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Race

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Race

Station: Sports Biopic
Time Travel Destination: 1933-1936 Ohio and Berlin, Germany
Conductor: Stephen Hopkins

“There ain’t no black and white. Just fast and slow.”

One man can change the course of history. In 1936, that man was Jesse Owens.

Director Stephen Hopkins’ biopic Race (2016) explores the pivotal years when Owens begins his track and field career at Ohio State University in 1934 to when he won an four gold medals for the United States at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. The journey in between is a fascinating story of a talented young man given the opportunity to practice his talent while also facing the hardships of growing up black during the Great Depression. He faces prejudice at every turn. It’s through the support and tough love he receives from his coach that Owens is given a platform to shine.

Stephan James stars as Jesse Owens. We watch Owens progress from an unskilled runner with a natural talent for speed to a highly-trained master of short sprints and the long jump. Owens carries a big weight on his back. He has a big family to support as well as his girlfriend Ruth (Shanice Banton) and their daughter Gloria. He’s the first in his family to go to college. And not only that, he represents all his fellow African-American men and women through his glory as an athlete but to also fight against prejudice and racism not only in his country but also in Nazi Germany. This is no small feat. Owens has a monumental task in front of him and we are there to root him on.

“A man has to present an image to the world.”

The title of this movie Race has a double meaning. It represents Jesse Owens’ track and field career and also being African-American in a time of systemic racism. The film explores both aspects of Owens life and how running helped him transcend prejudice. Not only would Owens break records in his sport but he also paved the way for African-American athletes to come.

I was quite impressed with Race (2016). Star Stephan James did well by Owens in honoring his legacy and portraying a young talented man who had this overwhelming burden to bear. The portrayal is complex and James plays Owens in a highly sympathetic manner. I very much enjoyed the relationship between Owens and his coach Snyder, played by Jason Sudeikis. I’ve only seen Sudeikis in comedic roles so it was great to see him in a drama playing a mentor. Little is known about the actual historic figure so what Sudeikis brings to the table is what we all hope their relationship would have been. James and Sudeikis play off each other effectively on screen and I looked forward to each new scene with the two. I was also particularly taken with the real life Luz Long and Jesse Owens friendship as portrayed by David Kross and James. I immediately went to research this online and the portrayal in the film is very close to what happened in real life. Long was a German track and field athlete who helped Owens even though it went against Nazi ideology.

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“God spared you for a reason.”

Jeremy Irons, one of my favorite actors who has frequently graced the screen in many a period piece, plays Avery Brundage, the US Olympic Committee chairman who negotiates with the Nazis. Barnaby Metschurat plays Joseph Goebbels as a cold, calculating Nazi who is annoyed by Germany’s need for having the United States at their Olympics. He draws the audience’s necessary anti-Nazi ire. I questioned the storyline about Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker played by brilliantly by Clarice van Houten. I wondered in the filmmakers were too lenient with her portrayal as a more sympathetic figure.

Visually this film does it’s best to represent the mid 1930s as it would have looked. It’s history CGI’d with a sepia filter. Much of what we see is layered so it feels more fantastical than real. But because the story is based on true events this really doesn’t take away from the movie’s message. The 1930s style costumes are magnificent and I was particularly taken by the colorful wardrobes worn by Shanice Banton and Chantel Riley. Clarice van Houten dons finger waves, cloche hats, blouses and equestrian pants.

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Tournage RACE

Race put me through the ringer emotionally. I went through the gamut of experiencing joy, anxiety and anger and I spent most of the final 30 minutes of the film streams of tears coming down my face. This is an amazing film because it’s an amazing story.

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Race (2016) is available to rent from DVD Netflix.

The Young Karl Marx

The Young Karl Marx

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Station: 19th Century Political Biopic
Time Travel Destination: 1843-1848, Cologne, London, Manchester, Paris, Brussels, Ostend, etc.
Conductor: Raoul Peck

 

The Young Karl Marx

“In early 1843, Europe, ruled by absolute monarchs, wracked by crises, famine and recession, is on the verge of profound change.”

On the heels of his critically acclaimed documentary I Am Not Your Negro (2016), director Raoul Peck brings audiences something vastly different but still as potent in its political message. The Young Karl Marx (2017) tells the story of two German philosophers: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, their friendship, trials and tribulations and the birth of Communism and Marx’s Communist Manifesto. August Diehl stars as Karl Marx, the headstrong and arrogant writer who is constantly getting in trouble for his radical ideas. Struggling to make ends meet for his growing family, Marx is battling the internal struggle of his passion for social justice and making a decent living. His partner is his equally headstrong wife, former socialite Jenny von Westphalen-Marx (Vicky Krieps), who gave up her comfortable life for the love of Marx and his ideas. They try to make a go of it in Paris but are soon exiled from France. In the meantime, another young philosopher Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), lives a conflicted life in Manchester, England. He works for his father, a successful mill owner and tyrant to his workers, and is constantly butting heads with him. Inspired by outspoken worker Mary Burns (Hannah Steele)’s protest of his father’s treatment of the mill workers, Engels seeks out justice. Marx and Engels meet and become fast friends. Over the next few years they fight for the proletariat and against the bourgeoisie. They know something big is about to happen and won’t let anything or anyone get in their way.

The Young Karl Marx

The Young Karl Marx

Peck’s biopic could have easily been called The Young Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels because it focuses almost equally on both historic figures. However, it would have been a convoluted title and Marx is the one whom is best known to contemporary audiences. While you don’t have to be pro-communism to appreciate the political message of this film you do have to have some interest in liberal philosophy, political history and social justice. Even Peck within the confines of the movie, leaves room for doubt. In one scene Arnold Ruge (Hans-Uwe Bauer) warns Marx to not follow in Martin Luther’s footsteps, when Luther broke down Catholic dogma only to help usher in an equally intolerant religion. I thought this to be quite powerful.

I consider myself very liberal so I was fascinated by the story of these two important 19th century figures. If you enjoyed Elizabeth Gaskell’s social justice novel North & South (or its mini-series adaptation), about the working poor of mill town Manchester, England around the same time of Engels and Marx, you’ll want to see The Young Karl Marx. Especially if you have an interest in the political message of that story and want to explore it more deeply.

Written by Pascal Bonitzer and Raoul Peck, the original screenplay really hones in on a dark time in European history. I was especially impressed in the character portrayals of Marx and Engels. These are two figures caught in conflicting worlds. Marx is torn between stability and his passion. Engels is caught between his bourgeoisie upbringing and his desire to help the proletariat. Both Diehl as Marx and Konarske as Engels play their parts with great tenacity and attention to detail. I was particularly impressed how the filmmakers incorporated two strong female characters in what could have solely been a movie about two men. Actress Vicky Krieps, best known for her stand out performance in the Academy Award nominated Phantom Thread (2017), is a delight as Marx’s wife Jenny. Even when she hangs out in the background she makes her voice heard and everyone, especially Marx, respects her for it. Mary Burns, played by Hannah Steele, is feisty, brash and outspoken and Engels falls head over heels for her and rightly so. In the movie they marry but in real life Engels felt marriage was repressive construct of culture and they were lifelong romantic partners instead. In the film though you still get a sense that their union is anything but ordinary.

The Young Karl Marx felt as real as a biopic set in different parts of Europe could possibly be. Lots of on location shooting helps. Peck and his team filmed in France, Belgium and Germany. There is a keen attention to period detail and I always felt like I was thrust into the world of 1840s Europe and not a movie about 1840s Europe. But one thing that stands out about this film is that it’s trilingual. German, French and English are spoken interchangeably throughout the film depending on the location, circumstances and characters in the scene. This is truly European. I myself am trilingual (English, Spanish and Portuguese) with many family members in Europe who all speak more than one language. I love that Peck’s film embraces multiple languages instead of having one language pretend to be all three. The end result is an exercise in attention and comfort with subtitles that is truly worth the effort.

The film ends a month before Revolutions of 1848. It’s a time capsule of just a few years in Marx and Engels’ lives but an important one that helps us begin to understand what is to follow.

Raoul Peck’s The Young Karl Marx is a powerful, multi-lingual biopic that explores inequality and class struggles within the context of the lives of two influential philosophers. Highly recommended.

The Young Karl Marx debuted in New York and LA last week and a national roll out is to follow.

 

The Young Karl Marx

Coming soon: Director Raoul Peck’s new biopic about Karl Marx

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Stations: Historical Biopic
Time Travel Destination: 1840s Paris
Conductor: Raoul Peck

The Young Karl Marx
Timed to commemorate the publication of

Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in February 1848, comes a new film from celebrated director Raoul Peck. His previous film, the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, was a powerful look at the life of James Baldwin, the Civil Rights Movement and black representation in media (read my review here).  Peck’s new film The Young Karl Marx premiered at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival and is coming to theaters soon.

 

The Young Karl Marx

Description:

“At the age of 26, Karl Marx (August Diehl) embarks with his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) on the road to exile. In 1844 Paris they meet young Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), son of a factory owner and an astute student of the English proletariat class. Engels brings Marx the missing piece to the puzzle that composes his new vision of the world. Together, between censorship and police raids, riots and political upheavals, they will preside over the birth of the labor movement, which until then had been mostly makeshift and unorganized. This will grow into the most complete theoretical and political transformation of the world since the Renaissance – driven, against all expectations, by two brilliant, insolent and sharp-witted young men.”

The Young Karl Marx premieres on February 23rd at the Metograph in New York City and the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles. National release to follow.

To release on Digital and VOD on March 3rd.

Coming Soon: A new biopic about musician Django Reinhardt

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Stations: Biopic, Feature Film

Time Period: 1940s Paris

Language: French

Django (2017)

Official Synopsis: The year is 1943 in Nazi-occupied Paris and Django Reinhardt is at the pinnacle of his art. The brilliant and carefree jazz guitarist, king of ethereal swing, plays to standing-room-only crowds in the capital’s greatest venues. Meanwhile his gypsy brethren are being persecuted throughout Europe. His life takes a turn for the worse when the Nazi propaganda machine wants to send him on tour in Germany.

DJANGO stars Reda Kateb, Cécile de France, Beata Palya, and BimBam Merstein. The film is directed and written by Étienne Comar, adapted from Folles de Django by Alexis Salatko. Cinematography is by Christophe Beaucarne and Monica Coleman edits. Django Reinhardt’s music is interpreted by The Rosenberg Trio – Warren Ellis.

Screenings:
1/23 – Playhouse – Pasadena, CA
1/23 – Royal Theatre – Santa Monica, CA
1/23 – Town CEnter 5 – Encino, CA
1/23 – Laemmle Claremont – Claremont, CA
1/23-1/16 – Ahyra Fine Arts – Beverly Hills, CA
Coming to VOD and iTunes on 2/6.

Visit the Official Website for more details.

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