Archive for June, 2011

I remember too little from the performance I must have seen more than 40 years ago with Buchner‘s ‘Woyczeck’ at the Bulandra Theater in Bucharest, by the time when Liviu Ciulei and Lucian Pintilie dominated the Romanian theater in a short period of artistic Renaissance in the middle of the dictatorship, yet a great time for the Romanian theater and culture in general. I do not remember who the director was, and who where the actors, if somebody around still knows I would be grateful to be reminded. The main memory I have was of a first meeting with a text that was asking many questions about the relationship between the individual and the society, about what is sanity and what causes insanity.



There is one great advantage to deal with a text like GeorgWoy Buchner wrote and which remained unfinished. As a viewer and also as a director you can imagine and fill in the missing from your imagination, you can develop the characters in directions that the author did not have the time and maybe even the intention to do it. The story of the humble wig-maker and soldier Franz Woyzeck who in order to subsist and help the widow Marie he lives with enrolls not only in the army but also in a medical program that endangers his sanity, a story that cannot end but in tragedy has received at least two principal lines of explanation – the social conditions that push the poor to despair and beyond the borders of morality and the existentialist one, where there is no chance to an individual to face destiny and the social system and the military play in this interpretation the role of tools of destiny.




I was extremely eager to watch the scene rendition on the stage of the Tel Aviv Cameri theater. The vision of the director here packed the whole performance in the atmosphere of a mental institution, with the play acted by patients in the institution. This interpretation is questioning the definitions of sanity and insanity and provides them with a relativity load from start. Moreover, the play is prefaced by another quote from a different work of Buchner which talks about the lack of options of the oppressed and the recourse to violence when no other options are left. Here and now this message sounds political, although there was little in the performance itself that emphasized it.


(video source itayti2011)


Itay Tiran who plays Woyczeck is no doubt the leader of the younger generation of Israeli actors. He already played on stage Hamlet and Amadeus and had important roles in Beaufort and Lebanon, two of the successful films of the last years. He is different in each role, and has a personality as an actor that crosses the stage as soon as you see him. He is again fabulous in this performance here, and is very well matched by Ruthie Asarsay who creates a tragic Marie full of pathos and vibration. The problem of the performance is the director, and the director is also Itay Tiran. I do not know if this is his first try in stage direction, it is the first I am aware. As director Tiran mobilizes his actors and all of them give everything they have on stage. It’s a shame that this energy and devotion does not translate into a great stage performance, and the problem is I believe the lack of experience of Tiran in building the story, explaining the context to viewers that may not be familiar with the text, providing fluency and linking the disparate episodes. A few years ago a much smaller theater (in means at least) – Karov staged in the South of the city Romanian writer Matei Vishniec‘s play ‘The History of Communism Told for the Mentally Ill’ which used exactly the same theatrical convention. Looking back, despite the big names and the huge differences in budgets between the two theaters I believe that the performance at Theater Karov was from many respects as good or even better than this one.


‘The Housemaid’ is based on a Korean classic movie from the 60s which I have not seen, but which is referred to by many critics and viewers knowledgeable in Korean cinema. With no term of comparison I have the (maybe) advantage of judging the film by itself. As with many other Korean films it takes a well-known genre (the rich home family drama and the relation to the servants in the house) into directions unexpected for viewers accustomed to the European or American cinema styles.


Eun-yi is a young woman from a poor background who takes a job into a house of people so rich that no pleasure seems to be refused to them from birth. Besides housemaid she is the caretaker for the only child of the rich couple, for the time being – as the lady of the house is expecting to give birth to twins sometimes soon. She soon will find herself as the alternate object of desire for the master of the house, and when she becomes pregnant she starts being perceived as a threat to the luxurious routine of the family life of the rich. The older servant in the house, the mother-in-law and the cheated wife will thread a plot to eliminate the danger. Her chances of successfully fighting back are minimal.

(video source indiefilmworld)

Director Sang-soo Im had the privilege of building a full house of his dreams to describe the environment the rich live, which contrasts sharply with the few realistic shots in the modern city environment. The visuals he created, sets and colors are excellent and are part of the quality of the film. I personally also enjoyed the acting, with Do-yeon Jeon in the lead role the only character with human feelings and uncertainty I could relate to contrasted to the fantasies of the spoiled and the cool interest manner the other characters around behave. The psychological pressure amplified by the surrounding is well built, and provides the justification for this story which starts with a suicide and ends with another one. The film has also an epilogue which is left open for commentary – I read it as a supplementary touch of emphasis of the social commentary in the story.  The director seems to have learned and integrated some of the lessons taken from great world cinema masters as Kubrick or Bunuel, but his voice is clear and original enough in this film to expect more in the future.


We spent five out of the eight evenings of our Parisian vacation at the theater. Paris is of course a city of great tradition on this respect, with tens of options every evening and the problem for the occasional visitor is to find the good performances and then to find tickets. We tried to see plays both in larger and smaller theaters, and mix commercial with more experimental shows, drama and comedy. One common trait that I can identify from start – all five performances were extremely well acted. It may be chance or it may be a trend or a school of theater issue, but acting seems to be on the focus of French theater and to a large extent all the performances we saw relied on fine acting.


The first performance was an experience at one of the established comedy theaters on Champs Elysees. La Comedie des Champs Elysees is located at 15 avenue Montaigne and is directed since 1994 by Bucharest-born director Michel Fagadau. The theater itself will celebrate its centenary in 2013 and the hall is quite impressing if you survive the climbing of the three levels.


(video source TeleramaVidcast)


The performance was of Jean Anhouil’s last play Le Nombril (The Umbilicus) – the story of an egocentric aging writer who is assaulted by all his family and by his friends who try to use his money and influence. It was a nice and well paced comedy performance with a great comedian named Francis Perrin in the main role. Michel Fagadau was the director.


The second evening led us to a very different kind of experience, although at best quality as well. Espace Marais is one of the several theaters in Paris who continue the tradition and the name of the commediens du roi at the Theatre du Marais founded in 1634. Located at the extremity of the Marais district close to Place de la Bastille, the 80 seats hall hosts nowadays two companies with impressing repertories.  It’s a small theater, the director is also selling tickets and there were no more than 15 people in the small theater, but it was again a good performance.


The company of Sissia Buggy was in charge with the performance that evening, and they played with respect and sensitivity an adaptation of the novella The Chess Player by Stefan Zweig – a study in sanity and madness under a repressive regime.


The next theater event was exaggerated by our friends in Paris. Despite living a couple of kilometers from Le Theatre de la Huchette they had never seen the legendary performances of Ionesco’s plays, on the repertory for more than 50 years. To our surprise the theater was full to the last seat, with the combination of tourists (it is located in the heart of the Cartier Latin) and the high-school students (for which Ionesco is a subject in the French literature program) making most if not all the audience.


(video source cap24paris)

La Cantatrice Chauve which we saw that evening keeps the original direction of Nicolas Bataille. 17000 performances were acted since the 50s, generations of actors took over and passed the torch to other generations and Ionesco’s line still sound as absurd, as comical, as fresh and sharp as at the night of the premiere.


Our next theater experience in Paris took place at the theater that inherited the Theatre de Marais name on rue Volta.



Russian authors seem to be one of the preferences of this troupe and the performance of the evening was an adaptation after Anton Tchekhov’s stories titled Sourpriz Kakoi! Director Delphine Piard understood well the mix of sarcasm and tenderness of Tchekhov towards his characters and what resulted was an excellent comedy evening. Acting was against perfect with a young actress named Sophie Staub shining even more than her two colleagues.


We did not have any booking for the last evening, so we decided at the last moment to go to Le Theatre du Splendid located on rue Faubourg Saint Martin, an area that looks more like a banlieu although it is not that remotely located from the center of Paris.


(video source camilleazzoug)

The play we saw that night was Mission Florimont, kind of  Monty Pyton medieval comedy a la francaise – taken over at this more peripheral theater from a successful run at Theatre Tristan Bernard. It was probably the one performance we could have given up, yet the theater was full on a Friday evening and the attendance (many of them young) was enjoying the show and the genre, so we ended by entering the atmosphere having a good time as well.


The heroes in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris about which I wrote about a few days ago dream to a ‘golden age’ of their own in the past which they idealize and would like to live in rather then in their disturbed presents. I am quite happy with my present, but if I were to chose a time and a place I would love to visit depending on availability of tickets on a time machine this would be Paris in the 50s and especially the jazz clubs of the period. I would not mind crossing steps and listening to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis or Boris Vian. Some of the jazz clubs in Paris keep the resonance of their sounds in their walls and especially the spirit. That is why we chose to spend our first night in Paris listening to jazz.

Sunset-Sunside has actually a shorter history and was started only in 1983, but became soon one of the best known jazz clubs in Paris. It is located on Rue des Lombards, close to the Pompidou Center, one of the areas to go if you want to listen to good live music. Name an important jazz musician, French, American or from any other part of the world who created during this period from Miles Davies and Herbie Hancock to Wynton Marsalis or Didier Lockwood and good chances will be that he played at Sunset. Since 2001 there are two halls in the same complex – the unserground Sunset dedicated to electric jazz, magnet jazz and world music and the ground level Sunside where mostly acoustic jazz is played. Performances are being hold in both halls every evening, seven days a week, all over the year. A restaurant and a bar is open most of the day, and especially before and after the shows.

The performer of the night was guitarist David Reinhardt, the younger performer in a dynasty of jazz manouche guitarists that starts with Django Reinhardt, his grandfather whose centenary was celebrated last year and continues with Babik Reinhardt, Dango’s son and David’s father to whom the performance at Sunset was dedicated. For the occasion David changed his usual trio or quintet formats to a trio that included organist Emmanuel Bex, the longtime partner of his father.

(video source harmonik9)

Despite being only in his mid 20s David Reinhardt is an accomplished artist, with a great technique, sensibility and understanding of the genre he grew in. While the three sets of the evening were mostly structured around compositions of his father or around the genre that he practiced, it will be interesting to follow the development of his talents, which have the potential to spread much beyond the borders of the family tradition.

(video source ivelane64)

Emmanuel Bex is in exceptional musician by himself, and his role in the evening was equal to David’s and even shading the young guitarist at certain moments. Bex not only makes great music, he is living it in a style and with an intensity great musicians do. The music the two played was both respectful for the tradition and innovative in its details and precise in execution, a truthful homage to the jazz manouche style which they proved is alive and vibrating.


Joann Sfar is the director of Gainsbourg, Une Vie Heroique, a film that I loved immensely, one of the best I have seen lately. I was not astonished to learn that his Jewish origins are doubled by some Belgian identity, as he is a well known author of bandes dessinees. The character of one of his most popular series – the rabbi’s cat is coming now to screens and we spent a couple of hours in our last day in Paris to see this 3-D animated movie. If you are curious about Sfar and his (small) world see his blog Le Petit Monde de Joann Sfar at Some of his other heroes are Chagall and Brassens.


The story is set in the Algiers of the 30s and the characters are the strongest side of the film. Rabbi Sfar is one of these venerated figures of Sephardi rabbis we would like to see more in real life. He is wise and has a great sense of humor, is tolerant and his best friend is the Muslim sheik  Mohammed Sfar (of course, a mirror of himself in tolerance and ecumenicism), he gladly bends the strict rules of Judaic conversions when faced with true love and even pardons the cat who has swallowed his beloved parrot just because it got the divine gift of speaking. The ideal rabbi.


Although we get too little time to know the other characters in the story we are already charmed by the daughter of the rabbi and we hope to meet her in the next episodes of what must become a series. A few other colored characters embark in a cross-African adventure with Indiana Jones flavored promises in the search of the ideal Jewish city where pure Jewishness and proud independence is to be found. Short after the city is found and proves to be a militaristic fortress (any hint with present tense on the responsibility of the viewer) the movie quite abruptly ends. So it must have a continuation, as almost nothing is solved from a characters or story development, and as the action happens in the 30s we now know too well what happened to the Jewish world in the 40s.

(video source ucgdistribution)

The film has a lot of charm and a lot of flaws. I loved the way it is drawn, which descends from the best French and Belgian tradition in the genre. The 3-D effects seem under-used, and I do not think it will make much difference to see this film in 2-D. The characters are interesting and as a viewer you start caring for some of them almost as soon as they show up on screen. The Jewish world of North Africa is well rendered, and the story of the Russian refugee has a touch of Chagall. The message of tolerance and understanding between faith may be naive but such a message is never preached too often. It is exactly the action component so string in other films of the genre which is missing in this movie, or maybe this was just a prelude, in which case I would preferred to see it together with the first and maybe second episode in the series.


There is no better way to start a series of blog entries about the vacation in Paris than writing about this wonderful film by Woody Allen. There is no better way to see this wonderful film of Woody Allen than in an art cinema on the Rive Gauche, then go out and just wonder through the streets of the city. Some miracle will happen, even if it may not be identical to the one happening to the hero in the movie. Miracles are not supposed to be identical any way, are they?


Gil, the hero of the movie is a script-writer at Hollywood, successful enough not to care about being in love with the wrong girl, successful enough not to care to walk away from her and her corporate magnate daddy when he realizes what we all know from the first scene – she is not up to him, to his artistic and human aspirations, to his dreams to become a real writer and maybe live in Paris like Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway did in the golden 20s and 30s of the previous century. So when magic happens and a classic 1920 Peugeot Landaulet picks him at midnight to meet his idols and Picasso, Bunuel, Dali (Adrien Brody), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and the lovely Adriana (Marion Cotillard) un-famous muse to Picasso and Modigliani and interest of love for the 21st century Gil and maybe for other 19th century artists nobody is too astonished. We are not because Woody Allen tells the story with the fluidity of the feelings and sentiments rather than caring for any rational or mechanical explanation, and the hero is not because his idols behave exactly as they are described in text books. Is our representation of the past more a collection of clichees than a true representation of what really was? This is one of the more serious questions triggered by the film only after the viewers quit the screening theater. Is everybody more or less unhappy with his own present and seeking the refuge in a Golden Age which looked close proves not to be as shining as from the perspective of history, certainly not for those who live it as present?

(video source MoviePediaTrailers)

The charm of the movie and its omnipresent element of continuity is provided by the presence of the city for which ‘Midnight in Paris’ is a love declaration. The film starts with a series of postcard or touristic shots in the city, just to fill them with content and flavor. In Allen’s view in this film Paris is the kingdom beyond the mirror. The didactic message may be as obvious as ever in Allen’s films and is even enhanced by the off-screen voice which sounds like Allen’s whoever is the actor that plays the story teller – Allen himself or somebody else. French viewers were conquered by Allen’s film which was seen by more than a million of viewers since it premiered at Cannes last month. I do not know about exact statistics but recent films by Allen may actually have more viewers in France than in the United States. For Paris lovers this is the song that they always wanted to hear. The rest are in danger to become lovers of Paris after seeing this film.