Archive for the ‘Jewish Film Festival’ Category

Nelly and Nadine (2022) Berlinale, Panorama Dokumente (2022)

Dir/Wri: Magnus Gertten | with Nelly Mousset-Vos, Nadine Hwang, Sylvie Bianchi, Anne Coesens, Bwanga Pilipi | Sweden/Belgium/Norway 2022, 92′

A year in the making, Magnus Gertten’s sumptuously beautiful documentary is as much a love story as a testament to holocaust survival for two women. Nelly Mousset-Vos was a spy working against Nazi Deutschland and Nadine Hwang brought refugees over the border into safely.

Nelly and Nadine met each for the first time at Christmas in 1944, in Ravensbruck concentration camp. They would come across each other again after liberation and would stay together for the rest of their lives.

Today, Nelly’s granddaughter Sylvie unveils her grandmother’s surprising story in a collection of revealing images. The photographs, Super 8 footage and audio recordings as well as the poignant diary entries, recall her grandmother’s lesbian love affair with fellow concentration camp inmate Nadine. Like many relationships back in the day the explicit nature of their love was glossed over by the rest of the family and even close friends. But it soon becomes clear that it was far more than just a friendship.

With Gerrten’s lyrical compositions and artful editing Nelly’s story gracefully reveals its secrets, her granddaughter Sylvie uncovering more and more detail and exposing some surprising home truths. The archive material also sparks memories for Sylvie herself that go some way to explaining her mother’s behaviour and her deep understanding of the nature of love, but also her bouts of melancholy that emerged after the war. Many survivors chose not to talk about their wartime lives to loved ones and this extraordinary film once again confirms the saying “a picture tells a thousand words”. MT

Magnus Gertten wins Jury Award | TEDDY AWARDS 2022, one of the most prestigious queer film awards in the world | BERLINALE PANORAMA DOKUMENTE 2022

Sátántangó (1991/3) Bfi Player

Dir.: Bela Tarr; Cast: Mihaly Vig, Istvan Horvath, Erika Bök, Peter Berling, Miklos B. Szekely, Laszlo Fe Lugossy, Eva Almassi Albert, Alfred Jaray, Erzsebet Gaal, Janos Derzsi, Iren Szajki; Hungary/Germany/Switzerland 1991/93, 450′.

Based on the novel 1985 by co-writer Laszlo Krasnahorkai, Bela Tarr’s collaborator in his final five feature films, Sátántangó is a human tragedy that deals with time, memory and melancholy, delving into the final years of Communism in a Hungarian village, where everyone plays a part in their collective fate.

Filmed in long tracking shots, the opening sequence – an eight minute take of cows ruminating in the grounds of a decaying estate – is symbolic for what is to follow. Told in two parts with six episodes each, Santantango uses tango steps for the retrogressive dance sequences as the story unfolds. The work of Samuel Beckett and Thomas Bernhard clearly springs to mind, but Tarr/Krasmahorkai add an extra dimension of absolute stasis that contrasts with the characters’ overriding desire to escape their fate from the outset.

The story begins in 1990s Hungary where life has come to a standstill for a group of farmers waiting for their collective farm to be shut down. Their plan is to move to a new location. But socially things are looking bleak: Futaki (Szekely) is having an affair with Mrs. Schmidt (Albert); Mr. Schmidt (Lugossy) is trying to steal the money the villagers have put aside for their escape plan. Futaki demands to be part of the scheme. All this goes on under the beady eye of a drunk Doctor (Berling) who  chronicles the unfolding narrative.

However, the master plan is abandoned when the villagers discover that Irimias (Vig) and his manipulative co-conspirator Petrina (Horvath) have returned. The two have struck a deal with the police captain to spy on the villagers. The doctor has run out of brandy, and after replenishing his supplies, he meets the young Estike (Bök), who asks him desperately for help. But the doctor passes out in the wood. The morning before, Estika had been tricked into planting a ‘money tree’ by her brother in the nearby wasteland. Estike tortures and poisons her cat to show she has some form of control over her life, but she soon loses the plot, like many others who are seen dancing in the pub.

But Estike has a shred of humanity, and is overcome by grief after her cruelty to the cat. She asks the doctor to save her pet, but this episode ends in tragedy. Meanwhile Irimias then turns his efforts to convincing the villagers to hand over the escape money. But he also has another dastardly plan up his sleeve. And the story ends with the doctor returning to the abandoned farm, unaware he is alone. On hearing the church bells ringing and a madman shouting: “the Turks are coming”, the doctor nails his windows shut and starts the narration from its beginning.

Gabor Medvigy’s intimate camera encircles the characters with long panning shots and cold-blooded close-ups, leaving nothing to the imagination. Tarr shows us that there are three cinematic worlds to escape into: the one of beauty, the ugly one and the empty one. Beauty belongs to the works of Tarkovsky; Ozu’s films meditate the void, and the early works of Antonioni portray ugliness.

Dedicating a whole day to watch Satantango is to immerse yourself in a world of visual wonder. It’s not that there is so much to tell, but because there is so much to understand. Neo-Realism revolutionised the world of cinema by allowing the audience to participate, and take part in the composition. Neo-Realism is only effective if the audience can watch the film from the inside. If today’s films want to be meaningful they need to focus on the strength of the script, rather than degenerating into attention-grabbing digital trickery.

Satantango offers a chance to immerse ourselves completely in a point in time, and be a part of the story. Watch and submerge yourself in the reality of this remarkable story-telling – and join the world of sense and sensibility. AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON BFI Player | Also on Bluray     


Solomon and Gaenor (1999) *** UK Jewish Film Festival 2019

Dir/Wri: Paul Morrison | Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Nia Roberts, Sue Jones-Davies, William Thomas | UK Drama 105′

This Welsh/Jewish version of Romeo & Juliet fails to generate any heat despite fresh performances from its dynamic central duo. It went on to be the British hopeful for Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2000, but came home empty-handed.

In turn of the century Wales during an upswell of anti-semitism, largely caused by social discontent in a small community dependent on coal-mining, Welsh Christian Gaenor (Roberts) and Orthodox Jewish Solomon (Gruffudd) meet face to face when he rings her bell as a door to door salesman. His family also own the local pawnshop making Solomon’s religious affiliations seem evident. But we are led to believe Gaenor has not cottoned on to his religious persuasion and they subsequently fall for one another in coup de foudre culminating in a barn. Clearly Solomon is far less experienced than Gaenor, who is not just a church-goer, as she comments: “you’re different from other men, and different down there”. She doesn’t twig why he is different, or even think to ask. But their onscreen chemistry is convincing and heartfelt.

But Solomon – or Sam – is still keeping his light under a bushel in this dangerous game of love. The lengths he goes to conceal his Jewishness and his refusal to accept the ultimate impact of his lie on his love for Gaenor is the crux of this rather grimly-mounted drama. Sam remains a tortured soul throughout particularly when he discovers her pregnancy. But although Morrison is even-handed in his portrayal of Jewish and Welsh hostility to one another, this element is underwritten and takes a backseat to the couple’s love story that relies on romantic cliches and narrative contrivances, leading to a ludicrously melodramatic finale.

Not what Shakespeare would have hoped for, and certainly not what Zeffirelli achieved in his far superlative 1968 original with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. First time filmmaker Paul Morrison went on to make the more successful Wondrous Oblivion four years later, but lacked the experience to set the night on fire with this predictably maudlin Shakespeare re-imagining. MT


Forgotten Soldier (2018) UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Lucile Smith; Documentary, narrated by Zoe Wannamaker; UK 2018, 69 min.

This debut feature documentary by Lucile Smith tries to uncover the life of Salomon Jacob ‘Sally’ Noach, who saved at least 600 Jews and other prisoners of the Nazis in occupied France, masquerading as a Dutch Consul. His children, Lady Irene Hatter and Jacques Noach travel to Europe and the USA, to speak with survivors and their children about the role their father played in their liberation.

‘Sally’ Noach was born in the Dutch town of Zutphen in 1909. Early on in his life, he showed great initiative, leaving school at twelve, to work in the hotel business. At the age of 28 he had his own car, working in tandem with his father as a travelling salesman. When war broke out, he was in Brussels, whilst his family stayed in the Netherlands. After the German occupation of France in 1940, he took the train to Paris, starting a chaotic journey which left him and his refugee travellers, mainly Jewish, stranded after four days in the Pyrenean village of St. Julien. Even though Noach helped to organise this ‘refugee camp’, it was clear that the little village could never sustain such an influx of refugees. So he went to Toulouse to the Dutch consulate, making friends and connections, before moving to Lyon, which was ‘the capital of Refugees’. Working as an interpreter for the Dutch consulate official Paul Marx, with the German Military Tribunal. He had also met German Camp commanders, and after forging identity papers, he went to the camps demanding the release of all Dutch prisoners – even freeing numbers of other nationalities. But his greatest coup was the ‘liberation’ of prisoners from the ‘Iris’ stadium at the outskirts of Lyon in 1942. When Klaus Barbie arrived in Lyon in the same year, to start the deportation from the Drancy camp to Auschwitz, Noach left and arrived in London in 1943. He was received by members of the Dutch Government in Exile, and the Queen, but his name had been blackened: he was suspected of being a profiteer in Lyon’s Black Market – since that was the only place refugees could trade, being excluded from all other avenues. Noach married, had three children and moved back to the Netherlands, where he was active in the carpet trade, never talking to his family about his experiences in WWII. Posthumously he was awarded the highest Dutch honour in 1981, only a year after his death at the age of 70.

This is a succinct and well-made documentary, but Lady Irene’s travels to meet survivors and learn about her father’s endeavours suffers from a bit of grandstanding by Irene, who rather overplays herself into the foreground. Some clumsy scenes and transitions could have been avoided by a more seasoned director. Surely, ‘Sally’ Noach himself, an adventurous man of no-nonsense, would have agreed.AS











Three Identical Strangers (2018)****

Dir.: Tim Wardle; Documentary with Eddy Galland, David Kellman, Bobby Shafran, Paula Bernstein, Elyse Schein; USA 2018, 96 min.

In 1960, a world-renowned child psychiatrist, Austrian-born Peter Neubauer (1913-2008) began a long term study of twins (at least five sets) and triplets (one set). The babies were separated, and fostered by chosen sets of parents, being tested and observed over a period of more than ten years by Neubauer’s associates. In the end, at least three of the test group committed suicide.

Director Tim Wardle (Lifers) tells the story of the triplets in this astonishing docu-drama. In the late summer of 1980, 18-years old Robert ‘Bobby’ Shafran started his studies at Sullivan County Community College in New York. He was more than surprised that everyone greeted him with “hello, Eddie”, particularly girls were happy to see him, hugging and kissing him. Finally, a fellow student, Michael Domnitz told him: “You must have a ‘Doppelganger’. The two found the address of Eddie Galland, and when the door of the Galland house opened, Bobby was looking at his double. They soon found the last triplet, David Kellman, and what ensued was a typical American feel-good story. The triplets appeared on TV (The Phil Donahue Show), admitting to their similarities in the taste of cigarettes and women and even appeared with Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. Later, they opened a restaurant (Triplets) in New York; but after an early success, Eddy developed mental health problems, and he had to be committed into a psychiatric ward. In 1995 he took his own life. For the remaining brother, David and Bobby, this was only the beginning of their nightmare.

The three of them had been born on 12.6.61 to a mother the triplets had met. She had mental health problems, and the adoption was handled by the Louise Wise, Jewish Adoption Agency. They were closely connected with the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, who sponsored Dr. Neubauer’s ‘research project’ together with the National Institute of Mental Health. The former institution now claims “that they do not approve of Dr. Neubauer’s project”. Neubauer’s aim was to research the central Nurture versus Nature question, and the ‘participants’ were regularly tested regarding their intelligence and personalities by a large number of child psychiatrists. One of them, appearing in this documentary, seemed totally unperturbed by his participation. The same goes for Natasha Josefowitz (90), a long-time research assistant of Neubauer, who now lives in California. She comments with the objectivity of a true scientist “that she was surprised that Nature was so much more influential than environmental influences”.

Set against this “objectivity” are the stories of the boys parents, who all reported the babies hit their heads for a long time against the frame of their beds – obviously withdrawal symptoms, after they were forcefully separated. A set of twins, Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein, who had both chosen to become filmmakers, before they were re-united wrote a Memoir: “Identical Strangers: A memoir of Twins Separated and Re-united”. Journalist Lawrence Wright, who was the first, to bring the cover-up to light in the New York Times, also appears in the documentary.

Although Neubauer’s research project dossier – in the archives of Yale University – cannot be opened before 2066, with some survivors only getting very redacted versions of the case notes, the question remains – how could Dr. Neubauer, President of the Association of Child Psychoanalysts, Secretary General of the International Association of Child Psychology, have dreamt up a project like this?. Neubauer had fled the Nazis to study in Switzerland, before emigrating to the USA in 1941, and worked with Anna Freud, so he must have known about Mengele’s experiments with twins in Auschwitz and later Argentina. Did science really make him blind, or do we have another case of a scientist playing God and bringing death to the ones he was supposed to help? Three Identical Strangers is a chilling tale of our times, connecting us to a world we thought we had left behind. AS



Winter Hunt (2017) ** UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Astrid Schult; Cast: Carolyn Genzkow, Michel Degen, Elisabeth Degen; Deutschland 2017, 75′

Winter Hunt is an earnest attempt to address the crimes of the Holocaust. Unfortunately the drama is hampered by the inexperience of its crew and cast. Trying to come to terms with the guilt of the Nation’s involvement has one again proved too much for these German filmmakers. They try to keep it real, but are simply not up to the task: and come across as worthy artisans of their craft, when mastery is required.

The film starts off in thriller territory. A young woman called Lena (Genzkow) is investigating the case of Nazi war criminal and KZ guard Anselm Rossberg (M. Degen), who now lives in a remote wooded location with his daughter Maria (E. Degen), after his recent trial. On the pretext of a faked car accident, Lena forces her way into his property where a verbal exchange of lies and counter-arguments sees the old man plead his innocence. She is soon overpowered by the father and daughter, confessing to be his granddaughter, and opening the way for a rather far- fetched fatal resolve.

Schult tries too hard to ‘make something happen’, but has nothing new to bring to the Holocaust story  – her implausible narrative is shot through with plotholes. The pervasive haunted-house atmosphere gives Winter Hunt the impression of one of those Sherlock Holmes dramas of the 1940s. DoP Katherina Bühler tries in vain to give this parlour piece an atmospheric shot in the arm, but the acting can’t save this worthy endeavour: clumsily raised voices are the rule, and flaying limbs and dramatic hand gestures fail to convince us of their anguish. Sadly, this is a rather amateur affair. AS  


Death of a Poetess (2017) **** UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Efrat Mishori, Dana Goldberg; Cast: Smira Saraya, Evgenia Dodina, Y. Goldberg; Israel 2018, 77 min.

Poet Efrat Mishori and filmmaker Dana Goldberg’s DEATH OF A POETESS is a hauntingly realistic but depressing portrait of their vision of Israel today. On Tel Aviv’s fabulous beachside two women meet. One has planned her own suicide,  the other one will soon be the victim of a prejudiced police force, who take a dim view of the local Arab population. The bottom line is that this could be any European capital.

Lenny Sadeh (Dodina) is in her fifties and may have lost a daughter. She is adamant about ending her life. She has written some poetry, for the first time in her life, and gives the titular manuscript to a publisher. She then orders a white bathrobe, and makes sure it is in the shop on the chosen day: “There’s no tomorrow” she tells the assistant, who urges her to reflect on her decision. She then takes a taxi to the beach, where she meets Yasmin (Saraya), a young Arab nurse, who happens to be a lesbian, taking a night off from her elderly husband and young daughter. The women talk. Sensing that something is wrong, the nurse follows her into the bathroom, where Lenny has left her ring and other valuables. Yasmin than walks outside, and sees Sadeh heading for the water.

The title is the film’s intended spoiler. The interactions of Lenny’s last day are intercut with a diabolic police interrogation of Yasmin, by an Israeli investigator (Y. Goldberg), who, like the taxi driver, plays himself. We only hear the policeman’s voice, which makes the atmosphere even more frightening. He insists that Yasmin murdered Lenny for the diamond ring, and does not believe a word Yasmin says in her defence. Finally, Yasmin succumbs, telling him that she murdered for greed; she even makes up the details of the murder; even though, in the next scene, her forced confession is refuted.

DoP Asi Oren has conjured up melancholic black-and-white images of Tel Aviv, his close-ups in the interrogation room are masterful, and the doom-laden atmosphere remains til the final scene. Dodina and Saraya are brilliant, they have much more in common the culture that divides them. The directors show a vision of Israeli society not unlike that of Germany during Fascism: greedy and deceitful. The policemen play on these prejudices. A sad lament on daily life in the State of Israel, a tiny Jewish country surrounding by a mass of Muslim nations. And they are fiercely protective of the only place they can call their home. AS



Budapest Noir (2017) *** UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Eva Gardos; Cast: Krisztian Kolovratnik, Reka Tenki, Janos Kulka, Adel Kovats, Franziska Töröcsik; Hungary 2017, 94 min.

Veteran director Eva Gardos (An American Rhapsody) serves up a slick but conventional noir spoof that offers decent entertainment despite its cliche-ridden script. There are too many holes in the narrative, the brothel scenes are voyeuristic, and without any knowledge of the complex Hungarian history of the era, audiences will find it hard to understand what’s going on. But BUDAPEST NOIR looks simply stunning and serves as a perceptive study of Hungarian fascism and Anti-Semitism.

In October 1936, Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös, had died of cancer in Munich. His body was received in Budapest with full military honours (Gömbös had boasted about his fascist credentials). Crime reporter Zsigmond Gordon (Kolovratnik) meets an enigmatic young woman in a restaurant, who tells the waiter that the journalist will pick up her bill. When he finds her note to him, promising to pay back the money, the womanising journalist’s interest is aroused – only to discover her murdered a few days later. But when her body then disappears from the morgue, Gordon makes his own inquiries against the advice of the authorities. He finds out that the girl in question, Fanny (Töröcsik), is the daughter of Andras Szöllosy, a wealthy Jewish coffee importer with links to the government. He converted to Catholicism, and started a lucrative business with Nazi Germany. Helped by his on/off girl friend Krisztina (Tenki), a photographer who had just had an assignment in a German camp (sic), Gordon finds out that Fanny’s father had driven his daughter into prostitution, forbidding her to see her Jewish boyfriend, because of his fears for her future. But after Fanny had become pregnant in a high-class brothel, her situation deteriorated. And when Gordon finally catches up with Fanny’s parents, he mother Irma (Kovats) reacts dramatically.

Sad to say, Hungarian Fascists were as brutal as their Germans counterparts. The ruling Regent, Admiral Horthy, felt superior to Hitler, who had spent a decade in a dosshouse. Gömbös, Horthy’s Prime Minister, wanted two nations to be more closely allied, whilst Horthy only supported Hitler without reservations after the outbreak of WWII, when Hungarian troops fought on the side of the Axis.

It is ironic that Horthy was deposed by Hitler when it came to the deportation of the 400 000 Hungarian Jews in 1944 – it turned out that the Hungarian fascists (Pfeilkreuzler) and the population as a whole, did not share Horthy’s reservation, they enthusiatiscally assisted the Germans to send the Jews to the death camps.

There are scenes of open Anti-Semitism in Budapest Noir: in one scene, a bar singer croons a song composed by a Jew, and some Anti-Semites in the audience attack him. Gordon stops them, but the real fighter is his Krisztina, who leaves him for London, to show her death camp images in an exhibition “because over there are people who really care”. The Szöllosy’s family history is typical for Jews of the region: many had converted to Catholicism, trying to deny their Jewish heritage, and, like Fanny’s father, would marry their offspring to anybody but a Jew. Gordon represents the cynical by-stander, who is only after a good story, he does not mind taking a beating, but is totally non-committed on a personal and political level. Strangely enough, Budapest Noir is – in spite of its obvious faults – a mirror of a society where the points for the future genocide are being put in place. AS


UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

The 22nd edition of the  UK Jewish Film Festival this year runs from 8th-22nd November 2018 at cinemas across London, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Brighton and Glasgow.

The programme features a Philip Roth Retrospective in tribute to the much loved author, with a screening of three cinematic interpretations of his work: Goodbye, Columbus; Human Stain and Portnoy’s Complaint.

Other strands include: The Alan Howard International Documentary Strand, Israeli Cinema, Made in Britain, European Cinema, Education Programme, The Sound of Silence providing a spectacular journey back to the 1920s with beautifully restored classic films, Across the World – from Argentina to Russia in 15 days.

Films in Competition for the Dorfman Best Film Award are: The Accountant of Auschwitz, Foxtrot, 2017/Samuel Maoz); Promise At Dawn (2017/Eric Barbier); Three Identical Strangers (2018/Tim Wardle); The Waldheim Waltz (2018/Ruth Beckermann/Berlinale Doc Winner); and Working Woman (Isha Ovedet/2018).

The jury presided by Michael Kuhn includes Anita Land, Clare Binns, Andrew Pulver, Henry Goodman and Michael Rose.

Best Debut Feature Award contenders are: Closeness (2017/Kantemir Balagov/FIPRESCI prize winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2017); Doubtful (2017/Eliran Elya); Driver, Outdoors (2017/Asaf Saban); Red Cow (2017/Tsivia Barkai) and Winter Hunt.

Claudia Rosencrantz will lead this jury.

Up for Best Screenplay Award is: Budapest Noir (2017/Eva Gardos), Death of a Poetess (2017/Dana Goldberg/Ephrat Mishori), Foxtrot, Promise At Dawn, To Dust (2017/Shawn Snyder) and Winter Hunt. Jury headed by Nik Powell.

The Opening Night Gala on the 8th November at BFI Southbank is the UK Premiere of Working Woman, directed by Michal Aviad and starring Liron Ben Shlush, Menashe Noy and Oshri Cohen. This film has been nominated for the Dorfman Best Film Award. Released in 2018, this cautionary tale could hardly be more appropriate in the current climate, and follows an ambitious career woman who struggles with harassment in the work place.

The Closing Night Gala, Eric Barbier’s Promise At Dawn will take place on 22 November at Curzon Mayfair and stars Pierre Niney with Charlotte Gainsbourg (Best Actress Cesar Nomination) playing the overbearing Jewish mother in a powerful adaptation of Romain Gary’s memoir.

The Centrepiece Gala is the London Premiere of Three Identical Strangers, directed by Tim Wardle won the Special Jury prize at Sundance Film Festival and involves three men raised by their respective adoptive families within a hundred-mile radius of each other. These siblings Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman were oblivious to the fact that each had two identical brothers until a chance meeting brought them together, aged 19, for the first time since birth. MT


Menashe (2017) |

Dir: Joshua Z Weinstein |Documentary | USA / Israel | Yiddish, English | 81 min · Colour

There’s a faint but unintentional whiff of Woody Allen to Joshua Weinstein’s sorrowful cinema verite portrait of a put-upon Hasidic Jew struggling to survive between the modern world and orthodoxy. This is also the first full length feature in Yiddish for 70 years.

According to the Talmud, the definition of happiness is: “a nice wife, a nice home and clean dishes” but Menashe’s Brooklyn home is an untidy flat where he lives with his young son Rieven after the death of his wife Leah. Chastised by the strictures of his ultra religious local community and particularly ‘The Ruv’, an Hasidic overlord, who demands he re-marry according to the Talmudic Laws, Menashe is desperate to keep his son who is his only consolation as he battles to hold down a job in the deli run by an equally unforgiving boss.

In this predominantly male feature, Weinstein paints womenfolk into a dark corner where their ‘kvetching’ (nagging) and overbearing nature is one of the downsides to life rather than a joy, but it’s very much a case of “you can’t live with them, but you can’t live without them” and this adds to Menashe’s rather miserable situation. Infact, the tubby but likeable chap cannot seem to do anything right either at home or work although he prays desperately to his memorial candle and pleads with his brother in law to let him bring up Rieven. But living with his son is not permitted unless he takes another wife, because “man cannot live alone”, according to the scriptures.

Far from downbeat, MENASHE is an enjoyable and fascinating insight into the Brooklyn Hasidic community and Weinstein adds cinematic texture with vivid street life, lively musical interludes of the men singing and dancing and sweeping views over the glittering skyline. Menashe plays himself and comes across as a rather bumbling but sincere and sensitive father who clearly loved his wife despite their early arranged marriage and discord largely arising from difficulties in conceiving their cherished son, and Menashe buys a tiny pet bird and regales Rieven with nature stories complete with sound effects, to give him a break from his uncle’s stern and rather insipid contribution.

The three-handed script is wise and full of local flavour and insight exploring the nature of fatherhood and religious observance, and a palpable tension builds during the preparations for Leah’s memorial service which Menashe hopes to hold at home, despite his brother in law’s objections on the grounds of its general unsuitability. A surprising denouement offers hope in this heart-warming and affecting snapshot of a niche community dovetailing into the contemporary world. MT



Shalom Bollywood (2017) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: Danny Ben-Moshe | Doc | US | 85′

In his feisty all singing all dancing doc Danny Ben-Moshe shows how religious taboos led to the first superstars of Indian cinema being Jewish. India has always been extremely tolerant towards its Jewish population, it was deeply frowned on for Hindu and Muslim women to appear in film back in the early years of the 20th century, so their roles were generally played by men, until female Jewish stars filled the vacuum.

Light-hearted and full of cheeky chutzpah Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema explores the rise to fame of four such prima donnas — Sulochana, Pramila, Miss Rose and Nadira — and a token male David Abraham, whose charisma was such that marriage was unable to contain him to one female, but he always remained the toast of the town and the most-invited man in Mumbai’s soigné cinema soirées. Abraham was also known as “Uncle David,” and he charmed the birds from the trees until a stroke robbed him of his speech.

You get the impression that Ben-Moshe is really desperate to push his point showcasing these Jewish divas as his restless camera darts from pillar to post chockfull of original footage and talking heads that prattle away volubly about the triumphs of their proud community. And although the films they discuss are not necessarily the most well known to mainstream audiences, Shalom provides solid entertainment as a taster of Jewish-led Bollywood films of the last century.

This is a far cry from the director’s previous work Code of Silence, which raised the lid on child sex abuse in Melbourne’s Orthodox Jewish community. Here we learn how a few thousand Jews lived peaceably amongst the Muslim and Hindu majorities. They were the long-established sect of Bene Israelis, and also Jews from Iraq. Sulochana was actually called Ruby Myers. She captured the imagination of her male co-stars with her dusky beauty seen mostly in animated stills, as footage of her silent films is hard to come by but includes the remarkable 1927 Wild Cat of Bombay, where she does a ‘Kate Blanchett’, playing multiple female and male roles in this cult extravaganza. Esther Abraham, hailed from Calcutta and was known by her stage name of Pramila. Her marriage to a Muslim produced the actor-playwright Haider Ali, who provides a lively account of how the different religious communities got on like a house on fire, back in the day.

The film’s final glamorous star was Nadira (Florence Ezekiel), who played opposite Dilip Kumar as ‘the vamp’ – simply a female who fluttered her eyelids and wore high heels – during the 1950s and ’60s with films like Aan. These stars were quick to learn from their Hollywood peers and provided a new kind of emancipated female in contrast to the submissive characters of the era.

Shalom Bollywood skims over a great deal of detail surrounding Hindu language issues the stars encountered but as a fun and lightly informative flick through the era’s silent cinema and the ‘Golden Age’ of film it’s certainly provides insight. MT



Bye Bye Germany | UK Jewish Film Festival 2017

Dir: Sam Garbarski | Cast: Moritz Bleibtrau, Antje Traue, Tim Seyfi, Anatole Taubman | Ger/Lux/Belgium 2017 | Drama | 101′

Sam Garbarski’s rousing but tonally uneven drama takes place in the immediate aftermath to the Second World War where in Frankfurt, 1946, Moritz Bleibtrau’s glibly charismatic Jewish businessman has lived to tell the tale and is back to the drawing board of his previous existence, running a linen business owned by his family – who were not so lucky and mostly perished during the Holocaust. He and his other self-appointed salesmen try inventive ways to inveigle themselves into the homes and hearts of the local German housewives in order to peddle their wares, and get the business up and running again.

Based on Michel Bergmann’s ‘Teilacher’ trilogy the narrative is true to the page but somehow the book’s intended dark humour misfires on the screen, although the themes raised are certainly worthwhile in exploring the subtle nature of immigration and repatriation. Meanwhile, David shares a palpable onscreen chemistry with special agent Sarah Simon who is investigating questionable links to his past concerning a possible Nazi collaboration.

BYE BYE GERMANY is a lively and fast-moving drama if you buy into its humour, so let’s not bounce it out of court. If nothing else it is a tribute to the European Jews who chose to remain in their homeland of Germany with its painful reminders and past hostilities. MT


Ben Gurion – Epilogue (2016) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Yariv Mozer; Documentary with David Ben-Gurion; Israel/France/Germany 2016, 70 min.

The majority of Yariv Mozer biopic’s focuses on his six hour b/w interview with the Jewish leader David Ben-Gurion in 1968, intended as the basis of a feature film about the ex-premier’s life. This film was released in 1970, but faded without impact. The British film crew who shot the interview in the spartan Side Boker kibbutz, had to build a new set with an extensive library, to create a background fitting the profile of the man who founded modern Israel as its first Prime Minister for 13 years, before rather abruptly resigning from government in 1963, when he was Minister of Defence.

1968 marked the 20th year since the founding of Israel, and Ben-Gurion, who came to what was then Palestine (a British Protectorate) from Poland, at the turn of the 20th century, lived there during the era when Zionism was not a combative ideology, let alone an imperialistic one. As far as 1948 goes, Ben-Gurion states unequivocally: “I believed we had the right to this country. Not taking it away from others, but recreating it.” But one year after the 1967 war, the same man wanted “to give most of the territories gained in that war back in exchange for peace”. That this never happened, he somehow foresaw, talking about the government he had left: “You are not considering the future, you are only considering the present.”

Documentary evidence about life during Ben-Gurion’s time show the changes in society from early settlements to state-building. But Ben-Gurion is alwys modest: “I did not guide Israel, I guided myself”. He was always a voracious reader, and as an eight year old boy, he was enthusiastic about Mark Twain’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The documentary is enriched with excerpts from some of his great Knesset speeches, and meetings with Ray Charles and Albert Einstein.

The six-hour original was found in the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive without an audio, which was later discovered in the Ben-Gurion Archive in Negev. The only criticism here is that the film seems rather short on material. It would provide an ideal companion piece for the Israeli documentary The Settlers, directed by Shimon Dotan, which tells the story of Rabbi Moshe Levenger and his followers, who started building settlements in Israeli occupied territories, making it now nearly impossible for a Palestinian state to exist. Neither consecutive Israeli governments, nor their USA counterparts have stopped this movement, which is in direct contradiction of the Geneva Convention. Ben-Gurion was certainly a little biased when talking of “not taking away from others”, yet in 1968, there was still a chance of “recreation”. But since, the dream of Theodor Herzl has ended up in a cul-de-sac of a Sparta in the desert, because Israel “did not consider the future”. AS


Ewa (2017) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Haim Tabakman; Cast: Avir Kushner, Efrat Ben Zur, Gil Frank; Israel/France/Germany/Poland 2016, 85 min.

Sophomore director Haim Tabakman (Eyes Wide Open), made his name as documentary filmmaker. His second feature is a slow-burning chamber piece whose characters wrestle with the legacy of the Shoah.

Set in a rural outpost in Israel in 1972, newly retired Yoel (Kushner) looks after his wife Ewa (Ben Zur), who suffers from a non-specified blood disorder, requiring daily injections. But Ewa still goes out to work everyday, whilst Yoel is bored with his newfound free time. Whilst looking for some papers in a ramshackle outhouse, he finds a letter from the bank, reminding his wife to pay a mortgage instalment for a flat in the nearby village. Yoel investigates, and finds that his wife has installed a lover in the flat. Yoel talks to the man, and asks him to repair his old motor-cycle, which he stole from the British in 1946. From neighbours Yoel discovers that the man’s name is Emil and has been in a German concentration camp – just like his wife Ewa. In an interesting conversation with the policeman Kobi, whose father also spent time in a Camp, Yoel is reminded that surviving the KZ is not the end of the matter: “My father still lives in the Camp” says Kobi resigned. Confronting Ewa, Yoel is shocked to find that Emil is her husband, whom she married before WWII in Poland, before they were both deported to the Camps. “He died in the camp, but then he was alive”, says Ewa rather enigmatically.

It soon transpires that Ewa has spent an unspecified, but certainly decade-long time living with two men. After Yoel tells his wife that he intends to evict Emil, she has a relapse and spends some time in hospital, whilst Yoel moves Emil’s furniture into the outhouse, where both men go on repairing the motorcycle. After Ewa returns, Yoel swears “that he has enough of this madhouse” and wants to move out. But deep down, he knows, that there is only one solution.

The trio seems to live in a bubble more or less cut off from the outside world. True, Yoel and Ewa’s daughter Judith visits with the parents with her boyfriend Eyal, Judith confining in her father, that she is pregnant, “but don’t tell Mum”. After that we never see Judith again and we are left watching this painful ménage-a-trois develop. And painful it is: Ewa with her divided localities, Yoel, who thinks that he has a right to “own’ Ewa, because they have a child, and Emil, lost in a strange land, clinging on to Ewa, because she is the only link to his past. Ewa and Emil: both doubly fragmented by having to make a choice, they don’t want to make. And in the background the monstrous holocaust: trying to destroy lives many decades after the survivors were “liberated”.

DoP Axel Schneppat, who worked with Tabakman on Eyes wide open, lets everything unfolds slowly, showing the desert like countryside as an depressive background to the unfolding of the past reconquering the present. Brown and grey dominate, even the hospital is filled with ghostly colours. The three act out their grief with emotions always underplayed. EWA makes a passionate point about the post-traumatic hell of holocaust survivors, but is still tender in showing the unbearable loss. AS


Remember Baghdad (2017) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Fiona Murphy; Documentary; UK/Iraq/Israel, 69 min.

Director/DoP Fiona Murphy (Neither Fish or Fowl) has chartered the history of Jews living in Babylon, then Mesopotamia and now Iraq for over 2600 years. The Babylonian Talmud was written here, and Baghdad was the centre of the Jewish community of the region – in 1917 140, 000 Jews made up a third of the capital’s population but today, only a handful Jews (and one unused synagogue) remain. Murphy has followed Edwin Shuker from North London to Iraq, to buy a house in the city his family called home for centuries.

In 1947, Renee Dangoor was crowned the first Miss Baghdad. Murphy interviews her family, one of the many Iraqi Jews living in London, who share photographs of their middle-class Jewish life in Baghdad after WWII. Since its foundation in 1921, Iraq has had a turbulent history. King Faisal was the official head of the country, but British influence only ended completely after 1932, when the British mandate ran out. Fascist influence in the country grew when the Great Mufti emigrated to Iraq and was instrumental in having Hitler’s Mein Kampf translated. Five years later pro-Nazi forces took over the region for a few months, before Allied Forces arrived. But they stopped short of occupying Baghdad and the Jewish population were targeted in attacks organised by the Grand Mufti, who wanted to unite the Arab world behind Hitler. In the May riots of 1941, 180 Jews were killed, and over a thousand injured.

After Faisal returned later that year, the British entered Baghdad, and the Grand Mufti fled to Berlin. Whilst many middle-class Jews felt safe in Iraq, working class Jews organised illegal emigration to what was then called Palestine. When Israel was founded in 1948, after the partition, the climate for Jews in Iraq changed again for the worse. In 1950 Jews were fired from jobs, their shops were boycotted, and some were hanged. 70 000 emigrated, leaving their homeland with only a few shekels. In 1951 over 120 000 of them had emigrated to Israel, where there were not very welcome: newsreel images show the bewilderment of the Jewish citizens: for them the Iraqi Jews were poorly dressed and “looked like Arabs, people without a culture and even speaking the language of the enemy”. Just 7000, mostly middle class Jews remained in Iraq, but they thrived; one of the interviewed talked in great length about the chocolate factory owned by his father.

There were even Jewish MPs in parliament. After 1956, when Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, and British forces left, some of the Jewish women wanted to leave, fearing new unrest. In 1958 the Royal family was killed, the military coup brought Brigadier Quasim to power. A Jewish witness stated, that their family, who run an import business for American cars, were afraid that “would have to live like communists”. But instead, the embassies of Warsaw Pact countries and their allies, all bought big American vehicles, making 1951 “the best year for business”. Again, the remaining Jews felt safe. In 1963, with the help of the CIA, Quasim was killed, and his regime was replaced by the Ba’ath Party – a certain Saddam Hussein becoming deputy leader in 1969. Before that, in 1967, the Three-Day War, in which Iraq fought alongside four other Arab countries against Israel, finally signalled the end of Jewish life in Baghdad. Survivors of the exodus to Britain and Israel tell about phones being cut off, one member of the family hanged, and a flight across the northern mountains to the Kurdish part of Iraq. In 1971 just a few hundred Jews remained.

Edwin Shuker had to give up the idea of buying back his family home in Baghdad – it would have been too dangerous. But he did the next big thing, buying a house in the north of the country. “I hope, that in sixty years o so, there will be a Jewish community in Baghdad. Or it will end with me” he say shoulder shrugging. “But I can’t leave the country behind for good”. There is simply too much to leave behind. Taut and informative, Remember Baghdad is a history lesson about little known facts and events, making sad reading. AS




Lasciati Andare | Let Yourself Go (2017) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: Francesco Amato | Cat: Toni Servillo, Veronica Echegui, Valentina Carnelutti | Comedy | Italy |

A mildly amusing comedy that looks encouraging then rapidly goes downhill with Toni Servillo playing a sophisticated psychoanalyst who runs into problems due to his unavoidable sedentary lifestyle on the couch. Set in the upmarket surroundings of some plush Italian neighbourhood, Let Yourself Go starts brilliantly with a strong line-up and a convincing storyline: divorced but successful shrink, still involved with his attractive and intelligent ex-wife but foisted by his own ego – there’s no fool like an old fool –  throws it all away for a feckless and unsuitable younger woman and a lifestyle that doesn’t really ring true. The Great Beauty‘s Tony Servillo is far the best thing about this good-looking Jewish-themed comedy drama. He certainly raises a chuckle in the early scenes with his knowing glances and light-hearted disdain for most of his patients, and his wife who is agreeable and amusing. (Carnelutti in fine form). But after he meets the feisty fitness trainer Claudia (Echegui), the narrative becomes more ludicrous and far-fetched with some slapstick situational comedy that grows irritating because the initial laughs are based on a convincing scenario, whereas the later scenes are not. Amato has lost his own plot. MT


Mr Emmanuel (1944) | UKJFF 2017

Dir.: Harold French | Cast: Felix Aylmer, Greta Gynt, Walter Rilla, Peter Mullins; UK 1944 | 97′

Director Harold French, mostly remembered for his atmospheric Simenon adaption The Man who watched the Trains Go By, has directed Louis Golding’s script with a subtle passion dominated by Otto Heller’s grainy the black and white images.

Set in 1936, Mr. Isaac Emmanuel (Aylmer) a widower, has worked all his life for the Jewish Welfare Board and is now all set to emigrate to Palestine. But in the seaside village where he visits German Jewish evacuees, he meets young Bruno (Mullins), who has not heard from his mother for a long time. The boy is so distraught, that he tries to commit suicide. To reassure him, Mr. Emmanuel travels to Germany Bruno’s mother.

What started as a tender story of a man with a mission, soon escalates into a harrowing morality play. In Berlin, Emmanuel lives in a guesthouse where everybody is Jewish. From the window of his room he sees a neon sign on a theatre advertising a singer he once looked after as a child, back in England, Elsie Silver (Gynt). Emmanuel goes to see her after a concert but her German boyfriend, a high-ranking Nazi Willi Brockenburg (Rilla), is unwilling to let her meet him. Later at a party in the presence of Himmler and Goering, a Nazi functionary is shot dead. Somehow the Gestapo links Emmanuel with the assassination, and confines him. The surprise ending is rather stunning. But like Mr. Immanuel, who does not want to break his promise to Bruno, other Jews in Germany are also put into a moral quandary. Elsie uses Brockenburg, who is besotted with her, to help Emmanuel, whilst Bruno’s mother lives with a Nazi, who offers her a cruel choice.

Aylmer is very convincing, whilst Gynt, a Norwegian actress, plays Elsie Silver with a panache and verve, reminding us of Carole Lombard’s Maria Tura in Lubitsch To Be or not to Be. DoP Heller shows that Berlin is a just a prison, particularly compared with England’s peaceful small town life. Mr. Emmanuel is a gem: it is not only about the evils of fascism, but how the victims of the Nazis cope when their lives are under threat. AS


UK Jewish Film Festival 2017

The UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL has become one of the most-anticipated film events across the UK and the 21st edition will again showcase world, European and UK premieres of the best new Israeli and Jewish cinema on offer with 75 films from more than 20 countries at 115 screenings across London, Belfast, Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham.

An-Act-of-Defiance-Bram-Fischer-movieThis year’s UKIJFF Opening Night Gala,  on 9th November at the BFI Southbank, is An Act of Defiance, directed by Jean van de Velde. Set in South Africa, 1963, it is based on the true story of ten black and Jewish men who are arrested for conspiring against the Apartheid system. Led by fellow defendant Nelson Mandela, the group plead not guilty, which in turn highlights the corrupt political system in power. This riveting drama captures a pivotal moment in the fight against racism, exploring the role of South African Jews in making Apartheid history.

1945Further galas and premieres will include Ferenc Török’s 1945, a powerful and innovative study of a post-war, village community, which competed at Berlinale 2017 and is a likely contender for the Festival’s Best Film Award. The ramifications of WWII are felt in Sam Garbarski’s Bye Bye Germany – a slightly overwrought but entertaining comedy set in Frankfurt, 1946 – and in a more contemporary setting for Menno Meyjes’s The Hero, a dark thriller by the co-writer of The Empire of the Sun.

paradiseParadise – (left) the spectacular Venice Silver Lion winner from Russian master filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky – will also screen nationwide at the festival, along with Avi Nesher’s latest drama Past Life. and Yaniv Berman’s unsettling thriller Land of the Little People. On a lighter note, there is Shlomit Nehama and Emil Ben-Shimon’s The Women’s Balcony – the most commercially successful film to date in Israel – and Francesco Amato’s gentle comedy Let Yourself Go!, worth seeing just for Toni Servillo in the lead role. New the party will be Erez Tadmor’s social drama Home Port and Haim Tabaman’s (Eyes Wide Open) eagerly-awaited Ewa.

A Documentary strand examines the life of the founder of the State of Israel with Ben Gurion, Epilogue, made from rediscovered footage of an exclusive interview. Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown is a timely portrait of the remarkable entertainer, while the surprising story of another Hollywood legend is revealed in Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story directed by Alexandra Dean and produced by Susan Sarandon. Archive features, old and less so, will include a tribute to Oliver Sachs with Penny Marshall’s moving classic Awakenings; while the secret identity of a young Jewish woman in the mid-19th century is scrutinized in The Governess by Sandra Goldbacher. Mr Emmanuel is the only feature digitised by the BFI for a new project of Jewish archive films; filmed in 1944 it provides an insightful, historical document of British cinema when a Jewish man travels to Berlin.

Bye Bye GermanyIn addition to the exciting showcase of Jewish focused films and TV in this year’s Festival, there will be a night of awards for Best Film, Best Debut, Audience Choice and now Best Screenplay. The Pears Short Film Fund returns for the 11th year and there will be screening of the 2017 winners The Master of York, by Kieron Quirke, and The Outer Circle by Adam Baroukh.


Celine – Louis Ferdinand-Celine (2016) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2016


Dir.: Emmanuel Bourdieu | Cast: Denis Lavant, Geraldine Pailhas, Philip Desmeules | France | 97 min.

Director/writer Emmanuel Bourdieu (Intrusions) is best known outside France for his work as scriptwriter for Arnaud Desplechin (Esther Kahn, My Sex Life, or how I got into an Argument). With Céline, he steps out of the shadow of his famous compatriot, painting an honest portrait of the giant of French literature – who was so viciously anti-Semitic that the Germans avoided publishing most of his violent rants, during the occupation in Vichy France, because they deemed the extremism as counter-productive.

The title promises a bio-pic, but Bourdieu tackles just a few months in the life of the disgraced writer and physician: during his exile in the Danish town of Korsor in 1948, Céline is visited by the American scholar Milton Hindus (1916-1988), who happened to be Jewish, but was so star struck by Céline’s pre-war writings (Journey to the End of the Night and Death on Credit) that he is entrusted with the author’s world-wide rehabilitation, to allow him a return to France. Céline (Lavant) and his wife Lucette (Pailhas), living in a small cottage in the woods, eagerly await Hindus’ (Desmeules) arrival – whilst both are very much aware of Celine Anti-Semitism, they both hope he might be their ticket back to France – because he is Jewish. At first, Hindus walks voluntarily into the trap set for him by the devious couple: Lucette fawns over him, whilst the author supresses his contempt for Hindus, whom he just sees as a useful dilettante. Hindus has just come to talk literature, but Céline is only interested in discussing how Hindus can help him to persuade the French Government to allow the collaborator’s return. Slowly it dawns on Hindus that he is merely a pawn, and when he learns that a Danish doctor did not find the steel-plate in Céine’s skull, which the author claimed was a result of a wound from WWI, he withdraws slowly. During a drunken night spent by the trio outdoors, Céline and his wife lose their self-control under the influence of alcohol.

Bourdieu shows Céline not as a mad genius, but a rather small-minded little man who has to be right at all costs, offending others at will, unable to take any criticism himself. He is a wild little bourgeois, who happened to have talent as a writer. Céline is scheming, but when his patience snaps, he is only too proud to admit to his fascist beliefs: “Aryan culture came to an end at the battle of Stalingrad”. At the same time, Céline and other ‘intellectuals’ in Europe were not taken in by Hitler; whom they despised but used the power the Nazis gave them to persecute Jews. As for Hindus, on whose book The Crippled Giant, the film is based, his rude awakening helped him to value his Jewish identity for the first time in his life. Céline and his wife, alas, returned to France in 1951 after being pardoned, where the auhor went on writing and espousing his unrelenting racism.

DoP Marie Spencer skillfully conveys this prison-like atmosphere of Céline’s Danish exile: at night the musty brown Autumnal shadows see him again and again grabbing a pitch fork to defend himself against imagined intruders. Suicidal, Lucette is forced to take his revolver away as the two engage in a morbid web of deceit from which Hindus has to de-entangle himself. The only real light occurs at the end of the film, when Hindus is sitting in a bus to Copenhagen, fleeing the malign influence of his manipulators. Lavant and Pailhas are brilliant, but Desmeules is not given much identity, his Hindus seems too reserved to be a match for Céline. Far from being a story from yesterday, Céline asks the audience to re-examine questions about art and politics, and the role of the author in society as a whole. AS


Keep Quiet (2016) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2016

Dir.: Joseph Martin, Sam Blair | Documentary with Csanad Szegedi |  UK/Hungary | 91 min.

Directors Joseph Martin and Sam Blair have created an impressive portrait of Hungarian fascist turned orthodox Jew Csanad Szegedi, whose conversion seems too good to be true for many. But much more important than the Szegedi story itself, this documentary shows again that many survivors of the Shoah have “kept quiet” not only about their suffering in the camps, but about their Jewish identity as a whole.

When Csanad Szegedi became vice-president of the far-right Hungarian Jobbik Party in 2008, he was only 26 years old. His party would gain 14% of the national vote, and Szegedi was elected as an MEP in 2009. He was also the co-founder of the “Hungarian Guard” in 2007, the paramilitary wing of Jobbik, which modelled itself on the “Iron Guard”, the Hungarian fascist organisation which supported the Horthy Regime from 1920 onwards. This was so radical in its Anti-Semitism that Eichmann said at his trial in Jerusalem: “we had it so easy in Hungary, because the locals were so helpful”.  Subsequent letters from the SS to Himmler revealed the Germans complained about the “unnecessary brutality towards the Jews” of their Hungarian allies.

Szegedi was a violent Anti-Semite, proud of his country’s dealings with the Jews until 1945. But in 2012, a political ally and former skinhead, Zoltan Ambrus, discovered that Szegedi was actually Jewish: his grandmother Katalyn Molnar (née Meisels) was actually deported to Auschwitz; she survived, but hid her tattooed camp number on her wrist, from the family.

Szegedi left Jobbik, and with the help of Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, converted to Judaism: he was circumcised in 2013. His conversion was not always greeted with approval in the Jewish Community: at the Jewish Youth Congress in Berlin, a Hungarian woman, who had to flee Hungary because of the violent Anti-Semitism, accused Szegedi of “faking it”. Others came to the same conclusion: since the media-savvy Szegedi could not be the “King” of Anti-Semitism, he tried to be the King of Judaism. When the newly converted Jew flew to Montreal, to speak at a Jewish Congress, he was not allowed into the country. Rabbi Oberlander had to defend Szegedi to the Jewish community, many of them were angry about the Rabbi’s support for the Hungarian.

The most moving and important sections of the documentary are Csanad’s conversations with his grandmother, and his visit to Auschwitz with the Holocaust survivor Eva ‘Bobby’ Neumann. Katalyn Molnar tells her grandson that she kept quiet about her ordeal, “because “we had been so good at playing out the illusion [to be Christians] and I was ashamed of my tattoo, so I covered it up”. Even after Szegedi talked to his grandmother on her deathbed, he was still n denial about the Holocaust. That would change, when he visited Auschwitz with Neumann, who again talked about trying to hide her experiences:” I never allow myself to show my true feelings”. Confronted with reality of the death-camp, Szegedi caves in “It was really like in Schindler’s List”.  The last word should go to Neumann, who lost all her family on the selection ramp in Auschwitz: “Our souls froze”.

The lesson of KEEP QUIET is that Csanad Szegedi’s fake identity is actually irrelevant. In the event, he has subsequently emigrated to Israel. But the long-term effects of concealing their identity for  survivors of the Shoah, are much more corrosive and important issues: at a time when Holocaust deniers and the never-ending chorus of “let’s draw a line, it was over seventy years ago” gather in strength and find youthful supporters like Szegedi in Hungary, they all should all be reminded that some victims are still alive, and still paying for the crimes of the European Nazis. Hungary is not alone in its official rejection of the truth about the Holocaust. AS


Germans & Jews | UK Jewish Film Festival 2016

Director: Janina Quint; Documentary; USA 2016, 76 min.

Janina Quint’s directorial debut is an illuminating portrait of contemporary Jews and Germans living together in a precocious co-existence, that uncovers more questions than answers.

Quint structures her documentary around interviews famous people – like the popular German singer Herbert Grönemeyer – and a room full of ordinary citizens, where equal numbers of Germans and Jews discuss their experience of living together. There are about 200 000 Jews living in Germany today, that is exactly 0,2 % of the whole population. It is therefore very likely that many Germans outside the big cities – particularly Berlin, where the overwhelming majority of Jews live – never come in contact with a Jewish person. It is hardly a surprise that most of this documentary is shot in the reunified capital, where many Jews from the old USSR- and some Israeli emigrants – have re-settled.

Before we listen to contemporary problems of coexisting, we hear from the older generations of re-migrants – such as the publisher Rafael Seligmann, who was born in 1947 in Tel Aviv – talking about how life has changed for Jews living in post-war Germany. After Goebbels declared Germany “Judenfrei” (free of Jews) in 1943, meaning that 523 000 German Jews had ‘disappeared’, the majority murdered in Concentration Camps; about 27 000 Jews lived in West Germany at the beginning of the 50s. The overwhelming emotion of Germans in those days was enormous self-pity, they would not stop about talking about how victimised they were. The Nazi past, particularly the Holocaust, was a taboo in post-war West German society; whilst the population in the GDR, celebrated victory over he Nazis, thanks to their Soviet liberators, but was wary of the Jewish survivors, in the majority communists, whose religious freedom was curtailed. The Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, followed by the Auschwitz trials in West Germany, at the beginning of the Sixties, changed attitudes in the Federal Republic. The student uprising in 1968 brought a confrontation between Nazi parents and their children, and the USA TV series ‘Holocaust’ in 1979 was watched by over ten million in West Germany, children asking their parents “if this really had happened”.

Today many Germans of the younger generation don’t want to be lectured about the Holocaust anymore; recent polls show that about 27% of reunited Germans are Anti-Semitic, the most mentioned complain is “that Jews have too much influence”. One of the reasons for this is the fact, that about 20% of the German population has a migrant background, often coming from Muslim countries, where Anti-Semitism is rife. Anti-Semitism in Germany today centres around the human rights record of the state of Israel in the occupied territories – which is hardly worse than that of many other countries in the region, and around the world. The most ironic interviews are with emigrants from Israel, who prefer a life in Germany to their homeland, “because it is safer to live in Germany than in Israel”. Because the Germany of today is part of a democratic Europe, third generations Jews and Germans may be able live together (even though an emotional chasm still exists), but for any older Jews there is still the post-war consensus of living out of suitcases, promising to “be next year in Jerusalem”.

GERMANS & JEWS tries to spin the theory of change, which makes co-existence between Germans and Jews possible. But by mentioning these statistics, it somehow contradicts itself. By leaving out the growing danger of European fascism, which manifests itself in Germany with recent elections successes of the German ADF party, an extreme right-wing organisation, Quint paints a rather hopeful and optimistic picture. But she still tackles a necessary conundrum: how far can the past between Germans and Jews be ignored, before it becomes a denial?. AS


6 Reasons to visit the UK Jewish Film Festival 2016

The UK Jewish Film Festival is back to celebrate its 20th edition beginning a nationwide tour that kicks off in London on 5th November with INDIGNATION one of the best US dramas of the year. The chemistry crackles between Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon in James Schamus’ feisty adaptation of Philip Roth’s bestseller about of an Orthodox young man from a working class background who wins a university scholarship in 1950s America and is swept off his feet by a blonde blue-stocking from the other side of the tracks. Tracy Letts gives an impressive turn as the Dean of Studies. (+introduction by director James Schamus).

Denis Lavant plays the central role in Emmanuel Bourdieu’s intelligent post-war drama LOUIS-FERDINAND CELINE (2016) that explores identity, moralism and Art through a meeting in 1948 between one of France’s best known writers and Nazi collaborators, and exiled American Jewish scholar Milton Hindus, during their exile in Denmark. This is an engrossing drama that shows how two intellectuals grow to admire each other, despite their glaring differences. (+ Q&A with actor Philip Desmeules).

The tragic story of Anne Frank has captured the imagination of filmmakers in various guises from a Japanese animation by Akinori Nagaoka to Robert Dornhelm’s more traditional TV take with Ben Kingsley as Otto Frank. The festival screens the UK premiere of this sumptuous German-directed drama, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank) which has Lea van Acken (Stations of the Cross) as the Jewish teenager whose secret diaries record the teenage angst of growing up in hiding from the Nazis in wartime Amsterdam. The Wall star Martina Gedeck plays her mother Edith.

img_3021Comedy features in a welcome ‘Laugh’ strand with THE LAST LAUGH from documentarian Ferne Pearlstein (Freakonomics). Mel Brooks, Larry Charles, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sarah Silverman and Joan Rivers guarantee laugh out loud moments exploring the boundaries between humour and taboo subjects including the Holocaust and anti-seminitism. At what point is it acceptable for comedians to take on the most serious of topics and how does one comedian make us laugh while another falls at on his or her face? There are some unexpected insights here. (+panel discussion with Debbie Chazen, Josh Howie, and other British comedians). 

EVERYTHING IS COPY is a biopic that looks at the life of Nora Ephron through the lens of her son, and filmmaker, Jacob Bernstein. The documentary brings new insight into the American scripter, director and journalist who was particularly well known for her romantic comedies When Harry met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and Silkwood.

small-world-of-sammy-lee-01And from the archives comes British director Ken Hughes’ restored crime caper starring the vastly underrated talents of Anthony Newley, alongside Robert Stevens, Warren Mitchell and Julia Foster. THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE (1963) sees Newley playing the fast-talking, card-playing, peep show compere trying to raise money to cover his debts in a charismatic snapshot of Sixties Soho, captured by the legendary cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky (Get Carter) with a jazz score by Kenny Graham. MT



Orthodox (2015)

Dir.: David Leon | Cast: Stephen Graham, Michael Smiley, Giacomo Mancini, Rebecca Callard, Christopher Fairbank, Oliver Woollford | 93min l UK 2015 |

David Leon’s debut feature film debut  ORTHODOX  is really about the struggle of a Jewish man to keep his identity and make a living, whilst personal choices threaten to derail him. It has the same main cast as his 30 minute short film of the same title in 2012.

ORTHODOX has “Jewish Identity drama” written all over it: a young man secretly craves the approval of his father and the community, but his temperament is set against any compromises: he is a fighter, not only with his fists, but due to his determination to find his own way in life which is always undermined by his lack of judgement, leading him to pay for his guilt by keeping by committing criminal acts to keep himself in business.

Growing up as a orthodox Jew in North London, young Benjamin (Woollford) is teased and beaten by his school mates and takes up boxing to defend himself. This brings him into confrontation with his religious father, who disowns him, after his son insists on taking up the sport as a profession. The adult Benjamin (Graham) is over-compensating for his refusal by running his father’s butcher shop, which is running at a loss and that also alienates him from the Jewish community. Even though his wife Alice (Callard) hates Benjamin’s boxing in illegal fights to make ends meet, he is driven by self-destruction. Benjamin also totally misjudges the motives of the callous Shannon (Smiley) who is employed by the leaders of the Jewish community (among them Goldberg (Fairbank), to do the dirty jobs relating to tenant issues. Shannon simply delegates the harassment of the tenants to Benjamin – but after he burns down supposedly empty house, he finds himself in jail for the murder of a family. Shannon, who denounces him anonymously to the police, lusts after Alice and starts to threaten her. Together with Alice he is the victim of a systematic betrayal by the religious establishment, preaching humanity but persuading their profit-orientated activities with cold-blooded criminal means. When Benjamin returns from prison, he relies on more dirty jobs from Shannon, whom he still trusts. But when Benjamin meets young Daniel (Mancini), he also seems to be repeating all Benjamin’s mistake working for Shannon.

DOP Si Bell create a landscape of darkness, every location is imbued with gloom: the dilapidated estates, Benjamin’s home, the meeting place of the Jewish Elders and the boxing school where Benjamin picks up Daniel are all doomed, places of transition, soon to be abolished. The only light is in the flashbacks with young Benjamin: even though he gets beaten up, he stands up and fights back. Later on, all his strength has been sucked out of him, mainly by Smiley’s Shannon, a towering example of sheer creepy beastliness, reaching a level of Shakespearian proportions. Orthodox is a raw, uncompromising peace of drama featuring the destruction of man by a hypocritical religious establishment. AS



Closer to the Moon (2015) | UKJFF 2015

Director: Nae Caranfil

Cast: Mark Strong, Vera Farmiga, Harry Lloyd, Christian McKay

Drama | Romania | 112min

Truth is always stranger than fiction. And Nae Caranfil stretches this maxim to maximum in his black comedy about a group of convicted Jewish bank robbers effectively forced to re-enact their crime for a propaganda film in postwar Romania.

Caranfil has made several features as part of the Romanian New Wave but this attempt to go international and more commercial by having an anglophone cast, with Mark Strong and Vera Farmiga, fails to ring true largely because the leads are really supposed to be Romanian. This, along with establishing the group’s motives for committing a crime that would ultimately lead to their own deaths, is the main stumbling block of this otherwise upbeat and innocuous wartime caper, that effectively brings the early promise of the Romanian New Wave to a grinding halt.

The film opens with the crime caper which they pass off by pretending to be shooting a film. The five friends have all been resistance fighters during the Second World War and later, high ranking Communists. But after the hostilities are over, Mark Strong’s senior police officer Max Rosenthal and political scientist Alice (Vera Farmiga) find themselves in reduced circumstances both financially and socially. Rather than continue their lacklustre postwar lives in penury and ‘social purdah’, they decide to rob a bank and either go out in a blaze of glory, or live their lives with at least a few bob.

CLOSER TO THE MOON works best during the flashbacks of the Ioanid Gang with Strong masterful as the leader of the group, and Farmiga impressive and feisty as the woman trailblazer. But the fake romance that she develops with Virgil feels tonally out of place against the black comedy of the re-enactments and so does the sad interlude where Alice’s son suddenly turns up during the robbery. That said, CLOSER TO THE MOON is an impressively-mounted and good-looking film that offers reasonable entertainment as a wartime recreation of a true event. MT




UK Jewish Film Festival | 6-23 November 2014

The UK Jewish Festival is back with another nationwide feast of film (Leeds, Nottingham, Manchester and Glasgow): this year is the biggest festival yet with 67 features and 28 shorts showcasing life and all its guts and glory throughout the diaspora.

The festival kicks off with the UK premiere of French thriller THE ART DEALER, a modern-day detective story set in Paris, where a young woman uncovers a web of deceit and betrayal surrounding her family’s fortune. Follow a selection of this year’s films here.

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Dancing Arabs (2014) | UK Jewish Film Festival

Dir.: Eran Riklis; Cast: Tawfeek Barhom, Yael Abecassis, Michael Moshonov; Israel/ France/Germany 2014, 105 min.

Israeli-born director Eran Riklis tries very hard to be impartial in this portrait of Israeli Arabs. After all, they represent a fifth of the whole population. Everywhere, anti-Arab slogans daub the walls and Israeli youth bully these second class citizens, quite apart from the widespread stop-and-search tactics of the police who spring out of the woodwork with surprisingly regularity.

Gifted teenager Eyad (Barhom), leaves his family in Palestine to study at a prestigious boarding school in Jerusalem. His family expects him to make up for his father, who went to university in Israel, but was arrested, imprisoned but never charged for terrorist activities. He is now working as a fruit picker and expects Eyad to ‘avenge’ him. Eyad’s Hebrew is weak, and he is teased (and worse) by his classmates. As part of the university programme, all the students have to do “social activities”, Eyad’s ‘case’ being Jonathan (Moshonov), a Jewish boy of his own age, who is suffering from muscular dystrophy and becomes Eyads only friend. Until that is, he meets Naomi, a Jewish girl from his college. The two fall for each other, and Eyad starts to forget a little about his roots. To make some money he uses Jonathan’s Jewish identity card so he can qualify as a waiter; Arabs work in the kitchens. When Jonathan’s mother finds out, she surprisingly encourages him. With Naomi, the dying Jonathan and his mother being closest to him, Eyad will have to make a decision about his identity, and his future.

DANCING ARABS takes its title from the saying, “that Arabs have to dance at two weddings”, meaning that they have to obey their religion and the rules of their family lives; but, if they want to succeed in Israeli society, they have to hide their roots, at least in public life. This leads to a schizophrenic state of mind, Eyad being a good example. Not only does he want to succeed for himself, he also carries the burden of his family’s expectations. But once away from his family’s influences, he soon discovers that love and friendship with Israelis can be a normal way of life. This film works best when exploring the relationship between Eyad and Jonathan, two outsiders, whose relationship is governed by equality. Eyad’s affair with Naomi on the other hand is less convincing, whilst his relationship with Edna, Jonathan’s mother, is very subtle – somehow replacing that of his own mother.

Lively cinematography offers panoramic shots of Jerusalem, intercut with newsreel images,showing the brutal war between Israel and the Arab world. Barhom is very convincing, and Moshonov plays out all the desperation of his ever shortening life. Riklis tries hard to be impartial, but in doing so, he sometimes has to resort to sentimentality. Still, DANCING ARABS is a worthy stab at reconciliation, even though the reality is much too grim for even such a small attempt at compromise – proven by the cancellation of the Open Air performance of this film in Jerusalem for security reasons. AS

LFF 9.10. 20.45 MAYFAIR, 12.10. 12.00 VUE5

Self-Made (2014) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2014

Dir.: Shira Geffen  Cast: Sarah Adler, Samira Saraya

Israel 2014, 91 min.

Director Shira Geffen won the ‘Palme d’Or’ in 2007 in Cannes for Jellyfish. Here she uses absurdist comedy to deliver another provocative comment on the Israeli/Palestine conflict. In Jerusalem a conceptual artist is thrown out of bed with a bang. We naturally suspect a bomb attack, but the answer is much more simple: Mihal is the victim of a collapsing bed, leaving her with a bruise on the head and a rapidly diminishing memory. She forgets her husband’s trip to Stockholm and an interview with a German TV crew. Having ordered a new bed at an IKEA-clone shop, Mihal, complaining (wrongly) about a missing screw for the bed, inadvertently causes Arab teenager Nadine (Samira Saraya) to lose her job in charge of packing screws at the furniture store.

Meanwhile Nadine is fighting for her right to wear jeans and pink earphones, whilst her traditional family simply wants to marry her off. Since Mihal is a VIP, she not only gets a new bed, but some freebies in compensation – one of them being a playpen, which is ironic, since she’s had her uterus removed and made into a purse for a an exhibition at Venice Biennale. In the confusion that follows the two girls swop roles and assume each other’s identity and when Mihal tries to cross the border she gets arrested at the checkpoint between Israel and Palestine. Here the narrative descends into a ridiculous farce where anything can happen: Mihal is mistaken for Nadine, and after the identity switchover, Mihal is fitted out as a living bomb to cause havoc in Israel, whilst Nadine has to face the irate German TV crew. And so confusion reigns in a region where Arabs have to queue for hours at checkpoints between the two countries, just to do a day’s work in Israel.

Geffen delivers and clever and convincing drama full of contradiction, acerbic humour and convincing performances from Adler and Saraya. Mihal’s frustration in trying to assemble her ‘IKEA’ bed will strike a sympathetic cord with audiences everywhere in this is a well-craafted sociopolitical story from the much troubled Middle East. AS

LFF: 9.10. 18.15 Covent Garden, 12.10. 20.45 Cine Lumiere, 13.10. 15.15 NFT1

Afternoon Delight (2013) DVD

Director: Jill Soloway

Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch

USA  99min   Comedy Drama

Very much prescribed viewing for any affluent and intelligent women who give up work to focus on kids, Jill Soloway’s whip-smart feature debut is fearless and refreshingly frank in its expose of what can happen to those that hunger for interest outside the normal routine of family life.


This is Silverlake, an upmarket suburb of LA where creative and vivacious Rachel (Hahn) and successful husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) live in modernist, low-key charm.  Very much part of the local Jewish community of fund-raising wives and workaholic partners, Rachel confesses to her unprofessional analyst (Jane Lynch) “I know I shouldn’t complain, there are women going to fetch water in Darfour and getting raped”. She’s witty, urbane and full of compassion with a loveable tot called Logan.

And it’s very much Kathryn Hahn’s film and her first real chance to dip her toe in a full dramatic lead which she handles with considerable complexity bringing humour and likeability to a woman who, on the face of it, is spoit and bored.  Faced with Jeff’s disinterest in their sex life and a dwindling libido, she decides to spice things up with a visit to the local lap-dancing club on the advice of her close friend Stephanie (Jessica St Clair) who claims it works wonders for her own relationship with husband Bo (Keegan Michael Kee).

Here she bonds with McKenna (Juno Temple), a local sex worker who manages a appealing mix of honesty and coquettish charm, very similar to that of her previous roles.  Juno’s vulnerability brings out the protective side in Rachel and she invites her to be their live-in childminder. Josh Radnor as Jeff, accepts grudgingly, settling for his stock boho Jewish guy with with tousled sex appeal, much like those of Liberal Arts and How I Met Your Mother.

The dialogue is so engaging and spot on you hardly notice a gradual shift in tone from comedy to serious drama as the social dynamic gradually turns dark during an evening with friends.  with coruscating consequences all round. But all is not lost. AFTERNOON DELIGHT may have its detractors but for those who buy into its inventive and edgy appeal and Hahn’s authentic portrayal of female disillusionment, the rewards are plenty. MT

ON DVD MAY 4th 2014


Fill the Void (2012)

Dir. Rama Burshtein, Israel 2012, in Hebrew with Engl. subtitles, Dur. 90 mins.

Cast:  Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Shele 

Giving an insight to a different world that still exists in contemporary society, Fill the Void is set in the orthodox Hassidic community in Tel Aviv.  This very religious sect has its own rules which its members stick to rigorously without complaining.

This is director Rama Burstein’s first feature film – which she has also written – and she has direct experience of this world, living as she does, within the ultra-orthodox community.  This appealing film has a good story, told without any great histrionics.  Through the eyes of young Shira we begin to understand something of the pull between the religious rites and needs of the family and doing right by both as opposed to the tug of the young woman’s heart which moves her towards romance and the lure of marriage to a young man.

Feminists might well balk at the idea that marriages are arranged and that women have no right to choose who they marry, but Burstein tries to show that adherence to a family’s moral compass is also worth a great deal and perhaps family comes before personal choice.  She tells how 18 year-old Shira (Hadas Yaron) has been promised in marriage to a young man her own age, who, although virtually unknown to her, nevertheless meets with her approval. She looks forward to her wedding once details of the marriage contract have been finalised.  Suddenly her beloved older sister Esther (Renana Raz) dies in childbirth and the whole family is overcome with grief.  Shira’s match is put on hold while the family mourns their loss.  Then they learn that Yochay (Yiftach Kelin), Esther’s husband, has been approached to marry a Belgian widow.  He believes he needs a wife to care for his new baby son. Shira’s mother, Rivka (Irit Sheleg) however, is desperate for the baby to remain in Israel and proposes that Shira marries Yochay, although he is a lot older.  Shira must now choose her future

The acting throughout is delicate and evoking real passion between husband and wife Yochay and Esther and later some smoldering emotion between Yochay and Shira. Humour comes out in the opening scene where Shira and her mother walk around a supermarket trying to identify the young man who is lined up for Shira. The film is well photographed with good use made of the lighting to view the characters, often through gauze, and the all the scenes take place within the home except a couple of short ones inside a synagogue and on the street. CARLIE NEWMAN

FILL THE VOID won Best Actress for Hadas Yaron Venice 2012 and was hown recently at the UK Jewish Film festival. It is on release from 13 December nationwide



Big Bad Wolves (2013)

Director/Writers: Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado

110min   Comedy Crime Thriller   Israel. Hebrew with subtitles

Cast: Guy Adler, Dvir Benedek, Lior Ashkenazi, Tzahi Grad, Doval’e Glickman, Rotem Keinan; Israel 2013, 110 min.

Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s violent thriller courts controversy with nearly all the characters involved, and one wonders if this was not the main raison-d’etre behind this film in the first place. The torture scenes are technically well-crafted and graphic, and would fit in with any horror/slasher movie. But even worse is the manipulation of the filmmakers: trying to make the viewer side with Dror against his vigilante captors, having created the narrative this way.

wolves copy

When a group of police officers are brutally interrogating a suspected serial child killer, they are filmed undercover. Miki, the leading officer is suspended. He starts trailing the suspect Dror, a teacher of religious education, who seems to be awkward, but harmless.  Miki wants to capture Dror and ‘continue the interrogation’, but Gidi, the father of the last victim, captures Dror first and takes him into a remote hut.  Miki is also captured by the grieving father, but the policeman agrees to help Gidi, to make Dror confess, and tell them, where he has hidden the heads of the girls he has killed.

Is there still a place for self-justice or torture, are the filmmakers overstepping the boundaries of moral responsibilities, in making this feature?Decide for yourselves. As a pure shocker the film may be excusable, but the moral implications are not.  Child killers will always excite vigilante action, but in a civilised state such actions should be condemned outright. Perhaps the permanent war situation in Israel has blurred the reaction to violence as a whole: A reason more to listen to the Peace movement inside the country. AS




Aftermath (2012) UK Jewish Film Festival 2013

Wladyslaw Pasikowski’s holocaust-themed outing is inspired by Jan Gross’ book ‘Neighbours’ about the massacre during the Second World War of a Polish village’s Jewish inhabitants.  This Polish ‘secret history’ is filmed in a contemporary timeframe  (2000) and has the advantage of legendary cinematographer Pawel Edelman’s sumptuous visual treatment and an atmospheric and aptly-composed score by Jan Duszynski to keep the spooky storyline on a knife’s edge, thrumming with unexplained events and hostile characters.  That said, it sometimes feels like Pasikowski has bitten off more than he can chew with this tale of two brothers, Franciszek and Jozef Kalina, who come face to face with rampant anti-semitism when they discover old Jewish gravestones put to use as road-pavings in their childhood village.  The drama caused an uproar in Poland on its release due to its controversial storyline. And this is certainly one of the most important recent films concerning Jewish Polish history.

We first meet Franciszek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop) returning to the family farm after 20 years working in Chicago.  His homecoming is spoilt when he finds the mood in the parochial village is distinctly unfriendly.  The locals are still angry about him leaving of nearest and dearest in the lurch. But his brother Jozef (Stuhr), makes no effort to explain or make amends.  As the brothers set to work removing the Jewish tombstones and replacing them in their own field, the villagers rise up in scenes of outrage and hostility, threatening to beat them, even savagely killing their pet dog. When the pair start to dig deeper into local history archives, they discover that there is more to this grave desecration than first meets the eye.

With Pawel Pawlikowski’s recent drama IDA winning Best Film at the London Film Festival 2013; interest in the holocaust shows no sign of abating and Pasikowski has chosen another good story for this screen adaptation. The problem is that Franciszek and Josef are fairly unappealing, one-dimensional characters and the brothers are difficult to engage with, despite their heroic campaign.  This coupled with a total absence of any meaningful females leads (how can a village have no prominent women in Poland) apart from am occasional appearance of the local doctor and a brief vignette from a hospitalised old Jewish lady,  makes this a very dry, male-orientated story. As such, it feels rather worthy and preachy rather than involving as an emotive drama; the only sympathy and contrast coming from the Catholic priest (Jerzy Radziwilowicz). As the action builds to an hysterical climax, there is also a shift in tone from straight drama to histrionic melodrama as almost implausible skeletons gradually tumble out a cupboard heaving with anti-semitic overtones.  MT



In The Shadow (2012) UK Jewish Film Festival 2013

Dir.: David Ondricek; Cast: Ivan Trojan, Sebastian Koch, Sona Norisova, Jeri Stepnicka;

Czech Republic 2012, 106 min.

This Czech Republic Oscar entry 2013 is a film noir that takes us back to Prague 1953: Detective Hakl (Ivan Trojan) is working on a case of robbery where jewellery has been stolen, and a safe cracked open in a very unprofessional way.  Kirsch, a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, living in the Jewish Centre of Prague, seems to be the main suspect, but Hakl soon finds out, that he is only the fall guy in a conspiracy which leads to the top of the Prague Police.  Hakl’s boss, soon to be promoted, has ‘arranged’ not only this crime, but also a robbery on a post office, where a huge amount is stolen, and witnesses, including a police officer, are killed.

All this is set up to prosecute members of the Jewish community as ‘Zionist agents, who rob the state to buy weapons for the Zionist state as part of a worldwide American conspiracy’.  Hakl meets Zenke (Sebastian Koch), an Ex-SS man, who has returned from a Siberian prison, to help the Czech police with this case. Zenke, who can’t speak the native language, is shown as a piano-playing, cultured man, who flirts with Hakl’s wife Jilka and plays football with his son Thomas.  Hakl confronts Zenke, but he can’t stop the show trial of the  ‘Zionist conspirators’, and Zenke returns to Germany in a swap for a German spy.

This film has two sides: the brilliant aesthetics of the camera work; the sets (the film was shot in Lodz, Poland);  the haunting music that echoes the sinister mood and the restrained but subtly-convincing acting.  The bleak city; the grey buildings with the bullet marks of the Second World War; the lack of food and the dreariness of everyday life is wonderfully re-created.  The camera follows Hakl, from hunter to being hunted though the labyrinths of a decaying city, where it is never really light. This is a true film noir, which catches the joyless atmosphere of Stalinism perfectly.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers have, in their justified grievance against the Stalinist state, made the plot rather unbelievable, by introducing a SS man, fresh out of a Siberian prison as the main helper of the Czech police.  What help can the man give, when he can’t even speak the language of the country?  Where did he get the information, since he came straight from Siberia?  Why would the German’s swap him for a spy, since he has no value for them.  There a no excuses for the excesses of Stalinist policies, their crimes against humanity are well documented. But the filmmakers don’t help their cause in making them looking worse, by introducing a SS man as their willing tool.  Because we should not forget either, that the war criminals of the SS were sheltered by the West German state, helping them to avoid prosecution.  And Anti-Semitism was as rife in Germany as well as in the rest of Europe, which is proven by the help of the police in all the countries occupied by Germany, helping the occupiers to organise the journeys of Jews to the extermination camps.  A shame that such a visual feast depicting an important part of Czech and Jewish history is spoiled by an absurd plot. AS


It is No Dream-The Life of Theodor Herzl (2012) UK Jewish Film Fest 2013

Dir.: Richard Trank; narrated by Ben Kingsley, USA 2012, 106 min.

Narrated by Sir Ben Kingsley, this documentary about the “father” of the Jewish state, Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) sheds some light on the intellectual fight for a Jewish homeland and comes up with some surprises regarding Herzl’s personality and ideas, his friends and enemies in the Jewish movement. To start with – Herzl, born in Budapest, his family later moved to Vienna – was a typical assimilated Jewish intellectual, who cared mostly for his journalistic work and his plays – he hardly went to a synagogue before the late 1880s. Herzl had studied law, but had success as a playwright and journalist for the “Neue Freie Presse” in Vienna. All changed when he was send as a foreign correspondent for the newspaper to Paris, where the Dreyfuss scandal erupted in 1895.  He sensed that the growing anti-Semitism in Europe would end in a catastrophe for the Jews – a prophecy unfortunately fulfilled. He appealed to Baron von Rothschild to support the foundation of a Jewish state, whose language should be German (because of its closeness to Jiddish) and its constitution would be strictly secular. Rothchild, like all moneyed Jews, ignored or even fought Herzl for the rest of his life. In 1896 Herzl published ‘Der Judenstaat’ (The Jewish state), calling assimilation ‘not very praiseworthy’ and seeing the future state in Palestine as “magnified by our greatness”. But he still had to appease the religious establishment “Judaism has nothing to fear from the Jewish state” – a quote which seems incredulous in the context of the modern Israel.

Herzl went on to meet Europe’s rulers, like Kaiser Wilhelm II in Palestine, the ministers of the Czar in St. Petersburg and members of the Foreign Office in London, to ask for help in setting up a Jewish State. The British came up with a solution: they offered Uganda, an idea, which – against Herzl’s will – was more or less rejected by the 6th Zionist Conference in 1903. In his last literal statement “Altneuland” (Oldnewland) he wrote in 1902 “that Jews and Arabs would help each other in the new country” and hoped for a “third way between capitalism and socialism”.

Whilst Herzl’s fear of the Shoah became reality, and his daughter Margarethe (1893-1943) was murdered in Theresienstadt, his dreams about a peaceful, cooperative Israel stay unfilled: the contemporary version of Sparta in the desert is far removed from anything Herzl and the founding fathers had in mind.

A very in-depth research with documentary footage and stills, the film portrays Herzl as visionary, who had to fight Jews as much as Gentiles, and who died much too early exhausted and disconsolate not to have seen the fulfilment of his dream. As a dreamer, he did not contemplate that reality would make Israel into a nation state like all others: hungry for land belonging to others.  AS





Blumenthal (2013) UK Jewish Film Festival 2013

Dir.: Seth Fisher;

Cast: Lailla Robins, Seth Fisher, Mark Blum, Nicole Ansari-Cox, Brian Cox; USA 2013, 96 min.

Ethan Blumenthal, played by the director himself, is a drug rep who suffers from a mental form of constipation: all his thoughts race around in his head, but he is unable to translate them into the right words. For example, when his girl friend Christina touches him gently after making love, he gets angry with her: “You woke me up”. Next morning he apologises, but soon he feels inferior again, and breaks their relationship off. Unable to cope with this, he tries to seduce an old girlfriend and gets a hand job from another girl – being on the run from himself, but involving and hurting other women randomly.

Ethan suffers from the wide discrepancy between his inferiority complex and a male need to feel superior to his partner. In this he is the mirror image of his father Saul, an academic, who is unable to come to terms with the death of his playwright brother Harold, and whom he accuses of ripping off his own writings for his successful plays. Saul does not see the crisis his wife Cheryl, an actress, is going through – like his son, his internal dialogue is overshadowing his life, making him unable to connect with his family. His problems manifest themselves in a pure physical constipation, making him spend most of his time in the bathroom.

Whilst clearly set in a Jewish environment, from which the protagonists suffer in different ways, the problems they encounter are very much universal, one does not have to be a Jewish man to be insensible – whilst feeling exactly the opposite, listening to one owns “great ideas”. One scene is particularly revealing: when Ethan finds out a few days after their split, that Christina is pregnant, he asks her: “What are your politics on this subject ?.”

Productions values are high and Seth Fisher’s debut film has all the merits of a first film (particularly a probing curiosity) and at the same time shows restraint , never letting the subtle humour of the characters degenerate into something raucous – Fisher keeps a distance, loving his protagonists, but not adoring them. The irony is never sharp, but the director allows no sentimentality: he observes with maturity, so rare in a first timer. The acting is brilliant, the ensemble trying to work for each other and the camera gives us enough intimacy, without being to obtrusive.

BLUMENTHAL is made with love, but executed with wit and a caring, but not forgiving insight into the male psyche. AS


Ballad of Weeping Spring (2013) UK Jewish Film Festival 2013

Dir.: Benny Torati;

Cast: Uri Gvriel, Adar Gold, Ishtar, Dudu Tassa; Israel 2012, 106 min.

Torati tries to marry two genres: an Israeli form of the Spaghetti Western and a Mizrali Musical cum road road movie, scored by music played by Jews who has emigrated from Arab countries into Israel, sang in Hebrew. The episodic narrative is carried forward by the music, (rather like the recent Broken Circle Breakdown)  and centred around the tar (lute) player Josef Tavila (Uri Gvriel), star of the long defunct “Tourqouise” ensemble. He has spent many years in jail, after he fell asleep at the wheel of the minibus, carrying the group. Two members were killed and his spouse Margaret (mother of his daughter Tamara) has been wheelchair bound since the accident. Since his release from prison, Jossef lives like a hermit, only visiting a pub twice a week to collect his shopping. One day, a young man asks the landlord about Jossef – it is Anram, the son of Avram, one of the surviving members of the famed group. Anram has come to see Josef to ask him to play for his dying father the composition of the title, which has never been performed.

What follows is an odyssey through the countryside, where Josef is collecting all the players of the new ensemble including his daughter Tamara, who, like her father, can drink any amount of alcohol, without showing the slightest effect – something which comes in handy when they free a blind flutist from his exploiters, Tamara drinking their boss under the table. Another musician has to be freed from his soon to be wife (who wields a huge machete) and her violent brothers. Needless to say that all goes well and the new ensemble reaches Avram just in time.

The action part of the film is executed well with many references and quotes to the Italian masters of the Western, humour and irony always helping the unbelievable incidents along. Camera work is impressive, and the actors are careful not to overdo their roles. But everything is dwarfed by the music, sad and melancholic, played on instruments very much unknown in our concert halls. Hybrid the film may be, but after seeing it, many may find that his strange and haunting music has a healing quality.  AS


Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy (2013) UK Jewish Film Festival 2013


Dir. Michael Kantor: USA 2013, 84 min., Narrated by Joel Grey (Documentary) + 185 min (Bonus Material, DVD)

Michael Kantor’s lively and informative film includes interviews, excerpts from the musicals and footage manages also to be very moving, helped by a running time of under 90 minutes. Particularly impressive are the scenes from the 20s, showing a “noisy, over crowded and dirty” Lower East Side in New York. True fans will enjoy the three hours bonus material of excerpts included in the DVD.

The Broadway Musical is the most American of art forms (apart from TV commercials), and its past and present is dominated by Jewish composers and lyricists. The reason for this is that Jewish artists successfully developed the tradition of the Jewish musical theatre of the Lower East Side into a national art form by the 1930s. They simply replaced the downtrodden Jewish heroes and heroines with other minorities. Nobody did this better than the composer George Gershwin and his brother Ira, who wrote the lyrics. But one should not forget that Gershwin was at first rejected many times by  Broadway producers for being “too” Jewish”. His break trough “Rhapsody in Blue” was a sort of Blues played on a Klezmer clarinet, this being made possible by the fact that both Black and Jewish music was both mostly written in the minor key, to describe the suffering of both minorities. The Gershwins, unlike others, had a healthy distrust of orthodox religion, starting “Porgy and Bess” with the debunking of the Torah, by opening a ceremony with the line “It may be not be so”.

It helped, that some of these composers and lyricists ‘anglicized’ their names, like Irving Berlin (Isidore Beilin), or had it done by their parents like the Gershwins (Gerschowitz). The musical became soon a feel good factory, Rogers and Hammerstein being the leading pair with hits like “Oklahoma (1947), “Carousel”, “South Pacific”, “The King and I” and their last cooperation “The Sound of Music” (1959), which dealt with emigration from Hitler Austria in a rather quaint form. By then Irving Berlins songs “Dreaming of a White Christmas” and “God Bless America” (which for a long time was the second National Anthem) were the epitome of post-war optimism, though it should be said that many Christian leaders protested openly against the latter song, questioning if a Jew had the right to express anything about the Lord.

We also learn how from the sixties onwards, Jewish composers and writers started to come to term with their own history, starting with “Fiddler on the Roof” (1964), composed by Jerry Bock. In spite of the catching songs, the story, starting with a pogrom and ending with an emigration was hardly uplifting. The same can be said for “Cabaret” (1966), where John  Kander’s music could and would not camouflage the rise of Nazism in Germany. The musical was, in contrast to the film version of 1972, not a success. Finally, Mel Brooks tried more or less successfully with “The Producers” (‘Springtime for Hitler’) to kill the ghosts of the past in 2001 with laughter. AS





Closed Season (2013) UK Jewish Film Festival

Franziska Schlotterer’s feature debut, Closed Season, is a well-crafted and visually atmospheric wartime drama that takes place in the German Black Forest. A boorish farmer Fritz (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and his wife, Emma (Brigitte Hobmeier) yearn for a child but he is infertile. When Albert, a young Jewish refugee, arrives on their doorstep, he is offered sanctuary for ulterior motives.

At first Emma is appalled at the idea of harbouring an illegal Jewish man. But once she gets to know Albert (Chrisian Friedel) and his cultured ways with literature and classical music she is seduced and acquiesces to her husband’s plan to use him as a surrogate father.  Intoxicating chemistry between the three of them creates some emotional scenes (particularly when Fritz eavesdrops on their lovemaking) and much soul-searching and  further suspense is provided by visits from a local Nazi friend (Thomas Loibl) of the family.

This engaging narrative s neatly enveloped inside a seventies reunion in Israel where a young German man, Bruno (Max Mauff) arrives in a kibbutz to deliver a letter from his dead mother to the father he never met.  Avi (the former Albert) is reticent to accept his former life but eventually acknowledges his son.

As wartime dramas go Closed Season is a slim but nevertheless an engaging one with believable performances from the largely unknown cast.  With shades of Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon and even Lore, the study of human dynamics between the desperate characters in contrast to the gentle farm setting is the most rewarding element MT





The Road A Story of Life and Death (2011) UK Jewish Film Festival 2013

Director: Marc Isaacs
Written by: Marc Isaacs, Iqbal Ahmed
Producer: Rachel Wexler, Aisling Ahmed

UK  75mins 2011 Doc

What may seem at first to be quite an unpromising premise: the A5, Edgware Road; becomes rather an elegant elegy to the hidden, forgotten immigrant population of Britain, providing as it has a key workforce that has been underpinning the British economy for centuries.

Isaacs has evidently spent a great deal of time getting to know his subjects: A blind 95-year-old Viennese Jewish lady who lost her mother to the Pogrom, a Kashmiri Sunni Muslim hotel worker hoping to bring his wife over; two Irish, young and old; an aspiring Burmese Buddhist monk and a German ex-flight attendant living with her estranged husband. And all of them live on the Edgware Road. A route most would associate merely with getting to somewhere else.

The production values are affected by the small, digital camera utilised throughout and some of the storylines are inevitably more interesting than others. But this nevertheless is filmmaking rich in content and our guide and documenter, if not subtle in his manner of questioning, has definitely won over the trust of the people he befriends in the pursuit of their story.

His evident empathy and understanding enables Isaacs to cast a light into these very ordinary peoples’ lives and encourage them to share their dreams both aspirational and dead, with the audience; sometimes in a quite breath-taking way.

Keelta is a young Irish girl leaving the Emerald Isle for the Big Smoke, arriving at one end of the A5 straight off the ferry in Holyhead, full of hope for her future. Billy is a man who came over in the Sixties, worked tirelessly building Britain’s future on the railway, the Eurotunnel and the roads. But his is a far more pessimistic though not embittered appraisal of life away from home. Being an outsider in Britain is no picnic. ‘Always a pound short and a day late’ is how he expressed a lifetime of dreams thwarted with heartfelt Irish understatement.

This doc is a real treat and tremendously moving. The filming spanned an 18-month period, so we get to see how things develop for all concerned, good and bad. It’s a fascinating snapshot of an invisible London; an everyday one and the A5 is the perfect foil. One might drive down it a hundred times and never really glance right or left for any period of time longer than it takes for the lights to change.

But Isaacs forces us to slow down and take in what is a tiny sample of the very real people that live and work there and in so doing opens up a whole tapestry, a whole conversation about life and what life means; the choices we make and the ramifications thereof. Andrew Rajan.


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