UKJFF

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.

http://ukjewishfilm.org

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.

http://ukjewishfilm.org

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.

http://ukjewishfilm.org

From The Producers to Borat: the best Jewish films of all time

jr-best-jewish-films-ever This autumn the UK International Jewish Film Festival marks its 20th anniversary. To help celebrate the rich smorgasbord of films it has offered over the years, as well as giving us a chance to revel in the world of film, JR asked you to vote for your favourite Jewish film. We can now announce the results! And below our panel of filmmakers and critics have chosen their own favourites.

The best Jewish films of all time; here's how you voted…

1 FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971) dir Norman Jewison 2 SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) dir Steven Spielberg 3 ANNIE HALL (1977) dir Woody Allen 4 THE PIANIST (2002) dir Roman Polanski 5 AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (1987) dir Louis Malle 6 A SERIOUS MAN (2009) dir Ethan Coen, Joel Coen 7 SHOAH (1985) dir Claude Lanzmann 8 EXODUS (1960) dir Otto Preminger 9 CROSSING DELANCEY (1988) dir Joan Micklin Silver 10 YENTL (1983) dir Barbara Streisand 11 BLAZING SADDLES (1974) dir Mel Brooks 12 THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) dir Charlie Chaplin 13 THE PRODUCERS (1967) dir Mel Brooks 14 THE PAWNBROKER (1964) dir Sidney Lumet 15 USHPIZIN (2004) dir Gidi Dar 16 SON OF SAUL (2015) dir Laszlo Nemes 17 WALTZ WITH BASHIR (2008) dir Ari Folman 18 CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981) dir Hugh Hudson 19 THE FRISCO KID (1979) dir Robert Aldrich 20 THE BAND’S VISIT (2007) dir Eran Kolirin

And an honourable mention to other films you noted which weren’t on our list: Wish I Was Here (2014), Once Upon A Time In America (1984), A Kid For Two Farthings (1955).

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Jason Solomons JR film editor; BBC film critic; author Woody Allen Film by Film

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987) dir Louis Malle Louis Malle’s tale of three Jewish boys secretly enrolled at a Catholic boarding school in rural France during Nazi occupation is as heartbreaking as it is beautifully observed. Themes of identity, chilling snobbery and institutional betrayal unfold under a school regime that mirrors the turbulence outside as well as sheltering the boys from it. This film is nevertheless imbued with fondness and tenderness, told with a childlike innocence that is rudely shattered in the final devastating moments.

The Producers (1968) dir Mel Brooks Mel Brooks’ epochal, taboo-smashing comedy features Broadway charlatan (Zero Mostel) and nervous accountant (the late Gene Wilder) as they try to put on the worst play ever, only to see the bad-taste musical Springtime for Hitler become a camp smash hit. Barely 20 years after the event, only Jews could have got away with playing the Holocaust for laughs.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) dir Woody Allen Woody Allen’s most mature and most Jewish work, balances comedy, tragedy, family and guilt with masterly skill. Martin Landau is outstanding as the paterfamilias troubled by a mistress who threatens his reputation; Allen plays a documentary maker having to film a flattering portrait of his odious TV producer brother-in-law.

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Judi Herman JR arts editor, BBC broadcaster

Young Frankenstein (1974) dir Mel Brooks Which Mel Brooks film to chose: Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein? Gene Wilder, Madeleine Kahn and Marty Feldman, making a trio of much-missed Jewish performers, swing it for me. Evocative monochrome, clever, self- referential plotting, running jokes (‘Fronkensteen’ and ‘Eyegor’), fun with beloved standard musical numbers: “Pardon me boy is this the Transylvania station?” – and not forgetting that monster Schwanzstück . . .

Ushpizin (2004) dir Gidi Dar Dateline Jerusalem, the Festival of Succot. Devout couple Moshe and Mali face impoverishment – and her infertility. Miraculously an unexpected gift and a Succah (the booth they need to celebrate the festival) appear. Another miracle: acquaintances from Moshe’s past arrive, gratefully accepted as ‘ushpizin’ (holy guests). But these boorish men are prison escapees . . . I choose Ushpizin for its honest insight into Orthodox life as well as its humanity and light comic touch.

Salomea’s Nose (2014) dir Susan Korda This gemlike tragicomedy twists and turns to delicately navigate the experience of 20th-century European Jewry – in just 23 minutes. The lush period-feel palate, Jasmin Reuter’s witty, plangent score, clever and unexpected camera angles all result in perfection!

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Andrew Pulver Film editor, the Guardian

A Serious Man (2009) dir Ethan and Joel Cohen Until A Serious Man, the Coen brothers hinted only obliquely at their Jewishness (“I don’t roll on Shabbos!” as Walter Sobchak says in The Big Lebowski). However, A Serious Man, an unarguable masterpiece, not only draws copiously from their memories growing up in 1960s Minnesota, but also has all the dramatic heft and thematic brilliance of Saul Bellow or Philip Roth. A multilayered nest of stories (including a prologue that comes on like a Yiddish zombie flick), this film is as mysteriously elegant as it is moving.

Chariots of Fire (1981) dir Hugh Hudson Released in 1981, as Thatcherism got up its head of steam, Chariots of Fire has been somewhat unfairly been bracketed with that era’s resurgent British patriotism. However, the film is really about the forces that brought about the end of the empire. The Jewish half is devoted to sprinter Harold Abraham, who resented the Edwardian amateurism of British athletics and pushed for meritocracy. The film remains one of the few accounts of British Jewry’s attempt to assimilate and is a genuinely stirring story to boot.

Borat (2006) dir Larry Charles Borat is not ‘about’ Jews in the conventional sense, but Sacha Baron Cohen’s creation is so concerned with Jewishness it deserves a special Oscar for cultural self-mockery. From the epic ‘running of the Jew’ scenes in Borat’s home village, to the insults Borat whispers at his Jewish B&B hosts, to the garbled Hebrew that Baron Cohen passes off as Kazakh, the satire of intolerance has never been more deadly. Borat has wider concerns than simply Jewishness, but as one of the best films of the millennium so far, it deserves Jewish respect.

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Judy Ironside Founder and President of UK Jewish Film

Watermarks (2004) dir Yaron Zilberman Champion women swimmers of the legendary Jewish sports club Hakoah Vienna in the 1930s stage a reunion with the help of director Yaron Zilberman. They travel from across the world and once again swim in the same pool in Vienna, 65 years after they last swam there together. When these elegant Austrian women enter the water there is a powerful and hugely poignant sense of their survival.

Lemon Tree (2008) dir Eran Ricklis A Palestinian widow (Hiam Abass) must defend her lemon tree field when it is threatened with being torn down by her new neighbour, Israel’s defence minister, who views the grove as a security threat. There are complex layers to the story as an alliance forms between the minister’s wife and the widow. Eran Ricklis brings his experience as one of Israel’s top directors to this highly effective story.

Fugitive Pieces (2007) dir Jeremy Podeswa This is a sensitive Canadian drama about a Greek archaeologist who rescues a Polish child, Jakob, from hiding after his family has been murdered during the war. The archaeologist returns with the child to bring him up at his home on a Greek island. Throughout his life Jakob obsessively returns to his memories and struggles to live his new life to the full.

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Mike Leigh Film and theatre director

Hester Street (1974) dir Joan Micklin Silver Healthily free from sentimental Hollywood Jewish schmaltz, this beautiful, honest, low-budget, independent black-and-white film is a masterpiece. Set in 1896 in New York’s Yiddish-speaking Lower East Side, it is a warm-hearted, yet perceptive, study of the immigrant experience, and of the tensions between Orthodox tradition and assimilation. There is wonderful acting, especially from Carol Kane as the bewildered sheitl-wearing young wife, newly arrived from the Old World.

Radio Days (1987) dir Woody Allen Apart from being Woody Allen’s best film by far, ‘Radio Days’ gives us the most real, the warmest and the most accurate portrait of lower middle-class Jewish family life of any movie in the canon. Seen in parallel with the exotic world of the radio programmes they endlessly listen to, an impeccable ensemble of Jewish character actors takes us through the trials and tribulations of the 1930s and 40s. Funny, nostalgic and sometimes profoundly moving.

Kadosh (1999) dir by Amos Gitai This bleak, heightened and relentlessly oppressive Israeli film looks unflinchingly at the appalling misogyny of the charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish community in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim. Two adult sisters suffer mental, psychological, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the unbending male religious culture. No praise is too high for the brave courage of Amos Gitai and his crew. Spectacular and essential viewing.

 

The UK International Jewish Film Festival runs from Saturday 5 - Sunday 20 November. See www.ukjewishfilm.org for info.