Tag Archives: The Last Happy Day

Lynne Sachs at University of Chicago Film Studies Center

film studies center

An Evening with Lynne Sachs
University of Chicago Film Studies Center
Saturday, March 13, 2010 – 7:00pm
5811 South Ellis Ave, Cobb Hall 306, Chicago, Illinois 606

Introduction by Professor Michele Lowrie, Classics Department

New York filmmaker Lynne Sachs presents The Last Happy Day, an experimental documentary portrait of Sandor (Alexander) Lenard, a Hungarian medical doctor and Sachs’ distant cousin. In 1938 Lenard, a writer with a Jewish background, fled the Nazis to a safe haven in Rome. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Army Graves Registration Service hired Lenard to reconstruct the bones— small and large — of dead American soldiers. Eventually he found himself in remotest Brazil where he embarked on the translation of Winnie the Pooh into Latin. Sachs’ essay film uses personal letters, abstracted war imagery, home movies, interviews, and a children’s performance to create an intimate meditation on the destructive power of war.

In conversation with Classics Professor Michèle Lowrie (who acted as an adviser on the film), Sachs will discuss her cinematic process for making this portrait of a doctor who saw the worst of society and ran. From Lucretius’ sublime but wise “On the Nature of the Universe” to Euripides’ lurid Bacchae to Michael Ondaattje’s harrowing vision of Billy the Kid, Sachs will review the range of literature that fed her creative process. In the same spirit of experimentation, she will screen her companion piece, Cosmetic Surgery for Corpses (10 min., 2010) which witnesses a group of Latin scholars confronted with the haunting yet whimsical task of translating a newspaper article on Iraqi burial rituals into Latin.

(Lynne Sachs, 37 min, DVD, 2009)

Co-sponsored by the Departments of Classics, Rhetoric and Poetics, and Jewish Studies

Jewish Week Review of “The Last Happy Day”

The Jewish Week

www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c344_a16848/The_Arts/Film.html

by George Robinson

It would be tempting but altogether too glib to make a similar comparison between recent American documentaries and Lynne Sachs’  fascinating 38-minute film “The Last Happy Day.” Sachs takes a very unconventional approach to the Holocaust-related story of her distant cousin, a Jewish-Hungarian doctor named Sandor Lenard. Lenard fled Germany shortly before the war broke out, abandoning his medical practice and his non-Jewish first wife and son. He turned up in the unlikely haven of Fascist Italy, where he hid escaped POWs in his attic apartment in Rome. Eventually, he worked as a forensic anthropologist helping the American army’s Graves Registry unit in identifying the remains of GIs.
Finally, the pressures of the Cold War, with the threat of renewed and even more cataclysmic violence sent him in search of “a quiet, green, safe place,” which he eventually found on a mountaintop in Brazil. There he embarked on a quixotic project, translating “Winnie the Pooh” into Latin, one of the 13 languages Lenard spoke and wrote. The resulting book, “Winnie Ille Pu,” became an unexpected international bestseller, bringing him a brief taste of fame.

Sachs’ previous work (“States of unBelonging,” “A Biography of Lilith” among others) has frequently been reviewed in these pages. Her approach to documentary is experimental and unconventional. In her new film, which is playing as part of the Festival’s “Views from the Avant-Garde” program, she offers seemingly unrelated images of a quartet of children, two of them her daughters. They are playing at and reading from the Milne books about Pooh, one of them occasionally adding narration of Lenard’s story. But juxtaposed with this cheerful scene are tinted and otherwise altered newsreel footage from WWII, clips from “Open City” and readings from cousin Sandor’s letters to another American relative who, like Sachs, lived in Memphis, Tenn.

The result is a frequently charming work that makes no effort to disguise an underlying melancholy. Lenard says in one letter, “Wars have decided my life,” and admits that “the only medicine against world events is distance — safe distance.”

“Lebanon” and “Views from the Avant-Garde,” which includes “The Last Happy Day,” are part of this year’s New York Film Festival, which runs through Oct. 11 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center. For more information, go to www.filmlinc.com.

The Last Happy Day

The Last Happy Day
37 min. 2009 by Lynne Sachs

a portrait of a doctor who saw the worst of society and ran

The Last Happy Day is an experimental documentary portrait of Sandor (Alexander) Lenard, a Hungarian medical doctor and a distant cousin of filmmaker Lynne Sachs.  In 1938 Lenard, a writer with a Jewish background, fled the Nazis to a safe haven in Rome. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Army Graves Registration Service hired Lenard to reconstruct the bones — small and large — of dead American soldiers.  Eventually he found himself in remotest Brazil where he embarked on  the translation of “Winnie the Pooh” into Latin, an eccentric task that catapulted him to brief world-wide fame.  Sachs’ essay film uses personal letters, abstracted war imagery, home movies, interviews, and a children’s performance to create an intimate meditation on the destructive power of war.

“A fascinating, unconventional approach to a Holocaust-related story … a frequently charming work that makes no effort to disguise an underlying melancholy.”  George Robinson, The Jewish Week

“Exquisite…Sachs reclaims (Lenard’s) dignity and purpose using letters, newsreel footage, and recreations of his environment as if to channel him back from the past.”                         Todd Lillethun – Program Director, Chicago Filmmakers

Premiere: New York Film Festival, 2009

Broadcast:  Hungarian Public Television, Spring 2010.

Website on Alexander Lenard:   http://mek.oszk.hu/kiallitas/lenard/indexeng.html

Selected Screenings and Honors: Indiewire.Com: Nominated One of the Best “Undistributed Films” of 2009 (Phillip Lopate); Director’s Choice Award, Black Maria Film Festival 2010; San Francisco Cinematheque;  Pacific Film Archive;  Punto de Vista Documentary Film Festival, Spain;  University of Chicago; Chicago Filmmakers;  Closing Night Film Singapore Film Festival; International House University of Pennsylvania.

For inquiries about rentals or purchases please contact Canyon Cinema,  Film-makers’ Cooperative, or Icarus Films. And for international bookings, please contact Kino Rebelde

lasthappydaysandor-at-autopsy

Last Happy Day still of childupsidedown copy