Life During Wartime
A paralyzed young man's plight is at the center of Body of WarFormer talk-show host Phil Donahue first met paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young during a visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Donahue, whose MSNBC talk show was an early media casualty of war, decided to tell Young's story in a documentary film. He teamed up with filmmaker Ellen Spiro to co-direct and co-produce this deeply moving account of the 27-year-old Young's difficult adjustment to life in a damaged body and his growing involvement in the anti-war movement.
Young was a 22-year-old from Kansas City who was inspired to enlist when he saw George Bush standing in the smoking rubble of the Twin Towers, vowing to get the bad guys. He wanted to go to Afghanistan but was sent to Iraq and, within a month, was shot while riding in an unarmored vehicle. The bullet struck just above his left collarbone, severing his spine and leaving him not only unable to walk but also unable to cough, urinate, regulate his body temperature or have sexual intercourse. A bright and determined young man, Young persists in trying to have a normal life. He marries his fiancée, and the two struggle, along with Tomas' devoted mom, to overcome enormous challenges - among them getting the medical care today's returning vets are now fighting for.
The film juxtaposes Tomas' story with footage of the historic congressional floor debate on the Iraq War resolution. It's instructive to see Senate and House members parroting White House talking points and ginned-up intelligence about "smoking guns," "mushroom clouds" and Saddam's supposed deadly-weapons capabilities contrasted with the stirring, emotional oratory of the elderly Sen. Robert Byrd and the passion of others denouncing the reckless war of choice, including Ted Kennedy, Dennis Kucinich and our recently departed Stephanie Tubbs Jones. The film documents Tomas' growing sense of betrayal and his decision, despite considerable physical discomfort, to travel around the U.S. speaking out against the war. Body of War is a monument to courage, an indictment of a corrupt administration and a human story that is both sad and inspiring. Donahue will appear at this special showing of the film to answer questions and receive the Howard M. Metzenbaum Award from Ohio Citizen Action; tickets are $20 ($10 for students, seniors and veterans $10), and there will be a reception after the screening. - Pamela Zoslov
Body of War Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque At 7 p.m. Sunday, September 14
Before I Forget
Jacques Nolot's Before I Forget opens with a blank screen that dissolves into an abyss, as a stubborn black hole furiously expands and grows larger. That Derek Jarman-like prologue serves as an apt metaphor for the true subject of Nolot's film, i.e. mortality and the ravages of the flesh. In this intimate, intensely felt drama, the 60-year-old French writer-director-actor plays Pierre, a character clearly modeled after himself. A former male prostitute staring into the precipice of his beyond-middle-aged existence, Pierre has been HIV-positive for 24 years. When his doctor advises him to begin taking a more stringent drug cocktail, the first thing Pierre worries about is losing his hair. Despite an ever-expanding waistline, Pierre is still vain about his looks.
Much of the action in Before I Forget takes place in real time. We see Pierre sitting in a café and studying the faces of the old men, who seem so much "younger" than him. Unable to sleep, Pierre gets out of bed (nude) in the middle of the night to make himself a pot of coffee. These aren't simply Warholian exercises in minimalism; the vignettes of "being-ness" lend weight and gravity to the sort of things most of us take for granted. But when the clock is ticking and you're as obsessed with mortality as Pierre, those banal, quotidian aspects of life take on new meaning. Nolot makes sure that we're as aware of their importance as his semi-autobiographical protagonist is. Pierre runs into some old friends and shoots the breeze. He has anxious if dispassionate sex with a cynical young hustler. Three times a week, he sees a therapist, whose best advice is "Get out; see young people." Although Pierre is awash in self-pity - he even discusses the possibility of suicide - there's an almost total lack of sentimentality in his worldview. That's a virtue shared by Before I Forget and possibly its most singular and enduring achievement. - Milan Paurich Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, September 13, and 3:10 p.m. Sunday, September 14
Equally hysterical as it is heartwarming, Kabluey is one of the year's most surprisingly smart comedies. After her husband is deployed in Iraq, Leslie (Lisa Kudrow) discovers she's at risk of losing her benefits. Dealing with two hell-raising sons in need of a supernanny and realizing that she must return to work, Leslie seeks the help of her brother-in-law Salman (Scott Prendergast), an unemployed depressed guy hardly suited to the task. When his babysitting skills prove to be insufficient, Leslie finds him a job as a giant blue mascot for a failing company. While cooped up in the atrociously funny costume, Salman thinks about his life and comes to terms with things.
Kudrow is terrific, adding depth to her character, but Prendergast steals the show. Not only does he have a charm similar to the likable Steve Carell, he also wrote and directed the low-budget film. Christine Taylor adds richness to the cast, playing a mother who thinks too much of herself. In a quirky way, Kabluey is an endearing dark comedy that proves anybody can be a superhero to somebody, even if you're an ordinary guy wearing a clunky, ridiculous costume. - Lauren Yusko Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque At 7 p.m. Thursday, September 11, and at 9:40 p.m. Saturday, September 13
Back in the early '50s, when Congress had nothing better to do than accuse a bunch of Hollywood filmmakers of being Communists, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was coming off a string of successful movies, including Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and Kitty Foyle, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Then the House Un-American Activities Committee uncovered Trumbo's past involvement with a liberal, anti-fascist group and dragged him into court. He became one of 10 writers, actors and directors blacklisted by the industry for the next decade. But Trumbo didn't stop working in the '50s. In fact, he was busier than ever, penning scripts using pseudonyms and employing friends as fronts for his work. He even won an Academy Award for 1956's bullfighting tale The Brave One under the name Robert Rich, who was really the nephew of the movie's producers. Then in 1960, Kirk Douglas tapped Trumbo to write Spartacus under his own name, effectively ending the blacklist.
The absorbing documentary Trumbo pulls together various sources to tell the writer's story: archival footage of Trumbo (who died in 1975), film clips, home movies, interviews with contemporaries and, most dramatically, Trumbo's words in correspondence, read by fans and colleagues like Paul Giamatti, Liam Neeson and Donald Sutherland. Set in a pitch-black room, often with just a bare table in front of the actors, these readings provide the film's narrative backbone. Trumbo's letters range from the mundane (a thanks for a co-worker's support) to the moving (an angry missive to his daughter's school) to the amusing (a long and rambling memo about the joys of masturbation to his son).
Despite its sporadic staginess (the film is based on a play written by Trumbo's son, Christopher), Trumbo cuts to the very human story of a righteous, witty man whose spirit never broke, not even during the lean years. Trumbo ended up a cause célbre (word is, Academy voters knew exactly who they were handing The Brave One's award to); the HUAC is best remembered as an ugly scar on 20th-century America. That says much about the power of words. - Michael Gallucci Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:40 p.m. Saturday, September 13, and at 1:15 p.m. Sunday, September 14.