Jewish Film Festival spans a wide focus

The Jewish Film festival this year sees old and new talent on the big screen

Every year the Jewish Film Festival, which is in its 16th year and runs from 1st to 18th November, seems to get a bit bigger. In keeping with the organisers’ desire to make it an ongoing, year round, nationwide event, the festival is now not solely a London affair, with screenings spread over Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. The opening night film Paris, Manhattan is screening on the same night at the NFT and in Manchester. All of the 70 films in the festival though can be seen in London, with a number of screenings taking place at The Tricycle in Kilburn High Road and the Everyman, Hampstead.

Often the festival will revive an old Woody Allen classic but this year his contribution is restricted to inspiring Sophie Lellouche’s opening film Paris, Manhattan, which is an adoring homage to the man who was one of the 20th century’s greatest comic talents, and one of its worst dramatists. In it Lellouche honours her hero by giving him the role Allen ascribed to Humphrey Bogart in Play It Again Sam, the fantasy figure oracle who gives love life advice to the hapless heroine, in this case unmarried French pharmacist Alice (Alice Taglioni.) She prescribes Allen’s film as remedies to her customers and talks to a poster of him on her bedroom wall, a poster which replies with quotes from his films.

It’s definitely one of those foreign language comedies where you suspect the subtitles are holding out on you. Alice’s conversations with Victor (Patrick Bruel), a rather plain looking seller of alarm system, are particularly hard to fathom. Is he meant to be as morose and tactlessly blunt as the words in white make him out to be, or is he in fact a dry deadpan wit? It isn’t a great film but it is rather likeable. A little Woody goes a surprisingly long way and the little clips and references always pick you up just when your interest is flagging. Also, without really trying, it does make a great case for the glories of being Parisian.

Less sophisticated but perhaps more nourishing, Oma and Bella makes for a nice and very civilised Sunday morning (11th November) outing. It is screening at The Everyman at 11 after a serving of brunch at 10.30. Made by one of their granddaughters, it is in many ways little more than a home movie about two eighty-plus-year-old Jewish ladies living together in Berlin. The camera follows them around as they cook, eat, reminisce, occasionally sing, shop for food and then cook some more. Initially it may seem like nothing much at all, too slight to be of worth, but it slowly becomes a rather beguiling expression of what it is to live for eight decade and to prevail over the whims of history; it’s effortlessly life affirming.

A number of high profile figures are placed under the spotlight during the festival. Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir is a feature length interview with the controversial director while the life of Serge Gainsbourg is revealed in Gainsbourg: an Intimate Self Portrait made up of archive footage. The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres (The Tricycle, Kilburn High Road on 7th) takes a look at a politician who has been active in the development of the State of Israel since its beginning and in some senses his story is its story. His approach has encompassed everything from organising the raid on the hijacked plane at Entebbe to being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Yassar Arafat for the Oslo Accords. As the title (shouldn’t that be the Price of Elected Leadership?) suggests the cost of leadership is touched upon most noticeably when Prime Minister Rabin is assassinated. It’s a sympathetic portray without being a whitewash – opposing views are aired, though generally by people standing in the streets. Whatever else can be said of him, Perez certainly knows how to hold a camera’s gaze - interviewed against a black background he comes across as statesmanlike, wise, compassionate and much sharper and engaged than you’d expect of an 87 year old.

Finally we should mention that Belsize Park resident Helen Benigson, 27, is getting her short film, TALMY, a documentary about a Holocaust survivor, shown with the closing film, The Last Flight of Peter Ginz, at the Tricycle on November 18th.

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