, and the women who love them. (GPG: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

When her wealthy boyfriend “Michael” (Rhys Wakefield) kills himself, “Josie” (Alia Shawkat), a struggling actress, is plunged into mourning. Her loss is made worse by the vengeful attentions of Michael’s overbearing mother “Meredith” (Janet McTeer), who blames her for Michael’s death and the rift that had grown up between her and Michael in the years leading up to it. As Josie already knows, and as we the audience come to realize, Michael, like many “sensitive” artistic men, had a Freudian streak a mile wide, and now Josie must deal with Meredith's emotional fallout in the wake of his death.

After attacking Josie at Michael’s funeral, Meredith begins alternately lashing out at Josie to get revenge (she has Josie evicted from her apartment, and takes all Michael’s possessions back so she has nothing left of him) and inviting Josie into her luxurious life in an attempt to connect with the only other person who really knew her son. The result is a cloying and hair-raisingly intimate story of grief and emotional violence, painted in neon colors with flashing lights and enacted partially through expressionistic daydream sequences that bring a breathtakingly fresh and interesting visual style to a compelling script and virtuosic performances.

Gillian Flynn said that “female violence is a specific brand of ferocity. It’s invasive…women entwine.” When watching Paint It Black, the viewer is brought into close contact with the “horrific bit of pageantry” that is a toxic relationship between women. The two women’s growing intimacy is precisely the most disturbing element of their conflict, and the ways Meredith takes hold of Josie’s heartstrings and immediately begins to twist and tangle them makes for a bit of psychological horror just as affecting as other Freudian dramas like Psycho or Rosemary’s Baby.

I found Paint It Black ultimately uplifting, as the ending provides a sense of hope that people tormented by the previous generation can find a healthier way to live. The fact that the film can lay bare such repulsive aspects of human relationships but remain optimistic about our capacity to heal and grow from such experiences is perhaps its most impressive success.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (5/20/17) FF2 Media

Top photo: Alia Shawkat's "Josie" consumed by grief.

Middle photo: Josie and Meredith find dubious solace in each other after Michael's death.

Bottom photo: Meredith alone in her huge house.

Photo credit: Olive Productions

Q: Does Paint It Black pass the Bechdel test?

Yes!

Meredith and Josie mainly talk about Michael, but they often stray into talk of their pasts, Meredith’s career as a concert pianist, and more personal reasons why they hate each other.

Josie also has a BFF who keeps trying to tell her to worry about herself, especially around Meredith.

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WAKEFIELD (2016): Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

Brilliant new film by Robin Swicord brutally exposes two conjoined-twin nightmares: male privilege & the male gaze. What timing! Thank You, Movie Gods! (JLH: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Media Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

The Movie Gods are as capricious and mercurial as their counterparts on Mount Olympus in Greece. Usually they feed us junk, but everyone once in awhile, they hold something in reserve and throw it at us at just the right moment for maximum effect.

In 2008, E.L. Doctorow -- a Jewish-American author who won almost every important award possible except a Nobel Prize and then died in 2015 age the age of 84 -- published an little nightmare of a story in the New Yorker which was inspired by something Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote over a century before that.

In the "Director's Statement" that filmmaker Robin Swicord prepared for the Wakefield EPK (electronic press kit), Swicord says that when he learned of her interest: "[Edgar] offered his story rights gratis, deferring compensation until we were heading to production." That was obviously several years ago.

I only learned these background details after I saw the Wakefield critics screening last Monday night (5/15), but I am not surprised. I have been doing this "film critic" thing for over a decade now, so I know how long it takes for most women filmmakers to see their work on the Big Screen.

How miraculous, then, for Wakefield to arrive at precisely the right moment, as if Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself had personally intervened with the command: "Make It So!"

 

I think if I had read Doctorow's original story when it was first published in the New Yorker in January '08 -- that is, at the tail end of the GWB administration -- I would have considered it an irrelevant trifle by an aging, albeit much-loved author But seeing this film cold (with absolutely no background knowledge of how it would unfold) was like being trapped in one of President Donald Trump's fever dreams. How could Doctorow possibly have been so prescient?

 

© Jan Lisa Huttner (5/19/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Bryan Cranston as "Howard Wakefield" in Act One.

Botttom Photo: Bryan Cranston with Jennifer Garner as "Diana Wakefield" in Flashback scene.

Photo Credits: Stills from Robin Swicord’s Wakefield. Photo by Gilles Mingasson. Courtesy of IFC Films.

Q: Does Wakefield pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Absolutely not!

The entire film is told completely from Howard's POV. No other character get to speak and in scenes in which Howard is spying on Diana and her mother, one can presume the conversation is all about about Howard.

There are also scenes in which Howard is spying on Diana while she is interacting with their twin daughters, but since we do not hear any of them speak... well, so it goes!

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THE DROWNING (2016): Review by Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

The Drowning is a psychological thriller that keeps the viewer guessing and still manages to surprise—based on the novel by Pat Barker and directed by Bette Gordon, this tightly plotted tale of obsession is a tour de force. The performances and soundtrack are especially of note! (GPG: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

While out on a walk with his wife, "Tom" (Josh Charles), a child psychologist, saves a stranger from drowning--only to later discover the stranger is a boy named "Danny" (Avan Jogia) who he gave testimony on fifteen years ago when he was being tried for murder. Danny was recently released from prison with a new identity, and he claims Tom helped wrongfully convict him of the gruesome crime he spent fifteen years in jail for. To make up for it, he wants Tom to help him get his new life on track.

Tom is disturbed by Danny's claim, as it stirs up doubts about the case that he had buried long ago. As Danny begins inserting himself into Tom's life, the guilt compels Tom to allow it to happen. Tom does not seem to realize what he’s getting into until he is pulled in over his head.

Tom begins to investigate Danny's case from fifteen years ago, unsure of whether he still believes what he told the court. We hear that Danny has always been charming and manipulative, bending teachers, social workers, and other children to his own ends. Tom even learns that a fellow psychiatrist has been seeing Danny as an unofficial patient, and has become one of his biggest advocates. Even Tom's wife "Lauren" (Julia Stiles) begins to be charmed by Danny as he befriends her under his new identity “Ian Wilkinson,” and Tom's disquiet at this development begins to drive his marriage apart.

The film's tangled plot comes undone slowly and deliberately, as both Danny and Tom are increasingly obsessed with what happened, Danny by his past and Tom by his guilt. Their investigations into the past end up putting both of their presents at risk, leading up to a conclusion that fits in one final twist just when you think it’s finished.

The Drowning isn't a who-done-it or a why-done-it, but rather the aftermath to a crime where the question is how the past will resolve itself and how the characters will ultimately manage to live with what they’ve done. It also maintains a syncopated pace with its sinister score and the meditative, lingering shots that serve as end notes to the taut drama of its scenes. Definitely worth a watch!

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (5/14/17) FF2 Media

Top photo: "Lauren" (Julia Stiles) with "Tom" (Josh Charles).

Bottom photo: Tom and his wife Lauren are out on a walk.

Photo Credit: The Film Community

Q: Does The Drowning pass the Bechdel test?

Unfortunately, no. The only significant female characters are Tom’s wife, who has a decent subplot of her own regarding her artistic career but ultimately serves his story, and a female psychiatrist who mainly provides additional information on Danny. Neither talk to each other.

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PARIS CAN WAIT (2016): Review by Lindsy Bissonnette

A vacation/business trip falls apart for this American couple when a neglected wife finds comfort and companionship in her husband’s business partner. Paris Can Wait, written and directed by Eleanor Coppola, is a melodramatic story of love, loss, and temptation as one woman learns to indulge and embrace life instead of constantly looking at it through a lens. (LMB: 2/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Lindsy M. Bissonnette

“Anne” (Diane Lane) is enjoying her time in Europe. She eats delicious food, views spectacular sights, and photographs every single moment and bite of her vacation. Her husband, “Michael” (Alec Baldwin), has not seen much of anything. He spends all of his time on his phone talking to coworkers, and eyeing other women. With Anne feeling neglected and lonely, the film starts out on a melancholic note.

As Michael’s work consumes him, Anne’s time is spent dealing with a terrible earache, which prevents her from flying. Michael and Anne agree to meet in Paris at a later date when he is done with work, and “Jaques” (Arnaud Viard), Michael’s friend and business partner, offers to drive her to Paris as Michael finishes work elsewhere.

At first Anne is hesitant, and finds Jacques’ European stop-and-smell-the-roses style frustrating. The trip to Paris should take less than one day, but Jacques stretches it out to last the entire long weekend. He stops every 45 minutes to stretch his legs, oil his car, have a smoke, and, of course, have something to eat. Anne, unfortunately, is set in her husband’s time-is-money mindset, and has difficulty accepting Jacques’ in-the-moment lifestyle. During the trip Jacques convinces Anne to enjoy everything around her and indulge in the beautiful French countryside landscapes, and decadent cuisines, and chemistry etween them begins to sizzle, much to Michael’s mortification.

Paris Can Wait had the potential to be something truly beautiful. At it’s very core, this a story of a woman who has been stuck in a box all her life and about what happens the moment she consciously decides to step out.

However, the film lacks subtext and subtlety when it comes to Jacques and Anne’s relationship, which harshly hurts the story and makes the 90 minutes seem like 9 hours. Searching for a redeemable quality in any of the one-note characters is exhausting as they each become more boring and predictable as the film goes on. In the first scene of the filmichael is painted in an ugly light: a typical siness-man always on his phone, talking down to his wife, who he seems to spend no time with, it’s no wonder things turn sour. He is aggressive, controlling, and does not seem to trust Anne, or want to be with her by the way he is obviously attracted to younger women. So why are they together?

From the very first moment we meet Jacques, he is obviously attracted to Anne, which does not leave the film with very far to go. What could have been a beautiful and coy flirtation between Anne and Jacques turns into a cringe worthy 90-minute film of forced intimacy, and hideously melodramatic dialogue. There are several scenes that are so embarrassingly stereotypical that they need only be mentioned in passing: a forced touch of hands, a hotel room with two beds, a dead baby, the struggle to open up to a stranger and reveal a dark secret, the list goes on and on. The ending is the worst part, which you will have to see for yourself, because it is too excruciating to critique. But never fear, the best parts of the film are the picturesque backgrounds and extravagant meals, you will leave extremely hungry for food and travel.

© Lindsy M. Bissonnette (5/9/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: “Anne” (Diane Lane) enjoys a moment on the coast.

Middle Photo: “Jaques” (Arnaud Viard) smiles as Anne enters the dining room for dinner.

Bottom Photo: Anne and “Michael” (Alec Baldwin) share a moment over breakfast.

Photo Credits: Sony Pictures Classics

Q: Does Paris Can Wait pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Nope.
Not a single scene between two women.

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STEFAN ZWEIG – FAREWELL TO EUROPE (2016): Review by Elly Levenson

Artistry takes priority over substance in Maria Schrader’s biographical film, Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe, which follows the life of German-Jewish author Stefan Zweig during his exile from Germany during World War II. (EML: 3/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson

The film opens with a long, still shot of a floral arrangement. As the camera pulls back, maids set an elaborate and decadent table, clearly for some sort of celebration. Waiters enter and line the ornate walls as the doors are opened and guests begin to pour in. It is unclear at first who the focus is on. Snippets of conversations about nothing in particular alternate coming to the forefront. Finally, we meet “Stefan Zweig” (Josef Hader), an odd man in mannerisms but commanding in presence who is the guest of honor at the party. It becomes clear that Zweig is an author of great renown, visiting Brazil for a literary conference. However, his trip has a more sinister undertone as he has been rescued and now lives in exile from his home country, Germany, for he is a Jew and World War II is in full swing.

Following the celebration, Zweig holds a private interview with a few media sources. One journalist in particular pushes Zweig to denounce Hitler and the Third Reich but Zweig refuses. While Schrader does a good job of keeping the tension palpable in this scene, it is her protagonist who comes across poorly, the one on the wrong side of history.

The film continues to follow Zweig’s adventures through Brazil with his wife, “Lotte Zweig” (Aenne Schwarz). Their travel seems like a vacation, an escape for pleasure and not one of necessity, placing a constant question on whether or not the Zweigs are refugees or merely immigrants.

In an article called "We Refugees" in Hannah Arendt’s book The Jewish Writings, she discusses the concept of the refugee and the negative connotation it carries. For Arendt, just like Schrader’s portrayal of Zweig, the greatest challenge facing immigrants fleeing persecution in their native countries is a feeling of lack of agency upon arrival in their new home. Throughout their travels, the Zweigs attempt to mask the fact that they were pushed out of Germany by expressing their excitement for their new opportunities, separating themselves from the label of “refugee” and taking back the agency of their own decision to relocate.

However, Schrader does still allow one character to carry the emotional weight of what Zweig’s exile means, both for Zweig himself and as a greater representation of the persecuted. This character, surprisingly isn’t the male protagonist of the film, Stefan Zweig, but rather this agency is given to a female character, Zweig’s ex-wife, “Friderike Zweig” (Barbara Sukowa). Though her character introduction is confusing, and it takes a beat to realize who she is in relation to Zweig, her impact is by far the most emotional and palpable.

Friderike serves as the “old world” force in the film, the character who brings the full impact of what is happening in Europe upon Zweig and forces him to recognize his privilege and influence. She is the one who reads the letters sent to Zweig asking for his help, asking him to use his position to save lives. She is the one who forces Zweig to remember where he came from and reminds him that he has an obligation to help. She is the one who brings the war to the film and adds an emotional beat to an otherwise floundering story.

There is something to be said for Schrader using the female character as the driving force of a film that focuses on the life story of a man. As a female filmmaker, Schrader’s choice to have Friderike take on this active role in some ways challenges traditional expectations of gender dynamics in film. Audiences are comfortable with a female character struggling to find their way being guided by a male character, this is familiar. However, Schrader uses Friderike to reverse this dynamic. Instead of Zweig pushing Friderike to understand something about herself, it is Friderike who pushes Zweig. Friderike serves as Zweig’s guide, a reset button for Zweig on how to balance a desire to take agency over his own refugee status and his obligation to help those not privileged enough to make any choice at all. Schrader’s use of Friderike as a character serves to shift the expectations of a male biopic by giving a female character one of the strongest and loudest voices, a voice that serves to be even stronger than Zweig’s male one.

Overall, Schrader’s Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe seems more focused on creating visual beauty and imagery than telling a compelling story.  Schrader creates a visually impressive piece but, in doing so, compromises on the narrative drive and hurts the audience’s ability to connect with the characters. At many times, the pacing of the film seems to drag, only exacerbated through the use of a vignette format, which at times feels unmotivated and haphazard. Schrader succeeds most in the quiet moments where the visuals alone can convey the story, particularly in the final scene, and there is a quiet confidence to her directing. Most strikingly, however, is Schrader’s ability to make a male centered biopic feel emotionally driven by a female presence.

© Eliana M. Levenson FF2 Media (5/18/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Director Maria Schrader smiles beside Josef Hader, who portrays Stefan Zweig in the film.

Middle Photo: A close-up of “Friderike Zweig” (Barbara Sukowa) who not only takes in her ex-husband but also provides him with much needed counsel, flipping the script on expected gender dynamics.

Bottom Photo: "Stefan Zweig" (Josef Hader) stands beside his ex-wife, "Friderike" (Barbara Sukowa) in their safehouse in America.

Photo Credits: First Run Features

Q: Does Stefan Zweig: A Farewell to Europe pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Sadly, no.

While Friderike’s character is a testament to Schrader’s ability to use female characters who are well-rounded and impactful, the film itself has no instances of two women talking without a man being a part of the conversation as well.

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TRACKTOWN (2016): Review by Katusha Jin

Olympic athlete Alexi Pappas stars in, co-writes, and co-directs the semi-autobiographical feature Tracktown, with Jeremy Teicher. “Plumb” (Alexi Pappas), is a quirky, young Olympic hopeful, who must juggle newfound adult responsibilities whilst training for her Olympic trials. In this coming-of-age drama, the blend of fiction and reality sheds light on the often-ignored side of being an athlete, where mental strength is just as important as physical strength. (KIZJ: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Katusha Jin

Being an athlete takes vigorous training, strict self-discipline, and a strong focus on the goal. Our protagonist, “Plumb” (Alexi Pappas), a female track runner preparing for the Olympic trials, begins her mornings with the same routine: raw egg and a personalized mixture of protein powder. She meets with her teammate “Whitney” (Rebecca Friday) and they train together by running through fields, on water treadmills, and working with weights.

Elements of a budding romantic crush are evident when the Olympic hopeful drops by the local bakery shop where she pays more attention to “Sawyer” (Chase Offerie), the cute boy behind the counter, than to the cookie she buys.

Even after all the physical training, Plumb is still left to fight the mental side of training. So she tries to calm her nerves as she naps in her altitude tent and receives a pep talk from her dad, “Burt” (Andy Buckley), the night before her first Olympic trial race. But as the starting gunshot is about to sound, the young runner notices a small ant as it crawls towards her then turns back. Plumb’s eyes emit a look of fear as she springs into her run.

Her first trial race is violently competitive, and left with an injury, Plumb’s doctor instructs her not to run, but instead, do something she’s never done before…rest. Despite the difficulties she finds in taking a break from her routine, Plumb manages to distract herself by focusing instead on the bakery boy, Sawyer.

In the city of Eugene, Plumb’s persevering nature is juxtaposed against many characters with much simpler goals. Although the other characters could have had stronger backstories and been a more convincing part of the story, Plumb’s character is fully developed and audiences feel both respect and sympathy for her. There are many small moments, such as lifting her legs above her heart to reduce swelling and napping every day at certain hours, that build up how it feels to be in her shoes. Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher’s film tells the story from a new angle, and this unique perspective makes Tracktown a good watch for those who want to see something different.

© Katusha Jin (5/13/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Tracktown poster.

Middle Photo: Plumb meeting Sawyer at the bakery.

Bottom Photo: Plumb and Burt at home.

Photo Credits: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Does Tracktown pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes, absolutely!

With a cast full of female roles, this movie has plenty of conversations between women that are not about men.

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