September 10, 2012
Fall Films: Identity crises, controversy, conflict, creativity and chicanery
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Guillaume Canet and Laetitia Casta in “War of the Buttons.”
The conflict between two rival gangs of children in a small French village during World War II is depicted in “War of the Buttons.” The victors of each skirmish cut off all the buttons worn by the losers; hence the title.
Director Christophe Barratier, who co-wrote the screenplay, said it is based on a 1912 novel.
“ ‘The War of the Buttons,’ written in 1912 by Louis Pergaud, is a classic of French literature, one of the few books who gave children the main role, like you have in the U.S. with ‘Tom Sawyer’ or ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ The main theme of the book at the end of the day is: Where or when is the point when you leave your childhood to become an adult? And that’s, of course, still true and significant for contemporary people.”
Barratier added that when he updated the story to the time of World War II, he was trying to construct a parallel between the children’s battles and the larger war taking place between countries.
“There are the brave, the cowardly, the ones who reject conflict, the ones who are going so far they forget their human nature and the ones who are like ‘rats,’ meaning they denounce a Jewish child.”
The introduction of a Jewish girl (Ilona Bachelier) is another departure from the novel. This character is brought to the town from Paris by her godmother (Laetitia Casta), the village dressmaker, to keep her safe from the Nazis. Although some collaborators pose a threat to the girl, most of the townspeople come to her defense.
“My grandmother was telling me that kind of story,” Barratier explained. “She was living in a very small village lost in the mountains near Lyon. The postman was taking care of one hidden Jewish girl and everything was OK for two years. But in July, 1944, one man had a fight with the postman. The day after, for payback, the guy went to the Kommandantur, and everybody was arrested — the postman and his family and, of course, the poor Jewish girl. No one came back.”
“The War of the Buttons” will be in theaters Sept. 21.
Henry Jaglom has transferred his play, “Just 45 Minutes From Broadway,” about a quirky family of performers living in upstate New York, to the screen. He views the work as his tribute to the creative world of theater people.
“My intention in making this film,” Jaglom said, “was to make a love poem to actors — their bravery, their courage and the difficulties and rewards of the lives they have chosen.”
The father (Jack Heller) is a former Yiddish theater actor who has transitioned to the English-speaking stage. His younger daughter (Tanna Frederick) loves the acting life, but her older sister (Julie Davis) hates the bohemian lifestyle and brings her “civilian” fiancé (Judd Nelson) home to meet the family. Twists, turns, and unexpected revelations follow.
The movie’s opening date is Oct. 3. (A more extensive interview with Jaglom by Naomi Pfefferman can be found on The Ticket blog at jewishjournal.com.)
Susan Sarandon in “Arbitrage.” Photo by Myles Aronowitz/Roadside Attractions
Finally, dirty dealings in the world of high finance form the subject of “Arbitrage,” which marks the feature directorial debut of Nicholas Jarecki, who also wrote the screenplay.
The story focuses on hedge-fund billionaire Robert Miller (Richard Gere), who has fraudulently lost his clients’ money in an investment scheme that imploded and is desperately trying to sell his company before the deception is uncovered.
Jarecki’s background has given him a certain familiarity with his subject. Both his parents are commodities traders, and he has run several computer companies.
In creating his main character, Jarecki said he did not want to depict a Madoff-type man.
“It is really meant to be an attempt to explore the conflicted humanity of a Wall Street man in over his head.
“What appealed to me was to try to look at a man who had once been a good man but had become corrupted. His ego had gotten away from him; he’d read, maybe, one too many of his own press releases, and so his moral judgment had been subdued.”
Miller’s moral crisis is heightened when he gets into a deadly car crash with his mistress and attempts to hide his involvement in the accident.
For Jarecki, the film asks the question, “Will you give up the power that you love to hang onto your last shred of humanity?”
The filmmaker, who was not brought up in any particular religion, is the son of a mother raised as a Catholic, and a Jewish father whose own mother drove him through a Nazi barrier in a dramatic escape from the Holocaust.
“I think both of them have a very healthy questioning of the status quo,” Jarecki said. “What I was taught is to work hard and never get too comfortable, because you don’t know what’s around the corner, and I think that’s probably a theme present in this film. We don’t know where life is going to take us or what type of calamities can befall. Robert Miller says in the park to his daughter, ‘It’s like a plane crash. It just happens.’ It’s the first time I’ve really thought about why I wrote that.”
“Arbitrage” will be released Sept. 14.
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