Opening 19 Jun 2008
New York City, 1954: celebrity portrait photographer Philippe Halsman (Ben Silverstone) is at work in his studio photographing Marilyn Monroe. A journalist waits for an interview, when Philippe’s sister Liuba Halsman (Martine McCutcheon) arrives. Brother and sister exchange meaningful looks [flashback], cryptic remarks [flashback], and then she begins to talk. A flash bulb goes off/cut to Austria 1928: we witness the events leading to a father’s death and the son’s wrongful murder conviction. Authoritative Morduch Halsman (Heinz Hoenig) is overbearing, aggressive with Philippe, and the tension is palpable as the family dines together. Morduch openly flirts with and tips the waitress well, yet when wife Ita (Anja Kruse) comes to Philippe’s defense, Halsman says, “It’s not his own life so long as I’m paying for it”. Father and son then leave for a hiking tour in the Alps.
The story centers on the ensuing emotionally-charged murder trial, grossly influenced by a prevailing anti-Semitic atmosphere. Within days, without evidence or motive, Philippe Halsman is convicted of patricide and receives a ten-year prison sentence. Richard Pressburger (Patrick Swayze), his passionate lawyer from Vienna, beseeches the jury, “Find the courage and do what is right… if not for yourself, for your children”.
Director/writer Joshua Sinclair might have delivered a gripping psychological drama. Instead, his fixation on “the first Jewish victim of the emerging anti-Semitism of National Socialism” lacks subtlety, and the directing is stilted with little sense for timing. Characters are under-developed — if there was any love between father and son, which might help us empathize more with Philippe’s impotency as events swirl around him, Sinclair did not clearly show it. Sinclair’s focus was as mixed as the "red herrings" he kept throwing into the plot. The editing jumps around; some shots confuse rather than move the story forward. And when are distributors here going to acknowledge that German audiences are sophisticated and retain a film’s original language; the whiny Martine McCutcheon voice was grating. After 80-minutes I just wanted the film to END. (Marinell Haegelin)