HTF REVIEW: "Fighter" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, Oct 30, 2002.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein


    Studio: First Run Features
    Year: 2001
    Rated: NR
    Film Length: 86
    Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (1.33:1)
    Subtitles: None

    Recently, a small independent DVD company wrote
    me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing
    one of their films, Fighter -- a critically
    acclaimed documentary that was released theatrically
    last year and was just about to debut on DVD. I
    can't begin to tell you what an experience it was
    to watch Fighter, a very moving and personal
    odyssey about two men who survived a terrible ordeal.
    This is the story of Jan Wiener and Arnost Lustig,
    two very close friends who share a common bond.
    Wiener escaped from Nazi occupied Prague at the age
    of 19. Arnost spent his adolescence in Nazi
    concentration camps. It was almost fate that brought
    them together in 1978 while both were living in the
    United States.
    As the documentary begins we meet the 77-year old
    Jan Wiener who lives in Lenox, Massachusetts. As he
    takes jabs at a punching bag, he talks about boxing:
    "Its very similar to life," he says, "you have to
    keep to rules that are strict." On a warm day, Jan
    meets his 72-year old friend Arnost Lustig as they
    agree to return to Prague to trace the steps that
    Jan took during his struggle to get to London.
    This is an extraordinary journey with fascinating
    stories. In Czechoslovakia, Jan revisits the office
    of a collaborator who granted him an exit visa but
    told him not to expect to live long enough to wear
    out more than one pair of shoes. Jan was determined
    to one day return to Prague to get revenge on this
    man for humiliating him. We hear how six years later,
    Jan returned as a decorated war hero, found the very
    same collaborator, put a gun to his head, and reminded
    him of his treatment.
    In Slovenia, Jan returns for the first time to the
    house where his father committed suicide in 1941.
    Jan painfully talks about being beside his father
    who decided that it was better to take his own
    life rather than have the Germans take it for him.
    In Terezin, the men visit the ghetto and adjoining
    concentration camp where Arnost spent his youthful
    years, and where Jan's mother was murdered by the
    Nazis. It's at this point that Director Amir Bar-Lev
    chooses to show us an excerpt from The Fuhrer
    Gives A City To The Jews
    , a propaganda film of
    the time that deflected the atrocities inside the
    Along the way, these friends discuss and reflect
    upon their hardships. Though these two men share
    a common bond in history, it is their
    viewpoints of that history that are dramatically
    opposite. It is these conflicts of opinion that
    tests the strength of their friendship.
    The most remarkable aspect of watching this
    documentary is not in the many horror stories of
    atrocities that we have heard time and time again,
    but rather the way this film examines the relationship
    and differences of opinions between these two elderly
    men. Jan is a very bitter individual who's lived
    life with a huge chip on his shoulder. But it is
    that hate that helped him survive the war. On the
    other hand, Arnost is a highly optimistic individual
    with an incredible sense of humor, who you will
    often find making jokes about the horrors he lived
    Director Armir Bar-Lev has created a sad and
    uplifting straightforward documentary that traces
    the journey of these two men as we watch dramatic
    tension build between the two individuals. It's
    a journey that most viewers will not soon forget.
    How is the transfer?
    Shot entirely on video, this documentary has
    a beautiful rawness to it. Yes, it looks cheaply
    produced, but it is that rawness that gives the
    documentary its realism. The picture is generally
    very clean, clear, and well lit. There has been
    absolutely no degradation of picture in this
    transfer to DVD.
    The stereo soundtrack exhibits very little separation
    across the front, but otherwise, sound is very clean
    and distinct throughout.
    Although I was disappointed that this film was not
    presented in anamorphic widescreen for DVD, I must
    remind myself that this was shot on video. There is
    no excuse, however, for the lack of subtitles for
    the hearing impaired.
    Special Features
    There's a full length commentary by Director
    Amir Bar-Lev, Producers Jonathan Crosby and Alex
    Mamlet. Right off the bat we learn about much of
    the editing that had to be done to the film's
    5-minute introduction of Wiener, including the
    ommitence of a third Czech friend who was originally
    interviewed for this documentary. It's interesting
    to learn that Amir met Jan Wiener while attending
    film school in the Czech republic. Here was this
    good-looking old man with a vividly white moustache
    who came in and told Amir his life story. He even
    took the guys on a tour of Prague, pointing out
    places where he slept with women after the war or
    where his father drank in a dingy old bar. What
    most attracted these filmmakers to Wiener was the
    fact that unlike most stories told about the Jews and
    the Holocaust, this was a story of a Jew who was
    able to fight back. One of the stories we don't
    hear in the documentary is about how after Jan
    became a fighter bomber he started smuggling
    cigarettes and important documents across the border,
    and thus, he lived a rather lavish life style for
    quite some time. Producers Crosby and Hamlet talk
    about the length of time it took to shoot this
    documentary -- 30 days of shooting spread over a
    two year time period, with around-the-clock editing
    that took an additional year. This is a wonderful
    commentary for the fact that the filmmakers really
    adore their elderly subjects, and have so many funny
    side-stories to tell about their own adventures
    filming alongside these men.
    There are 13 individual segments of bonus footage
    that sort of flesh out the backgrounds of these two
    men. We are introduced to Arnost's class where
    he talks to his students about the documentary and
    how filmmakers are devils. We are introduced to Jan's
    wife Zuzana, who talks about what a good experience
    this project will be for her husband. Arnost returns
    to a home he lost when he went into exile. There's
    a rather touching sequence where amidst an argument,
    the two men begin to tickle each other. In another
    segment, Jan and Arnost talk about their loss of
    religious faith. Finally, there's a wonderful
    moment aboard a train where Arnost tells a joke.
    All of these scenes played together run just under
    21 minutes, and though they certainly would have
    slowed the pacing of the feature, they are nonetheless
    worth watching.
    There's a small photo gallery that has 10
    candid pictures of Jan and Arnost as well as
    director Amir Bar-Lev and several of the film crew
    Final Thoughts
    It's a tough to sell people on a documentary like
    this when most home audiences are geared towards
    watching a film that entertains them with visuals
    and effects. If I can once in a while steer people
    towards great documentaries such as this, then my
    job as a reviewer becomes more fulfilling.
    Fighter is a revealing and provocative
    documentary that's often surprisingly funny. It's
    a celebration of two very unique men who are amongst
    the last of their kind. It's a bittersweet journey
    that you will soon not forget.
    Please do yourself a favor and at least rent this
    Release Date: Now
  2. Steven K

    Steven K Supporting Actor

    Jan 10, 2000
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    Pretty interesting... my wife is from Lenox, Mass. I'll have to ask her if she's heard of this guy before.
  3. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

    Apr 15, 1999
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    I bought Into the Arms of Strangers on your recommendation and found it to be excellent, will look for Fighter.

    I appreciate your taking the time to review documentaries and other important "smaller films" in addition to the Spidermans and LOTRs.
  4. Rain

    Rain Producer

    Mar 21, 2001
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    Hmmmm...this looks interesting. I think I'm actually going to get this. I love a good documentary!
    Thanks for bringing it to our attention. [​IMG][​IMG]
    A couple of things though:
  5. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator

    Jul 3, 1997
    Likes Received:
    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein
    I am so happy this thread is receiving the
    attention it deserves.

    I have a particular interest in anything dealing
    with the Holocaust. I don't think anything can
    move me to tears as much as watching survivors
    talk about the things that went on in those camps.

    These people are now becoming extinct, dying from
    old age. I am so proud that individuals like
    Steven Spielberg and Amir Bar-Lev have documented
    these personal stories before they are ceased to
    be told.

    Oh...and Rain, many on-line retailers have this
    title in stock. I think it was available last
  6. Rain

    Rain Producer

    Mar 21, 2001
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    Cool, I'll look for it.
  7. Tommy G

    Tommy G Screenwriter

    Sep 19, 2000
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    Hey, my wife is also from Lenox, MA. I'll probably pick this one up and we'll watch it together. Ron, I was wondering if the NR rating includes some things not suitable for children or if this is something I'll be able to watch with my kids as well and give them a little bit of a history lesson.
  8. Ted Lee

    Ted Lee Lead Actor

    May 8, 2001
    Likes Received:
    thanks for bringing this to our attention.
    it's ultra-cool that you took time to review an alternate title like this. we can read reviews of mainstream movies everywhere...but this is something special.
    please do more of them! [​IMG]
  9. MikeM

    MikeM Screenwriter

    Nov 23, 1999
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    I agree. I love to see that a few more obscure/foreign films are finding their way into the reviews here. Great job, Ron.

    I'm a huge fan of documentaries, and I'll be picking this up based on your review.
  10. Robert_eb

    Robert_eb Supporting Actor

    Sep 14, 2001
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    I have not heard of this documentary before but after reading your review I'm definitely going to check this title out! I always look forward to your reviews Ron on films that I'm not familiar with. I'm so happy that I have access to such an informative Internet forum with an affinity for a wide variety of films as I have.

    Great review Ron.
  11. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator

    Jul 3, 1997
    Likes Received:
    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein
    Thanks so much for your warm responses. It is
    the reason why I continue to review all different
    kind of films besides mainstream product.
    A little update on this title....
    The distributor has contacted me to inform
    me that the street date for Fighter is
    November 19.
    Be sure to rent it, at the very least!
  12. Mark Rapp

    Mark Rapp Agent

    Feb 25, 2002
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    Real Name:
  13. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

    Apr 15, 1999
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    A few weeks ago I rented another documentary on dvd called Architecture of Doom, primarily dealing with the effects of the National Socialist regime on art. It also chillingly chronicles the progression of the holocaust and the extermination of those deemed mentally incompetent.

    The cover art is sensationalistic, reminiscent of those "Faces of Death" videos so many may have dismissed it as exploitative but I thought the documentary was quite well done and offers something of an insight into the propaganda methods used to justify the atrocities to the German public of the time.

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