Vancouver Jewish Film Festival moves and grooves
Is this a kinder, gentler Vancouver Jewish Film Festival? The 24th annual edition, happening at the Ridge Theatre from Wednesday (November 7) to November 15, is a varied affair. But there does seem to be a lighter touch now.
“Yes, this year’s selection is more diverse,” says Robert Albanese, the event’s general director, reached at his East Side home. “And then there’s our struggle to come to grips with the need for peace, told from the point of view of a new-age Romeo and Juliet in A Bottle in the Gaza Sea or from Brooklyn with the very real and poignant David, about an Arab and his new Jewish friends.”
The arts are well represented here. Closing-night film A.K.A. Doc Pomus is the amazing story of polio-stricken Jerome Felder, who transformed himself first into a blues shouter and then into one of the key songwriters of the 1950s and early ’60s. (Lou Reed narrates from some of Doc’s old journals.) Tony Curtis: Driven to Stardom profiles the former Bernard Schwartz. Iraq n’ Roll follows Israeli rocker Dudu Tassa as he reinvents the music of his grandfather and great-uncle, top Iraqi composers of the 1930s. And other titles explore the further reaches of the Jewish diaspora, as in Children of the Bible, which centres on an Ethiopian rapper, and the self-explanatory Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria.
A heavier subject is handled with suitable inspiration in Defiant Requiem, in which modern conductor Murry Sidlin brings Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi’s most sombre work back to the infamous Czech transit camp where it was performed by inmates almost 70 years ago.
The fact-based Remembrance, one of the few other Holocaust stories, is set both in wartime Poland and the New York of 1976, where a middle-aged German-born Jew discovers that the Polish prisoner who helped her escape a concentration camp may yet be living. (It’s a bit stagy at times but moves toward a powerfully unresolved ending.) Another is Eichmann’s Fate, an excitingly complex docudrama that re-creates what went into the 1960 capture of that top Nazi in Buenos Aires.
More high notes are hit in other docs and dramas, and there’s also a refreshing brace of comic stuff. Of two French farces, the most cachet goes to OSS 117: Lost in Rio, an earlier effort from the team that brought us The Artist. Jean Dujardin’s suave-seeming superspy should have kept his mouth shut, since he’s a racist, misogynistic anti-Semite forced to battle Nazis alongside a beautiful Mossad agent (Louise Monot) in 1967 Brazil. The movie is pretty silly, but stunning locations, period décor, and groovadelic music make the thing fun all the way through.
French veteran Michel Blanc plays another outgoing misanthrope—a jazz musician–turned-schmatte-seller—in The Day I Saw Your Heart, with winsome Mélanie Laurent as his Parisian radiologist daughter with serious daddy problems. It starts out aggressively whimsical but gathers more emotional gravity as it moves along. Almost the opposite is true of Dorfman, an American indie item written by Wendy Kout, who was behind Mork & Mindy and some other 1980s TV hits before retreating from show business for more than two decades. Elliott Gould plays the main character’s nudge of a dad, and he’ll crack you up even when the clever film turns soft at the end.
“My direction with programming the VJFF,” Albanese concludes, “was to focus on the multicultural aspect of the Jewish experience. The stories are lighter but the message is not.”