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Blind Faith

Developed by Bean over a period of decades with former Voice writer Mark Jacobson, The Believer has a script and a theme worthy of Sam Fuller. (The bravura opening in which Danny spots, stalks, and smashes a Jewish schoolboy seems a tribute to the subway scenes that bracket Pickup on South Street.) Bean, however, lacks Fuller's economical tabloid expressionism. The Believer's scenario carries the viewer with the rattling velocity of the Queens el, but Bean's direction is more pedestrian than his writing. The nervous, handheld camera seldom alights to strong effect; the flashbacks and fantasies are awkwardly inserted; uncertain readings undercut the movie's considerable dark humor.

Nevertheless, Fuller would surely have called this gutsy and at times exhilarating movie a great yarn. Like his best movies, it's also a statement. Bean has built a bonfire of contradictions and the ensuing conflagration illuminates a bit of the world.


Arrogant conviction complicated by massive denial: Gosling and Phoenix in The Believer
photo: Fireworks
Arrogant conviction complicated by massive denial: Gosling and Phoenix in The Believer

Details

The Believer
Written and directed by Henry Bean
Fireworks
Angelika
Opens May 17

Late Marriage
Written and directed by Dover Kosashvili
Magnolia
Opens May 17

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More tsuris: A family comedy (or tragedy) set among Israeli immigrants from the former Soviet Georgia, Dover Kosashvili's Late Marriage is as boldly patterned as the carpets and wall-hangings that dominate his characters' small, intensely furnished apartments. The tyranny of tradition is, after all, the film's subject.

Late Marriage opens with a vignette of domestic life—namely, the patriarch being served. Planted in the bathtub, a middle-aged loudmouth smokes and rants as his long-suffering wife subjects him to a shampoo. This two-bit pasha and his stolid houri are supporting players in the cosmic drama to come, preparing to escort their nephew Zaza, a 31-year-old perpetual student, to meet (for perhaps the hundredth time) a prospective bride.

Good-looking, diffident, and obviously doted on, Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi) smirks throughout the transaction. The sloe-eyed, virginal prospect is a hilariously formidable teenager, but despite the rabbinical love charm Zaza's tank-like mother, Lily (the filmmaker's own mom, Lili Kosashvili), slips under her bed, there is no deal. Zaza, it develops, has already found his bashert—albeit one totally unacceptable to his parents for being a 34-year-old divorcée with a daughter named Madonna. This strong-willed Judith is also a handful, as embodied by the splendidly longhaired, long-waisted Ronit Elkabetz in a volatile, uninhibited performance.

Kosashvili's camera is restrained, the better to render Late Marriage superbly brash, raunchy, and confrontational. In addition to the outrageous decor and bride-barter courtship, this is a movie of prodigious guilt trips, ethnofunkfest nuptials, earthy bromides, and graphic, warmhearted fucking—not necessarily in that order. Filled with love and despair, Late Marriage pivots, like much immigrant Jewish popular art, on generational struggle. Zaza's dapper, seemingly wry father, Yasha, turns into the sort of nightmare progenitor Franz Kafka might have invented, even as the implacable Lili mutates into a Molly Goldberg from hell.

Late Marriage is structured as a series of set pieces—most incredibly, the humiliating psychological blitzkrieg that Zaza's family unleashes on Judith in her very own apartment. Zaza is rendered speechless by the onslaught. The concept of "invasive" scarcely does this mind-boggling scene justice, although emotionally, it's topped by the coda. Like this richly talented movie, Yasha's solo dance of triumph is both bitterly funny and appalling.

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