Friday, 20 October 2017

October 19 2017
JIFF - Jewish International Film Festival
The Snowman
Tom of Finland 
I've gone overboard previewing films for the Jewish International Film Festival, which opens in Melbourne and Sydney on the 25th and 26th of October respectively. The marvel is, since Jewish culture is everywhere in the world, the films come from all over and feature stories pertinent not only to Jews, but people everywhere. The range of documentaries and feature films is astonishing, and everything I've watched so far has been a winner! Although the Festival doesn't open until next week, I run some of my previews today to give you ample time to decide your schedule and get your tickets! I'm not going to give my usual recommendations because I recommend them all, depending upon where your personal area of interest lies!

Director: Ferenc Torok
Length: 91 min
© JIFF - beautifully shot in black and white
Two black clad men disembark from a train in a small Hungarian village just after the end of the war. The townsfolk are preparing for a wedding, and the arrival of the men, Orthodox Jews, sends them into a panic, as many of the villagers are living in Jewish homes, stolen from the rightful owners when the German deported the Jews to the death camps. This remarkable film is shot in black and white, giving it a melancholy and historical feel. The camera doggedly follows the two men with their mysterious crates loaded on a horse and cart, while concurrently the town's interpersonal dramas play out, all revealing what unpleasant people most of the villagers are. The twist at the film's end is something unexpected, and  packs a powerful wallop. 

Bang! The Bert Berns Story
Director: Brett Berns
Length: 91 min
© JIFF - a must for music lovers
You probably know by now how much I love music documentaries. This absolutely entertaining film is the story of Bert Berns, songwriter and record producer from the sixties. I'd never heard of him, but it turns out he wrote such iconic songs as I Want Candy, Piece of my Heart, Hang on Sloopy and was responsible as a producer for Under the Boardwalk, Baby please Don't Go, and countless more! He helped launch the careers of Neil Diamond and Van Morrison, and even got himself marginally involved with the Mob. There's lashings of fabulous music here, a completely involving story of ambition, conflict, love and illness - it's a doco no music lover should miss! 

The Cakemaker
Director: Ofir Raul Graizer
Length: 104 min
© JIFF - from Berlin to Jerusalem, this delicate film
is a tale of love and loss
Thomas is a top pastry cook in Berlin. Once a month he meets with his lover Oran, who works for an Israeli/German company. When Oran is killed in an accident Thomas goes to Jerusalem, and ends up working in the cafe run by Thomas's widow, who is unaware of Thomas's connection to her deceased husband. This is a gentle and moving film, beautifully shot, and suffused with a deep sadness. It also touches upon the issues some Israelis have with Germans, and internal-based issues of religious people forcing their values onto the more secular. The human need for connection is a strong theme, and some mighty fine cakes also feature!  

Heaven in Auschwitz
Director: Aaron Cohen
Length: 74 min
© JIFF - athlete Fredy Hirsch made life a little more
bearable for kids in the camps
The documentary's title is almost an oxymoron - how could this be? It tells of famous athlete Fredy Hirsch, who could have escaped Germany before the Holocaust but chose to stay because of children he looked after, first in the ghetto camp of Theresienstadt and then in Auschwitz.  Somehow he managed to procure slightly better conditions for the little ones, organising a dedicated childrens block, with lessons, little tables, paper and pencils. Several survivors remember Fredy fondly and talk about their time in a surprising way, noting that they actually experienced moments of joy in the middle of hell, thanks to that man.   

Humour Me
Director: Sam Hoffman
Length: 92 min
© JIFF - father and son learn to understand each other
in this amusing tale
Nate, impressively played by Flight of the Conchord's Jemaine Clement, is a writer in crisis - his latest work is getting nowhere, and his wife has decided to leave him taking their young child. With nowhere to go except his father's home in a retirement village, Nate feels his life has lost all purpose. But when he is co-opted by the residents to produce a version of The Mikado, things, surprisingly, look up. Elliot Gould as the incessant joke-telling father, Bob, is a terrific foil for Clement, and all the other "oldies" play their parts with alacrity. Although the story is reasonably predictable it's told with affection, much humour, and a goodly dose of pathos. The use of black and white vignettes to act out the content of Bob's jokes is a clever device that breaks up the the main narrative in a very positive way.   

In Between
Director: Maysaloun Hamoud
Length: 96 min
© JIFF - an eye-opener into Palestinian life
Nominated for 12 Ophir awards, In Between is the powerful story of three Palestinian room-mates, Layla, a lawyer and party animal, Salma, a bartender and DJ and their conservative Muslim flatmate Nur.  When Nur's fiance visits, he is horrified at the secularity of the lifestyle of the other two girls, and urges Nur to hasten their marriage date. This movie certainly ended any preconceptions I had about Palestinian women - it's an eye-opening window into the lives of those women who live a non-religious life, while it also examines the always disturbing topic of the type of men who try to dominate their women, even resorting to brutality. Beautifully acted, with a nuanced script, this is an inspiring look at female bonding, and the importance of breaking stereotypes, and fighting the patriarchal system.   

The Last Goldfish
Director: Su Goldfish
Length: 81 min
© JIFF - from Australia to Canada, Trinidad to Germany,
the filmmaker traces her roots
This intensely personal documentary tells the director's story of growing up in Trinidad, the daughter of Jewish-German refugee Manfred, and his non-Jewish wife. When Su discovers that Manfred had a previous wife, she goes on the trail of her half-siblings, and ultimately tracks down many branches of her father's family, finally understanding why he was always so reluctant to talk about his past. I found this doco surprisingly moving, and I believe many people who have made the effort to track down lost family will relate heavily to Su's experience. Moving from Trinidad, to Canada, to Germany, and employing many wonderful old photos from Manfred's few possessions, along with long-lost letters, there is much to capture the viewer in this rewarding film.  

More Alive than Dead
Director: Tzachi Schiff
Length: 67 min
© JIFF - Freud: Fraud or genius?
World renowned Freud experts get together to discuss the legacy the famous psychiatrist had on today's culture and society. Some see him as a fraud who pirated the ideas of others; some see him as a genius! Though the ideas in this documentary take a fair level of concentration to follow, the film is augmented with some excellent and creative animation, art, humour and music. Students of psychology, and fans of all things Freudian should enjoy it.  

Past Life
Director: Avi Nesher
Length: 109 min
© JIFF - sisters delve into their father's past
Journalist Nana and singer Sephi are the children of Polish Holocaust survivors now living in Israel. When Sephi performs in West Berlin, she is accosted by a distraught woman saying her father is a murderer. The sisters begin to delve into their father's past, asking him to explain what he did during the war. Deeply emotional, this film will strike a chord with anyone interested in family history, and its effects on the dynamics of family relationships. It also examines what people did simply to stay alive under unthinkable conditions. Both actresses playing the sisters have been awarded for their roles, in this deeply moving, beautiful film.    

A Quiet Heart
Director: Eitan Anner
Length: 92 min
© JIFF - orthodoxy and secularity clash, but also
learn to co-exist
Gifted concert pianist Naomi is taking time out from her life and her pushy parents to consider what she wants to do with her life. She leaves Tel Aviv for Jerusalem, and ends up renting an apartment in an ultra-Orthodox part of town. There she befriends the musically gifted son of her religious neighbours, and also Fabrizio, a brother at a local monastery. She asks Fabrizio to give her pipe organ lessons. Naomi's secular ways incur the wrath of the local community, who become increasingly threatening. This is a stunningly layered story, with  restrained and delicate performances. It is also a very important film, raising issues that need to be constantly examined in a world where religious orthodoxy and intolerance of all kinds, along with patriarchal societies, have the propensity to threaten the harmony of everyday existence. 

Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema
Director: Danny Ben Moshe
Length: 80 min
© JIFF - who'd have thought? Indian Jewish women
pioneered Bollywood glam!
What's not to love about Bollywood? And when you discover that Indian Jewish stars were featured in the early days of the glam/glitzy Indian film industry, it's quite a revelation. Ruby Myers performed under the screen name Sulochana in the 1920s, Esther Abraham became Pramila, and Farhat Ezekiel became Nadira, a close friend of studio mogul Raj Kapoor. All these fascinating stories are blended with rare and wonderful archival footage of the old films, and interviews with surviving stars. Of special interest is actor/screenwriter Haidar Ali, son of Jewish Pramila, and Muslim M. Kumar. He crosses seamlessly between faiths, and stresses in his interviews that Bollywood has always been an all-inclusive industry that is a great model for inter-faith tolerance. For Bollywood fans, or simply film historians, it's a must see! 

 (See for all states, times and ticketing). 

The Snowman
Director: Toman Alfredson
Length: 119 min
© -Universal - love the actor, but not in this film!
Based on the popular series of Harry Hole Scandi-noir detective novels by Jo Nesbo, this is the story of Harry's hunt for a serial killer who is murdering women, and leaving a snowman somewhere at the scene of the crime. I recall quite enjoying the book, but unfortunately the film doesn't live up to its source material. It's nicely shot by Dion Beebe, who captures an atmospheric snow-bound landscape, but maybe that is the best one can say of it. The talented (and ubiquitous) Michael Fassbender is nothing like the Harry of my imagination, and the script has so many convolutions, it becomes muddied and difficult to follow. With a level of rather nasty and sadistic violence, this will probably melt in my memory as fast as the snowmen themselves!
2 - you've got better things to do with your time!

Tom of Finland
Director: Dome Karukoski
Length: 114 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Palace - macho leather men feature front and centre
in this story of the world's most popular
homoerotic artist
You may or may not be familiar with this type of homoerotic artwork, which popularised beefcake; men with bulging muscles, square jaws, massive appendages and often clad in bikie leather. This is the absolutely fascinating story of Touko Laaksonen, a soldier returned from WW2, who lives with his sister and produces art for an advertising agency, but on the side begins to draw pictures that express his own fantasies. The work eventually became popularised around the world, giving gay men the chance to associate with macho rather than effeminate stereotypes. Aside from tracing Tom's life and artistic journey, along with his importance to the emerging San Francisco gay community, this is also a very moving story of the era - a time when homosexuality was outlawed and men hid in the closets. Entertaining, interesting, but definitely not for prudes! 
4 - highly recommended!

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