Monday, November 9, 2009

Jason goes to Jewfest South--Sunday, Nov. 1

I've been far too busy to blog, and I've been missing more of the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival than I wanted to. Sometimes it's hard to be as awesomely popular as I am.

Anyway, I did attend and saw two programs just over a week ago. It started with the short DOUBLE GUESSING GRANDMA, a funny story of a young Jewish man who comes out of the closet to his grandmother. And on Hanukkah, when the guilt lasts for 8 days, no less.

That led into the feature, FOR MY FATHER, which I had previously seen at Cinequest (where it won the audience award). That means I don't have to write a new review, just look back at what I wrote before:
Tarek is a suicide bomber, preparing for his mission in Tel Aviv. He's doing it for his father's honor. His explosive vest is strapped on, and if he doesn't go through with it there's a cell phone trigger so his handlers can "activate" him remotely. In fact, that trigger is wired through his belt buckle so that if he tries to take off the vest, it'll go off. There's really no turning back. So at 8 am on a Friday he gets himself in position in the middle of a crowded marketplace, pushes the button, and...nothing happens. The switch is defective. He hurries out of the market, finds an electrical repair shop, removes the switch, and asks the repairman if he can fix it (without telling him what it's for). He can't, but he can replace it, but he has no replacement in stock. Tomorrow is the Sabbath, so he won't get a replacement until Sunday morning. Tarek convinces his handlers (over the phone) to not activate him, give him until Sunday morning when the market will be crowded again. And so it looks like he's spending the weekend there in Tel Aviv. With nothing but time on his hands, he helps the electrical repairman fix his roof, and talks with the girl who owns the kiosk across the street. Keren is a bit of a punk with dyed-red hair, but she comes from an orthodox family. Her father refuses to talk to her (you can guess from the title there are a lot of daddy issues in this movie), but her "friends" from the community aren't afraid to come by and harass her, trying to get her to renounce her ways and return home. She and Tarek start a bit of a friendship, and when he defends her it becomes a bit more. It never gets sexual (obviously, he can't take of his jacket and reveal his suicide vest), but it is romantic. Over the course of a Sabbath (which just happens to be her birthday) all the reasons he has for his mission melt away. But he's still trapped. This movie handles a very difficult subject with a surprisingly light and deft sense of humor and romance. One of my favorites of the festival.
Yeah, I'll pretty much stand by that. An interesting thing about this movie. The easiest, pithiest way to describe it is "A Suicide Bomber Romantic Comedy" (or a "SuBoRomCom"). And that's how I described it at Cinequest--to the puzzled, disgusted looks of many--until I was sick of hearing it and doubting my judgement (or sanity) for liking it so much. Well, now that I've seen it again, I can say it's still a SuBoRomCom, and it's still a great movie.

And then I stuck around for the second feature, GRUBER'S JOURNEY. Based on a true story, it really should be called Malaparte's Journey. Curzio Malaparte was an Italian journalist sent to Romania to cover World War II there. Along the way, he is inflicted with a terrible respiratory allergy, to the point where he is nearly unable to breathe. Fortunately his doctor refers him to an excellent specialist in town--Dr. Gruber. Unfortunately, Dr. Gruber is not in his office. More unfortunately, Dr. Gruber is a Jew and was apparently rounded up by the local officials in a German-ordered purge. So Malaparte, a stranger to the ways of Romania, has to navigate the local authorities--police, military, diplomats, etc,--and the lack of accurate, collated records to try to find Dr. Gruber before something terrible happens. Without giving anything away, let me just reiterate that it is based on a true story and Malaparte wrote a book after the war documenting the horrors of the Holocaust in Romania. But as for the movie, it's an odd little film about the people who live in the privileged positions in wartime. At a time when millions are being murdered simply based on their race, it's a little unsettling to watch a story of a man trying to find an allergy treatment. Strange, but that contrast between true horror and a simple allergy is pretty effective.
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