Explore the latest crop of Jewish films screening in venues all over London many with talent interviews, panel discussions and other special in-person events.
Online screenings start from Friday 5 November. Films and pre-recorded events will be released at 6pm Monday – Saturday and 12pm noon on Sundays, and available for 72hrs from release date. Viewing permitted from the UK only.
For an overview of festival screening times download and print the film schedule here.
The UK Jewish Film Festival presents an online edition from 5 – 19 November 2020 exploring Jewish and Israeli life, history and culture.
Festival screenings will take place on their own secure streaming platform available throughout the UK: watch.ukjewishfilm.org. Films will premiere at specific dates and times across the Festival and remain available to watch for a set period – download the film schedule here. Tickets are limited for each film so we encourage advance booking to avoid disappointment.
To ensure the best possible cinema-at-home experience, take a look at viewing guide for ways to watch as well as our FAQs page. For support to watch the Festival with existing viewing setups, contact the box office and support team throughout the Festival duration (5th-19th November): +44(0)203 405 0710; 12pm-8pm, Sunday-Thursday; 12pm-5pm, Friday; 6.30pm-8:30pm, Saturday.
Dir.: Christian Frosch; Cast: Karl Fischer, Alexander E. Fennon, Karl Markovics, Roland Jaeger, Ursula Ofner, Luc Veit, Matthias Forberg; Austria/Luxembourg 2018, 138 min.
Austrian director/writer Christian Frosch (Rough Road Ahead) captures the cumulative intensity of the trial of his compatriot SA Oberscharführer Franz Murer (1912-1994), commandant of the Vilnius Ghetto from 1941 to 1943, which was held in Graz in 1963.
Known as the “butcher” of Vilnius, Murer was known for the sadistic killings during his watch on the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto once ‘home’ to over 80,000 Jews, only a few hundred lived to tell the tale. After the war he was spotted by accident by one of the survivors, and stood trial in the USSR, where he was sentenced to 25 years for the killings of the Soviet denizens. In 1955, having only served six years of his sentence, he was repatriated as part of the Austrian Treaty which re-established the country of Austria after ten years of rule by the Four Allies. One of the conditions for his release was that he be re-tried in Austria. Only thanks to Simon Wiesenthal, this finally happened in 1963.
We are introduced to Murer (Fischer) and his wife Elisabeth (Ofner) on the first day of the trial: they kiss passionately in his cell, before his lawyer Böck (Fennon) makes an entrance, insisting Murer wears an old traditional jacket instead of the expensive coat chosen by Elisabeth. Clearly Böck is trying to make Murer look like an Austrian Everyman; the victim of Jewish propaganda. But Murer is anything but: it is rumoured that he stole gold from the ghetto finances, paying for the large agricultural holdings he then acquired. He is also a well-known regional member of the governing Austrian People’s Party.
Prosecutor Schuhmann (Jaeger) is no match for the defence lawyer, who uses every trick in the book to discredit the Jewish witnesses, accusing a father of lying when he witnessed his son’s murder at Murer’s own hands: “This was a case of mistaken identity, Jewish people under orders of Wiesenthal and other Zionists, do not care if they accuse the wrong person, as long as it is a German or an Austrian”. Murer’s defence is helped by a particular witness, Martin Weiss (Veit), De-facto commander of the ghetto, who then takes responsibility for the boy’s killing. Oberscharführer Weiss, member of the ruthless Einsatzgruppe 3 and the SD, was responsible for the massacre of Ponary, where 100,000 Jews and Communists were shot. He was convicted to a life sentence in West Germany in 1950, which was first suspended in 1970, then revoked in 1977. Like Murer, Weiss would live well into his eighties.
Judge Peyer (Forberg) is clearly seeking ‘a non-guilty’ verdict, his own murky past makes him inclined to “be lenient on people like Murer, who have repented – if we don’t show mercy to people like him, what do we do with the hard-core Nazis?” He is joined by the majority of the Graz citizens, who throw stones through the window of the restaurant where the press, the Jewish witnesses and Simon Wiesenthal (a brilliant Karl Markovics) are being hosted. Frosch establishes Murer as “an ordinary man of evil”, whose supreme arrogance in the face of guilt is backed up by the huge majority of Austrians, not only his own town folk. It is not only the verdict which proves him right: Until June 2019, when an interim government took over from the discredited OVP/FPO coalition, as well as in the post-war past, the right wing “Freedom Party of Austria (FPO)” formed part of the government, their Law makers helping to deny the country’s questionable past.
DoP Frank Amann’s mobile camera brings the trial to life, avoiding a static pot-boiling drama, which runs for over two hours. That said, this is much more than a historical trial: its showcases a contemporary history in Europe where countries like Austria, who participated in the Holocaust, but never owned up to their culpability, are now creating an ideal environment for the resurgence of Fascism by forming an alliance of denial at all cost. AS
Dir.: Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche; Documentary with Lea Tsemel; Canada, Switzerland, Israel 2019, 110 min.
Advocate explores the work of Israeli defence lawyer Lea Tsemel, who defends Palestinians – suicide bombers as well as innocent clients – earning her the name “Devil’s Advocate” in her home country where the Law often stands alone in the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinians.
Born in 1945 in Haifa, Tsemel volunteered for the 1967 Six Day War and was one of the first Israeli women to visit the Western Wall. Somehow the conflict politicised her – she could not believe in the Government slogan ”War for Peace”. After studying law, she served as an apprentice to Human Right’s Lawyer Felicia Langer.
One of Tsemel’s first trials was the defence of Ahmed, a 13 year-old Palestinian boy in 1972.Ahmed and his cousin Hassan were captured with knives and accused of an attempted suicide bombing, even though video evidence was to the contrary. Under Israeli Law, nobody under the age of fourteen can be prosecuted for a crime. But a sensationalist media called for the death penalty for Ahmed. As it is often the case when innocent Palestinians are involved, the Israeli prosecution went for a plea bargaining, and reached a guilty verdict in spite of the lack of evidence.
Tsemel’s next got her teeth into the case of Israa Jabis, a young Palestinian mother who was also accused of an attempted suicide bombing after her propane gas tank in the back of her car exploded. Although Israa was the only one injured, the case made legal history, making it illegal to use evidence from admissions gained under torture and duress at court.
The directors use “Fly-on-the wall” techniques to show Tsemel working on two concurrent cases, one professional, the other personal – and it soon becomes clear that she is not an easy person to work for. The directors made fluent use of historical footage and TV appearances of Tsemel, juxtaposing them with the here and now. But the application of Rotoscope and split-screens (to hide the identities of many involved), as well as the sparse use of music by Marcel Lepage, create a very unsettling atmosphere. Tsemel’s husband, Michel Warschawsky, a director of a Palestinian project, also becomes one of her clients after being arrested for his activities. Interviews with him and the couple’s son and daughter are illuminating. But Advocate would have been more convincing as a document had the filmmakers questioned Tsemel more insistently about her motives to defend violent perpetrators. Calling herself a “very angry, optimistic woman” and a “losing lawyer” she has the last word with her life’s motto “All I want is Palestinians to find justice in Israeli courts”. Tsemel has gone on to win international Law awards in France and Germany, Tsemel’s is not as powerful in her homeland and is possibly should be. Advocate is certainly proof that truth is often the first victim during wartime. AS
WINNER BEST DOCUMETNARY | UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2019
KRAKOW FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | WINNER DOCUMENTARY AWARD.
“Always be alert, and don’t accept orders you can’t follow with an open heart” That’s the message a one time spy offers to young people today.
Marthe Cohn, aka Chichinette, who wrote bestseller Behind Enemy Lines, and now travels extensively to talk about her clandestine wartime experiences, is a tiny chic blond woman with a white crop of hair, blue eyes, and a ready smile: No one would believe she was once an underground agent against the Nazis. Or that she is now nearly 100.
Nicola Hen’s lively, part-animated documentary plays out like a travelogue, full of enjoyable anecdotes from the vivacious one time secret agent who is once again packing her case in California for a trip to Paris with her husband Major Cohn. French born and bred, she nevertheless claims to have felt ‘very German’ during the Second World War when she lived as a 19 year old with her family in Nazi occupied Western France.
Born Marthe Hoffnung in 1920 Metz, where he father was a rabbi, Marthe spent an agreeable childhood with her brothers and sisters in a decent home. She preferred to read books rather than study and learned Hebrew but couldn’tspeak it. But she had to speak German when, at the outbreak of war in 1939, the family moved to Poitiers which was annexed to the Germans.
Marthe set up a shop with her sister, and soon met non-Jewish Jacques Delaunay on the dance floor of the local social club – a happy scene animated with music. As they danced, they decided to get married and planned to move to Vietnam to work in a hospital. But life was soon to get far more serious. The Germans demanded a curfew at 9pm, and Jews were forced to wear the Yellow Star. One day in 1942 an official arrived at the family home and took away Marthe’s older sister Stephanie: She had accidentally signed her real name on a letter, and was sent to a camp near Poitiers. The family tried to help her escape, but Stephanie refused to let them compromise their own security at a time when 25,000 francs was the reward for denouncing a Jewish family. She was later sent to Auschwitz, and the whole family moved on again to Marseilles where Marthe became a nurse, and, on passing her exams, to Paris where she lived with her sister, managing to meet up with Jacques, who died soon after.
But life went on for Marthe. In 1944 the Allies liberated Paris, but theGermans were still fighting for Alsace Lorraine. So Marthe enlisted in the Intelligence Service of the French 1st Army (the French Resistance) and her boss sent her to work in Germany via Switzerland with the new name of Marta Ulrich. After 14 unsuccessful attempts to cross the border at Alsace, she eventually managed to cross the border near Shaffhausen in Switzerland, creeping back and forth to relay intelligence. Her major achievement was to report that the impenetrable Siegfried Line (a defensive Western border built during the 193os) had been subjected to a large scale Allied offensive where the remnant of the German Army where hunkering down in the Black Forest.
Hens echoes the unsettling tone of Marthe’s undercover forays with a convincing technique of posting black ghostly figures moving against the forested landscape of Germany and Switzerland,. Her dangerous journeys were all made on foot from Freiburg – which was being bombed by allied forces at the time. Marthe was awarded medals for her courage – but all she had really wanted was a bicycle: the gruelling trip backwards and forwards was extremely arduous on foot.
In 1945 allied troops marched in South West Germany. And after hostilities ceased, Marthe did eventually make it to Vietnam in 1946 where she soon met the dashing Maj, an anaesthetist. And the rest is history. For her efforts and bravery Marthe got the Medaille Militaire in 1999. She had spent the early years of her marriage supporting Maj in his work. Their roles are now reversed, and Marthe is top dog, with Maj following dutifully with the luggage. MT
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
UK Jewish Film is delighted to announce the 23rdUK Jewish Film Festival, which will run from 6th – 21st November at 15 cinemas across London. A UK tour of festival highlights to 20 towns and cities across England, Scotland and Wales will run until 12th December.
This year’s programme, comprising 96 films, plus Q&As and discussions with directors, actors, politicians, journalists and others, is the largest Jewish film festival programme in the world. The film programme includes 8 world premieres, 1 European premiere, 40 UK premieres, and films from 24 countries, including 23 films from the UK.
The diverse range of films in this year’s programme includes Oscar tipped satire from Fox Searchlight Pictures Jojo Rabbitwhich will be the Closing Night Gala along with the Centrepiece Gala being The Operative which stars Martin Freeman and Diane Kruger which will receive its UK premiere at the festival.
Further highlights include Synonymswhich was awarded the Golden Bear at this years Berlin International Film Festival, documentary The Human Factorwhich is directed by Oscar nominated documentarian Dror Moreh and Israeli filmmaker Itay Tal’s intense portrait of motherly obsession God of the Piano. Meanwhile Norwegian teenager Esther finds herself caught up in the Nazi occupation in Ross Clarke’s award-winning drama The Birdcatcher.
A documentary strand includes Amos Gitai’s A Tramway in Jerusalem and Advocatea look at the life and work of Jewish-Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel who has represented political prisoners for nearly 50 years.
There will also be a chance to revisit a some cult classics such as the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man,When Harry Met Sally and even Fiddler on the Roof!
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
Dir.: Eric Barbier; Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Pierre Niney, Pavel Puchalski, Nino Schiffman, Catherine McCormack, Jean-Pierre Daroussin; France/Belgium 2017, 131 min.
Eric Barbier’s screen adaptation of PROMISE AT DAWN has been embellished to a length that does no favours to the original story or the audience, for that matter. Charlotte Gainsbourg comes to the rescue as the enterprising actress turned hotelier in a tour de force of Jewish motherhood.
Romain Gary penned the wildly romantic novel in 1960 based on his mother’s life of self-sacrifice raising him in Vilnius (then part of Russia) in the early years of the 20th century. During the course of the film, Gary is variously played by Pavel Puchalski (as a child), Nemo Schiffman (as a teenager) and finally Pierre Niney, as a young man.
We first meet Roman Kacew during one of his mother’s many crisis. Nina is an actress turned struggling dressmaker who turns to her actor friend Alex Gubernatis for support, despite his alcoholism. Posing as Parisian couturiers, the two boost their potential amongst High Society Vilnius and business blossoms overnight, leaving Nina to spend more time with her son. The boy shows a talent for drawing, but Nina wants him to be rich and famous. The wayward young Roman (Niney) soon falls in love with Valentine but her brothers beat him up and call him a “dirty Yid”, causing Nina’s to business falter, and she succumbs to diabetes. By now it’s 1934 and the family moves to Nice for the climate, taking over the running of a hotel. But Roman’s eye for the girls soon sees him back in Paris, where Law studies are hampered by his Jewish credentials and philandering ways. Finally he joins the French Air Force, becoming a victim of Anti-Semitism and the only one of 300 cadets not promoted to officer status. Needless to say, Nina battles on undeterred, ever hopeful of making a success of her son in the diplomatic service.
Bookended by scenes featuring Gary’s first wife, the English author Leslie Blanch (McCormack), Barbier’s version loves grand sequences, and Glynn Speeckaert’s aerial battle scenes are particularly impressive. Gainsbourg plays Niney off the screen: his Roman is the weakest of the three characterisations. Promise at Dawn, is certainly high octane in stark contrast with Jules Dassin’s more thoughtfully moving 1970 version of the original. MT
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
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
UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL | 8 NOVEMBER – 27 DECEMBER 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
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
Dir.: Matthew Shoychet; Documentary; Canada 2018, 80 min.
Oskar Gröning, known as the accountant of Auschwitz, lived out a peaceful existence in his hometown of Lüneburg in Lower Saxony for 70 years – unperturbed by guilt or singled out for his actions as an active member of the SS of Auschwitz. He would eventually get his comeuppance in 2015.
In his debut documentary Canadian director/writer Matthew Shoychet chronicles the 2015 trial against Gröning, featuring testimonies from the defendant himself and the surviving victims and the last living judge from the Nuremberg trial and Holocaust deniers.
Born in 1921 into a nationalist family, Oskar Gröning was unremarkable but seized the opportunity of a lifetime when he joined the SS during the Second World War. Employed at Auschwitz, he was responsible for overseeing all the artefacts stolen from Jewish internees as soon as they arrived at the Polish camp. The goods trains would turn up laden with their human cargo and Gröning would be present and correct on the infamous “Rampe”, where Dr. Joseph Mengele, the Angel of Death prepared to make the macabre decision as to who would be gassed immediately, or who could be of some use as a worker for a limited period. Gröning witnessed some gruesome events: when a mother turned up with her suitcase hiding a her baby, the child’s crying gave them both away to the guards and both were immediately executed. “The crying stopped” was all Gröning had to say.
But the survivors’ reactions could not have been more different: Bill Glied (who died in 2018) even considered that a certain form of justice had been done. But Eva Morez, who survived the deadly twin experiments of Joseph Mengele (together with her sister Miriam), expressed extreme gratitude to Gröning, offering him a hug.
Benjamin Ferenc, Judge at the Nuremberg Trials, explains why the outcome of this trial is so important and why there should never be a statute of limitations for genocide. He explains how the German justice systems had absolutely no vested interest in prosecuting SS men and other guards who kept the concentration camps going. Sure, they were little cogs in the death machine, but without them, it would have ground to a halt.
The SS had around 800, 000 men in 1945. And although it was declared a “Criminal Association” only around 200,000 the members were vetted, a mere of these 6000 prosecuted, with just 124 life sentence given out. The judges had a vested interest in making sure the whole affair was kept low-key, lest they themselves be implicated. In the end Oskar Gröning was found guilty and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment as an accessory to murder in thousands of cases. He lost all his appeals but died before he started his sentence in 2018.
The Accountant makes for sobering viewing: once again it shows how the huge majority of German civilians of the time actively supported the concentration camps by keeping ‘schtum’ and shielding those involved in the atrocities. Even today films like Luke HOlland’s Final Account (2020) show how Germans turned a blind eye to the Holocaust, some actively condoning it. AS
Mossad (the National Intelligence Service of Israel) has long been regarded as Gold Standard among spy networks in a world that continues to be fascinated by international espionage. Since the First World World spies have been glamourised and vilified. Their tales have spawned a rich vein of cinema from Noir dramas to documentaries and TV series, the most recent and spine-chilling KILLING EVE has enthralled BBC audiences nationwide.
Here, award-winning documentarian Duki Dror steps behind the secret curtain to unveil insider stories from former Mossad agents – some of them as recent as last year. But it’s important to remember that nowadays these functionaries lead quite normal lives aside from their intelligence activities. And although often viewed as exciting a great deal of their work is routine and procedural – like most people they respond with relish to share their stories of adventure and derring-do.
What emerges here is both intriguing and unsettling. Back in 1960 Mossad rose to the public’s attention when an agency team led by former intelligence officer and politician Rafi Eitan, now 91, captured Nazi arch villain Adolf Eichmann and put him on trial in Israel to answer for his Holocaust crimes in a court of Law. Naturally, no-one objected to the move. But since those glory day, Mossad has simply dispatched a number of high profile terrorists considered a threat to the national interest, without a fair trial. This spirit taking the Law into their own hands has been echoed in the recent events in Salisbury, where a former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter were famously poisoned on British soil, purportedly by the Russian themselves. Meanwhile, Eitan reveals an incident where an one of his compatriots was discovered to have been selling secrets to an enemy Arab country. He was kidnapped, assassinated, and his body was dropped over from a place somewhere in the Mediterranean. Another Mossad leader, Zvi Zamir also confesses with relish his time spent in service. He also refers to The Gatekeepers (2012) another documentary highlighting the activities of Israel’s other intelligence agency Shin Bet,, who famously failed to protect the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin who was assassinated by right-winger Yigal Amir.
Scripted by Yossi Melman and Chen Shelach (both from Zero Days) Inside the Mossad is an engrossing and succinctly made human interest story. MT
SCREENING DURING UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 8 – 27 NOVEMBER 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’sPromise 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
UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL | NATIONWIDE | 8-22 NOVEMBER 2018
Dir.: Michal Aviad; Cast: Liron Ben-Slush, Menashe Noy, Oshi Cohen; Israel 2018, 93 min.
Best known her documentaries Michal Aviad (Invisible) sophomore feature is more a study of make incompetence than female empowerment. It tackles the timely issue of sexual harassment in the workplace in a detailed casestudy of a woman who has her work cut out both at home and in the office.
Orna (Ben-Slush) is feeling really positive about her new job in her former army boss’s property company. “Benny knows I’m hard working”, she tells her husband Ofer (Cohen), whose restaurant is struggling. But Ofer has his head in the clouds, with his foodie vanity project. Meanwhile in the world of real estate, Benny (Noy) starts his campaign to ‘groom’ Orna, immediately asking to wear a nice skirt instead of trousers, and letting her hair down “because it suits you”. But when he kisses the working mother of three, he over-steps the mark and makes up for it by offering Orna a promotion and securing an alcohol licence for Ofer’s restaurant.
Benny then whisks Orna off to Paris on the pretence of using her language skills for some company business. Carried away by the ambience, the makes another move on Orna but sadly fails to perform: “You are driving me crazy”, he complains, putting the blame (in time honoured male fashion) on this highly capable woman. Orna immediately leaves Benny’s company, but when he refuses to give her a reference, she is forced to take things into her own hands.
Liron Ben-Slush is the heart and soul of this absorbing drama about a positive woman caught between two impossible men, who both want to exploit her in different ways, relying on her good humour and generosity of spirit to get their own way. Ofer is like a forth child, expecting her to take carry the whole family, while pandering to his ego. Benny is the typical male chauvinist, determined to have his way with Orna, and blaming her when it all backfires. Orna feels guilty and responsible, and has to re-invent herself to survive in this subtle chamber piece, supported by its convincing cast. Aviad creates an important chapter in the ongoing #MeToo campaign. AS