Monday, April 30, 2012

Amos Kollek's CHRONICLING A CRISIS highlights the difficulties of film-making

Toward the beginning of Amos (pronounced Ah-mōs) Kollek's new and heavily autobiographical documentary, CHRONICLING A CRISIS, the filmmaker complains to Anna Thomson (Levine), a good actress (shown below, left) who has done some excellent work in his and others' films, that he would have thought by now, at his age, he would not have to struggle so much to get a film made. "Look at Cassavetes," notes the thoughtful actress, implying that the master of improvisation and by-the-bootstraps film-making never had it easy during his career, either. She's right. Except that was John Cassavetes and this is Amos Kollek.

Just last week, TrustMovies mentioned Mr. Cassavetes, in relation to a failed "art" movie that had opened and that reminded him of the many Cassavetes-inspired filmmakers whose work, despite a lot of "attempting," doesn't quite make it. Mr Kollek's movies often end up in this limbo, as well. From his first film (Goodbye New York) through Sue and Fast Food Fast Women up to the project he blames for nearly destroying his career -- that would be Happy End (from 2003) which, though it starred Audrey Tautou and Justin Theroux, has not been seen in the U.S, neither theatrically nor on DVD -- the quality of his output has been sketchy at best.

Mr. Kollek, shown at right, appears to be a filmmaker of that group of students who were taught (or came to the conclusion on their own) that if you simply point the camera, something will happen. They do, and it does -- though whether they shot much that was worthwhile is worth questioning. Kollek is up to the same stuff with this new documentary. There's little shape to movies made this way nor much sense that the filmmaker had any clear idea of what he wanted to do. Just make a movie, I guess. And yet, you cannot totally discount the guy and his efforts because he has a penchant for smart casting and he comes up with a great scene now and again.

Amos is the son of Jerusalem's most famous mayor -- Teddy Kollek (shown above, right, with Amos) -- who held that post for what seemed like an eternity. Father Teddy figures heavily into the film, as he is getting on in years and seems to remind the filmmaker of his own mortality. Amos spent seven years filming this movie; by the time it is finished, so is the elder Kollek.

We also meet, briefly, and get to know practically nothing about the filmmaker's wife and two daughters (one of these is shown above with her dad). But we do get to know a very strange and interesting woman named Robin Remias (below), a drug-addicted prostitute whom Kollek encourters during one of his many trips back and forth between Israel and New York, as he tries to find backing money to make another movie.

Robin is something else, and its little wonder Kollek begins to concentrate more and more on her as the film progresses. The woman is utterly deluded about so many things, especially her own condition, and yet she proves surprisingly good company for the filmmaker and for us. She's the one demonstration in the movie that Kollek has not lost his casting skill. Defiant, funny, sad, needy and proud, Robin sort of beggars description, and so the filmmaker's time with her opens the movie up in the same way that his casting of actresses such as Anna Thomson, Julie Haggerty and Louise Lasser has done in past movies (and years).

As pretty (in an aging, drug-addicted manner) as is Robin's face, the rest of her body -- which we see on several occasions much more fully -- looks like drug central. Rail thin, pock-marked and needle-tracked, it's cause for alarm. But that alarm never seems to ring very loudly in the filmmaker's head. Twice this woman is shown prone on the bed or sofa, eyes open, unblinking and seemingly unbreathing. Is she dead, we wonder? No announcement is made, so we're left to our own devices. It is this kind of laissez-faire movie-making, with little thought about organization or storytelling, that can drive the viewer crazy. Yet what does (and does not) happen to Robin absolutely comprises the most interesting portion of Kollek's film.

Other filmmakers have problems with this, too -- Henry Jaglom comes to mind -- yet by comparison their films are models of containment and discipline. By the end of the film, we're left with Kollek himself, aging, uncertain, still suffering from a father complex, not to mention the woman as the Madonna/Whore syndrome. But good news is on the horizon. It seems he's raised enough money to finish this film.

Chronicling a Crisis, exactly 90 minutes in length, opens this Friday, May 4, in New York City at the Quad Cinema. Further playdates? I've searched but can't find any as of now....

The photos above, with the exception 
of that of Anna Thomson Levine, are from the film itself 
and/or are taken by Osnat Shalev.

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