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PITTSBURGH JEWISH ISRAELI FILM FESTIVAL

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The 10th annual Pittsburgh Jewish Israeli Film Festival runs Feb. 27 through March 16. Tickets are $7.50, $6.50 for seniors and students; group rates and multi-film discounts are available. Films screen at the Loews Waterfront, in Homestead; the Regent Square Theater, in Edgewood; and the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, in East Liberty. Call 412-992-5203 for ticket info, or see www.pjiff.net.

Following are reviews of the first week's films.

ALL I'VE GOT. As the Cinema of Second Chances goes, this wonderful Israeli feature feels something like an afterlife sequel to James Joyce's "The Dead." At age 23, Tamara loses Uri, the love of her life, to a car wreck. A half-century or so later, now passed on herself, she's given a choice: live forever as a 23-year-old with the similarly frozen-in-time Uri, surrendering all memories of her post-accident life, or keep her memories and her septugenarian's body for an eternity with her aged husband, David. You can probably guess what happens, but that shouldn't diminish your enjoyment of writer and director Keren Margalit's film, which wields a surprising, hiply casual sense of humor but never sacrifices smarts for pleasure. It turns out, for instance, that one of the afterworld's bureaucrats is a fat, bald and not altogether trustworthy guy named Victor. But Margalit poses his film's emotional dilemmas in quietly wrenching terms, and the acting is uniformly splendid, especially by the actors playing the elder Tamara and the sly but sympathetic David -- one ghost who refuses to be jilted by (and for) another. In Hebrew, with subtitles. Opening night also features Leib Cohen's darkly comic short Advice and Dissent, starring Rebecca Pidgeon, John Pankow and Eli Wallach (Cohen, a Pittsburgh resident, will attend the screening). 7:30 p.m. Thu., Feb. 27, only. $20 (including a dessert reception after the screening). Loews* * *

NOWHERE IN AFRICA. Nowhere in Africa is a German film about the Holocaust that takes place, in all but one scene, a continent away from Europe and World War II. The Redlichs -- lawyer Walter, his wife, Jettel, and their grade-school-age daughter Regina -- steam from Germany to Kenya in 1938 but find that problems between groups of humans are inescapable. They turn from hunted Jews to bwanas lording it over African farm workers to German prisoners interned by the British until, one by one, family members discover their salvation: going native, sort of. "Differences are good. And intelligent people will never hold it against you," Jettel tells her daughter, a bit farther along in the film than it's plausible to need to hear. But for all the historical and sociological baggage of this true story -- including the kindly Kenyan cook Owuor, who teaches them wisdom by, ultimately, going away -- this is a finely acted love story with more than a few moral pangs for the characters. In the end, this winner of five German film awards answers Jettel's most desperate question, shouted in the barren landscape outside Nairobi: "We're alive -- but what for?" 7:15 p.m. Sat., March 1, and 7 p.m. Sun., March 2. Loews (Marty Levine) * * *


ISRAEL ROCKS! Give the makers of Israel Rocks! points for novelty. Where else, after all, are you likely to see a group of long-bearded, black-suit-cloaked Hassidim playing reggae music? But there's not much more to be said for Izzy Abrahami and Erga Netz's Israeli-made documentary, which in 55 minutes flits from one Israeli band to another, about 20 in all. The bands are never named, the speakers interviewed never identified, so we don't know whether they are international recording artists or -- what seems likely with a couple -- talent-show rejects. The documentary aims to reflect that the continuum of supportive and critical beliefs about Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights are -- who knew? -- represented in the music being produced there. The better choice would have been to focus exclusively on one of the documentary's less inane bands, particularly one that included both nationalistic Palestinians and religious Jews. In that band was perhaps a country writ small, individuals' voices sometimes straining with tension but managing to harmonize, a music that suggests a future peace. In Hebrew, with subtitles. To be screened by video projection. 9:45 p.m. Sat., March 1, only. Loews. (Andy Newman) * 1/2

STRANGE FRUIT. "Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root ..." Filmmaker Joel Katz explores the history and significance of the anti-lynching song made famous by Billie Holiday in 1939, and which -- despite a radio ban -- might have been the first protest song to chart nationally. The hour-long documentary traces the tune's origins in the era's social ferment as well as its wake of controversy: Composer Abel Meeropol (a.k.a. Lewis Allan), was a leftie Jewish high school English teacher who was investigated as a Communist just for writing it. With a conservative, talking-heads-and-archival-footage approach, Katz demonstrates that Meeropol was intriguing; his adopted sons, for instance, were the children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as Cold War spies. Still, all you really need to know about "Strange Fruit" can be found in a 1958 kinescope of Holiday, who first lies about its composition (saying it was written for her) and then delivers a bone-chilling rendition that fully explains its lasting power. To be screened by video projection. 1 p.m. Sat., March 2 (Kelly-Strayhorn), and 7:30 p.m. Thu., March 6 (Loews). Katz will attend the March 2 screening (BO) * * *


ARE YOU THIS ABLE? Are You This Able? begins with goodbyes at the airport, and that can't help but be smarmy. But as this 55-minute documentary about a troupe of mentally challenged actors from Israel progresses, the schmaltz melts away. The actors travel from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles, where they rehearse, participate in acting workshops, and perform a play about a developmentally disabled man who dreams of being a conductor -- the Hebrew word for which apparently also means "winner." The film focuses on the daily cares of the actors, many of who suffer from Down syndrome. Its emotional center is the relationship between Bella and David. When the two flirt publicly, other members of the troupe label Bella "the mother of all bimbos," prompting a blowout among the ladies. Later David seems taken with a dance workshop instructor, leaving Bella sullen and combative. When she confronts him, he chafes at her possessiveness, but then announces that, "Real love, real love in my heart, is you!" and demands a kiss. The uninhibited subjects allow the camera to capture their depth and complexity, gradually bringing the viewer around to one actor's assessment: "God wanted us like this. He created us like this." In Hebrew, with subtitles. Screens with The Collector of Bedford Street, a half-hour documentary about Larry Selman, a 59-year-old mentally challenged Greenwich Village activist. Both films to be screened by video projection. 4 p.m. Sun., March 2, only (followed by panel discussion). Loews (Rich Lord) * * *

 

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