In the dour, ego-stroking documentary "Egoiste: Lotti Latrous," directed by Stephan Anspichler, Swiss-born Lotti Latrous, living in Cairo with her family, runs a hospice clinic in Ivory Coast. The usual images of impoverishment and dire circumstances duly follow, as well as Latrous arriving like an angel of condescending mercy to help. Latrous repeatedly refers to herself as selfish for the strain her work puts on her family, and while Anspichler intends to put those comments in some sort of relief, to make them seem modest and self-effacing, the film's construction unwittingly makes them ring all too true.
Paying no attention to larger, causal issues, the film reduces those that Latrous assists to the role of mere props for appeasing her middle-class guilt. The way in which Anspichler lingers on those who are only moments from death, especially milking a little boy's suffering in the film's finale, is truly sickening and exploitative in the lowest sense of the word.
"Egoiste: Lotti Latrous." In French with English subtitles. MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.
Spall gives life to 'Hangman'
Based on the true story of Albert Pierrepoint, the last in a family line of executioners in England, "Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman" presents an unsensationalized take on the meaning and purpose of capital punishment. Directed by Adrian Shergold from a screenplay by Jeff Pope and Bob Mills (and produced by some of the same people involved with "The Queen"), "Pierrepoint" is at once desperately grim and unnervingly gripping, providing an exacting sense of the detail and procedure that went into death by hanging.
Actor Timothy Spall, a familiar face from his frequent appearances in the films of Mike Leigh, gives a performance of quiet power, conveying the ways in which Pierrepoint's initial "just doing my job" attitude snowballs into a greater moral burden. Pierrepoint would eventually come to renounce capital punishment, and though the filmmakers leave no doubt which side of the debate they come down on, by choosing to focus on a man rather than the issue, "Pierrepoint" is subtle and compelling.
"Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman." MPAA rating: R for disturbing images, nudity and brief sexuality. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd. (323) 848-3500; Laemmle's One Colorado, 42 Miller Alley(inside plaza, Fair Oaks Avenue at Union Street), Pasadena, (626) 744-1224; and the Regency Lido, 3459 Via Lido (Via Lido and Newport Boulevard), Newport Beach, (949) 673-8350.
Arab-Israeli conflict revisited
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt, which explains the current cottage industry of books and articles on the conflict. As well it is the catalyst for the rather surprising theatrical release of Ilan Ziv's documentary "Six Days," which really has nothing more to offer than what can be found on any variety of cable channels any night of the week. A mixture of archival footage, recent interviews and reenactments, the film gives a solid, if rather dry, overview of events just preceding the fighting (the six days of the war are perhaps the least engaging part of the story), as well as the ways in which the subsequent fallout largely shaped what has since happened in the Middle East. While there is certainly still much to be gleaned from a deeper understanding of this conflict -- its shaky planning, hasty invasion and prolonged occupation rings eerily familiar -- any contemporary resonance remains at the edges of Ziv's dispiritingly straightforward telling.
"Six Days." In English with some subtitled Hebrew, Arabic and Russian. MPAA rating: unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Grande, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A. (213) 617-0268.