by on July 28, 2014

Wiktor Ericsson’s “A Life In Dirty Movies” partly offers a loving portrait of legendary director Joe Sarno, aka the Ingmar Bergman of sexploitation films.  Female nudity was the only commercial concession Sarno made to his real interest: the consideration of women’s emotional contortions in seeking happiness.

The other portion of Ericsson’s documentary concerns Joe’s wife Peggy.  What began as an older man-younger woman situation evolved into one where Peggy acts as Joe’s protector.  She provides creative input on his scripts and obtains financial support from her wealthy parents to keep her husband’s modest lifestyle going.

Ericsson’s film follows the Sarnos over a year as Joe seeks financing for his new film, whose script he pecked out on a typewriter.  Yet clips from Sarno’s films show that today’s sex film audiences would consider his artistic depictions of sexuality relatively chaste.  His dislike of making hardcore sex films also threatens his dream.

Could it be that the Sarnos’ inability to creatively reinvent themselves dooms any comeback attempts?  Art house audiences who enjoyed “The Sessions” might be a natural fit nowadays for Joe Sarno’s vision. Given such admirers as John Waters and Annie Sprinkle, crowdfunding might have been another option.  These speculations are not answered.  Yet after spending time with the Sarnos and hearing their behind the scenes stories about making artistic dirty movies, viewers wind up richer in the end.


               Moving from people porn to food porn, avoid watching Julie Cohen’s documentary “The Sturgeon Queens” to stave off going online and blowing a small fortune on Gaspe Nova Smoked Salmon or Siberian Baerii Caviar.

The Jewish delicatessen which offers these delicacies is the century-old New York City institution Russ And Daughters.  Cohen’s film traces the history of this delicatessen through recollections by two of the original Russ daughters and, among others, a Dominican immigrant staffer with an ear for Yiddish.  Satisfied customers over the years also chime in.  They range from a woman who’s patronized Russ And Daughters since 1929 to such celebrities as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, chef Mario Batali, and actress Maggie Gyllenhaal.

The frequent tinniness in the film’s narration does occasionally grate despite the amusing device of having half-a-dozen customers deliver it seder-style.  But overall, Cohen’s entertainingly lightweight film will make viewers yearn to take a flight to New York City just to visit Russ And Daughters.


               Diane Kurys cannot be faulted for tackling weighty themes in her biographical period drama “For A Woman.” Her fictionalized recounting of the early days of her parents’ marriage in 1940s Lyon encompasses political denial, sexism, and a survivor’s obligations to her rescuer among other topics.  The drama ultimately centers on testing the marriage between Benoit Magimel’s Michel and Melanie Thierry’s Lena.  Yet Kurys fails to sufficiently sketch in Lena’s inner conflicts to give her ultimate choice weight.

Particularly annoying is seeing veteran actress Sylvie Testud wasted in the role of the Kurys surrogate, Anne.  Her curiosity about uncovering her parents’ past never feels like an act of personal urgency despite the time devoted to it.

A semi-engaging final act doesn’t make “For A Woman” truly memorable.


               In the late 1960s, a group of African Americans heeded Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to go to the Promised Land: Israel, which they saw as part of Africa.  The emigrants eventually settled in the village of Dimona.  Ben Schuder and Niko Philipides’ documentary “The Village of Peace” looks at present day life in Dimona.  The African-Hebrew Israelites’ existence involves veganism, polygamy, and an attention to physical health.

Despite such interesting strange-but-true material, Schuder and Philipides essentially deliver a puff piece on the titular village.  Viewers will look in vain for discussion of such hard questions as how Israelis overcame their prejudices and accepted these African-Hebrews or the differences if any between life for the Dimona villagers and such other minorities as Arab Israelis.  In these troubled times, cinematic inconsequence is the last thing those concerned about Israel and Palestine need.


               The subject of Yael Luttwak’s documentary short “My Favorite Neoconservative” is noted military strategist Dr. Edward Luttwak, aka the filmmaker’s father.  As the film’s title implies, this short is not intended to debunk Dr. Luttwak’s ideas.  It’s more like a daughter’s reconciliation with her father based on her eventually respecting him over the course of a month’s filming.

That respect doesn’t arise out of Dr. Luttwak’s treating his speeches and private conferences as cinematic no-go zones.  Yael Luttwak’s political views happen to be diametrically opposed to those of her father.  But she captures the intellectual honesty that distinguishes Dr. Luttwak from the Rush Limbaughs of the world.  When the filmmaker’s father penned the essay that got twisted into the “Obama is a secret Muslim” meme, there’s no sense that sparking right-wing paranoia was on his mind.

The Dr. Luttwak that emerges from the filmmaker’s portrait turns out to be a man who prizes pragmatism and intellectual curiosity in equal measure.  The Dalai Lama’s advocacy of peace doesn’t preclude Dr. Luttwak’s meeting with his envoy.  The filmmaker’s father also demonstrates moments of guarded casualness, such as his singing along to a sentimental song.

Any hopefulness the film generates for bridging America’s current ideological divide, though, should be tempered by one prominent neoconservative’s admission that there is no liberal opponent that he respects.

(“A Life In Dirty Movies” screens at 4:05 PM on July 30, 2014.  “The Sturgeon Queens” screens at 12:15 PM on August 3, 2014.  “For A Woman” screens at 4:00 PM on July 31, 2014.  “The Village Of Peace” screens at 2:00 PM on August 1, 2014.  “My Favorite Neoconservative” screens as part of the “Jews In Shorts (Docs)” program at 4:10 PM on August 1, 2014.  All screenings take place at the Castro Theatre (429 Castro, SF).  For further information about the films and to order advance tickets, go to www.sfjff.org .)

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