UK International Jewish Film Festival

Review: Mr Predictable ★★★★ - Israeli romcom complete with canine and human stars to set your tail wagging

film-mr-predictable As the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival gets underway (5-20 November), we take our first look at the selection of films on offer. Roee Florentin’s Mr Predictable will have you cheering as  its eponymous hero finally refuses to sit up and beg…

As a dog lover and owner myself, I was especially delighted to be asked to introduce the UKJFF screening of Roee Florentin’s real doggie treat of a romcom. Meet Adi Levi – a man who is simply too nice for his own good – until he literally bumps into Natalya , or one of the dogs she walks. Natalya is what you might call naughty but nice – just the girl to take our hero in hand and retrain him, while the dogs she walks give him a good licking too. It’s one of those marvellous Israeli films that give you insights into ordinary life in Israel, with the situation there in the background, informing it rather than being at the heart of the story.

Ever since Adi's soldier father left for Lebanon saying he’d be back soon, only to be killed in action, Adi has been careful and cautious to the point of timidity and so very aware of others that he has become a pushover, walked all over not just by his boss, his wife and his mother, but even his spoilt brat of a pre-teen son. A mix-up at a hospital appointment that leads him to believe he has mere weeks to live proves a life changer, but only because it’s compounded by the one careless act of his life – narrowly avoiding killing one of Natalya’s charges when he runs it over.

From this unpromising beginning, a new relationship and a new man are born. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself cheering Adi on as he finds not just his mojo, but his inner hard man. Much of this is down to the winning performances of a beautifully matched pair of actors, Amos Tamam and Meytal Gal Suisa as Adi and Natalya (and not forgetting the canine supporting cast), directed with equal parts of sensitivity and panache by Roee Florentin against a great backdrop of Tel Aviv’s parks and suburbs. I guarantee Mr Predictable will make tails wag and I predict dog-friendly screenings very soon!

By Judi Herman

Mr Predictable has the following UKIJFF screenings:

Sunday 6 November, 3pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Sunday 20 November, 6pm, Phoenix Cinema, N2 9PJ.

Review: Moos ★★★★ - A charming, contemporary comedy set in Amsterdam’s Jewish community

film-moos As the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival gets underway (5-20 November), we take our first look at the selection of films on offer on offer. Job Gosschalk's  beguiling comedy Moos gives an insight into life in Jewish communities in Amsterdam.

This entirely charming and absorbing comedy set in Amsterdam’s Jewish community wears its ‘kosher’ credentials lightly but convincingly from the opening frames. Twenty-something Moos and her widowed father are preparing for a Chanukah party with the relatives. She is his right-hand woman, both in his draper’s shop and as homemaker, though now he is dating a likely single mother whose son is coming up for bar mitzvah, Moos realises her life’s been on hold too long.

The main storyline revolves around Moos’ unsuccessful efforts to get into drama school and her settling for a job in the school’s canteen; and the visit of her long-time childhood friend Sam, now living in Israel and how that chimes with her attraction to sexy singing teacher Chris, who offers (very) private coaching. Meanwhile life in the community – which embraces Moos and her father, family and friends, including Sam – continues to be a vital part of the film’s fabric. The Chanukah latkes, the preparations for the bar mitzvah and the celebration of a ceremonial circumcision in the family all play their part in Moos’ story.

As played by Jip Smit, Moos is an engaging, kind-hearted young woman, unselfconscious and natural, attractive rather than beautiful, and you can’t help warming to her. Frederik Brom is touching as her father Maup; and from the moment he appears at the door, we can see, even if Moos can’t, that Daniel Cornelissen’s open, sincere Sam is made for her.

Writer/director Job Gosschalk and co-writer Judit Goudsmit take their audience to drama school and give us time out in the café with its quirky characters. And they are equally adept at creating an attractive and subtle picture of Moos’ network of family and other relationships. There are delightful flashbacks to Moos and Sam as children and touching glimpses of Moos caring for her father.

Then at the bar mitzvah in synagogue, in a scene reminiscent of Jack Rosenthal’s Bar Mitzvah Boy, it is Moos who is there for the bar mitzvah when he gets stage fright. Meanwhile the story of her efforts to face up to her own diffidence has its own delightful set-piece climax where she gets to duet with real-life Israeli singing star Asaf Hertz. There are some marvellously evocative settings too – the Amsterdam street with folk cycling past the draper’s shop, the lush bales of cloth piled inside and of course that grand synagogue, the men in prayer shawls gathered on the central bimah (platform) around the Torah scroll. Moos is a delight from start to finish.

By Judi Herman

Moos has the following UKIJFF screenings:

Sunday 6 November, 6pm, at Odeon South Woodford, E18 2QL.

Thursday 10 November, 7.30pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Sunday 13 November, 4pm, at HOME Manchester, M15 4FN.

Review: The Midnight Orchestra ★★★★ - A poignant, magical story about regret and relationships set in Morocco

film-midnight-orchestra As the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival gets underway (5-20 November), we take our first look at the selection of films on offer. Jérôme Cohen-Olivar's poignant The Midnight Orchestra gives an insight into life in Jewish communities in Morocco.

Wall Street whizz kid Michael Abitbol returns to his childhood home in Casablanca to be reunited with his elderly father: legendary band leader and local hero Marcel Botbol, from whom he is estranged. Botbol is returning there himself for the first time since leaving his native city and adoring fans for Israel in 1973, when the Yom Kippur War caused an antisemitic backlash in Morocco. But no sooner do they meet again than tragedy strikes and the son must engage with officials of the local Jewish community to bury his father. But first Michael must fulfil his father’s last wish – to reunite the band and this becomes an overwhelming desire to do so for one last, transcendent gig.

It's Michael's dogged pursuit of these eccentric and impossible, even dangerous old men that drives the narrative. A  pimp and gangster, complete with moll, an eccentric millionaire who prefers life as a beggar and the harmonica player confined in an asylum since he jumped into the nighttime harbour swearing he heard the midnight orchestra playing out at sea.

Perhaps just as important is what actually proves to be the film's central relationship, between Michael and an eccentric Arab taxi driver and ardent fan of Botbol. He becomes Sancho Panza to Michael’s Don Quixote, local guide and lifesaver. It's almost a bromance, but given the age gap it's perhaps more a consolation for the father and son relationship he has just lost. Their quest to find the band members is both comical and suspenseful and for Michael a bittersweet nostalgia trip too. His childhood around the band and its members is beautifully evoked by sepia tinted footage of the musicians in their prime. Michael sees the little ghost of his younger self too, haunting the places where he played as a boy.

For the audience the film is an insight into the past and present of a Jewish community little known outside Morocco and into the now cordial relationship it has with the country's Muslim majority. There are stand-out performances from Jewish Moroccan actor Avishay Benazra as Michael and Aziz Dadas as his taxi driver helpmeet. And there's another effective comic cameo double act from two actors, whose names I have searched for in vain, as a pair of officious and oleaginous representatives of the local Jewish burial society. This is a poignant, magical story set in Casablanca now, about regret and relationships, memory and getting old. My one regret is that we had only a brief, tantalising taste of how the fabled orchestra might have sounded. I would have loved to hear the whole of the tribute played at the graveside of their leader.

By Judi Herman

The Midnight Orchestra has the following UKIJFF screenings:

Sunday 6 November, 8.30pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Tuesday 15 November, 7.30pm, at Seven Arts Leeds, LS7 3PD.

Saturday 19 November, 7.30pm, at CCA Glasgow, G2 3JD.