By Ray Pride

Docs on Box: “Abacus: Small Enough To Jail” and “100-Year-Old Lovebirds”

Deceptively minor-key Steve James, Abacus: Small Enough To Jail is best in moments that add up to an intent portrait of the family fissures in a case on the sidelines of the 2008 financial crisis. The Chinese immigrant Sung family’s six-branch Abacus Federal Savings in New York City’s Chinatown was the only bank to be criminally charged (for loan fraud and 200 other alleged violations), an indictment and trial across five years that required the bank—and its founding family—to defend the bank’s standing in the community, as well as to redeem themselves. Founder Thomas Sung has an unlikely figure from whom he drew inspiration: George Bailey in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, who believed in building community through investing in the homes and businesses of Bedford Falls. Portraying the drawn-out trial, so many socioeconomic factors and issues are introduced, discussed, argued. Larger implications abound.

The nineteen charged employees crossed boundaries, but were the higher-ups, the Sungs, aware of what was done in their name? The saga comes back to the Sungs, making the movie less concerned with fiscal maneuverings and misprisions of prosecutorial zeal than family, with an underlying current of institutional racism. James excels at drawing out the dynamics of extended families under stress (Hoop Dreams, Stevie) and Abacus is no exception. Premieres on Frontline, Tuesday, September 12.

My Love, Don’t Cross That River

Byeong-man Jo and Kang Gye-Yeol have been together for seventy-six years. In the sublime My Love, Don’t Cross That River, a huge success in South Korea, writer-director-cinematographer Mo-young Jin watches the “101-old lovebirds” (as the 98-year-old Byeong-man Jo and his wife, the 89-year-old Kang Gye-Yeol are dubbed) for just over a year as they move through their day in traditional Korean raiment, inseparable from first light to final dark. At first, they are almost unbearably adorable. But sentiment surpasses sentimentality. Jin’s canny observation and cutting goes beneath the surface and into the bloodstream. What could have been in many hands autumnal sap or old-folks-sploitation is instead a document of the day-to-day tenderness of a long-lasting, even lifelong bond few couples experience in any culture. The ending, which we are prepared for in the sere, winter-set opening, is a thundercrack, earned, true, heartbreaking. Time stops. Time goes on. There is weeping. Premieres on POV in September; streaming here

Comments are closed.

Quote Unquotesee all »

“I never accepted the term contrarian. I think that’s offensive, frankly. And my response to that is: if I’m a contrarian, what are other reviewers? What I strive to do is be a good critic, not somebody who simply accepts the product put in front of me. I guess it scares people to think that they don’t have any originality; that they don’t have the capacity to think for themselves.

“There’s a line a lot of reviewers use that I don’t like at all. They say ‘accept the film on its own terms.’ What that really means is, ‘accept the film as it is advertised.’ That’s got nothing to do with criticism. Nothing to do with having a response as a film watcher. A thinking person has to analyze what’s on screen, not simply rubber-stamp it or kowtow to marketing.”m

“To me, everything does have a political component and I think it’s an interesting way to look at art. It’s one way that makes film reviewing, I think, a politically relevant form of journalism. We do live in a political world, and we bring our political sense to the movies with us – unless you’re the kind of person who goes to the movies and shuts off the outside world. I’m not that kind of person.”
~ Armond White to Luke Buckmaster

“One of comedy’s defining pathologies, alongside literal pathologies like narcissism and self-loathing, is its swaggering certainty that it is part of the political vanguard, while upholding one of the most rigidly patriarchal hierarchies of any art form.”
~ Lindy West