Friday, December 4, 2009

Israel Film Fest opens tomorrow in NYC with 3 fine films -- one of them a "must"

Tomorrow, Saturday, marks the opening night of the 24th Israel Film Festival -- New York venue -- as the festival actually takes place in New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami. New York plays December 5 through the 13, with Miami the following week (December 16 through the 23), with the same program for each. The Los Angeles festival, with a somewhat different program, played the west coast this past June.

Opening night is alight with stars: Elliott Gould, being presented with the 2009 IFF Lifetime Achievement Award; Paul Schrader with the 2009 IFF Achievement in Film Award; and Donald Krim , President of Kino International (a company name to delight any cinephile), with the 2009 IFF Visionary Award. TrustMovies, who is not particularly impressed with awards or celebrity, prefers to stick to the films themselves, and here, the festival looks promising indeed. The opening night feature is the Israeli box-office smash A Matter of Size, which has been nominated for 14 -- count 'em -- Ophirs (Israel's "Oscar") and also on the program is Schrader's very interesting Adam Resurrected, which received a small theatrical release in the U.S. last year and opened in Israel this year. It offers a view of the Holocaust and its aftermath that is, to put it mildly, unlike anything seen elsewhere, and I highly recommend it. (My earlier short review appears here: click and scroll down.)

Due to the simultaneous unveilings of two other festivals -- the FSLC's Spanish Cinema Now and the new In French With English Subtitles, at FIAF -- I was able only to view three films in the Israel Film Fest: one of these was interesting and certainly worth my time and the other two were simply terrific. The interesting one, ZRUVABEL (a still from which is shown above), lets us peek inside a family of Ethiopian Jews that is trying its best to make a life in Israel. Directed by Shmuel Beru -- whom, I believe, acted in another movie about Ethiopian Jews, the fine Live and Become -- the movie is a minimal-budget, hand-held affair with a big heart and a mostly smart mind. We see the casual racism of the Israeli state and how this affects various family members, as well as how fundamentalist tradition cramps their lives and prevents growth -- even as it provides respite and solace from some of the dangers present when youthful rebellion sets in. Due to the genuinely fascinating details of the lives depicted, Zrubavel holds your attention, despite a plot that grows more and more melodramatic. It's not that the characters and situations are unbelievable by any means, but the manner in which these have been assembled is, well, youthful and a bit naive. The film plays at the SVA Theater 1 on Sunday, December 6, at noon; in Theater 1 on Wed., December 9, at 5:15; and in Theater 2 on Sunday, December 13, at 9:30pm.

Better in every way is the splen-
did narrative film FOR MY FATHER (that's its German poster at left; a still from the film is below), which was nominated for seven Israeli "Ophirs, while winning two international festival awards. A movie to which the cliche "a Romeo and Juliet story" most definitely applies, it is manipulative as all get-out, yet once its situation is in place, so deftly and realistically do the director (Dror Zahavi) and writers (Ido and Jonatan Dror) work everything out, and so beautifully performed is the film, that it simply takes off into the stratosphere, leaving you moved and chastened to an almost unbearable degree.

The filmmakers set up a conundrum which both the characters and us viewers try to work out and then escape from. And because the performers, particularly the two leads (shown above), are so beautiful and persuasive, they win us over completely, as do the supporting actors -- each well cast and delivering a fine performances. Though the set-up may manipulate, the follow-through plays absolutely fair from a just, ethical and honest standpoint. That this movie honors its situation and characters so well may be its strongest point. I absolutely recommend it. For My Father screens at the SVA Theater 1 on Sunday, December 6, at 7:30; on Tuesday, December 8, in Theater 2 at 10pm; and on Saturday, December 12, it's back in Theater 1 at 7:30. If you miss all of these, there's still hope -- though, in this case, hope springs about six months from now: Distributor Film Movement will release the movie on DVD sometime in June of 2010. I'll try to cover it in more detail at that time.

Best of the three films I saw, hands down, is a documentary called THE SHAKSHUKA SYSTEM in which investigative reporter Miki Rosenthal and filmmaker Ilan Aboody lay bare an inordinate amount of detail about power, politics, money and corruption in Israel. This is an absolutely model documentary, one that a filmmaker such as Michael Moore could only observe with envy -- so rigorous and smart is it without a trace of the smart-ass and aren't-I-cuteness that Mr. Moore so often provides. Although, going into this film I had little knowledge of Israeli politics (other than that Mr. Netanyahu is back in power), I found I could follow each twist and turn quite easily. And there are plenty of these -- one more shocking and upsetting than the next. The film provoked a scandal and a lawsuit on its home turf and became the talk of the country. If you have an interest in Israel and/or documentary film-making, don't under any circumstance, miss this one. I'll have a lot more to say about it -- plus an interview with the filmmaker and the investigator -- tomorrow. The Shakshuka System (the poster is shown above) screens only twice during the festival: at the SVA Theater 2 Sunday night, December 6, at 10:15pm, and closing night, Sunday, December 13, at 7:15.

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