This year I was intimately involved with the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema, conducting the question and answer session after the sold out performance of “Restoration” on October 29th (I had previously reviewed and gave FOUR STARS to this dark, mesmerizing production, you may access it on peneflix.com); the insightful audience was so engaged our time was truncated because of the next film; it was a vibrant and titillating experience, one that I have been asked and joyfully accepted for next year.
“MABUL” (THE FLOOD) was a brilliant “coming of age story” revolving around the upcoming Bar Mitzvah of thirteen-year-old “Yoni Rosko”; here is a performance that flirts with the divine. Yoni strives to hold his herculean dysfunctional family together: unemployed drug- addicted father; promiscuous mother, mentally impaired older brother. As Yoni navigates through a world of taunting bullies, his mighty brain a substitute for his frail physique; his brother’s ailments at first a curse, evolving into a blessing, frustrations of preparing his Torah portion–Noah and the flood– becomes reminiscent of his dissolving, desperate family situation. The biblical, emotional, psychological issues, pivotally portrayed, leave the audience with prescience and confidence that Yoni did not need a Bar Mitzvah to become a man.
“MAYA” commenced as a delicious, delightful slice of amusement, a romantic comedy directed by Israel’s first female film director, Michal Bat-Adam, but soon morphs into a serious, provocative drama.; blurring of the boundaries between sanity and psychosis. Lovely, struggling young “Maya”, yearns for a dramatic career and charmingly practices “A Streetcar Named Desire” monologues on unsuspecting customers in the restaurant where she works to maintain a minimal level of existence; she is enchanting and talented. She wins the major role in a tragic play, somewhat autobiographical by a distinctively devastating director/playwright, a man she is magnetically drawn to. To imbue her character with the proper touch of “instability” , she becomes a part-time resident in a psychiatric ward; these scenes are crucial to the viability, accuracy of the play resulting in one of the most riveting dramatic characterizations of insanity since “Carrie”. “Maya” is a rich and comprehensive study of the labyrinthine and intricacies of the mind; levels of lucidity and lunacy are cunningly and stunningly depicted.
“STRANGERS NO MORE” is the 2010 Academy Award winning short documentary heralding the K-12 school, Bialik-Rogozin, in the heart of Tel Aviv where 48 different countries, all ethnicities, every religion known to civilization is represented; totally inclusive, not a fraction of discrimination. This is the state of Israel surrounded by despots who want to obliterate its incredible, miraculous democratic existence. “Strangers No More” is a metaphor for hope, elimination of divisiveness, peace.
“MATCHMAKER” was included and first seen at last year’s Chicago International Film Festival. I reiterate my praise for this sensitive, challenging, highly emotional portrayal of altered lives after the cataclysmic effects of WWII. Director, Avi Nesher brings to life the dungeons of despair some rise above, while others suffocate beneath. “ Yankale Bride” is the matchmaker who finds the “love” you are NOT looking for, but the one you need. He hires young, innocent, imaginative “Airk” to ferret and spy on potential clients. This palatable blend of comedy, history, tragedy, the resiliency and fragility of man’s spirit render this film, even after the second viewing…………
“INTIMATE GRAMMAR” ambushed me emotionally from the first second and was by far the most difficult and problematic film I viewed in the festival (admittedly, I missed a few). “Aharon” strives to make sense of his disturbed and highly dysfunctional family: a shrewish mother who constantly berates him about his diminutive stature; a father who is fixated on a single blond woman and her unwholesome tree; his sister and grandmother, both with diminished capacities, are the keepers of his sanity. He is bright, inventive and fascinated by the magician, Houdini. Slowly all he holds sacred evaporates, erodes, leaving the viewer fearful, dismayed, pondering his decisions and there dreaded consequences.
THREEE & 1/2 STARS!!!
The Israeli Film Festival has moved far beyond the polemics of politics; its films now resonate with compelling challenges, representing universal facets of the human condition, applicable to all societies. In other words one does not have to be Jewish or Israeli to comprehend the complexities. The Festival should command a wider and more diverse audience, topple any and all preconceived ideas nurtured by the unexposed; a destiny, deserved.