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ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

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ALL THOSE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS
Poland
Director: Michal Marczak
Runtime: 100 minutes
Language: Polish

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The documentary has slowly morphed into a narrative that could be a fluid as water, or as animated as a cartoon, with snippets of the real mixing seamlessly with the acted/performed. All These Sleepless NIghts, the debut film by Michal Marczak, falls under that large umbrella, something that you could call “experimental film” or “documentary – narrative fusion” in which we observe the story transpiring in fragmented pieces of time, played by actors playing versions of themselves, with the vaguest of definable plots unifying the entire product as whole. Sometimes it yields harrowing drama, and sometimes it can misfire. In this case, I’m going to remain somewhat in the middle of the two extremes because All These Sleepless Nights tackles topics of extreme hedonism, bromance gone wrong, and an aimlessness in life that I can’t quite relate to but find fascinating anyway.

So, onto the story per se: we come in, it seems, into the story in medias res, sort of at the end, with Krzysztof watching a display of fireworks from what seems to be a rather comfy Warsaw apartment. Soon later we get a sense of what happened for him to end up here; he was extremely close at point to his buddy Michal, so close that they may have almost hooked up together and lived in their own world of late-night debauchery, acts of defiance, and parties that seem to last forever. They walk around the city from event to event, discussing the type of things 20-somethings would. Somewhere along the way, Krzysztof hooks up with Eva, a waifish blonde who used to date Michal. The faintest of dents appear out of nowhere, possibly because of a sense of jealousy, perhaps? And off they go, in different tangents, Krzysztof into his own world of late-night chill out dancing and drugs; MIchal drops out of sight for a bit. When Krzyssztof breaks up with Eva he seeks Michal out but Michal either is still not too willing to take him back, or has moved on and is starting to get his act together. [After all, nights of endless partying can’t go on — life has to have a meaning, and while they both continually do discuss the meaning of it all through the early portions of the movie it’s clear they’re just dicking it around, behaving like fratboys out on the night, maybe getting into a little mayhem here or there.

My only guess is the director, Marczak,has tried to make a social commentary about the state of the youth today — in particular millennials — who seem to have no purpose but the here and now.  On one end there looks to be a fascination with that life; on the other, it’s less mere observance and more passive critique. Acquaintances form from thin air and vanish in seconds. It’s as if though life were a constant merry go round where everyone is trying to impress — but not to climb socially inasmuch to get the next high. It’s an interesting movie to see if you’re into chill out / late night lounge music, but the macho posturing that starts out somewhat insolent (and potentially dangerous; in one sequence the boys head into the metro tunnel to walk in between moving trains). There is a unsubtle nod to French New Wave. As a matter of fact this could have made a sharp little movie with its own social commentary. It premiered at New Directors – New Films and if you have an interest, please go catch it.

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE

 

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE
Czech Republic / UK / USA
Director: Niki Caro
Runtime: 122 minutes
Language: English

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

The Holocaust is the reluctant gift that keeps on giving, and I mean that with no disrespect. Seventy years after stories of bravery under extreme duress continue to make appearances in unique narratives that only fortify the notion that despite the atrocities committed against a targeted group of people solely for the reason of being Jewish, there were people who stood up and deftly managed to turn the tables against xenophobia. In the Trump age, where the threat of our nation reverting to barbaric methods of separation and discrimination, these serve as a reminder of what could happen if we become sheep and follow a mad leader blindly into oblivion . . . but that’s for another piece.

 

Niki Caro’s new movie focuses on a part of Poland we may not have been previously aware of: its zoo, and how it became a rather unique player in the fight against the Nazis. Antonina and Jan Zaminski (Jessica Chastain and Johan Heidelbergh) run the Warsaw Zoo rather successfully — life couldn’t be better. The film’s opening sequence have the look and feel of something straight out of Disney: we see Antonina riding her bicycle as a baby camel follows her around the grounds while Jan works away quietly but clearly content. It’s an establishing scene — cemented by another in which Antonina interrupts her own dinner party attended by the rich and powerful — among them Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl, repeating his Nazi role from Alone in Berlin) — to deliver a sick elephant baby back to life that tells us the kind of person she is: kind, caring, selfless.

 

However, war breaks out, the Nazi’s invade Poland, the zoo becomes a base of sorts for Nazi soldiers headed by Heck, and most of the animals perish — some rather cruelly at the hands of the Germans. Having little choice, the Zaminskis now have to walk an incredibly fine line in order not just to keep their place (and relative security) but to use the zoo to help Jews to escape certain death. It’s a bold move, and the movie never lets you get too comfortable. This is a risky gamble that could implode at any given second, especially since Heck, who has developed an attraction to Antonina (who has to play along if she is to carry out her part of the plan), drops in unannounced for visits.

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife suffers from its own isolation in that it never gives you the full scope of the horrors of war — we do hear bombings, yes. However, some of the more impacting images feature the innocent and vulnerable: a rape victim (Shira Haas) whom Antonina nurses back to life, and the unforgettable image of little children’s hands reaching up to Jan who has to help them board a train that we know is headed to a concentration camp. Chastain, dolled up in a perpetual Norma Shearer wig and a thick Polish accent, doesn’t achieve the emotional greatness that Meryl Streep did when she tackled her own horror story in Sophie’s Choice, and her character is probably a bit too perfect to be credible, but perhaps I’m being somewhat cynical. Even so, this is a crowd pleaser, solid, and entertaining.

ON DVD: EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

everybody wants

Other than its reference to the Van Halen song, I’m not sure what the title of Richard Linklater’s new movie is all about, or the point, other than returning to nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake? Maybe. The thing is, I saw and remember Dazed and Confused from years ago. I remember the vaguely predatory lines Matthew McConaghey would utter at the sight of young girls in college (“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”) and the barely-there plot filled with characters that seemed to have something important to say, even when it really wasn’t. Dazed and Confused happened to all of us at that one brilliant time of life, and we grew out of it. Some of us choose never to remember it much; others still live eyeball-deep in the memories of those precious years. And that’s good.

What isn’t, however, is Linklater’s sequel of sorts, the aforementioned Everybody Wants Some!! that takes place four years later in an unnamed college where everyone has a weekend of shenanigans just about as class is about to begin. We’re introduced to another batch of characters played by another batch of actors on the rise (and yes, there is one who resembles McConaghey in all but the trademark slurry speech). To be fair, it’s not terrible. That’s the point I’m trying to make: there is not one single scene I can remember that was memorable, that stood out, that made me pay attention, or that hit me with the same nostalgic tone as Dazed. And at a running time of almost two hours, by the third quarter of the movie I was so completely bored of it I felt compelled at times to just hit stop and move on to the next movie. However, as a good moviegoer that I am, I remained sitting in place, eyes searching for a sliver of life, until I realized there wasn’t much to go on about.

Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place. This is a perfect example of it. Stick with the Before series. Those are worth watching over and over again.