CULTURE WATCH — Movie screeners on DVD and novels make for great company when you’re grounded at home (as I’ve been) following knee surgery.

If you’ve ever been curious about Tehrangeles, especially the wave of Jewish Persian settlers in Los Angeles, get thee to a bookstore for a copy of Westside author Gina Nahai’s newest book, “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

Nahai’s fifth novel is both a mystery whodunit and a window into a community with an entirely unique culture and history. As an insider Nahai spares no barbs. It’s sharply written, with many humorous moments laced with edgy character depictions and a complex but fascinating plot.

A murder takes place, or does it? A Ponzi scheme by a vengeful Iranian financier/blackmailer traps many in its net. Is the perpetrator justified in his treatment of his trusting victims? Are they innocents? Or are they responsible for the humiliation of his upbringing, which is at the core of his malfeasance? And was that humiliation truly warranted?

In poetic prose that is visually evocative, we enter into the world of Iranian émigrés and refugees in the era of the Shah and the Ayatollah, learn what it takes to survive and escape a country in the upheaval of religious revolution, and discover the inner workings of the tight-knit Persian Jewish community in Los Angeles, a world unto itself.

I read “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.” by Gina Nahai in one sitting; I’m happy to recommend it to you. Why not support your local bookstore!


You might have seen a documentary film a few years back about a flock of wild parrots in San Francisco, called the “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.” Sundance and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Judy Irving, who made that movie, has created another winged adventure, “Pelican Dreams” which opens on the Westside at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles on Nov. 7.

Irving grabs you immediately with dramatic opening footage of a California Brown Pelican landing and stopping traffic on Golden Gate Bridge, and being rescued (“arrested”) by a trio of local heroes. We follow the fate of this bird, nicknamed “Gigi” (for “Golden Gate” by Irving, but identified only as a number by her rehab team. The lesson is that it is important to maintain a proper distance between human rescuer and wild bird to allow for its reintegration into nature.

Thus begins this quiet, lyrical, personal and powerful film that slowly builds around a team of wildlife rehabilitation specialists who attempt to help the growing number of pelicans (and other creatures) in need of aid. The wider story of these particular birds, their perilous journey from endangered species to their current struggle for a different kind of survival is told in a straightforward narrative voiceover style by Irving, accompanied by both sweepingly beautiful and intimately heartbreaking images, including birds trapped in oil spills.

Alongside Irving, who has loved these birds since she was a child but knew very little about them, we learn how to identify California Brown Pelicans at various stages of their lives, and travel to their nesting grounds along their migratory paths. We will witness how social they are, watch them fly, diving mid-flight and plunging into the waves to capture anchovies in their extraordinary long beaks; it is just one stroke of cinematography that will take your breath away.

There is much we still do not know about these beings, sometimes called flying dinosaurs. But by the time this film ends, we’ll know more about them and what they are up against in the face of climate change and other environmental issues.

More about the film at


Imagine a world without Paris. That is what Adolf Hitler, as he began losing his mind in the face of Germany’s defeat in August 1944, wanted us to do. If he couldn’t have Paris, the world would be deprived of its beauty, its art, its architecture, its existence as the crown jewel of culture and civilization.

Retaliating for the bombing destruction of Berlin and other German cities, he wanted to wreak a last desperate act of revenge against the world. As Allied forces began closing in, he ordered the military governor of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz to blow Paris apart completely.

Volker Schl√∂ndorff’s new film, “Diplomacy” is fictional, loosely based on these historical facts. Its pedigree includes the book “Is Paris Burning?” adapted by Francis Ford Coppola and Gore Vidal into the 1966 movie of the same name, featuring Orson Welles in the role of Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling.

French playwright Cyril Gely created a hit stage version of the play in 2011, starring Andre Dusollier and Niels Arestrup as Raoul Nordling and General von Choltitz, respectively. This is what Schl√∂ndorff has adapted to create this tense, intellectually engaging and morally challenging film, “Diplomacy,” with the stage actors reprising their roles.

Nordling (played by Dusollier) is trying to persuade von Choltitz (Arestrup) that he needs to disobey orders from Hitler and save Paris. The diplomat is a masterful wielder of words and brilliant player of rhetorical games but von Choltitz’s inflexibility seems impenetrable.

The two will spar verbally, in a room at the Hotel Meurice in Paris, where as Nordling explains, Napoleon could escape unnoticed to be with his mistress, courtesy of a false floor and a hidden staircase. These secret spaces have given the diplomat the opportunity to spy on the General, staying a step ahead of him in their negotiations.

It is a dramatic confrontation with world-shattering implications, a brilliantly acted two-header helmed by a superlative director.

“Diplomacy” also opens on November 7 at Laemmle’s Royal. Find out more at

Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also reviewed theatre for

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