Thursday, July 16, 2009

Boaz is back: DEATH IN LOVE makes waves, quease and... art!

TrustMovies has been waiting over a decade for writer/
director Boaz Yakin (shown below) to give us something as special -- different, thought provoking, entertaining -- as his 1998 melodrama A Price Above Rubies. Although Remember the Titans (2000) was the bigger box-office hit (followed by the silly Uptown Girls (2003), that earlier movie about a Jewish wife's simultaneous sepa-
ration from her cad-

dish husband and entry into the world of jewelry design proved so well-told and acted (Renée Zellweger's performance as the wife was a career-maker) that it remains memorable and every bit as watchable today as ten years ago. Yakin's best work (Fresh, "Rubies" and now DEATH IN LOVE) bears his mark as a worthwhile screenwriter and filmmaker, eeven if his directorial work-for-hire has ranged from proficient to rather ordinary.

Death in Love is anything but ordinary. From its first few frames, the viewer is put on notice. We're in Nazi-ville once more, with a pretty young Jewess who has an "appointment" with a German doctor. As we travel the hallway of the camp, gliding past one "experiment" after another, the "quease" factor bubbles up and we want to bolt for the exit. We don't. The movie is already slightly hypnotic and, besides, one should give any film more than three or four minutes to take hold. At this point, our girl meets the doctor, who demands her camp "number" and, a moment later, takes a better look at her. "Why are you smiling?" he asks, and her answer pushes us over the brink into the rest of this upsetting but original film.

Yakin wants to explore the results of collaboration and betrayal, especially where lust, love and libido are concerned. Combining the holocaust with sex has long been problematic (The Night Porter, anyone? Even Schindler's List toyed with it), and it certainly remains so here. But Yakin succeeds in telling such a strange and compelling story of the past and the present that, though the sexuality connecting both time periods may be tawdry, it is also telling -- and necessary. (The "present" in this case is the mid-1990s, which allows characters who were young during WWII to be old now but still vital.)

I suspect Yakin is a very good director of actors because the performances he draws from his casts, despite whatever else you may think of his movies, are first-rate. Here, they are better than that. Josh Lucas, Jacqueline Bisset, Lukas Hass (at piano, two photos up), Adam Brody and Vanessa Kai are tops, particularly Lucas, Bisset and Brody. Moment to moment you won't find more interesting acting on-screen these days. Simply for the scenes between Lucas and Brody (pictured above, right and left, respectively), I'd watch the film a couple more times. And how lovely to see Ms Bisset (below) do the kind of work we suspected she had in her but has seldom been given the opportunity to demonstrate.

It is so rare to find a filmmaker today, particularly an American filmmaker, tackling a dark subject and going with -- and into -- that darkness, as Yakin manages. Once he has made his connections, however, he can't seem to find anywhere further to go except the obvious, and this makes the movie less than it might have been. Even so, there's plenty to chew on: for starters, the sins of the fathers (or, in this case, the mothers) damaging children beyond repair. While Death in Love may be a difficult movie to recommend, I find it impossible not to.

Death in Love, released via Screen Media Films, opens Friday, July 17, in New York City and Los Angeles. A further nationwide limited release is hoped for, I should think. In any case, the movie will certainly appear eventually on DVD.


GHJ - said...

Jim - I too have been waiting for Yakin to do something great again. Fresh is an excellent film, although I missed Price Above Rubies. I'll have to track that one down. Also, I'm trying a new look for my blog. It's be great to get your opinion. I felt it needed an infusion of color and life.

James van Maanen, said...

Wow-- talk about a REALLY new look to a blog. This is like night and day (or, in this case, day and night -- with white taking the place of black). And the photos are used soooooo large. But I like this, too. It makes its point -- if change and color and wham! are what you most want. Your ideas and writing, so far as I am concerned, remain the same, and very fine.

Your post makes me want to see Ma 6-T va Crack-er once again. I remember having mixed feelings about it but not much else (it's been years since I've seen it). I liked Richet's "Assault" remake very much but found his recent two-part Mesrine greatly wanting. How he won a Cesar for Best Director over Seraphine's Provost strikes me a pretty bizarre -- unless commercial appeal was all that counted.