Claudia Moscovici

Bernard Salzman’s Mihaella: Chekhovian Fiction Meets Kabbalah

 

When one thinks of Eastern European fiction that tackles the big ontological questions—what is divinity, what is the nature and purpose of existence—as well as difficult metaphysical questions—such as the problem of theodicy, or why suffering exists in a God-created world—one thinks of writers like Dostoievsky and Tolstoy. However, often these questions seem too big for human beings to handle. Even a philosophical character like Ivan Karamzov seemed to give up on finding any satisfactory answers to such questions and, along with that, he also gave up on individual human love. In a famous quote from The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan states: “But it always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.” For Chekhov, on the other hand, the balance seems to be tipped in favor of depicting with compassion individual human beings. In the Russian literary tradition it is Chekhov, I believe, who brings large metaphysical questions down to Earth. His short stories and plays stage moral dilemmas in all-too-human characters, which he portrays with some irony and a lot of tender-hearted indulgence.

This is the tone of Bernard Salzman’s newest screenplay, Mihaella, currently in development by his film company, Eye Opener Films. This screenplay centers around the character of Mihaella, a young girl who lost her mother and is being taken care of by her uncle, Noah, and his wife Elizabeth. They live in a small town, reminiscent of Russian and Romanian villages where people go through difficult lives and pray to be spared some of their suffering by a divine miracle. Yet when faced with a being as miraculous as Mihaella–a hybrid of girl and angel—how will they react?

The answer isn’t simple, as nothing that crosses the boundaries of the explicable ever is. Neither religious dogma, epitomized at times by Father Gregory and some of his followers, nor empirical science can explain Mihaella’s mixture of special powers and human vulnerability. She’s not able to answer all of the villagers’ prayers to heal their ailments, as angels are supposed to do. Yet she grows angels’ wings, learns how to fly, and seems a mixed blessing for her new friend, Wright, a handicapped young man. Moreover, when pursued by a group of thugs, Mihaella manages to escape from harm thanks to her angelic demeanor and superhuman powers. But she can’t save Wright from being beaten by them, nor his father, Dean, from having his house burned to the ground. The best this human-angel can do is help people save themselves.

Like human knowledge of divine mysteries itself, Mihaella’s powers are only partial. And that seems to be why the villagers, including the local priest, regard her with ambivalence. They can accept the supposed certainties of religious dogma or the apparent truths of empirical reality much more readily than Mihaella’s hybrid nature and limited–yet clearly extraordinary–powers. When I asked Bernard about the religious and philosophical overtones of his screenplay, he replied that “The script is actually based on a short story I wrote many years ago. There are many universal questions I struggle with and I have spent many years studying Kabbalah in an attempt to understand.”

By depicting our human fear of the limits of our knowledge, this screenplay confronts one of the biggest metaphysical questions facing humanity: why does the suffering of innocents exist if the world ruled by an omnipotent and omniscient God? Why does Mihaella’s young mother have to die? Why does the sweet and innocent boy, Wright, have to endure so much humiliation and pain at the hands of others? Mihaella offers no easy answers about the nature of divinity and God’s ability to answer our prayers. In the Kabbalah, God is, like angels, a liminal being: neither matter nor spirit; the creator of both. God is unknowable to human beings, yet there is a revealed aspect of divinity that human beings can come to know and interact with. In the screeplay by the same name, Mihaella represents this aspect of divinity: one which the villagers must learn to embrace in order to learn the biggest lesson of this upcoming movie: “I think it’s not how much you pray, it’s how much you love,” Mihaella tells Father Gregory. But will he and the villagers get the angel-child’s message or chase her away, in their simultaneous longing for the unknowable and fear of the unknown? Watch and see for yourselves when Bernard Salzman’s new movie–filled with wisdom and hope–is released.

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

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May 3, 2011 Posted by | angel, angels, Bernard Salzman, book review, book reviews, books, Celebrity Dialogue Interview with Cinematographer Bernard Salzman, Chekhov, Chekhovian fiction, Chekhovian screenplay, cinematographer Bernard Salzman, Claudia Moscovici, contemporary fiction, Dostoievksy, Inner Circle Films, Ivan Karamazov, Kabbalah, La Tricoteuse, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, love, Mihaella, miracle, miracles, new fiction, screenplay, theodicy, William Bouguereau | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bernard Salzman’s Mihaella: Chekhovian Fiction Meets Kabbalah

The Seducer: A Modern Cautionary Tale

 

During the nineteenth century, novelists like Flaubert and Tolstoy viewed literature as interlinked with education. In their minds, literature was not reducible to its educational value. Novels, however, represented one of the most moving and creative means of doing both things at once: entertaining and instructing the general public. The great masterpieces of nineteenth-century literature, Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, show what happens when women lose their sense of self and boundaries and get involved with dangerous men. My new novel perpetuates this literary tradition for our times. The Seducer shows what happens to two women who get involved with a social predator. The modern seducer, however,  is no harmless and frivolous player, like Madame Bovary‘s Rodolphe. He’s a vicious psychopathic sex addict posing as Mr. Right.

There’s no better time for reading educational fiction, intended to simultaneously enlighten and entertain you, than in the days following the new year. This is the time when most of us do some soul searching, to see how we can improve ourselves and better our lives. During these days, advertisers deluge us with new products–diet aids, exercise equipment, beauty supplies and how to books–all intended to show us that their products will help us lead a better and healthier life.

Most of the time, however, these self-help tools are like band aids for the soul. They may help us marginally improve ourselves if we already lead good lives, with loving partners and have a healthy self esteem. But no beauty treatment, exercise equipment or diet formula can change an inherently bad relationship, heal a partner suffering from a personality disorder, or give you a sense of worth. Self respect must come from within: from a healthy attitude towards yourself and others. Consequently, if you’ve spent months or even years struggling in a toxic relationship with a disordered partner, the best thing you can do for yourself this new year is face reality and leave the toxic relationship. This will not be possible, however, unless you learn how to respect yourself.

In my new novel, The Seducer, I  illustrate how a lack of adequate self esteem and insecurities can lead some women directly into the arms of social predators. These dangerous men know how to flatter them initially, only to later gradually isolate them from others, play upon their insecurities and gnaw at their self-esteem. The insidious process of eroding one’s sense of self and boundaries is most obvious in the interaction between Michael, a sociopathic sex addict, and Karen, his loving partner who can’t escape their toxic relationship no matter how much he mistreats her. And mistreat her he does: he cheats on her with dozens of women; lies to her; plays catch and release games by breaking up with her and then feigning love and contrition to get back into her life; makes her feel insecure about her body image leading her to bulimia and food addiction; encourages her to feel unattractive by unfavorably comparing her to other women and undermining her self-worth. For many of you who are–or have been–involved with bad men, this story will sound very familiar, as fiction will reflect your real life.

The Seducer also shows how even women who have high self esteem, like the main character, Ana, can fall into the trap set by psychopathic seducers. Such men flatter you, reflect your dreams and pose as your soul mates. Only once you fall into their clutches do they show their true colors and start eroding your boundaries and self image. You can witness for yourself the whole process of psychopathic seduction in The Seducer, previewed on Neatorama’s Bitlit.

The main thing that can save you from a psychopath–or from any other manipulative person who wants to take over your life–is cultivating a healthy self-esteem. This may seem like a truism. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of common sense that many know but fewer actually practice. Any therapist will tell you that he or she stays in business largely because of people’s unrealistic perception of themselves. Character distortions not only damage our self-confidence, but also taint our relationships. They make us excessively vain, or needy, or inflexible, or too willing to bend over backwards just to please others. More seriously, character disorders, such as psychopathy and malignant narcissism, are unfixable in adults.

Fortunately, however, most people don’t suffer from such constitutive emotional and moral deficiencies. More commonly, we suffer from distorted perceptions of ourselves. This puts us at risk of falling into the clutches of controlling individuals. To find your compass you need to look within, as the Greeks wisely advised. Ultimately, nobody else can save you. You can save yourself by living well, which depends upon knowing your worth–neither underestimating nor overestimating it–and pursuing with a mostly internally driven self-confidence the path you want to take in life.

As a novelist and literary critic, I believe that this lesson can be learned as much from literature as from life. Novels can touch you on both an intellectual and an emotional level. I’m hoping that my modern cautionary tale, The Seducer, will  introduce you to a fictional world that mirrors and magnifies the psychological reality within you to help you see more clearly–and surmount–the real challenges you face in life.

You can view The Seducer online on the links below:

Claudia Moscovici, Notablewriters.com

January 3, 2011 Posted by | Anna Karenina, bitlit, books, Claudia Moscovici, contemporary fiction, David Israel, David K. Israel, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Edward K. Kaplan, Edward Kaplan, fiction, Flaubert, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, literary criticism, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, love, Madame Bovary, novel, novels, psychological fiction, psychopath, psychopathy, seducer, seduction, serial novels, social predators, sociopath, sociopathy, The Seducer, The Seducer: A Novel, thriller, Tolstoy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Seducer: A Modern Cautionary Tale