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The Devil's Violinist Review


Filmmaker Bernard Rose gives the period biopic a kick in the seat of the pants with this raucously creepy drama about 19th century violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini, who played so innovatively that people thought he had made a pact with the devil. Rose takes this idea and runs with it, stirring in modern-day ideas of fame and celebrity and finding a series of very clever ways to make violin-playing feel fresh and intriguing. So it's a little frustrating that the central figure remains so oddly out of reach.

After struggling to get anyone to pay him any attention in early 1800s Vienna, Nicolo (played by real violin prodigy David Garrett) signs his soul away to Urbani (Jared Harris), a fast-talking promoter who turns him into a celebrity across Europe. In London, musician Watson (Christian McKay) wants Nicolo to play the Royal Opera House and restore the local fortunes, so hawks his home to bring him over. When he finally arrives, the streets are full of screaming fans, clamouring tabloid hacks (including Joely Richardson) and women protesting Nicolo's notorious womanising and devil worship. But Watson, his mistress Elizabeth (Veronica Ferres) and daughter Charlotte (Andrea Deck) try to sooth Nicolo's artistic temperament. Of course, Nicolo is immediately smitten by Charlotte.

The film has a refreshingly free-wheeling tone, with handheld camerawork, whizzy editing and a continual sense of the music, which is played at high-energy in a variety of colourful locations. Every scene is also layered with bawdy intrigue, as characters mistrust and/or lust after each other. The seasoned cast members have a great time with this. Harris is gleefully sinister with his towering hat and sinister accent. McKay is haplessly eager for his ship to come in far against the odds. And Richardson goes enjoyably broad as a journalist willing to do anything for a scoop.

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The Last Of The Unjust Review


At three and a half hours, this documentary sometimes feels both overlong and far too detailed, but filmmaker Claude Lanzmann knows that this material is vitally important, and by putting it all out there he challenges the viewer to understand the truth. As with his 10-hour 1985 masterwork Shoah, Lanzmann is exploring the Holocaust through first-hand accounts, this time from an angle we've never heard before. Which makes this documentary utterly riveting.

It centres on a filmed interview Lanzmann had with Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein in Rome in 1975. Murmelstein was the last Elder of the Jewish ghetto in Terezin (aka Theresienstadt), Czech Republic, and the only Elder to survive the war. Terezin was called "Hitler's gift to the Jews", and run by Eichmann as a "model ghetto". So Jews from throughout the conquered German territory emigrated there with wary expectations of a new life, only to discover a place of terror where minor crimes were punishable by hanging and thousands were regularly shipped off to Auschwitz and other death camps. After the war, Murmelstein was reviled by the Jews for working so closely with the Nazis but, as he says, "I was the between the hammer and the anvil", and he believed his role was to deaden the blows. He says he only survived so he could tell the true story of the Jewish "paradise".

Intercut with Murmelstein's 1975 conversation are present-day scenes of Lanzmann exploring various settings in Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic while he reads from Murmelstein's 1961 memoir Terezin: Eichmann's Model Ghetto. These sequences offer a startling contrast, as the now-benign locations reveal their horrific pasts. And to add further resonance, Lanzmann includes journalistic drawings made by ghetto residents of the events they witnessed. All together, this paints a striking portrait of what happened without ever resorting to manipulative moviemaking. As with Shoah, Lanzmann's approach is unblinking and comprehensive, including any details as he can get his hands on to make sure we know as much as possible.

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360 Review

Loosely based on Arthur Schnitzler's play La Ronde, this beautifully assembled film is easy to watch. But that's the problem: the subject matter should be much more difficult than this, as it's about having the courage to make unexpected choices.

In Vienna, British businessman Michael (Law) has arranged to meet Slovakian prostitute Blanka (Siposova) on her first night on the job. But the situation shifts, and Michael ends up thinking about his wife (Weisz) in London.

Meanwhile, she's having a fling with a Brazilian (Cazarre) whose girlfriend (Flor) is fed up with his infidelity. On her flight home, she meets a troubled British man (Hopkins) and a recovering sex-offender (Foster). Meanwhile, an Algerian dentist (Debbouze) in Paris is in love with his Russian employee (Drukarova), whose husband (Vdovichenkov) works for a hotheaded gangster (Ivanir).

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The Inheritors Review

In 1930s rural Austria, a crazy old peasant woman kills the farmer who runs the estate on which she works. The misanthropic farmer leaves the land to the peasants on his staff just out of spite for humanity, and sparks fly among the dim-witted "one-seventh farmers" and their greedy next-door neighbor, culminating in one tragedy after another. A not entirely successful trip from comedy to drama, though the first half is a far more interesting picture.

Think of it as Animal Farm without the animals. Which I guess just makes it Farm.

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Blind Spot - Hitler's Secretary Review

A documentary's potency is usually measured on two levels: the ability to convey information, and its power at swaying you emotionally. When a filmmaker accomplishes both, they truly have something precious to share with others, but striving to do one or the other well can also be acceptable provided you still feel different walking out of the theater.

And with Blind Spot - Hitler's Secretary one would expect to feel some kind of metamorphosis exiting the 90-minute collage of interviews. Here was an individual who not only worked for the famous dictator for years but was able to bid farewell to him in his last hours. To this day there are rumors and assumptions bandied around about the man's private affairs, hypothetical observations that can often be supported only by vague but strongly-worded theories from historians that rarely get verified. And here was (may she rest in peace, she died shortly before the film's premiere in Berlin) a living, breathing witness to some part of the behind-the-scenes, a unique opportunity.

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