The Outside Chance

Lust for Life

As in a Sam Fuller movie, everyone in The Holy Land is a type and everything is crazy. The war is ubiquitous, Mike rarely stops ranting, the Exterminator kisses his machine gun and plans to re-establish Jewish control of the Temple Mount. Violence is all around—along with the clamor of clashing cultures. (The dialogue is mainly English with a mixture of Hebrew, Russian, and Arabic.) Still, it sometimes seems as though greater Israel is populated by six guys, a hooker, and Mendy's rabbi, who ultimately appears at Mike's to accuse the boy of "urinating in the King's Palace" and threaten to report his behavior to his ultra-orthodox parents.

Thanks to an American-born mother, Mendy has a precious U.S. passport. He and Sasha share a fantasy of relocating to the States. The Holy Land is scarcely the first Jewish text predicated on the worldly corruption of an unworldly devout, but its evocation of Israel's warring underworlds gives it additional force; the closer can only be construed as divine retribution.

Taking a licking: Lázaro Ramos and Felipe Marques in Madame Satã
photo: Kirsten Johnson
Taking a licking: Lázaro Ramos and Felipe Marques in Madame Satã


Madame Satã
Written and directed by Karim Aïnouz
July 9 through 22, at Film Forum

The Holy Land
Written and directed by Eitan Gorlin
Opens July 11, at the Angelika

The Embalmer
Directed by Matteo Garrone
Written by Garrone, Ugo Chiti, and Massimo Gaudioso
First Run
Opens July 18, at the Quad

Peppino, the eponymous hero of The Embalmer, is a little guy with an outsize personality and a big yen for young Valerio—not too bright but, as Peppino fervently puts it, "handsome as a god."

One of the hits of last spring's "New Directors/New Films," opening next week at the Quad, The Embalmer more than matches The Holy Land for erotic obsession and ambiguity, although it's a moodier, more melancholy and sardonic tale. Peppino (Ernesto Mahieux) and Valerio (male model Valerio Foglia Manzillo) meet at the Naples zoo and bond over an African vulture; the fiftyish taxidermist offers young Valerio a job as his assistant; Valerio gets thrown out of his brother's house, moves in with his new boss, and soon this Mutt and Jeff odd couple are embarking on foursomes with Roman hookers.

Taxidermy is one of the more sinister professions that one can practice in the movies, and not surprisingly, affable Peppino has his creepy dark side. Summoned by his Mafia padrone, he's dispatched to Cremona to sew a shipment of drugs into a corpse. Along for the ride, Valerio picks up a footloose cashier with surgically enhanced lips named Deborah (Elisabetta Rocchetti). Peppino isn't pleased and not just because Deborah's idea of a party is to dress desperate little Peppino like a doll. Battle is joined as the two need-monsters struggle over the befuddled Valerio, whose brains seemingly reside in his prodigious, never seen but oft commented on, member.

Inspired by a recent police case, The Embalmer is skillfully directed and adroitly acted. Like Madame Satã, it benefits from its restraint. As the saturated colors are keyed to a wintry lowering sky, so the grotesque relationships seem to arise out of some abandoned fairground. The Embalmer has the look of naturalized Fellini and, in its nearly unblinking analysis of human power relations, a story worthy of Fassbinder.

Related Story:
"Rio Men Have Curves: Madame Satã Director Karim Aïnouz" by Ed Halter

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