Mandel Maven's Nest Lilith Watch:
Guide to Jewish Women in Film
- Simon of Trent in Hartmann Schedel, Weltchronik, or Nuremberg Chronicle (Nuremberg, 1493), 254v
Prof. Magda Teter, through her research for Blood Libel: On the Trail of an Antisemitic Myth (Harvard U Press, 2020), identified the Jewish woman on the left in the oldest and horrifically most pernicious, yet still influential, antisemitic media since the early printing press. In Trento, then part of Austria, on the 1475 weekend that Passover coincided with Easter, Brunetta and her husband moneylender Samuel of Nuremberg were accused of the ritual exsanguination of a drowned little boy. (In some versions she’s holding a matzoh). Tried by local Catholic Church leaders, all in the small Jewish community were imprisoned, tortured, and many horribly murdered, with the brutal revenge lessened if they confessed and converted. Brunetta maintained her innocence, refused to convert, and was the only woman burned at the stake – a sobering reality backdrop to all the satirical portrayals of Jewish mother martyrdom.
Left - “America for the ‘Americans’!” by Werner Hahmann, 1934, Issue #23 of Berlin’s satirical Kladderadatsch (From Prof. Randall Bytwerk’s German Propaganda Archive at Calvin College). This cartoon promotes a Nazi caricature of a Jewish female (lower left) that still dominates in movies and TV, with her mocking mouth, dark curly hair, immodest dress -- the “impudent behavior of Jewish women” that Nazis objected to in the mid-1930’s. (Quote in Saul Friedlander’s Nazi Germany and the Jews: Vol 1: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939, 1997, Harper). While the minstrel show images of African-Americans have been discredited as racist “Negrobilia”, so called by Whoopi Goldberg, she culturally appropriated a transgressive stage name and misunderstands the history of antisemitism.
Right - “Frau Ipelmeyer” (portrayed by Inge van der Straaten) in Hans H. Zerlett’s Robert und Bertram (1939), the Nazis’ only musical comedy about Jews – and the image of Jewish matrons hasn’t really changed since. (Still from Kino Lorber’s Hitler’s Hollywood)
”Some Viennese coined an expression to describe the exotic, dark-haired allure of Klimt’s models: la belle Juive or Jewish beauty. They too were promoting a stereotype, but this time it was appreciative. . . Jewish…women [then] were officially referred to by the ugly term Judensau, or Jewish sow.” -- Anne-Marie O’Connor, The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, quoting Tobias Natter and Gerbert Frodl in Klimt’s Women, though I can’t find evidence that the Nazis used that medieval antisemitic term towards Jewish women.
Since December 2019, my analysis of earlier Israeli films is influenced by Prof. Rachel S. Harris’s Warriors, Witches, Whores: Women in Israeli Cinema (Wayne State University Press, 2017)
The Lilith Watch: Critical Guide to Jewish Women on TV: Reviews and commentary
Jewish Women in (and Missing from) the Flicks
Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
A graduate film student next to me at a 2011 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center press screening overheard me describing this page to a colleague who writes for Hadassah Magazine. His immediate connection to Jewish women by and in movies was only Joan Micklin Silver’s Hester Street (1975) (the paradigm of Jewish women immigrants) and Crossing Delancey (1988) (with Amy Irving as the iconic visual representation of contemporary Jewish women) – the equivalent of Seinfeld being cited for TV. When I demurred that I have been looking for images and stereotypes in more recent films, he immediately jumped to The Social Network (2010) because evidently the young woman “Erica Albright” (played by Rooney Mara) arguing with the fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg at the opening of Aaron Sorkin’s script can be perceived as a putative Jew because she went to Boston University and he later was seen at a Jewish fraternity party. Besides that when I was in graduate school everyone always misheard and automatically switched the identifications when we said that I was the one at Harvard and my boyfriend (now husband) was at B.U., there does seem to be the need for me to continue to analyze even putative Jewish women in the movies. (11/11/2011)
At least he didn’t cite Woody Allen films. It would take an academic dissertation beyond the scope of this site for me to detail my opinions of the mixed-leaning-way-to-negative impact of his oeuvre on the cinematic image of Jewish women. Even though his sister, Letty Aronson, is extensively interviewed about his family and biography in PBS’s American Masters 3 ½ hour Woody Allen: A Documentary, the Jewish angle was skirted by only having Diane Keaton’s chuckling explanation that her character’s family’s antisemitic views in Annie Hall came straight from her grandmother.
The Obeidi-Alsultany Test proposes five criteria “to evaluate whether a TV or film project presents Muslim characters in dynamic, nuanced, and intersectional stories and contexts.” I should create The Lilith Test for how Jewish women are portrayed in films/TV, like .
As of mid-2014, I am marking my own stricter application than others to fiction features of the Bechdel-Wallace Test
Originally suggested by Allison Bechdel, as inspired by her friend Liz Wallace (so her name was added to the symbol as of 2016), in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985 to note a film that features (1) at least two named female characters; (2) who talk to each other; (3) about something besides a man. Symbol first designed by the Swedish chapter of Women in Film and Television; thanks to The Hot Pink Pen for the updated image. But my own criteria consider a substantive interaction about substance for when a film features more than female relationships. (updated 11/15/2020)
Complete Index to Nora Lee Mandel's Movie Reviews and Commentaries
My reviews have appeared on: FF2 Media; Film-Forward; Lilith, FilmFestivalTraveler; and, Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.
13, a ludodrama about Walter Benjamin In this very creative, part animated, 13 chapter bio-doc of the German Jewish philosopher, the narrator avoids the negativity between him and his sister Dora (seen in archival photographs), and focuses instead on how she supported him, provided places for him to live (visited in the film), and fled the Nazis with him in France; she made it to Switzerland. His cousin Hannah Arendt saved one of his last manuscripts. (seen at MoMA’s 2018 Documentary Fortnight) (3/3/2018)
15 Minutes of Shame (10/7/2021)
18 To Party (2020) In debut writer/director Jeff Roda’s profane and nostalgic look back at small town 8th graders in 1984 riven by divorce and suicide, let alone changes in rock ‘n’ roll, one of the many topics the group discusses while waiting to get into a club is how one of them can be simultaneously “half-Jewish”, yet considered full-on Jewish because his mother is Jewish, and does observe such traditions as lighting Hanukkah candles. Another boy is convinced that being Jewish a matter of faith, like his mother believe in playing tennis. (I couldn’t keep the kids straight to tell who was saying what.) (10/22/2020)
24 Days (24 Jours) (5/25/2015)
27 Dresses (As it’s set in NYC, at least one of her friends had to be Jewish, but “Shari Rabinowitz”s wedding is an intermarriage, presumably for extra humor, with a Jewish-Hindu ceremony for which the bridesmaid’s dress is a sari.) (1/21/2008)
36 Righteous Ones (Los 36 Justos) (briefly reviewed at 2011 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu Some sources incorrectly translate the original Spanish title as a masculine plural in English, but this traditional Elul pilgrimage through Eastern Europe includes a stop at the grave of a rebbitzin--and her husband. I spent considerable time trying to track down exactly who this female tzaddik was, other than I think she was named Rivka, and where was her grave, to no avail, I'm embarrassed to admit. (1/28/2011)
51 Birch Street (10/18/2006) (emendations coming after 4/18/2007)
77 Steps (previewed at 2011 Other Israel Film Festival) (So, nu: The Israeli Arab director aggressively debates with a hostess at the kibbutz and provokes her to change from genial to negative about local Arabs, amidst reminisces of the old days. That exchange helps to precipitate the break-up with her Canadian-Jewish boyfriend, who thought she was being rude after the older woman’s hospitality.) (11/26/2011)
93Queen - When feature debut director Paula Eiselt, who identifies in the press notes as an Orthodox Jewish woman, observes over four years of filming the group of Hasidic women who form Ezras Nashim (“women’s help”) the women’s alternative to the politically powerful Hatzolah volunteer ambulance corps in Borough Park, Brooklyn, this is a fascinating look at taking on the biased male authority structure in the community. We can see just how political rabbinical decision-making is, how prohibitions against lashon hara is used against women – but not against men who criticize women, including calling them “feminists”, which is synonymous with being “secular” and challenging “modesty” (as seen in nasty online comments). The diversity of the insistently frum women is also revealing, from the leading “Yocheved”, a single mother long-time professional EMT who has only recently become so observant and quits over the politically compromised issue of banning single women who she can so personally relate to; a divorced woman who loves popular culture; older women who have been marginalized by the increasingly insular community because they only speak English; younger women with medical-related education and aspirations; and, by the way, is childbirth educator Yitty Mandel related to me? But, unfortunately, too much time is spent promoting the singular dynamic powerhouse community organizer Rachel “Ruchie” Freier, who managed to go to college and law school while working and raising her supportive family, and during the filming of the organization’s first year on the ground fulfilled her professional goal of running for civil court judge and became first Hasidic woman elected to office in the United States, despite Hatzolah running an opposition candidate. At least during the campaign, she finally acknowledges she has become a feminist.
Eiselt is rightfully proud of the documentary’s music: “The vocals interlaced into Laura Karpman’s masterful score are sung by Hasidic singer Perl Wolfe. Perl is the former lead singer of the first all-female Hasidic band, Bulletproof Stockings [who I featured onLilith Pop]. The vocals are a combination of traditional Hasidic melodies known as niggunim that are almost always sung by men, as well as an original song built with lyrics from a Jewish prayer that highlights the power of women. Perl’s vocals inherently reclaim another male-dominated space and serve as a “Greek chorus” for our story.” (seen on PBS’s POV) (9/21/2018)
Follow-up: As of late 2019, the traditional ambulance company serving the Orthodox community Hatzolah is challenging the women’s organization’s right to exist, particularly against the founder’s role.
100Up - Director Heddy Honigmann includes two Jewish women Upper West Siders over 100 years old as they walk around their neighborhood:
Mathilda Freund, born in 1916, is seen sellilng tshotkes at a bazaar, attending classes at Fordham Lincoln Center, specifically a talk on the Holocaust documentary A Film Unfinished, and swimming in the JCC pool. With a strong European accent, she eventually reveals her happy, culture-filled childhood in Vienna where she participated in birthday and holiday events with her non-Jewish friends – until “Herr Hitler” entered the city to great acclaim. Her memories become more harrowing as she recalls fleeing with her beloved, musical husband in 1938 to France, first to Paris, then hounded to southern France, where they had to hide in woods outside Lyon, with tragic results. She is convinced her stress as a survivor led to her daughter’s early death from breast cancer: “I don’t wear lipstick since she died.” But she is grateful to America, and enjoys her favorite things, like avocados.
Shirley Zussman, born in 1915, is seen in a flashback to an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, then she explains in detail how she got the idea for her, as a therapist, and her doctor husband to follow the example of the then just-published Masters and Johnson to become sex therapists. She tries to keep the discussion of her expertise on a broad consideration of sexuality, while accepting her age by having to refer her patients to others. In a spirited debate with her sister who refuses to look to the past, she would have liked to share memories of their mother on her birthday. She still enjoys talking to people, particularly strangers who become friends by meeting up in local plazas and coffee shops, and appreciates that her children call her almost daily. (preview at 2021 DOC NYC Film Festival) (11/13/2021)
100 Voices: A Journey Home (briefly reviewed at 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: While the documentary covers some of the same ground as A Cantor’s Tale (2005), a new element is the several women cantors interviewed, though there is no explanation/discussion of their relatively new role in synagogues, even as the documentary carefully shows them singing in secular concerts, not in the synagogue, as the ones in Poland are presumably Orthodox, though this tour was organized by the Conservative cantors’ association.) (1/21/2012)
200 Meters - Palestinian writer/director Ameen Nayfeh’s debut film creates three-dimensional characters daily faced with how the security wall has put Palestinians in absurd situations when families, like his own for the past 15 years, have been divided by the titular distance. Unlike some integrated films that have faced criticism at film festivals, all the Israelis, including the two female characters, are portrayed by Palestinian-Israelis who are fluent in Hebrew: an overly bureaucratic officer (played by Hanin Tarabeh), who won’t give a procedural break to the central character “Mustafa” (a role created for prominent Palestinian-Israeli actor Ali Suliman, who is suberb here as a dedicated, yet stubborn, family man), and a friendly soldier (played by Rebecca Telhami); in a Q & A, Nayfeh noted that one actress had a Dutch father. With minimal spoilers, she’s friendly because “Anne”, the blonde, pale-skinned female driver of a car with Israeli license plates is ostensibly a feisty German, English-speaking tourist with a video camera (played by German actress Anna Unterberger); the casting plays on both sides’ presumptions of what women in the Middle East look like and what languages they speak, as her Palestinian guide rationalizes her sympathy that she has a convoluted post-1948 family tree with a Lebanese grandfather. As Nayfeh spent his formative years moving between Jordan and Palestine, is a recent graduate of a Jordanian film school, and now lives on the West Bank, where the exteriors were filmed, 200 Meters was selected by Jordan, where the interiors and “checkpoints” were filmed, as its entry for the “International Academy Award.” (streamed at The Wrap International Awards Screenings) (1/20/2021)
306 Hollywood Devoted grandchildren Elan and Jonathan Bogarín delightfully use style over substance in conducting a year-long archaeological investigation into their grandmother’s house in Newark, NJ, where she never threw out anything since buying the house in 1944. In a model that could encourage any family historian to be creative, they find every visual technique, cataloging, and research aid to make up for the fact that while they spent hours interviewing Annette Ontell over her last decade, from age 83 on, they really didn’t ask her very good questions, with no special revelations, other than some more detail on their uncle David’s mental health issues and her long marriage with Herman, an accountant. (“We were in ‘iron and steel’ – I iron, he steals.”) While they neglected to draw out more family history, other than her experiences growing up in what she calls “a Jewish ghetto” (she may be right assuming that as children of a Venezuelan father they know little about Jews or Yiddish), they did bring out her fashion design career, with the help of their mother Marilyn. They interview the Rockefeller archivist and a textile conservator for ideas and guidance. But they go further, including lip synching audio tape scenes, displaying her dresses on the roof and in a fun dance routine with performers in period make-up and lingerie. They recognize this is all part of their grieving process, and they interview experts in death - - but never think to explore if Jewish rituals or traditions could be helpful in connecting with her. (seen courtesy of El Tigre Productions) (12/20/2018)
400 Miles to Freedom (previewed at 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (The mother of co-director/narrator Avishai Yeganyahu Mekonen has a clear memory and testifies to the faith and terrors of the long trek her observant family took from Ethiopia to Israel, with the special fears of her son kidnapped to be a child soldier and then the difficulties of assimilation.) (1/21/2012)
1341 Frames Of Love And War - Through amazing photographs (black-and-white and color), director Ran Tal interviews nonagenarian photographer Micha Bar-Am and his octogenarian wife Orna, his archivist, and sometime subject, who shares his career in Israel for over 60 years. She notated all his contact sheets and other materials, so she argues with him on chronology of events and memories. She actively comments about the context of his photographs, what his state of mind was when he returned from each stint on the front lines of war, etc., on what they censored, and what they chose to share publicly. Her running commentary adds considerably to the documentary, many times amusingly so. Their sons also recall what it was like growing up in an intense household with a mother so involved in their father’s career. (preview at 2022 Other Israel Film Festival)
AA Director/artist Cynthia Madansky pays tribute to the Russian poet, photographer, and multimedia artist Anna Alchuk. While the style reminds me of Bob Dylan’s iconic “Subterranean Homesick Blues” opening segment of D. A. Pennebaker's Dont Look Back with photographs, the content is from Dream Diaries, more like nightmares, that Alchuk’s husband philosopher Mikhail Ryklin published after her 2008 death that was connected to her persecution by religious thugs and authorities, similar to what Pussy Riot experienced. For Madansky, AA is apparently related to her series of short films on Russian feminist performance artists from different locations across the country “that interrogate the relationship between cinematic form and language, specifically looking at texts by international women writers”, (including Simone Weil) “I am always in some ways working with the written word.” (In “Short Films on Creativity” at 2022 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum) (1/25/2022)
- the whole mishpucha (from Level 33 Entertainment –courtesy Blue Fox Entertainment)
This warmly emotional family movie is an international production, directed by Brazilian Fernando Grostein Andrade, whose mixed heritage includes grandparents, he describes, “escaped antisemitism in the 19030s”, and written with Lameece Issaq, who is Artistic Director of a theater that showcase Middle-Eastern artists, and Jacob Kader, who previously partnered with her on the play “Food and Fadwa.” Set in a diverse Brooklyn that would usually be a recipe for stereotypes, an Israeli woman “Rebecca” (played by Polish-born Dagmara Dominczyk) has been married for 15 years to a Palestinian man “Amir” (played by Arian Moayed, American actor of Iranian heritage). However, when the film opens, “Rebecca”s sense of her Jewish identity is heightened when she mourns the passing of her mother, and she bestows her mother’s recipes on their son.
Their son calls himself “Abe” (Noah Schnapp). One side of his family (Mark Margolis plays his immigrant grandfather Benjamin) calls him “Avraham” and the other “Ibrahim” (those grandparents are played by Syrian-American actress Salem Murphy and Armenian-Americn actor Tom Mardirosian). His approaching 13th birthday leads to a crisis of fulfilling both his bar mitzvah and the demands of fasts during Ramadan despite his very atheist father and intellectual Muslim in-laws. But all he wants is to be an Instagram-popular chef whose deliciously lovely creations draw on both traditions, as wisely mentored by Brazilian chef “Chico” (played by popular musician Seu Jorge), and beautiful Brazilian music fills the soundtrack.
The tensions between the parents are very realistically presented and not smoothly solved at a climactic, multi-ethnic Thanksgiving dinner prepared by their chef-in-training son. Since I saw Abe at the 2019 Other Israel Film Festival, I’m delighted that Blue Fox Entertainment is opening the film in theaters/VOD on April 17, 2020. (updated 3/9/2020)
Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game Written and directed by Harvard Med School neurologist Howard L. Weiner, the focus is mostly on the men, particularly elderly “Dr. Abe Mandelbaum” (Martin Landau, in his last role), who moves into Cliffside Manor Nursing Home because he can no longer manage alone with his wife “Molly” (Ann Marie Shea) with dementia, who I’ll assume is a putative Jew. While “Abe” confesses to a long ago affair with a nurse, all we know about “Molly” is that she’s still randy, despite that he can ony fulfill her now with a hand job, and she fixates on her mink jacket. (12/15/2018)
Above and Beyond (previewed at 2014 DOC NYC Festival) (5/4/2015)
Acts & Intermissions
Bio-doc of Emma Goldman well uses her autobiography and personal letters to get across the woman behind the anarchist stereotypes, though the style is a bit confusing. (The re-enactments are amateurishly acted like a tour through the Lower East Side Tenement Museum unfortunately, and the first-person voice-over is in an odd accent.) Though there’s several references that her union organizing and other public speeches are especially effective when she spoke in Yiddish, not mentioned is that she was from a Jewish background or that she was therefore reaching Jews. The repetitive intersection of footage of contemporary demonstrations, particularly of The Occupied Movement, helps the audience relate to the historical incidents and movements seen in archival photographs and films, but her views on love, sex, and (too fleetingly mentioned) contraception sound just as contemporary and similarly controversial, though not mentioned is that her Comstock Act violations got her jailed more than for her politics. (seen in the World Premiere at MoMA’s 2017 Documentary Fortnight) (2/18/2017)
Adam (The only reason that the family of "Bethany Buchwald" (Rose Byrne) is Jewish seems to be that they are in NYC and the dad "Marty" (Peter Gallagher also played a Jewish dad in The O.C.) is an accountant indicted for financial skullduggery to help an old friend, somewhat similar to the non-Jew in Say Anything. And the daughter has a similar reaction of betrayal, especially to the revelation of an affair, pushing her into the new boyfriend's arms as he prepares to leave town. The dad drops one Yiddish word ("gonif lawyers") and expects her home for Friday night dinner. She's on the rebound from an investment banker boyfriend who her dad liked but who she now rejects as a cheating "dick". But though the film takes place in the fall, there's no reference to the Jewish holidays, no Jewish symbols in her apartment, just a cut-out menorah among the winter holiday decorations in her classroom. Her mother "Rebecca" (Amy Irving), living in Westchester, mostly just stands by her man, recalling "your Grandpa Morris" warned her when she married him that he played the angles and she has no regrets. It's implied at the end that she'll stand by her mom. (8/18/2009)
Adam Resurrected (While director Paul Schrader draws on techniques he used in Mishima to faithfully adapt, and even clarify, Yoram Kaniuk's novel of post-Holocaust mental breakdowns, the most prominent Jewish woman is even more quizzical on the screen than in the book. Ayelet Zurer's "Jenny Grey" seems to be more of a sex-starved "Nurse Ratchett" than a sabra who only loves "Adam" when he's a crazy victim. The elderly landlady and women patients brandishing their tattoos are portrayed just as in the book, though missing is the delightfully satirical portrait of the inspired businesswoman/philanthropist who uses her late husband's money to set up in the holy desert the psychiatric clinic for survivors.) (1/6/2009)
Adoration (So, nu: Among the angry talking heads on the computer who argue against the son's monologue about empathy towards the child of a terrorist is a woman brandishing her concentration camp tattoo, played by Bathsheba Garnett and identified in the cast listing as "Holocaust Survivor".) (5/8/2009)
Adrienne - Until seeing this memorial documentary by widower Andy Ostroy I had no idea that actress/writer/director Adrienne Shelly was Jewish, though it’s just implied in his film. Her birth name was Adrienne Levine; she took her professional name from her father’s first name, who died when she was 12 – at 40, at the same age she was killed. Her mother Elaine Langbaum, identified by her second husband’s last name and talking with a broad New York accent, says she “looked just like him”. When Ostroy and her mother go to her alma mater Jericho High School, on Long Island, there is a plaque for her as distinguished alumna “Adrienne (Levine) Shelly” and they find her own 1984 graffitti “Adrienne Levine (Shelly)”. When he brings her daughter Sophie into her mother’s childhood bedroom, a menorah is prominently displayed.
Included in the film are clips from her short Lois Lives A Little (1997), that the star Alix Elias remembers “She said it’s really based on my mom.” One clip has her very Long Island mahjong trio coming over for their regular game – including her mother and Judy Gold.
Director Hal Hartley says that when Miramax picked up her first starring role film The Unbelievable Truth (1989), Harvey Weinstein pressed for Adrienne to have nude scenes, but he refused. Ostroy recounts that when her first feature Waitress premiered at Sundance in 2007 (one of the first films I formally reviewed), he was spilling some of Adrienne’s ashes in front of the theater – and Weinstein happened by and one got on his shoulder, in some divine justice. Their friend Paul Rudd calls Adrienne Harley’s “muse”. (at 2021 DOC NYC Festival/ HBO) (12/22/2021)
Adventureland (It may be that Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist proved that yet another nostalgic male coming-of-age movie works better outside the Apatow imprimatur when there's a strong female character – who just happens to be Jewish with cool taste in music (the song selections are terrific). Set in the summer of 1987 in Pittsburgh (though based on writer/director Greg Mottola's memories of Long Island, NY, and I grew up near the very similar Palisades Park), his alter ego is played by Jesse Eisenberg, though "James Brennan" isn't specified as Jewish. But the girl is, and this is one of the few films where the Jewish girl, "Em Lewin" (the very appealing Kristen Stewart just off the virginal vampire hit Twilight), attracts and is having sex with the older, married bad boy (Ryan Reynolds), even if she is an NYU student. Her acting out is explained by the strains with her father the lawyer (Josh Pais) and her new stepmom "Francy" (Mary Birdsong), who, oddly, is bald from a nervous breakdown. The script goes to abrasive lengths to target her grief and anger at anything Jewish because it was at temple where her dad, "he's never been serious about his faith" but seeking solace from her mother's painful last illness met the stepmom and her friends who come visit, including "Mrs. Frigo" (Janine Viola) and "Mrs. Ostrow" (Amy Landis). The latter makes faux pas conversation about the house: I love what you did to the place., then realizes that reflects badly on "Em"s mom, as the girl explodes to her father, setting off the stepmom. While the sweet ending seems a bit too fantasy, "Em" and "James"s growing relationship - You were the only good thing that happened to me this summer.-- from friendship to more is very realistically tender and romantic. (4/13/2009)
Adventures of a Mathematician With the support of the Alfred B. Sloan Foundation to make scientists more visible in films for general audiences, writer/director Thor Klein brings a multi-national production attention to the European Jewish mathematicians who were at Los Alamos, and their families, helping to develop the bombs during World War II and coping with the ethical issues during and after. Based on the titular autobiography of Polish Jew Stanislaw Ulam (that I’ve ordered a used copy to read, because gosh $33 on Kindle!), we hear about and the telephone voice of his sister Stefania back in Lvov, with their mother, but don’t learn too much about her, besides her tragic fate. The only Jewish woman on screen is who Ulam (played by auburn-haired Philippe Tlokinski) would marry, Francoise Aron, played authentically by brunette French actress Esther Garrel – so much so that, frankly, I had trouble understanding her English dialogue!
Francoise’s intelligence and resentment of male academic privilege are established during their courtship. But once they arrive in New Mexico, she unfortunately morphs into a conventional ‘40’s/’50’s housewife, without much of the agency the wives portrayed at the project in the TV series Manhattan over two seasons work out for a more substantive role. (Their daughter Claire Ulam Wiener and family cooperated on the production.) There’s just a brief re-humanizing when she intervenes in his ongoing quarrels about the hydrogen bomb with Edward Teller (Joel Basman) by setting up a tête-à-tête for the two men through his wife Mici (Camille Moutawakil) – and I hadn’t realized before this film that the Tellers were also Jewish. (preview at 2021 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (2/6/2021)
The Adventures of Saul Bellow - Refreshingly, current seasons of PBS American Masters are finally criticizing their subjects. And Jewish women, some as represented through their sons, had plenty to say about this conservative Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, in interviews with Israeli documentarian Asaf Galay. (There was even an opening warning about offensive language, as controversial excerpts of Bellow’s novels were read.) Most incisive was feminist critic Vivian Gornick recalling and re-affirming her criticism of his work, and his defender then and on screen Philip Roth, both in terms of them as Jewish-American male writers. It was not made clear to me which of his five wives (including Anita Goshkin, Alexandra (Sondra) Tschacbasov, Susan Glassman, and Alexandra Bagdasar), were Jewish, including his final widow/former student Janis Freedman. (12/18/2022)
Advocate (Lea Tsemel, Orehet Din) - So nu: The biographical elements on Israeli attorney Lea Tsemel include interviews with her daughters and female relatives, from her childhood, university protest days where she met her husband. The interview with Arafat’s PLO colleague Hanan Ashraw seems less obligatory than her inclusion in so many such documentaries because she’s so intimately warm about how Tsemel defended her from their student days, and their friendship seems genuine. (preview at 2019 Human Rights Watch Film Festival at Film at Lincoln Center/ IFC Center and at 2019 Other Israel Film Festival - above with ex-Knesset Member Dov Khenin, whose bio-doc Comrade Dov only mentioned Jewish women, like his mother and daughter, in passing, with a glimpse of an opposing female enscarfed religious Zionist MK wanting to rail vs government funding of the The Jerusalem Cinemateque rather than his priority of a minimum wage)
Israel’s Culture Minister Miri Regev objected, without seeing it, when the documentary won The Howard Gilman Award for the Best Israeli Film at the The Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival. This award always comes with a grant of 150,000 shekels ($42,000) from Mifal Hapayis, the national lottery, is supposed to be spent toward helping the film compete for an Oscar, according to Ha’aretz. But people who the liberal newspaper identified as “right-wing activists, the Yahad organization, and the bereaved families’ group called “Choosing Life” objected to this grant, and the lottery is seeking to rescind it, and possibly withdraw its support of the festival films in the future.
2 Emmy nominations for directors Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bella Bellaiche including Best Documentary and Outstanding Politics and Government Documentary ( 7/28/2021)
Africa - Debut director Oren Gerner uses his own family to sensitively explore aging in Israel – starring his family playing versions of themselves. So his mother Maya Gerner plays “Maya”, the wife of the 68 year old “Meir”, who is having difficulty coping with not only retirement from work, but from his long-time volunteer activities in their very close-knit community, almost kibbutz-like, as well as adjusting to the physical realities of getting older. However, she is doing well: she has kept up her part-time counselling work in an office space in their house (that her husband and frequently visiting adult children and little grandchildren barge in or sound-wise), actively participates in community activities such as a chorus, while being far more sensitive to relationships within the neighborhood than he is, especially when her husband gets frustrated and saggressive. (courtesy of Strand Releasing) (5/1/2022)
After Auschwitz A joint biography of six women survivors - Eva Beckmann, Rena Drexler, Renee Firestone, Erika Jacoby, Lili Majzner, and Linda Sherman—provides details of the post experiences not usually revealed in such reminiscences. Produced with the The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, their outlook and perspective on the post-war years (with terrific contextual archival footage) is more distinctly Californian than similar post-Holocaust portraits. (preview courtesy) (4/15/2018)
Aftermath (Pokłosie) (So, nu: While all the current and past vengeance is not shown directly on the screen, the violent truth that comes out about what happened in 1941 is as rife with pre-war sexual tensions, between a gentile Polish farmer and the Jewish woman who rebuffed him for a Jewish man, layered on top of antisemitism, though the testimonies about the village that inspired the film don’t admit to that kind of interactions.) (updated 11/3/2013)
Afternoon Delight (Rebecca Soffer’s interview with writer/director Jill Soloway, for Tablet August 19, 2013, usefully provides background to the Jewish aspects of the women characters.) (8/21/2013)
Afterward (So, nu: Describing herself, director/on-screen interviewer/narrator: “Ofra Bloch, a New York-based psychoanalyst specializing in trauma, was born in Jerusalem to a Jewish family that emigrated to Palestine in the 1920s”. She sets up a false equivalence as her premise. She interviews the grand/children of German Nazis and a reformed Neo-Nazi, talks about her childhood around Israel’s independence, then interviews Palestinian activists for their views on Israel and its people, some who are intransigent and some willing to cooperate towards peace and/or communicate. Continuing the primacy of Holocaust-haunted Ashkenazim, she is oblivious that she’s from a different generation, especially since she’s been living in the U.S. for so long. She’s doesn’t take into account the new generations of religious Zionists/settlers on the Israeli side of the wall, let alone of Sephardim/Mizrahi Jews, or of the Palestinian politics of Fatah vs. Hamas, and now the rise of Islamists. (preview at 2018 DOC NYC Festival) (10/29/2018)
Ahead of the Curve Primarily a bio-doc of lesbian magazine Deneuve/Curve publisher/editor Franco (Frank) Stevens, co-directed/written by her wife Jen Rainin (who puts herself on screen too often), her Jewish identity is only visually inferred. Home movie footage shows then Frances participating in a Jewish wedding in 1986, that she now describes sarcastically: “It was an elaborate, amazing day, living the fairy tale, great guy, great with the family. I had no idea I was gay.” Her sister Robin Goldberg explains the family tensions in 1989 as her husband outed her, and then the extreme reaction, amidst home movie footage of the family Passover seder, from her mother Gloria “Nanny” Postal, such that her daughter fled the house with nothing and nowhere to live. In the Q & A, Stevens expands that her mother called her an embarrasement to the family. Surprisingly, Stevens also said that just like being a lesbian and her disability, “just like being Jewish is part of my whole being, who I am.” Because there is zero reference to that in the rest of the film as she goes on to live an authentic life in San Francisco and risked what money she had on founding the magazine in 1990 – leaving the impression that she left the Jewishness behind, including that when she reconciles with her mother the holiday she brings her first girlfriend home to is Thanksgiving. While Latinas and other Women of Color speak extensively of the importance of lesbian publications including their concerns and viewpoints, her own ethnicity is not comparable. Even as her increasing physical disability from a foot injury that developed into complex regional pain syndrome spurs her to contemplate her legacy and what the lesbian community, especially the younger generations, needs going forward. While she comes to the conclusion that her community no longer needs a magazine, so turns to philanthropy instead, I came away convinced of the continuing need for Lilith Magazine including Jewish lesbians in its purview. (streamed at 2021 ReelAbilities Film Festival New York; wider distribution from June 2021) (5/6/2021)
Ahead of Time (briefly reviewed at 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (Ruth Gruber's personal archive is also a treasure trove of her fascinating life before WWII, not just being touted as the youngest PhD in the world, but how she parlayed one connection after another to explore the Arctic from first the Soviet Union side, then to Alaska, with her wonderful photos and film footage. For all the piles of books we see she has published, her story is stopped when she married and had offspring in her '40's, as if her life ended then.) (1/25/2010)
Ahed's Knee (Ha'berech) (at 2021 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ seen at 2021 Other Israel Film Festival courtesy of KinoLorber Films) (10/30/2021)
Aida’s Secrets - though confusingly edited, Israeli filmmakers filmmakers Alon and Shaul Schwarz track the intriguing family history of their uncle by marriage Izak Szewelwicz, born in a DP camp and adopted in Israel, and who raised family on a kibbutz. While the irony is that the long-lost siblings are not united by a Jewish mother (Israel denied her application for immigration), the interviews and archival footage of what life was like for survivors for two or so years in the biggest DP camp that replaced Bergen-Belsen, especially with the finding of a photo album that matches up. They were young people trying to make up for the horrors and the years of lost time in their lives, images we don’t usually see of women survivors. (11/28/2017)
Ajami (also briefly reviewed at 2010 Annual New York Jewish Film of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: All the women are background motivations to their men's actions, including the several Jewish Israelis. One young woman is a party girl dating "the other" who naively thinks she can bridge the divide, even as her boyfriend's Arab friends sneer about her to him in Arabic right in front of her. While the cop's sister tries to keep the family balanced, his mother is, understandably, hysterical with worry for her missing younger son, grasping for the slightest fantastical straws.) (2/3/2010)
Debut director Violeta Salama, writing with Isa Sánchez, fondly depicts a colorful mélange of Sephardic Jews (like her paternal family) and their identity choices in a picturesque location not usually seen on screen in a positive context. Her hometown of Melilla, a Spanish outpost in northern Morocco, is known more for the migrants trying to climb over its encircling fence.
Central is “Alegría” (played by Mexican actress Cecilia Suárez), above right on the poster, a very independent prodigal doctor who had fled the traditional Orthodox strictures of this Jewish community to Mexico, where she raised on her own her daughter “Sarah”. Her now estranged daughter, an adult herself with a baby, rebelled by making aliyah to a kibbutz in Israel. (Is “Sarah”s hair scarfed for religious or agricultural purposes?) The extended family is returning for the wedding of her niece “Yael” (Laia Manzanares), the blonde on the poster’s lower left, to a long-haired local guy “Jacobo” (Emilio Palacios), who explains to his friends their brief courtship at a Jewish match-making camp. Arriving days later is her brother “David” whose bedroom-full of Judaica “Alegría” had locked up to ignore after he made aliyah to Jerusalem; his Orthodox wife wears her hair enscarfed, and brings a blonde wig for her nervous daughter to wear after her marriage. (Her father grumbles that she could have found a Jewish husband back home.) “Alegría” resists having to make arrangements for the religious wedding, including coordinating with the synagogue, whose rabbi is now her old schoolmate “Simón” (Leonardo Sbaraglia), supervising kashrut of the refreshments, and reserving the mikveh. Welcoming solutions are worked out around her intransigence, with the help of a few spliffs.
“Alegría” is more comfortable with the other two women seen in the poster - her Muslim cook “Dunia” (Sarah Perles) she mentors for further education, and her Christian BFF “Marian” (Mara Guill), and their families, each with their own music in the soundtrack. In turn, “Yael” and “Dunia” laughingly bond over a hamsa necklace that the Muslim identifies with Fatima and the Jew with Miriam. The lively story, through characters’ interactions, and “Alegría” explicitly, emphasizes that this is an enclave where the people of all three faiths get along. She entertains the women at their “Berber” bachelorette party with her version of a legend. In her telling, the beautiful sorceress “Kandicha” marries a husband of each faith, and stopped war so her sons by each would not get killed. Then “Alegría” has to make peace with her conflicts within her own Jewish family for a satisfyingly happy celebration. (Awarded “Ronit Elkabetz, A”H Rising Star Director” at 2022 New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival/ seen at 2023 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum) (1/13/2023)
Aliyah (also briefly reviewed at 2013 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: While the primary French Jewish woman is an EX girlfriend, she is an attractive teacher at a Jewish school and is warm about helping the French Jewish hunk reconnect with his Jewish ethnic and religious roots, after some she gets over her surprise, even as Israelis at the embassy are officiously discouraging.) (updated 6/21/2013)
All About Nina Barcelona-born debut director Eva Vives seems to have made lead character “Nina Geld” (a terrific Mary Louise Winstead) Jewish because she probably thinks from the movies, or as an NYU student, that so many damaged aspiring stand-up comedians are Jewish. In the small role of her New York mother “Debora”, Camryn Manheim makes credible a woman consumed with guilt for not recognizing her husband’s abuse of her daughter and the continuing damage he caused, such that she’s unsure how to help. Kudos to production designer Kelly Fallon for completely creating an apartment environment that says more about her than the mother gets to say. The joke of naming “Nina”s therapist “Dr. Streisand” (as played by Grace Chen) falls flat. (preview and coda at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) (4/30/2018)
All Good Things (I'm not sure that the audience would perceive the putative Jewish women. The names are changed from the case of the wayward scion of the Durst family, one of the Jewish real estate dynasties in NYC—even into the 1970's the Metropolitan Museum only took these families' money via a separate "Real Estate Board"—with the Dursts here called "the Marks". There's the usual dead mother who was presumably Jewish -- whose suicide that he witnessed is blamed for his unbalance even as Dad finally explains: I thought if she saw you she wouldn't jump.. His good friend is a woman, "Deborah Lehrman" (played by Lily Rabe), comparable in real life to Susan Berman, described in the press notes as "the flamboyant journalist. . .daughter of a notorious Las Vegas gangster", Davey [sic?] Berman, and shown here as his co-conspirator who later shakes him down for money. Despite her "Jewish Mafia princess" sobriquet she was evidently later broke and Berman received two checks from him for $25,000 before she was shot dead in her Hollywood house just after the police were due to question her about his wife's disappearance 18 years earlier, and "Lehrman"s involvement and her murder here are shown as directly instigated by the "Marks" character. But here there's only a hint this long-haired brunette –who doesn't seem to age over time or has a lousy straight wig and bangs--is Jewish, as she calls his "sweet" blonde wife "Catherine McCarthy" a shiksa: Doesn't she know how fucked up you are? She offers to set him up with "a great therapist", then we see him undergo loud scream therapy. (He is fascinated to marry into a ham-eating family, and his dad's threat on the tennis court: She'll never going to be one of us. has multiple meanings.) Even less putative Jewish is the brunette Westchester neighbor who befriends the wife and introduces her to cocaine, "Lauren Fleck", played by Kristen Wiig, or maybe she just talks like a New Yorker.) (11/21/2010)
All The Beauty And The Bloodshed - In their bio-doc, director Laura Poitras and producer Nan Goldin only provide two visual, negative references that the Goldin (or Golden) family were Jewish, that probably go by most viewers. First, Nan recalls her suburban Boston mother sending her off to a foster home at age 14 under the auspices of the Jewish Adoption Agency On Beacon Hill: “The foster mother of the house straightened my hair because she wanted me to be a WASP.” After two explicit hours of detailing Nan’s art work photographing in the demi-monde her subsequent abuse, sex work, addictions, non-binary sexual relationships, and activism against the Sackler family, she gets from her father the documentation of her late sister’s psychiatric issues. Among the reports seen on screen is one from the early 1960s that describes the rebellious teenager as “a 15 year old Jewish girl”. At one point, Nan is almost sympathetic to her non-nurturing mother as herself a victim of sexual abuse by a family member, whose PTSD was set off when her daughters entered puberty. (at 2022 DOC NYC Film Festival/ courtesy of Neon) (11/27/2022)
Almost Peaceful (Un monde presque paisible) (So, nu: French Jewish women's role in contributing to a return in normality post-war is largely procreative, but having children is seen as a statement against antisemitism and the joy that children bring the survivors is palpable.)
Alone in Berlin Opening in 1940. There is one elderly Jewish woman still hiding in the top floor at 55 Jablonski Street, in this first English-language adaptation of a novelization of a Gestapo file (I haven’t read the book yet to see if the character was in the book). “Frau Rosenthal” (played by Monique Chaumette) is near-senility, and is being protected by the letter carrier “Eva Kluge” (played by Katrin Pollitt), who brings her food (just like the policeman father of a colleague, he claims, brought food from his mother’s grocery store to a neighbor), by the hero wife “Anna Quangel” (Emma Thompson) and “Judge Fromm” (Joachim Bissmeier) on the floors below when her apartment is robbed by the ex-husband of the postal employee. When she protests to her neighbor that she has to stay in her apartment “for when her husband comes home”, the judge sorrowfully tells her that he isn’t. With her pet parakeet distracting the Gestapo when they come to get her and the thief who tried to get her property instead of them, she manages to jump out the hall window – making her own choice. (seen courtesy IFC Films) (2/14/2017)
Alone Together - Directors Maya Tiberman and Kineret Hay-Gillor intimately show us Israelis rarely seen on film, in verité style. The central focus is on Ravit Reichman, a large, chain-smoking retired career soldier about to celebrate her 50th birthday. She volunteers as a cook, supervises the kitchen, and warmly greets the customers, especially on holidays, for an organization [the website looks misleadingly Haredi] that provides free meals for the poor. Then she goes to a hospital nursery to take over from another woman volunteer for First Hug to provide attention, care, and body contact to abandoned infants until late at night. Her maternal warmth overflows, but a health problem left her sterile and she is considered too old and too single to adopt. She looks into being a foster parent, but the orientation makes clear that the child could be placed just temporarily – “They’ll take the child and I’ll be devastated.” So she gets another tattoo and continues her mitzvoth. (preview at 2022 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum) (1/25/2022)
Israeli writer/director Ofir Raul Graizer creates a tragic romantic triangle as lush as Douglas Sirk and his acolyte Todd Haynes. The appealing characters’ colorful environs reflect their present lives and their families’ pasts that help determine their fates.
First we meet “Eli” (Michael Moshonov) gently coaching at a fluidly blue pool in Chicago, where he fled far away from his violent father. We first hear about his childhood friend “Yotam” (Ofri Biterman) through his kindly father “Moti” (Moni Moshonov), who announces his son’s engagement. The fiancée “Iris” (Oshrat Ingedashet) is first seen enveloped in the greenery of their florist shop, redolent of her parents’ Ethiopian heritage, who have instead adapted to Israel by becoming Ultra-Orthodox. As the central female romantic interest, her past and present are unusual for Israeli films.
Graizer also finds unusual contrasts to set their lives. “Iris” can make the desert bloom. “Yotam” lives in the Tel Aviv “bubble”, but is happiest at home in his bright, sunny kitchen in Jaffa. “Eli”, whose Israeli identity as “Ilai” is too subtle for American audiences who would not be surprised he changed “Greenberg” to “Cross”, prefers taking them beyond Haifa to isolated preserves of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority not usually seen on screen, gorgeously filmed by Graizer’s repeat cinematographer Omri Aloni. These quests to such remote locales Graizer considers a tribute to the friendships in Lord of the Rings. But the context makes “Eli”s self-sacrificing relationship with “Yotam” layered like the Biblical Jonathan and David. (As well as resonating with Graizer’s first film The Cakemaker, one of my faves of its year.) Though his selections of particular Israeli pop songs for each character will go by American audiences for their significance, “Iris” beautifully sings his original song about home to “Yotam” in a poignant scene.
Even with “chapters” that roll the number of (more than nine) months between, the sensitive layers keep the An Affair to Remember-like melodrama from overwhelming the affecting story. (at 2023 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum/ courtesy of Menemsha Films) (1/23/2023)
American Muslim (at 2019 DOC NYC Festival and seen at 2020 Cinematters: Social Justice Film Festival) (1/31/2020)
American Promise (previewed at 2013 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (So, nu: The attitudes of the Jewish female classmates at Manhattan private school Dalton are implied when one of the then-13-year old African-American boys followed in the school’s diversity experiment from age 6 - 18 mournfully comments that the girls at the many “bar mitzvahs” [sic] he’s invited to won’t dance with him, even with the importuning of the DJs, or chat with him on social media. He and his mother Michèle Stephenson, the film’s co-director, derisively comment on one girl’s invitation as unncecesarily extravagant. While her Ivy League-educated, dark-skinned husband recounts to their son his father’s experience with overt racism, the light-skinned mother vaguely confides about her troubled parents without ever referring to a possible mixed race background as influencing her racial prism. The director/parents’ lack of comparisons presumes racial reasons in dealing with schools where I found similar issues with my kids that was more about gender and being out-of-the-norm, specifically about being gifted or a stutterer.) (updated 10/18/2013)
Ana Arabia (previewed at 2014 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: commentary forthcoming on the Jewish woman)
The Ancestral Sin (Sallah, Po Ze Eretz Yisrael) (Director David Deri interviewed his mother extensively about her experiences living first in Morocco, then reluctant emigration to Israel in the 1950’s, and forced placement in the development town of Yeruham in the Negev Desert, as well as many other women. Of particular note, she and another elderly woman chortled that the other woman was a paid collaborator to help get her off the transport into the bleak settlement that was nowhere near or like the location the Jewish Agency has promised – but they had long ago passed forgiveness to be best friends for decades. What they went through on the ground is contrasted with the “smoking gun” trove of documents he amazingly got de-classified from government and Jewish Agency files, though some are still kept confidential, that show the explicit bias of the Ashkenazi Jews in charge against the “Oriental Jews” (even calling them “Arabs”) from North Africa with racist terms, expectations, and disregard to order them around as they wanted to fit security, military, and master planning objectives, by destroying Arab villages to prevent return and covering the borders. In a powerful scene, the primarily female elderly who went through this watch his footage highlighting the memos and reports, including the retaliatory orders against their own protests, with shock, tears, and anger; they will be demanding next steps in apologies, reparations, or more.) (NY premiere seen at 2018 New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival also screened at 2018 Other Israel Film Festival) (3/13/2018)
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn Though Daniel Taplitz’s script is based on Assi Dayan’s 1997 Israeli film The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum (Mar Baum), none of the women appear to be Jewish. The men are explicitly Jewish, particularly the Altmann brothers – “Henry”, with many Yiddishisms thrown in (played by Robin Williams) and “Aaron”, with a kippah for no reason (played by Peter Dinklage), but not the mother “Bette” (Melissa Leo) or “Dr. Sharon Gill” from Wisconsin (Mila Kunis), or the son’s dancing girlfriend “Adela” (Sutton Foster). (5/8/2014)
#Anne Frank - Parallel Stories (on Netflix) An ongoing angst among Jews is how to keep making the Holocaust relevant to the next generations. Schools the world over depend on The Diary of Anne Frank, to the point of fetishism about one girl, to represent the whole experience. The diary is a taking-off point in this mixed-genre documentary to represent young women of today and within the Nazi maw. To make an old-fashioned diary relevant, a young woman (played by Martina Gatti) texts on screen to Anne in the same way that Anne wrote to “Kitty”, and follows the Frank sisters’ path geographically. Produced in commemoration of what would have been Anne’s 90th birthday, Dame Helen Mirren narrates the bit confusing non-chronological on-screen biography, by tying together Anne’s experiences before, in hiding, and after capture, with the intimate memories of five 90 year old women Holocaust survivors who were at the same places at the same time at the same teen age, including at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany: Arianna Szörenyi, Sarah Lichtsztejn-Montard, Helga Weiss, and sisters Andra and Tatiana Bucci. (One remembers meeting her.) In its determination to reach out to young viewers, the survivors are also proudly interviewed with their children and grandchildren, who discuss their feelings and continuing responsibilities for understanding and educating about what their relative went through. Male historians add additional context and facts. (7/10/2020)
Anvil! The Story Of Anvil (So, nu: With the Iraqis in Heavy Metal in Baghdad saying the authorities there were suspicious that head-bangers looked to be davening, praying like Orthodox Jews, one wonders if there's a PhD thesis there about heavy metal's connection to Holocaust victims, as opposed to the stereotyped connections with misappropriation of swastikas. But I have to love a movie where the heroine is a Jewish woman – here "Lips"' older sister Rhonda Kudlow. Not only is it her money that saves the day so they can record an album in England, but clearly her and their siblings' love, loyalty and support to invest in him has grounded the musician, regardless of how totally conventional they look compared to him.) (4/10/2009)
Antarctica (So, nu: In what the director terms a tribute to John Waters and Divine but comes across more like a thwarted transgender character, the gay siblings’ mother is played by drag artist Noam Huberman who performs as Miss Laila Carry. Perhaps that was supposed to make more humorous an extended scene at a hair salon that is full of exaggerated stereotyped exchanges between Jewish mothers trying to match up their gay children in hopes of bringing forth grandchildren.)
Apples From the Desert (Tapoukhim min ha'midbar) (seen at 2015 Israel Film Center Festival) Based on a short story by Savyon Liebrecht, not a novel as described in the promotion, the plot of a young Orthodox woman (Rebecca Abarnabel played by Reymonde Amsallem), meeting a hunky kibbutznik “Dubi” (I can’t figure out the actor) and running off with him was enhanced by seeing it at the JCC of the Upper West Side, in two ways. First, the Festival director actually thought that by scheduling the screening I attended at 5 pm on a Friday in June it would attract local Orthodox attendees who would still have able to get home by the start of Shabbat, was of course unfulfilled; so the audience was very secular in their lives and antipathy for an Orthodox father, who, of course, rigidly restricts his wife and is arranging a marriage against his daughter’s wishes, with the mother torn between the two of them (and her broaching their divide is quite sweet). (The daughter is introduced as rebellious immediately because she works, in the office of a school. And because she gradually gets involved with a secular dance class.) Second, the Q & A with a co-director (I’ll have to find my notes to figure out which one was able to be in NYC) was very helpful, because he explained that the 87 minute version we viewed was in fact an edited, international edition cut from a TV mini-series, and was based on the play adaptation, written by the novelist. Unfortunately, what was missing was the third from the kibbutzniks’ point of view, showing that they were just as rigid in their determined secularism as the Orthodox family was in their observance. There were hints that even though she stays on the farm, “Rivka” finds a middle road, continuing some religious observance and rituals on the kibbutz, and I wonder if that was also cut, so I don’t feel I can formally review such a truncated version. (10/9/2015)
Arabani (previewed at 2013 Other Israel Film Festival) (So, nu: Ironically, the Israeli Jewish woman who caused all these problems is never seen; she’s only at the other end of the phone when her kids call her.) (12/4/2013)
Arabic Friday (short) Director Gal Rosenbluth based the characters “Naomi” and “Marwan” on her and her partner Nayef Hammoud, whose autobiographically-inspired short The Day My Father Dies was also shown, who have attempted to cross-communicate by only speaking his native Arabic that day to improve her language facility, resulting in the only day they don’t get along. (seen at 2019 Other Israel Film Festival) (11/17/2019)
The Armor Of Light (So, nu: Over halfway through the documentary I felt sucker-punched – turns out when Rev. Rob Schenk, the central figure with the tortured soul about gun control, referred to being converted to evangelism in Buffalo, NY he didn’t mean born again – he was Jewish. His mother was a Catholic convert (which is all he says about her), in order to marry his Jewish father who kept a scrapbook on Holocaust news reports.) (previewed at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/2/2015)
Arranged (12/14/2007) (emendations coming after 6/14/2008) (So, nu: I do get annoyed at semi-autobiographical indie movies about Orthodox women that posit their choices as being between, here, Ditmas Park and Sodom & Gomorrah. There is a whole world out there from modern-Orthodox to Reformed that could offer them warmth and family etc. etc. within a moral, supportive, Jewish environment.)
The Arrest (Hama’Atzar) (short film at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival) The reverse futuristic premise of occupation is confusingly ineffective because I actually thought the obviously Orthodox settlers were being legitimately arrested by leftist soldiers, as the mother lies to hide her accused terrorist son. (5/2/2015)
The Art of Spiegelman (Art Spiegelman, Traits de mémoire) (briefly in Reviewed: New York Jewish Film Festival 2013 of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (2/19/2013)
Arthur Miller: Writer (So nu: Director Rebecca Miller, who doesn’t seem to have a sense of her Jewish identity, draws out a new revelation about Miller’s Jewish background in talking to him and his brother and sister (actress Joan Copeland) for this long gestating HBO biographical documentary– the influence of his mother Augusta Barnett, seen in a few old fraying photographs. They describe an arranged marriage between a literary, artistically minded force of nature to a barely literate, ambitious businessman. Though his plays are dominated by father/son relationships, the writer fondly recalled days spent with her when she colluded in his playing hooky, and admired how fast she read novels, and remembered what she’d read, and that she got her husband to go to the theater weekly, bringing home the song sheets so the family could sing them together. But he also remembers how she bitterly blamed her husband for his business’s failure from the Depression that seriously declined their standard of living (from a Central Park-view apartment on 110th St. with a chauffeur down to Brooklyn and selling her jewelry), a feeling that does resonate in his plays, though the wives are ultimately loyal. It is pointed out that only The Price has a Jewish cadence he knew well, though not his mother’s. While most analysts characterize his marriages as to schicksas, he enthusiastically identifies as Jewish and sees his Middle Western Catholic first wife literary publisher, his second wife Marilyn Monroe from an abused childhood and paparazzi-tormented Hollywood bait, and his third wife photographer Inge Morath, a German daughter of a Nazi officer, as rebelliously attracted to him as a Jewish intellectual. (previewed at 2017 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (updated 11/29/2017)
The Art of Silence (L’art du silence) (short version) This bio-doc on Marcel Marceau’s life expands beyond his war-time experiences portrayed in Resistance. In addition to archival performance and interview footage, his life story and theatrical philosophy is told by his wife and daughters, who carry on his school and theater work in mime. One daughter also comments on how her son, since he was little, continues her father’s traditions through dance. (courtesy of Seventh Art Releasing) (3/11/2022)
Asia Debut writer/director Ruthy Pribar maturely sets up a very original mother “Asia” (Alena Yiv) and teen daughter “Vika” (Shira Haas) relationship, especially as Russian immigrants in Israel dependent on each other, and the male/female friends they can frankly make and keep. I appreciate that Pribar was inspired by her family’s personal experience with her sister’s illness. But the film sinks into what comes across as maudlin “movie star disease” pathos, even as it makes a strong point about making decisions. However, with all the Tribeca and nine Israeli Ophir awards to women crew (Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress, Cinematographer – first female winner, Editing, Casting, Original Score – first female winner, Art Design, and Makeup Artist) it garnered, I’m way in the minority of viewers. (preview at 2020/replay at 2021 Tribeca Film Festival/ at 2021 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (streaming through Menemsha Films) (5/7/2020; updated 3/10/2021)
As I Am: The Life and Times of DJ AM (So, nu: The mother of Adam Goldstein comes across as a New York Jew in an early tight close-up interview, as she twice describes her very complicated relationship with her gay husband and the brief fling with his biological father, about when she told them all the truth, and is portrayed as really clueless when she dumps him into a notorious facility for drug rehab when he was very young. His older sister may be seen as well heard (the audio and visual IDs are erratic, including of all the blonde models he dated so I couldn’t tell if any were Jewish), but it’s quite a ways into the film until an interview is included where he explicitly identifies himself as having been raised Jewish by his by then single mom, including attending Hebrew School, which adds cynicism to his description of a lavish, over-the-top bat mitzvah he DJd as a career highpoint, though his memory that her father was the inventor of the bulletproof vest doesn’t seem to be correct.) (previewed at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/2/2015)
Ask Dr. Ruth (previewed at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival) – four generations of Jewish women are seen or discussed in this bio-doc – her beloved, indulgent Orthodox grandmother and her mother in photographs before they disappeared into the Holocaust, Dr. Ruth, and her daughter Miriam.
In this PBS interview with Dr. Ruth Westheimer on the 4/3/2019 Amanpour and Company, they well summarize the bio-doc, particularly its Jewishness. (4/6/2019 and updated 12/31/2019)
Ask the Dust (So, nu: The Jewish woman here just comes across as bizarre rather than enhancing the theme about the toll of accepting one's ethnicity within the California Dream. Or something like that.)
As Lilith (previewed at 2011 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (Director Eytan Harris's camera, somewhat intrusively, captures a feisty woman at a very painful conjunction of gender, religious plurality and motherhood at its most emotional within Israeli media, politics and law. She has antagonized Orthodox Jews because: 1) her daughter committed suicide, 2) she wants to cremate her remains, 3) she is a free-spirited pagan, kinda wiccan, with her own nature-worshiping rituals. (1/28/2011)
As Seen Through These Eyes - Filmmaker Hilary Helstein’s ten year effort to find original art by Holocaust survivors and interview them about how they used their skills during and after as witnesses (including at Nuremberg trials) and for therapy is moving testimony. (She credits historical scholar consultant Sybil Milton, in memoriam before the film opened in 2009, as crucial to these efforts.) While her timing was fortunate in being able to speak with them before it was too late (and after many of their lost works were found), the vividness of their art and their stories behind them are striking testaments to the human spirit even in hell. Among the almost dozen survivors participating are three women, none who were older than 20 in various concentration camps: Ela Weissberger, Trudie Strobel, and Dina Gottliebova-Babbitt (without her follow-up story of trying to get her recovered art back from The Auschwitz Museum). Several of the artists cite the inspiration of Friedl Dicker Brandeis as their art teacher in Theresienstadt, and a selection of children’s art is seen among the 45 images in the documentary, including by Dita Kraus and Netty Vanderpol. (courtesy of Menemsha Films) (updated 1/25/2023)
Assisted Living (So, nu: All the reviewers have identified the lead woman character "Mrs. Pearlman" as being Jewish, though she is played by Maggie Riley. Doubtless this is because of the character's name and that the writer/director is Elliot Greenebaum. However, it was filmed at a Masonic rather than a Jewish facility (in Kentucky) and the religious services and chaplain are clearly Christian, and there are no Yiddishisms or any other Jewish references in the script.)
The Attack (So, nu: Israeli actress Evgenia Dodina plays “Kim” (in the novel, her last name is “Yehuda”, the doctor’s colleague at the hospital, who is embarrassed by the prejudices he has to face, every day and especially after the incident. There’s a hint of her attraction to him, though he’s a shocked widower, and she loyally stands by him and sympathetically tries to help him at work and at home, despite peer pressures.) (6/25/2013)
At the Heart of Gold (So, nu: Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman became a hero to Jewish women when she came forward to forcefully accuse the team doctor of abuse and the complicit leadership of U.S. gymnastics and U.S. Olympics. I’m not sure what other Jewish women were also victims and spokeswomen.) (preview at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival) (4/7/2019)
Author: The JT Leroy Story Though I have no confirmation, it appears that Laura Albert, the woman behind the scandalous creation of this persona/pseudonym and writer in this and other voices is at least a putative Jew – born in Brooklyn to a father named Irwin. (8/25/2016)
Autism In Love (So, nu: The St. Paul family is Jewish, with interviews with Gita when she’s already in hospice, and Stephen’s mother trying to cope with the return of her son as she ages.) (previewed at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival) (4/16/2015)
Autism: The Musical (Missed when it was the talk of Tribeca Film Festival, so I caught it on HBO) (The dynamic centerpiece is Elaine Hall, or "Coach E," the founder of The Miracle Project, mother of Neal, adopted from Russia to connect to her ethnic heritage. Like most of the mothers of the autistic children featured, she becomes more than a bit monomaniacal and single, but unexpectedly finds a man willing to take both of them on, and she remarries. The film spotlights how she draws her son into the Jewish holidays, particularly Hanukkah and Passover, even over the discomfort of her new in-laws. My admiration for our cousin’s strenuous educational efforts with her autistic son many years ago before programs like these were available was reinforced. The deleted scenes available On Demand, and presumably on the DVD, include Shira, another single Jewish mother of an autistic daughter, with more kids and more Jewish observance.) (3/29/2008)
A Woman, A Part I’ve been following Maggie Siff’s career since her stint on Nip/Tuck’s Rachel Ben Natan, as an actress in general, and for playing at least putative Jewish women. She’s a producer and the star of artist’s Elisabeth Subrin writing/directing debut. From the press notes: “Casting Anna [Baskin], the film’s lead…Subrin wanted a very strong, smart Jewish actress who could bring both intensity and intelligence to the difficult role of a woman at a crossroads. ‘I knew I needed an incredibly smart and subtle actor. It’s very challenging to play a complex, shut-down woman in crisis who's also professionally successful and privileged — the 'empathy' card works against her. I saw her character as a metaphor of woman general in a sexist and performative culture, but didn't want her reduced to a mission statement or cliché.’ None of the actresses who Subrin and [producer Scott] Macaulay considered in the early casting process seemed like the right fit for Anna. Then Subrin remembered the department store heiress in the first season of Mad Men played by Maggie Siff, and immediately realized the actress would be perfect. Before they even sent the script to her agent, Subrin by chance signed into a yoga class in Los Angeles while in town for a test shoot, and there, standing next to her at the sign-in desk, was Siff. One yoga class and two coffees later, they were discussing schedule. A year and a half following, the film was made. Says Subrin, ‘Maggie's subtlety and technically very precise and considered work kept the film from becoming histrionic or melodramatic.’”
Ironically, her character “Anna Baskin” is a TV actress in the kind of pedestrian hit show Siff has not been stuck in,, and she escapes this stultifying contract in L.A. to revisit her artistic roots with her two 1990’s friends from a downtown experimental theater troupe. She discovers that “Isaac” (played by John Ortiz) has written a new play based on their experiences together (including a confusing romantic triangle), with a character specifically like her: because the character is a Jewish woman from Connecticut, and borrowing from other aspects of her personal life. She yells at him in summarizing the character – in a way every stereotyped Jewish woman on TV I describe in my Lilith Watch: Critical Guide To Jewish Women On TV, though I all could catch to remember was “selfish”. Like in all such references, he defends her as “smart”, the only specific word I can recall, as well other familiar positive stereotypes. Maybe I can get the script sometime to be able to quote this unfortunate scene completely. (3/24/2017)
Aya (seen in Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015 – Live Action) Acclaimed by the promoter as “a first and historic nomination for an Israeli film” in this category, written/directed by Mihal Brezis & Oded Binnun, with Tom Shoval, who are expanding it into a feature film, this is a suggestive Brief Encounter between the titular woman (played by Sarah Adler) and “Thomas” (played by one of my favorite Danish actors, Ulrich Thomsen, of Banshee. It uses the Tel Aviv airport to Jerusalem setting and the context of the The Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition more than anything particularly revealing about the central woman who is playing out a childhood fantasy.) (2/22/2015)
Babi Yar. Context - Among the extraordinary footage and images that documentarian Sergey Loznitsa found in public and private German, Russian, and Ukrainian archives, produced for the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, were still photographs of Jewish women, with their children, as they first gathered, on the top of the ravine, then were forced to walk through a gauntlet of German soldiers while undressing, to be lined up naked at the rim for execution.
[stills courtesy of Atoms & Void]
I hadn’t seen in a documentary before the explicit “’Witness statement of Dina Promicheva at the trial of Case No 1679 on the atrocities committed by the fascist invaders on the territory of Ukraine SSR’ Kiev Jan 24, 1946”. She doesn’t specifically identify as Jewish, but says she threw away her ID (presumably the ethnically labeled kennkarte though the English subtitle translates as “passport”) and convinced the Ukrainian in a German policeman’s uniform, among the German soldiers, that she was Ukrainian. For the Soviet audience in the packed courtroom, she makes a point of saying she showed him her trade union card and proof of employment. What she saw, even “with my head in my knees all day”, and her testimony of how she bravely survived jumping into the ravine full of bodies, including withstanding soldiers standing on her to be sure she was dead, is as riveting as she is calm and clear spoken. The witness statement of Prof. Vladimir Mikhailovich Artobelevsky at the same trial includes his emotional reaction at seeing the despair of an elderly woman reproaching God in Yiddish. (at 2022 First Look Festival of Museum of the Moving Image) (3/14/2022)
Loznitsa has next put together The Kiev Trial for the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, per Atoms & Void: “The Kiev Trial, also known as the “Kiev Nuremberg”, took place in January of 1946 in the Soviet Union, and was one of the first post-war trials convicting German Nazis and their collaborators. 15 criminals, guilty of atrocities, which were later identified by the Nuremberg trials as “crimes against humanity”, faced justice in case No.1679 “On the atrocities committed by fascist invaders on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR.” Using unique, previously unseen, archive footage, Sergei Loznitsa reconstructs key moments of the proceedings, including statements of the defendants and testimonies of the witnesses, survivors of Auschwitz and Babi Yar among them. The film lays bare the “banality of evil” and is devastatingly relevant today, as Ukrainian people are once again being subjected to the violence of barbarian invaders. 106 min, b/w, 5.1
The Netherlands, Ukraine”.
Bachelor Days Are Over (Pourquoi tu pleures?) (previewed at 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (An annoyingly immature, philandering Jewish groom is at the center, though the film is written and directed by Katia Lewkowicz. It’s not clear if the pretty lover (played by Sarah Adler) who distracts him with sex and singing is Jewish, but the Jewish women are substantial, if inscrutable-- his harried sister (played by Emmanuelle Devos, who frequently play a Jewish character in French movies) keeps bailing him out of trouble amidst her own work, child care and home responsibilities, and his mother (played by Nicole Garcia) who, unstereotypically, doesn’t seem very enthused about his upcoming nuptials. That may be because his somewhat mysteriously independent bride-to-be (played by Valérie Donzelli) is an exotic-looking Sephardi Israeli whose relatives descend on them with no English or French, and almost tribal ethnic habits.) (1/21/2012)
Back to the Fatherland - My cousin Hila Golan’s relevant theater work in Berlin, in partnership with Ariel Nil Levy, includes Schweigeminute, as seen in this trailer, which subsequently won first prize at the 2010 Acco Festival of Alternative Israeli Theater, and discussed in this interview) (preview courtesy First Run Features) (6/28/2019)
Bag of Marbles (Un sac de billes) (So, nu: The parents have small roles in the film (and the memoir). As a Russian Jew, the mother is portrayed with curly brown hair – and does a feisty defense of her fake papers to the Gestapo that she is really related to the Czar’s family. In the memoir, one of the older brothers relates that he was able to get her out of Drancy (the first time) by cashing in various favors to get that story believed there, too. Evidently, that no longer worked later in the war, though she did survive for a long life with her children, though not her husband who was transported and didn’t return. Unlike most such films, the mother does have a separate identity, as a violinist, that figures in her love story with her husband; Joffo went on to write the story of her earlier life from Russia to Paris as a musician in Anna et son orchestra (1976), which does not appear to be available yet in English as Anna and Her Orchestra, and La Vieille dame de Djerba (1984), also not in English, about meeting an old woman in Tunisia who knew his mother and her family. The other Jewish females seen in the film, seen as they are being rounded up, are the most vulnerable and heart-breaking, elderly and mothers with small children. Not mentioned in the film is that their original plan was to join an older sister in Vichy – but she was terrified that their presence would blow her cover to collaborators who would snitch on her, so they only hid there for one night.
An interesting aside, Fanny’s Journey (Le voyage de Fanny) based on a very similar autobiographical novel, is a superior film because the danger the fleeing kids face is palpable, was directed by Lola Doillon, the daughter of the director of the first filmed version of this book. (updated 3/26/2018)
The Balcony Movie (Film Balkonowy) - Among the 2,000 intriguing people who revealed themselves to director Paweł Łoziński when walking by his Warsaw apartment over two and a half years is a shy young woman who sweetly sings “Shalom Aleichem”. Of course, she may not be Jewish, but she is a contrast to the several Catholics, such as the woman with a rosary (who is shocked that he hasn’t been baptized and has never said the prayer; though he says he’s agnostic, he doesn’t tell her he identifies as “a Polish Jew”) and a man who compares the experience of talking into the director’s lowered microphone to being in the confessional. The charming, humanistic film is an extended version of a short commissioned for HBO Poland’s At Home anthology, a project which challenged filmmakers to comment on the pandemic and the isolation it forced upon people. (at 2022 First Look Festival at Museum of the Moving Image) (3/16/2022)
Band Aid - Zoe Lister-Jones frequently plays Jewish women characters, but leaves herself somewhat ambiguous in a film she wrote/directed/produced/co-wrote many of the songs, and starred in – with an all-female crew. The closest “Anna” gets to revealing she is Jewish is when she and her husband “Ben” (Adam Pally) are looking around in their storage garage and find the yarmulkes from their wedding. (She also has a lot of Jewish friends with kids, including a lesbian couple.) But his mother “Shirley” is played by an unusually restrained and finally sympathetic Susie Essman in her most dramatic role, after first being portrayed as an stereotyped domineering mother-of-adult-son, when she gives him advice on coping with marriage after miscarriage. The script also throws in a couple of ironic jokes about the Holocaust, ISIS and 9/11. (12/9/2017)
The Band’s Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret) (12/7/2007) (emendations coming after 2/7/2008)
Bang! The Bert Berns Story The brief interviews with his sister (Sylvia Levine) and her daughter were usual Jewish background interviews on someone who was involved in the early rock ‘n’ roll biz centered around the Brill Building, but –surprise- a central figure in this bio-doc directed by his son Brett and based on the biography Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues by Joel Selvin, is his very Jewish wife Ilene Stuart Berns. The music industry veterans fondly recall her as a hot blonde who was a go-go dancer at Morris Levy’s club The Roundtable! Not the usual intro for a gal who was living on Long Island with her parents, and only happened to go into the city on her day off to give her newly divorced sister a night on the town. Let alone about love at first sight though she was about a dozen years younger than him when she warily agreed to come over to his penthouse apartment. She is a marvelous raconteur, and comes across as a tough broad, in telling how she was involved in the business side of his songwriting and finances, while having kids, and being slow to realize how connected to the mob some of his friends were. Her daughter Cassandra adds a couple of touching anecdotes. Interviews with the late fellow Brill Building Jewish songwriter Ellie Greenwich are also included. (previewed at 2016 DOC NYC Festival) (10/25/2016)
Barbara Rubin and the Exploding New York Underground (at 2018 DOC NYC Festival)
(copyright/preview courtesy of Juno Films)
Concurrent example of how Rubin gets forgotten: In The New York Times obit by Neil Genzlinger of filmmaker Peter Whitebread, 6/21/2019: “[H]e took his camera to a 1965 festival at Royal Albert Hall in London that featured both British and American poets, including Adrian Mitchell, Michael Horovitz and Allen Ginsberg. The resulting film, Wholly Communion, captured what turned out to be a seminal event in the emerging counterculture movement” – Rubin germinated and produced this International Poetry Incarnation. (6/21/2019)
Barney’s Version (So, nu: In the wonderfully satiric Mordecai Richler novel that is far more reflective on Jewish Montrealers than the film (one has to strain to hear his blond best friend's full name in the movie to know he's Jewish too), all three of his wives are Jewish. The first turns out to be a self-loathing identity denier due to a horrifically restrictive and unsympathetic Orthodox upbringing. The second is a loquacious, shop-a-holic tied to her rich, doting parents, but he is also sympathetic that she balloons into post-divorce obesity because of his cruel rejection. Not only is the lovely third wife Jewish in the book-- not in the film-- but she participates in raising their kids Jewish, and is comfortable with his roots. She is a cultured intellectual radio DJ/interviewer with a sense of humor and tolerance for hockey, who re-marries to a younger, handsome man. Did the scriptwriter and/or director think only a gentile would be credible?) (12/3/2010)
Jan Lisa Huttner interviewed director Richard Lewis in Chicago on January 19, 2011, who defended the changes: "I didn't want to make the film too parochial. . . I didn't want this idea that Barney was just chasing Jewish girls…I felt like that choice had to do with grounding Miriam, making her a more earthy character…I didn't really want Barney running after, like, “a blonde bombshell. Miriam isn’t 'the monkey woman' Karen Black played in Portnoy’s Complaint. . .[W]e did go out of our way not to make Miriam 'not Jewish'. . . Often I found the greatest 'Jewish American Princesses' that I knew were so bright and so stupid at the same time. And it was wonderful to see that combination, and that kind of emotional immaturity, where that “Daddy's Girl” kicks in. Minnie Driver brought so much hurt and damage to the character of 'The Second Mrs. P.'” (Thanks to Lew Goodman for bringing this citation to my attention.)
Barren - Based on true cases of abuse of pitifully naïve, very young Haredi wives pressured by their community to get pregnant (amidst the required cognizance of a woman’s menstrual cycle for ritual bathing and intercourse regulation), there are too many plot holes in this strained effort to show Israeli Ultra-Orthodox in a mostly positive light of dealing with this situation.
The government film funding agencies in Israel have called for more fiction features about the growing Haredi population (who do not attend such films), and director Rabbi Mordechai Vardi was well-placed to move from TV documentaries (like The Field) to fiction, after his many years as head of the screenwriting department at Jerusalem’s Ma’aleh School of Television, Film, and the Arts “that is devoted to the intersection of Judaism and modern life.” As a bridge for secular audiences, funders have suggested a focus on baalei teshuvah (less-observant Jews who choose to become Ultra-Orthodox, like a large branch of my cousins, many who have “made aliyah” to Israel). Vardi also directed the documentary Reflected Light (2018) on their generation gap with their Haredi-raised children, one of the tensions in Barren that sets his story within such a family.
At 24 years old, ”Feigi” (Milli Eshat) has already lived physically and daily under the thumb of her nosey in-laws for four years. While her rigid husband “Naftali” (Yovat Rothman) spends his days in yeshiva and vacations praying at tzaddiks’ distant tombs with the guys, she seems to have lived an isolated married life, despite working in a Judaica shop where her English skills are useful with tourist customers. Her parents left for the U.S. for work, so perhaps her lack of female friends and confidantes is because she, like her mother-in-law (Ilanit Ben-Yaakov), wasn’t raised Ultra-Orthodox, or because her father-in-law (Nevo Kimchi) chose to leave the Breslav Hasidic community. Though she has heard about fertility tests for couples, her husband and his family prefer the power of prayer and tradition that is more superstition than Talmudic to be sure they are not violating any proscriptions. With the fully-dressed young couple’s insistence on turning off lights in their bedroom, I wondered if they even knew how to make a baby.
When “Feigi”s faith is abused, there are token suggestions of going to the police, without noting that her reluctance would be due to the shame put on the family in a community that is already cruelly gossiping about her. (So much for lashon hara.) A beit din has to be convened to judge her, and it’s a close call if a majority of the old rabbis will be sympathetic. It seems like chance that one is realistic, including in advising her stubborn husband. On the other hand, it’s just as hard to believe that a doctor in Safed, with its large Haredi population, wouldn’t know their customs about bodily functions, let alone not give the audience more explanations of what happened. (at 2023 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum) (1/12/2023)
Battle of the Sexes - From the press notes: “Another outspoken character comes from an entirely different world: the hard-nosed PR and tennis maven Gladys Heldman, played by Sarah Silverman, the gutsy businesswoman who made the Virginia Slims Circuit a major media success just as women’s tennis seemed to be in trouble. “Without Gladys there wouldn’t be women’s tennis as it is now,” states King. “Gladys was eccentric, brilliant, creative and knew how to make things happen. When I heard Sarah was going to portray her I thought it was perfect.”… Silverman was instantly attracted to Gladys. “I really didn’t know anything about her,” admits Silverman. “But when I read the script, I loved it and thought wow, she’s so loud and rat-a-tat-tat. I had to try to wrap my head around what her inner life must have been like -- she was so external. I know some people think I’m loud and external, but it was a challenge. She talks so fast and my brain doesn’t move that quickly! She was a very no-nonsense woman and she didn’t suffer fools.”… As [the costume designer] began to research the character of bold Gladys Heldman, [Mary] Zophres highlighted the generation gap she was bridging. “Gladys was a force to be reckoned with but she was a bit older and from the few photos I saw, she wore a girdle, long-line bra and pantyhose. I pitched to [directors Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton] that we should emphasize that she was from another generation -- and that Gladys should be in dresses because being a proponent for women’s lib doesn’t mean you have to wear a pantsuit. I put her in vivid graphic prints, because it felt to me that when Gladys walks into a room, she’s an instant disruption.” Sarah Silverman adored the look. “I really just let the wardrobe, the glasses and the hairdo do all the acting,” she quips. “Really, as soon as I had Mary’s amazing clothes on I felt like Gladys.”
Not mentioned here is how very Jewish Simon Beaufoy’s script portrays Heldman. I didn’t so probably few in the audience knew how key she was as King’s business manager for creating and running the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). She’s in the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, as well as the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The portrayal is a very positive interpretation of a pushy, very well organized Jewish feminist businesswoman. (12/1/2017)
Before the Revolution (previewed at 2014 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: commentary forthcoming on the Jewish women)
Beginners (So, nu: Writer/director Mike Mills was inspired by the experiences of both his parents. He says "My mom got kicked off the swim team when she was thirteen for being half Jewish, and she really did internalize some American antisemitism and felt some shame about her Jewishness – or at least deep complications. So, my dad had said to me, 'Your mother would disagree with me, but I think that she took off her Jewish badge and I took off my gay badge and we joined the American story.' And when he said that to me, I said, 'I’m writing a movie about this.'” He further explains: "There is sort of villain. . .and to me that is American History. There’s the psychiatrist who says [the father's] gayness is a mental illness, and the way the vice squad is in the film, that’s a real institutional villain. It’s quiet and it’s in the background but it is hugely there. Even the antisemitism that’s in the story with the mom who gets kicked off the swim team for being half-Jewish, it’s that history that they’re all up against.” Deviating from the autobiographical elements, it's the son's French actress girlfriend "Anna" (played by Mélanie Laurent) whose mom has that experience, but it's now only in the context of the Holocaust and the facts and dates don't quite add-up, let alone justifying her growing up in a very secularized Jewish family. The discrimination comparisons just seem heavy-handed as the film zips through the push-to-assimilation-history that each generation has lived through, and the Jewish-American context of antisemitism is lost in the process.) (7/3/2011.)
Belle Épine (briefly reviewed at 2011 New Directors/New Films of Film at Lincoln Center/MoMA) (So, nu: The bereaved teen is uncomfortable with her cousins' Rosh ha Shanah dinner because her parents were never religious. She has to ask what the Days of Awe are, and that reflection hangs over her rebellious actions the next 10 days. Her aunt Nelly Cohen (played by Marina Tomé) is warmly understanding, though does not object to her husband's strict ragging on their son. While her sister "Sonia Cohen" (played by Anaïs Demoustier) does participate, she can't bear to even be in their parents' apartment, and deserts her younger sister to stay with her boyfriend. Prudence’s mother "Arlette"is played by Valérie Schlumberger, who isn’t an actress, but is Léa Seydoux’s mother. When "Prudence" has sex with a biker, his cross very obviously hangs over her chest. (3/25/2011)
Being Jewish in France (Comme un Juif en France) (briefly reviewed at 2009 Annual New York Jewish Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (The most interesting women's perspectives are from the new, Sephardic communities --and they are as enthusiastic about coucous as the Muslim immigrants in The Secret of the Grain (La graine et le mulet) scroll down for my capsule review-- who even though clearly more observant are leading schools and community organizations.) (1/18/2009)
Debut documentarian Bridget Murnane constructs an informative and absorbing bio-doc about the work on stage and off of dancer/choreographer Bella Lewitzky (1916 – 2004). With an amazing array of dance and archival clips, from her earliest performances in the 1930s through her own company’s final curtain call in 1997, the primary voice is hers, from interviews and public appearances.
To emphasize the importance of her political actions to the arts and her life, her story doesn’t unfold chronologically. The film opens with her gutsy stand in 1990 against the National Endowment for the Arts’ requirement for grantees to sign a Congressionally-mandated anti-obscenity pledge. But it’s awhile into the film that we can glean what’s unsaid about this confluence, her distinctively Jewish background. Her immigrant father Joseph Lewitzky (as identified in the Jewish Womens Archive) came. she says, from Ukraine “for a better way of life, where people can live together in peace and harmony” (the shot of the Statue of Liberty is one of the film’s few clichés), and quickly joined the Socialist Party, like writer Abraham Cahan. He traveled with a group of Jewish immigrants to California, met and married Nina Ossman, and in 1914 they joined a Socialist colony in the Mojave Desert, Llano Del Rio, one of many such short-lived experimental settlements around the country that attracted idealistic Jewish leftists in those years; the rare photos of the residents, including little Bella, are wonderful. Her artistic sensibility was inspired by her father, an art-for-arts-sake painter who moved the family to Los Angeles during the Depression for WPA employment.
In L.A. Bella started ballet classes, but enthuses about how her life changed in 1934, at just 18, when she discovered her “crazy man” mentor “screaming” in his studio, modern dance originator choreographer Lester Horton: “I nearly fainted with joy. From that moment on I was his body. I was in at the beginning of an aesthetic with him…I was moving as I loved to move.” (While her classmate Carmen de Lavallade briefly praises Bella’s early skills, not mentioned is how rare then that this was an interracial program.) In addition to the rave reviews she was already garnering as early as 1937, the clips of the commercial work they did for the money are revealing, from the nightclub routines she hated to musical numbers in Hollywood movies she says she’s not proud of, like White Savage (1943), and she finally drew the line at the Folies Bergère in Paris. But a fellow dancer was her future husband and architect Newell Taylor Reynolds, who influenced her spatial relations on stage as she created her own more individualistic dances, and built her a home studio for classes and rehearsals.
Her small movie roles were enough to get her art intersected with her politics when she was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Telling them "I'm a dancer, not a singer,” she took the 5th Amendment to their accusations. (While there’s no footage of that confrontation, photographs of her at that time flash by.) Consequently blacklisted (her redacted FBI file is shown), she conveniently stayed home with a new baby for ten years, and began to teach; her daughter “my best friend” Nora Reynolds Daniel is authorized to reconstruct her mother’s dances.
Bella’s flashbacks to her “state of total outrage” with that Congressional “inquisition” drove her to challenge the government’s next attempt to censor her forty years later. Her surprising professional lifeline in the 1950’s was Broadway choreographer Agnes DeMille, who hired her for uncredited assistance on the film version of Oklahoma (1955), glimpsed in a clip. DeMille 25 years later gave Bella’s own work more visibility beyond California, we see, by including “The Innovator of the West” in her nationally broadcast “Conversations About the Dance” program.
Of all of Bella’s many dances included in the documentary, with commentary by her original dancers and music director, the most striking footage of Bella’s choreography is her collaborations from 1976 with another Horton alum, Jewish fashion designer Rudi Gernreich. To me, their interplays of fabric and motion strikingly imply their Jewish associations.
As a former arts development consultant, it is tragic to watch Bella in the 1980’s fall into the Edifice Complex trap of betting her company’s future on capital fundraising for a permanent home in a new specialized theater for dance. The film provides a good case study in how these efforts fail. While it is heartbreaking to see the impact on her dancers of the financial stress of her legal fight for her First Amendment rights to uncensored grants --“I risk loss of my life’s work-- she is ultimately triumphal in court. Will her eloquent testimony for artistic freedom keep Bella out of PBS’s American Masters series? Murnane makes a strong case that Bella Lewitzky should be in that pantheon. (at 2023 Dance on Camera Festival of Dance Films Association and Film at Lincoln Center) (2/14/2023)
Belly of the Beast - So, nu: In the Virtual Q & A after the screening at the 2020 Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival, Cohn passionately expressed her motivation for making the film: “As a Jewish woman, the phrase ‘Never again’ is always in back of my mind. I learned about this different genocide through forced sterilizations behind bars and that screamed eugenics to me!” (PBS Independent Lens)
4 Emmy nominations: for director Erika Akire Cohn and producer Angela Tucker for Best Documentary, Best Direction: Documentary, Outstanding Current Affairs Documentary, and Outstanding Editing: Documentary. (10/27/2020/ 7/28/2021)
Be/longing (So, nu: Directed by Amit Breuer, this short is background to the Women Wage Peace campaign. While focusing mostly on an Israeli Arab woman in Jaffe, also briefly featured is Mika, the founder of a bi-cultural choir, who examines her liberal biases. The singers, who seem majority Israeli Jewish, close each performance, despite loud protests against them with considerable profanity, with the Hebrew version of “Had Ghadya” by Chava Albertstein, banned from Israel State Radio, that adds verses for peace: “When will the madness end?”) (preview at 2018 Other Israel Film Festival) (10/31/2018)
Ben-Gurion: Epilogue As to the Jewish women: his mother and wife are just seen in passing in photographs, perhaps because neither was as connected to Palestine/Israel as he was, his mother in Poland, his wife from his exile in New York City who was never happy then being uprooted to the desert kibbutz with their kids. His strained relationship with Golda Meir is also passed over. (5/11/2017)
Berlin ’36 is an up-close-and-personal look at the emotional toll the notorious Olympics, glorified by Leni Riefenstahl, took on two competitors. Gretel Bergmann, a Jewish champion high jumper (played by blonde, lean, long-legged Karoline Herfurth promoting an unusually confident athletic image of a young Jewish woman), was manipulated on and then off the German team, as the Nazis are seen playing Olympics Committee President Avery Brundage for a willing fool to wink that the team wouldn't discriminate. But another teammate with a much more problematic background, here called Marie Ketteler and very sensitively portrayed by Sebastian Urzendowsky, is even more manipulated (though the film sidesteps transgender issues). Their unexpectedly sympathetic alliance as mutually encouraging outsiders united against their competitors and sports authorities verges on the overly sentimental until the real, elderly Gretel testifies at the end of the film of the truthfulness of its spirit. The facts are in George Roy's 2004 documentary Hitler's Pawn: The Margaret Lambert Story. (seen at 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (1/25/2010)
Berlin I Love You (available in theaters, On VOD and Digital HD) is part of the “Cities I Love” collective series of short films, which began with Paris, Je T'aime. This installment is more about being in love with people than the city. In “Transitions”, written by David Vernon, Edda Reiser, Claus Clausen & Rebecca Rahn, directed by Josef Rusnak, singer-songwriter Sara (Rafaëlle Cohen, with long brown wavy hair) from Tel Aviv (an M.C. introducing her later thinks she comes from Tenerife), busks in Berlin next to Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire-like angel living statue, presumably German native Daniel (Robert Stadlober) and they begin a whirlwind romance around the city that helps geographically connect the 10 short films, as “The Recurrent Characters” in the lexicon of the series. She looks for where her grandmother Estelle Singer lived. When they find the address, he shows her the Stolperstein plaques in front of the old building with the names of other Singers – Rudi, Shula, Selma – who lived there when they were taken away in the Holocaust. But Sara grins – She survived! She’s 95-years-old. She wanted me to take photographs. He: How in the world can you come here with these bad memories? She: I don’t have these bad memories. (This is the only mention I noticed of Berlin’s past, with no other glimpse of the many memorials around the city.) I was reminded of my Israeli theater and artistic cousins, grandchildren of a Holocaust survivor, who frequently live in Berlin, though the many kinds of music clubs (including a magical dance with and to Max Raabe) are seen more than the artsy hang-outs. As Sara, Cohen gets to perform two songs, including one she wrote. (Preview courtesy of Saban Films) (2/8/2019)
I must note that in New York Times on 2/19/2019, Amy Qin reports that the film excludes a commissioned short by dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who is quoted: “When I found out, I was very angry. It was frustrating to see Western creators and institutions collaborating with Chinese censorship in such an obvious way.” The Times describes: “The segment portrayed the separation of a family and featured his 5-year-old son, Ai Lao, who lived in Germany. ‘It’s sweet and has some sadness,’ Mr. Ai said about his segment, which he directed in 2015. ‘Not politically sensitive at all.’”
Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened (previewed at 2016 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) As director Lonny Price interviews his fellow original cast members in Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince’s collaboration in the 1981 Broadway production of Merrily We Roll Along, several guys drop mention of their Jewishness (let alone what they did with their bar mitzvah money), but even as Abigail Pogrebin talks about being the youngest cast member at 16, and even casually dropping that actor Alan Alda was a friend of her parents, I was thinking – this can’t be the daughter of Ms. and Lilith Magazines co-founder Letty Cottin Pogrebin and sister of writer Robin Pogrebin because she hasn’t said a word about being Jewish. Until she describes her career since leaving this brief but stellar show business experience for a career in broadcast and newspaper journalism was helped by writing the interview collection Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish (a book I use as a reference): “Thank God for the Jews – they buy books!” (my approximate memory) And her latest book appeals to that market, too. (10/8/2016)
Bethlehem (So, nu: The two Israeli women seen – the Shin Bet/Shabak agent “Maya” (played by Efrat Shnap) who is partner of the central bi-lingual character “Raz” (played by Tsahi Halevy, and his wife “Einat” (played by Michal Shtemler) are very supportive – but they are surprisingly bland in what is otherwise a thrillingly story of complex loyalties.) (3/27/2014)
Betrayed (Den største forbrytelsen)
Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
Another outstanding reckoning with how the Scandinavian countries dealt with the Nazis leading up to and through World War II, after the recent Two Lives (Zwei Leben), Kindertransports to Sweden, The Crossing (Flukten over grensens) and,The Good Traitor (Vores mand i Amerika). Based on journalist Marte Michelet’s 2014 book The Greatest Crime: Victims and Perpetrators in the Norwegian Holocaust, that does not appear to be available in English and provides the Norwegian title, script writers Harald Rosenløw Eeg and Lars Gudmestad explain at the very end of the credits: “There are many strong and important stories about the fate of Norwegian Jews during the Second World War, both among the 735 who were killed in German death camps, the survivors, and the approximately 1,200 who managed to escape during the war. Several of the film’s characters are based on people who have lived, others are fictionalized. We chose the Braude Family as the center of our film.” Two Braude women descendants are thanked for their assistance, and Jewish women do get attention in the film.
In 1939, the matriarch “Sara Braude” (played by Pia Halvorsen) dominates what seems to be a macho family in Oslo, insisting that the three sons and a daughter come home for a traditional Shabbat dinner, enforcing the reading of the prayers in Hebrew, regardless of their secular beliefs, and the announcement by the boxer son “Charles” (played by Jakob Oftebro) that he wants to marry a non-Jewish woman (a choice that will later save his life). Afterwards, the parents quietly discuss the war news. The mother is adamant that she won’t flee like she had to from Lithuania – did she mean the pogroms in the late 1880s? Her husband “Benzel” (Michalis Koutsogiannakis) is sure they are safe, even as the sons are hearing explicit antisemitism. As soon as the Nazis begin their occupation of the country in April 1940, their daughter “Helene” (Silje Storstein) presciently leaves for Sweden. The family argues over the police requirement that Jews fill out questionnaires for a mandatory ID card, but finally comply. However, the police do keep hassling upstairs neighbor “Maja” (Hanna-Maria Grønneberg), demanding to know where her husband escaped; “Sara” helps her by caring for her two young daughters. In a vivid demonstration of the full scale collaboration of the film’s English title, Jewish males are arrested by the State Police, on October 26, 1942, and sent to build the internment camp Berg, run by the Norwegian fascist NS (Nasjonal Samling) Party of Vidkun Quisling, a consequently infamous name. Again emphasizing betrayal by fellow citizens, the snarling camp commander (Nicolai Cleve Broch) had witnessed “Charles” representing Norway for a boxing victory over Sweden.
Most of the nervous and confused Jewish women stay in Oslo, expecting their innocent family members to be released. Ratcheting up their fears, Jewish stores, like the Braudes, are marked; state auditors inventory their property. When “Sara” tries to hide at least her engagement ring, the auditor carelessly drops her menorah and sneers: See, we aren’t completely heartless, and lets her keep it. Though some women are getting the money together to be smuggled to Sweden, “Sara” waits too long to accept “Charles”s “Aryan” wife’s offer to help. In a precision pre-dawn operation that opens the film and is then re-seen happening on November 26, 1942 , the local police chief is instructed to arrest the rest of the Jews, “all of them, no exceptions”, to be loaded into the large German cargo ship SS Donau looming in the harbor. His blonde secretary offers: I’ll give you a hand - we’re finally getting rid of them. A probably fictional Jewish woman is situated to emphasize the Norwegian responsibility of the real police official Knut Rød (coolly played by Anders Danielsen Lie, also starring as an opposite character in The Worst Person in the World (Verdens verste menneske)). She knocks on his door, interrupting his paperwork organizing the roundup, and appeals to him as a neighbor - her husband was arrested, her baby is sick, and she wants confirmation of the rumors that something is happening to Jews tonight. He not only pleasantly denies knowing anything about that, but relishes making a great show of pretending to call headquarters for further confirmation. She finds his bland iciness so distrustful that, luckily, she immediately prepares to flee to Sweden.
Director Eirik Svensson films a very explicit epilogue of where the Norwegians sent their fellow civilian citizens – children, women, and men – to go from that boat: directly by train to Auschwitz. More realistic emphasis on their starvation, exhaustion, threats, and gender separation would have made them seem less as passive victims amidst an improbable reunion within the unsettling spotlights, barking dogs, barked orders, and then the final path.
(seen courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films - available on VOD and digital platforms as of December 3, 2021) (12/22/2021)
Between Fences (Bein gderot/ Entre Les Frontières) (So, nu: Israeli Jewish women turn up towards the end of the film – as peacenik volunteers who follow the African refugees’ directions on how to re-enact the roles of Israeli soldiers at their isolated desert refugee center.) (seen in 2017 First Look Festival at Museum of the Moving Image) (2/4/2017)
The Big Short (So, nu: While I haven’t yet read Michael Lewis’s nonfiction book to check the facts and interpretations, there’s one explicitly Jewish woman – the mother (played by Shauna Rappold) of “Mark Baum” (played by Steve Carell) – and one putative, his wife “Cynthia” (played by Marisa Tomei). In a flashback, his mother is supportive of his questioning the rabbi about possible inconsistencies in the Torah, while his not particularly supportive wife is constantly nagging him to calm down, and even take meds, to stop worrying and getting angry about everything, particularly the banks. (11/29/2015)
Big Sonia - a fond portrait by granddaughter Leah Warshawski with co-director Todd Soliday. Her mother (or aunt?) who accompanies Sonia to presentations at schools and other groups of young people, even prisoners, about her experiences in the Holocaust at three concentration camps, says she’s the last survivor in the Kansas City area. That she was deported at age 13, and the film emphasizes through animation what age she was when taken to each extermination camp, including Auchswitz, really hits home to the kids. Though the editing is uneven, the parallel story of her continuing her husband’s tailor shop at a slowly abandoning shopping mall (and then saved to move to a similar officie building) raises this beyond similar documentaries to add a commentary that compares to their 1950’s suburban home movies. (at 2016 DOC NYC Festival) (11/28/2017)
Big Sister (Ahotcha) (short) (previewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival) (6/4/2017)
Black Book (Zwartboek) (So, nu: Some of the most outrageous situations, especially about the Jewish Mata Hari at the center who may be the sexiest Jewish woman portrayed in cinema, is not the director being his usual violent, extreme self, but he insists are based on true incidents --several supported in the book memoir of Steal A Pencil For Me, and as in – spoiler alert-- this interview. Now if only Verhoeven would adapt the Megillah!)
Black Bus (briefly reviewed at 2011 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: Interviewees make clear that the increasing restrictions on observant women are not about halacha, but a political result of competition between ever more conservative rabbis. Daringly bringing the cameras on board brings home that these buses look more like apartheid or Jim Crowe than a protective favor for women, as well as how sadly alienated from their old friends and family are those women who leave the community, even while enjoying their freedoms.) (3/27/2011)
Black On White: The Idan Raichel Project (as seen at the 2008 NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, but not only is this the one-hour documentary counterpart to Live And Become (Va, Vis Et Deviens), but the Ethiopian Jewish woman’s viewpoint missing from that film is heard loud and clear here!) (2/18/2008)
Blessed Is The Match: The Life And Death Of Hannah Senesh (1/29/2009) (So, nu: While I do not recommend the film, and I will detail the paper saint superficial stereotypes at some point here, Marilyn Hertz, a member of my synagogue, immediately commented on my review (quoted with permission): "You[r] assessment of this being like a young adult book is correct. I saw the premier[e] last night & was invited to the Q & A with the producer. She wanted this to be shown in schools, and wanted it to be a mother/daughter relationship story. I thought it was quite good & worth seeing.")
Blue Box - The only Jewish woman seen and heard in this documentary is director Michal Weits, great-granddaughter of the central subject Joseph Weits, of the Jewish National Fund’s titular fundraiser, and his diaries, as she sharply questions her grandfather, father, and great-uncles about what she finds in there and other archives on the truth of the acquisition of Palestinian lands for Jews from the 1930’s on – that contradict the claim that all Palestinian land-owners were fairly compensated pre-statehood. (previewed at 2021 Other Israel Film Festival/ DOC NYC Film Festival) (11/2/2021)
The Blue Room (La chambre bleue) In one of the few differences from the source novel by Georges Simenon, writers/co-stars/domestic partners Mathieu Amalric and Stéphanie Cléau changed her main character’s name from “Andrée” to “Esther”, and that she had shared first communion with him, but strongly left the impression that she’s Jewish by retaining that she was a doctor’s daughter and her taunt that he didn’t kiss brunette girls in school, with a blonde wife (though leaving out the dated background that her father had been in a concentration camp during the war). (10/1/2014)
Blues By The Beach (seen at Cinematek Forest Hills) While most audience members focus on the shock of the terrorist attack in 2003 at an Anglo bar next to the U.S. Embassy, I was fascinated by the beautiful, hip, slash-haired, 23-year-old waitress Dominique Hass, as a symbol of the new kind of young, secular Jews who are attracted to move to Israel. So it was that much more tragic that she was one of the three fatalities from the suicide bomb. (10/9/2016)
Bobbi Jene For a fly-on-the-wall documentary following an American dancer from living in Israel as a featured performer with the Batsheva Dance Company to her return to the U.S., Israeli women are barely seen at all. There’s a brief dinner with her boyfriend’s parents, so there’s an implicit comparison. Her American mother is a conservative Evangelical who is uncomfortable watching her modern dance performances, even clothed, and is just as uncomfortable that she’s living with a Jewish guy. His Jewish mother is a sophisticated liberal who was in the audience for her nude performance, and comfortably welcomes her to their home. (briefly reviewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival) (6/3/2017)
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story Per their press release, ”The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has worked for more than a decade to develop major artistic works that faithfully depict Lamarr's extraordinary story, a trans-continental, war-time tale of a glamorous Hollywood actress who was a groundbreaking inventor and helped shape the world we live in but never got her technological due.” Based on Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes (like the documentary, also supported by Sloan) with newly discovered audio interviews and other material, the detailed biography on Lamarr – neé Hedwig Kiesler – and her Jewish background in Vienna is a revelation, and how her fears of antisemitism in the U.S. haunted her, such that she never told her children she was Jewish. The archival images from her Viennese assimilated Jewish family and early work are fascinating and extensive. (previewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival - but sorry I couldn’t get into the accompanying panel) (PBS’s American Masters, plus Diane Kruger is producing and developing to star in a fictionalized mini-series, also with Sloane) (updated 11/4/2017)
Boogie Woogie Would most people just presume that the wives of the two Jewish art collectors are Jewish? (I haven't read writer/director's book of the same name for comparison.) "Bob Maclestone" (played by Stellan Skarsgard) is sneered at for having changed his name from "Macleshtein" or some such, and the best friend of his divorcing wife "Jean" (played by red-haired Gillian Anderson) cautions to grab his collection Or all you will be left with is his grandmama's Shabbat candles. They certainly seem to be inspired by Robert and Ethel Scull. "Alfred Rhinegold" (played by Christopher Lee with a Mittel-European accent) is first seen with a menorah prominently displayed behind him before we even seen his prized Mondrian piece of the title. He is buried in a Jewish cemetery by a rabbi but all we know about his wife "Alfreda" (played by Joanna Lumley) is that she despairs over their finances and is having an affair with the butler. (4/16/2010)
[courtesy of New York Film Festival, 2019]
The Booksellers (So, nu: Fran Lebowitz is a frequent and witty commenter, as a customer. She remembers the proprietors of “Book Row” as being old Jewish men. But several of the notable sellers are women, with presumably Jewish names, including: from legendary dealers of the past Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern, at a time when only men could be recognized in the profession, and the above sisters Adina Cohen, Naomi Hample and Judith Lowry of Argosy Book Store.) (seen at 2019 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (10/17/2019)
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: In one of the codas to his political satire, co-writer/director Cohen makes sure to provide closure to his titular fake alter-ego’s support of Kazakh’s alleged antisemitism and Holocaust denial. He dresses up as the kind of exaggerated Jew still seen in European culture and visits a synagogue where he is warmly greeted by two women, including a Holocaust survivor who assures him that it really happened – and gives him a hug and kiss. Though I thought it was a sweet moment among the raucous jokes, posted on IMDB as “trivia” was this follow-up information: “The film's creators were sued for fraud after including an interview with Holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans. Evans died before the film's release, but her heirs brought the lawsuit alleging that she did not consent to the commercial use of her likeness in the film. Sacha Baron Cohen, who dedicated the film to her memory, claimed that he broke character to reveal to Evans that the piece was a bid to reduce her concern about the anti-Semitic comments that Borat makes. The lawsuit was dismissed on October 26.” (streamed on Amazon) (12/29/2020)
Border of Pain – A refreshing antidote to such documentaries as Heart Of Jenin that tout Israel’s superior medical facilities and services over those available to the Palestinians as as a paternalistic, universalistic gift to be granted, or even of the sad and well-meaning Muhi- Temporary that focuses on one patient’s exceptionalism. Rather, the Jewish female nurses and staffs who work with volunteers of various organizations to arrange, transport, and treat Palestinians from Gaza in Israeli hospitals just cheerfully and efficiently consider them regular patients, albeit ones who have to stay for months because their permits do not allow them out and sometimes require a translator. Is it just generosity when a nurse offers the family member of a Russian patient one of the volunteer-prepared take-out meals that are supposed to be for the Palestinians? (at 2019 Other Israel Film Festival) (12/8/2019)
Born in Deir Yassin (Nolad Be’Deir Yassin) – In a very moving and revealing documentary that stresses the macho style of the units that attacked the Palestinian Village of Deir Yassin in April 1948 (Irgun, Lehi, with less sanguine witnesses in the Haganah Youth Battalion and Information Services), three Jewish women’s voices are heard. Director Neta Shoshani is the presumed interrogator of the participants, many of whom bristle at her questions; she is also the client of the lawyer trying to get the IDF Archives to release the photographs of the human damage. Youth Battalion member Sarah Ben-Oz remembered the silence after the bombardment – and then “We had to bury the dead.” Her reaction then was so viscerally horrified, and is still physical for her, that her commander told her to go back to their base. An actress reads the letters of Hanna Nussin, a long-term patient at the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center built on the haunted ruins of the village, who persistently called the hospital “an evil place”. She gave birth there and the titular on-screen interviewee is her son Dror; her thick medical file is read by voices of doctors and social workers. (at 2017 Other Israel Film Festival)
Born To Be (So, nu: Among the participants in Mt. Sinai’s new Center Transgender Medicine and Surgery, are a couple who met on Birthright Israel, where they had a very positive experience. The documentary follows as one partner completes physical transition to a male, with a very supportive Jewish female partner.) (brief review at FF2 Media) (preview at 2019 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (updated 10/28/2019)
A Borrowed Identity (Dancing Arabs Aka Second Son) (So, nu: The Jewish Israeli women characters are strong and unstereotyped. More commentary coming) (6/28/2015)
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea (Une bouteille à la mer) (previewed at 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (While I haven’t yet read the Valérie Zenatti novel it’s based on, the portrait of a liberal, middle class French teen-age girl “Tal” (played by Agathe Bonitzer) adjusting to aliyah in Israel is sweet and seems naively optimistic, and is overly structured to maximize contrasts with her handsome Palestinian pen pal, amidst IDF attacks on Gaza, as she benefits from a nice high school and home internet access, while he is unemployed, can’t afford school, and has to wangle online time with difficulty (though his encouraging mother, played by the esteemed Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas, is a doctor). While the usual Romeo & Juliet aspect is realistically too difficult to overcome, even as both challenge their friends’ stereotypes of the other side, the positioning of France as an oasis of tolerance for both Jews and Muslims is even harder to swallow.) (1/21/2012)
The Boy Downstairs
While Zosia Mamet’s “Diana” (above) is a putative Jewish millennial woman in brownstone Brooklyn, and most viewers will presume she’s like her Shoshanna Shapiro in six seasons of Girls, the only explicitly Jewish woman is the overprotective mother of her ex-boyfriend “Ben” (Matthew Shear), as seen in flashbacks of their relationship. (briefly reviewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival)
Boynton Beach Club (But only the men and dead wives are explicitly Jewish, not the widows or daughters, presume some in the audience would assume some are Jewish women.)
Broken Wings (Knafayim Shvurot)
Women's Docs at DOC NYC) (6/3/2014)
Breaking Bread - In Beth Hawk’s enjoyable and culinarily informative portrait of Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the first Palestinian Muslim Arab to win Israel’s Master Chef television competition and the A-sham Festival she founded in Haifa to bring together Jewish and Arab chefs to collaborate and connect through diverse food of “The Levant” (identified clearly through animated maps), it was surprising that not one chef in the competition was a Jewish woman. One did make amusing comments, Efrat Enzel, though not specified in the documentary, her Facebook page identifies her as “Culinary journalist and editor; Television presenter and hostess; Culinary consultant”, so she’s apparently well-known in Israel. Recipes will be posted. (seen at 2019 Other Israel Film Festival/ at 2021 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum/ Cohen Media Group release) (11/17/2019)
Breaking Home Ties (new print previewed at 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (The National Center for Jewish Film their new restoration of this independently made 1922 silent b & w film as noteworthy for countering anti-Semitic images in films promoted by Henry Ford, but it just seemed like a sentimental melodrama of Russian immigrants fleeing to America like from the Yiddish theater to me, complete with devoted mother.) (1/22/2012)
Breaking Upwards (4/16/2010)
Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists (So, nu: It is exceedingly odd that in the extensive inclusion of Irish Catholic Jimmy Breslin’s long second marriage, from 1982, to prominent activist Ronnie Eldridge née Myers, who is also interviewed, there is no mention that she is Jewish, when he openly wrote about that difference as adding to the complications in their blended family. (HBO) (preview at 2018 DOC NYC Festival) (11/7/2018)
Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds With the many images of Christmas decorations around her mother’s compound, there is not a hint that Carrie identified as Jewish in connection with her father Eddie, even when she cares for him as he’s dying. After mother/daughter death at the end of 2016, the Jewish press covered her as a Jewish woman. (previewed at 2016 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (updated 1/4/2017)
Bride Flight (Bruidsvlucht) (So, nu: The film is unusually sensitive about the young woman whose family did not survive the Holocaust (including war-time loss is what she shares with the hunk). While her Jewish fiancé, who seems to have been more of a family friend she used to get on the flight than a romance, wants to be observant as a memorial to their families, she rejects his darkness for the bright colors of fashion design. But, unusually, she stands up for herself and comes to regret her decision to leave her heritage – I was the only one at my screening who realized she was sentimentally cooking latkes and humming a holiday song at Hanukkah—and becomes obsessed with the only remnant of her family's faith, their menorah (even if that symbol is over-used in movies). While it is a bit too genes-will-tell that the older "Esther" (played by Willeke Van Ammelrooy, known from Marleen Gorris's Antonia’s Line in1995) ends up with a Jewish daughter-in-law and grandchild, it is satisfying for her.) (My additional note.)
Brillo Box (3¢ off) (short) (previewed at 2016 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) In my analyses of Jewish Women on TV, I sometimes resort to categorizing characters as “putative Jews”, and so in this personal documentary, too, where I can only infer they are Jewish. Lisanne Skyler’s description of growing up with New York parents Rita and Martin Skyler who had a collecting interest in contemporary abstract art sound a lot like my parents’ milieu. My father’s dental office, now the locale of the offices of Lilith Magazine which I sometimes write for, was down the block from the Art Students League, so his patients included teachers there and other artists. After my mother wouldn’t let him accept Barnett Newman’s wife’s offer of a color painting in lieu of payment for his extensive dental work, they would do so for other patients, including their friend Lora Civkin, not that any reached such fame. Like Skyler’s father, they would go to galleries and sometimes purchase, though not with the investment goals of her father, but more the enjoyment aim of her mother. My mother still displays (most of?) the works, and my sister the art historian librarian has noted the artists in their collection. As I Tweeted - Mazel Tov for making the Short List for Academy Awards Documentary Short – Skyler tweeted back “Thank you!” (updated 7/15/2017)
Brother’s Shadow (commentary forthcoming from viewing as one of my faves at the Tribeca Film Festival)
Burning Land (Adama Boeret) - Though primarily set in 2001, Liran Shitrit’s thoughtful feature debut gives international audiences an updated intimate look at the psychology of Israelis who are marginalized (since Keren Yedaya’s 2004 Or (My Treasure)) and religious extremists (since Joseph Cedar’s 2000 Time of Favor (Ha- Hesder) and Amos Gitai’s 2015 Rabin, The Last Day).
In a run-down Haifa neighborhood, school drop-out “Yair” (played by the magnetic Asaf Hertz) has had run ins with the police due to his angry attacks on a man (men?) that his poor single mother “Limor” (played by Riki Blich) brings back to their house for money. It is close as to whether she kicks him out of the house or he just runs away.
”Yair” takes the first bus that comes along headed far away – to Shomron, the most northern settlement of the Occupied West Bank that the settlers call Samaria. He has the opportunity to be taken in by another maternal figure, “Naomi” (Yael Levental) a vineyard owner employing day laborers, including Palestinians, but he just toils in her fields to take her money. Stealing bottles of her wine enhances his standing with a group of “Hilltop Boys” who call themselves “The Baladim”, as they aggressively usurp hills (with beautiful views) from the Palestinian villagers they harangue – and worse. Camping in a shack that’s like a clubhouse, they seem like Peter Pan’s “Lost Boys”. In a surprising moment of sympathy, their violently rabble-rousing leader “Shimon” (Barak Friedman) is overwhelmed preparing dinner for three younger sisters, who seem otherwise abandoned.
Their zealous yeshiva teacher “Rabbi Grunberg” (Nathan Ravitz) takes “Yair” in at school, but for selective Torah readings on the justice of revenge and land re-possession. His woodwind-playing daughter “Batsheva” (Avigail Roguin), who tries to challenge him that her pieces shouldn’t all be played “forte”, is contrasted to the talented boy “Chico” (played by Lior Mashiach) who has literally hung up his instrument, the guitar, to follow her father’s fanatical idealism.
Mercifully not seen are the vicious harridans against the Palestinians, witnessed in documentaries about Hebron (such as in H2: The Occupation Lab). Including an epilogue, we are left with a more favorable impression of Jewish Israeli women as potential providers of emotional healing. (courtesy of Seventh Art Releasing - which is making the film only available in the U.S. for screenings and educational use by communities, not in theatrical or wider release nor streaming) (3/9/2023)
Brussels Transit (Bruxelles-Transit) (1980/restored 1991 by Cinematek – Royal Film Archive of Belgium) Narrated in Yiddish by the director’s mother Malka, the perspective is uniquely from a woman’s perspective, particularly with domestic travails. (U.S. premiere was first at New Directors/New Films, then at 2019 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum with this description: “In one of the first postwar films in Yiddish, director Samy Szlingerbaum excavates his childhood through his parents’ immigration to the “promised land” of Belgium after World War II and their subsequent failure to adjust. Weaving together haunting footage of postwar Brussels and astounding black and white photography, this film gestures at surrealist and avant-garde cinema to portray his—and his family’s—poignant longing for a sense of home, and, alongside that, European Jewry’s overwhelming isolation after the war.”) (streamed in 2022 courtesy of Jewish Studies at Fordham with an informative and insightful panel discussion by Flora Cassen, Sam Shuman, Eve Sicular, and Shoshana Olidort) (5/12/2022)
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography - Nu: In advance, I spent an hour trying to confirm my hunch she was Jewish with facts available online to include this documentary in my preview of the New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center). But it just took moments into the film for her to identify herself as a “nice Jewish girl”, and again and another time as “good Jewish girl”, with her husband named Harvey and her son named Isaac, both of whom she has photographed almost as often as herself. Perhaps that commonality helped her first connect with Allen Ginsberg that led to a lifelong friendship? Much like Dorothea Lange and her photographic contemporaries, she focused on family portraiture in a studio convenient to her family, until the stock of Polaroid film finally runs out. (updated 6/30/2017)
The Bubble (Ha-Buah) (So, nu: Yeah, it’s offensive and completely un-PC to say this, but the brassy Jewish woman here is a stereotype (un-PC term) "fag hag", and it makes no sense that she gets seduced by a breeder geek professing that he wants her to have his children.) (9/16/2007)
Buddy: Director Heddy Honigmann, Peru-born/Dutch citizen, is always identified in interviews and biographies as “the child of Holocaust survivors”. (Many articles seem to inaccurately say the family reached Peru by 1938.) Asked why she dedicated this documentary profiling the deep relationship between service dogs and their human partners to her grandmother Stefanie, she talked movingly about how her father went back after the war to try to find his mother. She identified his family as from “Austria”, but that may not be the modern boundaries, because she said her grandmother went into hiding “near the Caspian Sea” where her father found her. (Honigmann’s mother is identified in articles as coming from “Poland”, with my similar caveats.) Bringing her to the family’s refuge in Peru, Honigmann remembered her grandmother as being a solitary person, presumably affected by her war experiences, preferring to be accompanied by her dogs and the long walks they took together, even when they had to become shorter walks as she aged. She joked how the dogs would even follow her to the bathroom and wait for her to come out, then sit by her bed as her grandmother spent the rest of her days reading huge piles of crime novels and playing cards. Her love for her grandmother was entwined with love for her dogs. While Honigmann says her grandmother who, she says, taught her to "love and trust dogs", she commented on the irony of her over-protective father giving her a German shepherd which were so identified with Nazi cruelty her father experienced in a concentration camp. One of the subjects of the Dutch film is 86-year-old Edith, who was blinded by the explosion of a German grenade during World War 2. Honigmann’s discussion of her family revealed why so many of her films hint at issues around death. (seen at MoMA’s 2019 Documentary Fortnight - her attendance was facilitated by the wonderful museum I loved visiting in Amsterdam The Eye – Netherlands Film Institute) (3/1/2019)
Budrus (also briefly reviewed in Recommended Documentaries at 2010 Tribeca Film Festival) (So, nu: A major reason this documentary is more fair and thorough in presenting all sides than others about Israelis vs. Palestinians is the extensive and frank interview with a woman Israeli soldier who served during the protests and was a particular target for verbal abuse from the protesters. I don't recall any Israeli female peaceniks interviewed, though the unusually prominent role of Palestinian women is highlighted.) (5/7/2010)
Bully. Coward. Victim: The Roy Cohn Story (brief review at FF2 Media) (seen at 2019 Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival and shown at 2019 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (So, nu: commentary forthcoming on the treatment of Cohn’s mother and Ethel Rosenberg, director Ivy Meeropol’s grandmother, in compare/contrast to Where’s My Roy Cohn?. (updated 10/28/2019)
Burt’s Buzz (So, nu: I think I caught correctly that his original last name was “Ingram”, and it may be that the “Shavitz” he later adopted was his Jewish mother’s maiden name, not that he says too much about her, though she is seen in a few family photos. He did use his Jewish identity to get his first professional photography job, working for a Jewish newspaper and photographing the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn.) (6/6/2014)
Bye Bye Germany (Es war einmal in Deutschland...) (So, nu: While the film focuses on the male Holocaust survivors --as written by Michel Bergmann based on his novels Die Teilacher and Macholikes, not available in English, and director Sam Garbarski—two Jewish women are included. Special Agent “Sara Simon” in the U.S. Army’s CounterIntelligence Corps (played by German actress Antje Traue, who switches well to an American accent for English dialogue) is beautiful; when she falls for the huckster she is investigating for Nazi collaboration “David Bermann” (played by Moritz Bleibtreu)—even though he “is not my type”, she reveals, when her hair is literally down, that she was born in Germany whose doctor father got the family out when he lost his hospital job in 1933: I didn’t want to come back, but the Army needed German-speaking interrogators. So I thought I might put Nazis through the ringer, my modest contribution. Though their hook-up is not altogether convincing, she quickly moves on to her next assignment at Nuremberg. “Frau Sonya” (Tania Garbarski) is the waitress at the restaurant they frequent, and quick with witty ripostes. “David” explains, while ogling her tuchis: Her father was a cook who beguiled Paris. They say she was hidden with her boyfriend’s goy parents, who died. (preview courtesy of Film Movement) (4/15/2018;7/22/2018)
Café Society (So, nu: In Woody Allen’s most Jewish movie in years, the Jewish women are, in relation to the central character of “Bobby Dorfman” (played by Woody Allen stand-in Jesse Eisenberg): his mother “Rose Dorfman” (played by Jeannie Berlin), who throws in a lot of quizzical Yiddishisms and criticisms of her husband’s and sons’ lack of religious observance; who the press notes describe as his “good-hearted teacher sister Evelyn Dorfman” (brunette Sari Lennick), married to a Communist professor; and blonde “Candy/ShirleyGurfein” (Anna Camp), plus a couple of putative Jewish women, such as his brunette sister-in-law “Karen Stern” (Sheryl Lee). [I am required to hold all reactions and reviews until the week of release July 11, 2016] (6/21/2016)
Calendar Girl - As delightful and informative as this documentary is, not identifying Ruth Finley, creator and editor of Fashion Calendar for some 70 years, as born Ruth Faith Finberg not only misses an important element of her focus on family in raising three sons (of Jewish husbands) as a single mother and her Jewish last boyfriend who was a big macha at Bloomingdales. Female designers mentioned in passing that she championed included Pauline Trigère and Anne Klein, without identifying them as Jewish either. More than the nostalgic Dressing America: Tales From The Garment Center, it is glaring and annoying that fashion historian Natalie Nudell, the co-writer and producer, left this gap of the Jewish angle on the High Fashion shmata trade. (preview at 2020 DOC NYC Festival) (11/9/2020)
Call Your Mother (includes comics Judy Gold and Rachel Feinstein, and the mother of Judah Friedlander) (preview at 2020 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/7/2020)
The Cakemaker (Der Kuchenmacher) - So, nu: In his debut feature, Israeli-born writer/director in Ofir Raul Graizer was, he says in the press notes, inspired by “a private memory” with “the attempt to put aside definition of nationality, sexuality, and religion”. So I found “Anat” (Sarah Adler) refreshingly realistic: she is a secular widow who only kept kosher at home and at her café because her husband’s Jerusalem family is Orthodox. (In interviews, Graizer says that aspect was inspired by his parents’ relationship). As she gets over her grief, she more and more rebels against their strictures, particularly as they try to control her young son. She is also credible in gradually realizing that the German lover her husband intended to leave her for was a young man, including her action in the ambiguous ending. Also against stereotype is her Orthodox, head-covered, mother-in-law “Hannah” (Sandra Sade) who seems to have either been her son’s confidante about his secret life, or she knew him well enough to figure it out, and warmly welcomes the titular lover “Thomas” (Tim Kalkhof). While early on it seems maybe the husband was bi-sexual, by his mother’s sympathy, she may have finally understood that he only married and had a child at the family’s insistence. (I don’t recall mention of his father, but we can presume he was probably like his martinet brother “Moti”, played by Zohar Strauss.) I read a really nasty review by a gay critic who sneered that this downplays “queer passion” in favor of heterosexual love (though there is an explicit gay love scene), but I saw sensitivity to people caught in-betweens. Graizer posted on Israel’s Oscar-equivalent: “Ophir Awards nominated for: Best Feature, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Script, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Actress (Sarah Adler), Best Soundtrack & Best Artistic Design” (at 2018 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (preview courtesy of Strand Releasing) (updated 7/2/2018)
Call Her Applebroog (seen at MoMA’s 2016 Documentary Fortnight) (3/31/2016)
Call Me By Your Name So, nu: I haven’t yet read André Aciman’s novel if the “Perlman” family was originally Jewish, and the women in any gay male love story are ancillary. The film is set in 1983 in northern Italy at the sumptuous villa the Italian mother “Annella”, a translator, inherited. In the press notes, the actress who plays her, Amira Casar, says of the parents: “although they have a love of tradition and the past—they are also resolutely modern. While they are transmitting a strong taste of the classics to Elio in this Garden of Eden, at the same time they are pushing him out to go and experiment and live his life. Most parents tend to put a rein on their kids, and instead they’re saying, ‘Go out there! Live, life is a gift. Live it to the full.’ I think both Annella and her husband are very ahead of their time, extremely tolerant forward thinking, and permissive.” Actually, I saw her as pimping out her 17 year old pianist son “Elio” (Timothée Chalamet) to the gorgeous hunk graduate student “Oliver” (Armie Hammer), summer research assistant to her American husband/Greco-Roman Classics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg). While the object of desire is from a small New England town and used to being (double meaning) different, proudly wears his large Jewish star outside his shirts, “Elio” says his mother always advised that they are “Jews by discretion”, but starts imitating his crush. [I think that’s the line.] She’s also the kind of Jewish mother who has her local housekeeper light the Hanukkah candles and make their latkes. Throughout, it’s not clear if the local girl “Elio” pops his cheery with and unceremoniously dumps when he revels in his new gay identity, “Marzia” (Esther Garrel, of the Garrels of French cinema, whose mother is Brigitte Sy) is Jewish, but she is made up with a mop of brown, curly hair for a strong, visual implication.
When the student and teacher work together, the professor is constantly trying to seduce the assistant through images of ancient sculptures by erotically describing their artistry, clearly something he has done each year with his male assistants. His closing monologue to his son is considered by the novelist as an enlightened father accepting that his son is gay, but the father is really sadly admitting that he and his middle-aged body were “invisible” to the closeted 20something who somehow finds a scrawny, immature kid’s body (my colleague Laura Blum taught me the word “glabrous” as apt) sexually irresistible, at least in Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s gorgeous cinematography, with no background on any previous gay relationships to explain his preference for such young inexperience. (Supporting my un-PC theory that’s also George Balanchine’s ideal beauty type for ballerinas to emulate.) The father is also clearly saying he regrets not coming out as gay and is telling his son not to deny himself. Director Luca Guadagnino proudly said at the New York Film Festival press conference that he worked on James Ivory’s original script and filming to eliminate the usual young love, including queer romance, cinema clichés – gee, except the usual gay guy infatuated teen’s initiation by an older irresponsibly immature guy who can’t deal with a relationship with a male his own age. The chain-smoking mother even sends her son off with “Oliver” on an obviously romantic weekend with the justification “I think their friendship is good for him” – evidently to keep him away from her husband. While “Oliver” laughs that she is “treating me like a son-in-law” (just as he’s announcing his engagement to a woman he’s been “on and off with for years”), she makes a change in her husband’s annual gay affairs by selecting a “she” to be the “new him” next year. (previewed at 2017 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center)
TV master showrunner Ryan Murphy, in a New Yorker interview with their TV critic Emiy Nussbaum, 5/8/208, talks nostalgically, like so many gay men seem to, of a love affair he had as a 15-year-old with a man in his ‘20’s and finally admits that after his parents threatened the man and cut off the relationship, at least that pushed the family into group therapy: ‘Although Murphy raged for years about his parents’ response, he now has sympathy for their reaction: ‘I would do the same thing, no matter what the sexual orientation of my child. A fifteen-year-old boy dating somebody who was older? I didn’t really understand it until I had kids.’ His heartbreak also led to something positive. To Murphy’s surprise, the therapist listened to him and took his side: ‘He told my parents that I was precocious and that I was smarter than they were, and that if they didn’t leave me alone I’d end up leaving town and never talking to them again.’” (updated 5/8/2018)
Call Me Dancer - Leslie Shampaine and Pip Gilmour’s documentary followed over five years how Israeli ballet teacher Yehuda Maor, formerly with Bat Dor Dance Company, and now in his seventies a fish out of water at a small Mumbai dance studio, as he becomes a guru to hard-working, working-class, hopeful professional dancer Manish Chauhan. When he finagles getting Manish into the Summer Intensive Program of the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, we see him meet Jewish women as his fellow students, and notes that these Americans can’t eat hot spices without turning red. Manish also gets to audition for the female artistic director of the company: “I’d take him in a heartbeat. I like him, but I have no budget for another dancer now.” Yehuda then gets him an audition with Noa Wertheim, co-founder of the Vertigo Dance Company: “We would fit you, but this is only a project. It’s not enough for a whole year.”, and that’s what Manish really needs. Back home in Israel, Yehuda admits why he needs a substitute family like his best students, as his grandparents, aunt and uncle perished in the Holocaust, while in the kibbutz where he grew up, he was bullied a lot.
The highly fictionalized version that Manish is seen filming in the documentary is Sooni Taraporevala’s 2020 Yeh Ballet, on Netflix. It eliminates his time in Israel. (at 2023 Dance on Camera Festival of Dance Films Association and Film at Lincoln Center) (2/15/2023)
Call Your Mother
Camp Girls (reviewed at 2009 Annual New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (The press screener included an essential interview with photographer Gay Block that explained the background to her initial photographic project and this follow-up documentary, recalling both Jean Bach's A Great Day in Harlem that decades later interviewed subjects of Art Kane's classic jazz photo and Michael Apted's 7 Up etc. longitudinal documentation.) (1/18/2009)
Campfire (Medurat Hashevet)
Carmel (In a stream-of-consciousness rumination to try and understand the differences between his military service and his son's a generation later, Amos Gitai films re-enactments of his family history in Israel, including a dedication to and loving portrait of his late, intellectual mother Efratia, portrayed in her youth by his daughter Keren and when older by Keren Mor, who each read some of her letters to the camera.) (2/10/2010)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? - How could I watch a film based on a real woman writer (and letter forger) living on the Upper West Side named Lee Israel and not realize she was Jewish? Gee, I didn’t see any clues whatsoever, but somehow Jude Dry writing in Indiewire, 11/16/2018, about the gay characters, could identify her specifically as “a Jewish lesbian”. Maybe he read her memoir that specifies? (11/17/2018)
The Cantor’s Last Cantata (short) – The cantor is a female, Suzanne Bernstein, retiring from a merged reformed synagogue in Brooklyn, and she presides over an integrated chorus of men and women, old and young, who enthuse about her in sweet interviews. Director Harvey Wang, a member of the congregation, fondly documents the rehearsals and final performance of her retirement celebration, that revives her 1986 production of Brooklyn Baseball Cantata (music by George Kleinsinger, words by Michael Stratton, written in 1937, most famously recorded in 1948 by Robert Merrill, as heard in the opening montage of the borough and its baseball sights, and put in context by a Brooklyn Dodgers fan historian). The lively cast includes the cantor’s daughter, who takes on the soprano role she had performed decades earlier. (preview at 2021 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum) (1/31/2021)
Casino Jack (So, nu: For all the somewhat conflicting references to Abramoff being an observant Jew with a passle of kids, including at least one daughter, his wife, Pamela Alexander, certainly seems to be a shiksa, played as blonde and bland by Kelly Preston. There's a line that she met him at Brandeis, in the College Republicans together, but he reminisces oddly about her "reading Cosmo and mispronouncing the Yiddish words." She warns him not to chase after the Golden Calf, what with their missed mortgage payments.)
Castles In The Sky (short) Director Pearl Gluck lovingly caught actress Lynn Cohen for her final, memorable role as a woman with a complicated life – a past in Auschwitz where her family was killed, a day job advising Hasidic girls, brides, and couples on kosher sex, and freedom at nights across the river at poetry slams where she can express her feelings about it all – as long as it’s secret.
A Life Apart: Hasidism in America (1997) World Premiere of new 4K restoration celebrating 25th anniversary of Oren Rudavsky and Menachem Daum’s documentary that also featured Pearl Gluck. In interviews, she explained why she left the restrictions of her Hasidic community, and expressed her love for her family for continuing visits. The 2022 restoration could use an addended update if she was able to achieve that as the Hasids expanded in locations, political power, nepotistic leadership, and overall rigidity. (both at 2023 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum) (1/30/2023)
The Catcher Was A Spy - I haven’t yet read the book that was the basis by Nicholas Dawidoff, so from the Press Notes: “Sienna Miller plays Estella Huni, Berg’s long-term love interest in New York City whom he forsook for his espionage career. Says Rudd of Miller: “She is just in every capacity the greatest version (of Estella) that you could possible hope for.” Sienna considers Moe and Estella’s complicated relationship to be the film’s emotional core. “He's very hidden and covert; she's often wanting more than he is able to give so there's tension between them and frustration. But I did get the sense that there was an awful lot of love.”… The filmmakers also received the full cooperation of the Princeton University Library, which houses The Moe Berg Papers, a remarkably extensive collection of correspondence, notes, photographs, and miscellaneous printed materials covering all aspects of his life and work…This unique collection also includes love letters between Berg and his only known long-term romantic interest, Estella Huni, which provided the filmmakers and actress Sienna Miller, who plays her, with great insight into their relationship and into the two as individuals. Miller notes: “There were beautiful letters between the two of them -- she was obviously very witty and bright and stimulated by his intellect, which was vast." Agrees Levine, “There was a real sense from her that he was not much of a communicator, a reserved man who didn't express himself all that often. You could sense from her correspondence how close they were and how well they understood each other." As to her sexily dramatic dresses by costume designer Joan Bergin, Miller is quoted as finding them “elegant but believable” and her to be “an amazing artist and costume designer. She really approaches costume design with a method acting approach. She feels every character really intensely and wanted Estella to have her moment and be honored.”
While Moe Berg frequently begs off on his identity as being “Jew-ish”, and non-observant (though he does attend synagogue amdist the tension of his overseas mission), and he’s seen as either gay in secret or bi-sexual for appearances, I think those were Shabbat candles she lights for their dinners with red wine, and there appears to be a prayer book on their table, so I’ll consider her a “putative Jewish woman”. She lives alone, supports herself as a piano teacher, and he compliments her classical piano playing. But, as often as he emotes “I love you”, with no response from her, he makes very clear to her “You’re not my wife”, and the closing scroll says she later married a Naval officer. (6/12/2018)
CBGB So, nu: A highly fictionalized version of the sensible Jewish women behind the downtown club, who apparently controlled how they were presented in exchange for the rights to the story. (10/12/2013)
Chagall and Malevich So, nu: Bella Rosenfeld (striking debut performance by Kristina Schneidermann) is the most full-bodied character and actor in this beautifully visually evocative Russian magic realism evocation of the source of his art, the village in Vitebsk and the Revolutionary era he nostalgically looked back to in the pieces seen in the recent Jewish Museum exhibition. (Images from over 140 paintings were used in the film.) Loyally waiting for him as he studies in Paris, then defying her conservative parents to marry him (in a lively traditional Jewish wedding), she’s his muse and lover. She’s sensual, intelligent, passionate, supportive -- and it helps that she has a nanny to help with their baby. The Chagalls’ granddaughter artist Meret Meyer-Graber approved her casting, as well as the painting selections and use. The Russian Jewish writer/director Alexander Rabinovich Mitta modeled their relationship on his artist wife Lilya Mayorova. Not quite as believably, she’s also the point of a long-running triangle with an obsessed Red Commissar Naum (Semyon Shkalikov), our “Robespierre”, as she calls him.) (6/12/2015)
Canadian directors Eric Warin & Tahir Rana use animation effectively to tell the dramatic story of German-Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon (1927 – 1943) to appeal to a wide audience of adults, more than many films about Holocaust victims. Much of her life was laced with tragedy even before, and she was only just developing her talents in Berlin as the Nazis came to power. Michelino Bisceglia’s score also echoes how death haunted her family. Scripters Erik Rutherford and David Bezmozgis emphasize the romantic inspirations in her life, more than other interpretations have, albeit with some fictionalizations to fill in gaps beyond her posthumously revealed autobiographical testament in “degenerate” painted images and the words of “Life? Or Theater?”, with the approval of the Charlotte Salomon Foundation.
The filmmakers contrast the increasing darkness over Germany (swastikas saturate in blood red banners) and within her family against her temporary haven on the sunny Côte d'Azur. The script also gives more attention to this eccentric sheltering by American philanthropist Ottilie Moore, who most other interpretations slight, as well as Charlotte’s fraught relationship with her grandfather that her survivor parents reportedly excised from earlier releases of her work. An epilogue is a TV interview with them about three years after discovering her oeuvre in France (clips from it are also included in Charlotte Salomon: Life and the Maiden (Le Jeune Fille et La Vie)). Distributed with both French (poster above) and English dialogue options (I streamed the English version On Demand through Amazon), the animators use the French visual convention of portraying a Jewish woman with auburn hair. I was reminded of Irène Némirovsky, another young creative Jewish woman in France madly trying to express as much of herself as she could until capture stops her, and deprives the world from seeing their full flowering. (1/18/2023)
Charlotte Salomon: Life and the Maiden (Le Jeune Fille et La Vie)
- courtesy of New York Jewish Film Festival
French directors/sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin first developed a theater production to accomplish Charlotte Salomon’s original plans for her legacy masterwork “Life? Or Theater?” as a songspiel play. While in exile as a German Jewish artist in Vichy France when she realistically suspected her mid-20s could be the last two years of her life, Salomon painted about 1,300 gouaches that she overlaid with sheets of text written on tracing paper, including musical notations, such as for Bach, Schubert, Mahler and the then German anthem, altogether conceptualized as a multimedia semi-autobiography (names were fancifully changed).
Playing on the title of one of her paintings (and Schubert String Quartet) “Death and the Maiden”, the Coulins recreate her work as the basis for an enthralling film that uses her rarely-seen collected pieces, interlaced with period stock footage and archival photographs, and following her musical instructions. Opening with her intense self-portrait (above) and Charlotte’s plea entrusting the package of “her life” with a local doctor in 1943, her German-language text is adapted into a first-person narrative in French, voiced by Luxembourger actress Vicky Krieps. In addition to an unseen narrator, the other, vividly painted people in this version of her life include: the father as “Albert Kann” voiced by Yves Heck; the grandfather as “Mr. Knarre” (Andre Wilms); the grandmother as “Madame Knarre” (Hanna Schygulla); the opera-singing step-mother as “Paulinka Bimbam” (Catherine Ringer); and the music teacher as “Amadeus Daberlohn” (Mathieu Amalric).
While a selection of the gouaches was first exhibited in Amsterdam in 1961, and then exhibited around the world with increasing frequency, as well as published since 1963 in incomplete editions, I was surprised when I visited the Amsterdam Jewish Museum, where Charlotte’s parents donated her magnum opus in 1971 (a few of her drawings are also at Yad Vashem), to see just a rotating five are kept on exhibit, due to their fragile condition. So this film is a wonderful opportunity to even see so many pictures of the luminous paintings in order (segueing into a few of the actual works at the end). With her words and musical cues, the film passionately immerses the audience in her story.
Edited for caustic emphasis, Chapter 1 begins with the tangled family history before this Charlotte was born. The impressions of her family members may or not be literally “true”, such as her step-mother discouraging her art toward a more useful skill like tailoring, and her sexual “experiments” with the teacher as Kristallnacht looms. Her final romantic relationship is given short shrift as with “someone she met”. The black and white epilogue includes what looks like German TV interview clips with her parents, I think a bit more extended than seen in the otherwise animated Charlotte, and family photographs of her. (World Premiere at 2023 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum) (1/19/2023)
Charm Circle - I’ll say straight up that I not only do not share the opinion of film festival judges who acclaim this documentary directed and produced by Nira Burstein, but I’m gobsmacked that this excruciating portrait of a Jewish family in Queens (mostly) is achieving such comments as this from the “Metropolis Section” jury at the 2021 DOC NYC Film Festival: “Special Mention: The honesty and bravery of the filmmaker are powerfully felt in approaching the subject of family dysfunction in a candid and uncensored way. With strong character development, the narrative patiently/lovingly unfolds with moments of humor and creativity to build compassion for a family’s hopes and dreams as well as a profound sense of loss.” Instead, what I see is yet another filmmaker obsessed by the Maysles’s Grey Gardens (1975), which I still think was an unethical exploitation of siblings with mental problems who has an extensive archive of home movies to draw on to document their family members’ declines. The Burstein father’s problems after a local real estate career are vaguely attributed to a nervous breakdown and the mother’s to various psychiatric diagnoses that landed her at various times in mental hospitals, as early as in her college years, though she was able to finish an education-related master’s degree and hold down teaching jobs for many years. Another recent pointedly Christian example of taking the genre further by mining one’s own family for such exploitation is Angelo Madsen Minax’s North By Current, such that I wonder if festival judges nowadays are especially entranced when at least one of the disapproving family members is gay. The director’s sister is in what would have been called a lesbian ménage à trois, but is now considered a polyamorous family. Or do they find Jews exotic? Yet among other introspective Jewish documentarians, such as Judith Helfand and Alan Berliner, their use of their families and home movie archives as the basis for their films do not seem in any way as exploitative. For the Jewish angle on this family, suspense is built up whether their kippah-wearing father, who throughout rails against his youngest daughter’s planned wedding as against Jewish law, will attend the ceremony on the West Coat with his wife and two East Coast-based daughters, including their eldest who is developmentally disabled. (All the daughters have Hebrew names.) When I recognized an intersection where the couple is arguing as in my neighborhood, I started wondering how my small, messy house would look through such strategically aimed cameras, so I’ve even been doing some straightening up this week. Luckily, neither of my sons, has goals to so aim, and my grandsons are too young yet to try, as I wonder if any family so examined would look so wince-able. (updated 11/19/2021)
Chasing Portraits - Subtitled A Great-Granddaughter’s Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy, Elizabeth Rynecki’s documentary is more about her feelings as the child/grandchild of Holocaust survivors and her great-grandfather artist Moshe Rynecki who insisted on sharing the fate of the Jewish community he had painted for decades into the Warsaw Ghetto than hiding with his family, who survived. She is first obsessed with tracking down more of his work than the 120 paintings her great-grandmother Perla had amazingly tracked down in Poland right after the war (out of his estimated 800 piece oeuvre) or at least their photographs and provenance, art that surrounded Elizabeth as she grew up. Her 2016 book, written as the documentary was developing, has much more background detail.
But an on-screen consultation with Carla Shapreau, Lecturer, Art & Cultural Property Law, U.C. Berkeley, School of Law, convinces her that rather than “legal justice” offered through Holocaust reclamation claims (as was the case in Portrait of Wally and Woman in Gold), she would probably feel more emotionally satisfied with “historical justice”. With that attitude, she can visit collectors and museums that own Moshe’s fulsome not kitschy, lived not nostalgic, and increasingly popular vignettes of inter-war Jewish life in Judeo-philic circles in Poland, document the artwork (from Canada to Poland to Israel), be assured they are cared for and well-maintained, and empathetically connect with the owners, while always hoping more art could still yet surface from descendants of those who found, bought, or were given them. (My old family friend/NYU professor emeritus Daniel Walkowitz in The Remembered and Forgotten Jewish World: Jewish Heritage in Europe and the United States, (2018) Rutgers University Press, raises similar issues, also with POLIN Curator Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, about history and artifacts.) “Portraits” as a word takes on multi-layered meanings.
The audience viscerally shares her whirligig of emotions during her search; she’s especially sensitive in not pushing her father on difficult memories. A reunion with a woman cousin who also has art gifted to her family branch is very moving. Others, like me, who don’t have physical reminders as a heritage, can relate through family genealogy to find living relatives, like the outreach I do with my paternal family, who my father had fondly grown up with, but had lost contact. (at 2019 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (preview courtesy of First Run Features) (4/18/2019)
Children of the Sun (seen at 2008 Israel Film Festival) (In interviews with the founding generation of kibbutzim and their children, there is a focus on the pro’s and con’s for mothers and offspring to communal childraising, with a gamut of reflections. There was no questioning of the continuance of other more conventional gender roles within kibbutz responsibilities. While the children say that they considered those they grew up so intimately with as siblings, it wasn’t made clear that they met dating partners/future spouses within the movement at joint events or high schools with other kibbutzim, my in-laws who I watched the film with added that information from their friends in the movement.) (11/28/2008)
Children Must Laugh (Mir Kumen On)
This 1936 (almost all in Yiddish) international fundraiser for the Medem Sanatorium near Warsaw, Poland demonstrates that it was not just the Zionists who dreamed of a “New Jew” – healthy, athletic, creative, agricultural. So did the Communist General Union of Jewish Workers. While a girl is one of the central children followed from Warsaw to a kind of Fresh Air Fund type makeover and the girls are active and talented, the gender-based work and play assignments betray the limits of their idealism – the girls do the domestic tasks, play with the domestic toys, sing prettily for several numbers, and only get to be recording secretary as boys run for the ruling council. The only way to not watch this in tears at their coming fates is knowing that at least some of the graduates were among the Warsaw Ghetto Uprisers seven years later. (Thanks to Serge Bromberg & Lobster Films for the restoration) (seen at 2016 To Save and Project: MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation of Museum of Modern Art) (11/22/2016)
This film is planned to be included in Kino Lorber’s future box set The Jewish Soul: Classics of Yiddish Cinema, that will up to 10 films, including other restorations by Lobster Films. (5/31/2019)
Christ Stopped At Eboli (Cristo si è fermato a Eboli) (Parts 1 – 4) (1979)
“Interview with director Francesco Rosi (between the editing and the mix: Rome, December 20, 1978, Interviews taped in French by Michel Ciment and published in Positif number 215) Q: There are few women in your films. The sister of Carlo [Levi], [Luisa Levi] played by Lea Massari, has a lot of presence. A: It’s a presence of a rational woman who incarnates, in the film, a sort of rational consciousness; a brother who started in a society which represents rationality and who is beginning to be touched by a society of the irrational.”
Interview by Gian Luigi Rondi in Il Tempo, April 15, 1979: “The scene in which Levi talks to his sister, who came from Turin to see him. What he tells her are the essentials of what he has understood about the problems of the South [Italy], which, in the book, appear in chapters set apart from the story, in the form, precisely, of analytic meditation. In this dialogue, which is a real confrontation, we’ve summed up the arguments which appear throughout the book and we’ve given them dramatic clothing, so that they would become an integral part of the story… I haven’t made a film about Levi, but about an autobiographical book by Levi. I’ve been told that Volontè’s Levi doesn’t resemble the real Carlo Levi. I don’t mind in the least. The film is the book seen by me, and in the film, all in all, I am Carlo Levi.”
The director’s interpretation may explain why the film adaptation never mentions that the Levis’ of Turin in Northern Italy are Jewish – and even their surname doesn’t give any inkling to anyone in the South that they are not Christian/Catholic. (Nor does a concluding scroll mention that even after he was released from another arrest for anti-Fascist activities due to Mussolini’s downfall, he wrote the memoir while he was in hiding from the Nazis in Florence.) His sister is a practicing doctor, and immediately upon seeing the terrible health situation in the area, especially preventable malaria, as she strolls around the village with her brother, she starts helping the peasants and making plans to send medical supplies. They were very distantly related to Primo Levi; the younger latter called Carlo “my illustrious namesake” in anti-Fascist activities. In the memoir itself, the villagers just presume Carlo is Catholic, but a new priest comes into town and seems to know his background because he gets determined to get him converted and baptized. (preview of uncut restoration with new subtitles at Film Forum) (4/9/2019; 9/16/2019)
A Christmas Tale (Un conte de Noël) (Arnaud Desplechin has a signature element in each of his films of including a Jewish character, and here “Faunia” (played by Emmanuelle Devos) may be his first Jewish woman since Esther Kahn. While the matriarch of her lover’s family confusingly teases him for being Jewish, maybe because he might be the only son she had circumcised or because it’s a French slang/idiom poorly translated as I also heard it in Love Songs (Les Chansons D’amour), “Faunia” finally makes clear that she’s had enough of Christmas and happily leaves to celebrate a non-holiday with her saner family.) (11/28/2008)
Chronicle of a Kidnap (Documentary about a wife's against-all-odds efforts to free her soldier husband, recalling A Mighty Heart, even after the war was unsuccesfful. While it is almost too sad to watch (watch through the credits), it is noteworthy seeing how the different women in his life react differently to the very tense, and doomed, situation, the choices they make about how public and political to be, and how that changes the wife as a woman.) (seen at 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (1/25/2010)
Cinema Sabaya - Debut filmmaker Orit Fouks Rotem was inspired by her mother’s experience running a photography workshop for a mixed class of Arab and Jewish women, then ran such classes herself, per this 11/8/2021 interview in Haaretz. Her fictional version is set in Hadera, near Haifa Israel, a mixed community. The Jewish teacher from Tel Aviv “Rona” (Dana Ivgy, the only professional actress in the cast) starts out a bit naïve, and is reluctant to reveal her sexual identity. The eight class members are not all familiar with the experiences of the others, such that they ask about their hair and head coverings. While, unusually for me, I didn’t specifically track what we learn about the Jewish women, the practice footage from each home is revealing to all of them about their different living arrangements. One can tell that the single woman living on a boat with her dog is Jewish, while the mother with at least six kids is an Arab. They each end up apologizing to each other for stereotyping the others. The diversity of age, motherhood and (past and present) marital status seems a bit too pat, as well as how their solidarity helps several make dream changes in their lives, but is certainly gratifying and heartwarming. (previewed at 2021 Other Israel Film Festival/ at 2022 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum/ theatrical release by Kino Lorber) (1/22/2022/ updated 12/20/2022)
Circus of Books So, nu: As her daughter, director Rachel Mason makes much of her gay porn bookstore owning mom Karen’s religious Jewish background. She keeps referring to her synagogue as “Conservative”, but seems to mean politically, not in terms of affiliation or observance. Clearly, her own Jewish education didn’t stick. As they lived near the West Hollywood store, it’s also surprising Mrs. Mason wouldn’t have availed herself of another synagogue, especially once she gets active in PFLAG. The general audience, however, just enjoys the incongruity of Karen saying about her husband and business partner during the Reagan administration’s legal attacks on pornography: “There was a real possibility one of us was going to have to go to jail. And I thought it was going to have to be Barry, because I was very involved in planning our son’s bar mitzvah.” (preview at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/27/2019)
Citizen Jane: Battle For The City Several of the interviewed “mothers” who successfully protested with Jane Jacobs as friends and neighbors against Robert Moses’ automotive plans for the West Village are Jewish, including Carol Greitzer, who went on to be a New York City Councilwoman from 1975–1991. (review) (previewed at 2016 DOC NYC Festival) (10/31/2016)
The City and the City - While Greek directors Christos Passalis and Syllas Tzoumerkas grew up in Thessaloniki during the 1980’s-1990’s when they say no one talked about what happened to the Sephardic Jewish community there during World War 2 and in its aftermath, the horrific genocide there was not as “unknown” as they claim; I have seen at least three other documentaries and dramas, though not of wide public release. However, from what was originally a multi-media installation exhibit, they have created an astoundingly creative perspective, that includes many Jewish women on screen, several appropriately speaking Ladino, through a hybrid of researched documentary with archival photographs, letters, testimony, and factual information in six chapters on their lives from the 1930’s through 1983, re-enactments, that switch between period-looking black-and-white and in color for contemporary impact, and dramatizations imagining revenge and PTSD. Though the credits are too complicated to match up roles and actresses, the female cast members include: Angeliki Papoulia, Niki Papandreou, Themis Bazaka, Maria Filini, Marisha Triantafyllidou, Zoi Sigalou, Marina Siotou, Danai Primali, and Vasia Bakakou. (at North American premiere in 2022 New Directors/New Films of Film at Lincoln Center/ MoMA) (4/29/2022)
City Dreamers (Rêveuses de villes)- I was surprised to find through post-screening research that at least three of the four doyennes of Canadian – and world—architecture, in their ‘90s are Jewish: Phyllis Lambert, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Denise Scott Brown. (I couldn’t find detailed enough biographical info on the 4th, Blanche Lemco Van Ginkel, to rule her out.) I already knew about Phyllis Bronfman Lambert, but there are only hints in Joseph Hillel’s documentary. Mentioned in passing is that she was raised in Montreal’s Westmount neighborhood, same as Leonard Cohen, that was known as an upper class Jewish enclave. With her very distinctive, almost punk, look, she admits that the French she speaks in interviews with the director she learned in Paris, where she stayed on after her 1954 divorce. An archival interviewee laughs that she married quickly in 1949 in order to discard her “Bronfman” family name – the very prominent and wealthy Jewish family in philanthropy and the business of running Seagram’s. Which is how she got her first major success in 1957, supervising the design of its corporate headquarters in Manhattan. And her first sole credit – the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts in Montreal that her family wanted as a tribute to her mother. But the director also doesn’t make clear that she founded, with her share of the family distillery fortune, the Canadian Centre for Architecture.
Not mentioned is that the legendary architect and architectural theorist Denise Scott Brown was born Denise Lakofski, very influenced by her Jewish family who came to what is now Zambia from Lithuania and Latvia, part of the tendency to only see her through the perspective of her 2nd marriage in 1967, to Robert Venturi. I will be submitting her for inclusion in the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Encyclopedia.
While Cornelia Hahn Oberlander’s early years in Berlin are told in relation to her widowed mother getting her children out from war-torn Nazi Germany – which is a misdirection because Cornelia was 18 when they left for England in 1938 and came to New York in 1939. Not mentioned is that she’s Jewish; she and her late husband were active in the Vancouver Jewish community, as members of Or Shalom, a reconstructionist synagogue (according to my cousins, who are friendly with their family). Also not mentioned was her projects in Israel. I also will be submitting her for inclusion in the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Encyclopedia. (U.S. Premiere at 2019 ADFF NY/ seen streaming at 2020 Architecture & Design Film Festival) (4/20/2020)
City Of Gold When Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold talks about his family and upbringing, childhood photographs are seen of him with his mother – but the edit doesn’t include any mention of her. Are his and his brother’s sarcastic comments about growing up on meals highlighted by Jello desserts reflections on her cooking or striving for American cultural assimilation?
City of Joel (So, nu: In documenting the tensions over the efforts of the Satmar Hasidic Village of Kiryas Joel, in NY’s Orange County, to expand through annexation into other areas of the town of Monroe, there’s an extensive interview with one woman defending her community and the status of women within it, because the “United Monroe” non-Hasidic group keeps bringing up abuse of women as an issue. The only time she feels more human and less robotic is when she talks about the pressures to have children and says she had to do a lot to achieve that, implying fertility assistance. Director Jesse Sweet is able to hear (secretly) about dissenting views. When one supervised vote is held, 30% vote against their community, but, of course, there’s no way to know how many of those were women. More, he talks to a young woman who lived in the Satmars’ original Brooklyn community – she was kicked out of her home at 17 by her mother for dating, and had to (eventually) re-invent her life as secular. Otherwise, the cameras can only get brief glimpses of girls and women at the fringes of community activities where a few always seem to be watching from the outside. I had to wonder if I have cousins there, or maybe they live in the growing Rockland County ultra-Orthodox enclaves. (preview at 2018 DOC NYC Festival) (10/31/2018)
City of Joy Eve Ensler is the fundraiser and promoter behind this courageous project to save and renew women brutalized in the wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While she is seen sharing her personal story of rape and abuse to connect with the women, as well her experience around the world, particularly in Bosnia, to help organize such women into community leadership cadres, director Madeleine Gavin’s documentary seems like a commissioned promotion and fundraising tool. (previewed at 2016 DOC NYC Festival) (10/31/2016)
Closed Circuit (Bema’agal Sagoor) - Director Tal Inbar’s tense documentary, with Sharon Yaish’s terrific editing, interviews eyewitnesses to the 2016 terrorist attack in the shopping mall-like Sarona Market in downtown Tel Aviv in relation to the moment-by-moment closed circuit TV footage. Ironically, this is pretty much what The New York Times does after almost each of the too-frequent mass shootings in the U.S. As in those cases, race and military experience are key factors for what the survivors did, as here the Arabs interviewed had traumatic reactions. Two young Jewish Israeli women are interviewed extensively. A waitress who was in the kitchen before, during, and after the shootings, and was very focused on her job responsibilities, no longer makes any plans for her future life. A teenager was eating dinner in the restaurant with her brother, father, and step-mother; she details her relationships with them, and running to pull her bloodied step-mother into the bathroom, until she faces up to her father’s murder in front of her that night as she prepares for her upcoming induction into the military. (at 2022 DOC NYC Film Festival/ courtesy of Go2 Films) (11/24/2022)
Closeness (Tesnota) (So, nu: Writer/director Kantemir Balagov opens the film with a statement that this is a true story from 1998 in his home town of Nalchik, North Caucasus, Russia. He provides generalized context in the press notes: “Jews and Kabardians can be as close to each other as they can be apart. Caucasian society is more patriarchal, Jewish society more matriarchal. Jews are more dynamic, more enterprising; the Caucasians are slower, more melancholic in a way. But the propensity to preserve the family, to preserve their roots, is common to both. There were many Jewish people in Kabardino-Balkaria. And during World War 2 and the invasion of the Caucasus by German troops, Jews were often hidden and protected by the Kabardians. They started to learn the Kabardian language and many of them settled after the war, creating a true Jewish community in Nalchik, with a Jewish quarter and a synagogue that is still there today. On the other hand, since Perestroika, there are unfortunately hardly any left: many emigrated to New York and Israel, and some moved to Moscow. . . From the beginning I was adamant that the Jewish characters should be played by Jewish actors, and the Kabardian parts by Kabardians. It was a question of truthfulness. I had a casting director in Saint Petersburg who worked tirelessly. We found Darya Zhovner [who plays the central character Ilana] in Moscow; she had just completed her studies at MKhaT, Moscow Art Theatre. The parents [Olga Dragunova as Adina, and Artem Tsypin as Avi] are theatre actors from Saint Petersburg. The kidnapped brother is a cook, not a professional actor - even though he has appeared in a film by Aleksey German. Jr. Zalim, the Kabardian boyfriend [Zalim], is a professional actor who studied at the famous Shchukin Theatre Institute in Moscow.”
The daughter powerfully portrays: the resentment of her parents’ preference for the son in the family and to sacrifice everything for him; the temptation of the bad boy from the majority, sensual culture compared to the fixed traditions of the close-knit Jewish families, here the Kabardians who seem to spend a lot of time drinking; and insistence on doing what she wants – an auto mechanic along side her father. Her brother’s and his fiancee’s kidnapping (because the criminals thought any Jew was wealthy?) sets off both personal and ethnic tensions, even as Muslim nationalism was just starting to take a terrorist direction in this region. (preview at 2018 New Directors/New Films of Film at Lincoln Center/MoMA (3/14/2018)
Close To Home (Karov La Bayit (previewed at Tribeca Film Festival with a Q & A by the directors.) (See with its non-fiction counterpart To See If I’m Smiling (Lir’ot Im Ani Mehayechet), viewed at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at Lincoln Center)
Cloudy Sunday (Ouzeri Tsitsanis/Ουζερί Τσιτσάνης)
Manousos Manousakis's 2015 fiction feature, based on a novel by Giorgios Skabardonis that’s not available in English, looks at the experiences of Jews (speaking Ladino), musicians (playing a lot of passionate songs and much lovely music by Vassilis Tsitsanis written during this period, who is here played by Andreas Konstantinou), as referenced in the Greek film’s beautiful poster with a bouzouki above, and resistance/collaboration in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, under the Nazis in 1942.
The first film showing the decimation of the city’s Sephardic Jewish community from over 50,000 to just over 1,900 survivors (when most Holocaust films only feature Ashkenazi Jews, other than documentaries I’ve seen at the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival), the extended Beza family is representative. The central story is a Romeo & Juliet one of young Estrea (played by Christina Hilla Fameli), first daring to help the Resistance by typing up transmissions about German military activities in Greece to be sent on to the British, falling in love with the hunky George/Giorgos/Yorgos in the subtitles (played by Haris Fragoulis), the Christian radio operator/carpenter/waiter (in the ouzeria/tavern where Tsitsanis’s band plays with a female singer). Estrea defies her parents’ arrangement to marry David Revah (Abraham Cohen), and cut her off when she confesses her relationship. While their romantic scenes are passionately lovely and sexy, there’s mordant humor when her father announces You’re dead to me! as they’re going to be on the transport to Auschwitz any day. There’s also inadvertent amusement that unlike other European communities, the Jews didn’t stand out for being brunettes with big noses, including the young lovers, so fake identity papers wouldn’t have been as problematic. (A side story about her rebellious, Cassandra-like older brother Alberto, played by Thodoros Antoniadis, is a bit confusing, let alone that Yorgos hides him in yet another brave act on top of being the only surviving member of a compromised, bomb-setting resistance unit.)
While her mother (in agreement with the accomodationist rabbi) is the most fatally intransigent about leaving their long-time home despite hints of the coming disaster, the scenes in the synagogue as community meeting space show that the women restricted to the balcony are forthright and not at all hesitant, even with head veils, in loudly calling down their disagreements on top of his head. I was disappointed in the daughter’s final, foolish act of filial piety because it would have been more effective to have her be a witness to the treatment the Germans and their anti-Semitic supporters meted out (Yorgos’s father is in passive agreement with them) and to the final round-up, instead of inaccurately showing that the whole city watched them shoved into cattle-cars.
Depite the initially uneven acting, Cloudy Sunday is quite moving. (seen at 2017 New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival) (A Menemsha Films release)(updated 5/3/2017)
Coco (seen at the 2010 Annual NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival) (Among the quizzical elements in this broad, slapsticky, very weak satire of ridiculous excess around a son's bar mitzvah is the basic premise that the blonde mother is not Jewish – what's Mizrahi vernacular for a shiksa?—so calling into question the son's Jewish identity. However, it is entertaining to see the affectionate mother reject her son's exaggerated obsessions with flamboyance, wealth and assimilation to return to her own modest neighborhood with Moroccan music and foods. His sister is loud and obnoxious though.) (2/10/2010)
Code: Debugging The Gender Gap (previewed at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival) (So, nu: Though not mentioned in the film, Walter Isaacson notes in passing in The Innovators that two of the original ”Women of ENIAC”, then referred to as “the ENIAC girls”, were Jewish, Marilyn Wescoff (Meltzer) and Ruth Licterman (Teitelbaum), who were recruited to the WW2-era project by Adele Goldstine (and rediscovered by Kathy Kleiman, programmer/lawyer who I’m not sure is Jewish). Their legacy adds history to the several women programmers interviewed in the film who may be Jewish, and if they were so identified would add nuance to the image of Mark Zuckerberg as the the Silicon Valley Jew. Was the Lois Mandel who wrote the prescient “The Computer Girls” article in Cosmopolitan, April 1967, a relative?) (5/1/2015)
A Coffee In Berlin (Oh Boy) (So, nu: In the satirical film-within-a-film, a haggard Jewish woman is seen having been hidden in an attic by her S.S. officer lover. But he comes in to announce his shock at the news of the Reich’s defeat – and immediately whines about the ironic role reversal that she is free and he now needs to hide, much to her surprise. This silliness is quite a contrast to the old man’s seriously haunted childhood, especially of his father’s eager participation in Kristallnacht (November 1938), and urging him on. In other ironies of German resonance, we also had our tickets checked at that same train station -- the one nearest the former Stasi Secret Police headquarters that’s full of murals touting the Socialist state. At the theater after-party, the pretentious writer/choreographer is furious that he and his friend came late and laughed out loud often. Outside are drunken teenagers, but the former victim can now fiercely protect herself.) (6/15/2014)
Colette (seen at 2014 at Czech That Film Tour) (Though Arnošt Lustig’s novel Colette: A Girl From Antwerp that the film is based on does not appear to be in English for comparison (or how that was inspired by his own experience in Auschwitz,or his wife’s, poet Vera Weislitzova), so now I’m getting used copies of his other semi-autobiographical fiction to read in English), the film was intended for international audiences, so a couple weeks before production (according to lead actor Jirí Mádl who participated in a Q & A at the Consulate’s screening I attended), it was decided the international cast would speak English, albeit with their native accents. But so far it has only been picked up in Japan, doubtless because of its frankness on what Jews did anything to survive in concentration camps – particularly women, both as prisoners and capos (though I wasn’t completely sure which of the latter were Jews and which might have been Polish or other non-Jewish inmates). Central is pretty Belgian internee “Colette” (played by French actress Clémence Thioly), as she is followed from arrival with her mother and sisters who are quickly taken to the gas chambers, through liberation and a few months later, then a couple of decades later with her daughter. While the framing device is too much of a coincidence, her, and other women’s, explicit experiences, as the sex obsession of a commandante, assignment to a brothel, and servicing a female supervisor, show how survival could depend on transfer to a less physically rigorous assignment, favors for her Czech lover (the narrator), and possible opportunities for escape. I also hadn’t seen before on film what it really meant for women to work in “Canada”, rigorously sorting the goods abandoned from each transport to the crematoria, like my mother’s first cousin, as I understand from my one conversation with her in Israel, with my reluctant brother-in-law translating.
The limited English press notes describe her: “Colette comes to the concentration camp as a young girl and she affects everybody around by her beauty. It is not just her physical beauty but within her face, her dark eyes, and her alabastre skin one can feel her charisma, inner beauty and nobility. Her eyes show intense lust for life. She bears the same childish naivity and sincerity of Shakespeare´s Juliet. Day by day as the story progresses, she loses her childhood and she becomes a woman, suffering but strong. Her childlike joy and spontaneity appears especially intense during the love scenes with Willie. She is energetic, animal, sensuous, but also vulnerable, suffering.” Director Milan Cieslar also says “With this film I want to close my World War II trilogy”, but I haven’t seen the others for comparison. (6/6/2014)
Colliding Dreams This NEH-funded documentary on the history of the waves of Zionism adds a couple of nuanced perspectives to the usual discussions (that the original concept was a reaction to the rise of nationalism throughout Europe, and that the rise of religious Zionism with the settler movement was based on pre-rabbinic Biblical interpretation of Judaism). But while there are women academics and peace activists interviewed, including the oldest living attendee of a key Zionist assembly along with Chaim Weizmann, the closest to a gendered analysis is a grandson marveling that his grandmother from a wealthy Eastern European family gave it all up to be an early pioneer happily making gravel on a farm, which hints at her dissatisfaction with the life she would have led at home. (3/15/2016)
Come Back, Africa (So, nu: Not mentioned in the original film or in the “making of” documentary, is that one of the sympathetic white characters in the film is presumably a Jewish woman. When the black hotel worker is reluctantly fired by the white manager due to what is an obviously false accusation of a sexual attack by a white woman guest, an elderly white woman shakes her head and says about the accuser: She’s meshugana! I doubt that’s an Afrikaans’ word as well as Yiddish.) (1/29/2012)
The Comedian (2016) It’s going to take me awhile to detail how much this uneven Sony Classics film, set in NYC and Florida, comes thisclose to the offensive line about Jewish women’s stereotypes, of all ages, vs. how many times it proudly goes over. (12/5/2016)
Comme ton père (from viewing at 2009 NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival) (While of course debut writer/director Marco Carmel suffuses the film with nostalgia for growing up in a Tunisian Jewish family in France and Israel, the lovely Yaël Abécassis as the mother "Mireille" is a three-dimensional woman who is tender and strong, and much in love with her waywardly entrepreneurial husband.) (2/21/2009)
Le Concert (So, nu: The casting of Mélanie Laurent, a non-stereotypical-looking Jewish actress, helps keep the audience guessing about her character's origins, while the portrayal of her mother as both a gifted musician and a political activist surmounts frequent images of passive victims of antisemitism.) (7/27/2010)
Concussion In an interview in Cultural Weekly, 10/10/2013, Sophia Stein asked the writer/director about her debut film she made in her Montclair, NJ home (right near where I grew up) with her own two kids: “Who do you see as the audience for your film, CONCUSSION?” Stacie Passon: “The pragmatic me who made this movie said — the audience will be women experiencing a mid-life crisis. I would love all of them to be exactly like me, Jewish women who are lesbians. Then I came to understand that CONCUSSION is really about the conversation that we are all are having about marriage now. This story doesn’t take the gender identity out of it, it just reframes it from a different angle.” Even though her characters don’t, Passon was comfortable using Yiddish, even that was unfamiliar to both the interviewer and her producer Rose Troche, in another interview, with Melissa Silverstein’s Women and Hollywood 2/1/2013, to describe the film’s genesis: “Basically, I got binged in the head with a baseball. My son hit me and there was this sort of gush of blood on my temple and I just felt not right after that. There was a ton of blood and I remember just going to the hospital, feeling very hazy, kind of getting up, moving around, feeling hurt, you know? And the kids -- yelling at the kids and being just not a very nice person at that point. And I was very hazy and to make a long story short, I got a little "broigus." I got a little cranky, ornery..”
But I only caught one direct reference that the central character of “Abby Ableman” (played by Robin Weigert) is Jewish, let alone her long-time wife, successful divorce lawyer “Kate” (played by Julie Fain Lawrence) or her aggressive client/neighbor “Sam Bennet” and her Goldman Sachs husband “Graham” (played by Maggie Siff and Ben Shenkman who frequently play Jewish characters), when she initially says she couldn’t possibly work as a lesbian prostitute because I’m on the board of my synagogue! Maybe I missed even a menorah around the house – which is usually the cinematic shorthand for religious identity – but at the point after she neglects to pick up their kids at school for the first time due to luxuriating in sex, she comes home to – huh?—read in bed Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint. (3/2/2014)
The Conductor (preview at 2021 Tribeca Film Festival) (6/23/2021)
The Conspiracy - Maxim Pozdorovkin’s well-researched for first-person reflections, yet accessible, primarily animated documentary, narrated by Mayim Bialik, traces the specifics of the history of pernicious, inter-connected antisemitic conspiracies, seen as regenerating online, particularly through three Jewish families: the German Warburg, the Russian (in what is now Ukraine) Lev Bronstein, who became Leon Trotsky; and the French Dreyfus.
Sara Warburg (1805-1884) was not only a member of the venerable banking family of Hamburg, but took over their financial institution after her husband/cousin died and ran it from 1856-1865. Their descendant Max speaks to the camera at the end.
Alexandra Lvovna Sokolovskaya (1872-1938) was the dedicated Marxist who converted Bronstein to the cause, led union organizing activities, married him in prison, accompanied him to exile in Siberia with their children, encouraged him to escape, when he adopted the name Trotsky, and was killed in Stalin’s purges (like many in their family). The animation forms into a real person with connections to them: Mexican-American Nora Volkow introduces herself as born in the house where Trotsky (her great-grandfather) was killed. She is emphatic about the family’s legacy of Jewish persecution, and the negative effect of racism, that “are still permeating our civilization.”
In detailing the French army, government, and public antisemitic persecution of Alfred Dreyfus, from 1894 on, the film emphasizes that his wife Lucie (1869 – 1945) unstintingly supported
his cause and “fought for her husband’s innocence”. As a widow, Lucie fled the Nazis and survived by hiding in a convent. Their granddaughter Madeleine Dreyfus Lévy joined the Resistance, and helped thousands of Jews to freedom across the Pyrenees, until she was singled out for arrest in 1943 and deported to Auschwitz. The documentary notes: “Madeleine’s ‘fate was sealed by her name - Dreyfus. The Nazis had her in their sights.” We are given to presume with the appearance of historian Michel Dreyfus, who has written a book on antisemitism in France, that he is a descendant. (preview at 2022 DOC NYC Festival) (11/7/2022)
The Cousin (Ha Ben Dod) (So, nu: In this satire of how peacenik liberals in Israel behave when having to deal with a real life Palestinian working for them, the females are secondary characters. The wife/mother Yael (Osnat Fishman), a TV producer I think, mostly just reacts nervously as the comedy of errors multiply around her husband and the guy he hired to renovate their house. A teenage girl is attacked, but she’s so traumatized she hides behind her dark curly hair and her mother, before she can trust anyone enough to finally point out who really hurt her.) (preview at 2018 Other Israel Film Festival/also shown at 2018 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum)(11/1/2018)
Crazy Love (6/1/2007) (emendations coming after 11/1/2007) (Oy, he’s gleeful that they met on Rosh ha Shanah.)
Creating A Character: The Moni Yakim Legacy (So, nu: This is almost a joint-bio-doc with his wife Mina – but a bit more information would have been helpful for the curious. I had to look online to find out that she is also from Israel, presumably then Palestine, though he gives fascinating detail about his family, and we get none about hers until the point in Paris when she met him after finishing “a relationship” with her mentor Marcel Marceau. In addition to the terrific clips from their theater days, the new footage of their working together as mimes on a dark stage, proving they are still exquisite performing partners, was directed by Alma Har’el, also Israeli. (preview at 2018 DOC NYC Festival) (10/29/2018)
Crime After Crime (first briefly reviewed at 2011 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: The Orthodox Jewish lawyer only talks vaguely about his abused mother, with no family photographs, so one can only presume that she and her partner were Jewish. He's as purposely vague if the man was his father, step-father, or if they were married, or even if it was an observant home, as his is now. It certainly seems to be an unusual lifting of the veil over domestic violence in the Jewish community.) (7/2/2011)
The Crossing (Flukten over grensens)- Plucky and resourceful ten-year-old blonde Norwegian “Gerda” (played by Anna Sofie Skarholt) obsessed with The Three Musketeers is the primary focus of this lovely and thrilling children-centered, and viewing-appropriate, story of fleeing Nazis across the border to Sweden, directed by Johanne Helgeland and based on co-writer Maja Lunde’s novel not yet in English. But the younger brunette Jewish “Sarah” (played by Bianca Ghilardi-Hellsten) is just smaller, has as much gumption, in the Swedish “Pippi Longstocking” tradition, and enjoys her protector living out an adventure tale, particularly when “Gerda” honors her as a “trainee” in the delightful imagining of the classic tale. Though warned not to trust anyone, “Sarah” is fooled by an old lady offering gingerbread who seems straight out of Hansel and Gretel, in a scene that could be the scariest for children. (preview at 2021 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (streaming through Menemsha Films) (1/30/2021)
Cupcakes (So, nu: commentary forthcoming) (3/27/2015)
The Cut (Notes: While there are no Jews in the film, the visual references of this epic of the Armenian genocide and its aftermath are all taken from Holocaust films, and his survival is much like such miracles reported during the Holocaust, and the nation’s aching indomitability. Though edited out of my review, men with knives are ordered to tie up the weakened Armenian men, but “Mehmet” (Bartu Küçükçağlayan) whispers to “Nazaret” that he’s just a thief who was let out of prison to join the renegades and promises to protect him – leaving “Nazaret” only badly wounded – from the title wound -- and voiceless, weeping over his dying brother. But his benumbed acceptance of his fate is contrasted with the vengeful “Krikor”, played by French-Armenian actor Simon Abkarian, but Charlie Chapln brings out his only smile in the epic. Much like Holocaust survivors, he treasures one faded childhood photograph. Reminiscent of Fred Zinneman’s The Search (1948), he’s relieved to hear that they were sent to an orphanage, and the obsessed “Nazaret” sets off across the Levant to check the scores of children’s homes set up by religious charities to try to cope with the shell-shocked remnant. By 1922, their distinctiveness as twins jogs a headmistress’s memory of them growing there into young women, with only one girl’s limp an identifying mark of their ordeal. Interestingly, it looks like every country it is shown has given the film a different name, and I’d be curious to see them all translated.) (10/9/2015)
Dancing Alfonso (seen at 2008 Israel Film Festival) (11/9/2008)
Dancing in Jaffa (briefly reviewed in 2013 Documentaries at Tribeca Film Festival and at Part 2 Truth & Friction of the 2013 Other Israel Film Festival.) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish women.) (So, nu: commentary forthcoming about the Israeli mothers, daughters, and teachers) (6/4/2013)
A Dangerous Method) (So, nu: In what seems to me to be David Cronenberg’s most Jewish movie – he described himself as relating to Freud as “an old Jew” in the press conference following the preview at 2011 New York Film Festival of the Film at Lincoln Center, he puts the rift between Freud and Jung smack in the context of their Jewish vs. Aryan tensions. Sabina Spielrein as the fulcrum between them brings to wider acknowledgment her significance beyond Freud’s crediting her (inaccurately) in a footnote about “the death instinct”. She’s Jung’s patient, whose successful analysis he described in several barely pseudonymous examples (which must have made discussions about masturbation at professional conferences she later attended as a colleague, not shown in the film, more than a bit embarrassing); then she’s Jung’s lover, ego fluffer, and sounding board for his ideas; and then a Freudian theorist on the ego-destruction in sexuality, justifying Cronenberg’s presentation that she was acting out this sado-masochism with Jung even as it strains credulity about her mental health. Ironically, just as Jung’s development of the Elektra complex was parallel to Freud’s central Oedipus Complex, her Siegfried obsession, continuing to be in love with the blond Aryan Jung years later despite the harm to her psychoanalytical credibility with Freud, is intriguingly parallel to the Jewish male fixation on the blonde shiksa. (11/24/2011)
Dare (positive review) (In expanding their short film, director Adam Salky and writer David Brind (who has given various answers about how much of himself is in the character) added a lot of back story to the gay teen boy "Benjamin" (now played by Ashley Springer), including a last name, "Berger", an Is-ro head of curls, a PBS-watching Philly suburban family, and his therapist mother "Ruth" (played very sympathetically by Ana Gasteyer). While there's nothing in the dialogue or in the home that declares her Jewish, I presume most viewers will think she is, what I call "a putative Jewish woman" in my TV commentaries. Though the son rebels against what he perceives as her constant efforts to psychoanalyze him, she is the most maternal figure in the film, the other neglected teen products of divorce instinctively reach out to her, and enjoy an evening of family together-ness that is clearly atypical for them. Her pleasant surprise that he has brought a guy to the house shows she's more comfortable with his heretofore closeted homosexuality than he is. She reassures the conflicted gentile guest hunk (the superb Zach Gilford of Friday Night Lights) that she'll drive him to his doctor's appointment: I'm a mother. It's what I do. (Not an exact quote - I wasn't taking notes and I was more concerned that she was going to turn into a cougar) and encourages him that this doctor is a good choice when she realizes that he's meeting with a therapist colleague "Dr. Serena Mohr" (played by Sandra Bernhard). (11/25/2009)
Dark Inclusion (Diamant noir) While the focus of this unusual tale of familial love and revenge in a Jewish, Flemish-speaking, Antwerp family of diamond cutters and traders is on the fathers/sons/uncle/nephew, the mother and the fiancée are not stereotypes. “Olga Ulmann” (played by Hilde Van Mieghem) warmly welcomes in the prodigal nephew “Pier Ulmann” (played by Niels Schneider) into her home and nuclear family, asking him to keep watch over his epileptic cousin “Gabriel/Gabi” (played by August Diehl), though that unwittingly moves forward schemes. I’ll count “Luisa” (played by Raphaële Godin) as a putative Jewish woman, despite explicit evidence. (I don’t recall seeing her last name and her mother lives in a working class neighborhood in Rome, but she has curly brunette hair.) We first see her working out as a boxer, and she’s friends with minority boxers. She’s also getting her PhD in Chemistry – albeit specializing in studying the properties of gold. Unlike the usual triangles, she fights off “Pier”s advances, even stoned on marijuana, as he advances to rape. (previewed at 2016 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Film at Lincoln Center) (2/25/2016)
David & Fatima (negative review) (There are only two Jewish women in what is one of the most puerile and amateurish Romeo & Juliet-in-Israel movies. [Far superior is Strangers that I saw at Tribeca Film Festival, albeit it has no Jewish women in it.] From the simultaneous birth labor on, the Israeli mother is fairly bland, as she pleads with her husband to back off from confronting his Palestinian counterpart, even when the Arab oddly throws Jewish mother stereotypes at him to insult his manhood. “David”s sister is apparently one of the few women career soldiers in the IDF, due to her stringent right-wing, Arab--phobic views.) (9/28/2008)
David and Kamal (previewed at 2011 Other Israel Film Festival) (So, nu: “David”s divorced mother is only present through the reactions of his estranged father through unheard phone calls where she just comes across as selfish, what with dumping her son halfway across the world so she could vacation with a new boyfriend. The briefly seen stepmother-girlfriend is sympathetic to both father and son.) (11/21/2011)
David and Layla (The crudely biased and ignorant Jewish mother, as well as the ex-girlfriend, played by Callie Thorne like her sexually aggressive recurring characters on E.R. and Rescue Me, are particularly tasteless and not credible in their wide-eyed acting when compared to the long-suffering Kurdish family of the love of his life.) (2/23/2008)
David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure (briefly reviewed at 2012 DOC NYC Festival) (So, nu: He’s pretty cryptic about his parents, other than describing his father as an Austrian psychiatrist and his “mother the monster” from Brooklyn. There was a hint about possible Holocaust experiences that was left unasked.) (11/4/2012)
David Golder (seen at MoMA's Julien Duvivier retrospective with new English subtitles) I still hope to get to the Museum of Jewish Heritage's exhibition Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, and I haven't yet read her book that was the basis for this 1930 film. But I wonder if the rich, horrifically manipulative, money-grasping, status-conscious, spendthrift, superficial Jewish mother and (blonde) daughter of a Merchant of Paris in the film were the templates that established these stereotypes in the movies/TV.) (5/14/2009)
Dear Santa In a documentary covering Santa’s dedicated “elves” working across the country with the USPS “Operation Santa” that’s very much in the spirit of Miracle on 34th Street, the credits include one family with a menorah – that could be editor Jennifer Steinman Sternin, or possibly director Dana Nachman. Too bad there wasn’t a coda about the program going all-online during the Pandemic. (preview at 2020 DOC NYC Film Festival) (11/22/2020)
Death In Love (So, nu: While the older son is made neurotic by the repercussions of his mother's passion for her Nazi captor –and testimony in Forgotten Transports: To Estonia (Zapomenuté transporty: Do Estonska): Women's Friendship recalls that as possible-- and many others, the younger is as tortured as the violin virtuoso she tormented to his death in the camp, as she was complicit in the doctor seeking the physical source of his genius. I'm not the only critic who was reminded in a negative comparison to a similar survivor in Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter.) (7/18/2009)
Death of a Poetess (Mot HaMeshoreret) (So, nu: Written and directed by Dana Goldberg + Efrat Mishori, this narrative film is almost a two-hander of the intersection of two mothers, with Yasmin, an Arab Israeli nurse who lives in Jaffa (Samira Saraya) and Tel Aviv academic Lenny Sadeh (Evgenia Dodina), who reminds me of Jeanne Moreau wandering around Paris in Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1958), but even more mysterious. That her motivations are so unclear, though, adds to the biased tension of the police investigation’s insistence on an explanation. (preview at 2018 Other Israel Film Festival) (10/29/2018)
The Death Of My Two Fathers (preview at 2021 Tribeca Film Festival) (6/23/2021)
The Debt (So, nu: commentary to be added, with comparison to Ha-Hov).)
Defiance (So, nu: The complexity of romantic relationships is overly simplified for sentimentality and almost too discreet -- Alexa Davalos is Tuvia's tolerant forest wife Lilka, Iben Hjejle is Zus's fellow feisty fighter Bella, and Mia Wasikowska is Asael's sweet crush. There actually was more sex going on amongst these young people who thought they'd die at any moment, according to Nechama Tec's book the film was based on, with willing women who figured they'd bargain for protection. And yet these marriages of crisis lasted for decades after.) (12/31/2008) (For more context see Forgotten Transports to Belarus (Zapomenuté transporty: Do Belarus): Men Who Fought)
Defiant Requiem (previewed at 2012 DocuWeeks) (So, nu: on the Jewish women.)
Deli Man (previewed at 2015 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish women.) (So, nu: Surprise: among the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation running a traditional kosher deli in North American is at least one woman: Jaqueline Canter of Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles, as well as the wives and daughters of others, and a couple of informative female experts on the history of delis. It’s also sweet that the featured guide, David “Ziggy” Gruber of Houston met his future wife, acupuncturist Mary McCaughey, as she began converting to Judaism.) Kudos to including our local classic deli Ben’s Best! (updated 3/6/2015)
Demon (So, nu: “Hana” (played by Maria Debska) is mostly a ghostly apparition walking and kissing the groom (Piotr/Peter/Pyton, played by Itay Tiran, besides what the schoolteacher (played by Wlodzimierz Press), and Yiddish translator between “Hana” and the town, remembers of her as the prettiest girl in town, but in love with a Polish boy, whose identity each audience member may guess differently. Many critics cite different interpretations of the facts: most think this is a Holocaust revenge story; I’m quite sure this references the 1968 anti-Semitic putsch in Poland, including for “Piotr”s grandmother, who also may be Jewish. A side note about the Israeli Tiran: while he is more known for such dramatic roles as in Lebanon (2009) than in physical comedies, his possession by Hana demonstrated the same agility as Steve Martin sharing his body with Lily Tomlin’s soul in Carl Reiner’s All of Me (1984). (previewed at 2016 New Directors/New Films of Film at Lincoln Center/MoMA)
An added bonus about The Dybbuk: In By Sidney Lumet, the director says his father Baruch Lumet, a noted Yiddish actor, performed this favorite play many times. So in tribute, Lumet produced it on live TV in one of his first productions, and starred his father. (updated 10/30/2016)
Defying The Nazis: The Sharps War - Several women interviewed were girls who the Sharps, Righteous Gentiles, saved by getting them out of Prague and Paris just in time. (10/30/2016)
Denial So, nu: While I do not judge Jewish women characters if they are enacted by Jewish actresses, I hadn’t known that Rachel Weisz is of Jewish heritage. Her active academic is stereotype-free. Two women survivors lobby “Prof. Lipstadt”, particularly the passionate “Vera Reich” (played by Harriet Walter). (9/14/2016)
Destination Unknown - Produced in cooperation with the USC Shoah Foundation, the English-speaking Holocaust survivor interviewees include several women, who emphasize the importance of bonding with other “girls”, and the bitterness towards those who did not. They are also insightful about how their horrible experiences affected their lives and their families afterwards. (11/28/2017)
Dimona Twist- Michal Aviad provides a fresh, insightful look at the immigrant development towns of the 1950’s- 1960’s by frank and fulsome interviews with seven articulate and sophisticated women from various Francophone countries in North Africa, as well as Poland. Between family photos are marvelous archival footage and photographs, some of whose propaganda value are cynically contradicted by these essential witnesses. (at 2017 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum)
The Disappeared (Hane’elam) (So, nu: The women participants I’ve identified and their careers Noa Aharoni (writer/director), Dr. Dalia Gilboa (chief psychologist at the Health Ministry), Shahar Gonen, Nataly Attiya-Schimmel (lead actress), Anat Schumacher (editor), Liora Schwarz, Inbal Shafir-Leitner (script supervisor)) (seen at 2019 First Look Festival at Museum of the Moving Image) (1/31/2019)
Disengagement (Désengagement) (previewed at Israel at 60 at Lincoln Center) (Amos Gitai has to s-t-r-e-t-c-h his tri-partite story-line a lot to try and make the two Jewish women make any sense as he looks at American/European/Israeli attitudes. Juliette Binoche, in possibly her first role as a Jew, is “Ana”, a sensual secularist faced with the reappearance of her hunky Israeli step-brother as she deals with the death of her American ex-pat father, a prominent Zionist and philanthropist in France, who requires in his will that she reunite with the daughter she gave up at birth on a kibbutz, “Dana” (Dana Ivgy), who somehow became Orthodox, now living in a Gaza settlement being removed by the government. The visuals and acting make more beautiful sense than any of the quizzical dialogue.) (6/13/2008)
Disobedience (previewed at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) The source novel is by Naomi Alderman who has roots growing up in this neighborhood (and that star/producer Rachel Weisz grew up nearby, and now resides in the NYC art and fast sex club scenes where her character lives in the prologue, though in the book she’s a financial analyst and lover of a married man), are reflected in the sensitivity for dealing with the Ultra-Orthodox. Co-writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz was brought in to assure authenticity. (Especially in comparison to the more conventional A Price Above Rubies (1998). From the opening image there’s a glaring difference: the “Dovid” in the book, a dull nephew not the film’s bright protégé, is described as a stereotypical-looking yeshiva bocher, compared to producer Alessandro Nivola, whose sexy appeal can’t be hidden under Haredi garments, and makes visually clear that any hetereosexual woman would be attracted to him. Unlike The Secrets (Ha-Sodot), this doesn’t bring up that the Torah does not specifically condemn lesbians as it does male homosexuals, but about rebelling against community mores, such that the reunited, reckless lovers (Weisz and Rachel Mcadams) are tattled on by a married couple. The film kind of waffles on whether they are bi-sexual and just happen to be in love with each other, but the ending emphasizes the surprising strengths they find to relate to the men in their families, dead and living. (5/8/2018)
Disturbing The Peace (So, nu: The press notes on the only Jewish woman participant (of the four Israelis) who gets much screen time, with not near the emotional impact or detail as the Israeli men or the Palestinian woman: “Maia Hascal - Born in Nofit village in northern Israel, Maya is a social worker who volunteered for reserve duty after finishing her mandatory service in the Israeli Defense Forces. Following a traumatic event, as she became increasingly aware of the effects of the Occupation on both the Palestinians and Israeli soldiers needing to enforce it, she realized a different path must be taken. Maia joined Combatants for Peace in an effort to resolve this situation through nonviolence.” Others are glimpsed. (11/13/2016)
Dogs: The Rise and Fall of an All-Girl Bookie Joint (I only discovered this very indie little 1996 movie in 2010, as I prepared to see director Eve Annenberg's latest film that was also in The New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum. I was surprised to find the relationship quite charming, and very much not stereotypical, between the artsy, rebellious daughter "Leila Wascowicz" (played by Pam Columbus) living in the East Village, and the inconvenient ghost of her single mother (played by Lenore Sommerstein) haunting her thoughts and surprisingly being more supportive than a guilty conscience. Amongst the motley ethnic crew of girlfriends, it is "Leila" who comes up with the brainy idea of using their combined skills to run a quite successful franchised bookie operation to pay their rent and expenses, until their consciences get to them all.) (1/3/2011)
Dolphin Boy (previewed at 2011 Other Israel Film Festival) (So, nu: In addition to Jewish women interviewed as his colleagues at the Dolphin Reef, the young Israeli Arab man falls in love with a Jewish woman there and their first romance is sweetly and wistfully covered as an unrealistic emblem of his reinvented life that can’t last. (11/26/2011)
Don’t Blink – Robert Frank [and in Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait Of Robert Frank] - Not only does director Laura Israel not clarify that the subject is Jewish, she doesn’t provide such background [nor does Gerald Fox] on his first wife Eleanore Lockspeiser, whose maternal grandparents, according to Wikipedia, were Gregory and Eugenie Weinstein, and her paintings are included in The Jewish Museum’s permanent collection. The bio-docs do include his photographs of their daughter Andrea from birth on, and her death in a plane accident at age 21. (previewed at 2015 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (9/25/2015; update 1/1/2020)
Dove’s Cry (previewed at 2013 Other Israel Film Festival) (So, nu: even those Israeli Jewish girls and women, both staff and parents, who at first seem welcoming to the Israeli Arab teacher, are revealed to be prejudiced.) (12/8/2013)
Dressing America: Tales From The Garment Center (briefly reviewed at 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: The interviews with the Jewish women are the least interesting, as they are mostly nostalgic daughters recalling visiting their fathers’ and grandfathers’ businesses. Unfortunately, they are not as good storytellers and their memories are not as insightful or informative. While I understand that the directors probably wanted some young faces in the film, I preferred more from, well, the cat’s pajamas. (Ironically, the one woman interviewed from the biz is non-Jewish, similar to how the current view in the HBO series How to Make It in America also features only Jewish male characters.)
Months after seeing this documentary, I discovered my maternal grandfather’s family, and learned that his sister Dorothy was married to noted designer Seymour Jacobson-- but I don’t know if he was mentioned; I’ve heard that female relatives are hunting down his vintage outfits.
Years later I learned that this documentary was part of two larger research efforts: the Gotham Center for NYC History’s Garment Industry History Initiative and Urban Fabric exhibition curated by Andrew S. Dolkart. (updated 10/13/2012 and 2/8/2021)
Driving Men (briefly reviewed at 2009 Annual New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (Like the video artist/director of Flying: Confessions Of A Free Woman, Susan Mogul is determined to edit her apparently continual self portraits into an autobiography, at least in terms of her relationships to men. There's amusing and touching moments, but her exhibitionism overwhelms all else.) (1/18/2009)
Echo (Hed) - The frailty of Israeli masculinity comes through a husband (Yoram Toledano) who can’t cope with a psychologist wife and mother (Yael Abecassis) who is so shook by a patient’s suicide that she can barely continue professionally, until she finds solace in an affair. (at 2019 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum)
Eichmann’s End: Love, Betrayal, Death (Eichmanns Ende) (briefly reviewed at 2011 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (1/17/2011)
Einsatzgruppen: The Death Brigades (Les Commandos De La Mort (briefly reviewed at 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (This is the first I've seen to document with witnesses, rare photographs and footage how amidst the genocide through the Baltics young women were selected out for stripping, ogling and humiliation first, particularly as the volume of mass murders led to increasingly pathological behavior by the soldiers. In one village, a local woman witness later remembered a group of five young women who refused to strip before being led to the death pit, so were instead shot on the spot – one of the few acts of resistance any recalled.) (updated 4/18/2017)
This French-produced, 180 minute documentary was re-packaged in 2017 for American Heroes Channel in the U.S., and National Geographic Channel in Canada into episodes of the docu-series Nazi Death Squads, with English-language narration.
Elusive Justice: The Search for Nazi War Criminals (as seen on PBS) (In Argentina, a concentration camp survivor is one of the Mothers of the Plaza who speaks forcefully against how the military learned from the Nazis, in Germany and those who were given sanctuary in the country, though the links are not made as individually explicit about the torture instruction as in other documentaries, such as in My Enemy’s Enemy.) (11/17/2011)
Emotional Arithmetic (shown on Showtime and released on DVD as Autumn Hearts: A New Beginning) (briefly reviewed at 2009 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (I haven't read Matt Cohen's novel yet for comparison, but there's a very complicated set of circumstances these folks have to work through in eastern Quebec, despite explanations at the end of what Drancy) was: an American Jewish girl (now Susan Sarandon shaking off her "crazy pills") was there with an Irish boy (now Gabriel Byrne) and a Russian man (now Max Von Sydow) who then ends up in a Soviet prison and psychiatric hospital that she all these years later saves him from through her work with Amnesty International? And Christopher Plummer is her much older husband? The cast infuses this quizzical plot with life, but I kept getting distracted by the sight of La Femme Nikita's Roy Dupuis as her son, so much that I even in a weak moment bought a DVD of a Canadian hockey film he was in so I could qualify for free shipping of the novel.) (updated 5/14/2009)
Empty Nest (El nido vacío) (So, nu: previewed and briefly reviewed at 18th New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (This is unusual for Daniel Burman's work for having such vibrant and independent Jewish women – in contrast to the disgruntled father/husband: the wife/mother "Martha" --a terrifically lively Cecilia Roth-- who enthusiastically moves on from maternal responsibilities to explore her talents and interests, and her only daughter Julia (Inés Efron) who is very comfortable with her decision to have made aliyah with an Israeli husband.) (1/18/2009)
Endless Poetry (Poesía Sin Fin) (2017) - Not having seen Chilean avant-garde artist Alejandro Jodorowsky's first autobiographical film, that he calls his technique of family therapy “Psychomagic” about his childhood The Dance of Reality (La danza de la realidad) (2013) the northern Chilean mining town of Tocopilla, I didn’t realize both his parents were Jewish, as the only obvious Jewish reference was a poker game with a Hassidic man. In the new film about his adolescence when the family moved to Santiago, Pamela Flores replays his mother (ID’d in Wikipedia as Sara Felicidad Prullansky Arcavi, that she and his father were “Jewish immigrants from Yekaterinoslav (now Dnipro), Elisavetgrad (now Kropyvnytskyi) and other cities of the Russian Empire (now Ukraine)”, as well as his first girlfriend “Varín”. Adan, Jodorowsky's youngest son, plays him as a teen, while his eldest son Brontis reprises as his own rigidly strict grandfather. He says in interviews about his father "You cannot believe how much I suffered," and he was evidently mad at his mother for being too passive about the abuse that rained down. But in this second film, she’s portrayed as a frustrated opera singer, who sings all her dialogue and helps inspire him along his artistic ways. In the film’s epilogue, he regrets that he left them and Chile in such anger that he never said goodbye or saw them again. The earlier film, based on his autobiographical novel, portrays his elder sister Raquel as a bully, but I don’t recall her presence here. (7/24/2017)
The End of Love - Director Keren Ben Rafael was inspired by her own experience as an Israeli working wife/mother married to a Frenchman, Damien Dufresne, who is the cinematographer on this and her earlier film Virgins (Vierges/Ein Betulot Bakrayot), to trace modern couple relationships playing out on video calls – made in 2019 before the COVID pandemic. In a sample interview, she recalled much discussion with her co-writer Élise Benroubi about which gender to be where and with the baby. In the film, the working wife/mother “Julie” (played by French actress Judith Chemla) is French, with the baby with her in Paris. The Israeli husband/father is “Yuval” (played by Arieh Worthalter, who actually lives in Belgian and is fluent in both French and Hebrew). His mother and sister are briefly seen trying to involve the wife in Shabbat dinner via Skype, which the sister teases is actually a rare occurrence by their family and is being done for the educational benefit of the gentile wife. (Ironically, Chemla and the actress who plays her estranged mother “Chantal”, Noémie Lvovsky, are both Jewish.) When the baby keeps crying, the grandmother has endless suggestions for what to do, to the mother’s frustration. The director pointed out if they were together in person, she would have probably quickly helped physically, but this shows humorously how distancing video calls are for relationships. I do not include the French title À coeur battant, because the director also said she specifically chose the English title to recall the Leonard Cohen song, and thinks the French distributor’s re-naming is misleading. (preview at 2022 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum) (1/23/2022)
Entourage - In tracking the Jewish women through the TV show’s run - "Ari”s wife and "Ari”s daughter “Sarah” into the fourth season, Season 5, Season 6, Season 7, and the final season, I deemed “Mrs. Ari” and “Ari Gold” the most attractively romantic Jewish couple in television ever. In the fairly lame movie finale with no new character development, they are played by the same actors, the credits still list Perrey Reeves’ character as “Mrs. Ari”, but the press notes identified her as “also known as Melissa Gold”. “Ari” (Jeremy Piven) several times makes jokes about being Jewish, including making a Jewish wedding in his backyard for his gay Asian-American former assistant: My house my God -- this after his wife mocks him for praying when he’s in difficult negotiations because he doesn’t believe in God. While he makes a couple of unnecessarily crude jokes about his wife’s anatomy, including while he pumps away in her during sex, they are still sweetly in love. She still makes him go with her to marriage counseling to deal with his anger issues, though he doesn’t seem to discuss financial issues with her when he’s mulling taking risks, as he did before – or I dozed off and missed that conversation. The oldest daughter is nowhere around, but the now 12-year-old son consistently backs up his mother against his dad. (More commentary to come.) (6/1/2015)
Entre Nous (Somehow I didn’t get around to seeing Diane Kurys’ inspired-by-her-family’s-story 1983 French film until the end of 2013, but it stays very fresh. First striking is that auburn-haired Isabelle Huppert playing “Lena Weber” a Jewish woman counters American film stereotypes, as she is rounded up fleeing Belgium into occupied France and escapes German transport. But the penultimate time she seems to have any Jewish identity is when she amusingly recounts their years hiding their Jewish identity in Italy to the bored brunette shiksa who will become her lover (“Madeleine Segara” played by Miou-Miou). The last Jewish reference in her life is her mother’s grave in a Jewish cemetery in Belgium where her husband finds out she was using the headstone as an excuse to visit her lover in Paris.) (12/28/2013)
Etgar Keret: Based On A True Story In the humorous joint interview with his wife writer/actress Shira Geffen on how they met, mentioned in passing is their collaboration on Jellyfish (Meduzot) (previewed at New Directors/New Films 2008 at Film at Lincoln Center/MoMA - my commentary on the Jewish woman)) (at 2019 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (1/11/2019)
Every Mother Should Know (Teda Kol Em Ivriya) (briefly reviewed at 2009 New York Jewish Film of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (Only a couple of women are seen, a sister and a wife, who are atypically brought into their men's confidence as they explore their feelings about their military experiences. Both have to resort to written histories to supplement what they can pull out about what happened to them.) (1/18/2009)
Everything Everywhere All At Once - As writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert are satirizing many Chinese-American screen tropes in this terrific sci fi comedy fantasy, I’ll have to assume they intend it as satirically amusing that “Evelyn” (Michelle Yeoh) calls an obnoxious, well-to-do customer of her laundromat “Big Nose”, who is played by Jewish actress Jenny Slate. (12/4/2022)
Everything Is Copy (previewed at 2015 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) In this fond tribute to Nora Ephron by her son Jacob Bernstein (son of Carl), he interviews her three sisters, her childhood and professional best friends (male and female) and delves into the marriage of his grandparents, yet never once mentions his family is Jewish. The closest is showing the cover of the best selling book How to Be A Jewish Mother by her first husband Dan Greenburg, though she and the interviewees gush over her final true love Nicholas Pileggi and almost her final public words here are that one of the things she will miss most in life is their Christmas tree. This after he went through her life spent in Jewish neighborhoods on both coasts and going through her experiences that would indicate a putative Jewish woman if she were a character in a TV show or movie, from therapy to being ambitious to write and controlling to direct. If she rejected any Jewish identity, that would have been noteworthy, and if her parents’ alcoholism affected her. He and the interviewees (his brother is not included) also don’t go beneath her clever witticisms to get to the substance of her thoughts, especially what she really thought of women, let alone other Jewish women. (updated 9/27/2015)
Everything Is Illuminated (So, nu: The Jewish women in the film are mostly plot-movers as keepers of secrets, an extension of what Lewis Mumford anthropologically considered women's "container function." They incidentally save the men in their lives as this is much more about men.) (10/7/2005)
Every Time We Say Goodbye (Thanks to our Cousin Ray Fernandez for bringing this 1986 film to my attention.) (10/23/2009)
Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie (briefly reviewed at 2012 Award-Winning Docs at 2012 Tribeca Film Festival) (So, nu: Jewish feminist lawyer Gloria Allred is the only female former guest on his show interviewed, and she gives insightful commentary on her experiences, then and looking back in terms of her career as a media-savvy litigator and TV commentator.) (5/11/2012)
The Exception (Kudos to a sexy Jewish heroine!) (previewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival) (6/3/2017)
Exodus 91 - While co-director Aalam-Warqe Davidian’s With No Land (2021) was an excellent, straight-forward documentary about “Operation Solomon” taking over 14,000 of the Beit Israel from the middle of a 1991 civil war in Ethiopia, Micah Smith’s documentary/re-enactment/docu-drama/fiction hybrid allows for composite characters representing Jewish Ethiopian viewpoints that have only been seen and heard in a few fiction films. A child when her family emigrated to Israel in 1984’s “Operation Moses” (as seen in photographs), “Esther Mekonen” (portrayed by Titina Kebede Assefa, identified as “a drama therapist and activist who works with the Ethiopian-Israeli community”) is a dedicated aide and translator to new Ambassador Naim in the Israeli Embassy in Addis Ababa, whose memories are the film’s primary source. She is emphatic that Israel’s Law of Return should respect their generations of oral tradition and stories, without lab tests or such evidence. She speaks with feeling that it took years for Israel to stop demanding conversions or even symbolic circumcisions, as well as accepting the community’s own learned rabbis. Even in her quiet way she confronts the new Ambassador: You don’t know what it’s like to live in Israel as a “Negro”. But coming to Israel was best for me. At first confusing, the actress takes off her straight-hair wig, and reveals tight braids as she breaks the fourth wall to rush with a friend to join one of the many large demonstrations effectively documented in the film that Ethiopian Israelis have organized to protest their treatment by the police and Israeli society.
A white Israeli “Dr. Schwartz” (portrayed by Yaara Faltzig) gets to the breaking point at the medical clinic, as she tries to ascertain the refugees’ conditions: Jerusalem wants us to test them all for AIDS, just to keep them out. They are sick because the government has them live in slums instead of go to Israel. Israel should take them right away or take them back into their villages…Israel shouldn’t give them false hope. The Ambassador runs over to the clinic when the other doctor warns him that “Schwartzie” is upset and packing up to leave: Three babies died in two days! I lost them! We did this to them – we brought them to this filthy city with promises. I won’t take part in this anymore! She apologizes to the Ambassador before she walks out, but “Esther” notes sadly: When Dr. Schwartz left things got really desperate.
”Tesfanesh” (powerfully portrayed by Oshrat Ingedashet) is a local activist full of justified rage at the Israeli government. On crutches, she was crippled by her experience at “hell in Sudan” when she tried to walk to Israel, in a similar trek as captured in co-director Avishai Yeganyahu Mekonen’s 2012 400 Miles to Freedom. In Eitan Anner’s script, she is more eloquent than I can adequately transcribe as she ferociously insists that the Embassy should not have gathered her community to the capital with an unfillable promise of seeing Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, and warns that thousands may die: You are not in charge of us; you are not responsible for us. You decided we were in trouble. They were home, but you convinced them otherwise. They had their own story before you said it was a broken version of your story. You’re not taking anyone to Zion – it’s just an idea. You should have stayed away. You lie to children…You’ve led 15,000 people into a death trap again, and now it’s too late. They can’t go back on dangerous roads. Go home! Close down the embassy. Let the Beit Israel dissolve into the population so the rebels won’t single them out when they come. When the Ambassador tries to get her to flee on the transportation he’s managed to arrange, she refuses: I’m not afraid of the rebels…I don’t want to lose my self-respect. You need to learn to look at us as equals, not a lost primitive tribe you need to help. The film concludes with statistics on more emigration from Ethiopia to Israel, and their successes. (at 2023 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum) (1/15/2023)
Experimenter After seeing it twice, I’m impressed at the sensitive portrayal of Alexandra “Sasha” Menkin (played by Winona Ryder), who did consult on the film, and briefly appears in the epilogue. She is explicitly Jewish, quickly tells him about her European background, is sexy, and as a wife and mother pursues her education and social work profession – even though she’s put down by an arrogant CUNY grad student for enjoying working with her husband Stanley (portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard) on his social science behavioral research. In Uproxx interview with Chloe Schildhause, posted 10/16/2015, she stressed: “I thought that [Almereyda’s] choices of what to show between them were really unusual and thoughtful and quite beautiful. Because she wasn’t just his wife or housewife.” (previewed at 2015 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (updated 10/20/2015)
Eyes Wide Open (Einaym Pkuhot) (2/5/2010) (also briefly reviewed at 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: The only woman seen is the wife, played by an actress who calls herself Tinkerbell, who is sweet, understanding and very comfortable with sex while following the rules for sexual contact. How both men glow at the comfortable hearth, home and children around the Shabbat table she has established makes clear why they would not be comfortable in the secular gay community.) (1/25/2010)
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Co-writer Tony Kushner is quoted in the Production Notes: Steven Spielberg and I “both have a very powerful, bone-deep love of being Jewish and Judaism. That was just going to be part of what the story was going to be—a story about a Jewish family. The Fabelmans are who they are, and they live and own it so easily and proudly.” The Jewishness is pretty much: the opening Shabbat candle-lighting with occasional challah seen subsequently, their lack of Christmas lights in their suburban neighborhood with a menorah occasionally seen, older relatives who sprinkle in Yiddish, and the antisemitism of California high school bullies.
The last credits are “For Leah. For Arnold.”, director/co-writer Steven Spielberg’s parents. Kushner says Leah Adler Spielberg was also like his musician mother Sylvia. Spielberg added “Every single piece of classical music played on the piano was among my mom’s favorite classical pieces that she always played on her piano,” including setting the camping trip home movie to “Bach’s Adagio, which my mom loved to play on the piano.” He insists that Michelle Williams as “Mitzi” perfectly embodies his mother in his fictionalized family onscreen (above), especially her pixie haircut. (Yeah, I had a haircut like that in those years.) He’s quoted in the Production Notes: she was “wearing exact replicas of clothes my mom had worn, her favorite clothes.’…Costume designer Mark Bridges noted that she was accessorized with select pieces of Leah’s jewelry, loaned to the production by Spielberg’s sister, Anne. Regardless, Williams seems miscast. Jeannie Berlin as her mother-in-law “Hadassah Fabelman” (above) is marvelously caustic and frank, while frequently quoting her rabbi in New Jersey to reinforce her disapproval of her daughter-in-law. I think Robin Bartlett as Sammy’s maternal grandmother “Tina Schildkraut” is only seen dying.
His younger sisters are barely distinguishable, except for the bespectacled one who argues with his cinematic alter ego “Sammy” and tries to preserve their family. Almost the final credit is “Anne, Sue and Nancy Spielberg an especial thanks”; the last sister is now a documentary film producer and director. The Production Notes expand on their fictionalized version: “Rounding out Sammy’s family are his three younger sisters, Reggie, Natalie and Lisa, representing Spielberg’s sisters Anne, Sue and Nancy. While writing and refining the script, Spielberg sought input from his siblings about how their Fabelman variants should be portrayed. His sisters were also frequent visitors to the set and offered insight and support to the actors playing them. ‘This film brought my sisters Annie, Susie and Nancy closer to me than I ever thought possible, and that was worth making the film for,’ Spielberg says. Julia Butters… plays the oldest Fabelman sister, “Reggie”. (A younger version of Reggie is played by Birdie Borria). ‘Reggie’s very strong but emotional,’ Butters says. “She’s the caretaker of the family. And she’s a real character.’ Butters’ first day on set was shooting a scene in which Reggie, Sammy and Natalie show up for their first day of school in California and are intimidated by a thick throng of very tall kids. Butters established the tone for Reggie on that first day. ‘I took a risk and improvised by pushing all the teenagers away, and when they’re all laughing at me, I yelled, ‘What are you laughing at?’’ Butters says. “I was very proud of myself even though I was slightly terrified to do that on the first day. But Steven loved it, so that was great.’
The Production Notes continue: “The second oldest Fabelman sister, Natalie, is ‘stubborn, opinionated and smart,’ says Keeley Karsten, who makes her film debut in the role. (A younger version of Natalie is played by Alina Brace.) To flesh out the character for herself, Karsten created a diary, written in Natalie’s voice. ‘I decided on all these things about Natalie through little details in the script,’ Karsten says. ’I would research the period for ideas: Natalie’s favorite music, films, candies. I would write about her favorite subjects in school, who her best friends were. While we were filming, Steven would tell memories about his own sister that allowed me to adjust Natalie and discover more.’ At the end of production, Karsten gave the diary to Spielberg as a gift. ‘He was so happy!’ Karsten says. “He said ‘Keeley, I read the whole thing and I loved it.’” (courtesy of Universal) (12/10/2022)
Fading Gigolo (So, nu:
In the middle of diverse Williamsburg, Brooklyn, “Murray” (played by Woody Allen) brings the African-American kids of his friend to “the nit lady” to remove their lice. She’s “Avigal” (played by French actress Vanessa Paradis), a Satmar Chassidic widow who had six children with a much older rabbi: I had trouble getting pregnant. “Murray”, an oddball pimp, senses she could use massage therapy by his male prostitute “Fioravante” (writer/director John Turturro) across the bridge in Manhattan. (Even her name was vetted by a Hassidic consultant..) From the production notes, Paradis spent time with a woman who had left the community as a guide: “She’s a very strong, young, beautiful woman, who was 25, but who seems to have the life of someone who’s 105. She helped me to understand all the rules. Also she comes from Israel, and only learned to speak English three years ago, so she still had an accent which I stole a little bit from. I also used my French accent which I pushed a little bit more. . .My head is strapped under the wig and I have tight stockings on. I found that the physical sensation of wearing those clothes gave me an identity. It really did a lot for me.”. .Avigal is religious, but there’s a curiosity in her character. She’s not supposed to read, but she reads. She is lonely and miserable and wants to have a little taste of life, something different. She has something in her that needs to come alive. . .“She’s at a point in her life when she’s completely fading away, and Murray comes along to tell her she doesn’t have to. She trusts him. . . He pays sincere attention to her, what’s in her head and what’s in her heart. . . There’s a line my character says in the movie that goes We’re alive for just a little while. That means live life while you can. When there’s beauty, when there’s a chance that passes in front of you—don’t watch it, grab it! Everybody deserves a little happiness… if not a lot.” Turturro: “Avigal is oppressed by her religion and her society. . . You feel that Avigal and Fioravante could be together, but they are from different worlds. I think he opens her up to experience life and I think she opens him up too.” But she does have another, quite appealing suitor with peyos, “Dovi” (Liev Schreiber), a neighborhood Shomrim patrol officer who since childhood felt inadequate to court her because he didn’t come from a rabbinic family like hers and her late husband. Turturro: “Fioravante knows how to have emotional intimacy with Avigal, but can’t stay; Dovi doesn’t know how to act around her, but very much wants to stay.” “Avigal”s transgressive behavior continues as she comes down from the women’s section of the synagogue and boldly stands up to a bet din to confess (most of) her broaches of modesty, but she works out a future on her terms that is sweetly not cliché. (updated 8/18/2014)
The Faithful: The King, The Pope, The Princess - While filmmaker Annie Berman somewhat understands how she shares the fandom of images of Elvia Presley and Princess Diana, she never explains her fascination for Pope John Paul over 20 years, particularly for making an annual Easter pilgrimage to the The Vatican: “my family no longer expects me home for Passover”. Yet even as she compares these fascinations with her affection for her Aunt Nora, she finally muses why did she never get on a plane and visit her in Iceland? Instead we see repeating footage of the aunt dancing the hora with the family at a very Jewish Berman family wedding. (streamed at 2021 Camden International Film Festival) (9/29/2021)
Falsch (seen at Film at Lincoln Center's Beyond L’Enfant: The Complete Dardenne Brothers retrospective) (In what I think is the first U.S. showing of this 1987 adaptation of a Belgian play, the complexities of a German Jewish family are revealed through a guilt-ridden émigréé's whole life passing before him in a coulda, woulda, shoulda dying dream, including his mother, aunt/servant, sister and sisters-in-law, all movingly acted. As he recalls their last Shabbat evening together, and their lives before and after, each woman represents very individual and different human emotions and reactions in how their fates were determined by the men they loved.) (5/14/2009)
Family Affair (seen at DocuWeeks) (So, nu: In this disturbing documentary about the filmmaker's extremely dysfunctional family (the first film picked up by Oprah's new network's Documentary Club), Chico David Colvard provides little background on his abused mother, who he identifies as "German-Jewish". (I scribbled down her name as something like Renate Steingeheger; her daughters call her Renee, and have been in some contact with her over the years, unlike their brother, who seems to have zero sense of his Jewish heritage at all.)
His horrifically abused sisters discuss how she announced her abandonment of them via "The Letter" where she explained she'd found Jesus Christ with a new husband and therefore the strength to leave them. Her son, afraid she'll again reject him if he gives her advance notice to see him for the first time in 18 years, tracks her down in Wisconsin, where he's surprised that she greets him, as "a wonderful Christmas present". She shows him one photo of herself with a "J" tag from her youth in Bavaria (a Nazi stronghold), and describes her family's poverty, that they had no home. As a redhead, it's possible she was a hidden child, but he doesn't ask in the film what it was like to go through the Holocaust there, though that was surely a factor in her tolerance of abuse.
She says she fled into a teenage marriage with his African-American soldier father when he was stationed in Germany, who then beat her as “a way of paying back what the white people had done to his people.” (I think I noted correctly that she said her father said she deserved it because of their mixed marriage.) While it is tragically ironic for the pressures on two persecuted groups to come together in an awful synergy, he uses racism as an excuse to his son. She says he also told her that she had no rights as a non-native American citizen while they lived on many Army bases, and therefore couldn't have custody of the kids if she tried to divorce him, and in those days there were no shelters. (The father claims that white soldiers were accused of the same domestic abuse in those days and got off with no jail time – he's probably right.) She explains she left her children when the abuse came to the authorities' attention yet the daughters wouldn't testify against him and welcomed him home, while blaming her. The film is their brother's effort to understand why they did. I did see the director at the IFC Center's Q & A, but didn't get to ask for more clarifications about his mother.) (8/14/2010)
Family in Transition Though done too much like an in-your-face reality show, this couple in coastal Nahariya, surrounded by somewhat religious families, is evidently somewhat notorious in Israeli media – after four children (including three daughters), the father has decided to live as a woman and the mother has decided to continue their relationship together. There is absolutely no discussion about what it means to be a Jewish, let alone Israeli, woman (maybe because director Ofir Trainin is male, though the transitioning partner briefly reveals growing up in an abusive family, and getting wounded during army service as somehow leading to the realization of female identity. The wife stays incredibly loyal through estrogen-injection moodiness, surgery in Thailand, recuperation, and a renewal of vows as two women. Their own mothers do provide some needed insight during the wedding reception, including that they have been together since they are 15. But maybe it’s because they both look so much alike that I had trouble telling who was which, though the original wife eventually has something akin to a nervous breakdown and decides she needs another woman in her life for her own sense of identity (as well as distinguishing blue streaks in her hair). Needless to say, the traditional rabbinical court has a great deal of problems dealing with this unconventional family to grant a divorce, until the transitioned spouse agrees to be legally recognized again as male, to her great humiliation. The youngest daughter says their bickering until the divorce was worse than the transitioning, despite the bullying and mocking she got from classmates. Somehow, the two all-female couples now share happily share custody. At some point either in their notoriety or filming, both parents went very public – the trans woman on the talk/lecture circuit under the title “Blessed to be a woman", the bio-mom publishing two memoirs and a children’s guide to transgenders. (at 2018 DOC NYC Festival/ preview courtesy Abramorama/Go2Films) (12/22/2018)
Famous Nathan (previewed at 2014 Tribeca Film Festival) (So, nu: The women in the family are somewhat secondary to the entrepreneurs and squabbles – except how Grandma Ida keeps interrupting interviews and insisting they stop talking and eat.) (4/23/2014))
Fanny’s Journey (Le voyage de Fanny) (So, nu: the novelized memoir Le journal de Fanny: Suivi de Les enfants juifs au coeur de la guerre by Fanny Ben-Ami it’s based on is not yet available in English to compare veracity, though the author is seen briefly at the conclusion, living in Israel. In the press notes, writer/director Lola Doillon explains she met with the Ben-Ami in Tel Aviv: “"I needed to immerse myself in her past and her memories of the children's home. Fanny Ben-Ami told me many things, some of which are included in the film and some not. I was also inspired by other secret stories by children that were rescued by different organizations and everyday stories. And I sought the help of archivists and historians in the interests of accuracy. . .I obviously followed the thread of the key historical events which were the framework of this adventure and everything that I changed remains true, inspired by real events that were recounted by other people who lived through that time." Ben-Ami reports: "I wrote to Lola to say that it didn’t happen quite like that. For example, the Resistance and the underground were neither here nor there, though they were nevertheless very important to me. And then, after thinking about it and talking with friends, I realized that a film was not a book and that it was for others, not for me. And that there were aspects of my journey that were important in my eyes but not necessarily for the film. In the end, I think Lola did well and that in her script, the essentials are there and the main points are said." The role of “Madame Forman”, played by Cécile de France, is inspired by Nicole Weil-Salon and Lotte Schwarz, real children’s protectors.
Other than Anaïs Meiringer who plays 16-year-old German Jewish refugee “Diane”, none of the girls or women cast as Jews “look” Jewish by American standards – in the French cinema convention almost all have shades of auburn hair that’s not particularly curly. (seen at Cinematek Forest Hills) (11/19/2017))
Fateless (Sorstalanság) (So, nu: The glimpses we get of Jewish women are problematical: a highly compromised step-mother, an inconsistently affectionate mother, a teen girl overwrought about the wrong things at the wrong time, but welcoming grandmother replacements.) (2/19/2006))
#FemalePleasure - So, nu:
© X Verleih
The Jewish representative in this cross-cultural survey of how religion represses women’s bodies and sexuality, repeating what Eve Ensler, has been saying since The Vagina Monologues and many others since at least the 1960’s, is Deborah Feldman, repeating what she revealed in her memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, which I downloaded some time ago but haven’t read yet, and her 2014 follow-up Exodus. She is shown about her new life in Berlin and her visual collaboration challenging Jewish gender stereotypes with a gay ex-Hasid photographer, including beautiful, yet modest, poses naked in a tallit on a shore at sunset, like above. However, with the documentary’s emphasis on the physical body, she doesn’t mention the ban on men hearing women’s voices, let alone women reading from the Torah, which is a recurring issue during Rosh Hodesh where Women of the Wall in Jerusalem are harangued monthly by the ultra-Orthodox even violently, and notably including women, as happens in all the profiled societies, but is unexamined. Her memoirs are the fictionalized basis for the Netflix series Unorthodox. (11/26/2019; 4/14/2020))
Felix and Meira (as previewed at 2015 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: The Canadian film manages to avoid most stereotypes of the life and longings of an ultra-Orthodox woman/wife/mother.) (2/26/2015)
Fiddler: A Miracle Of Miracles - A convincing theme of this informative and emotional documentary is that the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof is a “female empowerment piece”, pointing out that young women’s rebellion against arranged marriage has been a theatrical theme since before Shakespeare. (The names of the various experts weren’t repeated often enough to always know who is speaking.) Another expert notes that the show was written while Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique was on the best-seller list. My colleague (and editor) Jan Lisa Huttner, author of Tevye's Daughters: No Laughing Matter: The Women behind the Story of Fiddler on the Roof, makes a strong case for the feminist aspect in the portrayal of the individual daughters, calling them “the raw product of Yenta’s business”. (Thanks for her corrections to these comments!) She also points out that Sholom Aleichem was very negative about matchmakers in other stories as well; Nathan Englander, among others, point out matchmakers even assisted a trafficking ring bringing women to Argentina, for prostitution. A recent “daughter” calls the end of “Matchmaker” a “battlecry…We’re going to change things! And they do!”. Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend It Like Bendham (2001), speaks to the universality of the issue.
Alisa Solomon, who was also a consultant on the documentary, points out the sexual importance of Golda’s role, Tevye’s wife, that is demonstrated by seeing “Do You Love Me?” performed around the world, including in Japanese, a song written because of how the original cast actress Maria Karnilova comically delivered her line Do I what?. Other experts describe the song as the most romantic in the show, more than the daughters’. Several actresses who have played these roles, in the past, Jessica Hecht is particularly thoughtful, and in the current Yiddish production, give their analyses.
While several experts interpret Hodel’s song “Far From the Home I Love”, sung by the daughter who leaves home to follow to Siberia her life choice of a revolutionary, as more about their community’s future than about her. Solomon calls Chava an “apostate” for choosing a non-Jewish Russian. Danny Burstein, who has played Tevye frequently, thinks Tevye felt he had a “special relationship” with her, so is particularly hurt by her choice. An actress who recently portrayed Chava sees her as more of a dreamy romantic who doesn’t realize the finality of what she’s doing: “She closed a door she didn’t know locked from the other side.”
I particularly appreciated Fran Lebowitz’s comments: “Its nostalgia for something that never really happened! I think nostalgia is very poisonous in a culture. Never do Jews say ‘Oh I wish I could be back in the Old Country. They hated the Old Country…People my age, Jews who don’t know what the Old Country was. Which country was it?…The Jews came here because they were being killed!” While director Max Lewkowicz claims this as the first in-depth documentary film that chronicles the life and themes of this musical, the creators/original participants have given similar interviews in PBS documentaries on producer Harold Prince, director/choreographer Jerome Robbins, and on the Jewish influence on Broadway theater. (preview courtesy Roadside Attractions & Samuel Goldwyn Films) (revised 9/4/2019)
Fiddler’s Journey To The Big Screen - I am no nostalgist for Norman Jewison’s 1971 movie adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof, but its 50th anniversary in 2021 was the excuse for documentary director Daniel Raim to complete a “making of”. While the actress who played “Golde”, Norma Crane, isn’t mentioned at all, Molly Picon’s “Yente” just in passing, and the costumes designed by Joan Bridge and Elizabeth Haffenden are casually dismissed as just carefully copied from the photographs of pre-war Eastern European Jews by Roman Vishniac, the three actresses who portrayed the elder daughters are interviewed about their backgrounds, auditions, and experiences during filming, emphasizing how young they were: Rosalind Harris as “Tzeitel”, Michele Marsh as “Hodel”, and Neva Small as “Chava”. Harris is the most entertaining, as well as insightful about feeling she had to hide looking Jewish before Barbra Streisand made big noses okay in popular culture, and how Bette Midler, who she was understudying for on Broadway, recommended she audition for the film role. Lyricist Sheldon Harnick explains that Joseph Stein, the writer of the stage and screen play, changed “Chava”s fate from another Sholem Aleicheim story. While John Williams as music director details how he worked with the cast on the rhythms and movement for Jewison, critic Kenneth Turan notes the film was not a launching pad for anyone’s career; I found the casting bland. For film buffs, the details from and about cinematographer Oswald Morris will be the most interesting. Unlike Jewison, I do not think generating a tear from then Israel Prime Minister Golda Meir is the seal of cinematic approval. (courtesy of Zeitgeist Kino Lorber) (4/30/2022))
The Field - Documentary director Rabbi Mordechai Vardi provides an unusually positive image of religious Zionist women settlers in Gush Etzion on the West Bank. Instead of the usually implacable fanatics, here are younger and older Jewish women settlers willing to meet with and talk to the local Palestinians through the Roots Program, even as terrorist attacks increase nearby – as well as settler attacks on Palestinian farms. The Arab and Jewish women’s head scarves are almost indistinguishable. (at 2017 Other Israel Film Festival)
Field Diary (Yoman Sadeh) (30th anniversary screening at 2012 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (The female soldiers and settlers who want cheap housing with nice views on the West Bank are among the more clueless, and apolitical, Israelis director Amos Gitai interviewed.) (10/7/2012))
The Fifth Heaven (Ba-rakia ha-hamishi) (briefly in Reviewed: New York Jewish Film Festival 2013 of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: commentary forthcoming, wth comparisions to the novel the film is based on.) (2/19/2013))
Fig Tree (Etz Teena) The lead character Mina, based on the director Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian’s life, is alienated from her mother who has settled in Israel. But it is her strong-willed grandmother who has Jewish identity, and is said by the community’s elders to be the daughter of an eminent rabbi from whom she was for some unclear reason estranged. She works hard at getting her family out of Ethiopia and reunite them with her daughter, by any means necessary. The conflicts about emigration are admirable for not having been portrayed in a film before, that I’ve seen, but other than the usual Romeo & Juliet teen romance thing going on, are very confusing. (at 2019 NY Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum / (also shown at 2019 Israel Film Center Festival) (updated 6/7/2019))
Fill the Void (Lemale et ha'halal) (previewed at 2012 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (So, nu: The older sister is seen only briefly, but is quite memorably happy and sensual with her husband. I am very surprised how many viewers, including my professional critic colleagues, presume the set-up situation is a religious mandate or cultural tradition of this sect that they don’t understand is fictional anyway. The director has said she did not have Jane Austen in mind at all in writing and making the film, but has given in to others’ comparisons, so I acceded in also try to expand the context. It seems viewers just don’t want to see this Jewish mother as a bully who is interfering and overpowering because her motivation so much comes out of her sympathetic grief. At the NYFF press conference, I asked why the bride's face wasn't covered here (a la bedeken tradition) with its references to Jacob being fooled into marrying first one sister, then the second. She laughed and said she hadn't thought of that, but might use that as an explanation in the future.) (6/11/2013))
Film About A Father Who
Director Lynne Sachs kindly made a point to thank me for posting on Twitter/FaceBook a photo of her (left) sharing the experimental shorts program “Salute to Barbara Hammer” with her husband Mark Street – the first time they’d presented films together at the Museum of Modern Art in a very long time. (In between them is director Akosua Adoma Owusu.) I was particularly interested in seeing her feature about her family at the same film festival, because I’d been presuming that she and her director brother Ira are Jewish, though in her fascinating, 35-years-in-the-making portrait of her bohemian, much-partnered father Ira Sr. that possible heritage isn’t mentioned.
Yet the domineering (and dominating) image of his wealthy Memphis mother Rose Sachs (known by her nine grandchildren as “Maw Maw”) and their fraught connection until she died at 103 years old, seemed so reminiscent of the presumed Jewish matriarch/son dynamic. In Lynne’s family footage (from 8 mm, 16 mm, VHS, Super 8, MiniDV, to Digital), Rose, with a Southern drawl, so strongly disapproves of her son’s “other women”, even calling him “handicapped”, first during his marriage and then, when Lynne was ten, post-divorce serial partnerships, that he hid subsequent children from her – and the director – for years in order to secure his inheritance. (He is known around Park City, Idaho, since the 1980’s as, according to local coverage, “the eccentric millionaire”.) In personal correspondence, Lynne confirmed: “My father's mother Mawmaw and her second husband converted to Catholicism in the 1950s, but my father never did. While there is not much said about this kind of post Holocaust kind of assimilation, it did happen. We were however raised as Jews, so your hunch was correct.”
Her granddaughter’s intimate film reveals a first abusive marriage to older salesman Harry Richmond, who actually fathered Ira, but she left him when their son was about 13, then left her son with relatives in NJ. I found a newspaper obituary of this Jewish grandmother, as if reflecting another life. Born in 1912 to Ida and Abraham Gold in rural Tennessee, then orphaned, Rose moved with various of her nine siblings to several states, working store sales jobs, until she married Mortimer Sachs in NYC. From 1945, they bought and together managed the tony Via Mizner shopping arcade in Palm Beach, Florida, adding additional property to their portfolio, and living off-season in Monte Carlo, until his death at 83. Ever stylish, as seen in Lynn’s documentation, she was known until her death as a fashion doyenne and philanthropist. (shown at MoMA’s 2020 Documentary Fortnight)
In “My Body, Your Body, Our Bodies: Somatic Cinema at Home and in the World: Films by Lynne Sachs”, she included in her lecture/retrospective an excerpt from her Biography of Lilith (1997), where she showed her detailed familiarity with the Jewish legend in relation to motherhood and children. (streamed at 2020 Ann Arbor Film Festival) (3/4/2020 and 3/25/2020))
A Film Unfinished (Shtikat Haarchion) (So, nu: One clue the director had that the Jewish rituals were staged was that the mikveh was shown inaccurately, with a line of naked women going in to dunk as if it were a swimming pool and not a space for private, prayerful cleansing. Four of the survivors who watch the footage they had seen as it was made in 1942 are women, who speak movingly about how their mothers helped them through the awful experience, including trying to keep shreds of dignity by wearing decent clothes, even as the propaganda film infers a criticism of well-dressed Jews compared to those in rags. Particularly heartbreaking is one woman tearfully realizing how her youthful strategy for survival – shutting out the dead and dying on the street as she looked for food for her family even as she tripped over them – looked to the camera as indifference. The filmmaker doesn't answer, however, why the diaries' testimony abou the staged filmings was ignored for all these years.) (8/18/2010))
The Final Hour - Rather than a traditional documentary on the history and current status of Judeo-Espanol, now popularly known as Ladino (my sabra brother-in-law’s native language, as spoken by his Turkish family), the producers recruited attractive, curly-haired Turkish film student Deniz Bensusan to talk to three generations of her family in Istanbul, then go on a beautiful-looking, informative four year journey to track backwards over 500 years to determine why she doesn’t speak it. With no funding, but wanting to capture the elderly generation that still speaks Ladino, the production filmed from Thessaloniki and Auschwitz, to Portugal and Spain, where a grandmother in Córdoba tries to fix her up with her grandson. After the screening, Bensusan reported she is still single. While she interviewed experts along the way (including women, such as archivists, academics, and Renan Koen the composer of the beautiful score who also performs), academics in the audience did amplify some details about the written language. A member of my congregation persistently asks me for films that include Ladino dialogue to show a group at the Sephardic Jewish Center, so I finally have a recommendation for her. (seen at 2020 New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival) (2/27/2020)
Finding Bliss (5/28/2010))
First Position (preview at 2011 DOC NYC Festival) (Amidst the inspiring story of aspiring 14-year-old ballerina Michaela Deprince, who was one of two orphans adopted from war-torn Sierra Leone by an older couple, the camera focuses on a handmade Hanukkah menorah in their living room, leaving the impression that the mother, who also sews her daughter’s tutus, is Jewish. Another aspiring ballerina is the exuberant 11-year-old Israeli Gaya Bommer, whose mother is also her choreographer. Both girls triumph at the regionals and then the finals of the Youth America Grand Prix.) (10/25/2011))
The First Time I Turned 20 (La Première fois que j'ai eu 20 ans) (viewing at the 2007 NY Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum)
Five Years After The War (Cinq ans après la guerre) (short) (Mostly through animation, Tim, the cousin of writer/co-director Samuel Albaric, amusingly relates how he coped with finding his sense of identity as he was living with his free-spirited Jewish mother in France, and had almost no contact with his Muslim Arab father, an Iraqi refugee. His mother made sure he went to religious school with a Jewish friend.) (seen at MoMA’s 2018 Documentary Fortnight) (3/3/2018)
The Flat (Ha-Dira) (also briefly reviewed in Documentaries at 2012 Tribeca Film Festival) (So, nu: my commentary forthcoming on the dead grandmother who could be in a friendship with Prussian aristocrats who probably looked down on the riff raff Nazis who took over the country from their traditional patriots, his denying mother who many critics think he’s merciless towards, and his apathetic sisters. Key is not just the facts, that are available in archives and histories, but that it was about his own family and that no one talked about it.) (Thanks to Judy Gelman Myers for background on the director.)
Just as the director describes that his grandparents worked and socialized with other yekkes, the Yiddish sobriquet for German Jews who remained distinctively German I have seen a home very much like hers, of a German Jewish woman on the next block in my Forest Hills neighborhood. I ran a very intellectual used book sale for my synagogue for 15 years, and got a call to pick up books from the house of a 90-something year old doctor who had just passed away. She had left Germany when she lost her hospital privileges in 1933 -- yet her 3 story house was filled, and I mean stuffed, with German language books etc., many, many classics, and not all pre-war by any means. Then when we put them up for sale in a separate section there was lots of really negative reaction that we were selling German books in a synagogue! (updated 11/8/2012)
Flawless (Haneshef): This Jerusalem high school is so much like American ones – with Mean Girls, a prom, jocks, physical and cyberbullying, English slang, and social media dominance that I’m not sure there’s anything particularly Jewish or Israeli about the body insecurity, plastic surgery envy, as well as racial (one girl is of Ethiopian heritage, played by Netsanet Mekonen), gender (one is trans, played by by trans Stav Strashko), and class distinctions, except maybe to be surgically scammed in Ukraine (as manipulated convincingly by experienced actress Assi Levy), but with the pat solutions of most teen movies. (preview at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival) updated 5/25/2019)
The Flood (Mabul) (briefly reviewed at 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: Ronit Elkabetz is mesmerizing as a very complicated Israeli woman – she’s a creative teacher, leading experiential classes; a sexy lover in a strained marriage; a guilt-ridden mother – all while trying to keep it together when the disabled son appears to rock her back to a very difficult time in her life, set in comparison to the unsympathetic, insensitive (albeit working) mothers of her students. Try not to tear up at the bar mitzvah climax!) (1/16/2012)
Flory’s Flame: The Story of Flory Jagoda (2015) Directors Ellen Friedland and Curt Fissel smoothly integrate the historical biography of the preeminent promulgator of Ladino traditional songs, who added more to the culture (such as the now classic “Ocho Kandelikas/Eight Candles” for Hanukkah), from Yugoslavia through the Holocaust, to American suburbia raising children, then returning home and around the world, with a 90th birthday concert celebration at the Library of Congress accompanied by family and protégés who continue her nonna’s music. How her accordion, talent, resilience, love, and determination first saved her during the Holocaust and then the folk revival inspired her in her ‘50’s to pursue this mission is not only astonishing and moving, but the clearly identified and subtitled songs are a joy to hear. (streamed 2/2021 through in memoriam through Museum of American Jewish History) (2/14/2021)
Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story (previewed at 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (In this ridiculously hagiographic portrait of the hero of the raid on Entebbe Airport in 1976 to rescue hostages, the older brother of politician Benjamin Netanyahu, interviews with the wife he married when they were both too young and then his post-divorce, younger girlfriend are additionally squirm-worthy.) (1/22/2012)
Footnote (Hearat Shulayim) (So, nu: commentary forthcoming) (3/16/2012)
For A Good Time, Call… (Sexiest young Jewish women in the movies of this or several years) (8/22/2012)
Forbidden Films (Verbotene Filme) (kudos to Film Forum for free showings) (Seeing Felix Moeller’s documentary intrigued me that there were no Jewish women in the clips shown from the two most notorious explicitly anti-Semitic Nazi films, Jew Süss (Jud Süß) and The Eternal Jew (Der Ewige Jude) (as dealt with by the same director in Harlan: In The Shadow Of Jew Süss (Harlan - Im Schatten Von Jud Süss), with my commentary on the Jewish women.). That got me researching more into what Nazi stereotypes were, but I only got as far as learning about the “Judensau” (for "Jewish sow" or female pig) without being able to find specifically Nazi imagery, only medieval church gargoyles, particularly in Bavaria, with claims that elderly Germans say that Nazis were fond of showing to school groups, and an Iranian anti-Zionist propaganda cartoon. I’m also asking my more academic fellow panelists at the 2015 Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival):
(l to r: moderator Elliot Ratzman, me (which is why this photo is by Harold Shultz), Noah Isenberg, and Thomas Childers).
Seeing Hitler’s Madman, (previewed at Imitations of Life: The Films of Douglas Sirk of Film at Lincoln Center), directed in some combination by German filmmakers Sirk and the uncredited cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan, and the Jewish-Moravian Edgar Ulmer, released in the U.S. in 1943, made me realize how strikingly similar was Allied propaganda by passionate émigrés (albeit with only a one sentence reference to Nazis suggesting Let’s blame it on the Jews. and the stress that women sent to concentration camps were only political prisoners) to the identical style Nazi film producer Goebbels’ promulgated. Thanks to the film for also introducing me to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s contemporaneous poem The Murder of Lidice and the significance of June 10, 1942. (updated 12/10/2015)
The Russians Are Coming (Die Russen kommen) includes extended clips from one of the “forbidden” films, Kolberg, directed by Veit Harlan, 1945. (seen at To Save and Project: The 14th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation of Museum of Modern Art)
The Forgotten Ones (Mizrahim - Les Oubliés de la Terre Promise) - Director Michale Boganim makes the most personal documentary yet on the treatment of the Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, not only when they first immigrated to Israel, but how the discrimination has continued through to the 4th generation. Told as a letter (in French, with very difficult to read subtitles) to her daughter Maayane, her traveling companion as she re-traces her father Charlie’s steps, geographically, politically, and culturally. While the community representatives only include a few women, they are powerful: artist Neta Elkayam talking about her parents coming from Morocco in the 1950s - 60s, walking through, and performing in her home town Netivot; in Elyakhin - Club of Women Retraites Yemenites de’eliahin who tell searing memories of their babies and children being stolen away from them by the local hospital staff in the 1950s. (One elderly participant is emphatic that from then on she only gave birth at home with a Yemeni midwife); in Sderot, Sivan Hanukayev, whose family came from the Caucasus (Kavkazi) In the 1970s, recalls family pressures to change her last name (ironically, my Mandel cousins in Israel are changing their last names to sound less Ashkenazi, like one translating its Yiddish meaning of “almond” into Hebrew); and, Ofir Teboul in Ashdod points out that her town is a model for how Jews from Arab lands can be a model for Israelis getting along with Muslims, like they did in their home countries.
As a road movie through these places where Mizrahim live, the director narrates her own poignant, uprooted autobiography, as her family immigrated, moved, and didn’t fit in anywhere, including their years outside Paris – and the lies she told friends in different places about her lives. Set off by the physical resemblance she says she and her daughter share with her father, most of the time the camera stays on her daughter, who both functions as a flashback, and a flash future to the next generation carrying on the traumas of the past. (preview at 2022 Other Israel Film Festival/ courtesy of Menemsha Films) (11/1/2022)
Forgotten Transports: To Estonia (Zapomenuté transporty: Do Estonska) (2007): Women's Friendship (briefly reviewed at 2009 Annual New York Jewish Film of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (In filmmaker Lukáš Přibyl’s suberb work, it's unusual enough to have detailed testimony from women survivors of Nazi labor and concentration camps, so not only is this unique in that all the witnesses are women, even within this series, but they always emphasize distinctly women's experiences, of yearning for their mothers, of those who foolishly fell in love with fellow workers or jailers, of clothes, bodies and survival decisions, and female insights on kindness and cruelties.) (1/18/2009)
Forgotten Transports: To Latvia (Zapomenuté transporty: Do Latvia) (2007): Family Strength - seen at The Legacy of Shoah Film Festival screening of the Forgotten Transports series with filmmaker Lukáš Přibyl. (The factual background about the emotional and physical travails of women in the Riga ghetto of the inadequate film Miriam, as remembered by their menfolk who tried to protect them by surviving in cruel labor camps just outside.) (4/16/2010/revised 2/2/2020)
The additional documentaries in Lukáš Přibyl’s superb quartet of films, among the best Holocaust documentaries ever made, are: Forgotten Transports to Poland (Zapomenuté transporty do Polska) (2010), referring to Eastern Poland, and Forgotten Transports To Belarus (Zapomenuté transporty: Do Belarus): Men Who Fought (2008). In the Q &A following his own produced screening in Manhattan, he explained his process in his ten years of research. He found and closely interviewed each of the 250 Czech survivors (as I recall), but put no fact on screen unless he could independently confirm the detail. That includes the names of the guards and other Nazi staff. From the information the German-speaking or understanding survivors relayed about the individual Nazis, such as accent and physical description, he searched archives to confirm such a person served at that facility then. Then he searched down the families to confirm their ancestor’s service, even those with the most common names. He also persistently asked the German families for photographic or other identifying evidence. The families were concerned about accusations of war crimes or other public association with what their ancestor did, but with assurance of anonymity and privacy, it turned out that just about all the families had the proverbial “suitcase in the attic” full of such material, that adds both chills and authenticity to the films, and to the validity of the womens’ memories, which were apparently never used for follow-up criminal cases or such. (2/2/2020)
For My Father (Sof Shavua B'tel Aviv) (So, nu: "Keren" (as portrayed by Hili Yalon) is an unusually complicated young woman, which is why she's attracted to a complicated Palestinian. While she left (or was rejected by) her ultra-Orthodox family after having a tragic out-of-wedlock pregnancy (with someone outside the community?), and she resists forceful efforts to make her repent and return, she is fiercely independent but lonely in her secular life and seems to be without friends, despite her bravura. For all her rebellion, she hasn't completely abandoned her upbringing as their night on the beach is suffused with romantic innocence. While it's typical for such stories that her mother secretly keeps in touch and helps her out, most films about the Haredi show the women as too subservient to take such initiative.) (2/9/2010)
For Your Consideration br>
Found – Director Amanda Lipitz follows her niece Chloe and two other teenage girls, who were adopted in China by American families and then discovered through DNA testing that they are cousins. Chloe, however, is the only one among them who was raised Jewish. Her parents include them in their first combined Chris-nukkah celebrations, and at the Passover seder relate her to Moses having two mothers. Though she attended Jewish day school up into high school and had her bat mitzvah in Jerusalem (glimpses of these activities are included in the documentary), she says she frequently gets surprised reactions that she’s Jewish, and outright denials, with claims she’s Asian so can’t be Jewish. (I’m particularly sympathetic as I have cousins in a similar situation.) An incredibly dedicated and committed genealogist in China arranges for them to together visit their home province with their American parents. Though she can’t locate their biological parents, understandably as the odds are slim, she does find where they were abandoned and the “nanny” who took care of each baby in the orphanage, for quite emotional reunions. When they meet a hopeful family disappointed that none of the girls are a match for their daughter lost to China’s “one child policy” (see the impact in All About My Sisters (Jia ting lu xiang)), Chloe has a visceral reaction in understanding what her birth parents went through in giving her up. (Netflix) (1/4/2022)
Four Seasons Lodge (So, nu: I missed the opportunity to see an early version of the film screen at my synagogue with the participants. The women are unusually frank about relationships, from how the cries of a wife with Alzheimer's uneasily stir up shared nightmares, to shrugs that intelligent people married simple people too short months after liberation, so second marriages for couples who met at the lodge were happier. Several critics have interpreted an emotional, close female friendship as lesbian, but it seemed the intense intimacy of being with someone who had been in the same place at the same time such that no outsider could not feel the same for a friendship.) (11/11/2009)
The Four Sisters: Baluty; The Hippocratic Oath; The Merry Flea; Noah’s Ark: Claude Lanzmann continued to issue the full interviews behind his masterpiece Shoah (1985); several were included in Criterion’s box set, others released independently, as these that for the first time give the full story of four women survivors, Pole Paula Biren, Czech Ruth Elias, Pole Ada Lichtman, and Hungarian Hanna Marton as he interviewed and filmed them almost 40 years ago. Each adds distinctly, and essential, women’s points of view that has usually only been seen in extreme fiction, as each sometimes casually describes how women were treated differently, including in rapes and brothels in concentration camps, as well as the importance of female solidarity, even though Lanzmann does not follow-up too much in his interviews.) (preview at 2017 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (10/1/2017; on DVD 5/15/2019)
Four Winters - Filmmaker Julia Mintz does a great service in providing the last testimony from Jewish partisans of the Holocaust. They were barely teenagers when they managed to slip from the Nazi onslaught, trekked into the Eastern European forests, and joined various (Jewish and non-Jewish) partisan groups. Their singular goal was to revenge the deaths they witnessed of their families as they undertook guerrilla attacks on Germans and their local collaborators. Earlier documentaries on the some 30,000 men and women Jewish partisans are either out-of-print or not easily available. Of the eight former partisans interviewed, without narration, in the chronological stories smoothly edited by Peter Heady and Timothy Kuper together with archival, mostly Soviet newsreel footage -- five are women. One of the women, Gertrude Boyarski, from Derechin, Poland (who turned out to be a distant relative of the director) was also briefly included in the short films online of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. Of the eight, at least three have written personal memoirs; two are by women - Sara Ginaite, from Kaunas, Lithuania, and Faye Schulman from Lenin, Poland.
Schulman (neé Faigel Lazebnik, though the women’s birth names are not always cited) provides a key visual element to this film – her 100 photographs that, amazingly, she took during the war. Some were not published before or were not in museum collections or exhibits (as of her death last year at 100). She developed photographs that ranged from evidence of the 1942 “genocide by bullets” in her hometown to the partisans’ activities and camaraderie (with she seen in a jaunty leopard-skin coat). I hope all of Schulman’s photographs will now be published together.
The women are all proud of their accomplishments – the other two are Chayelle Porus Palevsky, from Swieciany, Lithuania, and Luba Abramowitz, from Slonim, Belarus. They detail stealing ammunition (“Women have so many more places to hide weapons than men!”), liberating other Jews, learning to shoot, sabotaging trains, eating pork to assuage hunger (“Today I’m kosher” smiles one woman), boiling bandages for basic first aid (with lice-filled underwear), and being haunted by those who died.
Mintz has said that her interviews with each were longer and more intimate than their previous tellings. That may include frank admissions of assisting with primitive abortions, or women banding together to try and keep a newborn baby alive in their forest redoubt, to no avail. (Though eschewing the romanticism in Edward Zwick’s fictionalized Defiance
(2008), at least two of the women did marry fellow fighters.)
All these years later, each woman coolly faces straight on the ethical issues of their actions in killing – or choosing not to kill—the collaborators they personally knew who had let loose their antisemitism with guns or turned Jews over to the Nazis, and any German soldier.
While one recalls not letting herself weep until it was all over, they are committed to assuaging their survivors’ guilt by telling what they saw and they did. These are testaments we must hear to confront stereotypes of Jewish victims, and especially Holocaust deniers. (at 2020 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum/ courtesy of Film Forum - opening September 16, 2022) (9/15/2022)
The Fourth Window (HaChalon HaReviee) - So, nu: The Jewish women in Israeli writer Amos Oz’s life dominate Yair Qedar’s bio-doc: first, the confessional, end-of-life (2018) telephone conversations with his friend and biographer literature professor Nurith Gertz; his mother who committed suicide when he was 12, as told in the book and film adaptation of A Tale of Love and Darkness; his widow Nili Zuckerman, on their life at Kibbutz Hulda and moving away for the health of their asthmatic son; his older daughter Fania on the incongruousness of living on a kibbutz with the name of his mother; and his unseen second daughter Galia, a children’s book author, who leveled abuse accusations against him more than five years before his death, how he struggled to understand and reach out to her and bridge their estrangement. She since wrote a memoir, published February 2021, Something Disguised As Love, publicly detailing the abuse (no plans yet for it be translated into English). (streamed at 2021 Other Israel Film Festival) (11/3/2021)
Foxtrot (So, nu: the mother “Dafna” (Sarah Adler), the sister (Ilia Grosz), the daughter “Alma” (Shira Haas) and the grandmother (Karin Ugowski) of the dead Israeli soldier are all one-dimensional. This is much more a cynical exploration of male expression, bonding, and trust issues in the Israeli military.) (updated 3/3/2018)
Frances Ha (previewed at 2012 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (The key relationship is between 27-year-old female best friends in NYC: the unsettled, unsuccessful, eponymous yet optimistic dancer (star and co-writer Greta Gerwig) and her contrasting, more pessimistic, hugely bespectacled Jewish BFF from Vassar “Sophie” (played by blondish Mickey Sumner), works for Random House, and has a Goldman Sachs boyfriend with a WASPy nickname – and the Tribeca apartment she’s always wanted. About the only time the fast, quirky dialogue mentioned “Sophie”s background was in explaining to surprised acquaintances why she would spend each Christmas with “Frances”s family – because her family didn’t celebrate that holiday. (9/22/2012)
[Spoiler alert] Amidst director Gabriele Mainetti’s phantasmagoria version of Rome in 1943, with co-writer Nicola Guaglianone, that crosses Fellini and Tarantino, and borrows from films such as The Wizard of Oz, Freaks, and The Producers, young “Matilde” (Aurora Giovinazzo) is the foster daughter of the Jewish proprietor of the Circus Mezzapiotta, the elderly “Israel” (Giorgio Tirabassi), ironically the Nazis’ required Jewish male appellation. With her three “freak” friends on their yellow brick road through Roman ruins, her role in the Circus is as “Electric Girl”, safely showcasing with lightbulbs her “power” to conduct electricity, which she keeps under control offstage by wearing gloves and avoiding touching anyone. As the Nazis cement control of the city, Jews, including many women and girls, are rounded up from a building near the Vatican (documented recently by historian David Kertzer in The Pope at War: The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini, and Hitler), to a railroad station, and then pushed into cattle cars, with the camera lingering on their forcibly abandoned luggage. When “Israel” had been caught up in these arrests of Jews while he had been trying to risk joining his Circus with the Nazi PC tribute Berlin Zircus of 12-fingered “freak” pianist “Franz” (Franz Rogowski, in a wild performance), “Matilde” frantically tries to join him by declaring to the Nazi soldiers that she, too, is Jewish, which may be true as he apparently adopted her after she, reluctantly reveals, accidentally electrocuted her mother. When she is taken in by a ragtag group of “freak” partisan resistance fighters in woods outside the city, she is not easily convinced that it is acceptable to again take a human life, and has to be considerably provoked at the climax to explosively use her power to save the train-full of Jews by killing Nazis. Achieving romance, too. She is an unusually appealing Jewish female “superhero” in the fantasy realm, the kind of character that was originally invented by Jewish comic book writers to “fight” Nazis. (preview at 2022 Open Roads: New Italian Cinema at Film at Lincoln Center) (6/9/2022)
Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (So, nu: her most fiercely loyal and articulate friends are Jewish women from her school days, including at Brandeis.) (12/21/2014)
Free Trip To Egypt
- photo courtesy of Tarek Mounib
Surprisingly, there’s a Jewish woman in this genial documentary, directed by Ingrid Serban, that could have just been a lame reality TV show. Tarek Mounib, a Canadian Muslim now living in Switzerland, whose parents are Egyptian immigrants, wanted to offer the titular benefit to Americans who express hesitations about Islam. He recruits across the country in 2017, including at a Trump rally in Kentucky, but has more success when they ask on a Sirius XM talk radio show for interested applicants to send in a video tape. In the tape from school teacher Ellen Decker (above) from Fawngrove, PA (who later moved to Maryland), she confesses that while she used to be liberal: “When 9/11 happened, I lost it. I’m so racist now I can’t stand myself. I even voted for Trump…The only reason I would do this is to make my son Michael living in Saudi Arabia very happy that I was at least exploring the option of accepting Muslims as people, I suppose he would say.” When Mounib matches up she and her husband Terry for 10 days with Ahmed Hassan, a cinematographer and revolutionary seen in The Square (Al Midan), she worries “Does he know I’m Jewish?” She not only really gets into touristing around the Cairo Museum and the pyramids, she also warms to meeting a variety of Muslim families, including a mother in a full burkha, who she bonds with over their goals of teaching children to be good. Mrs. Decker hugs her: “I’m so happy to have a new friend like you. Am I your first Jewish friend? Are we so nice?” She more has to resist the evangelicals among the seven fellow Americans on the trip who are bent on converting souls for Jesus Christ, until they admit to her that others are also children of God: “I didn’t mean to make you cry.” While it’s never explained what the son was doing in the Middle East that his parents barely see him at home once a year, Michael, while reuniting with his parents on their trip, noted it’s wonderful to see her break out of her fears about safety and terrorism, that had made her argue with him about his travels, while his father was a bit xenophobic: “But now he says people are nice, and it’s nice to see the change happening.” Which was the project’s goal. Even if the celebrity-promoted follow-ups “#PledgeToListen Day of Unity” are more schmaltzy. (preview courtesy Kindness Films) (5/29/2019)
Friedkin Uncut - Unlike in so many conversations with film directors, photographers, critics, etc. I’ve seen in bio-docs, debut director Francesco Zippel lets octogenarian William (Billy) Friedkin talk about his origins. Maybe he liked the irony of Friedkin’s Jewish background vis a vis the Catholic setting of The Exorcist Friedkin identifiese his parents as Jewish immigrants who came from Ukraine in steerage “who quickly assimilated”. He describes growing up poor and happy on the north side of Chicago. “I loved my mother and father. If my mother was Catholic she would be a saint. I never heard her say a bad or negative word about anybody. She was very loving and protective of me.” They insisted he go to Hebrew School, but didn’t absorb much, and only knows some Yiddish slang. He now prefers reading the New Testament. Juno Temple later expresses her gratitude for his casting her in Killer Joe (2011) as her first big dramatic role, and admires that his female characters are so complex. Friedkin makes says nothing if his mother influenced his films at all. (preview courtesy of Ambi Distribution) (8/6/2019)
Friends From France (Les interdits) (previewed at 2014 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: commentary forthcoming on the Jewish women)
Friends With Money (So, nu: There's an odd implication that heiress Joan Cusack's "Franny" is Jewish, as a girl friend derides the "Shabbat Shalom" school her kids go to, let alone that she wants to donate $2 million dollars there -- was that a reference to my cousin's Shalom Alecheim school? We see her and husband "Matt" (played by Greg German) buy a huge amount of toys for their two kids, but don't see any Christmas tree in their house that the other friends have in theirs. Is it bad that while she's the richest she also seems to be the most well-adjusted of the friends, with the most stable marriage, though others make snide comments that she's not really a stay at home mom because she has full time household help.) (4/13/2006)
From the Diary of a Wedding Photographer (Myomano Shel Tzlam Hatonot) In the 40-minute short by Israeli writer/director Nadav Lapid (of The Kindergarten Teacher (Haganenet)), the cynical photographer, in framing several attractive young couples against dramatic oceanfront dunes, mostly convinces the brides that they don’t really want to get married to their grooms, and even takes up with one woman, perhaps instead of the mother of his child. One shocked groom “Hila” justifies their marriage in unusually Jewish terms for this ironic filmmaker (per my approximate transcription): 700 servings and the hall, my uncles from America, my grandmother is waiting, your dress and make-up, the rabbi, tradition, our patriarchs. She is “Ofir”: Enough. He: The matriarchs. We are Jews, not animals. She: Enough. And then it gets weirder. (previewed at 2016 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (10/1/2016)
From Where They Stood (À pas aveugles) - French documentarian Christophe Cognet spent several years researching the few, rare photographs that were taken secretly by prisoners themselves inside concentration camps, and the stories of who and how they took the photographs, and how the images were released. So far, only the French edition of his book is available, as Eclats - Prises de vue clandestines des camps Nazis, though he said the NYJFF Q & A that it has been translated into English. While most of these gutsy resistors are male non-Jewish political prisoners managing to photograph males, one exception is a Greek Jew Alberto Errera, who, with assistance of others in The Resistance, took “The Sonderkommando Photographs” at Crematorium V at Birkenau about August 1944. This daring set includes a group of Jewish women ordered to strip outside the building, not indoors as in most fictional portrayals. The director and Holocaust historian Tal Bruttmann analyze this photograph with intense detail, even using a magnifiying glass. They note how this image has been used, including by the Memorial Museum in exhibits, in ways that manipulate this photograph, including by cropping, and by touching it up to make the features of faces and bodies more explicit, particularly in the 1950’s, but they feel it’s more important not to be able to recognize individual women in these moments before their deaths. (This caution on how to perceive Holocaust images reminds me of the lessons in A Film Unfinished.) They quote the testimony of survivors about this experience of preparing for “the showers” that they had never seen other naked women before, not even their mothers. Cognet determines where the photograph was surreptiously taken – inside the gas chamber itself at the inset where the Zkylon B canisters were inserted. (preview at 2022 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum) (1/21/2022)
Fugitive Pieces (emendations coming after 11/2/2008) (So, nu: The predominant Jewish women, both in the film and the original book, are both idealized victims, while the romantic interests are non-Jewish, even though the much younger love-of-his-life is played by the gorgeous Israeli actress who was the model for the sexy Laura in Be’ Tipul, the Israeli original of In Treatment. But at least in the film the younger Jew, “Ben”, stays faithful to the lovely, lullaby-collecting “Naomi” (played by curly-haired auburn Rachelle Lefevre), who gently sings the redolent anti-Nazi anthem “Peat Bog Soldiers”.) (5/2/2008)
Funny People - Judd Apatow gets serious so presumably that's why the central male characters, who here have changed their last names to sound less Jewish despite Jewish references in their stand-up comedy, at last have contact with Jewish women. Adam Sandler's "George Simmons" only meets with his estranged sister "Lisa" (played by Nicol Paone) when he thinks he's dying, and she's almost too bitter at his neglect of family to reconcile -- What did we ever do to you? When he apologizes, she brings her husband and son to visit with him again. George's Mom (played by Eleanor Zee) accompanies his anti-religious father whose approval he craved to the awkward reunion, and he appreciates that she laughs at his joke. A friend sets him up for a blind date via JDate (there's running references that he's unfamiliar with any social networking web sites), but "Rachel" (played by Maggie Siff) is an intellectual who doesn't appreciate his self-hating jokes about Jews. For Seth Rogen's "Ira Wright", born "Wiener" and the product of a mother who after a bitter divorce declared his father the devil, Jewish women are only from his past. Several times he brings up his years as a camper and counselor at a Jewish camp, recalling that the first time he fingered a girl was there: "Sharon Mizrahi", who he gives an exaggerated Israeli pronunciation perhaps to either explain her sexual attraction or her aggression as he complains she reached down and grabbed my penis hard like she was trying to murder it. But I did order Super Jew T-shirts for my extended family, which also benefits a couple of Jewish non-profits. (8/7/2009)
Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down - While I remember reading in the news that wounded Arizona legislator Giffords celebrated her adult bat mitzvah, until seeing Julie Cohen & Betsy West’s documentary on CNN, I hadn’t really understood that she is Jewish, and that her study and ritual was such an important part of her amazing and determined rehabilitation. (11/24/2022)
Gainsbourg, Je t'Aime... Moi Non Plus (Gainsbourg - Vie héroïque) (previewed at 2010 Tribeca Film Festival) (While his Jewish identity is heightened during the Nazi Occupation of Paris, his mother seems much less of an influence and presence than his father.) (5/14/2010)
Jane B. Par (By) Agnès V. - in this just restored 1987 cinematic portrait of Jane Birkin, she proudly says she wanted to give her lover Serge Gainsbourg “a Jewish daughter with his Slavic eyes” (though I never thought of their daughter actress Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jewish before.) (10/13/2015)
The Galilee Eskimos (Eskimosim ba Galil) (seen at 2008 Israel Film Festival) (An absolutely delightful look at the founding generation of kibbutzim, as in this fictional fable they get abandoned in old age to capitalism and gradually recreate their youthful zeal and idealism (including one woman who remembers all the old uplifting songs). But now the women are more aware of the gender conventions they took for granted then, as they muse that all their children have left them, whether now gay, secular or orthodox.) (11/28/2008)
The Garden of Eden (previewed at 2013 Other Israel Film Festival) (So, nu: a wide variety of Jewish girls and women in Israel are seen and talked about.) (12/7/2013)
Garden State (So, nu: It's notable for yet another Dead Jewish Mother who is once again the only Jewish woman present, in her guilt-inducing absence, in the life of a male lead character very specifically identified as Jewish, here "Andrew Largeman" as a once a year Jew at Yom Kippur. It is her funeral that starts the film's trajectory. Ironically, his explicitly non-Jewish romantic interest, whose family leaves their Christmas tree up year-round and is unfamiliar with Jewish religious practices, is played by Natalie Portman, the Israeli-born actress who is one of the most prominent, and attractive, young Jewish actresses in films today. (8/8/2004)
Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable An interesting case study in Jewish male artist as proud to be a Male Chauvinist Pig, this street photographer known for his predilection for aiming his camera at women’s tits. (Included are interviews with women art critics who forcefully made this case, then and now.) Sasha Waters Freyer insists in her statement: “In looking at Winogrand in all his multidimensional human complexity, I take aim at the “bad dad” and “bad husband” tropes in artist biography, seeking to undermine these as sources of triumph or artistic necessity. Winogrand was an artist whose rise and fall – from the 1950s to the mid-1980s – in acclaim mirrors not only that of American power and credibility in the second half of the 20th century, but also a vision of American masculinity whose limitations, toxicity and inheritance we still struggle, culturally, to comprehend. The film ultimately invites a deeper consideration of Winogrand not only as a “man of his time,” in the words of MoMA Photography curator Susan Kismaric, but also as a man struggling to define himself simultaneously as an artist and a parent.” She sees her “film that, I hope, explores and explodes the cliché of the undomesticated, self destructive genius – one who is fundamentally unsuited to family life. This cliché is not exclusively the domain of male artists however, it tends to break along gender lines as a source of pride for men (think Faulkner or Picasso), and a source of pity or confusion where women artists are concerned (from Virginia Woolf to Cindy Sherman). His first wife.” Notice she does not see this analysis in a Jewish context (though he seems very much like Norman Mailer at this same time), though that is obvious in his background, with clues scattered throughout. His first wife Adrienne Lubeau, is interviewed extensively; married young, she may come from his same Bronx Jewish background – and is bitterly nasty about his possessive “Jewish mother”, giving examples of their closeness. However, among the many, excellent interview videos from several TV and other sources, he once wistfully mentions his (ultimately three, also to Judy Teller, no background provided, seen briefly, and Eileen Adele Hale) marriages were unsuccessful because he was looking for a woman as intelligent as his mother, who he greatly admired. There is an emphasis on how he tried to include his children while he was working, particularly his two daughters, including finding shots of them (and their shadows) in photographs, such as taking them to the zoo, and carrying a child on his shoulders while photographing. (preview courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment and Film Forum) (PBS’s American Masters) (9/26/2018)
General Magic at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival So, nu: Joanna Hoffman, past and present, is fully present in this documentary, when she was kind of mysterious in another documentary Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine (My additional notes) and very fictionalized in Steve Jobs (My additional notes). Co-director Sarah Kerruish filmed Hoffman, along with the rest of “The Magicians” back in 1992, which may be how she got Hoffman to participate here. Now she can be identified beyond her usual descriptor as head of marketing for the Apple Macintosh, and into her current philanthropic involvements. (4/15/2018)
Generation War (Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter) (So, nu: More disappointing than how the German Jewish friend’s mother is pretty much a non-entity, is that the woman stuffed into a cattle car with him on the way to Auschwitz turns out not to be Jewish, but is a Polish Communist patriot, who would not have been rounded up like that with Jews. But she is the one who is knowledgeable about the doom that awaits them, organizes the escape and protects him to hide his identity with the partisans as long as possible – until he reveals himself by freeing other Jewish men and women against orders. The skillful woman Jewish doctor “Lilja” (played by Christiane Paul) who the German nurse exposed for round-up, turned into a bitter, vengeful uniformed soldier after an unexplained escape to join with the Soviet forces, allowing the nurse to work to save her life tending their troops as they head to Berlin.)
A 1/27/2014 panel discussion at NYU’s Deutsches Haus got hijacked by Polish nationalists (including elderly political prisoner survivors), most of whom hadn’t seen the film, furious that Poles, particularly the National Army and some partisans, were depicted as virulent anti-Semites, listing all those listed as Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem. But they were all older Poles, those who grew up under the 45 years when the Community Party line blamed everything on the Germans, even as they used antisemitism as a rallying tool. Though one younger woman said the Polish TV audience mocked the lack of facility with the Polish language by the actress portraying the Communist partisan – evidently not that her character was inexplicably arrested with Jews. (updated 1/28/2014)
Generation Wealth (Amazon Studios release) Director/photographer/photojournalist Lauren Greenfield literally dances around identifying as Jewish in this career retrospective of her life and the themes in her work – near the end we glimpse her wedding video where her husband (and co-producer) Frank Evers wore a kippah. She similarly does so in looking back on how she portrayed wealth in the past, and now in follow-up, including her classmates from an elite private school in southern California, but I did not pick up clues if any outside her family were of Jewish ancestry. (Their names are not repeated in the press notes for me to double-check my reaction.) From her past work there’s a brief image of a tasteless bar mitzvah where the parents hired Vegas-style showgirls to entertain the kids. But at no point are American or other Jews particularly pointed out or specifically identifiable for excess or ruing their expenses or lifestyle, let alone the members of her own successful family. Her academic psychologist mother Patricia Marks Greenfield is open about the demographic cohort of her life, but mostly responds to her daughter’s questions like a therapist more than a mother. This may be the first time I’m relieved that Jewish (or even putative Jewish) women aren’t identified! (6/20/2018)
Genius So, nu: For this adaptation of A. Scott Berg biography’s Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, which I haven’t yet read, Nicole Kidman says she lobbied to play the role of, as described in the press notes, Mrs. “Aline Bernstein, one of the most renowned theatrical costume designers of her day”, but I think she miscast herself, including that her age seems wrong. The film centers on the intense personal relationship between Perkins (played by Colin Firth) and Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), whose books I’ve neglected to read all these years. Wolfe here calls his considerably older lover “Mrs. Bernstein” my little Jewess.
The press notes include these reflections on her: Law:“ Wolfe had copious lovers, but Aline was his love, his muse, and his champion.” Kidman: “They were addicted to one another at a certain point. She was a formidable woman – an incredibly strong career woman who was ahead of her time - which is fascinating because she was in this obsessive, dependent love affair with Thomas Wolfe.” Biographer Berg: “Aline was desperate and she was passionate. When Aline loved, she loved 200%. She was anxious to hold onto that, and she was threatened by Wolfe’s relationship with Perkins.” The film is very clear about her success in the theater, and Wolfe’s disinterest (and discomfort) with her artistic, intellectual (not mentioned but probably Jewish) circle, and her frustration with his attitude and lack of support, compared to how she was his mentor and muse before Perkins takes over, and her (surprisingly) hysterical and considerably unstable reaction to being replaced in his life, including threatening suicide and murder in Perkins’ office, and is not seen at Wolfe’s funeral. Mrs. Bernstein is seen as parallel to how Mrs. Perkins’ background as an actress and playwright is similarly denigrated by her husband.
We never hear her maiden name of Frankau (per Wikipedia), and we only find out about her personal background in her confession to Mrs. Perkins (Laura Linney) that she abandoned her weathy stockbroker husband and their two children for Wolfe and, well, she can’t go home again. Wikipedia says Wolfe based his character “Esther Jack” on her in that book, Of Time and the River that Perkins edited, and The Web and the Rock (which, huh, isn’t available on Kindle). As there’s some question about how the “Esther Jack” love story was edited through these novels, I’ve also identified posthumously discovered and published stories, now sitting on my shelf, which deal more with “Esther Jack”s Jewish background, that are based on Aline’s memories, and are used by literary historians as examples of stereotypical attitudes towards Jewish women in the late 1920’s, in The Good Child’s River and The Party at Jack. (I also now have her own versions of her life, in her autobiography An Actor’s Daughter and her novelization of their grand affair The Journey Down, to someday clarify how she saw their relationship.) (updated 6/27/2016)
The German Doctor (Wakolda) (Useful supplements: Director Talk interview and Tablet Magazine visit to Bariloche.) (So, nu: The only clue that “Nora Eldoc” (played by Elena Roger) is Jewish, let alone working for the Mossad, whether as an agent or as an informant, is when she whispers her findings about the school’s connections in Hebrew on the telephone. She is inspired by a real woman who was killed near the German-Argentinian town under mysterious circumstances and whose body was reportedly reviewed by Mossad agents.) (5/2/2014)
Germans & Jews (So, nu: Though there are no specifically gendered analysis proffered, the Jewish interviewees include many women, though not among the Israeli artists, like my cousin in theater in Berlin. Supplements to this very edited review:
Missing here is that the main Jewish pre-war neighborhood “Mitte”, the city center full of Jewish-owned department stores, textile companies, and banks, was located in what became the East German side. The current exhibition at The Leo Baeck Institute-New York Stolen Heart: The Theft of Jewish Property in Berlin’s History City Center, 1933-1945 documents the pre-war community and the lack of reparations from the GDR afterwards
Though the Germans interviewed here grew up not knowing any Jews personally, they don’t express feeling the lack of Jewish cultural or intellectual presence reported by Eastern Europeans in Nurith Aviv’s short film Loss. The raft of recent films about crusading anti-Nazi prosecutor Fritz Brauer well show the post-war silence that persisted until, first, in 1953 he rehabilitated the Hitler assassination plotters by winning a slander suit against calling them traitors, through his instigation of the Verdict On Auschwitz: The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial 1963-1965.
While Dörte Franke’s Stumbling Stone (Stolperstein) (2009) details more on one briefly shown grassroots Holocaust awareness project, I had visited the frank Topography of Terror Documentation Center, built on the rubble of the Gestapo headquarters, without realizing it was not a government effort.
I briefly reviewed the wonderful portrait of Holocaust survivors in Germany Oma & Bella.
Not really explored here is how the Russian émigré/Jewish German community has grown distinctive roots, which can be seen in Dominik Graf’s 2010 noir mini-series In the Face of Crime (Im Angesicht des Verbrechens) (released in the U.S. on DVD through MhZ). (6/10/2016)
Gett: The Trial Of Viviane Amsalem (previewed at 2015 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: As written and directed by the so impressive Ronit Elkabetz, with her brother, particularly pointed is the comparison between the women and male witnesses – from a secular neighbor who explodes against the judges that in the next election their jobs would be eliminated to a browbeaten wife who gathers her courage to confess what she’s witnessed about the divorcing couple even as her husband stays in the courtroom to intimidate her.) (2/13/2015) With her death in 2016, this culmination of her trilogy, stands as her masterpiece.
Gevald! (briefly reviewed at 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: The anti-Zionist refuses to allow his wife and children to be seen in the documentary, not that this modesty helped his career. But the wife of the Knesset member is a charming political spouse and hostess; if she were Ashkenazi she could be called a balabusta. She genially tours the filmmakers through their apartment and the photographs of their many children and grandchildren. Open about their personal lives, she recounts their love at first arranged sight with delight.) (1/25/2010)
The Girl on the Train (La Fille du RER) (previewed at 2009 Rendez-Vous with French Film at Film at Lincoln Center) (Ronit Elkabetz has an atypical role (let alone in French) as the daughter of a prominent Jewish lawyer who has spoken out against anti-Semitic violence. While she gives the viewpoint of the harm that a false accusation can make on the community, as a wife with a troubled marriage and a rebellious teenage son, she is not a one-note activist, but sympathetic to the very human pressures that can lead a girl to make a mistake.) (3/9/2009)
Girl With Black Balloons (previewed at 2011 DOC NYC Festival) The little biographical background that Dutch filmmaker Corinne van der Borch is able to elicit from artist cum tragic hoarder Bettina, somehow living and dedicating herself to working in the Chelsea Hotel since the 1960s, is that her last name is Grossman and she rebelled against what she only describes as “a quite Orthodox family”. Even dreaming about her, the director then describes her as a “Jewish girl”, as if that adds to the mystery of her life we only glimpse: portraits of her as a beautiful young woman in European locales, no regrets over an abortion, and trauma from a fire in a Brooklyn apartment that destroyed any other evidence of her past and may explain some of her behavior. (Though she’s surrounded by stacks of boxes, she’s not agoraphobic as she enjoys watching the ships along the Hudson River and scooting around outside looking like a bag lady on wheels.) A young, Nordic-looking, long-haired neighbor seems to use her as his muse and may also be making a competing film about her, but does clean out her apartment, as promised, to set up the “museum” to see all her work in continuous context together that she claims she’d always wanted for her beautiful sculptures, photographs, word drawings, and amazingly much more, seen individually in a lovely concluding montage. She directs the director and mentally improves enough to pass a sanity test that forestalls guardianship and eviction, but soon sinks back into sad paranoia about what he’s done. Ironically, when she suffers a fracture from a fall, and has to go into rehab, it’s a Jewish facility in Brooklyn that takes her in, though she snorts at the Shabbat restrictions. After watching the film, it was almost as unsettling that a young colleague at the screening thought she was only in her late ‘60’s, not her actual ‘80’s. (10/22/2011)
Give Me Liberty If I hadn’t seen that many Jewish film festivals are scheduling Kirill Mikhanovsky’s everything-that-can-go-wrong in the day of a medical transport driver in Milwaukee, I would not have presumed that all the Russian immigrants portrayed reflected his memories of being a Soviet Jewish émigré there with his family. One of the amusing elements in the chaotic story of the van driver Vic (played by the charming first-timer Chris Galust, discovered in a Brooklyn bakery while appropriately enough buying a cake to celebrate his Russian grandfather’s emigration to the U.S.) is how he ends up helping friends of his grandfather (Arkady Basin), a group of elderly Russians, including an accordion player, to take them to a cemetery for the funeral of their friend Lilya. While I did spot a menorah in her apartment when they can get in afterwards, it was not a Jewish cemetery, nor did they attempt a Jewish service. I only saw that one woman (I will guess she was the player with the presumably Jewish name Rimma Lifschitz) drops in Yiddish terms – like asking Vic to do a mitzvah and to be a mensch. The group has a continuing argument about what songs to sing at the gravesite. One woman insists that Lilya wanted to honor the time when Belurassians, Russians, and Jews all got along, so she wanted each ofs their songs represented. But the one woman keeps insisting only Yiddish songs would be appropriate. Besides singing “Go Down Moses” in alliance with Paul Robeson’s support for freedom, they do sing several others, on and off the van, that I couldn’t document. In the credits, I caught a chorale name that included “Freylikh” and “Wisconsin” that may have been the casting or sheet music source, but my searches for more information turned up nothing. (7/19/2019)
Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (previewed at DocuWeek) (Was it because director Scott Hicks is Australian or was it in order to stress, over and over, Philip’s pan-religious spirituality that he avoided identifying his Baltimore family in any way as Jewish, particularly his older sister Sheppie who is extensively interviewed, even as she recalls the influence of their mother in encouraging a bright child? Certainly, most viewers seeing her very Jewish sounding married name and hearing her manner of speaking will perceive her as Jewish.) (8/16/2008)
Gloria: In Her Own Words (HBO documentary) (While Ms. Steinem makes a point of identifying her colleague Flo Kennedy as African-American, which is obvious from the old photographs and footage, she speaks movingly, both in the new interview and in footage of her funeral eulogy, of Bella Abzug as a mentor and substitute mother – but never as Jewish. On the other hand, she also doesn’t identity Betty Friedan as Jewish in detailing their disagreements.) (8/27/2011)
The Glorias - Julie Taymor tracks Gloria Steinem at four different points in her life, with four actresses, but her childhood vaguely implies that her mother was Jewish. Though the film is based on Steinem’s memoir My Life on the Road, she says she doesn’t’ need to talk about her mother, instead she “wrote a long essay about her called ‘Ruth’s Song: Because She Could Not Sing It.’ I mourned her unlived life.” When her mother Ruth (played by Enid Graham) has some kind of breakdown, she has nightmares that German soldiers are coming to get her; the memoir refers to her mother’s “fear of a threatening” universe, and that she grew up in a hostile world, but it was her beloved father (played by Timothy Hutton) who was Jewish. Steinem recently learned that his mother Pauline Perlmutter Steinem was an active suffragist and Jewish women’s leader in Toledo, OH. The friendship and alliance between Steinem and Bella Abzug is wonderfully portrayed by Julianne Moore and Bette Midler, respectively. In the script by Taymor and Sarah Ruhl, Abzug proudly proclaims herself Jewish and loud. (Amazon) (12/30/2020)
Glorious (Comme T’Y Es Belle!) (2006)
Thanks to the 2019 New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival for introducing me to the French director Lisa Azuelos, with this look back to her debut directorial feature! She’s just released her 6th film in France - - so now I have five more to catch up, including one just opened. This film has very much a period Sex and the City vibe, though the women are older with children and/or husbands, and all the women are within an extended Sephardi French family, specifically from Morocco, so they share Arabic languge, customs, and food with their Muslim nannies and household help. In the Q &A, Azuelos regretted that she would not be able to portray such closeness in a film set today. She described her background as her first 12 years with her French Catholic mother, then moved in with her Sephardi Moroccan father. She noted that each of her films has an autobiographical element of what state in life she is going through; with this film, she was in the midst of getting a divorce.
Azuelos cast women who mostly did not fit American stereotypes of Jewish women, if I got all the characters and actresses correctly. Blonde Isa (Michèle Laroque) is an unhappily married mother of two school age kids entrepreneurially developing a face cream (or some such), and separates from her crass Jewish husband for a non-Jewish father of friends of her daughter. Léa (Aure Atika) is wealthy, divorced, scatter-brained, dressing too young for their age, and regrets her cool relationship with her pre-teen daughter. Alice (Valérie Benguigui, Azuelos’ best friend who died in 2013, which made it bittersweet for the director to re-watch this for the first time in years.) Nina (Géraldine Nakache) runs a large salon where they hang out, and allows for amusing interactions with clients, goes ahead with a civil union with her nanny in order to keep her legally in the country, even as she ditches one-night stands for a satisfying affair with a hunky Jewish British tax attorney (played by Andrew Lincoln). I’m missing the single friend who has the hots for one of the women’s brother, Simon., who the older women, cooking relatives are constantly insisting date Jewish men, including an aunt of Azuelos, who died earlier this year, though she was again glad to see her so vibrant in the film. (3/19/2019)
Go for Zucker! (Alles auf Zucker!)
God’s Messengers (Shlechei Ha El) - (2015) Director Itzik Lerner’s observational cinema documentary approach (supplemented with archival footage) is useful for being up-close-and-personal with the denizens of then illegal Havat Gilad outposts on the West Bank, near Nablus. They are led by the entrepreneurial farmer Itay Zar, carrying out his settler parents’ revenge for the murder of his brother in 2001, and whose family background is the only one presented. (His still-grieving mother is implacable.)
This lacunae is particularly frustrating in viewing the two most prominent women in the film, Itay’s wife Bat-Tzion and sister-in-law Ilana. (No still was provided by the distributor that included any of the women.) Ironically, they seem indistinguishable from the Palestinian women they push aside – their bodies and heads are wrapped in long skirts, blouses, and scarves; they are constantly pregnant and schlepping babies and toddlers; and spend a lot of time with lawyers, and waiting outside courts and prisons. (Sometimes their maternal responsibilities lean them to waver about staying put, before they re-commit to staying.) While Bat-Tzion disingenuously denies they carry out “price tag attacks” on Palestinians and Israeli security forces as retribution for actions against the settlers, Ilana, however, is more political and ideological. She is seen trying to force her way up to the podium at a huge settler rally to represent “the youth settlement movement” (and so many of them are strikingly young). But she is rebuffed by the older, male, more conventional event organizers: “You should have asked before.” (courtesy of Seventh Art Releasing- which is making the film only available in the U.S. for screenings and educational use by communities, not in theatrical or wider release nor streaming) (3/10/2023)
Golda - With the emphasis in Sagi Bornstein, Udi Nir, and Shani Rozanes’s 2019 documentary on why Golda Meir’s legacy reputation in Israel is so sour, it is very frank about her Ashkenazi prejudices against Arabs and Mizrahi Jews from Arab countries. I don’t recall seeing even in other docs on this issue a Pesach hunger strike by young Mizrahis that forced a meeting with her and revealed her biases to them. A professor of gender studies and former Foreign Ministry/Knesset member Colette Avital point out how she used her unattractive, grandmotherly image, and she did not encourage other women in government. Her former spokesman notes she hid from the public what she was dealing with I private: her cancer treatment – even as she continued to smoke - -and her sister’s illness and death, that coincided with the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (previewed at 2019 DOC NYC Festival) (10/25/2019)
Golden Voices (Kolot Reka'a) - A positive of Israeli government funding stressing diversity has been the release of more films featuring the immigrant experience from the Soviet Union. Director/co-writer Evgeny Ruman and co-writer Ziv Berkovich dedicate their lovely film “to our parents”, who brought them as children to Israel in the big wave of emigration about September 1990, when their film is set. Played by Russian-born actors who came around the same time, the central married, childless couple is the Frenkels: “Raya” (the expressive Maria Belkin) and “Victor” (Vladimir Friedman), whose career specialty was dubbing films into Russian. Only the husband mentions even any awareness of his Jewish heritage: My parents spoke Yiddish at home and we ate matzoh at Passover, so it’s possible his wife is not. The first Jewish Israeli woman we see on screen is their Ulpan Hebrew teacher, presumably religious with her hair covered, wearing long sleeves and skirt. At 62 years old, “Raya” is at first intimidated by the tough Israeli women she meets. “ Dvora” (Evelin Hagoel) is the shrewd proprietor of the phone sex call center where “Raya” begins to blossom by using her vocal skills to play the role of young “Margarita” for lonely Russian men, especially one with a stutter. We see such a surprising softer side to her boss, that I wasn’t sure she was the same character who lets “Raya” crash at her apartment for awhile, telling about her son at college in Boston. Unusually, “Dvora”s sense of Jewish identity is indicated by Shabbat candlesticks on a shelf, rather than the more cinematically typical menorah. The other female entrepreneur she has business dealings with, blonde like her, is “Irina” (Nadia Kucher), who operates a black-market video store that illegally copies popular American movies in theaters and quickly dubs them into Russian. The director explains in the Press Notes: “Going to the cinema was too expensive for new immigrants. Also, it was subtitled in Hebrew, a language we didn’t process well enough for several years. Our love for movies was born then, watching the bleak, shaky copies poorly filmed from a cinema screen and extremely poorly dubbed.” Making more money than he does, “Raya” finds the wherewithal to finally rebel against her husband, who was even directing her in casual photos: You are a good man. But I’m tired of you after all these years, you have no idea. Always has to be the way you like it. We had a chance for a family but you didn’t want that: ‘Children will harm our careers, so wait’. [I agreed] for you. They do re-bond and re-kindle, by changing jobs and apartment location of her choosing. (courtesy of Music Box Films) (12/18/2021)
The Golem (2019 - Available on all streaming platforms) Cheers to The Paz Brothers, and writer Ariel Cohen, for a feminist take on the traditional tale! So many mystical-oriented TV shows and movies are based on New Testament apocalypses (for example, CW’s long-running Supernatural and other mythologies) not only is it is a real pleasure to see one coming out of Kabbalah and gematria, that its brother directors Doron Paz & Yoav Paz (Jeruzalem) call “Jewish Horror” – but it’s also feminist. In this English-language film, the first voice-over heard is a woman’s: the healer Perla (Brynie Furstenberg), then it’s auburn-haired Hanna (Hani Furstenberg) who wants to study Kabbalah, at first with the assistance of her husband Benjamin (Ishay Golan), who sneaks her the tomes from his father the rabbi. The couple is still grieving the accidental death of their young son seven years before. But she’s the one who wants to take the studies further to produce a Golem when the Christians blame the shtetl for the plague and threaten revenge; the Golem she creates is (Stephen King-like) in the shape of a boy, like their son, and she reacts to him as if he is her son, which is a new angle towards a Golem, as well that its creation releases her sexually, too. This image then makes it more powerful that the Golem reacts to her emotions (including jealousy of her neighbor’s flirtation with Benjamin), as he gets more out of control in interpreting protection of her specifically more than the community defense against raging gentiles as she thought she intended, while the blood and body count rise. (Preview courtesy of Epic Pictures)
For comparison, in 2007, I saw Golem (1920) Paul Wegener’s German expressionist silent film performed live with Tom Nazziola's musical score by The BQE Project, which sticks closer to the original legend of The Golem of Prague. (updated 2/9/2019)
Goodbye Momo (A Dios Momo) (4/20/2007) (emendations coming after 10/20/2007) (So, nu: Refreshingly not stereotyped that the best friend’s Jewish mother is so warm to the Afro-Uruguayan boy, and that both families are struggling with poverty.)
Goon (How does it come to be that a Canadian romantic comedy about hockey opens up outside a synagogue? The script by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg changes their inspiration of the real Doug Smith (inspired by his memoir Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey Into a Minor Hockey League, written with Adam Frattasio) into “Doug Glatt” (played by Seann William Scott). Baruchel explained in the press notes that his father had played hockey in his youth on the Bethel Wings, an all-Jewish hockey team: “All of my knowledge or interest in hockey comes from my father. I was raised in a household where the Montreal Canadians were effectively our religion: Jewish on Dad’s side, Catholic on Mum’s, all Habs fans. And Dad’s favorite players were always the tough ones, the enforcers - or the goons for lack of a better term. . .I coupled that with this real hockey player named Mike Bajurny who’s not Jewish, but played on the Laval Chiefs which is part of the North American Hockey League. Both Bajurny's father and his grandfather are doctors, his brother’s a filmmaker and he’s the guy who gets paid to fight and skate for a living.”, who was profiled in his brother’s documentary Le Chiefs. In the opening, the “Glatt” parents try to fix their son up with a nice young woman at the synagogue, but it’s more his mother (played by Ellen David) who is stereotypically upset that he’s choosing a violent career in hockey, unlike his brother the doctor, though “Doug” teases her by outing the brother as gay.) (11/25/2012)
Le Grand Rôle is an amusing updated French Jewish take on O. Henry's "The Last Leaf." Based on a book by Daniel Goldenberg that doesn't appear to be available in English, it gently pokes fun at just about everything it touches, including actors, theaters, directors, and religious, ethnic and generational divisions within the Jewish community.
It sets as a satirical premise the notion that Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice is the problem and opportunity for Jewish actors that Othello is for black actors, with references as well to Ronald Colman in A Double Life and the Al Pacino adaptation that must have been in production at the same time as this film.
In an amusing satire of Steven Spielberg exploring his Jewish identity through Schindler's List, Peter Coyote plays a big Hollywood director who comes to Paris to direct a Yiddish version of Merchant (scenes with him are mostly in English), setting off more than a frisson of hope and anxiety among a close group of unemployed Jewish actor friends as they position themselves for the role, including amusing efforts to gain credibility with the director in and out of the humiliating auditions, such as politicking at temple services most don't otherwise attend and searching out elderly relatives for Yiddish lessons. Their comfort with each other amidst their diversity is also unusual in films with Jewish characters, as they range from married with children, to divorced, to a womanizer, one is observant, another passionately Sephardic who insists that an authentic production of Merchant should be in Ladino (the Judeo-Iberic language of Jews who fled Spain).
But the humor is centered by one of the most unusual sights ever in films - an attractive, young Jewish, married couple's stable, loving relationship. Their devotion puts the actors' egos into poignant perspective as the marriage is tested by the ultimate challenge, showing that even the most self-centered seeming people can have a heart in the face of personal tragedy. Stéphane Freiss as the husband can move from funny to sad sack to poignant on a dime. Bérénice Bejo as his wife creates a real, intelligent woman to care about; I was particularly impressed that she found the only copy in Paris of the play in Yiddish.
The English subtitles are inadequate and it is particularly frustrating as none of the pop songs on the soundtrack are translated as they seem to have some significance in commenting on the story, particularly at the end. (5/30/2005)
Grace Paley: Collected Shorts (briefly reviewed at 2011 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu commentary on the Jewish women forthcoming.)
The Great New Wonderful (I'm not sure if some of what we see Olympia Dukakis's "Judie" doing is fantasy or not.) (7/10/2006)
The Green Perfume (Le Parfum vert)
Somehow inspired by Hergé’s “Tintin” and Hitchcock, director Nicolas Pariser intends this to be a comic spoof of spy thrillers, so presumably all the Jewish references by the two main characters are meant to be spoofs too. The French press notes are not yet available in English, but he explained: “En fait, pour Hergé c’est un peu inexact et surtout très accablant : il y a des Juifs dans ses albums mais ce sont presque toujours des caricatures antisémites. Chez Hitchcock, à ma connaissance, il n’y a pas de Juifs du tout…Il fallait dévier vers le motif central, qui est l’angoisse physique des Juifs en Europe, encore présente aujourd’hui. Filmer l’Europe c’est filmer un territoire plus que jamais hanté par le fascisme et l’antisémitisme.” Amid the unevenly paced, convoluted plot about stopping a neo-Nazi Pan-European plot, that feels like clarifying points have been edited out, Comédie-Française actor “Martin Remi” (Vincent Lacoste) keeps intersecting with auburn-haired comic book writer “Claire Cahan” (Sandrine Kiberlain). Particularly on trains across Europe, they spend long scenes talking about aspects of being Jewish – for her it’s mostly about avoiding her nagging mother after coming back to France after 20 years in Israel that’s to explain their difficulties sustaining relationships. (at 2023 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Film at Lincoln Center) (2/26/2023)
Guilt Trip (I didn’t want to bother seeing it in a theater)
H2: The Occupation Lab - Directed by Idit Avrahami and Noam Sheizaf, both have said in interviews they have personal connections to the city of Hebron. Sheizaf served there when he was an officer in the Israeli military in the 1990s, while Avrahami comes from a family that had lived in Hebron for generations. As the history of Hebron, even since 1929, and of how it became a tinderbox and then a model of how the Israeli Army treats other towns on the West Bank, the archival images of Jewish Israeli women are the negative ones Palestinians see: as soldier and as settler.
At least in the archival footage shown the female soldier really tries to patiently listen and be helpful to Palestinians just trying to get on with their daily movements, even though obviously not speaking or understanding Arabic, which should be a prerequisite for all soldiers serving in the Occupied Territories.
However, the female settler seen close-up in archival footage is despicable, horrid, and hateful. She taunts a Palestinian woman in her caged apartment by repeatedly calling her “whore” in her face. Another female settler is seen striking a Palestinian woman for no reason while shopping, as the tensions between the adjacent but highly segregated residents mount over the years.
Amidst the layers of irony is that a viewer is hard-pressed to tell the communities of women apart, with both cultures obsessive about making women cover their hair and every inch of their bodies in very similar traditional styles. (preview at 2022 Other Israel Film Festival) (10/31/2022)
HALLELUJAH: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song - As in Marianne & Leonard, Jewish women aren’t heard from much in filmmakers Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine latest bio-doc, though his Los Angeles rabbi Rabbi Mordecai Finley of Ohr HaTorah Synagogue, provides textual analysis. As described in the Press Notes, I’ll presume this prominent interviewee is Jewish because she was from the same Westmount, Montreal neighborhood: “Nancy Bacal – Writer, journalist and editor of Leonard Cohen’s 1994 anthology, Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs. Bacal and Cohen shared a lifelong friendship that began during their school days in Montreal and lasted through the end of Leonard’s life.” She describes the conventional life expectations when growing up there. A very brief interview is with “Regina Spektor – Russian-born singer/songwriter who first performed “Hallelujah” in a concert for the Jewish Heritage Festival.” However, the documentary reveals yet another blonde lover in Cohen’s life, French photographer Dominique Issermann, who he met on the same Greek island featured in the earlier documentary.
Drawing on Alan Light’s The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah", we do learn that the song was first de-Judaized, as John Cale felt uncomfortable with the Biblical references for his cover version, and then Shrek co-director Vicky Jenson bowdlerized the lyrics by “taking out the naughty bits”, which became the standard. (courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics) (12/9/2022)
The Hangover (There is nothing to particularly identify as Jewish the nasty, controlling, cold, can only be described as rhymes-with-rich "Melissa" (played by comedienne Rachael Harris as a brunette rather than her usual blonde). But then there's nothing particularly Jewish about her dentist boyfriend "Dr. Stu Price" (played by Ed Helms) until he shows his guy friends the engagement ring he's planning to give her and announces that it's the only thing his grandmother saved from the Holocaust. He keeps calling it "his Holocaust ring" throughout the movie, leading the groom's not-playing-with-a-full-deck future-brother-in-law "Alan" (Zach Galifianakis) to ponder: I didn't know they gave out diamond rings at the Holocaust. Consequently, I’m betting that the majority of movie viewers will then presume "Melissa" is Jewish. On her only plus side, while "Stu" goes on about her negative habits, such as an abhorrence of physical contact with semen, she did sleep with a bartender on a cruise so she's not completely frigid. While this bachelor party bromance comedy isn't completely misogynistic (there's a stripper with a heart of gold and the other two guys return to their wives declaring their love), its most venomous ire is aimed at the one woman most will identify as Jewish, and audiences will doubtless cheer when "Stu" disrupts the wedding reception with his liberation.) (6/2/2009)
Hannah Arendt (So, nu: Other than a couple of faculty wives who barely get any lines or personality, Hannah is very much the alpha-woman here, though with little sense of Jewish identity of any kind. But rare on screen is the portrayal of her close, supportive, mature, long-running friendship with Mary McCarthy is unusual (who helps American audiences by getting the German intellectuals to speak English around her). She almost gets to show a potential maternal side in how warmly she treats her Israeli friend’s sabra daughter. A colleague reported to me that the secretary Lotte Köhler (played by Julia Jentsch) is actually a composite of a couple of women, though it wasn’t clear if she, too, was Jewish. Reviewing this bio pic gave me the opportunity to read her controversial book, and I was fascinated. Ironically, the historian who most effectively counterered her facts was another Jewish woman, Lucy Dawidowicz with her devastating The War Against the Jews, published in 1975. A non-Jewish colleague told me her impression from the film was that Arendt was being objective; when I told her I thought she was, instead, being German, and that the whole film was a German perspective, she didn’t quite get what I meant. (updated 7/12/2013)
Hanna’s Journey (Hanna’s Reise) (previewed at 2014 Kino!) (So, nu: Though based on Munich and Tel Aviv-based author Theresa Bauerlein’s novel Das War Der Gute Teil Des Tages (That was the good part of the day!) (not yet available in English), the Jewish woman character “Gertraud Nussbaum” (played by Leah Koenig), the main hard-driving business student “Hanna Eggert” (played by Karoline Schuch) assigned Holocaust survivor, is not in the novel, which may explain how undeveloped her character is. More than her more cynical women friend survivors at the old age home, she seems she’s an experienced Holocaust educator, particularly with young Germans, including going back to her mother “Uta” (played by Suzanne von Borsody) who since has been running an NGO to foster German/Israeli interactions. I was struck by the authenticity of the Israelis, particularly artists and young people, fascinated with Berlin, and similar interactions I’ve seen in documentaries. While the romance is a bit much, heck, Doron Ami as social worker “Itay” is a pretty irresistible hunk.) (6/16/2014)
Happy Endings (So, nu: Lisa Kudrow's character "Mamie" is nee "Miriam" and says she's Jewish when she's explaining at her job as a patient representative at an abortion clinic that she's pro-choice, but she lies about other things in the same sentence, so who knows? Writer/director Donald Roos comically covers some of the same issues around religious views of abortion and families that Todd Solondz handles dramatically in Palindromes) (7/25/2005)
Harlan: In The Shadow Of Jew Süss (Harlan - Im Schatten Von Jud Süss) (So, nu: The granddaughter who is the daughter of Harlan's tragic daughter whose marriage to an older Holocaust survivor and conversion to Judaism didn't assuage her inherited guilt is the most bitter about his work. Jessica Jacoby also did a Q & A with a showing at Film Forum. She's the only one interviewed who is convinced that a motivation to make such a powerfully anti-Semitic film is related to resentments towards his first wife, a Jew.) (3/7/2010)
Harley (preview at 2020/replay at 2021 Tribeca Film Festival)
Harmonia (2016) Writer/Director Ori Sivan contemporization of the Rosh ha Shanah Torah portions on Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, and how their complicated relationships play into the next generation of Ismail and Isaac (the silented, though the Akedah is glossed over), transposed to a classical music orchestra in Jerusalem, and then to the mutual liberation of rock ‘n’ roll, helped by Yaniv Fridel’s culturally integrated score. Having seen so many schmaltzy TV movies inspired by the first generation’s story, I was surprised how effective this works with Abraham (Alon Aboutboul) as a charismatic conductor, Sarah (Tali Sharon) as a harpist, and Hagar (Yana Yossef) a horn player, though I didn’t realize she was Arab until she meets with her oud master father (played by Ali Suliman). (seen courtesy of Film Movement) (10/25/2019)
Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (So, nu: In this entertaining and informative joint biographical portrait of married couple storyboard artist Harold Michelson and film researcher Lillian Michelson, Harold is remembered as Jewish, and Lillian remembers how his snobby Jewish mother and aunt disliked her as a penniless orphan in Florida, even meeting with her in person to forcefully try to dissuade her from marrying him. So they eloped. Consequently, there’s no sense that Harold maintained his Jewish identity or passed that on to their three children. (at 2015 DOC NYC Festival) (11/28/2017)
Harrison’s Flowers The story of the Newsweek photojournalist’s wife is a fictional overlay to show the horrors of the ethnic cleansing war in the former Yugoslavia, I’m not sure why plucky, devoted “Sarah Lloyd” in NJ, played by Andie MacDowall, is Jewish, as she refuses to sit shiva for her beloved husband who was reported killed on the job so she goes off to look for him, except that the director/adapter Elie Chouraqui is Jewish. I’ll have to read the original French book by Isabel Ellsen, if it’s available in English, to see if the lead character is Jewish there too.) (10/12/2007)
Haute Couture - There are only brief indications that “Esther” (Nathalie Baye) is Jewish, because of her treasured gold necklace star that thieves call “a Jewish cross”, and the long-fingered pickpocket turned protégé “Jade” (Lyna Khoudri) is Arab, because her Muslim best friend “Souad” (Soumaye Bocoum) in their banlieue claims she is. Regardless of their confusingly presented personal and family complexities, co-writer/director Sylvie Ohayon, with co-writer Sylvie Verheyde, create a marvelous tribute to the craftsmanship involved in the titular traditional French industry and the importance of passing these skills down from past generations (“Esther” became the Head Dressmaker in the Dior Avenue Montaigne workshop by apprenticing to her mother) to the now more diverse generation. (The Deputy Head “Catherine”, played by Pascale Arbillot, greets “Jade” that she originally came from her neighborhood – but doesn’t live there any more, even as “Jade” realizes “Esther” is not rich and commutes to work by train.)
Almost none of the plethora of fawning documentaries on clothing designers gives their seamstresses enough attention or credit. The presentation of this intense female-dominant environment is wonderful, from their discussions of materials, care and sewing techniques, to the girl-ish interplay of personalities, including the models. (As sweet as is the romance between gay-friendly “Jade” and design-trainee “Abdel”, played by Adam Bessa, his heterosexuality strains more credulity about this atelier.) (at 2023 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum/ courtesy of Menemsha Films) (5/27/2022)
Hava Nagila (The Movie) (Also briefly in Reviewed: New York Jewish Film Festival 2013 of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (My additional notes.)
Heading Home:The Tale Of Team Israel I didn’t expect the documentary about Israel’s team’s improbable rise in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, directed by Jeremy Newberger, Daniel A. Miller and Seth Kramer, to have significant Jewish female presence, but it does. The Assistant General Manager Margo Sugarman is interviewed throughout. She noted when the team went to Korea: “I’m the unofficial team mother. For some of the players, it’s nice to have an older female presence around.” She notes that the players got particularly emotional when they went to Israel after qualifying; there, more players are moved to talk about their Jewish grandmothers – those they knew and those they had heard died in the Holocaust. Their emotions in Israel got more heightened when three female soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack. Their fans, from Brooklyn to Israel, were not just boys, but plenty of girls, too; many were Jewish day school students. I’ll confess that I still wear my Ike Davis Mets shirt to CitiField games because I decided I’ll only buy shirts of Jewish players since Shawn Green and there haven’t been a lot of Mets picks, so I appreciated learning more about his background with a Southern Baptist father and “hippiesh” Jewish mother (see in a young photo playing guitar); he shrugs that they predictably divorced. He recalls, I presume, a childhood experience: “I was doing a family tree. On Dad’s side I have five - seven generations. On my mother’s side I have three people, and then it was over. I asked: ‘What is this?’ She said: ‘That’s what happened during the Holocaust - most of the family didn’t make it.” I don’t think any of the men, whatever their Jewish background, were married to Jewish women. They did plant the flag for baseball in Israel. (preview courtesy Menemsha Films) (8/15/2019)
Heart of Auschwitz (Le coeur d'Auschwitz) (seen at MoMA's 2012 Canadian Front, and reportedly rights issues will keep it from being shown elsewhere in the U.S.) (So, nu: Not only does this story exemplify the power of women’s friendships to help endure the Holocaust, but the documentarian gives back to the survivors as much as he takes in information by providing a tremendous catharsis, as well as a reunion, for them – quite a step from their daughters relating that all they had communicated about their experiences previously had been screams in the night.) (3/21/2012)
The Hebrew Lesson (Ha’Ulpan) (seen at the 2008 NY Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (It wasn’t clear to me that the woman in the class from Lima, Peru is Jewish, but the film deals insightfully with issues of being Jewish vs. being Israeli for women.) (12/28/2007)
Heimat Is A Space In Time (Heimat Ist Ein Raum Aus Zeit) (So, nu: In this almost four-hour, “slow cinema” look at 20th century German history through his family, Thomas Heise dispassionately reads letters between his grandfather Wilhelm and Edith Hirschhorn, the Jewish woman who will become his wife. Her letters include talk of her studies in Vienna to be a sculptor, as well as student debates about Judaism. (In interviews, the filmmaker says she always cooked Viennese-style.) Edith’s parents, Max Hirschhorn and Elsa Kraus, also write to Wilhelm, and the first emotional heart of the documentary are the family’s increasingly depressing letters in the early 1940’s describing in unusual detail how they are more and more restricted - while a Nazi archival list of the thousands of Viennese Jews deported goes by for over 20 minutes on screen. Edith’s sister Perl wrote a hopeful letter before her turn: “Dad is undoubtedly in an old folks home, and Elsa somewhere busy.” Then the list of the last transport scrolls by with the red-underlined name of Perl Finkel, and the screen fades out. Wilhelm’s responses to the Reich bureaucrats foretell the issues his son Wolfgang will have with the East German Stasi due to his wife, even as a colleague later philosophizes that the dead are dead, regardless of which ideology was the cause. As the spouse and children of a mixed-marriage, Wilhelm and two sons were sent to the Zerbst forced labor camp, whose experiences the director first covered in his 2001 film Vaterland, that I haven’t seen and is not available in U.S.; the song that follows the transport list is from a Nazi film Die Frau meiner Träume that his father said they had to watch at the camp, as sung by Marika Rökk.) (at 2019 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (10/17/2019)
Heir to An Execution (First shown on HBO in 2004, director and on-screen interviewer Ivy Meeropol takes a very personal look at her grandparents Ethel and Julius Rosenberg through the perspective of her family and their close friends. Those closest to them remember a very Jewish, non-Orthodox, wedding and that they were very Jewishly identified. There’s lots of photos when Ethel tried to show she was a housewife and mother, and the oldest friends remember her beautiful voice and dreams of being an opera singer – and her pain in sacrificing her children. Though they also remember a witch of her mother, Tessie, it’s still shocking to find out they had many siblings and all had rejected them and refused to take in their sons – and refused to talk to the director. One cousin, whose grandfather was her grandfather’s brother, cries in apology and blames his mother, who visited them in Sing Sing and rejected Ethel’s personal appeal to adopt her sons. There’s a clip of Julius’s mother, with a thick accent, asking for and getting temporary custody, because the Catholic judge was impressed how Jewish she was. Ivy finds their graves and places stones on their plain gravestones.) (3/26/2015)
Herb & Dorothy/Herb & Dorothy 50x50 (The first movie mentions in passing that Dorothy Vogel comes from a Jewish family, but the only contextual reference in the sequel is that Herb’s funeral is at a Jewish cemetery. But her career as a public librarian and commitment to wide access to cultural literacy resonates Jewish values.) (10/4/2013)
Here We Are (Hine Anachnu) - Writer Dana Idisis goes beyond her autistic brother’s story, as in her 2013 documentary Turning Thirteen, and TV series On The Spectrum to create an unusual and intensely compassionate father/son experience, that defies the stereotypical dynamics of most non/fiction portrayals of a family coping with an autistic child. While the Israeli parents are divorced from the stress, as usual, it is the father “Aharon” (an all-consuming performance by Shai Avivi, emphasized by director Nir Bergman’s claustrophobic close-ups) obsessively caring for a son who has become an adult (Noam Imber as “Uri” is completely convincing). Idisis has said this is something she worries about within her own family. But the mother “Tamara” (Smadar Wolfman) is not the typical shrew, or bossy, or controlling; she is, instead, frantically trying to do what is best for her son and ex-husband as they both age and have to face the future. Even as the father flees the legal, financial, emotional, and practical roadblocks that she has had to set up, she is always a caring mother and person, which is a difficult balance to portray, and is successfully achieved in this very moving film. (preview at 2021 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (1/30/2021)
Herskovits At the Heart of Blackness parses how Jewish anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits became the leading expert on African culture. But while probably for the first time in a documentary, the academics proffer the context of their own racial/ethnic identity and biases (sometimes in overly cutesy animations and annoying recreations) in evaluating his legacy, only one Jewish woman expert is heard from. His daughter Jean Herskovits not only personally reminisces about her father (the footage from his anthropological field work in the 1930's is fascinating), but is professionally proud that she introduced African history to the curriculum at a public university and recounts her experiences teaching his work to black students. (Seen at 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (1/23/2010)
Hester Street (1975)
The classic film has been restored in 4K from the 35mm original negative by Cohen Film Collection at DuArt Media Services, with the help of the daughter Marisa Silver of the director/writer Joan Micklin Silver, who died 12/31/2020. Theatrical release premieres October 1, 2021 in NYC and L.A.; Blu-Ray release and streaming acess followed.
Carol Kane’s (Oscar-nominated) “Gitl” is still one of my all-time favorite portrayals of a Jewish woman in film!
I hadn’t remembered that Silver based the story on Abraham Cahan’s 1897 novella Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto, which I finally read. I was surprised how faithful to the original portrait of new immigrants on the Lower East Side is her adaptation. Minus Cahan’s overly melodramatic female histrionics and hysteria, this has more realism than the rose-glasses nostalgia such period films have shown since. Now in crisp black & white, from the opening “dance academy” scene that brings us inside a silent movie, using William Bolcomb’s Sousa-like music, until the characters speak in language that alternates from Yiddish (with clearly legible subtitles), to Yinglish, and authentically accented English, like my grandmother who arrived there in 1905. The low-budget ($400,000) of Silver’s debut feature doesn’t show with the evocative costumes, hair stylings, and mise en scène, such that each represents a stage in secularization and Americanization.
Through the performances of Kane and her defender in Doris Roberts’s nosy neighbor “Mrs. Kavarsky”, the audience sympathies switch away from the husband “Yossel/Jake” (played by Steven Keats) whose ambitions in work and leisure fill the first scenes. The two concluding scenes brilliantly capture the Old World in the New, and the power of women within the patriarchy. ”The Parting”, as the highly choreographed divorce chapter is titled in the novel, is portrayed like the ceremony is probably still done - with the emphasis on the women really having the power. The rebbetzin, wearing a sheitel just like the one “Gitl” had on at arrival that “Jake” ridiculed, collects the intermediary lawyer’s payments, courtesy of “Mamie Fein” (Dorrie Kavanaugh) “the Polish whore”, as the wife called her. She organizes the mechanics – arranging the Orthodox witnesses and scribe, and distributing their fees. The elderly rabbi goes through the ritual formula, including dropping the get into the ex-wife’s cupped hands – of “Gitl” now completely outfitted, to her ex-husband’s shock, like a Gibson Girl “Yankee” in a shirtwaist and piled-up natural hair -- with the warning that while he can re-marry today, she has to wait 91 days to marry again (i.e. to be sure she’s not pregnant). “Mrs. Kavarsky” assures the rebbetzin there will be another fee coming from a couple under a chupah.
The final, wintry scene, that Cahan ironically termed “A Defeated Victor”, is an overview of the titular location (filmed on Morton Street), with each new couple going in opposite directions, and the women in full control. “Mamie” schleps “Jake” to City Hall by foot to save her nickels. The newly clear voice of “Gitl” is heard assuring the scholarly boarder “Mr. Bernstein” (Mel Howard) he will be able to continue his religious studies, while tutoring her son she now insists be called “Joey” not “Yossele”, behind the grocery store she’ll pay for with the divorce settlement she cannily negotiated with an expressive raised eyebrow.
The realism is a wonderful lesson for those who a century later are tracing their Jewish genealogy with the complicated marriages and names that were changed by their ancestors themselves. In this beautiful restoration, Hester Street is even more vital and timeless now than in 1975. (previewed at 2021 New York Film Festival (updated 10/1/2021)
For my talk on this revival in “Hester Street ReVisited” for the Forest Hills Jewish Center’s Adult Education Program “Shabbaton”, I dived into Cahan and his source novella, the actual history, and all the informative extras on the newly released Blu-Ray: recorded via Zoom, on video and audio only. However, this June 20, 2022 recording accidentally begins about a quarter into my presentation, so here’s the opening section as written with visuals. Thanks to my husband Harold Shultz for his image searches and IT assistance.
Hey, Hey It’s Esther Blueburger (5/22/2010)
Histoires d’Amérique: Food, Family and Philosophy (1989) I have to do more research on this Chantal Ackerman film from her NYC sojourn before I can comment, but the accounts by the Jewish women immigrants were very moving. (SRO screening at 2019 To Save and Project: MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation of Museum of Modern Art) (1/29/2019)
A History of Israeli Cinema (Raphaël Nadjari's useful primer includes many women academics in "Part I: 1933-1978", especially in parsing the macho images. "Part II: 1978-2005" deals more with the images of women and includes Gila Almagor's significance first as an actress, then as the writer of, and playing her mother, in The Summer of Aviya and an interview with actress Ronit Elkabetz about her writing and directing.) (Seen at 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (1/25/2010)
Hitler’s Hollywood: German Cinema In The Age Of Propaganda: 1933 - 1945 Director Rüdiger Suchsland describes this 100 minute film clip essay as his follow-up to From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses (2014), in what will be a trilogy on the history of German films. But it more serves as an expansion on Felix Moeller’s Forbidden Films (Verbotene Filme) (2014). Both are about the UFA films made under the supervision of Goebbels’ propaganda unit, though, though only about 40 films are on a “verboten” screening list. While much of this documentary seems to repeat the images and subjects from those films, this exploration of all these period films now kept by the Murnau Foundation for educational uses only, goes beyond revealing the familiar seriously vicious Nazi stereotypes of Jewish men. Suchsland’s narration, voiced by Udo Kier in Kino Lorber’s English language version, explains: “Anti-Semitic incitement also took the form of burlesque comedies and historical dramas” for the clip from the only Nazi musical comedy on this theme, which included enduring stereotypes of Jewish women, Hans Heinz Zerlett’s Robert and Bertram (1939). [See the still at the top of this page.]
Based on the 1856 play by Gustav Räder and set in 1839, Suchsland’s selection features the hefty, bourgeois, brunette and curly-coiffed “Frau Ipelmeyer” (portrayed by Inge van der Straaten) entering for a costume party, stuffed into an overly-bejeweled gown, and twirling for an expected compliment: Nu?. (David Stewart Hull in Film in the Third Reich: A Study of the German Cinema, 1933-1945 (Touchstone, 1973) describes her as “grotesque”, though, ironically, she reminded me of the very gentile dowager Margaret Dumont playing the Jewish Marx Brothers’ foil in evergreen Hollywood comedies; Suchsland glaringly ignores such aesthetic, stylistic, or thematic comparisons to British and American movies during this same time period.) The shyster “Robert” (Rudi Godden) responds: From the front you look like Catherine the Great. And from behind, as fit as Napoleon. Frau: Don’t mention Napoleon. He was anti-Semitic. “Robert”: That’s why he went broke in Moscow. (Suchsland doesn’t explicate how that joke fits next to such propaganda historical dramas he includes that were heavily anti-Napoleon, i.e. anti-France, such as Veit Harlan’s Kolberg (1945), as Napoleon emancipated the Jews of France and the countries he conquered.)
I found references to two other fiction films in this Nazi genre of anti-Semitic light entertainment not excerpted in either documentary that included Jewish women characters: Viktor de Kowa’s Wibbel the Tailor (Schneider Wibbel) (1939) and Heinz Helbig’s Linen from Ireland (Leinen aus Irland) (1939). Both documentaries excerpted the same inflammatory Elders of Zion-like scene from Erich Waschneck’s notorious The Rothschilds (1940), but so far I can only wonder if anti-Semitic images of Rothschild wives or daughters were also portrayed.
While Suchsland very usefully includes brief comments by such incisive observers of the Nazis’ use of propaganda as Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag, and, especially, Siegfried Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film and Theory of Film, he does not provide the current context Moeller does about the continuing potential impact of these films. The notion that The Third Reich was itself a cinematic self-delusion is intriguing, but mostly he keeps repeating the obvious point that cinema of the past feeds the ongoing national cultural unconscious, including for gender too. (4/8/2018) (preview courtesy of Film Forum, where the US theatrical premiere run begins April 11th.)
Hit So Hard: The Life and Near-Death Story of Drummer Patty Schemel (briefly reviewed at 2011 New Directors/New Films of Film at Lincoln Center/MoMA) (So, nu: One of the most insightful interviewees is Jewish lesbian singer/songwriter Phranc, including her insights on how grunge rock adopted and popularized lesbians' look. Schemel admiringly cites her as a particular influence.) (3/25/2011)
Holy Air In this delightful satire of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Jerusalem from the point of view of Christian Arab writer/director/star Shady Srour, the only Jewish women are the two on the three-person termination committee that the central Christian Arab couple have to go when they are afraid of having their baby due to both political conditions externally and her 50% risk of normal birth. The women, one an extreme feminist and the other a religious traditionalist, get into such a heated argument in disagreeing whether to approve the couple’s request that they storm out without making a decision. (previewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival) (3/31/2017)
Holy Holocaust Israeli Noa Berman-Herzberg, an unaware granddaughter of survivors, writes and narrates an animated short that reflects her experience at feeling used by black German friend Jenny to symbolize “Jewish justice” when the adopted Jennifer writes a successful memoir about her biological family’s notorious Nazi history to become a “Holocaust celebrity”. (Streaming at the New Yorker) (12/9/2022)
House of Z In the press notes, director Sandy Chronopoulos describes a prepatory interview she did for the documentary about fashion designer Zac Posen (who I knew nothing about and whose Jewish background is only mentioned in passing in the beginning): Zac’s sister Alexandra Posen “stopped me and said, ‘Don't forget that Zac's story involves his family. We are part of the journey as well.’…At the end of what I thought was my final interview with Zac, I asked him about the distancing of his family from the company. As you will see, it was a very uncomfortable moment for Zac. He was conflicted. And it's now one of the most poignant and honest moments in the film. Even his silence is revealing.” It was striking not only how supportive his family had been since he was a teenager in encouraging his talent, but how his mother Susan Posen, as his business manager, and his sister, as his production manager, were crucial to his rise. Then he dumped them when the business soured, and the second half of the documentary wasn’t interesting to me at all without them. And I couldn’t find a still from the film with either woman. (briefly reviewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival) (6/4/2017)
Howard - While it seemed pretty obvious to me that the family of the late lyricist/librettist Howard Ashman was Jewish, his sister Sarah Ashman Gillespie never refers to that in her wonderful memories of being his kid sister in a Baltimore County rowhouse, where he put on stories and plays for her by decorating their quotidian toys, as seen in re-constructed visuals. Until she tells of a significant seder at his Manhattan apartment when she stresses that he allowed a vert unusual interruption to take a phone call – from then Disney animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg confirming Little Mermaid was a go. She also refers to being surprised that he acted “like a nice Jewish man” when Howard finally told him about his illness – “How is your mother dealing with it?” (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) (4/5/2018)
How to Re-establish a Vodka Empire (briefly in Reviewed: New York Jewish Film Festival 2013 of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: commentary forthcoming) (2/19/2013)
The Human Resources Manager (Shlichuto Shel Hamemune Al Mashabei Enosh) (also briefly reviewed at 2011 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (My additional note.) (So, nu: For a change, the adaptation is far warmer to Israeli Jewish women than the original book. The rich Owner is here The Owner's Widow and she is imperious, but a fair manager who is definitely in charge. While there is less amusing detail about the secretary as empowerng mother to her boss as much as her infant, the much less nasty and more potentially affectionate Wife here is still in a trial separation, not divorce, for a marriage that will benefit from the Manager's experiences on this trip. Even the Daughter is less an obligation and more an enjoyable companion to hear his tale. The worker's lodging, though, is here with nuns rather than with the subservient brood of Hassidic sisters.) (3/5/2011)
The Human Turbine (Ha Turbina ha Enosheet) (previewed at 2011 Other Israel Film Festival) (More than the Israeli Jewish men who offer specific technical skills to help the Israeli Arab villagers, the well-meaning Jewish women do seem like condescending Lady Bountifuls who interpret the villagers’ desperate gratitude for political interventions, with such bureaucracies as hospitals and the police, plus funds, as genuine friendship. But at least the women are breaching a divide.) (11/26/2011)
Hummus! The Movie - The only Jews in the documentary are b’aal t’schuvah ex-hippie couple who were “converted” to the Breslov Hasidism by a musical guru. From a glimpse at her photographed in an off-the shoulder wedding dress, we now see her with enscarfed head and holding young children as she helps her Rasti-looking husband Eliyahu Shmueli run his successful chain of huumus stands. When I included this film in my presentation on diverse contemporary Israeli films at FHJC, an Israeli ex-pat strongly protested that the film primarily featured Arabs, while she considered huumus Israeli food. (at 2017 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum; then at Forest Hills Jewish Center Cinematek)
Hysterical Girl (short) (NY Times Op Doc) Kate Novack updates Freud’s case ”Dora”: Analysis of a Hysterical Woman” to show how his denial of her accusation of sexual abuse by a friend of the family (who Freud knew) by blaming it on her “hysteria” has fed a century of debasement of women who protest their treatment and control by men, especially when they come forward to accuse their abusers. The clips of art, movies, images, testimony and more are compelling, while the women have to flee in animation. “Dora”, as portrayed by red-headed first-time actress, 16-year-old Tommy Vines, only mentions in passing she is Jewish, and that she was in reality named “Ida”.
Her German-born great-granddaughter Katharina Adler, after years of family and archival research, wrote a novel Ida in 2018 about Ida Bauer, that’s not yet fully available in English, only translated excerpts (pages 9 – 66). New York Times “Op-Docs Team” email blasted an interview between the filmmaker and the author, who explained: “When I started writing my novel, I was very determined to tell Ida’s entire life. It was a project to give my great-grandmother a voice and show that she may have been a victim, but she was also strong-willed and lived a rich life. What was also important to me, was to tell her story in the 1940s when she had to flee Austria, first to France and then to the U.S. All of this was very important to me, but I have to say that everything seemed pretty historic to me. Only when the #MeToo movement started did I have a kind of awakening and realize, wait a minute …The story of her youth, that’s a #MeToo case… I think Ida could have thrived with the same education her brother received. But she was not educated the same way and even had to take care of her father.” The director described to her the research she did: “The first thing I did was try to understand Ida — not through the eyes of Freud. I read the transcripts of interviews that had been conducted with her (and your!) family members in the 1950s at the Library of Congress. Her cousin Elsa in particular helped paint a very different portrait of Ida than Freud did. I read your wonderful and lyrical novel about your great-grandmother. Your story of her arrival in the U.S. and her escape from Austria, her strained relationship with her son, your grandfather, was incredibly helpful, even though those parts took place when she was a grown woman. My sense from the research is that Ida was a curious, smart and sharp girl who wanted more education and more knowledge. But there were so few outlets for that in Vienna 1900.”
Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing: Documentary (2/17/2021/ 4/21/2021/ 7/28/2021)
I Am Not - Documentarian Tomer Heymann not only reveals the rarely seen difficulties a teenage boy film student adopted as an infant in Guatemala has in Israel with racism and a possible diagnosis of Asperger’s. Heymann also movingly captures the hopes and heartbreak of his mother Dvora Levy through home movies and frank interviews, as well as the son filming intense close-ups. We can witness her smiling joy at finally becoming a mother at age 40, considered too old to adopt in her home country, turn to guilt, stress, and the pain from a son who can’t comfortably hug her or return affection. When the filmmaker joins she and her husband accompanying their adopted son and daughter to Guatemala to meet their biological parents, Dvora’s warmth to her son’s birth mother is palpable. She so feels the woman’s distress at remembering another son’s death in an accident that she spontaneously offers that they all visit his grave, a greatly appreciated gesture that further cements their bond as mothers, beyond their son’s emotional capability.
In contrast, the adopted sister Michal did make an effort to learn some Spanish to communicate, and greets her birth mother and siblings with weeping hugs. She was also better able to express why they wanted to meet their birth families, due to their frustrations in Israel that go against the myth of the country as welcoming diversity: You don’t understand why I’m preoccupied with how I look because I don’t look Israeli. Do people speak to you in English or think you come from Philippines? They call me a shiksa! While her parents beg her not to cry, her retorts include, in what I could quickly transcribe: I can’t say I was born on a kibbutz and my name is Miriam, that I am Israeli! (at 2023 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum) (1/16/2023)
The Iconoclast - Among the tales Dutch art smuggler/fraudster turned snitch Michel van Rijn tells is that his mother was famous in the Dutch Resistance during World War 2, and remained bitter that the Dutch didn’t do more to save the Jews, adding to her depression for losing so many friends. But I couldn’t catch or find her maiden name to check this “fact”. He does credit her for first introducing him to art connoisseurship, and his sense of Jewish identity extends, he claims, to helping the Mossad. (previewed at 2017 DOC NYC Festival) (11/1/2017)
Ida (previewed at 2014 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: “Wanda Gruz” (played by the terrific Agata Kulesza) and “Sister Anna -Ida Lebenstein” (played by Agata Trzebuchowska) are Polish Jewish women maybe never seen on screen before, as impacted by local jealousies let loose by the Holocaust, in the Resistance, amnesia of both Communism and the Catholic Church, who make difficult choices specific to the Polish Jewish experience.) (updated 5/3/2014)
Idina Menzel: Which Way To The Stage? In director Anne McCabe’s surprisingly intimate and personal concert tour documentary, the Broadway, animated film voice-over, and recordings star does finally bring up her Jewish identity when her 16-concert tour gets to Pittsburg soon after the horrible gun attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue, with news clips about the 11 dead and six wounded inserted. She wears a “Stronger Than Hate” shirt with a big, glittery Jewish star, and dedicates a song from Rent to the still reeling city “because this show was all about tolerance. Here I am a Jewish girl from Long Island. In the Jewish religion we light candles, choosing light over darkness”, and holds up a yarzheit candle on stage. In response, the audience stands and holds up cell phone lights, and she invites them to sing along to “No Day But Today.” She laughs at her 2nd husband Aaron’s insistence they get married by a rabbi in her backyard. She frequently refers to her early career, even from high school, performing at bar mitzvahs on Long Island, seen in home video clips, and even revisits one venue – with a negative association with divorce in her family – while calling out “all those girls who were mean to me in [Syosset] High School”. Friends of her parents recall that they “wanted her name to start with an “I” [presumably the Jewish tradition of naming for a respected family member], so they stuck an “I” in front of “Dina” – then there’s jokes about the publicity she gets for mispronunciations. (preview at 2022 DOC NYC Festival/ Disney+) (11/9/2022)
I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians (Îmi este indiferent daca în istorie vom intra ca barbari) Scanning through all the reviews/interviews online with writer/director Radu Jude about why and how he made such a pointed film about his country’s determined Holocaust denial (even after the country had to investigate and confirm their collusion with the Nazis in order to gain entry into the European Union), none raised the obvious possibility that the brilliant, charismatic woman at the center of this film is Jewish. But I consider “Mariana Marin” (Ioana Iacob in a terrific film debut) at least a “putative Jew”, though her name is borrowed from a famous poet. (I can’t find anything personal on producer Ada Solomon to determine if she is Jewish either). She’s obsessed with Romania’s persistent twisting of history about the Summer of 1941 in Odessa (through what was then called Besserabia and Bukovina, sent to Transnistria) when a national hero Marshal Antonescu began ethnic cleansing of Jews and Roma (proclaiming the titular quote – and whose statues up throughout the country also had to be removed for EU approval). Planning a huge re-enactment of the Fascist events in the city square, she conducts thorough research in the archives (using imagery from the Einsatzgruppen as inspiration and checking uniforms’ authenticity in the National Military Museum,); she reads Jewish philosophers Hannah Arendt, Isaac Babel, and Walter Benjamin about the Holocaust perpetrators to her adulterous lover; she holds her own in intensive intellectual debates about the past vs. the present with him and a local official “Movilă” (Alexandru Dabija) – his debate on the relative definition of “massacre” is as funny as it is serious-- as well as with prejudiced and defensive actors and extras. While I’m of course dependent on the English subtitles, to me the specific clue that she could be Jewish (or of Jewish heritage because there are few Jews left in Romania) is when the official mocks her would she prefer if the Germans won – “But you would have been in a soap dish.” When she actually pulls off the complicated production, she’s disgusted that the audience applauds the words of the Marshal’s actual anti-Semitic speech and the immolation and hanging of the victims.
Radu Jude’s background historical research first resulted in his documentary essay The Dead Nation - Fragments of Parallel Lives (Țara moartă) - He reads the 1937 – 1948 year-by-year journals of small town Jewish doctor Dr. Emil Dorian marking the horrific rise of antisemitism in the country is visually contrasted with happy, proud photographs of normal life and soldiers taken by a professional studio in the town of Slobozia, in southeast Romania, accompanied by actual political speeches and nationalistic anti-Semitic anthems. The doctor mentions his daughters and family just in passing, then he goes to Bucharest, as he talks of whole families killed by Romanian Legionnaires, and women and girls raped on the deportations; even a politician reports on 200,000 women and girls assassinated, set on fire, children shot. He tells of all the restrictive laws and atrocities he’s heard about, on the street or on the radio. “Some of the murdering monsters were women.” He reports on a malnourished girl in 1944 who “somehow survived” to be shipped to Palestine after witnessing years of death; another survivor girl refuses to speak in Romanian like the Christians. The historian consultant on both was Adrian Cioflâncă. (both films at 2018 Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema) (12/24/2018)
I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman While in these interviews with Marianne Lambert about her oeuvre, Akerman insists she would not let her work be segregated into either women’s or Jewish film festival, her Jewishness comes through in the life-long impact of her parents’ experiences during the Holocaust, fleeing Poland only to be rounded-up in Belgium into concentration camps, that literally marked her as a wandering Jew, restlessly living from Brussels, to Paris, to New York City, to Israel. (previewed at Film Forum) (3/15/2016)
I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life And Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal (Included are brief interviews with his wife and daughter, as well as a tribute to his sacrificing mother.)
In this semi-autobiographical, amusing love letter to his Holocaust survivor, married in Brooklyn, retired to Boca Raton, Florida parents, co-writer/director Marvin Samel, with co-writer Dahlia Heyman, focuses on his father-son relationship, as portrayed by a wise-cracking Judd Hirsch and a stressed Sean Astin. (The father’s narrated flashbacks to the good and the terrible in the Old Country are in terrific animation.) As the supportive, long-suffering Jewish women, Carol Kane (left above) plays his jealous, affable mother “Fela” (I get a reparations check because I suffered more than you!) as she is first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and Stephanie J. Block (right above) plays his wife “Netta”, mother of their newborn twin daughters (I can’t take care of your mother tonight – it’s my monthly mommy and me dinner!) My mom’s comments: “Great technique – and poignant surprises.”
There is also attendance at regular survivors’ gatherings at the local JCC, that culminate with a lovely speech by a suddenly spry 100th birthday celebrant “Ida Brown” – until she surprisingly calls for forgiveness to smoothe a complicated plot point, that I thought sounded oddly Christian amidst mostly menorahs decorations as if it were Hanukkah. (courtesy of Femor Productions) (2/19/2023)
In A World… - The father changing his last name from “Solomon” to “Sotto” reminded me of a cousin who changed the family’s name from “Lefkowitz” to “Lefferts” – but here the daughter “Carol” (played by writer/director/producer Lake Bell) and her sister “Danielle” (played by Michaele Watkins) kept their Jewish name.) (8/1/2013)
Incessant Visions: Letters From An Architect (briefly reviewed at 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: This is almost a joint biography of Eric Mendelsohn, who I had never heard of before in my history of architecture studies/travels, and his wife Louise. She is seen briefly at the end in a TV interview, which makes clear how odd it is that the readings from her memoir, which, despite the title, is another basis of the film, are oddly done inauthentically without her heavy German accent. Their female descendants are seen at the end, where the Mendelsohns settled in San Francisco, with a shed full of their documents, without saying that that their papers are now archived at the Getty Library in California.) (1/21/2012)
Incitement (Yamim Noraim) (at 2020 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum) (2/5/2020)
In Darkness (W Ciemnosci) (So, nu: The complex women show just how difficult it was to take quick chances to escape the Holocaust based not just on physical violence (there’s background scenes of naked women being shot into ditches just outside the city) to pre-existing emotional predilections, including personal jealousies and fears, and motherhood, including a birth in the sewers. The script conflates two women, making a resented refugee a pregnant lover instead of a wife, but a hysterical wife did choose above ground penalties, with her daughter, over being along side a husband she didn’t trust, even once she was in a concentration camp, and a nervous sister couldn’t bring herself to go down into the stinky unknown. Factually, for love of the sister he pushed down the hole, “the Corsair” really did sneak above ground to try a daring rescue of the one left behind – yes, dear reader, they later married. While the sewer worker’s search for lost children through the sewers is fictional, the emotional heart of his realization that saving “my Jews” is his redemption, while his wife helps with their laundry and convinces him that Jesus was also a Jew, is through his relationship with the girl and her younger brother, movingly visualized when he lifts her up to daylight (hence the title of her memoir), and, finally, leads her and the other ghostly remnants, to a miraculous liberation that only witnesses would later believe. The film is dedicated to Marek Edelman, a leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Thanks to my sister the Library Dean for getting me one of only 2 circulating copies in NYC of the out-of-print source book, at NYU’s Bobst Library, as there was a long waiting list at NYPL, for Robert Marshall's In the Sewers of Lvov. Until I read Krystyna Chiger’s memoir The Girl in the Green Sweater: A Life in Holocaust's Shadow, the other basis, where she describes refusing an adoption because her brother couldn’t go, I didn’t realize that it was, relatively, easier to place Jewish girls with gentile families than circumcised boys.) (2/12/2012)
Indignation (after I read Philip Roth’s novel) Kudos to Linda Emond’s portrayal of “Esther Messner” as one of the most sensitive portrayals of a 1950’s Jewish mother I’ve seen in film, including her slight Yiddish inflection, especially considering the source author and that the central character is her son “Marcus” (played by Logan Lerman) (7/7/2016)
Inglourious Basterds (There's probably hundreds of interviews with motormouth director Quentin Tarantino about his revisionist image of Jewish women. Here's quotes from one with Ella Taylor, who implies she is Jewish, in the 8/18/2009 Village Voice: Taylor says critics will "have a hard time calling him a hater of women on the basis of the movie's vengeful Jewish protagonist, Shosanna Dreyfus (played by French-Jewish actress Mélanie Laurent)." QT: "My original conception of Shosanna was of a real badass, a Joan of Arc of the Jews, killing Nazis, sniping them off roofs, pulling Molotov cocktails. Then I thought, no, that's too much like the Bride. [from Kill Bill, Volume 1 and Kill Bill, Volume 2] So I made her more realistic, more of a survivor, and then a situation happens that she can take advantage of. Then comes my favorite sequence, a Romeo and Juliet shootout at a movie premiere." He decided not to put background on "Shoshanna" and her survival through cinema onto the DVD. On Charlie Rose 8/21/09 he explained that he saw her more like Jackie Brown in how she kept herself together with poise. (updated 2/15/2010)
In Heaven, Underground The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery (Im Himmel, unter der Erde - Der jüdische Friedhof Weißensee) (A woman’s very detailed memories and photographic documentation of her wealthy family and their key decision to leave it all to flee to Switzerland in time opens the documentary and puts the history of the Berlin Jewish community in context. Her surprise and shock to discover that her family crypt survived all these years parallels the viewer’s. Particularly touching is the emotional reactions of those who discover the graves of their grandmothers with the instant recall of cooking and love that erupts.) (12/2/2011)
Inheritance (previewed at 2013 Other Israel Film Festival) (So, nu: “Moshe”’s blonde wife – I can’t ID her name or the actress playing her – at first seems like a stereotype of a libertine Israeli compared to the chastity of Arab women, but her adultery with the Palestinian politician, who I think is “Ahmad” but I can’t ID the actor, is a genuine love affair they both want to acknowledge to their spouses, that has even more meaning for him because he was manipulated into his marriage, brutally resents his wife, and sees the Israeli woman as representing freedom.) (12/4/2013)
In Her Shoes
In Search of the Bene Israel (briefly reviewed at 2009 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (In addition to glimpses and remembrances of director Sadia Shepard's Jewish Indian grandmother, some time is spent with a bride before her wedding and emigration to Israel, and her future mother-in-law who is thrilled that her émigré son trusted her to find a local bride for him. While it is delightful to see their customs, little is really revealed about these women as individuals.) (1/18/2009)
Inside Hana’s Suitcase (New Hampshire Jewish Film Buzz on p. 15 – N/A) (So, nu: In an ironic addendum, the Auschwitz Museum admits that the suitcase that inspired Japanese children to emotionally connect the Holocaust with their history was a reconstruction of the original burned in a neo-Nazi-set arson. But that cast-off found meaning in a new setting. Unlike this film, another Canadian director has refused to make available his touching documentary The Heart of Auschwitz, which similarly tracks a girl’s object at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial, to Jewish film festivals because he feels it shouldn’t be “ghettoized”. (7/3/2012)
In Between (Bar Bahar) (So, nu: For a gloriously feminist film set mostly in Tel Aviv about a trio of Israeli-Palestinian women, Israeli-Jewish women are barely seen. A sales clerk in a dress boutique rudely glares at two of the shopping women when she overhears them speaking Arabic to each other. It’s possible that there’s a couple of non-Arab women among the diverse-looking, dancing/imbibing partiers in their apartment. (seen in 2017 Film Movement 15th Anniversary Celebration at Museum of the Moving Image) (6/9/2017)
In Jackson Heights (previewed at 2015 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (So, nu: An emotional elderly woman gives the keynote eulogy at the Yom ha Shoah observance.) (11/4/2015)
Inside Llewyn Davis (previewed at 2013 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (So, nu: In addition that the counselors at Camp Regis in the Adirondacks my sister and I went to with Bonnie Raitt in 1959 and 1960 were the types who were hanging around Washington Square digging these musicians and introducing us campers to their songs, “Lillian Gorfein” (as portrayed by Robin Bartlett) reminded me a lot of the creative, lefty earth mother kindergarten teacher I apprenticed with at the Ethical Culture Society in Teaneck for 10th grade Sunday School. Kudos to production designer Jess Gonchor for her Upper West Side apartment, including artisanal menorahs. With this release, a member of my history reading group) recalled how she introduced the Coens’ parents when they were all Yale grad students, and they invited her to their wedding in the Coen family Riverside Drive apartment that sounds like it could have inspired this one. But when her son met one of the Coens and relayed the family connection he didn’t believe him – a very Coen-ish story line. I correct that Nancy Blake is portraying a version of Jean Ritchie performing a Maybelle Carter song. But Dave Van Ronk’s ex-wife objects to the way the folk scene is portrayed.) (updated 12/19/2013)
Inside Man (So, nu: It's part of the cleverness of the plot that it's the Jewish grandmother who seems to defy the bank robbers in a story that's rife with Jewish references.)
In The Land Of Pomegranates (So, nu: Of the Israeli participants in the German dialogue program, one is a young a woman, red-haired Ayana from Galilee, granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor who studies Jewish scripture in Jerusalem’s at Hebrew University. As she struggles to understand the Palestinians’ viewpoint, she uses their attitudes to the Holocaust as a point of comparison, and is taken aback at how they also see themselves as similar victims, but of today. But she also thinks any empathy she intently look for is a momentary bubble. She is very annoyed that they don’t separate individual Israelis from the decisions of the government, when she tries to explain she has no such control. Cut from my review were descriptions of the Israelis who are interviewed in detail about their personal experiences with terrorism. Nira is the wife of a man injured in a suicide bomb attack on a Tel Aviv bus, whose continual PTSD breaks up their family, even after she gets him into therapy and then suggests they move up to the Galilee to be in a more serene environment. Ofra, the other mother, moved with her four children to a house near the security wall by the Gaza border, who since 1980 chose to live in a moshav there. She muses ironically that she thought her location was going to be safe for her children, but instead there were many breaches, with bombs and attacks through tunnels, and plaintively asks “Where do I go?” Putative Israeli Jewish women are also seen as nurses (not doctors) helping the Palestinian parents from Gaza who are followed accepting the medical charity of the Save A Child’s Heart organization in an Israeli, Hebrew-speaking only hospital for an operation to save her son’s life, the kind of cross-the-border, high-tech (somewhat patronizing) assistance covered in Leon Geller and Marcus Vetter’s Heart Of Jenin (2008) and last year in Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander and Tamir Elterman’s Muhi - Generally Temporary. (updated 1/12/2018)
In the Name of the Temple - In a TV magazine format, with blaring music score and ominous voice-over narration, this history of religious Zionists is full of familiar archival footage, with a few updated interviews by right-wing extremists and liberal scholars, including the only woman, sociologist Prof. Tamar Hermann reporting on opinion polls. Briefly seen is an Ultra-Orthodox female tour guide to the fantasy plan exhibit that “justifies” taking over the whole Temple Mount – which is ironically similar to Christian Evangelical supporters of Israel belief that both Jews and Muslims will be disappeared there with the Second Coming. More extended background can be read in Yossi Klein Halevi’s Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation (2013). (courtesy of Seventh Art Releasing- which is making the film only available in the U.S. for screenings and educational use by communities, not in theatrical or wider release nor streaming) (3/11/2023)
Intimate Stranger (Unusual look at a 20th century Jewish family from Alexandria, Egypt to Brooklyn to Japan, and back. Though it’s a portrait of a grandfather, the perspectives on his daughter and wife are quite insightful and poignant.) (9/6/2012)
The Invisibles (Die Unsichtbaren - Wir wollen leben) (two of the four survivors portrayed are women) (Docu-Drama) (at 2018 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (1/7/2019)
Ira & Abby (So, nu: While it’s not 100% clear that the nebbish’s Mother (played by Judith Light) is Jewish, his patient ex is, and she’s portrayed much less stereotyped than usual in such romantic triangles.) (9/16/2007)
Iraq ‘N’ Roll (briefly reviewed at 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: Rocker Dudu Tassa interviews his mother extensively about her father and uncle, and how her dreams of being a singer were quashed by their disillusion with Israel. So it is very moving when her son invites her up on stage for the first time in her life. I haven’t gotten a hold of the album, as an import, yet to hear if he recorded her as well.) (1/21/2012)
Irena Sendler: In The Name of Their Mothers (While I also haven’t yet reviewed the Hallmark Hall of Fame version of her story, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler starring Anna Paquin, I was struck in the documentary by the nonagenarian Righteous Gentile’s frank admission that she could only save blond Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, both in terms of getting Poles to take them in and hiding them from the Nazis. She related the one time she gave in to a desperate mother by taking in a brown-haired girl—with a not small nose-- who “looked Jewish”, and had to wrap her in bandages to conceal her identity. I couldn’t help but think my red-headed siblings or my sandy-haired children could have been saved in such circumstances– but not me. There but for fortune. . .Albeit, until I read Krystyna Chiger’s memoir The Girl in the Green Sweater: A Life in Holocaust's Shadow (one of the basis for In Darkness (W Ciemnosci)) where she describes refusing such an adoption because her brother couldn’t go, I didn’t realize that it was, relatively, easier to place Jewish girls with gentile families than circumcised boys.) (updated 2/29/2012)
Iris (previewed at 2014 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (So, nu: There is not a single mention or implication that Iris Apfel is Jewish, and I didn’t spot any Judaica among her amazing collections, though with her thick New York accent, entrepreneurship, and sharp shopping and negotiation skills all audiences will assume she is Jewish, and these aspects of her all come together in a positive and stylish outfit. In the Ladies Room afterwards, we were commenting that we expected Joan Rivers to cross paths with her, and there are similarities in their lives and their documentaries.) (10/12/2014)
Irmi A surprisingly quiet choice to spotlight for “Closing Film” in the Festival, this documentary is a model for how almost any Jewish woman’s life that intersects with history could be made into a memoir film, co-directed by Susan Fanshel and subject’s daughter/interviewee Veronica Selver, as long as one has a tremendous eye and resources for archival footage and photographs, plus home movies, including interviews with the subject and her family and friends. Let alone getting actress Hanna Schygulla to read the memoir German émigré Irmagard Selver wrote late in life for her grandchildren. (preview at 2021 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (2/1/2021)
Ismael's Ghosts (Les fantômes d'Ismaël) (“Carlotta Bloom” (played by Marion Cotillard), the daughter of the mentor (Lázló Szabó) of central character “Ismaël Vuillard” (played by Mathieu Amalric), and his disappeared then re-appeared wife, as non-Jewish director Arnaud Desplechin almost always includes a Jew in his films) (at 2017 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (3/2/2018)
Israel: A Home Movie (Kakh Ra'nu) (So, nu: While memories of women soldiers are notably missing, the vociferous commentary by the women, who are seen in Palestine from the beginning, adds more than the images of post-wars’ family reunions, romantic jaunts, weddings, and babies.) (7/13/2013)
An Israeli Love Story (Sipur Ahava Eretz-Israeli) (2017) Director Dan Wolman adapted this from Pnina Gary's solo autobiographical play, “based on a true story” of what the publicists’ describe as “A Pasionate [sic] Romance Between A Theater Director And The Son Of Israel's Second President”. But to me it reeked of every cliché of the pioneer generation of the post-World War 2 set, with stiff acting that had wincible chemistry between characters, exacerbated by the naiveté of the talent-less wannabe actress/director “Margalit” (played by Adi Bielski). She was particularly naïve about the role of the arts in a Socialist kibbutz facing Arab assaults. Just the kind of movie that appeals to audiences at small, suburban Jewish Film Festivals. (seen courtesy of Film Movement) (10/25/2019)
Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? (briefly reviewed at 2013 DOC NYC Round-up Part 1: Bio Docs) Other Israel Film Festival) (So, nu: Chomsky talks at length about the influence of his mother and wife.) (1/13/2014)
Is That You? This is a typical road movie of the find-yourself kind popular with young folks at indie film festivals and the nostalgic sentimentality popular with old folks at Jewish film festivals. Israeli director Dani Menkin, story by Dani Menkin & Rod Bar, script by Eshkol Nevo & Menkin, largely depends on the shambolic appeal of central actor Alon Aboutboul as “Ronnie” as a projectionist who loses his job in Israel and sets out to find the young love of his life “Rachel Golan” after his brother the car dealer in the U.S. claims to have seen her – by her upcoming 60th birthday. (I presume the flashbacks to their youthful hippie-ish days were on a Tel Aviv beach.) Not only is the geography unclear throughout (filmed around Syracuse, NY) and the opportunities for diverse cross-cultural mis/understandings mostly squandered, other than a Tex Mex country music fan, (none of which would matter to an Israeli audience, though most of the film is in English), the Jewish connections of all the women he meets are very confusing, starting with his sister-in-law “Melanie” (Rita Worlock). Her Israeli husband Yakov/Jacob (Rani Bleier) complains about the busty Israeli their non-Hebrew-speaking son “Michael” (Patrick Michael Kelly) fell in love with while on a Birthright trip, who has lingerie photos of her all over his room and goes on about her body. (These naïve jokes, including about his claim to want to join the elite Golani Brigade, are presumably aimed at the Israeli audience.) The clearest conversation on a sense of identity is with the student documentarian “Myla” (Naruna De-Macedo Kaplan). She gives him a ride in her big (borrowed) SUV and insists on stopping to visit her Eastern-European-accented grandmother on the way, who clearly seems Jewish (Amy Dourghty). “Ronnie” asks the young filmmaker: I didn’t know you were Jewish. “Myla”: Don’t worry - she is, I’m not. By the time “Ronnie” improbably finds the woman everyone along the way admires, “Rachel” (Suzanne Sadler) in her native Canada (!), she does not seem at all like a woman who at any time lived in Israel.
As expected with Menkin’s background as a noted documentarian himself (Dolphin Boy), the best parts of the film are the presumably? real “interviews” around the theme The Road Not Taken, asking older people if they have regrets. While the grandmother insists: My generation has no regrets., many others do, and many of the older women come across as Jewish; one listed participant is Muriel Shapiro. Of the several women living where “Rachel” use to as he tracks her down is a lesbian couple, possibly one who is Jewish, whose testimony is presumably scripted. (8/19/2016)
It Always Rains On Sunday (3/7/2008) (emendations coming after 9/7/2008) (So, nu: East Side/East End: Eastern European Jews in London and New York, 1870-1920 by the late history professor Selma Berrol of my history reading group confirms how much Bethnal Green is like the Lower East Side. But I haven’t seen another old British movie with two feisty Jewish women, the gangster’s social worker sister working with a priest at the local community center, and the wife of the jazzman who lets him know in no uncertain terms what she thinks of his cheating with shikses, even if they are secondary characters.)
It’s What Each Person Needs
- star Becca Willow Moss by cinematographer Maya Bankovic
It’s What Each Person Needs (short) – An apt docu-fiction hybrid for the pandemic, “actor-artist, sex worker, and caregiver”, as the synopsis describes Becca Willow Moss, video chats with a range of people who are lonely and need companionship that really connects to them. Toronto-based filmmaker Sophy Romvari reinforces the French stereotype of a Jewish woman with curly auburn hair as it quickly becomes clear from how she interacts with her many contacts that she’s Jewish, including dropping in Yiddish words and phrases, and singing soothing Hebrew songs to elderly ladies who appreciate her as if she was the daughter they perhaps never had, especially as she promises to bring ruggelach on her next visit. Her warm reassuring tone encourages her callers to talk about themselves. Playing a version of herself as she plays along with men’s fantasies of domination, she is every bit the hippie shaman shrink, with fingers and arms full of spiritually resonant rings and bracelets. (at 2023 First Look Festival at Museum of the Moving Image) (3/17/2023)
Itzhak - Itzhak Perlman’s wife Toby is a co-star. From clips of an earlier documentary, it’s clear that many of her reports on their lives together, since teen friendship at music school where she also studied violin such that she can knowledgeably evaluate his performances, are standard comments she is used to providing to interviewers, including about being baseball fans (was she also a Mets fan?) and their agreement on their degree of Jewish observance, such as keeping kosher and observing Sabbath dinner, with their children and grandchildren. (One young girl, he proudly notes, plays the flute). There are only hints about his mother Shoshana, who was clearly an overwhelming influence. Not only did she supervise his daily practice in Israel, when he studied with Rivka Goldgart, who he does not describe fondly, but his mother brought him at age 13 to New York when neither knew English, living together in one room for years as he studied at Juilliard under the one woman who could see his talent beyond his polio handicap. As he is about to talk more about his mother, his wife, as usual, interrupts with sympathy for what her mother-in-law’s generation faced, from difficult circumstances in Poland originally and then emigrating to Israel, and on to the NYC, that she had to always be emotionally restrained. (seen at 2017 DOC NYC Festival) (PBS’s American Masters) (11/17/2017)
Jaffa (briefly reviewed at 2009 Other Israel Film Festival in New York) (That both families are working class is unusual enough in films about star-crossed lovers, albeit the Jewish family is the Arab family's employer. But Ronit Elkabetz is once again unafraid to portray an unsympathetic mother, one who would rather think her daughter is seduced and abandoned than engaged to an Arab. Dana Ivgy heartbreakingly conveys the complex emotions of a teenager under intense pressures – of love, family, and loyalty. I don't recall another film showing the difficulties inter-faith couples face in Israel of even trying to legally wed, as laborious arrangements need to be made to go to Cyprus, let alone the social opprobrium.) (11/14/2009)
The Jazz Baroness (Baroness Pannonica “Nica” Rothschild de Konigswarter startlingly reinvented herself from an heiress of one of the most famous Jewish families in European history, and mother of five, to become the cool cat patron of be-bop in 1950's New York. While a couple of her more conventional, elderly cohort female relatives are interviewed for comparison, in such large baronial rooms that their echoing words are hard to hear, the director, her grandniece Hannah Rothschild, annoyingly and moodily hogs the screen about her search to connect as a family rogue. Helen Mirren gets to speak too few of Nica's jaunty words. The same photos and footage of her with Thelonius Monk are repeated, yet the trove of her letters and more in her friend Mary Lou Williams' Collection at Rutgers is only glimpsed. (I missed the premiere on HBO, catching it at 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (1/23/2010)
J. Edgar (It was very noticeable that when Hoover recalls the good old days of deporting real Bolsheviks, he flashes back to Emma Goldman (played by Jessica Hecht). But Dustin Lance Black’s script carefully never has him refer to her as Jewish, let alone derogatorily in that context. The reason seems to be because late in life he’s seen favorably compared to Richard Nixon’s pettiness and biases.) (11/19/2011)
Jellyfish (Meduzot) (So, nu: Despite the Lady Bountiful Mom, there are no stereotypes of Israeli let alone Jewish women here, as each passes something of themselves to the other.) (4/4/2008) (previewed at the New Directors/New Films Series at Lincoln Center/MoMA)
Jews of the Wild West - In Amanda Kinsey’s superficial and historically haphazard overview of Jewish immigrants who went west of the Mississippi, several Jewish women are featured, including Wyatt Earp’s wife Josephine, and Golda [Mabovitch Meyerson] Meir’s experiences from Milwaukee to Denver. While Ray Frank in Oakland, CA was covered as the first woman to preach at a synagogue, the other women heard about are matriarchs in family histories, from Texas, to New Mexico, to Colorado. Only three of the Jewish agricultural colonization experiments are mentioned (Galveston, Cotopaxi, and Petaluma), though there were more in the west; credit is only given to Jacob Schiff as a sponsor, not The Baron De Hirsch Fund. (at 2023 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum) (1/17/2023)
Joan Rivers- A Piece of Work
Joann Sfar Draws From Memory (briefly reviewed at 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: He talks a lot about how his mother and grandmother inspired the women in his The Rabbi’s Cat and Klezmer series – and they are very beautiful, bold, clever, and sexy, without being the ridiculous superwomen of most graphic novels. In an Afterword in the edition I got of Klezmer of Part 1, he goes more into his feelings and attitudes about Jews and being Jewish, while at the end of the film he casually considers what it means for his children that his wife isn’t Jewish.) (1/21/2012)
Jojo Rabbit - Writer/director/co-star Taika Waititi’s adaptation of Christine Leunens’s Caging Skies, that I haven’t yet read. The Jewish girl “Elsa”, played with charming aplomb by Thomasin McKenzie, is central to ground in reality this lovely satire of Fascist society in the 1940’s where a German boy has his version of Adolf Hitler as an imaginary friend. While the very creative New Zealander Waititi usually identifies publicly with his father’s Māori of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui heritage, as in his wonderful, somewhat autobiographical Boy, he has said this film is his tribute to his mother’s Russian-Jewish heritage, with reminders that earlier in his film and writing career he had used her birth name of "Cohen". (11/17/2019)
Joy - Melissa Rivers portrays in a beautiful tribute her mother’s innovative use of early QVC to sell her jewelry on TV. Anyone else would have turned her into a caricature. With, of course, perfect nasal New York accent and body language, she lovingly shows the affectionate nature of her mother’s fashion suggestions to the titular character and the script emphasizes her mother’s phenomenal success (not mentioning that it was a time when she couldn’t get other jobs.) (12/1/2015)
Le Juif de Lascaux - In a very creative biography, fimmaker/critic Louis Skorecki, who was born in the Vichy Gurs internment camp in 1943, imagines finally talking to his parents about his Jewish heritage (and glaring lack of relatives) that they always avoided; he says returning French Jews were embarrassed to pass on their Jewish identity. While remembering foods such as borscht and cakes, he particularly imagines asking his “Polish Jewish” mother (portrayed by at least two caustic women), as a child, teen, and young man, about the foods she made and the Yiddish terms she used to describe these redolent foods. He treats stuffed chicken neck skin (“helzel”) like a sausage version of Proust’s madeleine, as tasting it brings back memories of her kitchen, here theatrically represented outdoors like a food truck, reducing him to childish demands. (My mother talks about a similar memory of my grandmother, similarly from what is now Ukraine: “Not the neck itself - that would just end up in the soup. But she’d take off the skin of that neck, and stuff it with a very tasty combination - so sort of stuffed kishka, but much better.” Mocking his lack of background, he comically refers to himself as “The First Jew” (hence the metaphorical reference to the caves of Lascaux, like those Werner Herzog plumbed in Cave of Forgotten Dreams). Resisting an admonishment from his remembered father to study Torah, he instead imagines several amusingly diverse couples as Adam and Eve -- and one woman in the garden is the Biblically accurate portrayal of Adam’s first wife: I love you Lilith, but you annoy me. Unfortunately, in a long post-Snowzilla marathon day of viewing selections from FID Film Festival Marseille, I dozed to miss the conclusion of how his relationship with his dismissive mother was resolved, compared to his father’s constant belittling and criticism, let alone I forgot to pick up the explanatory hand-out. (seen in First Look at Museum of the Moving Image) (1/26/2016)
Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait (So, nu: (previewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival) Schnabel’s parents are remembered as Brooklyn Jews by an old school friend and his very New York Jewish-sounding aunt, but once his story leaves Brownsville, Texas, none of the other women in his life seem to acknowledge that.) (5/5/2017)
Junction ‘48 While the lead Palestinian rapper considers it revolutionary to appropriate Bronx hip hop attitude, swagger, and everything else, the Jewish Israeli women in this feature, as written by Oren Moverman and Tamer Nafar based on Nafar’s experience, are condescending (a TV show host insists on calling him “Israeli Arab” not Palestinian because he lives in Lod) or sluts. (previewed at 2016 Tribeca Film Festival) (3/25/2016)
Kaddim Wind: Moroccan Chronicles (Ruah Kaddim – Chronika Marokait) (seen at Israel at 60 at Lincoln Center) (A documentary that blows away every preconception about Israel’s welcoming in of Diaspora Jews with a frank look at the treatment of Mizrahi Jews from Morocco, and North Africa in general, and provides incisive insight on Israeli politics and racism. Unfortunately, the focus is only on the experiences of six male leaders, with women barely heard from or seen briefly. When they are included in group discussions, they are passionate and articulate about discrimination and the necessity for change.) (6/15/2008)
Kaddish (1984) – Filmmaker Steve Brand’s documentation of the relationship between a Hungarian Holocaust survivor father Zoltan Klein and his rebellious activist son in Borough Park, Brooklyn, has taken on added significance as the son later became known as Yossi Klein Halevi, whose lectures, journalism, and other writings have become widely known in the U.S. and Israel, as he helps communicate between each Jewish community to the other. (He was “Scholar-in-Residence”, via Zoom, at my synagogue the same week as this film was at NYJFF.) His works include an autobiography Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist: The Story of a Transformation, originally released in 1995 when Rabin was assassinated by a more violent more extremist, and was re-issued in 2014 by Harper Perennial, with a new introduction. Though it covers the same period in his life as this documentary with a different insight into his life and motivations than the director’s interpretation, he never references the film. He mentions his mother and sister even less than Brand shows them; both just cite them as being far more conventional in their aspirations, wanting to be married and have children, albeit supportive of him. Ironically, that became his goals too. (preview of world premiere of IndieCollect’s 4K restoration, that “contains sequences re-edited by the filmmaker”, to be distributed by Kino Lorber, at 2022 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum) (1/23/2022)
A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff - Like the artist Alicia Jo Rabins, creator of the original one-woman show from which this film, directed by Alicia Jo Rose, is adapted and expanded, I, too, have been obsessed with Madoff and his relationship to the Jewish community, particularly Jewish women, and have reviewed several films related to him, both documentaries: Chasing Madoff and In God We Trust, and fictionalizations: The Wizard of Lies and Madoff. (A Netflix docu-series is still coming.) While Rose shows herself, in a lengthy prologue, as a multi-media artist-in-residence embedded on Wall Street at the 2008 financial crisis, I was inspired by having laid the ground-work for an ethics center at a business school once known for teaching accounting with a conscience. Unlike my fantasy of focusing on the most diabolical people in the greed – the international feeder fund of the patriarch, daughters and sons-in-laws behind the Fairfield Group, Rabins appropriately focuses on the victims as a betrayed affinity group in the Ponzi scheme.
She found colorful representatives, channeled most of their words and cadences from interviews into character-driven songs, creatively interpreted through music-videos by Rose (with use of klezmer music by Golem and animation by Zack Margolis). The through concept is to symbolically excommunicate Madoff from the Jewish community, within historical context she explains as a Jewish educator. Though some songs are stronger than others, she portrays, in costumes, each character directly or indirectly impacted who she managed to contact, including: a bank credit risk officer, Palm Beach country club ladies, a Buddhist monk, a quant, FBI agent, therapist, lawyer, and even a happy investor. While the finale is a united kaddish chorus, the delightful climax is a synchronized swimming routine (by a real troupe), with a drone capturing Busby Berkeley-like choreography from above. Unique Jewish film! (preview at 2022 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum) (1/25/2022)
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (So, nu: the diversity of selected animators also extends to including the (secular) Jewish woman animator Nina Paley, whose work I have followed since seeing the North American premiere of her Sita Sings the Blues at 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, and whose video gave the title to This Is Your Land in Human Rights Watch Film Fest 2015. Her “Children” section builds on the resonant Hebrew phrase “L'dor va'dor” (“From generation to generaton”) that is sung at Shabbat services, as well as ancient Middle Eastern religious symbols, including the hamsa with the winking eye, she’s been researching for her next feature-length piece Seder-Masochism, which will be something of an animated Haggadah/Exodus.) (8/10/2015)
Karaoke - Israeli writer/director Moshe Rosenthal is well- meaning in centering his film around a 60-something couple living in a nice high-rise apartment - “Meir” (Sasson Gabay), a retired teacher, and “Tova” (Rita Shukrun), who have been together for 46 years. The film mocks “Tova” for constantly shopping and being a clothes horse, though the director has noted in interviews that most of what she wears, including a key pair of shoes, are from his own mother’s closet, and “Tova” owns a boutique in the mall so she has turned her interest in fashion into a business. Their relationship and their lives are turned upside-down when they get too friendly with the new buyer of the Penthouse Miami talent agent “Itzhik” (an unusually blowzy comic Lior Ashkenazi), with a Turkish transwoman guest. “Tova” tells him: Our kids bring us joy, their two daughters, the oldest is 36 and married, and I think there were references to babysitting grandchildren, but they can tell right away he’s gay. Foolishly “Tova” tries to set “Itzik” up with shy “Bella” who works in her store. [I can’t yet identify these three actresses.] Along with “Meir”s attempt to follow “Itzik”s lead, this all gets dragged out slowly, and goes on way too long, making the film feel longer than 100 minutes.
What makes the film of some interest, and the reason that the script won the Weil Bloch Award for “outstanding films on the subject of shared society, racism and immigration” and garnered support from the Gesher Multicultural Film Fund, is that the couple is Sephardic, and discover that “Itzhik” is too, sharing a few lines in Ladino and a traditional song. For “Tova”, her pride in her cultural heritage is particularly expressed through the Greek dance the rebetiko, and her husband has videos of her dancing at family celebrations. But when she returns to party in the Penthouse, “Itzhik" mocks that her interpretation is not, in fact, accurate: You’re dancing the “Tovatiko”. I should hook you up with a friend who does authentic Rembetiko. Mortified, she flees back downstairs to her computer (not something she usually does) to intensely watch videos of dancers that confirm the truth. Her petty revenge turns the whole building against his loud music. Until she and her husband decide to dance, together, their way. (at 2022 Tribeca Film Festival) (6/30/2022)
Keep Quiet While it was international news when Csanád Szegedi, a youthful leader of the rabidly right-wing, anti-Semitic Jobbik Party in Hungary was outed as Jewish, there was no focus on his mother and grandmother, a survivor of Auschwitz. In this documentary, he finally confronts them about the secret they kept from him, even hiding her tattoo for all these decades. What comes through is the degree of fear that they constantly lived in, convinced that it could happen again and they both wanted to protect him, even saying nothing as he espoused an exaggerated take on his (possibly late) father’s views. (Evidently, Hungarian, and probably European, culture can’t nuance religion and ethnicity, as the U.S. may uniquely do.) It is a vivid example of all the women survivors who never told anyone what they went through. As his grandmother anticipated, he doesn’t believe her when she calmly, for the first time in 70 years, tells of her and her relatives’ round-up, deaths, and imprisonment, he only after her death can tour Auschwitz with a grandmother-replacement survivor, Eva 'Bobby' Neumann who only started telling people her experiences 10 years ago, right from the station arrival through to the crematoria where she worked – and that finally gets through to him, or anyone watching I would think, to stop minimizing the Holocaust. (Though he didn’t yet understand why the two women were sent to Auschwitz “about the same time” – not full understanding the chronology of the Final Solution for Jews from Budapest – but he also had never bothered to understand the memorial of empty shoes on the bank of the Danube until he goes with his rabbi mentor.) While it’s touching that he restores his great-grandmother’s gravestone in the Jewish cemetery, he does not replace the Hebrew lettering. Journalist Anne Applebaum provides contextual narration of life in Hungary from Fascism to Communism to democracy. (previewed at 2016 Tribeca Film Festival) (3/25/2016)
Keep The Change (So, nu: - Writer/director Rachel Israel worked on this unique rom com with members of The Adaptations Group at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Manhattan, quite a bit of the film is set there, and many of the women characters are Jewish. I was disappointed this delightful film didn’t win Tribeca Film Festival’s Nora Ephron Award last year, especially as her work was clearly a model. While it’s three-dimensionally appealing that “Sarah”s grandmother is an oblivious alcoholic and her mother somehow out of the picture, “David”s rich mother is the glaringly weakest part of the film as an annoying stereotype, bordering on offensive, especially as his mother doesn’t get the moment of enlightenment that his father does. Certainly “David”s plan to have his girlfriend stay with his aunt in Boca Raton while they are in Florida is unrealistic, but so is her insisting on bringing him along on a retired person’s schedule. I was kinder in overlooking this wrong note than I usually am in reviews and ratings because the rest of the Jewish women, and the film, are so strong. (previewed at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival) (updated 3/22/2018)
Keeping Up With The Steins
Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide (So, nu: Begun and co-directed by the artist’s daughter Malia Scharf, she briefly interviews her good-humored grandmother Rose: “I don’t know where he got the talent. I never thought he’d be a professional artist.” (Rose is also memorialized in the closing credits.) While the information is Google-able, with his personal anecdotes, nowhere does Malia refer that they are Jewish, even when late in the bio-doc friends and colleagues refer to the importance of family in his life and he’s seen playing with two grandchildren, who are identified by name but not which of his daughter’s is their mother. Yet, could this strength be a reason why he seems to be the only artist of the drug-fueled, AIDS-decimated Downtown 1980’s visual art scene to survive? (preview at 2020 DOC NYC Film Festival/ Greenwich Entertainment theatrical release) (11/7/2020)
Kill Your Darlings (So, nu: Yet another portrayal of young “Allen Ginsberg” that is more fascinated by his being gay than Jewish. The gentile characters around him in his freshman year at Columbia keep identifiying him as Jewish only by his name– plus the mop of dark curls stuck on the head of Daniel Radcliffe, like the gray wig stuck on Jennifer Jason Leigh (who I was surprised to learn on Wikipedia is Jewish, and here fleetingly uses her father’s native Bronx accent) as his mentally ill mother “Naomi”. His father’s girlfriend “Edith Cohen” (played by Leslie Meisel) convincingly looks Jewish – and young “Allen” furiously blames her for why his father institutionalized his mother, while the script by writer/director John Krokidas and Austin Bunn emphasizes the guilt trip his mother lays on him for not taking care of her to keep her home. I am disappointed that it seems that gay script writers continue to ignore the Jewish context of a woman who inspired the great poem Kaddish, even as “Allen”s infatuation with “Lucien Carr” (played by Dane DeHaan) seems as much the fascination with the beautiful blonde shiksa, as in the heterosexual work of post-war American Jewish writers Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, etc., as he beds a look-alike pick-up at a gay bar, though “Jack Kerouac” is represented less in that mode than usual by Jack Huston. (8/21/2013)
Killing Kasztner: The Jew Who Dealt With Nazis (So, nu: my commentary forthcoming on the Jewish women) (10/23/2009)
In Noah’s Ark of Claude Lanzmann’s The Four Sisters interviews, a train survivor provides a differing participant account. (preview at 2017 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (5/15/2019)
The Kindergarten Teacher (Haganenet) (So, nu: While the Israeli context heightens the tensions with Ashkenazi vs Sephardim, working class vs. nouveau riche, the intense focus stays on an insightful woman/wife/mother Nira (played by Sarit Larry of the mesmerizing eyes) who is overwhelmed by her conviction that she has discovered a poetry prodigy whose gift needs to be nurtured instead of stultified by popular culture. She’s so convinced of his exceptional gift that she proudly plans to reveal his authorship at the public poetry performance where she had originally agreed to read his poems she’d been fronting. She is excited to reveal his talent publicly, but the public, as is so often true with the arts, isn’t ready. The reaction is overwhelming and disastrous for her, and the film becomes more about her extreme obsession over a child who is not always passive. Her high school age daughter is barely seen, but in her shome, her son parties hard with his army buddies to celebrate his promotion to officer, a career choice her engineer husband disparages as “for morons or the poor”. But he also thinks a kid interested in poetry “needs help”. She tries to inspire him first with nature -- the sun, an ant, water, the rain, and then the ocean, then argues to his uncle the writer: “Being a poet in our world is opposing the nature of the world.” The nanny is dark-skinned, but I couldn’t pick up the subtleties if she’s an Ethiopian Jew or a non-Jewish African.) (previewed at 2015 New Directors/New Films of Film at Lincoln Center/MoMA) (3/18/2015)
The Kind Words (Ha'milim ha'tovot) (preview for the 2016 Israel Film Center Festival courtesy Strand Releasing) Within a comic family story are surprisingly fresh representations of Jewish women, as Israelis and as exiles from Arab countries: the Algerian-born mother in Jerusalem “Yona Baruch” (Levana Finkelstein); her middle child, 35-year-old, fertility-struggling (like Biblical women) daughter Dorona Cohen (Rotem Zisman-Cohen); her drama queen sister in Pa