Thursday, September 3, 2009

Davidson's TICKLING LEO opens -- and the Hungarian Holocaust continues to resonate

Other than the rescue work done by Raoul Wallenberg, TrustMovies knew few details of the WWII Holocaust specific to Hungary until he came upon the press kit for TICKLING LEO, the new film by first-time writer/director Jeremy Davidson (shown below)

whose career till now has been as actor in television and film. The brief historical time-line provided by the press kit, with its short history about the specific Hungarian Holocaust situation and Jewish "rescuer" Rudolph Kasztner -- beginning in Hungary and ending in Israel -- was fascinating enough to get me exploring further.

Talk about "fraught": What happened in Hungary toward the end of WWII takes a situation such as that found in Sophie's Choice and raises it from an event befalling an individual to one that takes in an entire city -- if not country.

Davidson's film opens with the credits Barn Door Pictures in association with Highbrow Entertainment presents... This funny and ironic combination of "country and sophisticated" might stand for the writer/director's enterprise itself, for the most ironic thing about his endeavor is that the movie, as well-acted as it is (very!) does not, for me, come near the level of drama, horror and betrayal found in simply imagining what happened in 1944 Hungary -- once you know even a bit of this history.

What Mr. Davidson has done is to take this actual piece of the Hungarian Holocaust and create a set of fictional present-day characters: three generations of one family, including two women who are now partners of the family's men, and one connected character who simply sits in a local bar and acts as a reminder. Though the film takes place mostly in a lakeside home in New York's Catskills, the tentacles of the Holocaust have reached out to en-
velop all of these people--whether they realize it or not. This is cer-
tainly a legitimate enough way to create a story of "now," based on "then." As a writer, Davidson is not especially given to the style of clunky exposition that over-explains things; he more often alludes to and/or dances around. So why does the movie not coalesce into the kind of resounding whole that might truly shake us up?

One reason is its length: 91 minutes including credits. This is a very short time in which to pack three generations, the Holocaust, and a bevy of family secrets. The last-minute introduction of the grandfatherly generation plus a whirl of flashbacks seems especially rushed, while the flashbacks that open the film seem a little too clichéd). Consequently many of the events and incidents -- a family fortune run into the ground, the father's attempts at writing again and his daughter-in-law's sudden abilities as an editor, even the film's title that comes from one of the father's poems -- that cry out for more time and detail are given only a moment in the sun. If you read me much, you'll know that I usually treasure brevity and economy, but there is a limit to the benefits of these. It almost seems that Davidson has created an outline for a major film, fleshed out by some very good performances, rather than the film itself. Yet in every area -- acting, writing, directing -- there is talent aplenty on display. Perhaps Tickling Leo will be what they refer to in Hollywood as Davidson's "calling card" movie -- one that provides entry to his next and better film.

About that acting: Lawrence Pressman makes a fine, if upsetting, Dad, whether he's wandering full-frontal through the woods around his house or being the all-knowing seer who can spot a pregnant lass at one hundred paces; Annie Parisse proves a lovely, smart and extremely forbearing almost-daughter-in-law; Ronald Guttman is a scary, kind and explosive Uncle Zak, whose wife is played by Victoria Clark (yes, from Broadway's recent Sunday in the Park with George revival and The Light in the Piazza) as a blowsy but decent gal; Daniel Sauli (so good in You Belong to Me) is the put-
upon son, while Eli Wallach plays late-arriving, good-time Gramps.

Tickling Leo opens theatrically –- in time for Rosh Hashanah -- in the New York City area tomorrow, September 4, while concurrently appearing on DVD. This should make another interesting test-case for theatrical revenue vs same-day DVD release.

(According to the info provided by IMDB, the photo of Annie Parisse
above -- swinging on tire -- is by Bess Greenberg;
the one of writer/director Jeremy Davidson is by MS;
and the other is from the film itself.)

No comments: