Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Windsor's other film festival

Most people know about Windsor’s fall film festival – the Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF). Fewer are aware of Windsor’s second, and in fact, older, film festival, The 15TH Annual Ruth and Bernard Windsor Jewish Film Festival. The four-day event kicks off Monday, May 1, at Devonshire Cineplex Odeon and runs – with a daily schedule of films at 2, 5 and 8 pm - until Thursday.

The opening night film, 2015’s On the Map, is American director Dani Mankin’s documentary about one of the biggest sporting wins in Israeli history. Coming off a brutal period in the country’s history – Munich, The Yom Kippur War, the Entebbe hijacking – the film shows the story of how the Israeli basketball team won the European Cup. Even non-sports fans reportedly loved the suspence, which features historical figures like Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky and former NBA commissioner David Stern.

On Tuesday there are three films, two on a related subject – the cherished Jewish deli. One is The Last Blintz (Dori Berinstein, 2015) about the closing of yet another beloved NYC deli, Café Edison in the theatre district. The short film is followed by Julie Cohen’s 2014’s The Sturgeon Queens, about the still thriving Russ and Daughters NYC deli, with interviews with the famous daughters and customers including Morley Safer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg….Later, the drama Secrets of War (Dennis Bots, Netherlands and Belgium, 2014) depicts two pre-teens in occupied Holland, who become infatuated with a girl who turns out to be a Jew in hiding, the revelation leading to a chain of dramatic incidents…..At 8 pm, also from the Netherlands, Pieter Kuijpers’s 2016’s Riphagen: The Untouchable, the true story of a notorious Jew hunter in Amsterdam and one man’s struggle to bring him to justice.

On Wednesday, the first screening is Israeli director Miya Hatav’s Between Worlds (2016). In the aftermath of a terror attack, the divisions in Israeli society are embodied in a hospital ward, where social circumstances lead to some personal revelations…..Later at 5 pm, Germany’s Lars Kraume’s 2015’s The People vs Fritz Bauer, is the story of a crusading returned Jewish exile to Germany, a state official who hunts down Nazi war criminals, despite obstacles put in his way by the post-war German state…….The last film of the night is Lola Doillon 2016 Fanny’s Journey, about a young girl who is thrown into the position of leadership during the Nazi occupation when parents are separated from their children.

The final day beings us a Greek film, Cloudy Sunday (Manousos Manousakis, 2015), a true story about a Greek composer, and love between his brother and a Jewish girl, with great use of Revetika Greek folk music and an apparent cast of thousands….That’s followed by Sabena Hijacking: My Version (Rani Sa'ar, Israel, 2015), a docudrama about a little known 1972 hijacking that formed the response by Israeli authorities to numerous future hijacking and terrorist incidents.……Finally, the closing night film, the Israeli comedy The Women’s Balcony (Emil Ben-Shimon, 2016), gently exposes the tensions within Orthodox Judaism, women and men, and places of worship. 

For more info,

Monday, April 10, 2017

Expectations dashed, civility rules, & The Greatest ever

Expectations dashed, once again. The build-up to Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann was so great I was expecting to be taken on a roller coaster of an epic comedy ride for the ages. But, no. Not that this is a bad movie, far from it. I found it, even at 162 minutes, fully absorbing, the topic interesting, the acting half-decent, if the plot rather predictable. But for the critics to swoon as they did over this – and at one point in a public screening breaking out in applause - was a bit much. And ditto for the awards lavished on it, though it never got a prize at the aforementioned Cannes. This is about a father-daughter relationship. The tropes are in place. He’s an old Sixties-era hippie. She’s the modern post-feminist businesswoman. The twain doesn’t particularly meet. But dad Winfried (Peter Simonischek) thinks daughter Ines (Sandra Huller) should lighten-up. He follows her on a business trip to Bucharest, inserting himself into her social engagements and even business meetings, an unlikely event. She barely tolerates him. He puts on disguises and lures the gullible into believing he’s a business coach, even a country’s ambassador. Of course, the story is more than simply dad wanting to get his oh-so-serious and all-business daughter to crack a smile. It’s about the lifestyle she’s chosen. You see, she has embraced the capitalist world. Worse than that, she works for a firm that offers advice to companies on how to downsize and lay off workers. The old merry prankster simply can’t have that and is willing to do anything – including handcuffing Ines – to persuade her to change. This theme, as far as contemporary movies go, is as clichéd as you can get. (Question for moviemakers: when is capitalism not bad? Answer: when a film makes a profit.) Sure, the movie has its amusing scenes. But spectacularly funny – as in laugh out loud – I think not. Chris Knight in the National Post called the scene where Ines breaks into Whitney Houston's The Greatest Love of All “one of the funniest moments in a movie this year.” I guess he hasn’t seen too many comedies. 

Meanwhile, Mark Pellington’s The Last Word, starring the one and only Shirley MacLaine, is a surprisingly smart comedy. MacLaine plays an aging retired businesswoman who is the personification of a control freak. But that’s only what you’d think if you just saw the trailer. In fact, she’s a wise old woman, who imparts manners, sophistication and class to those who could use some. In a world increasingly lacking in all three I applaud a film that has the gumption to take our era’s decline in civility.

Just in time for Easter week, Nicholas Ray’s 1961 King of Kings is a factoid summary, on grand scale, of the Jesus story. Ray (Rebel Without a Cause, 1955) deftly pieces together the myriad parts of the story from Christ’s birth to his Resurrection, adding the political background against which the saga takes place. There’s a lot to the story, of course, but the essentials are boiled down in a way to make them highly consumable, with the proverbial cast of thousands. Jeffrey Hunter plays Jesus and Orson Welles narrates.