Welcome to the Larry411.com Guest Columnists! April 27, 2013
In my travels to the best film festivals in…
On Monday, November 11, 2013 I attended the highly anticipated Florida Premiere of The Pin at the 2013 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The screening took place at the historic Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was a selection in the World Cinema Features section.
There are as many dramatic stories of Nazi persecution during the Second World War as there are people around to tell them. In many cases entire families were killed, save for one fortunate child who got away, and that’s the case here in the extraordinary Canadian production The Pin, writer/director/producer Naomi Jaye’s feature debut and North America’s first Yiddish language film in over seventy years (and first ever shot in Canada).
As the movie opens we see a tired old man, Jacob (David Fox), in his morbid job as a Shomer – an individual assigned to be temporary guardian of a body in the hours before burial. As the opening sequence unfolds he begins to recall a bittersweet time 60 years prior when, as a young Jew trying to escape the Germans, he had a chance encounter – which soon evolved into something more – with Leah, also on the run.
It's Lithuania, circa 1941. Leah (Milda Gecaite) and Jacob (Grisha Pasternak) are the only surviving members of two families, unknown to each other, now huddled together after they happen to find an apparently safe hiding spot in an isolated barn. Two strangers, once alone, like lost puppies whose welfare is now solely dependent on mutual trust. They only have each other now, where seizure is always imminent, so their survival depends on the whole being greater than the sum of its parts – they bond through storytelling.
Save for an occasional present day shot of old Jacob guarding his body, and a few individuals who briefly enter the picture as war rages in the distance, the narrative is told in flashback with the forlorn young couple being the only characters onscreen for the rest of the movie. The Pin’s success rests almost entirely on their shoulders. It is the authenticity of their performances -- this relationship that grows out of necessity, the chemistry sparked by the inevitable situational sexuality -- which is at the heart and soul of this emotional story.
Torontonian Milda Gecaite began her career as a dancer in her native Lithuania. She has close to a dozen theater, television, video, and short film projects to her credit, along with a handful of features. Ukranian-born Grisha Pasternak has done several stage and TV projects, including episodes of the iconic Canadian series Degrassi: The Next Generation and ABC’s Rookie Blue. The Pin is his second motion picture. Fox is a veteran of Canadian theatre with a number of television works in his career. This is his second feature.
Like director Jaye and the cast, much of the creative team consists of relative newcomers. This is the first feature for cinematographer Michael Leblanc. Editor Jorge Weisz has a dozen projects to his credit – TV shows, video features, and short films -- but this is his first theatrical motion picture as well.
The gorgeous widescreen photography is well-suited to a two-person character study taking place in a lonely barn in the middle of a field. The forced contrast between the expansive land outside, once free and full of life but no longer, and temporary safety of their little hideout, is agonizing. This is a tableau made up of two frightened young people in the midst of formerly wide open territory where anything was possible.
In keeping with a curious but appealing trend I’ve noticed at several recent festivals, this is a stylistically quiet film in both look and sound, as well as action and, of course, dialogue. The Pin’s deliberate shooting style is characterized by long takes – extended scenes, often with one stationary camera and no edits, lasting anywhere from thirty seconds or so to a few minutes at most. It’s a style directors like Hitchcock were known for and, when used appropriately and judiciously, can be incredibly powerful and moving. A more recent example is Mean Creek, one of my all-time favorite indies. The narrative turns dark at one point and what follows is one of the best examples I've ever seen of "less is more." There's a long sequence with no dialogue. It's a classic moment in modern American independent cinema.
The Pin is filled with moments like this -- at various points the actors are onscreen for several minutes with few words being spoken or, in some cases, they aren’t seen to be speaking on camera at all but their dialogue is expressed through the use of voiceover. It's a clever device that is subtle yet impactful in the moments where it is employed. These scenes work because Jaye clearly had complete faith in his young leads’ abilities to say as much, if not more, with their emotive eyes, plaintive facial expressions, and body language than words can express. There is virtually no soundtrack here, save for the low whistle and rhythmic murmur of the wind, with the occasional distant pulsing score and sound effects humming in the background to punctuate the silence.
Practical lighting is used throughout, although the only real sources are the sun and moon. There are several exterior sequences both during the day and at night but most of the film takes place in one location, a non-electrified barn. Unless a flame is present, reliance on available light often manifests in a cool color palette pushed blue, especially for late day scenes. It also lends itself to a washed out, undersaturated, almost sepia-toned image bordering on the monochromatic. This is when the true beauty of candlelight shines through, literally. The often dim, shadowy silhouettes of the youngsters reflect their enigmatic relationship.
The Pin is an old fashioned love story – albeit one that requires some patience on the part of the viewer. Like many tales from this era, it’s both sad and poignant even in its rare moments of joy. This is a hauntingly beautiful film that reminds us of the power of cinema. More than anything, it’s a triumphant pas de deux for Milda Gecaite and Grisha Pasternak. It really shouldn’t take a lot to make a powerful movie, and The Pin proves that.
NOTE: I selected The Pin as one of my Top 7 Foreign Language Narratives from the 2013 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. Naomi Jaye and Daniel Bekerman produced the film. It was Executive Produced by Nicholas Tabarrok, Leah Jaunzems, Ketura Kestin, Daniel Jason Heffner, Arti Modi, Harrison Kordestani, and C.C. Hang. The Pin is a Scythia Films production, along with Canada's Tremendous Productions, Sherman Oaks-based Serendipity Productions, and Toronto/LA-based Darius Films. The Pin is rated R by the MPAA for “some sexuality and nudity.” Main Street Films is distributing in association with 982 Media. A Canadian release is planned for early 2014. It opened in select US theaters on November 1. See thepinfilm.com/showtimes for locations and showtimes.
The official trailer (with English subtitles) is below along with a set of stills, behind the scenes photos, and press shots.
Official Site: thepinfilm.com
YouTube Channel: Main Street Films
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In my travels to the best film festivals in…