Haunt­ing look at aging, free­dom

Los Angeles Times - - AT THE MOVIES -

The daunt­ingly ti­tled “Can Hitler Hap­pen Here?” is one of the more cu­ri­ous fea­ture for­ays in re­cent mem­ory; a brief, at times sur­real look at mad­ness, aging and per­sonal free­dom.

It’s a gutsy, of­ten off­putting piece whose ec­cen­tric lit­tle New York story and ex­per­i­men­tal vibe might have been bet­ter served by a short film.

Miriam Ko­hen (an in­trepid Laura Ester­man) is a wealthy, 74-year-old artist liv­ing in reclu­sive squalor in her Up­per East Side town­house, to the con­ster­na­tion of her af­flu­ent neigh­bors (Tracy Shayne, John Pirkis), L.A.-based son (Mark McCullough Thomas), a per­sis­tent so­cial worker (Alexan­der Quiroga) and oth­ers.

Their mount­ing in­tru­sions send Miriam into a rab­bit hole of para­noia, al­co­holism and re­sis­tance, and make her won­der if the “nanny state” she be­lieves pre­vails could turn into a “fas­cist state.”

First-time fea­ture di­rec­tor Saskia Rif kin, with a bold as­sist from cin­e­matog­ra­pher Fred­eric Fasano (shoot­ing in black-and­white and in the box­ier 4:3 ra­tio), works hard to im­merse us into Miriam’s roil­ing mind-set, em­ploy­ing an eclec­tic, some­times gar­ish vis­ual style that al­ter­nately riv­ets and con­founds.

Cather­ine May Levin’s script, sin­gu­lar as it may be, pro­vides lit­tle con­text or his­tory about Miriam, leav­ing more ques­tions than an­swers. The retro-ish gay con­tent is also a bit head­scratch­ing. Still, if the film’s mes­sages are de­bat­able, its fi­nal im­age res­onates. — Gary Gold­stein

“Can Hitler Hap­pen

Here?” Not rated. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 13 min­utes. Play­ing: Laemmle Play­house 7, Pasadena.

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