Rochester Jewish Film Festival, running July 16-23, shows at Little Theatres, 240 East Avenue, and the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre, 900 East Avenue. $10-$15. For more information call 461-2000 ext. 235, or visit www.rjff.org.
The chosen films
Six years have passed since the first Rochester Jewish Film Festival, and the RJFF continues its custom of finding the planet's best films about the Jewish experience and bringing them to an audience that may not get the chance to see them otherwise. The 2006 incarnation contains nine feature films, seven documentaries, and two short films, plus visiting artists, post-screening discussions, an opening-night ice cream street party and concert, and a closing-night chocolate and wine reception. Ticket prices range from $10 to $15, with festival passes available for $118. Visit www.rjff.org or call 461-2000 ext. 235 for advance purchase of tickets as well as further information about the festival.
I used a very scientific and reliable method involving my index finger, two closed eyes, and some pointing in choosing which films to preview...
Little Jerusalem (2005; in French and Hebrew with English subtitles)
Remaining true to tradition while establishing your individuality is a common theme in art, and filmmaker Karin Albou's Little Jerusalem explores this seeming paradox via the story of Laura (gifted Fanny Valette), a young Orthodox Jewish woman studying philosophy and in love with an Algerian immigrant named Djamel (Hedi Tillette de Clermont-Tonnerre). Albou juxtaposes Laura's situation with that of her sister Mathilde (Elsa Zylberstein), a wife and mother trying to adhere to her rigid interpretation of the Torah and still prevent her philandering husband Ariel (Bruno Todeschini) from seeking the company of women unbound by such restrictions.
The film takes its title from the close-knit Jewish enclave in a Parisian suburb that the sisters call home with their Tunisian mother, a superstitious widow eager to find a proper husband for her free-thinking daughter. Writer-director Albou gets gutsy performances from her cast --- as well as sublime cinematography from her DP that lovingly showcases the film's gorgeous heroines --- and shows that the truest faith is in yourself.
Go For Zucker (2005; in German with English subtitles)
Jacky Zucker (Henry Hübchen) is a lovable loser, with a wife who describes herself as his future ex, disillusioned kids, and a heap of debt. But he's also a crackerjack billiards player who believes his problems will be solved once he wins the European Pool Classic, only days away. Then his mother checks out, leaving a condition in her will that neither Jacky nor his estranged brother Samuel (UdoSamel), an Orthodox Jew, will get their paws on her deutschmarks until they kiss and make up.
It's a fairly standard plot thickener, but director Dani Levy gets great comedic mileage out of Jacky's feeble efforts to be Jewish again (Samuel's wife correctly observes Jacky and his family to be "as kosher as a pork chop") and go-for-broke attempts (read: fake heart attacks) to participate in the tournament despite the fact that he's supposed to be in mourning. Go For Zuckerwas a huge hit in its native Germany, using slapstick and farce to compare the rift between the brothers to the invisible schism that remains in the once-divided country.
Walk On Water (2003; in Hebrew with English subtitles)
Director Eytan Fox's Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film stars Israeli heartthrob Lior Ashkenazi as Eyal, a Mossad assassin on the trail of a Nazi war criminal. Eyal poses as a tour guide in hopes of eliciting information from the man's grown-up grandkids: the vacationing Axel (Knut Berger), who is visiting sister Pia (Carolina Peters) on a kibbutz. Time spent with Axel forces Pia to acknowledge that she's trying to escape from her past, while the stoic Eyal, also in denial about a recent tragedy, gets to see Israel anew through the eyes of his German charges.
The three main actors do a credible job even as they act in a language (English) that isn't their mother tongue, but the standout is Ashkenazi, who uses his sad Clive Owen-esque looks to channel a man whose closely held preconceptions begin to fall to the wayside. And while the epilogue is a little too pat --- it's actually downright treacly --- the journey finds Fox tackling a bunch of thorny issues in Walk On Water, from Muslim-Jew relations to homophobia to Israel's struggle to reconcile its heartbreaking history.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days(2005; in German with English subtitles)
Sophie Scholl was a German student who was executed in 1943 for her participation in the White Rose, a resistance movement at MunichUniversity. The recent discovery of documents relating to her trial as well as new interviews with witnesses provide the basis for The Final Days, director Marc Rothemund'sheartwrenching portrait of one woman's steadfast convictions, even in the face of the ultimate consequence.
As subtly played by The Edukators' Julia Jentsch, Sophie is hauled in after distributing anti-Nazi leaflets at school, initially thwarting her interrogator but eventually confessing after incriminating evidence is discovered at her apartment. Her grilling by the increasingly sympathetic Investigator Mohr is fascinating and frustrating, and the resulting trial, presided over by an unyielding judge, may cause you to wonder what you might do when confronted with the same choices. There is ample opportunity throughout The Final Days for over-the-top hysterics, but Rothemund allows his film the same grace and dignity possessed by his muse.
Moshe Safdie: The Power of Architecture(2004)
I'm not sure why documentaries about architects are so intriguing. Perhaps it's because we rarely stop and think about all that went into constructing something we use every day and probably take for granted. In the last couple of years we've seen My Architect and Sketches of Frank Gehry, and this portrait of Moshe Safdie explores the life and work of one of the world's foremost designers, a man making his mark all over the globe, but especially in the three countries he calls home: Canada, America, and Israel.
Sporting twinkly brown eyes and a whisk-broom mustache, Safdie discusses what drives him to take chances in his art. He's rightfully proud of his first project, Montreal's Habitat '67, a stunning exercise in urban villagery that looks as though someone dropped a pile of blocks next to the St. Lawrence River, as well as Salem's PeabodyMuseum, whose galleries derive their inspiration from the old tombstones nearby. His legacy, however, will be the planning and building of Modi'in, located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and housing 60,000 people in a growing town that respects both the land and people. Closer to home, however, The Power of Architecture should get your excited about our own Renaissance Square project, on which Safdie is design architect.
Unless otherwise noted, screenings take place at Little Theatres
Sunday, July 16
Live and Become, 3 p.m.
A Cantor's Tale (preceded by Matisyahu), 7 p.m.
Monday, July 17
The Ritchie Boys, 6:30 p.m.
Little Jerusalem (preceded by The Tribe), 9 p.m.
Tuesday, July 18
Sister Rose's Passion and My 100 Children, 6:30 p.m.
Go For Zucker, 9 p.m.
Wednesday, July 19
Walk On Water, 6:30 p.m.
What A Wonderful Place, 9 p.m.
Thursday, July 20
Singing Blacksmith, 2 p.m. (Dryden)
Forgotten Refugees and Last Greeks on Broome Street, 6:30 p.m.
Fateless, 9 p.m.
Saturday, July 22
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, 7 and 10 p.m. (Dryden)
Sunday, July 23
Bar Mitzvah Boy, 4 p.m.
Moshe Safdie: The Power of Architecture, 7 p.m.