Volume 73, Number 31 | December 3 - 9, 2003


Koch on Film

21 Grams (-)

This is a very confusing flick with unmarked and unexpected flashbacks and flash forwards deliberately throwing off the audience.

The plot involves three families who ultimately interact:

The first family consists of Benicio Del Toro (Jack Jordan), his wife, Marianne (Melissa Leo), and their two children. Born-gain from a criminal life, Del Toro has become a fundamentalist Christian. He and his family belong to a church congregation where he is very tough on himself, his children and the congregants.

The second family consists of Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) and his wife, Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg), in a failing marriage. Paul is near death as a result of a bad heart and awaiting a heart transplant.

The third family is made up of Christina (Naomi Watts), her husband and two daughters. When Christina’s husband dies in an accident, Paul receives his heart in a transplant.

Out of these complications, a love affair blossoms between Christina and Paul, and as a result, Paul’s wife leaves him. The pain and suffering endured by everyone goes on and on. Although the acting, particularly that of Naomi Watts, is quite good, none of it moved me so as to make the script more interesting. I yawned a number of times and felt like dozing off. The movie simply didn’t catch on let alone catch fire.

Much is being made lately of Sean Penn’s acting abilities by the critics. I don’t find him to be so spectacular, and in this film he is simply good. His physical features are certainly not classically handsome - a Brad Pitt he is not.

A voice over ruminates that every person immediately at death has a weight loss of 21 grams, the weight of a nightingale. Some believe it is the weight of the departing soul. Not so. The cadaver loses control of sphincters and our fluids dribble out.

My Architect (+)

On two different occasions, strangers approached me in restaurants and recommended that I see this film. Based on their unsolicited, ecstatic statements, I decided to see it. I’m glad that I did.

This brilliant documentary deals in a substantive way with the life of the architect, Louis Kahn, who died penniless in 1974. He dropped dead of a heart attack in a Penn Station bathroom, and because he lacked adequate identification was not identified for three days.

The writer, director and biographer of this film is Louis’s illegitimate son, Nathaniel. The story of Kahn’s life is told through interviews with his wife, two mistresses, and several contemporary architects. I most enjoyed the interviews with the architects Philip Johnson, now in his 90s, and I.M. Pei. They both convey, especially Johnson, that Kahn was a genius and, Johnson said, a better architect than he. Pei comments on the fact that Kahn built fewer structures than he, but he stresses the fact that three or four unique works of a genius are more important than producing dozens of works that are not masterpieces. Quality not quantity matters, he says.

The search in this film by Nathaniel Kahn for his father’s substance and spirit is unique and well worth your time. The two mistresses were both more elegant and interesting than is Nathaniel’s mother whose interview took place before Nathaniel’s search for his father’s identity began. The movie is playing at the Film Forum. There are long lines of people waiting to see the show so be sure to purchase tickets in advance.

- Ed Koch


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