The soul of any culture is its music. This year’s edition of the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival has a whole tsimmes of Judaic-tinged movies, and almost a third of the roughly 30 features on offer November 2 through 12 are devoted to makers of music, art, and dance.
No one embodies the secular, if still highly spiritual, soul of Jewish creativity better than the late Leonard Cohen, who excelled as a poet, novelist, and printmaker aside from his long career as one of the top singer-songwriters of any era. Cohen, who died last year at age 82, didn’t always have confidence in his musical abilities. And Bird on a Wire, screening here November 7, captures him at his most ambivalent—and his charismatic best—on a 1972 tour that follows him through Europe and Israel. After being lost for decades, the documentary was recently restored by original U.K. director Tony Palmer, who’ll be here for the festival.
Although he was no Lenny-like bard, a highly influential producer and songwriter (“Twist and Shout”, for one) gets his due in Bang: The Bert Berns Story, one of three music-themed films screening Sunday (November 5). A Quiet Heart is a fictional feature about an Israeli concert musician shunned in her Orthodox neighbourhood for playing pipe organ in a local church. And the eclectic Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is the latest docstravaganza from Toronto’s Larry Weinstein. He’ll also be on hand for his latest mixed-media presentation, set mostly in a faux-’50s Chinese restaurant, with celebrators enjoying tunes written by such non-goyish Yuletiders as Irving Berlin and Harold Arlen, performed by the likes of Steven Page and Kevin Breit.
Going further afield is Mandala Beats (November 6), which follows virtuoso bassist Yossi Fine—whose background is Euro-Jewish and African-Caribbean—on a trip to India. Eva Hesse (November 12) looks at a late and woefully underrecognized multimedia artist. And closing the shebang that night is Harmonia, another Israeli film set in the classical-music world.
As always, there are also tales taken from the Second World War. The must-avoid in this department is The Bloom of Yesterday (November 9), about two Holocaust researchers whose grandparents were on opposite sides of the war. More offensive than forced attempts to satirize Shoah business are its bizarre sexual politics. Is the movie crudely sexist or does it simply have no respect for its characters or basic common sense?
Of notably higher quality is A Bag of Marbles (November 6), from Quebec director Christian Duguay, about two brothers on the run through Vichy France. Best of all, and also with guests in attendance, is the wonderful Bye Bye Germany, which follows a ragtag band of Jewish entrepreneurs as they make a go of it in Frankfurt just after the war. This beautifully crafted effort gives us a career-topping performance from star Moritz Bleibtreu, better known for punkish characters in The Elementary Particles and Run Lola Run.
All in all, even with the painful parts, there’s a lot here to celebrate. Or as Cohen put it in “Chelsea Hotel”: “For the ones like us/who are oppressed by the figures of beauty/…you said, Well, never mind/We are ugly, but we have the music.”
The 29th Vancouver Jewish Film Festival runs from November 2 to 12 at the Cineplex Fifth Avenue Cinemas and the Norman Rothstein Theatre. For more information, go to www.facebook.com/jewishfilmfest/.More