Jewish International Film Festival
As ever, JIFF is a smorgasbord for lovers of fine film. With a greater than ever number of feature films, docos and special events, JIFF promises to have something for everyone. As curator Eddie Tamir always says, the stories are universal, and cross national boundaries. I’ve been so impressed by this year’s program I’ve knocked myself out trying to preview as many as possible.
Here they are in (approximate) order of my enjoyment!
Sabena Hijacking – My VersionThis is a gripping docu-drama, about the hijacking of a Belgian Sabena aircraft by four terrorists in 1972. The film blends a mix of dramatic re-enactment with powerful performances by Bobbi Lax as the captain and George Iskandar as the leading terrorist. The drama is interspersed with current day reminiscences from such notable figures as Benjamin Netanyanu, Shimon Peres, and even one of the hijackers, along with some archival footage. It all comes together in a nail biter, that is as relevant today as it was then.
On the Banks of the Tigris: The Hidden Story of Iraqi MusicIraqi-Australian Majid, who came to Melbourne as a Muslim refugee, sets out to track down the source of much of the Iraqi music he loves and remembers from his childhood in Baghdad. He discovers that many of the best-loved Iraqi songs were written by Iraqi Jews, so he heads to Israel to meet Jews who left Iraq and still play the music. This leads him to meeting musicians from all backgrounds and faiths, and to unite them in putting on a concert showcasing music as a means for peace and reconciliation. The film is moving, entertaining, and a walking advertisement for the power of music to heal rifts and connect all peoples.
Felix and MeiraNot often do we get a rare and privileged insight into the closed ultra-Orthodox society of the Hasidic Jews. Meira is a young Hasidic wife who feels progressively trapped by the strictures of her life. When she meets a more liberal man, Felix, their friendship heads in an unexpected direction. This is a beautifully shot film, with gentle and sensitive performances, and a script that doesn’t condemn, but simply shows us differences and the importance of being free to choose.
The PhysicianThe epic is back! At two and a half hours this engaging historical tale takes us from 11th century London to Persia, hub of learning. Young Christian orphan Rob Cole (Tom Payne) teams up with a local amateur healer, but then travels, disguised as a Jew, to Persia where he studies medicine under the legendary healer Avicenna (Ben Kingsley). The film is gloriously shot, bringing to vivid life the grime and ignorance of medieval London compared to the exoticness of intellectualism of ancient Persia, and portrays some of the early discoveries that paved the way for modern medicine. Thoroughly entertaining and a visual feast.
Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah ArendtArendt is the German-Jewish philosopher who, in describing Adolf Eichmann, coined the phrase “banality of evil”, causing some Jews to label her an anti-Semite. This impressive and intense doco about her life, loves and philosophies gives a rare insight into an incredible woman, with a powerful intellect. Rich with complex ideas and a wealth of history, this is not to missed by those who like to ponder life’s difficult questions.
ExperimenterPsychologist Stanley Milgram (played mesmerizingly by Peter Sarsgaard) performed now infamous experiments in which the “teacher” was instructed to deliver an electric shock to the “learner” whenever he gave a wrong answer. Through these obedience experiments Milgram attempted to understand how ordinary people could blindly obey authority (with particular reference to the Holocaust). This experiment and many others are examined in a thought-provoking film that asks us to examine the nature of evil.
By Sidney LumetLegendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet takes us through his life, from his early childhood days as an actor, through his directing of so many award-winning films. We learn what mattered to Lumet in his life and his film-making, and discover a man with a great ability to reflect, with humility, upon a brilliant body of work. The film is rich with clips from many of Lumet’s iconic films, such as Serpico, 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict, and more recently Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. An unmissable treat for movie buffs.
Censored VoicesIn 1967 Israel was victorious in the six-day war. Immediately following, renowned writer Amos Oz and a group of kibbutzniks recorded conversations with young soldiers who had fought. For 50 years Israel censored these recordings, but now they are amalgamated into a film, along with recollections from many of the men who are now old. It is a salutary lesson that war is brutal, cruel and often senseless, despite being seen as heroic at the time.
The Man in the Wall
My Shortest Love AffairTwenty years after an old love affair, Charles and Louisa accidentally re-meet, have a one-night stand and she gets pregnant. The two decide to give it a go, but they are so different that the relationship is a major challenge. Though there are some smart lines and amusing moments, I didn’t really find the plot or characters ultimately very credible.
For a slightly fuller review including directors: