Koch on Film


By Ed Koch

“The Station Agent” (+)

This is a remarkable film with a story that is more suggestive than solid and one that is never fully resolved. It captures your mind and emotions from the opening frame to the last.

We meet, without any hint as to who they are, two people awakening in the morning in their separate apartments preparing to go to work. One is Henry (Paul Benjamin) an elderly, very dignified black man, and the other is Fin (Peter Dinklage) a dwarf. The movie never discusses the differences between a midget and a dwarf — the former proportionately formed but miniature and the latter disproportionate in upper or lower body and limbs. Fin’s lower body, arms and legs are shorter than the normal body size in relation to his upper torso.

The two men arrive at a store where model trains are sold. We don’t know who is the owner and who the employee. While Henry is at the cash register and Fin is repairing a model train, Henry keels over and dies. A conversation between Henry’s estate lawyer and Fin reveals that Henry owned the store and in his will left Finn a property in rural New Jersey on which sits an abandoned train station.

Fin visits the site and decides to live there. He meets three people who enter his life: Joe (Bobby Cannavale) a Cuban who operates a mobile coffee and frankfurter van adjacent to Fin’s property; Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) an artist separated from her husband and living a few miles away; and Cleo (Raven Goodwin) a young woman who is pregnant with the child of a not-so-nice local who is a bully.

The story is about the decency, resilience and courage of Fin. With one exceptional moment at a bar, where he exhibits his vulnerability and inner feelings concerning his disability, he plays with great dignity the hand that fate has dealt him. His great courage affects the lonely people he meets and in each case for the better. It would have been easy for this film to fall into a soap opera mode, but it never does.

Fin is a handsome and loving man with a need for privacy, wary of others for fear they will intrude or extend pity or sympathy rather than friendship. On one occasion, Joe tries to engage Fin in sexual banter regarding Fin’s sexual activities. He declines saying, “I don’t want to go there.” One another occasion when he seeks to help Olivia, she rejects him in anger saying, “I’m not your lover and I’m not your mother.”

Dinklage is a fine actor, brilliantly conveying different emotions simply with the movement of his lips rather than so-called body language. Joe (Bobby Cannavale) nearly steals the movie away from him and his character. The challenge for scriptwriters will be to write more parts for Dinklage to play in his 4’ 5” body. I sure hope they do.

“To Be and to Have” (+)

Absolutely sublime. But, as HG said after the crawl at the end of the film, “It didn’t belong in a movie house at 10 bucks a ticket; it belonged on Public Television.” Yes and no.

This documentary is surely worth seeing, but the subject matter is without doubt not the usual movie fare good or bad. It takes place during the course of a year in a one-room French schoolhouse. The 15 or so students range from kindergarten to middle-school students to which some of them will go at the end of the current term.

The teacher, Georges Lopez, is sensational in teaching the children, praising them, comforting them, and at the end of the term, talking to them separately as their class adviser. They accept him completely, and some of the exchanges between teacher and student are moving to the point of tears. No one at any time plays to the camera or is in any way inhibited.

The outdoor scenes of the French countryside with working farms are presented as tableaus and could be the works of the great French masters, van Gogh in particular. There are lines for this movie at the Cinema Village, but it is well worth the wait to get in.

– Ed Koch