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‘Wild’ and ‘Waiting for Giraffes’ Review: Where Survival Is a Struggle

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“Wild: Life, Death and Love in a Wildlife Hospital” and “Waiting for Giraffes,” documentaries paired for a double bill opening Wednesday at Film Forum, are both relatively short and feature animals and Middle Eastern settings, but they take different approaches. “Wild” is a gentle, observational movie for animal-lovers; “Waiting for Giraffes” has its eye on geopolitical issues.

“Wild” is a largely fly-on-the-wall-style portrait of an Israeli veterinary hospital where animals hit by cars or shot, for example, are tenderly rehabilitated.

The directors, Uriel Sinai and Danel Elpeleg, are interested not only in the animals but also in the humans who look after them. Shmulik Landau, a tireless caretaker, patiently helps an unsteady young gazelle stay on her feet and eases her pain with medication and massages. (He died in 2017, and the movie is dedicated to him.) The devoted veterinarian Ariela Rosenzweig Bueler persists in finding an obstruction in a hyena’s digestive tract, even when her colleagues are about to give up. And confronted with a wild ass who has suffered a shattered bone, she explores options for healing an animal who might otherwise need to be euthanized.

The charms of “Wild” are minor, lying mainly in the pleasure of watching the animals and the big-hearted professionals devoted to them.

“Waiting for Giraffes,” at least initially, seems to have a broader scope. It follows Dr. Sami Khader, a Palestinian veterinarian at the Qalqilya Zoo in the West Bank, who is seeking to boost his institution’s visibility and access to animals by gaining admission to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.

The film, by the Italian-born director Marco De Stefanis, opens by quoting the organization’s standards on enclosures, which should be built “to avoid the risk of persistent and unresolved conflict.” The excerpt offers an obvious metaphor for the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The title refers to potential replacements for a giraffe the zoo had that died. Various people onscreen share the reasons they have heard for its death, which may have been connected to violence in the region.

But “Waiting for Giraffes” doesn’t lean hard into its occupation-as-a-zoo theme. It is largely devoted to earnestly celebrating Khader’s mission. He takes seriously a recommendation that his job is to bring the animal kingdom to West Bank Palestinians whose travel is controlled by the miles of barriers Israel has erected.

“We can’t visit the sea,” a prospective zoo visitor says. “An aquarium with fish would be a compensation.”

Waiting for Giraffes

Not rated. In Arabic, with English subtitles. Running time: 55 minutes.

Wild: Life, Death and Love in a Wildlife Hospital

Not rated. In Hebrew, with English subtitles. Running time: 59 minutes.

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Editorial

Review: ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’ Has Its Ups and Ups

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Let us survey the many moods of Molly Brown: She is perky, chirpy, spunky, bubbly, cheerful. Even stranded on a raft after the Titanic sinks, she can’t help being, ahem, buoyant.

The resilient heroine of the Meredith Willson musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” was always an upbeat go-getter, with an action-packed journey that took her from a hardscrabble Rockies mining town to the Denver upper crust. But the Transport Group revival that just opened at Abrons Arts Center has turned Molly (played by Beth Malone, a Tony nominee for “Fun Home”) into a human exclamation mark. The production is simultaneously busy and lifeless — a feat of sorts, if not a desirable one.

The 1960 show was Willson’s follow-up to “The Music Man,” and lightning did not strike twice: There was a Hollywood adaptation four years later, but the stage steered clear, and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” doesn’t appear to have been revived on Broadway or Off in nearly 60 years.

The choreographer/director Kathleen Marshall and the book writer/lyricist Dick Scanlan must have seen an opportunity to give vintage material a fresh start, so they went back to the drawing board: According to the production notes, “none of the characters in the 2020 version appear in the 1960 version. Both have characters called Molly, but she says and does different things. The two versions share three lines of dialogue.”

Fewer than half the songs are from the original show, including the fine “I Ain’t Down Yet” and “Belly Up to the Bar, Boys.” The rest are pulled from Willson’s catalog with a mix of tweaked and entirely new lyrics by Scanlan. (This revisal has been in the works for about 10 years, with productions in Denver and St. Louis.)

The title character is based on the actual Molly Brown (1867-1932), though both Scanlan and his predecessor, Richard Morris, have played fast and loose with the facts. Which is fine, since musicals tend to believe that if the legend becomes fact, it’s best to sing the legend.

The problem is that Scanlan and Marshall give us a one-note dynamo whose needle never leaves a positively aggressive red zone.

Molly, née Tobin, is now a fearless, progressive woman speaking truth to power. The tone is set when, facing an all-male Senate hearing in an introductory scene, she is told, “You have been warned, nevertheless you persist: Settle down.”

That is how the show rolls: with all the subtlety of a Hummer.

And there is plenty more where that came from in this protracted tale of resilient feminist pluck.

Newly arrived in Leadville, Colo., the young Molly wins over the local workers; befriends a pregnant widow, Julia (Whitney Bashor); and ends up marrying J.J. Brown, the manager of a silver mine (David Aron Damane).

“I can be anyone I wanna be, why not be a queen?” Molly muses. She and J.J. don’t achieve royal status, but they do strike it rich. Her folksy, rough-hewed attitude appalls Denver’s ladies who lunch until — you guessed it — she charms them, with an assist from some spiked tea.

And so it goes. Molly becomes a women’s suffrage activist. Molly fights for workers’ rights and helps the needy (“Why shouldn’t one of Denver’s ‘better families’ help Denver’s families do better?,” she says).

Although Malone almost never leaves the stage, she is not given much to work with by either Scanlan or Marshall and compensates with unbridled “I’m auditioning for Peter Pan” enthusiasm.

Eventually Molly learns J.J. had an affair (which took place offstage, lest the audience be subjected to anything vaguely resembling moral ambiguity or dramatic stakes) and decamps to Europe. Neither the decadent old continent nor the Titanic can bring her down, however. Soon she’s back in New York, where she stands up for an indigent immigrant whose entry is blocked by an immigration officer, while a repentant J.J. waits in the wings. You may never have yearned so much for a show’s heroine to calm down, even for a second.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Through March 22 at Abrons Arts Center, Manhattan; 866-811-4111, transportgroup.org. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

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Editorial

Adèle Haenel: France ‘Missed the Boat’ on #MeToo

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PARIS — When Adèle Haenel said late last year that she had been abused as a child by a movie director, she became the first prominent actress in France to speak publicly about abuse in the country’s film industry. By then, the #MeToo movement was already two years old.

Families argued about her story at the dinner table. Colleagues discussed it in workplaces. Brigitte Macron, France’s first lady, said Ms. Haenel, 31, deserved “great respect.”

In a recent interview with The New York Times — Ms. Haenel’s first since she aired the accusations in November — the actress urged President Emmanuel Macron’s government to step up its efforts to tackle violence against women.

“The judicial system needs to change to better treat victims of sexual violence,” she said. “On all levels.”

The director Christophe Ruggia, whom Ms. Haenel accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate contact that she said began when she was 12, has denied the accusations through his lawyers. In January, he was charged with sexual assault on a minor under 15, and an inquiry is underway.

Although Ms. Haenel has stayed quiet since airing the accusations, similar stories have followed, including an accusation by the photographer Valentine Monnier that the movie director Roman Polanski raped her in 1975 when she was 18. (Mr. Polanski denies the accusation, although he has previously pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in the United States.)

Other women came forward in the wake of Ms. Haenel’s account, highlighting abuse in the spheres of literature and sports.

A few weeks before the American release of her latest movie, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” Ms. Haenel sat for an interview in Paris. It was followed by a telephone conversation, and the transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

You shared your story three months ago and haven’t spoken publicly since then. How was your testimony received?

My story was like the last gram in a chemistry experiment that made everything fall out of solution. It resonated because French society had gone through a thought process about #MeToo.

I am part of the film world, but today I want to hear from women from other spheres, in academia, in organizations. The enormous number of handwritten letters, messages, emails — from women, but also from men — who had been moved by my story also made me realize that we lacked media stories on survivors of sexual violence in France.

How would you describe how #MeToo has unfolded in France?

There is a #MeToo paradox in France: It is one of the countries where the movement was the most closely followed on social media, but from a political perspective and in cultural spheres, France has completely missed the boat.

Many artists blurred, or wanted to blur, the distinction between sexual behavior and abuse. The debate was centered on the question of [men’s] “freedom to bother,” and on feminists’ purported puritanism. But sexual abuse is abuse, not libertine behavior.

People are talking about it, though, and #MeToo has left its mark. France is boiling over with questions about it.

How did that help you tell your own story?

It helped me realize that mine was not just personal, but one of many women and children, that we all carry. But I didn’t feel ready to share it when #MeToo emerged. It took me a long time to make the personal journey to look at myself as a victim. I also don’t think I moved any faster than French society.

Some politicians in France criticized you for sharing your story in the media without pressing charges initially. Why did you do that?

We have a justice system that doesn’t make violence against women a priority. Some public figures expressed their surprise, but do they know what it takes, today, for a woman to face the judicial system in France? Does anyone take into account the huge challenges that lay along the path of a female victim of sexual violence?

My case is now being treated in an ideal manner, with trained police and investigators who are attentive and well-meaning. I wish all survivors could have treatment like this.

Some women have complained that their cases didn’t receive the same treatment.

Under French law, rape is a sexual act committed with violence, surprise or under constraint: It is centered on the method used by the abuser, not the absence of consent from the victim. But what if during the assault a victim is in total shock? How do you seek justice?

We also have to believe all the women who speak out: Whenever a woman has less power than a man, one suspects her of wanting revenge. We have nothing to gain from coming forward as a victim, and the consequences on our private life are very negative.

President Emmanuel Macron has called French society “sick with sexism” and has vowed to combat violence against women and promote gender equality. How do you see the government’s actions in this regard?

There isn’t enough funding dedicated to changing the situation, and we have in our current government a representative who has been accused of abuse by different women. Keeping him in position sends out the signal that it isn’t so serious.

The government’s sluggish reaction to the #MeToo phenomenon makes you think that the state tolerates an amount of violence against women. It remains accepted to a certain extent.

Many recent conversations about sexual violence in the film world in France have focused on Roman Polanski, who has been nominated for the Césars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, for his latest film “An Officer and a Spy.” You’ve been nominated, too.

Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims. It means raping women isn’t that bad.

When “An Officer and a Spy” was released, we heard outcries about censorship. It isn’t censorship — it’s about choosing who one wants to watch. And old rich white men, rest assured: You own all of the communication channels.

No, real censorship in French film is how some people suffer from invisibility. Where are the people of color in film? The directors of color? There are exceptions, like Ladj Ly, whose film has had enormous success, or Mati Diop, but that doesn’t reflect the reality of the film world at all. They remain a minority. For now, most stories take the classic white, male, heterosexual point of view.

But “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” offers a different vision of love and human interactions.

We don’t apply a traditional playbook, which is “falling in love without understanding why.” That usually includes domination and unequal power relations that are often considered like a motor for eroticism.

This film frees itself of that. We offer something that politically, artistically, makes us less submissive. It is a new version of desire, a cross between intellectual, carnal and inventive excitement.

What are you plans now? Are they affected by the impact of your story?

It is too early to say, but it doesn’t really matter if it harms my career. I think I did something good for the world, something that makes me feel upright. I am going to act in a play at the end of the year, but I don’t know yet how it has affected the way people see me.

I walk around Paris on foot — I don’t live in a bubble. Sometimes people thank me for speaking out when they see me in the street. When people thank me, it moves me, since the goal was to help. It makes me proud and joyful.

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Editorial

Diana Serra Cary, Child Star ‘Baby Peggy’ of Silent Films, Dies at 101

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She hated it. “Fighting for $3 a day in the world of extras — it was dreadful,” Ms. Cary told The Wall Street Journal in 2012. “And it was also sort of shameful, because the people who were doing the extra work were the former silent stars, many of them that I knew, who were adults, and for them it was a very crushing blow. I thought of it as being a galley slave.”

The family resorted to food coupons from the Motion Picture Relief Fund. The Los Angeles School Board finally insisted that the girl attend classes, and she enrolled at Lawlor Professional School, which had flexible schedules for young actors, enabling her to continue working. Fellow students included Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Later, she went to Fairfax High School in Los Angeles.

After graduating, she eloped in 1938 with her first boyfriend, Gordon Ayres, a movie extra. They were divorced in 1948. She was a switchboard operator and a bookstore clerk, and then managed a gift shop in Santa Barbara. She told no one of her past, and took the name Diana Serra. In 1954, she married Bob Cary, an artist, and took his surname. They had a son, Mark. Her husband died in 2001. Besides her son, she is survived by a granddaughter, Stephanie.

The Carys settled in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he painted and she became a freelance journalist, writing magazine articles. In 1970, they moved to La Jolla, part of San Diego, and she began a new career as a film historian. Her first book, “The Hollywood Posse” (1975), was a well-received account of stunt riders in film. Her second, “Hollywood’s Children” (1978), recounted the often troubling stories of child actors.

But it was the years of work on her memoir, “Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy? The Autobiography of Hollywood’s Pioneer Child Star” (1996), that proved therapeutic and redemptive. She re-examined her life in silent films, her parents’ conduct in frittering away her fortune, the studios’ harsh working conditions and the fates of child stars who, like her, were left impoverished, emotionally scarred and largely forgotten.

In “Jackie Coogan: The World’s Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood’s Legendary Child Star” (2003), she wrote about her old friend, who sued his mother and stepfather in 1938 for spending his more than $3 million in earnings on furs, diamonds, homes and expensive cars.

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