Search results for ‘Stories We Tell’

Stories We Tell

May 26th, 2013 — 07:46 pm

Stories We Tell**

Stories We Tell rm– What if you found out that the man you thought was your father was really not your father? This is part of the complicated journey that Sarah Polley experiences as she uncovers the secrets of her family. Being a filmmaker, an Academy Award nominated one (Away From Her) Ms Polley decides to make this documentary film so all characters in her family story can tell their version of the truth. All that is except the central and most interesting player, her mother who has died of cancer when Ms. Polley was still a young girl. Her siblings, other relatives and friends add to the picture that is mainly painted by the two main men in her mother’s life both of whom have been writers/producers/actors, so they express themselves quite vividly. There is something fascinating in seeing hidden family secrets being unearthed and being laid out before us. One of us has explored this very theme in the blog PsychiatryTalk.com and it has remained the most visited entry in the almost four year history of this blog. One of the main ideas highlighted in this film, that a father would still love a child even if he found out  when she was a grown young woman that he did not plant the seed, seems not to be a great revelation. In fact, the interviews and the emerging insights were quite repetitive which should not be surprising when the filmmaker who is a central object of the film had to have directed the editing. However the film was not without it’s redeeming moments, one of which included a foreshadowing movie clip of the mother as a young woman performing the song “Ain’t Misbehaving.” Another memorable snippet was when one of siblings seems to have an epiphany that perhaps the fact that three children became divorced shortly after learning of their mother’s unfaithfulness to their father, might be significant. This movie has to have been cathartic for the filmmaker and some of her family. It may even live on as an example of how to use the in depth interview as a search for the  truth of hidden family secrets. We don’t think it makes the grade as top notch entertainment for the rest of us. (2013)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Documentary

Bad Words

March 13th, 2014 — 06:37 pm

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Bad Words-sp  This is  Jason Bateman’s directorial debut starring Jason Bateman. It can be described as a mean or subversive comedy. The main character says and does cruel things to other people including a bunch of preteen kids which although they are “funny” they are not very nice.We meet Guy Trilby (Bateman) as a 40 year old guy who is entering the national spelling bee contest which he is determined to win and claims the right to be in it since he meets the criteria of never completing the 8th grade.He is accompanied by a reporter (Kathryn Hahn)  doing a story about his endeavor for a web site. He overcomes the objections of Dr. Bernice Deagan  (Allison Janney), one of the administrators, and confronts the founder of the contest, Dr. Bowman(Phillip Baker Hall), who are both furious at him, as are all the parents of the young other contestants. Trilby plays distracting mean tricks on some of the kids to get them eliminated from the competition. He does befriend one of the kids, 10 year old Indian boy Chaitanya Chopra with whom there is a hint that he identifies with him. We see terrific chemistry between the two and a great acting job by a young boy by the name of Rohan Chand. And now for an announcement SPOILER ALERT which is necessary although we probably knew the secret for 1/5 of the film and still enjoyed it. The question, of course, is why would a 40 year old man undertake this mission? The answer has something to do with the fact that we learn that the founder of the contest, Dr. Bowman, actually once as a traveling salesman met Philby’s  mother and became his biological father but never stayed around and of course does not know this fact. Philby had found this out recently just before  his mother died and now is on the mission to screw up the good doctor’s prestigious spelling contest. In the end this makes for an interesting, funny and ultimately a feel good movie that many people will enjoy seeing.  But his film fascinated once of us (MB)  because we have observed some variation of this theme is numerous movies played out in different ways, as well as having seen it in several real life situations. But in each case the motivation and the actions of the person searching for his or her biological parent or child is different. It certainly is not always vindictive as in this story and sometimes it is to establish a meaningful connection. Here are some films and our reviews where this was the main theme:

Philomena -Elderly British woman who had child out of wedlock in convent goes to US to find out what happened to him. Stars Oscar nominated Judy Dench

The Kids Are All Right– Two lesbian parents are raising two teenage kids who decide to search out their sperm donor biological dad. Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo

People Like Us – A man and woman never realized they were from the same parent Elizabeth Banks , Chris Pine and Michelle Pfeiffer

Stories We Tell – Documentary by a woman  who uncovers secrets of her family and that she was not her father’s child. Sarah Polley

Admission– Assistant Dean of Admissions realizes an applicant is her child given up at birth- Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin and Pail Rudd

Mother and Child   Mother child relationships . Children given up for adoption and fantasies of children who want  to reunite with their mother. Annette Bening and Noemi Watts

I have also written about three cases from real life in my PsychiatryTalk.com blog  (http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2012/07/discussion-of-the-phenomena-of-unknown-family-members/)       (2014)

 

 

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy

Like Father, Like Son

January 24th, 2014 — 06:03 am

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Like Father, Like Son- sp  This Japanese film with subtitles was an extremely successful in Japan earning so far more than 30 million dollars and is about to be released in the United States. It won a major award at the Cannes Film Festival where Steven Spielberg was the Chair of the committee that gave the award. Spielberg then optioned the rights to it and plans to make an English version. What is it about this movie that seems so captivating? In Japan it helps that the male lead is played by one of most popular singers and actors currently in Japan and that is Fukuyama Masahuro. Just as important is the screenplay written by the director Kore-Eda Hirokazu which presents a fascinating human dilemma which rarely happens in modern times but one to which just about everyone can relate. Early in the film, a young married couple with a six year old son, who is a bright, very delightful boy, learn that their son was switched at birth with another child born in the same hospital on the same day. They meet the other family and the differences between them, especially the fathers become very apparent. They must decide what will they do (in addition to suing the hospital). Will they switch children and how will they come to this decision? As we try to relate to the dilemma and see how the parents and children react to this situation, we get the impression that some of the responses seem to be culture bound. Of particular note was the depiction of the passivity of the women and the obedience of the 6 year-olds. In a post film discussion, we learned that in the 1970s when hospital practices in Japan in labeling newborn children were not as exacting as they are today, there were incidences such as the one depicted in the movie. Interestingly, we were told that 100% of the children were returned to the biological parent even in cases of 6 year olds! Director Hirokazu did a sensitive job of showing us the evolution in the thinking of one of the fathers as he leads us to the ultimate outcome of this dilemma. He also brought to the screen two delightful children who played the kids who were switched at birth.

The theme of this movie is a variation of the successful 2013 film Philomenaas well as other movies which we have reviewed and discussed this interesting psychological variable . These include The Kids Are All Right, People Like Us Stories We TellAdmissions, and Mother and Child. One of us (MB)has also discussed this elsewhere with real life case examples (Psychiatrytalk.com). Each of these movie reviews and the psychiatry blog can be reached directly by clicking the words in this paragraph. (2013)

 

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign

Philomena

December 1st, 2013 — 10:03 pm

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Philomena – -3AFK1iDRtELTlxSYYgUheuoNmlRg11SirBnxw1spPp4NPNAq9VpIo4q-zHQScGPUxtwElY=s85 Early in the film we learn that Martin Sixsmith  (Steven Coogan), a former journalist, has lost his job as a Labor government (British) advisor and decided to meet Philomena ( Judy Dench) an elderly woman who as a teenager had an out of wedlock child at a convent and saw that child taken away for adoption. In her later years she unsuccessfully tried to find out what happened to him and never stopped thinking about him even after she became a mother and grandmother. She agrees to let Sixsmith help her try to find her, long lost but never forgotten, son and write a human interest story about this situation.  

The film is based on a non-fiction book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by the real Sixsmith which documents the journey of this unlikely pair. This movie about this human trauma was directed by Stephen Frears with a screenplay by lead actor Coogan and Jeff Pope. It takes a hard look at the attitude of the Catholic Church towards unwed mothers (at least in Ireland 50 years ago but which may not have completely changed today.) It pulls no punches in showing the cruel treatment of the unwed mothers who had to work in oppressive conditions  for a few years in return for having had their  child delivered and cared for by the nuns in the convent, only to see their little one sold to rich Americans who were looking to adopt a child. The details of the destiny of the children were hidden from the mothers and attempts to later trace them were covered up with lies and deception. There is an attempt at some balance by showing the contrasting lack of religious faith by the journalist compared to the almost all forgiving faith of Philomena but in the end the Church does not look very good.

The movie also reminds us of the painful discrimination towards people with HIV disease which existed in the United States, especially in the 1980s. Both Coogan and Dench are excellent as they convey their subtle emotions and the grand lady of theatre and film may be up for another of her many awards. The storyline of this film also deals with a psychological topic that one of us (MB) has been interested in from a clinical point of view as well as how it has been depicted in various movies. Lost or hidden family members is the subject and the incessant drive to find that person where the emotional connection is intensely built on the biological connection even  when the life experience together has been very little or even absent. Some of the recent movies which we have reviewed on this subject have been The Kids Are All RightPeople Like Us, Stories We Tell, Admissions   and Mother and Child. MB has also written about this with case examples in a blog titled PsychiatryTalk.com  which you can click here to view. This very fine film is not only another example of this phenomena but also stands on it’s own as a compelling dramatic production, (2013)

 

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

The Manchurian Candidate

January 4th, 2016 — 01:59 am

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The Manchurian Candidate- nf

I was on a cross country flight and I checked out the movies available that could be viewed on board. In honor of the Frank Sinatra Centennial, there was a choice of several movies in which the great singers starred. I chose the classic Manchurian Candidate. This 1962 movie deals with the subject of the Cold War and the brainwashing of American soldiers captured during the Korean conflict. Just a few minutes into the film, I realized that it had relevance to a contemporary subject in the world today. Our headlines are filled with stories about terrorist, some American born, who have been radicalized by Jihadist groups who are trying to bring about terrorism In the United States by murdering people and disrupting the life of their sworn enemy.

In this black and white movie, Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) are two of several soldiers captured by the North Koreans and flown to Manchuria where the Chinese with the help of the Russians used newly developed brainwashing techniques which include drugs and hypnosis. Marco and Shaw are part of the small group of brainwashed soldiers returned to the United States. Shaw is programmed to do the major damage. Some of the other soldiers are beginning to have bad dreams at night which makes them believe that things are not what they seemed to be. Raymond Shaw’s mother (Angela Lansbury) who is a mother from hell is now married to United States Senator Iselin (James Gregory) who is a communist sympathizer which obviously has significance to the people controlling the returning soldiers. Raymond Shaw falls in love with Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish) but his controllers don’t like that turn of events and do something about it. Marco Bennett (Sinatra) becomes the hero here and there are some very dramatic and exciting scenes.

This movie was very well received. Angela Lansbury was nominated for an Oscar. Director John Frankenheimer won a top award by the Directors Guild and Sinatra was able to put another notch in his belt for his outstanding acting to add to his status as a legendary singer.

Some day someone will make a film which might tell the story behind the headlines of how the ISIS terrorist organization brainwashes some of its victims to commit terror in the United States with lethal weapons. When the movie, The Manchurian Candidate was made in 1962 there had been U.S. pilots captured flying missions over North Korea and were shown on TV praising their captives while in a trance-like state. So if you’re ready for one of the outstanding movies of the 1960s, pull this one up on Netflix. (1962)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Thriller, War

Mr. Holmes

July 16th, 2015 — 12:54 am

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Mr. Holmes – spScreen Shot 2015-07-14 at 11.24.58 PM

This is a story about an older Sherlock Holmes who has returned to a country house in England where he lives with his housekeeper and her son and raises bees. The story also shows that he has early signs of forgetfulness but still has a brilliant deductive mind. The film uses flashbacks to earliler situations in his life to develop the plot. Following our viewing of the movie, we participated in a discussion with other moviegoers and a well known film critic Stephen Farber, with a special guest, Mitch Cullin, the author of the novel upon which the screenplay was written. It struck us that we talked about Mr. Holmes as if he were a real person. People recalled early stories in his life which not only came from the extensive writings of Arthur Conan Doyle but from other books, movies, and TV programs, all about this fictional character.

There is a situation presented in one flashback to an earlier time when Mr. Holmes supposedly worked on a case confronting a woman who was lying to her husband not because of an affair with another man but because she was obsessed with playing a musical instrument feeling that it would bring her closer to her two babies who had died. This woman was clearly seriously depressed and suicidal. We see Mr. Holmes years later reflecting on this woman and perhaps even pining over what could have been had they developed a romantic relationship. The depression of the woman seemed irrelevant to him. Even the depressed feelings of Mr. Holmes, as he thinks about this past situation, seem artificial. From our limited acquaintance with the extensive writings about this famed fictional detective, it seems that he usually or even always was shown as the man with a brilliant mind where logic always prevails and most of the time human feelings seem to be left out or at least are hidden. There is more sensitivity to others as he figures out that a Japanese man in the story would be better off if Sherlock tells him a lie about what his father supposedly told him. Sherlock, seems to be a grown-up person perhaps with Asperger’s syndrome who can figure everything out, but not his own feelings.

If Sherlock defended against his feelings, the emotion certainly came out to the audience watching the movie. We are touched by the interaction that he has with a young boy and we were moved by seeing Sherlock beginning to have awareness of his failing memory.

The direction by Bill Condon based on the screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher was outstanding. Ian McKellen’s performance as Sherlock deserves consideration for an Oscar. Laura Linney was excellent as Mrs. Monroe the housekeeper and child actor, Milo Parker, was an essential component to this movie and did a superb job. “It is elementary, my dear Watson,” that you should see this movie. (2015)

2 comments » | 4 Stars, Drama

The Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

October 16th, 2014 — 09:28 pm

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The Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) -sp

This movie has the ingredients to be a very well received production. Much of it is a powerful Broadway play within a movie . Specifically it is about an aging movie star Riggan who has made blockbuster movies titled The Birdman who doubts his acclaimed accomplishments and feels he has to prove himself by directing and acting in a serious dramatic play on the Broadway stage. Probably, it is not a coincidence that the star of the movie is 63 year old mega movie star Michael Keaton of Batman and Batman Returns fame among many other hits. His costar is Ed Norton who plays Mike a younger accomplished actor who is totally into the moment with his very dramatic acting in the play. There are excellent supporting roles by Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Zach Galifianakis. The creation of the film comes from screenwriter and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu who is best known for Babel and Biutiful. Thanks to a collaboration between Fox Searchlight Pictures and New Regency he had a 16 ½ million dollar budget. Most of the film takes place inside a Broadway theatre or within the surrounding two or three blocks in the theatre district in New York City. The scenes each last several minutes. These long takes characterize the film and the viewer is given the impression that one camera is following the actors as they move through the winding corridors, dressing rooms, balconies and the stage itself, which would appear to be the well known St James Theatre. Riggan’s inner voice is quite loud and appears external. To further keep things rolling along, the music background score is almost entirely drums. The audience at times is asked to suspend reality but the intense drama keeps us grounded. Despite the high flying antics of Mr. Keaton the most revealing moment in the film would appear to be when the NY Times theatre critic who can make or break any show seems determined to break this one because she doesn’t believe Superhero movies stars have a right to claim the Broadway stage as true actors. While the movie had a dramatic flair and an intensity, which held our attention, we felt we were watching characters tell about their stories and situations rather than identifying with them and fully experiencing their plight. We suspect this will be one of those movies that people will either love or walk away without being moved but it is worth being seen. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama

Last Days in Viet Nam

August 21st, 2014 — 07:00 pm

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Last Days in Vietnam-sp– Even if you were around in 1975 during the U.S pullout from South Vietnam, the true story of how it went down is probably not the way you remember it. Even that iconic photograph of people climbing up a ladder into a helicopter from what you thought was the U.S Embassy was not the U.S. Embassy. Rory Kennedy, youngest daughter of the late Robert Kennedy is a documentary filmmaker who realized that there was an interesting story here to be told. Together with her co-producer Keven McAlester and their team she researched the subject, dug out archive documents and film footage, followed leads, set up interviews with former CIA agents, American soldiers, as well as Vietnamese who got out and some that didn’t. She also was able to interview one of the key surviving players who surrounded and advised President Ford during those final days. That was none other than Henry Kissinger who had been Secretary of State for both Ford and President Nixon. Nixon actually looks quite good in the view of the historical circumstances, which are presented here. It was under his watch that the peace accord of !973 was signed which was followed by the withdrawal of US Troops. We are then shown in 1975 shortly after Nixon resigned from office that the North Vietnam troops began the march towards Saigon. The implication was clearly stated that they would have been afraid to do so if Nixon were in office. We then see how President Ford was not able to get Congress to raise money to support any effort to stop this new aggression.

The real story here was the denial by U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin of the threatening attack that was underway, spilling down towards Saigon with the ultimate evacuation of all the Americans and the desperate attempt to get out bythe South Vietnamese who were connected to the Americans. Rather than use an authoritative narrator, the filmmakers chose to use the faces and the voices of the Americans and Vietnamese who lived through those harrowing days who told their own stories. The latter group knew that if they did not get out, they stood a good chance of being killed or severely punished. In fact in the final credits we learn that some of these narrators subsequently spent years in “ reeducation camps” before making their way to the United States. We learn that the final dramatic evacuation was not only by helicopter but also by sea. The helicopters flew out thousands of evacuees to a flotilla of ships led by the USS Kirk.

A good documentary often relies on some fresh views of the historical event. In this case, that was not only provided by American and Vietnamese survivors of this unusual evacuation telling their tales but also by the discovery of a box full of 8mm movie film taken by one of the sailors aboard the USS Kirk almost 40 years ago. These movies provided a vivid picture of the thousands of civilians packed aboard these ships as they attempted to get to Manila. They also showed a never to be forgotten sequence of movie scenes of a gigantic Chinook helicopter that was too large and heavy to land on the US ship. Instead the Vietnamese pilot who was trying to save his family and others had to do a remarkable maneuver where he hovered so his young children could be dropped and caught by the sailors below. He then did what experts feel was an extremely difficult task of climbing out of his pilot gear, ditching his gigantic helicopter into the sea with its spinning blades disintegrating, while he jumped out into the water and swam to safety of the nearby vessel. This amazing accomplishment was narrated by his now grown son who had been seen as one of the young children being dropped out of the Chinook.

There were several moral questions raised by this film. The big question was did the U.S. have a commitment to its ally, South Vietnam when the North Vietnamese broke the Paris Peace Accord and invaded South Vietnam. What was the meaning of the refusal of Congress to provide funds and the failure of the President to send troops back there? Did the U.S have a commitment to the many civilians and their families who had worked for the US and would be targets if they were not evacuated? Were several U.S. officers within the embassy wrong when they disobeyed orders and organized secret “ black opps” plans for evacuating civilians when the Ambassador had not authorized this to be done.? There also was a promise to all those Vietnamese who were allowed to enter the U.S. Embassy grounds for evacuation, that they would definitely be rescued. However once the Ambassador left, after most of the people were evacuated, there were 420 Vietnamese left behind who had been promised evacuation. Finally, is there any lesson here that we can glean that can be applied to the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. has left and now the situation is deteriorating?

When a documentary film can prevent a fresh view of history and stir up new questions, which even pertain to our current time, we have to view it as a successful endeavor that should be seen.(2014)

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History, War

Oranges and Sunshine

July 7th, 2014 — 12:08 am

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Oranges and Sunshinenf This film is a good example of how we might rate a film 3/5 and yet highly recommend it as one that should be seen by anyone who cares about social injustice. There are many better examples of dramatic films with unforgettable performances by talented actors and directors, which will win Academy Award nominations. But this Australian film directed by Jim Loach with a screenplay by Rona Munro plods along but rivets our attention because it tells the true story of a historical event that we and we are sure many other people had no idea had occurred. It is about a British social worker by the name of Margaret Humphreys who in the 1980s stumbles upon the situation that in the 1940s and 50s the British government deported to Australia young children born to troubled poor mothers who couldn’t care for their kids. The mothers were often told that the children were being adopted in England by various couples although if they did make efforts they would not be able to track them down. The truth was that they lived in various orphanages in Australia in very dire circumstances, were treated very badly and many were abused. During this blight on British history there were 130,000 children who went through this pipeline to Australia. They never had a chance to find out who their mothers were and whether they were still alive. Margaret Humphreys (played by Emily Watson) at first took on the task of trying to help some of these now adults find their mothers. She then devoted herself to exposing this great injustice in addition to reuniting these adults with their mothers when possible. We see how she set up a program in Australia where most of these orphans lived and held some reunions with each other. We also see a scene in a monastery, which may have been the site of some of the stories of abuse. There was a scary episode where an intruder who seems to be warning her to cease her efforts, threatens Ms. Humphreys at night. It is a weakness of the film that we never learn more about the nature of these threats. Ms. Humphrey made efforts to publicize the story of these mass deportations in the media and to get the government to help in her endeavors. She spent an increasing amount of time in Australia, away from her own family. Some of the horrors that the children went through are related in excellent performances by Hugo Weaving and David Wenham. We learn during the credits at the end of the film that it was not until 2010 that the British government acknowledged its mistake and the Prime Minister apologized. It was at that point that we learned of the tremendous number of children that had gone through this disruption of their lives with all its repercussions. As a sidebar we are reminded of the large number of films that we have seen as well as some true life stories that we have heard, which  in some way recount the desire to reunite with one’s biological parents. Of course in the situations recounted in this film, these people did not have parents who adopted them. Some discussion of this topic can be found in MB’s blog http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2014/04/the-search-for-a-persons-biological-identity/  (2011)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History

No Place on Earth

April 11th, 2013 — 06:30 pm

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No Place on Earth – sp Just as you think that you have seen every type of Holocaust film, a movie such as this one comes along. It not only tells the story of the survival of a group of Ukrainian Jews who hid for 511 days in the world’s deepest caves in the Ukraine but it will push all your buttons when several of them, including a 91 year old energetic gentleman, return with their grandchildren 67 years later to visit the their old, darkened, dingy home which in some places was over 50 feet underground. Film maker Janet Tobias, who has been a producer for 60 Minutes and Prime Time Live, learned about this story when a colleague showed her a National Geographic article that Chris Nicola, a New York State Investigator who has a serious hobby of exploring caves all over the world, had written. Nicola, during one of his vacations, explored this unusual deep gypsum cave in the Ukraine and came across some human artifacts, which included a shoe, a cup, and some buttons. He returned to the area for the next couple of years asking the local people if they knew about where they had come from. Most did not, but one person said it might have something to do with the Jews. Nicola embedded key words in his web sites meant to attract people searching for their genealogy related to the Holocaust and these specific caves.. This ultimately led him to make connections with the actual survivors, most of who were living in Canada. This included Esther Stermer who wrote a book about her experience titled “We Fight to Survive” She said she wrote this book so her grandchildren would know about what they had been through during World war II. Little did she know, thanks to Ms. Tobias and this film, she would actually accompany her grandchildren back to this hidden cave and watch her granddaughter descend into the deepest depths to visit this special place in her family history. This film is actually a modified docu-drama. Part of the film includes getting know several of the survivors as they narrate the film in an articulate at times emotional manner giving us a feel for their fortitude, determination and even their sense of humor. We see how the decision is made by the family matriarch to pack up as much of their belongings as possible and flee to avoid deportation (which would have ultimately led to their extermination). We feel the experience through the eyes of a 70-year-old woman as a 4 and 5 year old. Interspersed with this narration, we witness a reenactment by Hungarian/Ukrainian actors, adults and children as they crawl through barely lit crevices and help us understand what it was like to live there, interacting with each other and risking their lives to bring food to their hiding places. There is one close call after another along with heroism, good luck but most of all the will to live. This combination of a documentary with actual actors was quite an accomplishment to effectively pull off. We knew the people narrating the story survived, but we were still on the edge of our seats. We didn’t quite anticipate the emotional reaction we would have when we saw this band of elderly people return to these caves with their families and could show their grandchildren a place that was truly like no place on earth and their most remarkable survival experience. (2013)

Postscript:  If you are interested in some of the untold stories of survivors of the Holocaust I recommend that you consider reading a remarkable  book which I reviewed about a year ago in my Psychiatry Blog as well as in BookRap.net

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, History, War

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