Volume 78 / Number 17 - September 24 - 30, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower
East Side, Since 1933

Koch on Film

By Ed Koch

“Burn After Reading” (-)
This intended comedy, written, produced and directed by the gifted brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, is a total failure.

Even sadder is the waste of a terrific cast who have in the past given audiences so much pleasure. The actors include George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, and Elizabeth Marvel. The artist who lost the most by participating in this movie is John Malkovich, but no one comes out ahead in terms of performance reputation.

It would make no sense to lay out the silly story line other than to note that it is intended to make security agents, particularly in the U.S., look like dolts. The reviews I read of the film in advance of seeing it were all unfavorable, but nothing I read adequately prepared me for how awful it is. Despite the negative comments, I decided to see it since the public has enjoyed many films directed and/or written by the Coen Brothers, e.g., “Raising Arizona,” “Fargo,” and “No Country for Old Men.” I thought “Fargo” was exceptional. “No Country for Old Men” was too violent for me, but almost everyone I know loved it. “Burn After Reading” is one Coen brothers film you can skip.

“A Secret” (+)
This is a story of two generations of Parisian Jews living under the Nazi occupation. The film wanders back and forth between the periods immediately before the occupation, the occupation, and after liberation. The flashbacks are shown in color and the real-time scenes are depicted in black and white.

We meet Maxime (Patrick Bruel), a young Jewish man involved in gymnastics who marries a sweet, young woman, Hannah (Ludivine Sagnier). The couple has a son, Simon (Orlando Nicoletti), and Hannah later dies in a suicidal act involving the Nazis.

At the wedding of Maxime and Hannah years earlier, we see that Maxime becomes emotionally attached to Tania (Cecile de France), the wife of his new brother-in-law, much against the will of Tania. She is blond, beautiful and a superb swimmer and diver. That illicit attachment blossoms and ultimately, after the death of Maxime’s first wife, he and Tania marry and have a child, Francois. The boy clearly has emotional problems and perhaps today might be included under a broad definition of Autistic. The son of the second family is played by three superb actors: as a very young child by Valentin Vigourt, as an adolescent by Quentin Dubuis, and finally as an adult and himself a father after the war by Mathieu Amalric.

The picture opens in real time and we watch the second family operate through the Nazi occupation. The movie conveys, without at any time showing it, the Nazi brutality towards the Jews. It shows the degradation and fear the Jews feel and the impact of their being required to wear the Star of David on their clothes.

What makes the film so spectacular is observing the everyday lives of an extended Jewish family living under the occupation. As I sat in the darkened theater and different scenes took place, I realized that I had seen the movie before. It was originally released in 2007. Believe me, that didn’t spoil the experience at all. The scenes I recalled became even more meaningful.

One of the heartbreaking scenes was to have Francois baptized in order to help save him from the Nazis and someone saying, “Don’t tell grandpa.” (In French, with English subtitles.)

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