Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Closing Night

Last Sunday was the grand finale of the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival. Three movies, and here's the rundown.

First up was ADAM RESURRECTED, directed by Paul Schrader and starring Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe. Rumor I heard was there was quite a bit of debate over whether to play this movie--which is a pretty depressing Holocaust story--in the festival. As it turns out, it was one of my favorites, particularly because it was edgier, so thank you to those who pushed to put it in the program. Jeff Goldblum plays Adam Stein, who was the most famous clown in all of Germany. Now (1961) he's a patient at a mental hospital for Holocaust survivors. His past is told in a series of flashbacks--how he had an enormously popular circus he ran with his wife and daughters; how he was rounded up during the Holocaust; how the camp commandant Klein (Willem Dafoe) recognized him; and how he survived the camp (but failed to rescue his family) by entertaining commandant Klein for a year (by playing a dog). Well, now he's more than a little bit messed up psychologically. And while he's not fit to live in the real world, in his little asylum world he's still the master of ceremonies. The asylum is nominally run by Dr. Nathan Gross (Derek Jacobi), who seems to give Adam quite a lot of leeway, but might be doing just the right thing for him. There's a ton of very dark humor here (Adam is, after all, still a clown; only now he's a permanently sad clown). And the drama is tight, mostly revolving around a mysterious boy in the hospital. The one thing that really bugged me is it indulged one of my little pet peeves--bad accents filling in for foreign languages. There was no reason for Jeff Goldblum or Willem Dafoe to be using thick German accents. If they're supposed to be speaking German, have them speak German and subtitle it. If English is going to fill in for German, go ahead and let it be unaccented English, it's less distracting.

So, from dark comedy and darker drama, we went on to a light, funny as heck documentary, CIRCUMCISE ME: THE COMEDY OF YISRAEL CAMPBELL. Yisrael was raised Catholic (and named Chris, not Yisrael) and has converted to Judaism three times. First Reform, and mostly because he was dating a Jewish girl and couldn't stop thinking about Judaism. Then Conservative and finally Orthodox, as he realized that it wasn't just a passing interest, but the answer to his spiritual seeking. The movie is part stand-up concert (and he's really, really funny) and part interviews with him and his father musing about his conversion. It's a brisk film, at 48 minutes it's in that nebulous region where it's longer than a short but shorter than a feature. It just left me wanting a little more

And that "little more" was a set of stand up comedy by local comedian Jeff Applebaum. He's a pretty funny guy, works clean, and played up to the Jewish crowd. And he does a bit as Joey Bishop (as part of the tribute show "The Rat Pack is Back") that's pretty good--telling a lot of old, kinda corny jokes but delivering them well.

And finally, the festival ended with LOST ISLANDS, which I had previously seen at Jewfest North. Let's see what I wrote about it back then:
Set in the 80's, it's the story of an eccentric tight-knit family. The Levis have 5 sons--the eldest David, teenage twins Ofer and Erev, and two little kids. The story centers mostly on Ofer and Erev (the coming of age story). When they were born, Ofer nearly died, and their mother never lets them forget, doting on Ofer while making Erev fend for himself and help Ofer. This despite the fact that Ofer works out all the time and is easily the stronger brother. But this doesn't really cause problems, it's just a source of comedy. What does cause problems is when Erev and Ofer fall for the same girl, Neta. While she obviously likes Erev more, the twins have a system for sharing everything--whoever calls it first gets it. And Ofer called it first, so that's that. Despite some obvious tension, they go out partying all the time with their wacky friend Boaz (aka Savta, or "Grandma"). But things really get out of hand when their dad Avraham gets into a car accident and is paralyzed. Erev blames himself (and without giving away spoilers, he has reason to). Suddenly the fun, wild days of youth turn into the depression of young adulthood. Ofer becomes the loyal son staying home to take care of his dad. Erev volunteers for the commando unit of the IDF (which used to be Ofer's dream) in a none-too-subtle bid to get himself killed in combat, no matter how ill-equipped he is for the physical rigors of training, much less combat. It's a story of family, love, cheating, and of course, growing up. And it's remarkably funny and has a cool 80's pop soundtrack. It's not hard to see why it was so popular in Israel last year.
Yeah, I'll stick with that review, and I'll reiterate that the soundtrack was a lot of fun. And I'll add that it holds up well to multiple viewings. In fact, I think I liked it more the second time when I already knew how the diverging threads tied together thematically.

And with that, the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival 2009 is over.
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