Jewish Film Festival capsule reviews


EDITOR’S NOTE: (The following are capsule reviews for films not given a full review in the Light. Except where noted, all films are shown at Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema.)

“The Little Traitor”

Alfred Molina stars as a British soldier in 1947 Jerusalem who befriends a young Jewish boy in this thoughtful, warm family film based on a story by Amos Oz. Like his Polish-born parents, young Proffy (Ido Port) is patriotically anti-British, even playing at being freedom fighters with his friends and planning attacks on the occupying soldiers. When he stays out after curfew, he is caught by Sgt. Dunlap (Molina), a surprisingly friendly British soldier who takes him to his home instead of locking him up. Invited to visit him, Proffy goes hoping to gain some intelligence for his cause. In spite of himself, Proffy finds he cannot help liking the easy-going soldier and they develop a father-son like friendship. Ultimately, that friendship brings Proffy under suspicion, leading to questioning by a local leader (Theodore Bikel). This heart-warming film does a fine job of exploring issues of growing up and the hazards of assumptions about people in a way that is accessible to younger audiences. Shown June 13 at 2 p.m. at the Staenberg Family Complex A & E Building.

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“A Matter of Size”

An Israeli comedy about a group of overweight people struggling with self-esteem and excessive pounds in a weight-loss class. When one of them, is kicked out of the class and gets a new job at a sushi restaurant, he discovers sumo wrestling, a world where fat men find respect. He quickly sets out to learn the sport and recruits some of his former diet classmates to join him, including a pretty plus-sized blonde. He hopes to get help from the restaurant’s owner, a former sumo manager, in his efforts for one on his team to be the first Israeli sumo wrestler to compete in Japan. This sweet film has some echoes of “The Full Monty,” with a romantic side and a message of self- acceptance. Shown June 13 at 7:30 p.m. as the Premiere Film

“The Name My Mother Gave Me”

This Israeli documentary focuses on Ethiopian Jewish children rescued during the Ethiopian exodus to Israel. In their new home, the children take on Hebrew versions of their name, but retain the memory of their original Ethiopian names. A special program helps them adjust to their new country but a special focus on identity issues help them remain connected to their homeland, where Jews had lived since the time of King Solomon. Years later, they get a chance to return to the country of their birth, an emotional journey. The documentary focuses on the challenges of the same group of refugees featured in the successful Israeli fictional film “Live and Become.” The film is introduced by Batya Abramson-Goldstein, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, who has experience working with Ethiopian Jews. Shown June 14 at 2 p.m. with “The Fire Within.”

“The Fire Within”

The topic of this documentary is a little-known group of Peruvians with last names like Cohen and Kahn, the descendants of Sephardic Jewish men, who came to Peru from places like Morocco to work in the booming rubber trade in the late 19th century. The men stayed and intermarried or fathered children with Peruvian women, and the children were raised with Jewish traditions. The film explores both the history of this community and the struggles of present-day descendents who wish to reconnect with their Jewish roots and find acceptance from other Peruvian, generally Ashkenazi Jews. Shown June 14 at 2 p.m. with “The Name My Mother Gave Me”

“Wedding Song”

This French/Tunisian drama, set during the Nazi occupation of Tunisia, tells a tale of two 16 year-old girls, life-long friends, one Jewish and the other Muslim, both now engaged. The Nazi invasion disrupts their harmonious, multi-cultural neighborhood, separating the Muslims and Jews, and seizing Jewish assets. Muslim Nour is engaged to her cousin Khaled, whom she loves, but Jewish Myriam has been promised to a wealthy but older doctor by her widowed, now financially pressed mother. Still the girls cling to each other, their closeness undiminished. Partial nudity and an adult scene of female sexuality make this a film more suitable for grown-up audiences. Shown June 14 at 5:30 p.m., with an introduction by Dr. Moisy Shopper, Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry and Pediatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine.

“Constantine’s Sword”

Mixing politics and religion has been a historically dangerous combination, especially when intolerance is part of the cocktail. This American documentary features James Carroll, a former Catholic priest from a military family, who explores of religion, war, politics and intolerance – from Constantine’s Christianization of Rome (and notions of ‘Holy War’) to present-day episodes. Shown June 14 at 8 p.m. with introduction by Karen Aroesty, Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League of Missouri and Southern Illinois.

“Something Sweet”

A light, romantic tale, with a touch of magic, about three sisters in a Moroccan-Jewish family living in northern Israel. When the three sisters come together for the middle sister’s wedding, the London-based businessman fiance of the youngest sister finds himself suddenly attracted to her older sister, who runs the family bakery. Add in the baker’s beekeeper fiance, a struggling author stranded by a broken-down car, as well as two inseparable, arguing old friends, a blonde-haired Moroccan granny and some magical eggs and you get more romantic mix-ups, couplings and un-couplings, as each one of them discovers what and who he or she really want. The film is not a comedy but a romantic fantasy, with pretty countryside and an attractive cast. Shown June 15 at 2 p.m.

“Lost Islands”

An Israeli film that ranges from the dramatic to the comic in a story about the large, close-knit, working-class Levi family set in 1980. The title comes from a favorite TV series, about five kids stranded on an island. While one Levi parent extols family solidarity above all else, the other tells the kids to follow their dreams. There are five brothers but when the twin brothers fall in love with the same girl, family unity and attaining dreams are both threatened. This likeable film was big hit in its home country. Shown June 15 at 8 p.m. with an introduction by psychoanalyst Dr. Sylvia Ginsparg.

“Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg”

A top-notch documentary about the nearly-forgotten work of pioneering writer/producer/star Gertrude Berg, who created a wildly-popular radio and TV character, Mrs. Goldberg, which broke barriers for both women and Jews in America. This film explores both her personal life and her work against the backdrop of a time when anti-Semitism and barriers to women were rampant. A must-see film for anyone interested in media history, American culture and women studies. Shown June 16 at 2 p.m. with an introduction by Leisa Zigman of KSDK-TV (Chanel 5) news.

“Inside Hana’s Suitcase”

Directed by Larry Weinstein, with the polished look of a major Hollywood film, this powerful Canadian/Czech, English-language documentary explores the basis of the play “Hana’s Suitcase,” as told in the book by Karen Levine. A teacher at Tokyo’s Holocaust Museum receives a suitcase marked with the name Hana Brady from the Auschwitz Museum. The teacher and her students research the lives of Czech-born Hana and her brother George, now living in Canada. Young Hana and George’s story is told through dramatic recreations and using a variety of documentary techniques, but the film also tells the story of the class of students in present-day Japan, as they uncover the story, and of the lessons learned. Shown June 16 at 5:30 p.m. with an introduction by Dan Reich, Curator and Director of Education at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.

“Saviors of the Night”

This well-acted, visually and technically polished narrative film is based on true events of a well-liked, rural German Jewish family who were hidden by their Catholic neighbors throughout the war. Horse-breeder Menne Spiegel, a decorated German hero in World War I, prepares to flee deportation by the Nazis when he encounters at former war buddy on the road at night. The buddy offers to hide him as well as his wife Marga and their daughter. The well-known Menne is forced to hide in a series of attics and small rooms but his less-known blonde-haired wife and red-headed daughter pose as German refugees using a fake name. At first, even the buddy’s children do not know the truth, but gradually many in the country committee help protect the family out of a sense of faith and morally. Fine acting builds dramatic feeling and helps us bond with the multi-layered characters. Shown June 16 at 8 p.m. with introduction by Felicia Graber, a Hidden Child Survivor.

“Eli and Ben”

One of several strong Israeli films this year, “Eli and Ben” is about a son’s relationship with his wheeler-dealer dad and the dad’s relationship with his own famous architect father. When Ben, the dad, is accused of taking bribes in his work as a building commissioner, his family threatens to come apart. Meanwhile his 12-year-old son Eli, a class clown whose pals include bad boys and bullies, finds himself with his own problems when he tries to impress a certain girl. The dual story strains at times but good acting, notably by Lior Ashkenazi, who also starred in the excellent “Walk on Water” as the father Ben, buoys the narrative. Like “For My Father,” this film is a fine example of the growing artistic strength of the Israeli film industry. Shown June 17 at 8 p.m., introduced by Rabbi James Stone Goodman of Neve Shalom and Chaplain of Jewish Prison Outreach.