Ken Harrison 3:30 p.m., Feb. 9
Review: Jewish Film Festival Screens Prima Primavera
While waiting for his elderly mother to finish a banking transition, Gábor (Andor Lukáts), a mentally challenged 55-year-old man, witnesses a robbery that results in her shooting death. Blonde-hair, blue-eyed Holland (Antonie Kamerling) is the shooter that gets away with the loot. This leaves his getaway driver, a prostitute named Jolie (Vesela Kazakova), no recourse but to join Gábor on the wackiest "retard" road trip since Gigli.
Vesela Kazakova and Andor Lukáts.
Many will object to the use of the word "retard," but critics can only work with what's been dealt them. Hollywood's fairy-tale depiction of the mentally challenged is to be both pitied and scorned. It's been that way even before Olivia de Haviland first checked into The Snake Pit. For every convincingly realized mentally challenged character (Leonardo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? or Edward Norton in The Score) there are dozens of "Gumps," good luck charms, mascots, sentimental "other sisters," and various other assorted demeaning stereotypes consuming valuable screen time.
Hungarian filmmaker, János Edelényi is a worthy student of Hollywood handicapables. His "monkey see, monkey do" strategy is begging for an Americanized remake. Imagine Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jennifer Love Hewitt in the leads. It will be Oscars all around!
Mayberry's own, George Lindsey (he created the character of Goober for The Andy Griffith Show), used to complain about being pigeonholed as an affable country bumpkin. The time will come when George Lindsey, not Goober, will show his critics a thing or two about acting, he told a Chicago reporter. "One of these days," Goober triumphantly mused, "I going to play a mentally retarded man!"
George 'Goober' Lindsay.
Why is it that so many notable performers, and Goober, long to play the differently-abled? Robert DeNiro (Awakenings), Juliette Lewis (The Other Sister), Sean Penn (I Am Sam), Mary Tyler Moore (Stolen Memories: Secrets from the Rose Garden) and countless others have tried and failed. Is it a case of actors wanting to play the sympathy card or are the developmentally delayed more challenging to convincingly portray? How difficult is it for an actor to gain an audience's sympathy in such a role? In many instances, most notably Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man, scene-stealing actors reach into their bag of tics and leave fellow players little to do but stand around and react.
Films of this type are ultimately geared for audiences longing to "feel good" about their owns lives, and Prima Primavera is no different. Goober would have been perfect for the part of Gábor. Jolie agrees to follow the mentally ill son of a woman whose murder she is an accomplice to, across the border to grandma's house where he assures her they will find safety. Will someone please remind me which of the two is mentally challenged?
Nothing indicates Jolie's indecision (or a director's lack of imagination) quite like a dialog scene where actors are instructed to pace. Gábor and Jolie walk 20-paces away from the camera, then turn and walk 20-paces back. Is this a tribute to the "Jew eat" scene from Annie Hall? At least pacing in-and-out of the frame, as opposed to side-to-side, illustrates depth-capability.
Like all good cinematic savants, Gábor exhibits one exceptional skill: his ability to recreate images with pencil and paper that reveal a near-Polaroid attention to detail. Gábor leaves behind an incriminating sketch of Holland who quickly draws a bead on their location. Not unlike Chauncy Gardner, Peter Sellers' loveable loon who "likes to watch" in Being There, Gábor picked up most of the useful information lodged in his head from listening to the media.
Vesela Kazakova and Antonie Kamerling.
Their journey together is as idyllic as it is informative. The fugitives pitch a tent 'neath the Serbian stars. He explains the Holocaust to her (it's "where they burned Jews") and teaches the leggy-whore how to exist in the wild. It's funny how a middle-aged man who never left his parents side knows this much about camping. According to the screenwriters (there were four!?) Gábor remembers dad teaching him the fundamentals when he was a child.
Jolie is only indirectly responsible for the loss of his mother, but give her a full-blown assist in helping Gábor lose his virginity. In return for his kindness, Jolie throws Gábor a mercy schtup. If she orally gratifies a sleazy truck driver in exchange for a bed to spend the night in his flat-bed, why not bring pleasure to the mentally ill? This scene marks the film's low point.
Certain audience members will walk away feeling touched and entertained. I just wanted to walk away.
Prima Primavera screens as part of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival at Carlsbad Village Theatre (Thur., February 16 @ 7:30 PM and Wednesday, February 15 @ 1 p.m.) and Clairemont Reading Town Square (Sat., February 18 @ 7:15 PM).
Reader Rating: Zero Stars