This was the first time SVJFF has been at its new venue, the Century 24 on Winchester. And to inaugurate this venue, they played a couple of films that took us to New York City.
First up was PUTZEL, taking place exclusively in the Upper West Side...since the title character has a phobia about leaving the neighborhood. There his grandfather opened a lox store that is currently run by his uncle and he hopes will some day be his. That might not seem like a great goal, but that's all Walter (aka, the titular Putzel) ever wanted. Turns out that's kind of because he had a messed up childhood, but that's getting ahead of ourselves. His plans become derailed first when his uncle announces that he has on offer from someone who wants to buy the store. After begging him to reconsider, a second complication comes up--his uncle has decided not to retire. He's going to stay and continue to manage the store for at least another 5, 10, 20 years. And that has everything to do with the mysterious women who just moved into town (Melanie Lynskey, it's always nice to see her.) It's pretty obvious she's set up to be Putzel's love interest, but first she becomes the uncle's love interest...or rather, obsession. It actually gets pretty creepy and there's a near attempted rape scene that's kind of out of place in this light comedy. Other than that (and the dubious premise of a man who is afraid to cross either 59th or 110th street--something I couldn't quite buy into) it's a good romantic comedy and a coming-of-age story about a man who doesn't quite come of age until his mid-30s.
And then a very different, musical look at NY in DOWNTOWN EXPRESS. Sasha (Philippe Quint), his father, and his cousin are Russian Jews living in Brighton Beach and make a living playing classical music in the subway. Sasha in particular is a master violinist with a scholarship to Juilliard. While he works on a possible career-making recital, he's also keenly interested in the vast array of "street music" in the city. Particularly when, at tryouts for Music Underground, he sees and hears Downtown Express, an eclectic group led by the pretty Ramona (Nellie McKay). He tracks them down and asks for a tryout to join the group. Not that violin meshes obviously with their sound, but...they actually make it work. The obstensible plot is about how Sasha is stretched between two worlds--classical and experimental/avant-garde--which is as much about the logistics and scheduling as it is about culture clash. But really the heart of the movie is a celebration of the infinite possibilities of music, and it definitely helps that the actors are accomplished musicians as well.
Total Running Time: 176 minutes
My Total Minutes: 340,249