Now and Then. Films reviewed: Going Clear, Bulgarian Rhapsody, Phoenix

Posted in 1940s, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, Movies, Women, WWII by CulturalMining.com on May 8, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

How often do you see movies? Frequently? Or just now and then? If your answer is “now and then” I have some good movies for you. This week: two dramas from “then”, and a documentary from “now”.  A coming-of-age set in wartime Bulgaria; a dark melodrama set in postwar Berlin; and a documentary set in present-day L.A.

10448682_358390541017859_2619780721967253367_oGoing Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Dir: Alex Gibney

L Ron Hubbard was an extremely prolific writer who churned out over a thousand fantasy and sci-fi stories for pulp fiction magazines. He spent time in the US Navy. But he’s best known now as the creator of a system of pseudo-scientific psychological analyses known as “Dianetics”.

Followers undergo “auditing” – a process where they confess their darkest experiences and mostlD7OEwJsT7FA2yjMP-bD2DsF1BMKHICltbxDqmLZKvA,2s733GbWWcOom-6ozJJm0EaWnse1BzW7hFFCJBRuWqY,-7gQeVG6TawiaV63nqPWpWEAjb1zg8j1bmfvzFUy57o painful feelings so their bodies can get rid of them. As they speak, they hold onto metal tubes which detect changes in their system – sort of an elaborate lie detector. They speak their confessions, one-on-one, to an “Auditor” – sort of an analyst – who records what they say and files it away. Followers then pass through a complex, multileveled system – including paid courses required at each level. Their goal? Someday freeing their mind and bodies from from anxiety and pain in an eternal, space-age nirvana. This process forms the basis of Scientology, a self-described religion with thousands of followers.

BnClGTKOBGff43YaaiYFAsFxyLHbICHSjiZb2tzTfkU,u_3H5tmI5Ny2ndxbBPIcH6eS_Riho-XS2KGaGIsJv68,nN-yzR5qRvecGYBbx5cuYVq0gDJukfN27nJ4brrGTYoThis documentary speaks to former members, advocates and high-level administrators of Scientology, and what they say is not pretty. Members are said to undergo brutal training sessions, deprived of food and sleep and kept separate from their friends; celebrity members – like Tom Cruise and John Travolta – are blackmailed or bribed to keep them within the group; and ex-members are stalked and attacked. 7FaG1tWQELw7w_dUWxTqXcRm_C2F64fSLrfsHNQlJVU,1VONv0GjC2_10sfAiym8ZLHNO8lgwkIGx1Swm4RgmZU,ki16HMWBBKUy5tLv-Gapi2X4NG7xqYYT3bWwNHis9T0Apparently, Scientology attained its tax-free status in the US by targeting hundreds of individual IRS agents and harassing them until the government just gave up.

But the strangest part of this movie is the bizarre, flashy Vegas style conventions they have. Members dress in fake Navy uniforms, complete with medals and ranks. And this is all led by its current leader, the handsome but diminutive David Miscavige, a member of the group since he was a child. He is portrayed as a paranoid, egotistical megalomaniac aiming for absolute power and wealth.

This is an amazing movie, alternating razzle-dazzle footage with shocking revelations. In a nutshell, it says Scientology is a for-profit corporation disguised as a religion based on science fiction… that’s run by nuts.

10689807_848941815140388_1632255586009719290_nBulgarian Rhapsody
Dir: Ivan Nichev

It’s the 1940s in Sofia, Bulgaria. WWII is in full swing but daily life continues, almost as if nothing is happening. Moni and Giogio are teenaged boys, best friends and neighbours. They both come from motherless homes, raised by their widowed fathers. Moni (Kristiyan Makarov) is thoughtful and introspective. He loves music, literature and drawing political cartoons. Giogio (Stefan Popov) is full of bravado and popular with the girls. He vows to find a pretty girlfriend for Moni. The problem? Bulgaria is an ally of Nazi Germany, and follows its harsh Nuremberg laws, placing severe restrictions on Jews. Moni is Jewish, while Giogio’s dad is a driver for the government department set up specifically to persecute the Jews. Can friendship prevail?

On a family trip to Kavala, a picturesque seaside town in Macedonian Bulgarian_RhapsodyGreece (granted to Bulgaria by Germany), he meets the beautiful and charming Shelli (Anjela Nedyalkova). He has life-changing experiences on the beach, falls in love and confesses it all to Giogio back in Sofia. But when the three of them get together at Moni’s sister’s wedding, Shelli becomes the object of both of their affections. Will this drive a wedge between the two friends? Is it all true love or just a summer beach fantasy?

Bulgarian Rhapsody is a tender, coming of age drama played out beneath the looming shadow of the Holocaust. And it was Bulgaria’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar.

1418412491534Phoenix
Dir: Christian Petzold

Nelly (Nina Hoss) is a German-Jewish woman who survives WWII in a Nazi concentration camp, but is left with a horribly disfigured face. With the help of her best friend Lene (Nina Kuntzendorf), she has plastic surgery. Now she looks similar to, but not exactly like she used to. Her only wish is to reconnect with her husband Johnnie (Ronald Zehrfeld) and let him know she’s still alive. She frequents the Berlin cabarets where they used to perform – he’s a piano player, and she

August .2013  Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold ( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz Mobil 01723917694

August .2013
Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX
mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf
Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold
( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz
Mobil 01723917694

used to sing with him.

But when they do meet – at a bar called Phoenix – it’s not like she expected. He approaches her, because he says, she looks a lot like a woman he knows: his wife who died in the war. If she helps him get his dead wife’s war reparations from the government, he says he’ll give her half. He has no idea who she really is. But he promises to train her until she can convincingly impersonate his late wife. Basically, she has to learn to imitate herself! Talk about “meta”…

96925500be23510ff2ecd24a542752d9She agrees to act in this bizarre charade, only because she wants to know whether Johnnie ever loved her, or if it was always just a ruse. And if so, was he was the one who turned her in to the Nazis?

This is the latest episode of star Nina Hoss and director Christian Petzold’s look at Germany, and it’s the best by far. I saw Phoenix at TIFF last fall and it was one of my absolute favourites last year. The plot sounds silly, melodramatic, simplistic, and it is all these things, but it’s so much more. It teeters on the tightrope between German Expressionistic absurd comedy and real, heartbreaking passion, but never trips or falls off that rope. And the final scene is so perfect, it had me tearing up, almost weeping 10 minutes after it was over.

Amazing movie.

Going Clear and Phoenix both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Bulgarian Rhapsody had its Canadian premier at Toronto’s Jewish Film Festival. The Festival continues showing fascinating movies through the weekend, in both downtown and North Toronto locations. Go to tjff.ca for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

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