Cezanne et Moi–Artistic Jealousy

Cezanne et Moi

Guest blogger: Barbara Donsky, the award-winning author of the memoir Veronica’s Grave,  is posting for the second time–“Cezanne et Moi”– for my website. [Her first guest feature was “The Innocents” –And War” on July 16, 2016. For the unedited version of this review go to Barbara Donsky’s blog, www.desperatelyseekingParis.com, –“Cezanne and Zola”]

Cézanne et Moi portrays the troubled friendship between the Post-Impressionist master Paul Cézanne (played by Guillaume Gallienne) and the Nobel Prize-nominated novelist Émile Zola (Guillaume Canet).

Young Zola is so poor he catches birds so he and his mother can eat. Cézanne, on the other hand, comes from a privileged background but is bullied by an austere and imposing father.

The biopic Cezanne et Moi traces their tumultuaous friendship from early school days to nights of debauchery and eventually to a reversal in social standing.  Cézanne, disheartened by the success of the Impressionist painters, forges ahead trying to find a way forward from Impressionism to what we now know as modern art. His early efforts meet with disdain in a world still captivated by the works of the Impressionists. Cezanne et Moi

Although Zola comes to his friend’s defense, Cézanne’s pride remains wounded. The arguments and jealousies increase, in part because Zola, after the publication of a few novels, has become a wealthy man.   Eventually they have a falling out over Zola’s “L’Oeuvre,” a fictionalized depiction of Cézanne’s life as a loser and failed artist.   When Zola’s novel met with great acclaim, Cézanne accused Zola of ‘selling out’, of siding with the bourgeoisie.

Adding more misery to their relationship is Alexandrine, Cézanne’s previous lover, who marries Zola.  Years later, Cézanne, against his family’s wishes, would live for many years with another woman made famous by his paintings of ‘Madame Cezanne’. if a woman his family regarded as beneath them socially.

That these two geniuses, temperamentally 180 degrees apart, should have met and befriended one another seems improbable, and yet it happened. And the world is richer for it—if not the women who loved them and lived with them. Cezanne et Moi is a family saga with twists and turns any viewer and writer would love.

American Gods–A Subversive Riff on Religion

American Gods TV series (STARZ)

The dual theme of religion and government is an intriguing new exploration for television. Handmaid’s Tale (see my May 14th review) focuses on women’s debasement in the name of religion  American Gods, on the other hand, focuses on immigrants (pre-travel ban), and the brewing and stewing of mythology in opposition to institutional religions. Both myth and established religions fight a new belief system of technology and money.  This is experimental film-making and cinematography at its best.

Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is a convict who is released a few days early from prison, due to the death of his wife. Without income, he begrudgingly becomes a bodyguard and partner to the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (the magnetic Ian McShane).  American Gods is first and foremost the story of Mr. Wednesday.

Based on the 2001 novel by the same name by children’s book author Neil Gaiman (of Coraline fame), American Gods is part stylized art, part time-travel, part political commentary and part science fiction/fantasy. With its intensity, stellar acting, stunning visuals, and diverse cast, this is a complex fantasy series. The plots involving con men and forgotten but vengeful deities combat each other in horrific scenes of violence. The series begins with a Vikings episode of blood and gore commanded by the Norse gods.

American Gods is not for the faint-of-heart. But for those who are unafraid of the darkness of the soul, or of the repressive effects of religion —American Gods tackles difficult subject matter:     the human need for the spiritual., Not every viewer can watch this series without being offended. For those who can, they will experience a provocative tour of the divisions in spiritual versus material values. The divisions, coupled with the depredation of violence in the name of religion and egomania, are dazzling and impossible to forget. The series’ first season (on Starz) has not ended and the questions of division and unification remain to be answered.

The Wizard of Lies–Decades of Untruth

 

This HBO TV drama (which premiered on May 20, 2017) chronicles the infamous Wall Street meltdown of financier Bernie Madoff’s $64 billion dollar Ponzi scheme, perhaps the largest financial fraud in US history. Starring Robert de Niro as Madoff and Michelle Pfeiffer as his wife Ruth, The Wizard of Lies  (directed by Barry Levinson) is based on the book by well-known financial journalist Diana B. Henriques.

How did this man get away with such massive fraud for so many years? The Wizard of Lies raises this question as a Shakespearean tragedy, a family saga in which the volatile patriarch father manipulates one son while another son desperately yearns for his approval. This all takes place while Madoff is building a financial empire on smoke and mirrors. In 2008 Madoff was finally arrested.

The Wizard of Lies opens with Madoff already incarcerated and being interviewed by a reporter (Henriques plays herself.) In a series of flashbacks we see Madoff wine and dine extremely wealthy investors. In a cycle of increasingly desperate and deceptive maneuvers, Madoff promises unrealistically steady profits, continuing his Ponzi scheme for years: pitching to family, friends, charitable institutions, whomever can be the next gullible investor.  But profits cannot be sustained.

One of his sons, overwhelmed by his father’s fraud and his part in contributing to it, commits suicide when the investigation by the SEC finally gains momentum. (Madoff was a former NASDAQ chairman and therefore, considered by many as beyond reproach.) The remaining son dies before his father’s indictment. In the end Madoff is a devastated old man serving a prison sentence of 150 years, with no wife (Ruth has divorced him), no sons, no visitors, but still clinging to the belief he has committed no crime.

Many defrauded clients remain nameless and faceless while some of his more desperate victims committed suicide. Providing some insights into the inner circle of the extremely wealthy, The Wizard of Lies  is first and foremost a family saga of tragedy and betrayal. In the course of decades of lies and secrets, we wonder if it were greed that blinded family and friends to believe that their lives were worthy of such excess. What would we do if given steady profits over many years? Why would we question our good fortune? Why would we ask if the steady positive returns were too good to be true? These questions are left for us to reflect upon.

The Wizard of Lies features a strong cast of seasoned actors that give their best on screen, particularly De Niro and Pfeiffer. De NIro plays Madoff as a deeply delusional sociopath who masterminds one of the largest Ponzi schemes of the century while denying his own criminal behavior.

The ending is satisfying for those wanting to see karma function as it should.

Note: To date about 70% of the money Bernie Madoff swindled has been recovered.

“Dear Evan Hansen”–A Note to Loneliness

 

“Dear Evan Hansen” is “13 Reasons Why” meets “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” This original Broadway musical premiered this year and has received critical acclaim. At the upcoming 71st Tony Awards (this Sunday, June 11), “Dear Evan Hansen” is nominated for nine awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Actor in a Musical.

The title character, Evan Hansen, is a shy teenager almost incapacitated by some sort of cognitive or  social anxiety disorder.   Assigned by his therapist to draft letters about why each day will be good, one letter becomes the catalyst for the plot of the story. This letter was never meant to be shared, a lie that was only meant to be seen by the therapist. But for Evan a life he never dreamed happens as the letter’s impact unintentionally gains momentum and opens a portal for a chance to finally fit in. With unintended consequences, Evan Hansen’s letter reshapes events of a fellow student’s (Connor Murphy) suicide, resulting in both Hansen’s mom and Connor’s family experiencing heart-piercing grief. There is no justification for those left behind by a suicide and Connor’s death threatens the very existence of his family.

Deeply personal and profoundly contemporary, Dear Evan Hansen is about social media’s ability to unintentionally magnify “little lies” until they take on a life of their own. At that point there is no easy way out. As the lonely protagonist, Evan Hansen desperately wants to connect, even in cyberspace, but remains in an emotional abyss.   It’s also about how we project ourselves in our world, both physical and digital–but it’s not the “real you.” Our vanity metrics of “likes” become addictive and the dependency continues its hold on us.

The memorably soulful and emotionally resonant songs, by composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, based on a story from Pasek’s adolescence, strike the same complex notes that expose the tensions and conflicts of Evan Hansen.  The breathtaking stage design simulates social media’s continuous flashing and lightng, with computer screens in long hangings cascading behind and next to the performers on stage, reminiscent of the imaginative and Tony-award winning design for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is unforgettable, operatically emotional theater that should become a national sensation.