Friday, May 16, 2014

Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2014

Well, Sunday, it was over.  Our last Toronto Jewish Film Festival.  With over 110 films in numerous venues, deciding what to see is always a daunting task.  As always, I managed to choose one fiasco, to learn about stuff I had absolutely no idea about, and to enjoy myself beyond my expectations.   As usual, too, I noticed most of the crowd was Caucasian and older - and, as usual, I kept asking myself why other demographics find no appeal whatsoever in this festival (which I consider a real treat).  

Honestly, stumbling upon this festival 2010 was one of the best things that happened to me in this city (I must say, though, there's been a ton of good things that happened to me here, a TON).  I've said it before - I feel the Jewish experience is incredibly rich in that, after all, Jews live basically everywhere and, though there is a common thread running through that experience, there is also incredible diversity involved.  We've seen films that have had to do with France, Germany, Russia, Argentina, dictatorships, relationships with Islam, Ethiopians, homosexuality, orthodox Judaism, popular Israeli culture, war, love, comedy, self-acceptance, sumo...  This has been one fun ride.  But before I digress further, let me tell you about my TJFF experience this - our last - year:

Golems, Dybbuks and other Movie Monsters: The Search for a Jewish Horror Film

An interesting talk about a different way of looking at some horror films.  Beyond the obviously Jewish ones, like Der Golem and Der Dybbuk, Mikel Koven prompted us to think about new questions, like... Is there a "Jewissance" moment?  That is, a moment where we realize the Jewishness of a character or situation, like in "An American Werewolf in London", where the main character has a nightmare and we see a menorah in his home and we recognize a Nazi air to monsters that attack him and his family.  Is the horror film within a Christian or a Jewish cosmology?  Like in the film The Possession, where the main characters face a Dybbuk, they have to request the help of a rabbi, and there is simply no Christian reference in general.  Can we gain additional insights from a Jewish perspective? Like in Hostel where, when one takes into account that the director is Jewish, a location and certain actions take on a concentration camp semblance...  All in all, a very interesting talk.

A New Life on the Land (2014, Canada)

Expecting to watch a documentary about kibbutzim in Israel, we realized right at the theatre that we were going to watch a documentary about Jewish farmers in Canada!  Which was a nice surprise, as we - as well as most of the audience - had no idea of the arrival of Jewish settlers to Canada.  Particularly interesting was to hear about Jewish people arriving from Eastern Europe to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta - on one hand, you had land, cheap land, lots of it, and the chance to begin a new life away from urban poverty.  But on the other hand, you had horribly inclement weather and bugs that would make anybody insane.   But hey, 160 acres for 6 dollars or so?  Worth a try!

From Russia with Falafel: a Short Film Program

Our second screening was, for me, quite a delight.  Four shorts reflecting the Russian experience regarding Israel:  Pur (2013, Israel); Welcome and... Our Condolences (2012, Israel); Guard Hut (Budke; 2012, Israel); and Pinhas (2008, Israel).

Though "Pur" was interesting in as much as it showed glimpses of Russians in the Soviet Union doing in secret some Jewish celebrations, "Welcome and... Our Condolences" is a hilarious short, superbly done documentary style, about immigrants who discover, on arrival to Tel Aviv airport, that an old aunt passed away during the flight.  Believe me, the short is seriously funny.   As for "Guard Hut", it's a simple, but nice, story about a Kievan older man who works as a parking lot guard in Israel and who writes short stories while at work.  This is a real story, and the actor is actually the Kievan himself, whose stories have actually appeared in Haaretz (an Israeli newspaper) and who's about to publish his second book, and who's still working as a parking lot guard!  Finally, "Pinhas" is a nice story from the point of view of a Russian kid in Israel living in the world of his non-religious, ham-eating secular mother, and his rather religious neighbours.  It's a story about belonging, with Pinhas (the child) wanting to "be religious" and enter the world of his neighbours, and the not unexpected clash this causes with his mother. 

Unfortunately, for such an interesting selection of shorts, the audience was minimal.  Was this plain lack of interest? Or an active boycott because of the present Ukraine situation?

The German Doctor (Wakolda; 2013, Argentina/France/Norway/Spain)

This was not just a thriller about Doctor Mengele in Argentina.  It was a thriller about a whole situation, where little by little you realize, in horror, that not everybody is who you thought they were.  It's superbly done, you're kept at the border of your seat the whole time, and it was absolutely terrifying for me.   We definitely hit the bullseye when choosing this film.  

Russian Disco (Russendisko; 2012, Germany)

The idea was promising: three young Russians emigrate to Berlin around the time of the collapse of the Wall.  What I felt I ended up with?  Three Russian characters who speak perfect German from the get go, who speak German with their Russian parents (who speak perfect German too) and with every single Russian they meet in Germany, and who go from silly situation to silly situation making the film last excruciatingly long.  My life would indeed have been better if I hadn't watched this.     Wait, no, I'm wrong.  I got some pita bread with hummus while waiting in line.

Sex and Secrets: a Short Film Programme

We were shown four shorts:  Summer Vacation (2012, Israel); Setup, Punch (2013, USA); Nightswimming (2013, Israel); Auschwitz on my mind (2013, Israel).  There's not much to say.  They were well done, well filmed, one of them was actually rather funny (Setup, Punch), and one of them feature hunk Oded Leopold (Summer Vacation).  But besides that, I'm afraid I can't say much about it.  Not bad, not good, just ok.  Oh well.

Kidon (2013, Israel/France)

A comedy about the Mossad and an assassination in Dubai supposedly carried out by them.  Very well made, very funny, with enough twists to keep your mind busy restructuring the story as more and more information is revelaed, and all in all very enjoyable.  I'm very happy we chose this one, and you should try to see it if you ever have the chance.  

Fading Gigolo (2013, USA)

This was the closing film.  It featured Woody Allen, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara among others.  We arrived a full hour early to line up... and there were so many people already in line that we could barely secure seats on  the second floor of the theatre!  The place was as full as it could physically be.  A light dramedy, well paced, charming, slightly erotic.  It was a nice finish to  the festival.  Mazel tov!  

Toronto Jewish Film  Festival, a sheinem dank, toda raba, and mazel tov!

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