JEWISH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021 – reviews

ALL REVIEWS BY GREG KING

Last updated April 11, 2021

GOLDEN VOICES.

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Raja (Mariya Belkina, from Hunting Elephants, etc) and Victor Frankel (Vladimir Friedman, from American Assassin, etc), a couple in their 60s, were the unsung heroes of Russian cinema. For several decades they had dubbed Hollywood epics into Russian for cinema audiences. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the couple left Russia and emigrated to Israel like thousands of other Russian Jews in search of a better life, where they struggled to adapt to their new life, new customs and culture and language. There was no demand for their particular skills. After some missteps they found work which allowed them to use their vocal talents again. Victor found work dubbing the latest Hollywood films for an illegal bootlegging operation, while Raja found success working for a telephone sex line. Golden Voices is a gentle comedy about the clash of cultures and an elderly couple finding a new life and its themes will appeal strongly to discerning audiences of a certain age. It has been directed by Russian born filmmaker Evgeny Ruman (The Damned, etc), who like the Frankels, emigrated to Israel in 1990. Ruman wrote the script in collaboration with his cinematographer Ziv Berkovich, and it explores themes of displacement, disillusionment, and new beginnings. But it isalso steeped in an obvious love of cinema. Golden Voices is witty and warm and provides some gentle chuckles without many laugh out loud moments. There is good chemistry between Belkina and Freidman, who flesh out their characters giving them depth and personality.

ALAN J PAKULA: GOING FOR TRUTH.

A must for cinephiles is this comprehensive and informative look at the life and legacy of Alan J Pakula, one of the best American filmmakers to never win an Oscar.  Pakula may not have been the most easily recognisable or best known of filmmakers, and he didn’t have a distinctive style like many other directors (eg; Hitchcock). But Pakula, who died tragically in a freak accident at the age of 70 in 1998, left behind a body of work that includes some of the greatest films of the twentieth century. He was progressive and political, but he was also something of a perfectionist who earned the respect of everybody he worked with. Starting out as a producer he produced the classic To Kill A Mockingbird (which star Gregory Peck confesses is his personal favourite of all his many film roles) before turning his hand to directing with The Sterile Cuckoo. He also gave us his so-called “paranoid trilogy” that included Klute, The Parallax View and All The President’s Men, about the Watergate conspiracy that eventually brought down President Nixon. Many of these films are now considered to be seminal films of the 70s. As a storyteller Pakula was always in search of the truth of the story, and he often probed into dark corners. This revealing, well-crafted and informative documentary from veteran documentarian Matthew Miele (Always At The Carlyle, etc) gives us plenty of insight into the filmmaker and the person behind the camera. Miele has interviewed a veritable who’s who of Hollywood, including Harrison Ford, Kevin Kline, Julia Roberts, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Christopher Plummer, as well as filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh who talk about his craftsmanship, some notable critics and even a couple of film historians who put his body of work into perspective. Even real-life journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein chip in with some colourful anecdotes about working with Pakula on All The President’s Men. But we also get a glimpse of his personal life away from the film set. There are also lots of clips from some of his memorable films.  

JEZ: A LETTER FOR LIFE.

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This poignant documentary is a celebration of a (short) life well lived. At the age of 36 Jeremy Spinak was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer for which there was no known cure. He decided to have a film made so that his two children could learn about him and what he had achieved in life. He provides some important life lessons, which are valuable lessons for everyday life as well, about how precious life is and not to waste time. Through archival footage, home videos and candid personal interviews with family, friends and colleagues we get a deep sense of Jeremy and his thirst for life. We learn about his irresistible appetite for sport, his passion for politics and social justice, and his strong moral compass. The latter quality came from his mother who had a strong social conscience. We also learn how his grand parents emigrated to Australia in 1938 before the outbreak of WWII. Jeremy himself talks about the importance of family, history and tradition. Even facing his own mortality, Jeremy maintains a sense of optimism throughout his ordeal. Veteran documentary filmmaker Mitzi Goldman was invited by Jeremy himself to complete the documentary. She had shot some 50 hours of material, which she and editor Melanie Sandford have deftly whittled down to the 52 minutes we see on screen. Goldman has always been interested in personal stories that reflect the human condition. Guy Gross is one of the best screen composers in this country and his score perfectly complements the personal nature of the film. Jez: A Letter For Life is an intimate and personal story.

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