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Surprised by the Moving Picture
by Karen Pecota

The moving picture known also as film, willnever cease to amaze the viewer. Fortunately for the filmmaker, the spectator’s surprise or intrigue manifests differently. For example: some are smitten with the graphics, others by the acting performances, many will critique according to the music; and, others look for the three act storytelling to judge the book-by-its-cover. Whatever the anticipation, a good filmmaker will pursue to draw-in the movie fan using as many surprises as possible for greater audience appeal—more viewers, more revenue.

The Independent filmmaker’s heart and sole is deeply attached to their project; and, whether it is a documentary or a feature they hope and live for a distribution contract but that is not necessarily their main goal. Their desire is to tell a story that displays their passion. Often the Indy films lack a bit of the stereotypical Hollywood sparkle but they do shine with better scripts, a deeper message and a filming style of a different surprise.

I critique on whether I have been caught off guard to think about something new or different than the status quo. To be surprised by the moving picture is the joy of appreciating film in its art form and not only to get fat on entertainment. The films listed below made an impact on many to which gives credence to the joy of spending time sitting in front of the moving picture.

About Elly * * * ½
The award winning Iranian screenwriter and film director, Asghar Farhadi, proposes opportunities for discussion about truth-telling with his fourth feature About Elly. His story-telling proficiency communicates a universal message using, by example, the Iranian cultural norms as a creative vehicle for a modern day murder mystery.

A group of Iranian college friends and their immediate families join together at the Caspian Sea for a yearly vacation. One of the women, Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani), invites her daughter’s single kindergarten teacher, Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti) to meet their newly divorced friend, Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), visiting from Germany. Elly observes that the friendships are intricately woven, except for her. She is the outsider and as each moment passes she becomes increasingly uncomfortable observing the interaction with the close-knit group of friends. Elly receives several long cell phone calls that mystify the group and they are bothered because it takes her away from joining them in the fun and games of their time together. Elly explains that she must return home immediately. They don’t believe she is telling the truth and appease her but she interprets their action as a method of peer pressure to keep her on the premises which frightens her. Elly looks for a way to leave but she is aware of the Iranian cultural norms regarding the dangers for women to travel the countryside alone. This fact hinders her escape. Elly agrees to play on the beach with the young children while the others go into town or enjoy their free-time on the compound. Elly is distracted by one of the children needing assistance and within minutes tragedy strikes one of the families. Elly is nowhere to be found. The mystery of Elly’s disappearance is concerning; but, they question to what length must they feel responsible for her? The families are in shock from two strange occurrences. They must assess the issues surrounding the misfortunes before the police arrive and in the process, true confessions reveal a lifetime of shocking secrets and the consequences of careless lies among the closest of friends.

Easy Virtue * * * *
Australian director, Stephen Elliott was thrilled to have secured the rights to bring to the film audience Noel Coward’s 1924 playwright Easy Virtue. Elliott uses the same name as the title of his screenplay written with Sheridan Jobbins; and, together with an award winning production team including skilled performers, their wonderfully amusing rendition of Coward’s Easy Virtue is a hit. Coward’s message stemmed from, “a disheartened knowledge that many people were forever shocked by honesty and few were by deceit.” According to film historians, many filmmakers deem it forever worthy to recreate Coward’s works including Alfred Hitchcock who also produced a silent film rendition of his play, Easy Virtue in 1928.

The infatuation of the young British aristocrat, John Whittaker (Ben Barnes), with the beautiful American female race car driver, Larita (Jessica Biel), is reckless but sincere. They are mad about each other and marry impulsively while John is traveling in America. The Whittaker family not amused at the news their son has “crossed over” to the enemy lines for true love puts on a front to receive their new daughter-in-law. Mrs. Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas) is threatened from day one by Larita’s presence. She brings the freshness to life in which Mrs. Whittaker has allowed to escape her world. Mr. Whittaker (Colin Firth) is delighted by Larita’s company and in spite of her breath-taking beauty, he is proud that his son has married a woman with brazen class. He observes that his wife has met her match and considers it thrilling to watch the kindling of relationships have a go. Yet, his fatherly indifferences do not prepare him for the ramification of Larita’s transparent bright side to life, her free spirit and uncomplicated lifestyle that collides with the Whittaker’s love for sophisticated snobbery and their desire for deceit.

Playground * * *
It was in 2001, when filmmaker, Libby Spears birthed the idea for her documentary Playground while on assignment in the Asia Pacific. Spears had gone undercover posing as a Nun to penetrate the brothels in South Korea and Thailand to interview victims trapped in the business of human sex trafficking. Her research noted that the practices of the sex tourism industry are world-wide and a high percentage of the victims are very young children. Spears appalled by her findings had to tell about the horrific statistics thus creating Playground.

One startling piece of information acquired is that during the aftermath of the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami there were over 35,000 children orphaned paving the way for the sex trade to blossom world-wide. Her research led to specific developments involving a large child sex trade business in North America and accusing the U.S. connection influencing the global demand and growth of the seductive enterprise.

Playground offers few answers to combat this societal affliction but advocates an examination of our own U.S. legal and social system. Spears desire for us to care enough to ask the right questions that will help us be confrontational; not intended to be annoying but to be helpful and pro-active to fight for the innocent and protect the trapped in a ruthless world. Take the first step to answer the question, “What can I do to help?” with knowledgeable information from either Libby Spears' website, The Nest Foundation, or go to, or go to from Ernie Allen, founder of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. These kids need our help to intervene. Make a difference today!

Queen to Play * * * *
Italian director Caroline Bottaro writes the screenplay for her feature debut in Queen to Play (Joueuse) adopted from Bettina Henrichs’ first novel La Joueuse d’Echecs, originally set in the country of Greece. Bottaro’s experimental style of filmmaking takes the ambiance of the game of chess to focus on an unconventional love story. Her narrative eloquently communicates the power of an appropriately channeled passion and the ability to see a transformation worthy of true love.

The middle-age Hélène (Sandrine Bonnaire) lives with her husband and teenage-daughter, on the exotic island of Corsica, off the coast of France. The dream of a get-away quiet, exotic coastal village is anything but comforting to Hélène because she knows the reality of such a mundane and isolated life. A chamber maid in a high-end bed and breakfast, Hélène takes pride in caring for her guests while daily tending to the cleanliness of their room. It is rare to have any personal contact with the guests but she is privy to the activities during their stay by simple observation. One day while on duty, one room on her cleaning schedule is occupied but oddly, when Hélène enters the room the couple, residing on the balcony, wearing their silk intimate apparel, did not notice her. Hélène tends to her work and observed the couple engrossed in a game of chess. She noted that the female guest was thoroughly enjoying each moment of play. In awe of her countenance, Hélène could not take her eyes off the interaction between the couple until they noticed her presence which interrupted their concentration. Relieved to be allowed to continue to work, as they resumed play, Hélène’s eyes stole several glances at their direction. Their happiness was electrifying and their connection was sensual. It was only for a few short moments, but the yearning for their happiness to be transpired into Hélène’s life overwhelmed every inch of her being. Hélène’s dream to have a life marked by passion for anything outside of her ordinary routine was ignited. Excitement fueled her steps to work the following day only to be met with the news that her impressionable guests had departed early to catch a train. Hélène entered their room to clean and noticed that left behind was the female guests’ beautiful silk gown was neatly draped over the room’s fluffy white duvet comforter. Hélène contemplated the meaning of the encounter. She believed that in order to find the answer to its significance, she must learn to play the game of chess. Laughed and scoffed at by her family and friends, Hélène was forced to seek outside assistance from the ill-tempered, Mr. Kroger (Kevin Kline), a renown chess expert. Against all odds, the two strike-up a bargain to barter services rendered for each one’s needs—Mr. Kroger desperately needs a house keeper and Hélène needs chess lessons. The journey they embark proves to put a face on a passion and how the effect can destroy or transform those it envelopes.

Serious Moonlight * * * *
Girl-power talent electrifies the silver screen in Serious Moonlight from film director Cheryl Hines, the late screenwriter Adrienne Shelly, along with the award winning performances from Meg Ryan and Timothy Hutton. Shelly’s persuasive storytelling attracted the ideal mix of gifted individuals to create the perfect storm of a marital calamity. A blend of seasoned talent dazzles the audience with the comic relief narrative giving credence to marriage and the reasons one would fight to hang on to everlasting love.

To celebrate their thirteen-year marriage, Louise (Meg Ryan) and Ian (Timothy Hutton) rendezvous at their country home for a long, awaited romantic weekend. The highly successful and well-organized, Manhattan lawyer, Louise, arrives a day early to get ready for a few glorious days of uninterrupted time together with the man she dearly loves. When she walked through the threshold of their country abode, Louise was the one in awe. Someone had been in the house! It was Ian! He arrived a day early and from the visual imagery, his anticipation for the rendezvous had left a trail of sweetness from the kitchen up to the bedroom with pedals of flowers, wine, and special gifts. Amazed by Ian’s romantic flare, every part of her being was tantalized as she gleefully pranced her way up to the second story bedroom. Ian waiting for his love was shocked to see Louise and annoyed by her love-struck countenance. His strange and panic behavior catches Louise off guard causing concern. She presses Ian and he confesses his desire to leave the marriage with Louise and escape to Paris with his mistress (Kristen Bell) scheduled for the following day. Louise calmly puts on her lawyer’s hat to do what she does best—plan her case to win. She must hold Ian to his marriage vows and help him remember why they fell in love, so she attempts to recreate their story under a romantic full moon evening. Louise is hopeful for a declaration of his love for her, as well as, a verbal commitment to work on the marriage. But, under a very Serious Moonlight nothing goes according to plan.

Team Qatar * * * *
Feature documentary filmmaker Liz Mermin, also a Fulbright scholar in Dakar, Senegal, RenewMedia Fellow in 2006 and a student of literature, filmmaking, along with cultural anthropology specializes in producing innovative narratives targeted for a worldwide audience.

Mermin takes her camera to follow the initial journey of a newly formed five member debate team representing the country of Qatar. Their first major competition is scheduled for the World Schools Debating Championships September 2008. Prior to her assignment, Mermim had no knowledge of debate competitions or had a passionate interest in the topic; but, she did have the expertise in quality documentary filmmaking as well as an inertest to learn something new about the world and its people. Qatar’s ministry of interior was confident that Mermin was the perfect professional to tell the world their story. The message these young adults strive to portray is to refute the idea that they are closed minded extremists consumed with oil, money and the jihad.

The amazing opportunity to part-take in the ten week crash course to master the British parliamentary debate strategy was their ticket to break out of a mold that has bound Arab young people from relating to the western world on an even plain for decades. Their bravery to be transparent coupled with the expert training from two entertaining coaches from Scotland, Alex and Andy allowed for their open door to a world unknown. The coaches themselves were under pressure because the team was terrible and they had to remedy fast for positive results.

If you do not know where Qatar is in the world, after viewing Mermin’s documentary you will not only be informed but opened up to a new world that is endearing and very entertaining.