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Film and the Arts

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai: Interview with Lu Win


A Jewish Girl In ShanghaiA Jewish Girl in Shanghai is both the title of China's first homespun Jewish film and a quick history lesson.

Who knew Jews of any gender existed in Shanghai? Apparently not many Chinese citizens. At least not until the animated film based on Wu Lin's graphic novel opened in theaters across China in May 2009.

Now Lin is making a sequel to extend the course. More about The Secrets of the Necklace (working title) in a bit. Meanwhile...

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai tells the story of Shanghai’s Hongkou district, where more than 30,000 Jews sought refuge from Nazi-occupied Europe. In particular it tracks the saga of Rina, who fled there from Poland with her younger brother Mishalli. Their wartime adventures with a Chinese pancake seller named Zhou A-Gen set the scenario for exploring friendship between Chinese and Jewish children.

Read more: A Jewish Girl in Shanghai:...

Kevin's July '11 Digital Week I

BlackBlu-rays of the Week

Black Moon and Zazie dans le metro

Two of Louis Malle’s more experimental films are given typically excellent Criterion releases. 1975’s Black Moon, his surrealist take on Alice in Wonderland, is enlivened by Sven Nykvist’s usual sumptuous photography, while Zazie dans le metro, a 1960 adaptation of Raymond Queneau’s supposedly unfilmable novel, has Zaziea freeform style that fit in well with the then-emerging New Wave.

Malle, whose eclectic career was cut short by cancer at age 63, took on any project and made it his own. Both movies have a sumptuous “sparkle” on Blu-ray; extras include vintage Malle interviews on both releases and additional interviews and a video piece on Zazie.

Ceremony (Magnolia)
Writer-director Max Winkler’s young protagonist, still in love with his Ceremonyolder ex, decides to crash her upcoming wedding to see if there‘s anything still there between them. Although the attractive, talented cast (Michael Angarano, Uma Thurman, Lee Pace, Reece Thompson) make the characters believably confused, Winkler is unable to make Ceremony more than intermittently clever and charming. The movie looks good on Blu-ray; extras include deleted scenes, outtakes, extended scene, making-of featurettes and behind-the-scenes footage.

Read more: Kevin's July '11 Digital Week I

Theater Review: The Motherf**ker with the Hat

The Motherf**ker with the HatLK-MotherfWritten by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Music by Terence Blanchard
Lyrics by Anna D. Shapiro
Starring Bobby Cannavale, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Chris Rock, Annabella Sciorra, Yul Vázquez

Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play is a very funny, ironic, grungy and cautionary tale where four-letter words, sex and betrayal are mixed in equal parts in the down and dirty milieu of New York City drug addicts and their relatives and friends.

It starts at a residential hotel in Times Square. Jackie (Bobby Cannavale), just out of jail and on parole, is ready to take up again with his sweetheart Veronica (Elizabeth Rodriguez), but then he notices a man’s hat on a bedroom table.

He accuses her. And the language she ripostes with is the rich idiom of the play:

"You have got this wrong, Jackie. You’re so far out of line you’re like in Zimbabwe or some shit…. I’m willing to put the ghetto on hold and eat some fuckin’ pie with you, if you’re willing to entertain the notion that you’re a fuckin’ retard ex-con who almost blew it cuz you got an imagination like -- I dunno -- Dr. fuckin’ Seuss an shit. Okay?"

Pause. He searches her eyes.

Jackie: "But you’re lying."

From there, with fast-paced direction by Anna D. Shapiro, Jackie proceeds on his own picaresque itinerary. It is a wild ride.

The first stop is his parole sponsor, Ralph (Chris Rock), who runs a health food business out of an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. Ralph is full of good advice, what any middle-class self-improvement guru might give (he is learning French and showed up for jury duty).

But he has his own difficulties with Victoria (Annabella Sciorra), the cursing recovering addict he lives with. And he is not quite without blame.

Then on to Jackie’s cousin Julio (Yul Vázquez) in Washington Heights. Julio offers him empañadas, remarks that he was in a sex addiction fellowship, and agrees to hide the gun Jackie has obtained for revenge against the man with the hat.

The story is both real and surreal, connecting to experiences we know, but rooting them in the underclass. Ralph and Julio exchange cards about nutritional beverages and massage (Rolfing is Julio’s specialty). Various members of the couples denounce their partners and also cheat on them with their supposed friends.

The play gets a lot of its spice from Guirgis’s peppering the dialogue with obscenities, and from the in-your-face acting by Cannavale as the hoarse-voiced, dysfunctional Jackie. Cannavale is backed up with class (if that is the right word) by the rest of the ensemble. It’s a play and production one won’t soon forget.

Schoenfeld Theatre
36 W 45th Street
New York, NY
Opened April 11, 2011; closes July 17, 2011

For more by Lucy Komisar, go to

We Are The Night

A provocative gang of female vampires is living by their own rules and leaving a merciless trail of blood throughout Europe. They return to Berlin where 20-year-old Lena (Karoline Herfurth) survives as a petty thief.

On her nightly run through an underground club, she meets 250-year-old Louise (Nina Hoss), a vampire vixen, who is not only the owner of the club, but also leads this all-female vampire trio -- the other two members are the wild Nora (Anna Fischer) and elegant Charlotte (Jennifer Ulrich).

Louise falls head over heels in love with the scruffy Lena and bites her during their first night together. Lena quickly discovers the curse and the blessing of her new, eternal life. She revels in the glamour, parties and infinite freedom.

Nevertheless, she discovers that the endless blood lust she shares with her new girlfriends comes at a steep price. When she resolves to turn her back on the bloodsucking band of sisters, Louise's temper explodes in a blood fury.

When Detective Tom Serner (Max Riemelt) begins investigating a series of grisly murders, it is just a matter of time before the blood trail leads him to Lena and the other vampires in an out-of-control showdown between the undead and the police.

Dennis Gansel was born in Hannover, Germany on October 4th, 1973. He began experimenting with a video camera at the age of 17, in the footsteps of his directing idols Orson Welles, David Fincher, Sydney Pollack and Hal Ashby.

He attended Munich Film School HFF from 1994 to 2000, where he met Christian Becker and they made their first short, The Wrong Trip (1995). Their second short, Living Dead (1996), won the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau short film prize.

After graduating from film school, Dennis shot his first feature film, The Phantom, also produced by Becker, won Cinema magazine's Jupiter award as Best TV Movie 2000, the Adolf Grimme Prize and the 3sat Audience Award.

In 2001 he made his theatrical debut with hit teen comedy Girls on Top. Together with co-author Maggie Peren, Gansel then wrote the script to Before the Fall, a story set inside the elite Nazi training schools for promising young Aryan boys. In 2007, Dennis Gansel and producer Christian Becker continued their collaboration with The Wave, which took home the German Film Prize in Bronze 2008 and screened around the world.

FEARS: From all the literature to the films, what would you say was the biggest influence on We Are the Night?

Dennis Gansel: When I started this story, back in 1997, I read a lot about vampires and I discovered the novel that was actually the first vampire novel ever written: Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. The novel dealt with a female vampire duchess traveling through Austria, in the region of Styria. She falls in love with the daughter of a landlord and she bites her and makes her a companion.

This novel was actually the biggest influence on Bram Stoker's Dracula, so much so that he actually wanted Styria to be his setting too, but his editor said he couldn't do it. They were frantically searching for another location and that's when they came up with Transylvania.

I thought if female lesbian vampires who don't bite men is in the very beginnings of vampires' history, it could be very nice for us. And that's where the idea came from.

FEARS: What do you feel is the attraction of vampires for the audience and for you?

DG: The vampire movie is one of the oldest movies genres there is. They've got a lot in them. You've got the classic horror shocker, plus the sex appeal, the interdependent characters and the drive to change oneself.

Looking back, of course, the good vampire films were always also a reflection of their era. The vampire film is part of the German cinema history with Murnau’s Nosferatu, which was unofficially based on Stoker’s Dracula and set in Germany.

FEARS: And there is the sex appeal!

DG: It is interesting.If you read Carmilla or Dracula, there is the Victorian sexual repression that leaps out at you, and this sexual tone is in all the vampire movies They pick[ed] up on that tradition and ran with it, playing with the lure of carnal desires. The fact we can tell the story of We Are the Night with exciting, modern women in today's Berlin, makes it all the more suspenseful.

FEARS: One of the lures of becoming a vampire is being immortal, never growing old, etc., but why are your vampires so melancholy?

DG: They just don't know what to do with themselves. They're devoted to total luxury and excess, partying and consuming like crazy. The result is an inner void.

That's what the film is about. If Louise were to withdraw to a quiet country estate somewhere in Ireland, ration her blood baggies, and do something for her mind, for instance, everything would be fine. But she's not like that.

The vampiresses create a glam-glitter world for themselves which sucks Lena in at first, as well. But then she starts seeing behind the veneer: These women, who seem so unimaginably strong and beautiful, are ultimately very lonely, and long for love, tenderness, a home and family.

FEARS: I understand that We Are the Night is a 15 year labor of love. Why did it take so long?

DG: I told Christian Becker my idea for a vampire movie set in the Berlin club scene, centered on a love story, in 1996 when we were film students and roommates together.

Soon thereafter, I had the exposé for The Dawn done and was sure I'd be able to start shooting it soon. But I guess the time just wasn't right. I think The Dawn is one of the most-rejected screenplays in movie history (laughs). There's hardly an agency or distributor we didn't offer it to.

But Christian and I always believed in it and would always joke and say: We'll make this damn movie by the time we're 50. The film was actually released in Germany just after my 37th birthday.

FEARS: The Dawn has become We Are the Night. How has it changed since then?

DG: The characters are the same, but the story has changed. My original script was too much like Twilight. That was a blow for me, of course, that Stephenie Meyer could land a global hit with an idea a lot like the one I'd had much earlier and got rejected everywhere.

Jan Berger told me the story at the center was great. All we had to do was change the point of view, telling the story of someone's initiation into the vampire world. I loved that approach.

FEARS: In working with screenwriter Jan Berger, what vampire elements did you decide to keep?

DG: We were making decisions while we were writing. Actually, the one thing we talked about a lot was the fact that they are all female vampires, which raises the question "But what about the male vampires?"

And we thought "Okay, if we were female vampires, we would instantly kill every male vampire because they would obviously be much stronger than we are." We though that the survival rate for female vampires would be much higher because they were less likely to reveal themselves and they wouldn't kill as many people.

And ironically, that is what our female vampires do after Lena joins the group; the body count rises because they want to impress her. Ultimately these male aspects may lead to the extinction of our vampires. We thought that was an interesting side effect.

Still, we didn't actually sit down and make a list, but we just asked ourselves what's cool about vampire movies, and what sucks? Fangs, blood and no reflection -- those were definitely cool. Bats, garlic and crucifixes I thought suck.

Too much mushy romance sucks, too. We wanted to have action. When I watch a movie of this genre, I want to be on the edge of my seat.

FEARS: Given the different periods each of the vampires come from, why did you decide to set the story in modern day Berlin?

DG: Well, being set among the ultra-hip Berlin club scene, naturally it reflects the zeitgeist of our modern society. We're all obsessed with youth culture, living out our hedonistic desires, giving in to consumerism and partying all night. All we think about is ourselves and our own fun, no one wants to take responsibility.

Society has become apolitical like never before, at least in Germany. In a way, We Are the Night also evokes casting shows like The X Factor or Germany’s Next Topmodel, a phenomenon we didn't have ten years ago.

We Are the Night [is] life as an ultra-hedonistic vampire. We Are the Night is a modern coming-of-age story. Lena is whisked away on a whirlwind journey against her will at first, then finds enjoyment in her new life, but grows and matures as well, finding herself again at the end.

FEARS: How did you pick those eras for the characters?

DG: Louise was a lady-in-waiting at the court of Frederick the Great. That epoch of German history has always fascinated me, and Jan Berger as well. So we felt that had to be in a German vampire film.

The Roaring 20s were the Golden Age of German movies, with silent films like Nosferatu and Dr. Mabuse, so we definitely wanted those in there too, through the figure of Charlotte.

Then there's Nora, hailing from the early-90s techno era. That was an extremely formative time for me, because for the first time I felt that things were changing in Germany, that it was actually cool to be German, with the Love Parade in Berlin becoming world-famous -- which was easily as cool as anything happening in Barcelona or New York City.

I've been living in Berlin again for years now, and find the changes this city has gone through amazing and exciting. So I wanted that in the movie, too.

FEARS: There have been several critically acclaimed genre films to come out of Europe in the past few years. Why did it take so long to make We Are the Night?

DG: We tried it in 2000 and 2004, and I had all the cast in 2006. Everybody said, 'No, we won't do it.'

I said, "Look, there's a new book coming out in the U.S. and it's called Twilight. It's not really my kind of genre, but it's vampires with a love story. Let's do it now." I prepared the movie, but the whole financial issue was too hard for us.

A lot of genre movies were invented in Europe, like Metropolis and Nosferatu. We have such a great tradition of genre movies in Germany that everybody in Germany, especially in the younger generation of directors, wants to make them.

But the financiers always say 'Do comedies,' because the only one who is making money is Til Schweiger, which is true. We want to elevate it a little bit and do different kinds of films.

FEARS: Given the mythology only has female vampires, giving it this Wonder Woman and the Amazons feel, did working with largely a female cast present any unique challenges?

DG: It was rough, yeah. (laughs) I've never shot with that many women, especially so many strong women who want to contribute to crafting their roles themselves.

But at the same time that's a wonderful opportunity, and I'd be stupid not to listen to the input of such a dynamite cast of actresses. After this movie, I think I'm the total ladies' man, and very sensitive to female issues.

FEARS: Given that all your films have a similar tone, they are each very different. Do you enjoy the horror genre?

DG: I think drama and thrillers are the most fun. I was deeply influenced by the New Hollywood cinema and the fun and highly entertaining worlds of Zemeckis and Spielberg. The Super 8 trailer looks amazing, as does the one for Haywire. Something like this would be fun to work on.

FEARS: What can you tell us about your next film, Year of the Dog?

DG: It is my first English language feature and I‛m in the process of editing it right now.

It's about terrorism. It's starring Moritz Bleibtreu as a journalist who comes to Moscow, who wants to have fun and enjoy his life in Moscow. He's working for a magazine, but he's confronting terrorism in Russia and he's caught between terrorists and the government.

Actually, it's about state terrorism and how the government uses terrorism to influence politics. It's a classic political thriller, very entertaining, very much in the same vein as 1970s Hollywood political thriller.

I wrote the original draft more than 10 years ago, and it also took me a long time to do it because thrillers, they have a big tradition in Germany, but, same with other genres, it's tough to get the money.

Terrorism changed the world we are living in right now, so fundamentally, I was really wondering, for the last 10 years, where are all the movies about terrorism? I don't need any more movies about Iraq or Afghanistan.

I really want a big movie like Three Days of the Condor and all this great stuff from the 70s, which really reflect how the CIA and Watergate changed the American society. I always wondered where these movies are right now. Politics can still be very entertaining, and this is my try to make such a movie.

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