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August 09, 2006

Three by Daniel Burman

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Waiting for the Messiah/Esperando al Mesias
Daniel Burman - 2000
TLA Releasing Region 1 DVD

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Every Stewardess goes to Heaven/Todas Las Azafatas van al Cielo
Daniel Burman - 2002
Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD

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Lost Embrace/El Abrazo Partido
Daniel Burman - 2004
New Yorker Films Region 1 DVD

In the most recent issue of "Film Comment" is an article on the films of Daniel Burman. I had a couple of his films in my rental queue and quickly hiked them up to the top. The most immediate theme to emerge is that of the meaning of personal identity, in particular what it means to be Argentinian. Messiah and to a lesser extent, Lost Embrace, also explore what it means to be Jewish in Argentina, with both starring Daniel Hendler as a young man named Ariel, though as two different characters in the two films.

It is worth noting that while Buenos Aires has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, significant acts of anti-Semitism have also occurred there, including the bombing of a community center in 1994. I bring this up only because, with the main exception of something like Schindler's List, Jewish identity is closeted in Hollywood entertainment. When someone is clearly identified as Jewish, it is primarily for comic effect. Not that Burman's films are humorless, which is certainly not the case, but his characters feel more at ease about mentioning their Jewish identity than anyone on "Seinfeld". One of the funniest lines in Waiting for the Messiah is when Ariel thinks he has misunderstood a new female acquaintance and asks himself if she said she was "Goy or gay?"

In one way or another, Burman's characters have been knocked off-kilter by a traumatic event. Waiting for the Messiah takes place against economic crisis in Argentina, with a former banker suddenly becoming homeless, and others looking to survive as best as possible. Stewardess is initially about a doctor who finds his existence meaningless following the death of his wife. The characters find themselves stranded in a remote town due to threats of "terrorists". Ariel in Lost Embrace is conflicted about the disappearance of his father soon after his birth, and the father's reappearance over twenty years later. While Stewardess has a more conventionally happy ending following its melancholy beginning, the Messiah and Lost Embrace conclude with Ariel in a tentative peace with himself.

The idea of displacement and alienation is also presented in the environment. Messiah takes place during the Christmas holiday season while Ariel Goldstein and family celebrate Hannukah. Stewardess takes place in Ushuaia, cold and remote. Lost Embrace primarily takes place in a small shopping mall standing for multicultural Buenos Aires.

Hopefully someone will be able to interview Burman in depth about his filmic influences. Not only is the title similar to Fassbinder's Mother Kusters goes to Heaven, but the film ends with the same manic samba used in Water Drops on Burning Rocks, Tony Holiday singing in Francois Ozon's film, while Burman uses Rafaella Carra. Burman seems to have an afinity for Italian cinema with the casting of Stefania Sandrelli in Waiting for the Messiah, while Lost Embrace includes a clip from the DeSica tearjearker, Sunflower.

Posted by peter at August 9, 2006 09:10 PM