by GREG KING
JIFF 2013…A FESTIVAL WORTH WAITING FOR
JIFF is back with a show-stopping line-up of 51 Israeli and Jewish-themed features, documentaries and
shorts from around the globe.
Building on its dynamic reinvention in 2012 under the helm of Director Eddie Tamir, the Festival will explore the full spectrum of Jewish experience in all its rich complexity, via an incredible 50 Australian premiere screenings, spread, for the first time, across 12 diverse categories to assist patrons in navigating the eclectic slate of movies on offer.
The titles of these categories, which hint at the cinematic gems within, include All the World’s a Stage, Quality Schmaltz, Triumph of the Spirit, Coming of Age, Drama and Desire, Brilliant Minds, Haunted Histories, Power to the People, Reimagining Culture, Women on Film, Hamatzav (The Situation) and…Living Dead (yes, every Festival needs a good Zombie flick!)
Launching JIFF 2013 will be Fill the Void, the poignant story of an 18 year-old girl who finds herself torn between love and duty when pressured to marry the husband of her late sister. Screening courtesy of Rialto Films, this fine drama, set amidst Tel Aviv’s ultra-Orthodox Hassidic enclave, has won a multitude of prestigious awards and was a resounding hit with both critics and audiences at the Toronto and Venice International Film Festivals.
Closing night will pay homage to a great Jewish tradition…humour, with the delicious documentary, When Comedy Went to School – an affectionate look at an era when comic legends such as Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, Jerry Stiller, Jackie Mason, Larry King and others honed their patter at the famous Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. Also features rare archival footage of comedians including Lenny Bruce, Rodney Dangerfield, Henny Youngman, Don Rickles, Mel Brooks, Danny Kaye and a young Jerry Seinfeld who all ‘cut their teeth’ on one of the toughest circuits in showbiz.
What lies between is a magnificent homage to Jewish culture encompassing such timeless themes as family, tradition, immigration, connectedness, morality, loss, personal triumph in the face of adversity and perhaps, most importantly, hope.
JIFF screens at the Classic Cinema in Elsternwick from November 6 – November 24. You can check out the full program at jiff.com.au
All reviews by GREG KING.
LAST UPDATED NOVEMBER 3, 2013.
From writer/director Eitan Gafny comes this disappointing zombie film, the first zombie film shot in Israel. A small group of handpicked special forces soldiers (played by real life former special services soldiers) are sent on a mission to capture a rogue scientist who is working on a biological weapon of mass destruction. The leader of the group is the enigmatic Doron (Liron Levo), for whom this is supposedly his final mission. It is clear that he knows more about the mission than he is letting on. But then the group encounter zombies and the fight for survival begins. As with the recent World War Z, these zombies are terrifyingly vorcaious and fast moving. This a is a visceral film with a high body count, and there is lots of blood splattered (apparently Gafny used some 150 litres of fake blood). The film is an homage to those zombie films from George A Romero, etc, and is critical of the Israeli military and the ongoing tensions in the Middle East. But this deliberately B-grade horror film is let down by the limitations of its low budget. Some of the special effects and pyrotechnics look extremely low rent. This mildly enjoyable mix of action and horror could have been a real winner with tighter direction, a stronger script, and a more polished screenplay that shed some of the tired cliches and clunky dialogue.
LIVE OR DIE IN ENTEBBE.
The daring Israeli raid on Entebbe airport in July 1976 has inspired a couple of Hollywood feature films. But the truth of what happened in those few days is a lot more complicated than most people realise. In July 1976, terrorists hijacked an Air France flight, and landed in Entebbe airport in Uganda, where they were protected by Idi Amin and his troops. The terrorists demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners. But Israel had a policy of not negotiating with terrorists. Instead, a daring rescue plan was developed, and an Israeli special forces unit, under the command of Yoni Natanayhu (the brother of the current Israeli PM) flew in and rescued the hostages. Natanayhu is regarded as a hero in Israel, yet many of the victims who died at Entebbe have been forgotten. Three Israeli hostages were killed during the raid – by friendly fire – 19 year old Jean-Jacques Mimouni, Pascal Cohen and Ida Borochovitch. Until now the the Israeli authorities have denied this, preferring to honour the heroic myth of the raid that has been perpetuated. In this revealing and quite moving documentary, director Eyal Boers uncovers the truth. Jonathan Kayet is the nephew of Mimouni, and was only two months old at the time. Boers accompanied his friend Jonathan on an emotionally charged journey to learn more about what happened to the uncle he never knew and find out exactly what happened at Entebbe airport. Boers draws upon extensive archival footage and photographs to explore the events of those fateful days in 1976. Boers and Kayet also talk to the families of these forgotten victims, and explore how the deaths of their relatives have affected them. As well the pair talk to one of the soldiers who was left an invalid after being wounded, and Amos Eran, the Director-General with the PM’s department who at the time expressed doubts about the mission. Boers’ film offers a surprisingly balanced perspective on events, given the inflammatory nature of the revelations.
A late addition to the festival program is Ida, the fifth film from British-based Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, whose previous film was the creepy supernatural thriller The Woman In The Fifth. Ida is something of a change of pace for him and it takes him back to his native Poland. This low key film is steeped in the aesthetics of much of the Polish cinema from the 60s – shot in black and white and in the box frame of much of the early cinema. The film is also atmospheric, but glacially paced, and some audiences may struggle with its bleak tone. The film itself is set in the early 60s. Anna (played by Agata Trzebuchowska) is an orphaned novice young nun in a convent who is about to take her final vows when she meets Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a relative who tells her some truths about her real past. The two women are a remarkable contrast – the deeply religious and introspective Anna who has led a sheltered life, and the more worldly Wanda. Wanda tells Anna that she is actually Jewish, and together the two women set out on a journey to uncover the ugly truth about what happened to their family during WWII. The performances of the two women are excellent and they find some moving emotional depths for their characters as they confront the tragedies of the past. Ida explores themes of faith, religion, history, anti-Semitism, and the director seems to have a personal connection to the material. Lukasz Zal’s luminous black and white cinematography is atmospheric. Pawlikowski’s direction is restrained and understated, which heightens the emotional impact of this poignant film.
FILL THE VOID.
The opening night film of JIFF 2013 is this drama set amidst Tel Aviv’s rigidly structured, ultra-Orthodox Hassidic community. In this slow paced, emotionally moving film, first time writer/director Rama Burshtein explores this little known world and gives us a few insights into a world rarely depicted on screen. Tragedy strikes an ultra orthodox family when Esther (Renana Raz) dies during childbirth, leaving her husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) to raise the child alone. When Yochay seems about to marry a young woman from Belgium, Rivka (Irit Sheleg) decides that her 18-year old daughter Shira (Hadas Yaron), Esther’s younger sister, should marry him so that the baby can stay close to the family. Shira is caught up in a marriage-go-round, and she has to decide between her duty to her family and her own needs and happiness. Burshtein’s direction is sympathetic and reveals a great sense of compassion and understanding for her characters. She brings an outsider’s perspective to this cloistered world. Yaron has a great presence, and her believable, subtle performance effectively conveys her dilemma and carries the film. Fill The Void has been shot by cinematographer Asaf Sudri, who works in close up much of the time, focusing on the faces of the characters, and bathes the interiors with warm brown hues. Fill The Void takes on a emotional journey through the lives of this family as they cope with big decisions that sometimes shake their conservative values. It also explores how the house is the centre of life for this community, and it also reveals the importance of the Rabbi within that community. However, some understanding of the Jewish orthodox community and its rituals and practices is necessary to fully appreciate and understand the finer nuances of the film.