DIFF 2017: Day 4

Menashe is an intimate family drama about a troubled widower and his adolescent son, with the distinction of taking place within the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community in New York. With the entire dialogue spoken in Yiddish, the viewer gets a glimpse into a largely unseen and misunderstood deeply religious group, and how their traditions dictate practically every aspect of life, things that would be considered antiquated by most people. It follows the main character as he tries to bond with his son who is forcibly adopted by his uncle, and he struggles throughout the movie to have his son live with him despite his difficult life as a working-class single father. Despite their unusual circumstances and living very strictly, the ultra-Orthodox community is in some ways just like the rest of us, complete with family trauma and other human troubles.

What Lies Upstream is an investigative documentary that shines a spotlight on the terrifying reality of the widespread contamination of drinking water throughout the United States. The filmmaker dives deep into the issues surrounding the 2014 West Virginia chemical spill that made the drinking water toxic for hundreds of thousands of people, particularly the metropolitan area of Charleston. In his pursuit of what really happened and how it could have happened, the filmmaker interviews officials from state government, state and federal regulatory agencies, health experts, and environmental activists. The movie reveals that economically-distressed West Virginia is not the only community impacted by the polluting manufacturers and chemical companies: the filmmaker even updates the documentary to include the highly publicized Flint, Michigan water crisis in which drinking water was contaminated by lead. The problem is so systemic that even the the EPA and CDC who are tasked with protecting Americans are not doing all they can to ensure that America drinking water is safe largely as a result of them being beholden to politicians and lobbyists.

Berlin Syndrome is a riveting thriller about a beautiful young Australian tourist who travels to Berlin and begins an intimate relationship with a handsome and charismatic German schoolteacher. Eventually, the main character, portrayed terrifically by Teresa Palmer, discovers that he is not as he seems and has a very sinister side to himself. She realizes that she is being held hostage in his apartment and may never be let go alive; he subjects her to psychological torture and sexual violence while pretending that they can have a normal relationship. Echoing the Stockholm Syndrome in which hostages develop affection towards the hostage-takers, she is seduced by him and engages in a very sexual relationship before she becomes the obvious victim of a kidnapping. They continue to engage in intimate acts during her captivity; however, it is not entirely clear whether she is just playing along or has some bizarre affection towards him. I thought the film did a excellent job of presenting a slow burn thriller about a horrifying situation that could happen to any susceptible tourist or person traveling alone.

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