CAPSULE: Basically a filmed two-person stage play, this minimalist production tells of two women who have seen some of the worst of the 20th century and who meet after death and discuss atrocities to which they had been witness. Juanita was a guerilla fighter and leader in the civil war in El Salvador. Adina had been a doctor caring for the children of the Warsaw Ghetto. FINAL GIFTS is a powerful play with a simple message: we must stop the violence and mayhem and particularly protect the children. Neil Selden writes and directs as well as co-produces with his wife, Lee Selden. This is their first film. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10. The rating is based on style, not intent.
Somewhere in the afterlife two women meet in a black room. One wants to talk and the other wants to sit in silence. In spite of their different backgrounds, each fought for the innocent victims of atrocities of two different wars. Juanita Gomez (played by Columbian-born Ana Mercedes Torres) is exuberant and outgoing. She had been a rebel leader in Salvador's Civil War. Adina (presumably Adina B. Szwajger, played by Mary Tahmin) is withdrawn and sits in silence. Adina had been a doctor in the Warsaw Ghetto at the time that the Nazis liquidated it. Each had been witness to terrible atrocities conducted by the military in the name of defense. As they talk they delve into who they really are and how their experiences--some positive, some nightmarish--have made them what they are.
Juanita talks of how she lost her family and her village to the death squads employed by the government. She talks in detail about what she had seen and blames the United States, who under President Reagan supported the repressive Salvador government. After the death of her village she made herself a soldier and educated herself in history and politics as well as how to be a guerilla fighter. She had two daughters of her own. But mostly she remembers the pain she had to live through and what it was like to kill and what it was like to lose loved ones.
Adina was (or tried to be) a pediatrician in the ghetto. Daily she saw children murdered for little more than sport. She talks of the emotionally scarred children. Just as scarred herself and haunted by terrible memories, Adina is disappointed that even after death she still cannot escape her memories. The attempted genocide had so twisted morality that one had at times to pick an unthinkable evil to avoid a worse one. One experience traumatized beyond all others that she withstood. Adina holds back and does not want to talk about it, though for me at least it was obvious what she hiding since part of the same incident had been dramatized in a previous well-known film.
Selden gets a feeling of disembodied spirits speaking by dressing his actors in the same black as the background. The set is minimalist, just a table with some children's toys. A film like this works or fails to work by how well the viewer is pulled into and is carried by the performances. For almost all the film, the acting is good and the viewer is going through the right emotions. Perhaps the final part of the film tries a little too hard to make its point. Just at the very end the script asks a little too much of the actors. As Adina and Juanita clutch each other saying they must work for a better world the film the spell breaks just for a moment and seems affected. Luckily, the closing credits are only seconds away. A Clifford Odets might have been able to make the scene work, but Selden is asking a bit much from both the actors and the viewer. The message is right but the expression seems exaggerated.
This is a strong and moving and important film from two people who are trying to get out an important message. I think filmmaking is just one of many routes these remarkable people are using to get out their important message. The imperfections are in style and not intent. I rate this film +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
This film is currently playing at film festivals and is available for sale over the Internet.
I am pleased to say the Seldens have pledged that 10% of the profits from this film will be donated to the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders. Few organizations could do as much good with the donation.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1341722/
The film is available at: . http://www.filmbaby.com/films/3739.
More information about Seldens and their work is at http://www.wayhavenproductions.com/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper