Yup, you thought it was all over, didn't you?! No, I just wasn't there for a week because all the movies I had previously seen. But I was back for three films on Sunday.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN: First up was this beautiful film based on the beloved children's novel. Sebastian lives in the French Alps with his grandfather, while his mom is away in America (which he's told is just over those mountains.) A wild beast is attacking their sheep, but when Sebastian comes face-to-face with it, it turns out she's actually a giant dog who was abused by her former owner but is actually a good dog (and wasn't the one attacking the sheep.) Naming her Belle (Beautiful) they become quite a team, hiding out from both the villagers and the occupying Germans who still believe in the beast. Oh yes, this is set during WWII, and in fact smuggling Jewish refugees into Switzerland is a major part of the plot. And of course Belle eventually wins everyone over, and becomes known as the bravest dog ever. Pretty beautiful.
A BORROWED IDENTITY (aka DANCING ARABS): Then there was this comedic drama written by Sayed Kashua (creator of ARAB LABOR, one of my favorites of Israeli television, who was in attendance and talked about his writing, the movie, and his decision to move to America, where he teaches in At the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.) The story is about Ayed, a brilliant Palestinian boy living in Israel (and an Israeli citizen.) His father beams with pride when he gets accepted into a prestigious math and science school. Of course, being a Palestinian minority in Israel has...difficulties fitting in, to say the least. But he makes two very important friends--first a Jewish girlfriend, Naomi. But they have to keep their relationship kind of secret. Jews don't like the idea of dirty Arabs touching their women. And there's no way either of their parents would approve. But love is what it is. And the other important friend in Yonatan, a young Israeli Jew who is suffering from muscular dystrophy. He first helps him out as part of his community service assignment, but they quickly become fast friends. And they even look kind of similar. Similar enough at least on their ID cards that Ayed can use Yonatan's ID and pass as a Jew. Which leads to the title, of course. The film is sometimes very funny, sometimes very serious, but always excellent and a great way to approach the social troubles of the whole...situation there.
ZEMENE: And then we ended the night on a truly heroic, uplifting note. Dr. Rick Hodes is an American Jewish doctor who works in Ethiopia. With very little resources in the entire country, much less the rural villages, he treats all types, but specializes mostly spinal deformity cases. Birth defects of the spine as well as tuberculosis create a heck of a lot of horrible disfigured spines. And Dr. Hodes takes care of as many as he can, including opening his home to his patients and even formally adopting some so he can add them to his insurance plan. And we see his practice through the story of Zemene, a young girl with a deformed spine whose uncle has taken her to the city for treatment (with no luck) but who meets Rick entirely by coincidence. She starts off as one of the most hopeless cases--not just deformed by badly malnourished and undersized. But she responds to care, puts on some weight, and is soon (at least soon in movie time) is a good candidate for surgery. And while Rick doesn't do the surgeries himself, he has colleagues that are the best in the business. That surgery puts Zemene on a truly inspiring, miraculous path. Not just to health, but to school, to opportunity, to the dream of becoming a doctor herself and opening up a school in her village. That's the best part--not just saving lives but truly lifting people up through education.
Afterwards we had a Skype conversation with Dr. Rick Hodes. And here's the most important thing I can pass on from that: he has a website where you can follow his work and donate to help save and lift up more children.
Total Running Time: 276 minutes
My Total Minutes: 408,037