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The strange, the kinky, and the Krispy

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If the air outside is thick enough to cut with a knife, that means it's time for the Rochester Jewish Film Festival. The festival opens this Sunday (July 13) and continues through the following Sunday (July 20), with all screenings taking place at either the Dryden Theatre or the Little Theatre. City has the inside scoop on several of this year's entries, but you can get more information about films, tickets, and schedules at www.rjff.org.

            God is Great, I'm Not (Tuesday, July 15) screened at last fall's High Falls Film Festival, and the mere presence of Audrey Tautou (Amélie) had people lined up around the block. Here, Tautou plays Michèle, a frizzy-haired Paris fashion model whose recent relationship implosion and abortion leave her searching for spiritual answers. Catholicism ain't cutting it, and a short-lived attempt at Buddhism finds her nodding off during meditation. She discovers Judaism at around the same time that she meets François (Edouard Baer), a Jewish veterinarian who is desperately trying to hide his religious roots. When they fall in love, it becomes a feature-film version of an episode of Three's Company. (Picture Chrissy Snow hanging up a mezuzah on secret-Jew Jack Tripper's door and imagine the hilarity.)

            You get two chances to see Amen on Saturday (July 19 --- it's screening at 6:30 and 10:00), but only the mentally disturbed will want to catch this flick more than once. Costa-Gavras directs and adapts the story from Rolf Hochhuth's controversial six-hour 1963 play called The Deputy. Don't worry --- the film version isn't nearly that long, though it does unspool over a very uncomfortable 132 minutes. It's about a German chemist and SS lieutenant named Kurt Gerstein (Ulrich Tukur) who invents Zyklon B, a gas he believed was going to be used for routine water purification. Eventually, the devout Protestant learns Zyklon B is being used in the Polish death camps and pleads with the Church to intervene.

            Gerstein's (a real guy) squeaky wheel gets no grease from the Church, though he does pique the interest of Riccardo Fontana (Mathieu Kassovitz), a young Jesuit priest who uses his family connections to arrange a meeting between Gerstein and Pope Pious XII. But old Pious offers no solution to the Final Solution, mostly because he's scared the Nazis will invade the Vatican if he shakes his finger at them.

            Costa-Gavras, who saw Oscar action for Missing and Z, hasn't made a film since 1997's debacle Mad City with Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta. Amen should have been much more rabble-rousing, but aside from a moment or two, it's oddly unmoving. It's also extremely heavy-handed, almost comically repetitious, and way too long. Amen is also, strangely, in English, despite a glaring lack of actors who can call it their native tongue. Then again, people seem to love watching this kind of thing ( The Pianist ), as Amen garnered seven César nominations (and a win for Best Writing). On the plus side, Krispy Kreme will be doling out free donuts at the screenings.

            Things definitely look up the following day, with a trio of hour-long documentaries about interesting subjects. Strange Fruit relates the origin of the haunting Billie Holliday tune, which turned out to be written by American Communist Party member and Bronx high school teacher Abel Meeropol (using the pseudonym Lewis Allen). Meeropol crafted the words in 1937 after seeing a photograph of the lynching of Abram Smith and Thomas Shipp. The Joel Katz-directed doc, which follows Meeropol's interesting career, ends with a list of contemporaries who have performed the song over the years.

            Hot on the heels of last year's Schmelvis: Searching for the King's Jewish Roots comes Shalom Y'all, another look at the unlikely combination of Judaism and the South. Director Brian Bain, a third-generation Jew, echoes the Bible Belt journeys made by his hat-and-tie-salesman grandfather many moons ago. For a road-trip film, it's all pretty pedestrian, but there is a brief appearance by musician-turned-mystery-writer Kinky Friedman.

            Friedman takes center stage later that evening in Kinky Friedman: Proud to Be an Asshole From El Paso, which is packed with interesting interviews with notable Southern luminaries like Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, and Bill Clinton (who tells a hysterical story about what he did with a cigar!), who all reflect on what Richard "Kinky" Friedman means to them. And, of course, there's plenty of Kinky, who hit the scene 30 years ago with a band (The Texas Jewboys) and a song ("They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore") that captured the nation's attention as well as its ire.

There are two cinematic ways in which you can celebrate Gay Pride Week. The first and perhaps less obvious route would be to see Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which features Johnny Depp doing a brilliant, flaming mélange of Captain Morgan, Dudley Moore, Keith Richards, and Andy Dick. There's also the big ImageOut fundraiser on Thursday, July 17, where Tipping the Velvet and I Love You Baby will be screened. Velvet is a BBC-produced miniseries about three women in Victorian England, and Baby is about a handsome country boy who finds love in the big city. For more information and details about advance ticket sales, visit ImageOut online at www.imageout.org.

Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.

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