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.
“Let your photography be the way you discover this life and your own self”
And so began the extraordinary life and times of artist and photographer Harold Feinstein who first picked picked up a Rolleiflex at the age of 15 and headed out to the carefree paradise of Coney Island where every class, race and creed was on parade; rather like Balzac’s Comedy Humaine. Apposite music choices makes this a superlative piece of cinema.
Feinstein just snapped away, often making friendships. A sympathetic and unassuming figure in the crowd, he somehow brought out the best in the most unlikely people because of his carefree chutzpah. But the real kicker in his career was a need to get away from his childhood. And this is best shown in his sensitive portraits of childhood suffering such as Girl on the Carousel, which he sold when he was just 17.
Andy Dunn’s freewheeling and highly enjoyable documentary explores this low profile maverick whose talent seemingly knew no bounds. Described variously as a “a true master of composition, and an expert editor and printer,” Feinstein shied away from technical prowess and tried to show how easy it is to bring out beauty from the ugly and the strange.
His work had a narrative power and substance, but he never courted fame or commercialism – although it found him in his final years. Feinstein takes a gritty uneven environment and creates out of it some wonderful and tender moments, a master printer crafting pictures of deep dark rich tonalities. His focus was the way bodies moved together, simply hanging out in spontaneous moments.
So his camera became a magic carpet transporting him away from the pain of his upbringing in Brooklyn where he grew up in a large Jewish family, his meat trader father was a figure of fear and loathing. He joined Henri Cartier Bressan at the New York Photo collective that banded together from the mid 1930s to 1951. But the Korean War put paid to all this and in 1952 he was conscripted and shipped to the Far East where he used his camera a tell a behind the lines story of troops during leisure time, waiting around, relaxing and missing their loved ones. Unlike the combat photography of Eugene Smith – who he later joined up with to create the drawings for an extensive photo essay that eventually never got published – his subjects rarely carried weapons – he was a popular figure, even marrying a Korean girl, while he continued to serve in the infantry.
Back in New York living was cheap in the 1950s. An exotic creativity filled the air and attracted an exotic mix of artists: Thelonius monk, Salvador Dali, The Lone Ranger. Anais Nin.Feinstein found work in the Jazz world, creating covers for Blue Note records. It was here that he met Dottie Glen Goodson who was to be the mother of his son Gjon and daughter Robin.
At a time when there was no real market for photography Feinstein could sell out a show. Highly protective of his material, he missed out on a massive commercial opportunity when MOMA chief Edward Steichen approached him to feature in the massive project that was Family of Man touring exhibition. Feinstein refrained from being a part of the collaboration, wanting control- but success didn’t evade him as British filmmaker Dunn shows in the final stretch of this fascinating and comprehensive documentary that covers all bases.
But Feinstein simply didn’t want to be tied down artistically or personally, he was a true spiritual, continually re-inventing himself and moving on instinctively with his winning personality and highly appealing sense of humanity.
After forming a family with Dottie, Feinstein left for Philadelphia where his discovering his real metier of teaching which nurtured him and gave so much to the photographers he went on to inspire. He discouraged them from getting caught up in the technical aspects of the craft, encouraging creativity in a way that was liberating and combustible for his students, often teaching while high on LSD and mescaline and lots of drink. “Be creative with your life,” was the message he gave his students. Yet it was through his exploration of Digital technology that Feinstein made his commercial mark, firstly through an innovative take on flower photography that led to a lucrative book format. And this eventually enabled him to reintroduce his early work which eventually got published in coffee table editions.
Not so successful at fatherhood and responsibility, Feinstein kept his dark side very hidden, but the many friends and associates who join in to extol his sympathetic personality and appeal are testament to his empathy as an artist. Some add nothing and are not as interesting as they think they are, actually detracting from the biopic’s laudable strength as a document to one of the most remarkable and worthwhile characters in the history of photography and printing. MT
“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.: Alexandra Dean; Documentary; USA 2017, 86 min.
Hedy Lamarr wasn’t just a pretty face. First time director/writer Alexandra Dean uncovers some juicy secrets about Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000), the bombshell who, together with composer George Antheil, invented a Radio Guidance System based on Frequency Hopping, which is today the basis for WIFI, Blue Tooth and GPS.
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born into an Upper-class Jewish family in Vienna. Early on in life she was encouraged by her father to undertake scientific experiments. As a teenager she went to Berlin and was trained as an actress by Max Reinhardt. Returning to Vienna, she worked as a script girl and had small parts in four features, before starring in Gustav Machaty’s 1933 outing Ekstase (Ecstasy), appearing in the nude – which begs the question: how did a director talk an eighteen year-old girl into disrobing? Well Kiesler was naturally blamed and took the brunt of the scandal. To get away from it all Hedy married the Austrian ammunition manufacturer Fritz Mandl, who in spite of being at least partly Jewish, delivered weapons to Mussolini. Mandl was a tyrant obsessed with his wife, and Hedwig had to put on a maid uniform to escape from him in the middle of the night. In Paris she met Louis B. Mayer in 1937, who signed her up for MGM, giving her the screen name Hedy Lamarr. She made her Hollywood debut in the following year starring in Algiers, opposite Charles Boyer. In the decades that followed she would star in 25 features, mostly casted as an exotic seductress.
When WWII broke out German U-boots dominated the oceans, nearly winning the war for Hitler. Lamarr and composer George Antheil developed a Radio Guidance system which would have helped to protect Allied ships from the German U-boots, but the Navy decided a woman could hardly be of any use in the manly pursuit of war victory. Lamarr was Instead told to sell War Bonds which she did to the tune of over 25 Million Dollars. Much later, the Navy apologised, giving her an award which her son Anthony accepted on her behalf. Lamarr, who by then only communicated via phone with friends and family, phoned her son during the ceremony, and thanked the audience for her belated award. In 2014 Hedy Lamarr was officially introduced into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame.
On the big screen she played in popular features like Ziegfeld Girl and Boom Town Girl, and in 1942 in White Cargo, cast an a half-Arab seductress, who told the white farmer she wanted to seduce him crawling seductively on her belly: “I am Tondelayo. I make tiffin for you?” The discrepancy between reality and screen life for a woman like Lamarr, who had just invented one of the most revolutionary electronic technologies, must have been maddening. In 1950 she starred in Samson and Delilah, which was the best-grossing film of the year. She shared a passion for aviation with her boyfriend Howard Hughes (“the worst lover I ever had”), but her marriages, six between 1933 and 1965, always ended unhappily in divorce. She had two children with John Loder, Anthony and Denise, who feature extensively in this documentary. Lamarr’s later years were a nightmare. She fell under the influence of “Dr. Feelgood”, Max Jacobsen, who prescribed amphetamines for his many clients from Hollywood, including President John F. Kennedy. Lamarr also designed a mini Ski-resort in Aspen, having finished her screen career in 1958 with the appropriately titled The Female Animal.
BOMBSHELL is a revelation: if you wanted to invent a script about how women were/are treated in the film industry, you’d be hard pushed to come up with a more poignant story. Director Alexandra Dean has excelled with this documentary about an intelligent and courageous woman: Hedy Lamarr’s only fault was to be born hundred years too early. AS
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
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
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
SCREENING DURING UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 9 – 26 NOVEMBER 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
SCREENING DURING THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 9 -26 NOVEMBER 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
SCREENING at UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 6-26 NOVEMBER 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 | NATIONWIDE | 7-26 NOVEMBER 2017
Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder, Taryn Manning, Anton Yelchin, Tom Bateman, Jim Gaffigan
98min Biopic Drama US
Peter Sarsgaard leads with a haunting and humanistic performance in this serious and well-crafted biopic of the controversial social psychologist Stanley Milgram who grew up in America, the child of Romanian and Hungarian Jewish refugees.
Cleverly reminding us of the Holocaust without placing it at the forefront, Michael Almereyda elevates this absorbing film with Ryan Samul’s subtle cinematography and Deana Sidney’s restrained set design that never allows it to feel dry or technical. Set in ’60s Yale, a subtle love story simmers below the surface, that of Milgram and his wife Sasha, elegantly portrayed by Winona Ryder. Meeting in a lift during the opening scenes, they pursue a rapid, low-key courtship, both immediately recognising their suitability as marriage partners due to their Jewish roots.
Milgrim’s notoriety was largely the result of “the machine”, a device that he used to illustrate his experiments on human obedience to malevolent authority. During his debatably unethical study, he tricked ordinary people into delivering electric shocks to unseen subjects in another room, Even though there was no coercion, practically all of them continued with the experiment despite the cries of pain that emerged from the room. In reality there were no electric shocks, but Milgram wanted to prove that people would continue inflicting pain, just because they were told to. The scientist was also known for proving the “six degrees of separation” rule through a Harvard mail experiment.
Peter Sarsgaard gives a melancholy performance but one which manages to be both seductively sinister and authoritative. Quoting from Søren Kierkegaard (“Life can only be understood backwards, but it much be read forwards’), he is quietly spoken and detached yet full warmth and acceptance for both his co-workers and his wife and children; never coming over as condescending or boffin-like. The only thing that marrs EXPERIMENTER is the appearance of an ill-advised beard that sprouts suddenly on Milgram’s face after the birth of his two children; adding an unintentional comic element to the proceedings. There is also a scene that features a man playing William Shatner in the TV movie The Tenth Level, that was loosely based on Milgram’s book. Sasha claims that this character turns him into a “goy” (non-Jew) where in fact Shatner is Jewish, and Sarsgaard is not.
The central theme of the film continues to be the main central experiment and the stark and unbelievable reality – backed by science – that most people continued to press the button, ‘harming’ their fellow men, despite their sheer abhorance of the facts and their subsequent disbelief. Highly recommended. MT
EXPERIMENTER IS OUT ON DVD AND DIGITAL RELEASE FROM 29 FEBRUARY 2016 here
REVIEWED DURING THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | NATIONWIDE 7 – 22 NOVEMBER 2015 | MORE FROM THE PROGRAMME here
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
THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL | 7 -22 NOVEMBER | LONDON | MANCHESTER| NOTTINGHAM|GLASGOW| LEEDS
An upbeat sparky romcom about a Jewish woman looking for love in her 40s. Making great use of its downtown Toronto setting, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL MONOGAMIST has Diane Flacks as Elsie, an extremely likeable but restless soul at odds with her traditional mother and unsatisfied with her long-term relationship with Robin (Carolyn Taylor). But things don’t improve when she leaves Robin to pursue a new girlfriend (Grace Lynn Kung). Elsie starts to realize that perhaps she has thrown away the love of her life.
Mitchell and Zeidler get the best out of a talented cast and a whipsmart script laced with some fine Jewish sarcasm that makes this observational comedy fun and entertaining, despite its minor flaws. Elsie eventually becomes the narrator in her hilarious deteriorating situation where she acknowledges the pain of moving on to find true love, with wit and wisecracking humour. What emerges is that love and relationships are the same irrespective of our sexual orientation. MT
SCREENING DURING THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 7 -22 NOVEMBER 2015
Cast: Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernhard Lee, Ernst Deutsch, Erich Ponto, Siegfried Breuer, Paul Hoerbiger
UK 1949, 104 min.
Like many classics, THE THIRD MAN benefited from the director standing up to the producer: Carol Reed insisted on shooting in Vienna (as opposed to an all-studio set), and he also chose Orson Welles to play Harry Lime, whilst (the un-credited producer) David O. Selznick would have preferred Noel Coward. Reed also argued in favour of Anton Karas’ zither music, which carried the film. Finally, Selznick and Reed successfully teamed-up to convince screenwriter Graham Greene to forsake a happy-ending, which would have seen Joseph Cotton and Alida Valli walk out of the cemetery, hand-in-hand.
Vienna in 1949 was a city (like Berlin) divided in four occupied zones, the centre being an international zone where the rule changed monthly between the four powers. Like Berlin, Vienna was a paradise for spies and black marketers; the murky atmosphere producing a background for the beginning of the Cold War. Naïve American pulp fiction writer Holly Martins (Cotton), married to the bottle and always in need of money to sustain his alcohol habit, arrives in the city, because his friend Harry Lime (Welles) has promised him a job. But Holly arrives just in time for Harry’s funeral, where he meets Harry’s girl friend Anna (Valli) and falls in love. Researching the circumstances of Harry’s death, who was supposedly killed in a road accident, Holly encounters three dubious friends of his: Baron Kuntz (Deutsch), Dr, Winkler (Ponto) and Popescu (Breuer), who, it turned out, helped the very much alive Harry in the black market distribution of diluted penicillin. Major Calloway (Howard), all stiff upper lip, shows Holly the victims of Harry’s trade, and hopes to rail him in, to catch Harry. The two friends meet in the Prater’s Ferry-wheel, where Harry gives its famous speech about the Cuckoo’s clock (which was actually not a Swiss, but a German invention), to justify his profiteering, which lead to many deaths. Holly finally gives in and rats on Harry, but Anna warns him, still loyal to the man who saved her life. The rest is (film) history.
Carol Reed, who was a member of the British Army’s Wartime Documentary unit, had DOP Robert Krasker (Senso/Trapeze) shoot THE THIRD MAN like a nightmare vision: instead of the glory of the allied victory, we see bombed houses and equally distraught citizens, who seem to have lost all moral compass. Harry is not alone in his crass materialism, his Austrian helpers, obviously with a fascist past, take full advantage of the new system (democracy), helping themselves to a nice fortune. The shadows are long, images tilt, the light is diffuse and opaque, as are most of protagonists with their shady dealings. But most interesting, is that one of the victims, Anna, a very haughty Alida Valli, sticks to Harry. She sees him as her saviour, never mind the way he made a living. Holly, befuddled, is out of his debt, and in spite of his decision to help the major, hankers after Harry and has lived a much too sheltered live in the USA to even begin to understand Anna – he arrives at a stranger and leaves as one. In The Third Man Reed created the hellish vision of a city between WWII and the Cold War: the human rats crawl in the sewers, morally bankrupt, with no alliances, but surviving at all cost. AS
THE THIRD MAN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19TH JUNE 2015 COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL
Dir.: Ariel Folman | Cast: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, Paul Giamatti, Danny Huston,Israel 2013, 120 min.
After the success of Waltz with Bashir director Ariel Folman has filmed Stanislaw Lem’s 1971 novel “The Futurological Congress” with an even more stunning result in this psychedelic animation. In the first forty minutes of aesthetically straightforward action, Robin Wright stars as an actress with a conflict: sell her identity and secure the future of her children, Sarah and Aaron (who is suffering from a rare disease), or be herself and suffer the consequences of any Hollywood actress over 40. A tough choice for any woman.
Her agent (Keitel) wants her to give her identity to the film corporation Miramount: as a scanned “product” she can be used in any film to be shot in the next twenty years. Miramount boss Danny Huston pressurises her eventually into signing and makes good use of her in countless B movies and TV series. After twenty years on the shelf an aged Wright is invited to the Congress of the title, where her future ‘career’ will be discussed. On entering a special zone, she (like the majority of the human population) takes a sniff from a vial – and the world changes into an inferno of glaringly coloured animations, in which everything is possible.
The answer for this radical aestheic change is easy: the pills have got better, Prozac is passé, the vials give everybody who uses them the identity they want; Marilyn Monroe, Dracula or Superman/woman in cartoon form. Only snag: you can never go back into the real world and be your real self. As it emerges, only a few believers in truth and identity live in the old world: drab, grey and full of poverty. Searching for Aaron (she has already lost Sarah to an unknown new identity), Wright, thanks to a special pill, wanders between the two worlds.
In an horrific parody to our current world of call-centres and diminishing personal engagement, everybody here is degraded to a gigantic cartoon existence, where life follows the dramatic rules assigned by ‘Disney’. But most people love this dream which panders to and embraces the growing cult of celebrity; allowing characters to assume the starring roles in movies, even if they are only animated ones. The contrast between the outsiders in their miserable Third World existence and the trippers of the entertainment world could not be greater: The shocking, strange, and action-orientated colour cartoon versus the black and white doc realism. What price a soul, if you can be everything you want to be in colour and Technicolor? A melancholy dystopian adventure that envisages a post Covid future even more frightening and bleaker than Orwell’s 1984. AS
Cast: Linda Fargo, Betty Halbreich, David Hoey, Rachel Joe, Candice Bergen;
Narrator: William Fichtner. USA 2013, 93 min.
Documentaries about institutions of all kind – and the upmarket department store Bergdorf Goodman in New York is certainly that – tend usually to be sycophantic. But Matthew Miele’s SCATTER MY ASHES has stepped over the demarcation line between document and commercial – clearly landing on the side of fawning admiration where any reality outside the store is ignored.
Senior staff are treated like gods; the filmmaker demurely listens to all the small talk and gossip about how fantastic life at B&G is, endlessly extolling its virtues without a scintilla of criticism to add texture is this picture-perfect paean to the department store where a pair of shoes costing a cool six thousand Dollars (the only price mentioned during the whole film.), is held up as a paragon of bare-faced profiteering. Oscar Wilde would turn in his grave uttering his well-worn dictum: “the price of everything a the value of nothing”.
History resolves around the store – not the other way around. With great sadness we are told that Jackie Kennedy bought a certain hat here, which she later wore to greet the masses on that fateful Dallas day in November 1963 (mercifully we are spared the shooting during this segment of archive footage recounting the event.). And that’s the way history is made: Bergdorf Goodman placing itself right in the centre of the assassination drama, an example of product placement at its most ghoulish and opportunistic.
Needless to say, there is no downside to this story apart from the tragically amusing fact that, during the 2008 crash, even the clientele of this great shop were unable to afford its prices. So profits fell during the crisis, but then so did Walmart’s, because people could hardly afford a pint of milk: the doc would be hard-pressed to come up with a more insensitive social commentary on the World financial meltdown. But luckily for B&G, we learn that today’s profits have exceeded the pre-2008 level – “quiet an achievement”. Really?!
We also discover in this glitzy advert for the store, that shop window dressing is called ‘installation’ at B&G. David Hoey, who is in charge of the Christmas decorations in 2011, behaves like Cecil B de Mille the second. Yes, it looks nice, but please, the only reason is that you want to sell the over-priced stuff. But no, B&G is actually doing us all a favour, being so monumentally wonderful: it’s the public, the 95% who can only do “installation” shopping and the five percent who own the World and can afford to pay the inflated prices inside the store, who have to be grateful.
Joan Rivers nails it in one statement: “People who take fashion serious are idiots” – but it goes under in an endless display of vanity and pomp – the grimacing faces of most of the participants of this hideous carnival are testament to the ugliness of capitalism showcased here at its most rampant. AS
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
AFTERMATH SCREENS AT THE TRICYLE ON 13TH NOVEMBER 2013 AS PART OF THE 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
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
SCREENING AT THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL ON WEDNESDAY 13 NOVEMBER 18.30 AT THE TRICYCLE LONDON. tickets here
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
SCREENING DURING THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL ON THURSDAY 7 NOVEMBER AT THE TRICYLE, LONDON AND ON THE 13 NOVEMBER AT THE EVERYMAN HAMPSTEAD. tickets here
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
SHOWING AS PART OF THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL ON SUNDAY 10 NOVEMBER AT CORNERHOUSE, MANCHESTER AND 13 NOVEMBER AT BARBICAN LONDON tickets here
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 Ribbonand even Lore, thestudy of human dynamics between the desperate characters in contrast to the gentle farm setting is the most rewarding element MT
CLOSED SEASON IS SHOWING AT THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL on 6 NOVEMBER AT TRICYCLE, LONDON AND 17 NOVEMBER AT 10.30 AT ODEON SWISS COTTAGE tickets here
The UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL is one of the highlights of the Autumn social calendar following on from the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL with a glittering array of star-studded features. The opening gala is THE JEWISH CARDINAL, Ilan Duran Cohen’s historical drama that mixes faith and identity to focus on Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Jewish-born head of the French Church during the Papacy of Jean-Paul II.
Another highlight of this year’s s programme is IN THE SHADOW: David Ondicek’s fifties noir thriller. Set in Prague, it stars Ivan Trojan as a police chief investigating a mysterious jewellery robbery and David will be hosting a Q&A following the screening. The festival hosts an exciting selection of events and discussions and will also screen last year’s Venice Film Festival winner (2012) FILL THE VOID and an exclusive preview of THE CONGRESS, Ari Folman’s follow-up to DANCE WITH BASHIR. The festival also offers a chance to see some good old classics such as dark comedy, A SIMPLE MAN from the Coen Brothers. Book tickets here and for other Jewish film titles via VOD