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In Review: 'Little Rose,' 'Life is Too Long'

The Jewish Film Festival came through the Smith Rafael Film Center this past weekend.

Little Rose

Little Rose, the latest feature from veteran Polish director Jan Kidawa-Blonski, is a coming-of-age story disguised as a spy thriller. Before I conjur images of guns and car chases, allow me to explain that spying done in this movie is of the subtler, emotional variety.

Naive Kamila (Magdalena Boczarska) is asked by her boyfriend Rozek, a member of the People's Poland Secret Service, to spy on an intellectual named Warczewski (Andrzej Seweryn). The year is 1968, and communistic People's Poland suspects Warczewski of being a zionist. Kamila agrees, more to please Rozek than out of any loyalty to the party. Inevitably, the close relationship she fosters with Warczewski reveals to her the shortcomings of the gruff and violent Rozek. 

If my summary seems long, that's because Little Rose is a dense piece of cinema. I'm not sure there's a single moment where you could safely escape to the bathroom and not return to find you've missed some thread in the plot's tangled web.

We first see Kamila as a naive pretty face who's relationship with Rozek seems dangerously close to a father-daughter dynamic. When she begins to fall for Warczewski, a professor and writer willing to speak his mind, Kamila comes into her own, acting in her own best interest instead of in deference to Rozek and the party. Kamila's transformation is the heart of Little Rose, but the thriller layered with her girl-to-woman plot line makes it hard to appreciate this aspect of the film.

While no one is technically raped in Little Rose, a lot of violent sexual moments transpire on screen. The repeated instances of Rozek grabbing for Kamila's body or pushing her on a table to take an unwanted kiss really stayed with me more than any other element of the film. I can't see what those moments added, except perhaps to reinforce the audience's dislike for the Rozek character (no help needed, trust us). 

 Little Rose is no question a great movie, but, like its title character, is flawed and confused at its place and purpose in the world.

Life is Too Long

If you've always wanted to take drugs, but hesitated at the idea of actually putting a chemical substance in your body, I have good news: Dani Levy's film Life is Too Long is a cinematic acid trip, no blotter required.

Alfi Seliger, a successful filmmaker in a dryspell, deals with an adulterous wife, unloving children and a colonoscopy, all while trying to sell his new screenplay–a comedy about the Mohammed caricature scandal titled "Moha-ha-mmed."

The film is zany from the get-go, with Alfi hanging out of a bathroom window to avoid his friend's wife, and things only spiral further and further out of control. At some point, the film turns meta, as Alfi begins to wonder if he is, in fact, a character in a movie being directed by Dani Levy.

The convention of the self-aware character is always intriguing, but the playful way in which Levy starts Seliger's transformation leads into an exhausting barrage of non-sequitor scenes that serve no purpose. The scenes early on (when the movie still proceeds as a straight film) are retroactively tainted as various characters return in impossible ways to wreak chaos on the confines of cinematic medium. While certainly an original idea, I tend to prefer meta characters that still exist within a story arc rather than outside of one, like Jeff Daniels in The Purple Rose of Cairo. The move to break the fourth wall can be polarizing, and more than a few people left the theater long before the credits rolled. 

As Seliger, Markus Hering delivers a brilliant performance. Not only does he perfectly negotiate the line between nebbish discontent and metaphysical insanity, he manages to score laughs the whole way through. In less qualified hands, a sub-par Seliger would've derailed Life is Too Long (even more).

The first three-quarters of the movie seem almost to function solely as a bonding experience between the viewer and Seliger, so that when things get cuckoo-cuckoo crazy later on, the audience has their North Star to guide them through. It would be unjust not to mention the stellar supporting cast, especially Seliger's daughter, a bratty misanthrope of a 7-year-old.

In a scene that finds Seliger in a hospital bed, he asks his partially estranged wife if she thinks it's possible that their existence isn't real, but rather a work of art. "We're no work of art," she replies, "we're just a couple of problems."

I guess Levy's intention is to have us side more with Seliger and less with his wife, but in all honesty, I don't see either solution as the right answer. Rather, I find the two of them, everyone in the movie really, to be a manifestation of director Levy's own life and neurosis. If Life is Too Long serves as the visual equivalent of spilling one's brain on celluloid, I say job well done. Now can someone please help talk me down?

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