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Archive for the ‘Film’ Category



Fahrenheit 11/9: Two Lessons We MUST Face

Sep23

by: on September 23rd, 2018 | 7 Comments »

I saw Michael Moore’s new film on Friday. This is not a review (I liked this, didn’t like that, who cares?), but an extraction of two main points Moore makes in ways that set my heart pounding. See Fahrenheit 11/9 if you can (it’s playing in three different theaters here in Santa Fe, a small city, so I’m guessing you have the opportunity close to hand). But whether or not you do, I am urging—begging—you to consider and share these lessons. How we act on them will make the critical difference between life and death for democracy.

LESSON #1: THE EARLY-WARNING SIGNS OF IMPENDING FASCISM ARE EVERYWHERE. EVERYONE NEEDS TO SEE THEM AND RESPOND.

Moore calls on historians to draw the parallels between our own would-be king and prior aspiring dictators. They began to emerge during the 2016 campaign, when the candidate urged supporters to beat up dissenters at his mass rallies. The footage of white fists pummeling black bodies for the crime of being present is terrifying.

So is the footage of the White House’s Present Occupant floating trial balloons about being re-elected for 16 years or admiring China’s Xi for making it possible to serve as president-for-life. A familiar observation from Marx has history repeating itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Hitler footage is juxtaposed with Trump footage to make this point: his path to power used the same methods as Hitler’s: rigged elections, big lies, the mass hysteria of crowds, bigotry and chauvinism, scapegoating, media manipulation, and more.


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Two Takes on “To Dust”

Aug24

by: on August 24th, 2018 | Comments Off

To Dust

Gesa Rohrig and Matthew Broderick in Shawn Snyder

Two Tikkun summer interns, Hannah Arin and Madison Wilson, recently saw To Dust at the SF Jewish Film Festival and had two different responses.

Hannah Arin:

The Reb Simcha Benuem of Pershyscha carried two slips of paper with him everywhere he went– a slip for each pocket. One which read: “Bishbili nivra ha-olam” — “For my sake the world was created.” And the other: “V’anokhi afar v’efer” — “I am but dust and ashes.” Just as the Reb would walk the roads of Poland, one foot after the other, each leg taking its fair stride, each slip taking its turn to step before the other, only to be outpaced by the other soon thereafter, we all, more or less, follow these same footsteps. Not that we all carry these slips in our pockets; not that we all walk through 19th century, Eastern European streets muttering prayers beneath our breath; not that we all are even aware of this paradoxical path upon which we find ourselves walking… But still, despite knowing or not knowing, we cannot escape the dynamics of the world within which come to live and die. Indeed, this world was made for us to live and to love in, and all the same, it will one day be taken from us; whether we go down fighting or in submission to what is beyond our earthly selves. Somehow, this world is entirely for us to experience, yet in some respects, “we” have never been.

To Dust, a black comedy about a Hasidic cantor navigating the grief after the loss of his young wife, gives us a glimpse into better understanding this line– balancing between polarity, making sense of disparity, finding peace in the casualties. And it does so, not by any of its characters marking themselves as exemplary figures upholding the framework of the human experience in their slip filled pockets or their humble steps, or even in its storyline alone. Rather it is the experience of To Dust as a comprehensive whole that gives rise to the precious experience of gaining even the slightest glimmer of insight into something that mostly seems ineffable. It is in the relation between the characters, the cinematography, the dialogue, the humor, the Hasidic prayer, that we find ourselves one step closer to understanding just what it means to be entirely in this world, fully belonging to it, and at the same time, to be visitors, who, in their heart of hearts, truly know that this never has been, nor ever will be our ultimate home.

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Budapest Noir is fun, but uninspired at SF Jewish Film Festival

Aug13

by: Madison Wilson on August 13th, 2018 | Comments Off

Still from Éva Gárdos's BUDAPEST NOIR - Image courtesy of Pioneer Pictures

I walk up to the Castro Theatre around 5:40, friends in tow, silently congratulating myself for arriving a full twenty minutes early. As my friends and I confidently jaywalk across Castro Street to enter the theatre, I hear one let out a small moan – what’s wrong now, I wonder – then I see the line. It not only snakes around one corner, but continues past the next far into a residential neighborhood behind the historic movie palace. Clearly there was some buzz about one of the first American screenings of this Hungarian film. We trudged along as the line steadily moved forward, finally culminating in a mad frenzy at the entry to the theatre to give someone, anyone our ticket before walking inside. The theatre is packed, and those early twenty minutes I thought would at least result in a seat on the first floor only bought me one in the nosebleeds. I sit down listening to live organ music and sensing the anticipation floating above the crowd. After the organist finishes, there’s a brief introduction by someone from the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the film’s sponsor, then director Eva Gardos steps onstage. She, like her main character, is a person of few words, and without much fanfare the show begins.

Budapest Noir is a movie rendition of the bestselling Hungarian novel of the same name by Vilmos Kondor. The film takes place in Budapest’s seedy underbelly, winter, 1936, just before Hungary aligns itself with Hitler. The mist and drudge are the perfect backdrop to this nostalgic murder mystery. Zsigmond Gordon, the hunky, ubermensch reporter, meets a mysterious dark-haired beauty in a cafe just before police find her dead body on the streets of the red-light district. Gordon becomes obsessed with uncovering the story of this seemingly forgotten young woman. On the side, ex-lover and photographer Krisztina reappears at Gordon’s apartment and serves as his investigative sidekick and girlfriend. They follow the woman’s tracks from the chief of police, to a brothel owner, a nude photographer, corrupt politicians, and underground fights, eventually discovering that Budapest’s best-known coffee importer is actually the girl’s father. He is secretly Jewish and would not allow the mystery woman, who we now know as his daughter Fanny, to marry her lover, the son of a rabbi, so she fled. The final scene is perhaps the most touching, where Krisztina leaves Gordon without warning for London and the two tearfully separate at the train station.

Maybe it was the fact that the entire film was in English subtitles, but I found the plot a bit difficult to follow, and when I did follow, quite predictable. Budapest Noir has the prostitutes, the seedy old politicians, the Communists, a hefty sprinkling of fascist and communist allusions, and maybe even a reference to Hungary’s current political situation, but Gardos did not incorporate these elements in a unique way. Even the climax felt, well, anticlimactic, as Fanny’s mother kills Fanny’s father out of revenge in a rather bizarre scene involving a gun and birthday cake. The series of events make sense at the end and tie up neatly but didn’t leave me at the edge of my seat.


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The Power of Privacy: A Review of The Oslo Diaries

Aug6

by: on August 6th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

The signing of the Oslo Accords was, to many, a sign that Israeli-Palestinian relations would improve. Photo by Ohayon Avi

After seeing The Oslo Diaries at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, I felt inspired to start keeping a diary of my own. The Sundance-selected documentary, directed by Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan, tells the tense and moving story of the secret 1992 peace talks and their tragic failure, using interviews, reenactments, and primary sources to give us a holistic perspective on the historical moment. I recommend you see it too.

 

The film is named quite literally, as much of the film’s dialogue is taken directly from the diaries of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators of the Oslo Accords. And while their journal entries aren’t in literal conversation, they do provide the inner dialogue of some of the story’s most important characters — and frequently overlap in their subject matter, like two sides of the same coin. Without a doubt, the film holds great emotional power, and even, at one point, brought me to tears. Despite the diaries’ centrality to that power, however, the filmmakers fail to realize their practical and symbolic significance. Ultimately, the film paints a beautiful picture, but misses an opportunity to create something more meaningful, condemning itself to the same fate as the Oslo Accords.


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Feared Than Loved

Aug5

by: on August 5th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

I’ve been thinking about love and fear. Love is a strong force in my life, the thing that heals, the thing that opens my heart to give, the thing that greets me each morning as I open my eyes, grateful for another day. As the Song of Songs – the epic liturgical poem of awe and desire – puts it, “love is as strong as death.”

But love’s opposite – fear, the weapon of the unloved – is swirling all around me.

There’s the ambient fear of racism, violence, poverty, and exploitation, so deeply woven into the fabric of most U.S. cities that it becomes normalized. It takes artists to put a frame around the truth, revealing something of its actual dimensions, actual impact. For a clear-eyed glimpse of the daily fear machine in action and the toll it takes, go see the rich, nuanced, deeply affecting movie Blindspotting, just now in theaters.

There’s the fear that rises in relationship to other threats such as climate crisis. The New York Times Magazine’snew issue consists entirely of a controversial piece, already perceptively criticized by knowledgeable writers such as Naomi Klein and Robinson Meyer for downplaying the economic and power relations behind global scorching. Read all, and do your best not to be overcome by fear.

But my main topic today is another type of fear: the fear that arises in response to extreme state actions, the fear that acts as fuel for fascism.


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48 mm: Film Festival From Nakba to Return

Dec7

by: Olga Gershenson on December 7th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Image of the Zochrot brochure

Image of the Zochrot brochure

Film festival of Zochrot (an Israeli NGO, working to promote accountability for the injustices of the Nakba) at Tel Aviv Cinemateque: probably the best films in the line-up were “Born in Deir Yassin” and “Jerusalem We Are Here” (I’ve written about both of them for Tikkun, in the forthcoming issue). Another important film is “Looted and Hidden,” a new documentary by Israeli curator and art historian Rona Sela. It’s super-dense with images and stories, but basically, it’s about several Palestinian photo and film archives, that were stolen by Israelis in 1948, in 1967, and in 1982, from PLO research center and from a Cinema Center in Beirut. The good thing is that the audience gets to see tons of these documents–family photos, studio portraits, battle snapshots, pictures of atrocities, etc, along with snippets of narrative films, army reports, news footage, and even an excerpt from a Soviet anti-Zionist documentary. This plenitude is both a blessing and a curse–a curse because in 45 minutes, it’s impossible to contextualize all these still and moving images, tell what’s behind them, AND let them speak on their own terms. It took Rona Sela, a Jewish Israeli with a stubborn mind and legal assistance, over 10 years to even get access to these visual documents. All of them are locked up in the Israeli archives, with absolutely no hope for them to ever be open, especially in the current political climate. What a paradox it is, that it takes an Israeli to recover the hidden visual history of Palestinians–a Palestinian, obviously, would not stand a chance in the tightly censored IDF archives.

The biggest revelation for me was an archival screening of the 1972 Syrian film, “The Dupes,” by an Egyptian director Tewfik Saleh. It’s based on a novella “Men in the Sun” by a late Palestinian writer and activist Ghassan Kanafani. The action is set in 1948 and the plot follows three Palestinian refugees who are trying to get to Kuwait to work. Without plot-spoiling, the film ends in tragedy. Besides being a beautiful (although heart-breaking) black-and-white art film, what is so remarkable is that it lets us experience the immediate aftermath of 1948 from the Palestinian perspective. In addition to the narrative plot, it includes also what looked to me like documentary footage: tents, lines to food kitchens, snippets of daily life in early camps. The narrative plot is structured as road film, following the three men, intercut with flashbacks telling their individual stories leading to the lethal journey. That structure, with flashbacks to the stories of characters reminded me of “Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer” – a 1955 Zionist film that is also set in 1948, telling a parallel, albeit very different story.

Another significant film was a new doc by another Israeli woman filmmaker, Anat Even, “Disappearances,” recovering the memory of a Palestinian neighborhood Al-Manshiyaa, which today is buried under the lawns of beach-side Clore Park and high-rise buildings in Tel Aviv. The story is familiar: in 1948 the neighborhood is “cleansed” of its original citizens, and new immigrants – Holocaust survivors and North African Jews move into abandoned houses. Later, even that proves out as an insufficient erasure of the past, and so the entire thing is razed, with only one old Arab building remaining. Ironically, today it’s a site of the Etzel Museum. The film is quietly political – personal and moving. Anat Even doesn’t tell this story at once, there is no didactic voiceover, instead, she brings in to the site families who once lived there. These include Palestinian refugees, some of whom haven’t been to the place for decades, as well as Jewish Israelis who were relocated to other places, also against their wills. Additional commentary is provided by voices of architects – some who designed the current park, others, who give it a critical interpretation. The Hebrew title of the film, יזכור למלנשייה, is way more successful than the English translation – I think she should have kept the Yizkor there, a word with rich and tragic association in the post-Holocaust world.

I also watched a bunch of predictable shorts, as well as “1948: Creation & Catastrophe,” which is a more standard edition doc, with talking heads, maps, archival footage, and male voiceover. Although not without problems, it can be productively used for education, especially if paired with a documentary presenting Israeli perspective.

Even though the festival presented significant films, there was something provincial and sad about it: announced speakers weren’t always there, the speakers that were there weren’t best prepared, whatever Q&As there were, weren’t moderated, English subtitles promised in the program sometimes didn’t materialize, etc. But most of all – empty theaters. It’s not that Tel-Avivians are apathetic–thousands showed up for the March of Shame to protest Netaniyahu’s corruption. This for them is urgent, political, and personal, whereas memory of Palestinian loss, let alone taking responsibility for the violence that caused it, is not. This for me was among the main takeaways of the festival.

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Olga Gershensonis Professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies and Film Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Fifth Dispatch from the Jerusalem Film Festival

Jul25

by: Olga Gershenson on July 25th, 2017 | Comments Off

Fourth set of notes from the Jerusalem Film Festival fromTikkun’scorrespondent Olga Gershenson!

The truly important film of today was “Conventional Sins” (the Hebrew title is ידיד נפש), an absolutely heartbreaking and brave documentary about sexual abuse of children in Haredi communities. As sensitive the the treatment of the subject is, it’s still hard to watch. The main character, whose Yiddish name was Meilich (today he left the fold and goes by Meir), tells his story in the film, but he is not a passive subject, rather he takes almost a director’s role. On screen, we see him holding auditions with other former Haredi young men to “play” him and his predator in his story. These men, as it turned out, had similar tragic experience of being abused. The auditions take the place of reenactments and transform on screen into really honest conversations about their personal stories and their community. The important thing is that the film doesn’t position itself as anti-Haredi, rather, as Meilich/Meir said after the screening, it’s about children. There are other communities, he pointed out, where terrible things are happening to kids, whom society fails to protect.

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Fourth Dispatch from the Jerusalem Film Festival

Jul21

by: Olga Gershenson on July 21st, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Fourth set of notes from the Jerusalem Film Festival from Tikkun’s correspondent Olga Gershenson!

“The Man with the Iron Heart”–a historical drama about Reinhard Heydrich, his rise to power, and his eventual death by the hand of the resistance in Prague. It’s an international co-production (directed by a French filmmaker, Cedric Jimenez), and as such is suffering from the usual problem of WWII films: all the dialogue is in English, with Germans speaking with hysterical German accents and Czechs with a faux Slavic one. The filming of the Nazi parades and such is a bit fetishistic, reeling in all these crisp uniform and colorful insignia. Finally, and that’s the main problem, how do you make a movie about an architect of the Final Solution, and make it NOT about the Jews? In a two-hour-film, the Jewish question is mentioned literally once, in a brief scene set at the Villa Wannsee meeting. No Jews appear in the Kristallnacht massacres. Even in the scenes of mass executions by Einsatzgruppen, the identity of the victims is not marked in any way. It appears that the Nazis just shot all these innocent Czechs and Poles. Alternatively, there are tons of Christian symbolism–the crosses, the prayer, the churchy music. The two resistance fighters who fatally wounded Heydrich, die in a flooded church, martyrs in a kind of eternal baptism. One of the last shots of the film is a floating rosary with a cross.

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Third Dispatch from the Jerusalem Film Festival

Jul20

by: Olga Gershenson on July 20th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Third set of notes from the Jerusalem Film Festival from Tikkun’s correspondent Olga Gershenson!

 

Three films for today: first “The Cakemaker”–from the first-time Israeli director Ofir Raul Grazier, starring an incomparable Sara Adler. Here is the story: an Israeli businessman Oren has an affair with a German baker on his frequent trips to Berlin. After he dies, the German is distraught; he comes to Jerusalem, and has an affair with Oren’s wife! The German-Israeli love affair across gender, religious, and sexuality boundaries is reminiscent of “Walk on Water,” but with a lot more food porn (specifically pastry) and even more schmaltzy, if that is possible. On the other hand, the performances are brilliant and the filming of Jerusalem rises to the level of visual poetry.

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Second Dispatch from the Jerusalem Film Festival

Jul19

by: Olga Gershenson on July 19th, 2017 | Comments Off

​More notes from the JerusalemFilm Festival from Tikkun’s correspondent Olga Gershenson!

 

A documentary “Gaza Surf Club“–exactly what it sounds like–a quixotic group of surfing enthusiasts in Gaza, struggling against the double burden of occupation and patriarchy (girls are not allowed to surf or even swim). The human story is very touching, but the film-making is too predictable. And then, a real revelation, “Holy Air” by writer/director Shady Srour, and starring Latitia Eido. Absurdist comedy set in Nazareth, and very clearly paying tribute to Elia Suleiman’s sense of irony. Beautiful, nuanced, funny, straddling the lines between issues at stake for Palestinians, citizens of Israel, and universal issues of love, loss, sex, and faith. The cinematography is such that I could freeze any frame and put it on the wall. What is it with Nazareth and filmmakers? One is better than another.

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