Monday, November 5, 2007

Jason goes to San Jose Jewfest--Sunday Nov. 4

Another day of movies, and it's been a couple of days now, I'm falling behind. Let's just jump right in.

First up was the 30 minute short "Dark Night". A simple but tense story of an Israeli patrol that is ambushed. They take refuge in a house, where they find an Arab man and his wife. One of the soldiers is wounded, and needs medical attention. The Arab man's wife is having a baby and needs medical attention. But calling an ambulance would reveal their location and doom them. A taut, tense film with a pretty good metaphor for the greater conflict.

The short played with the feature documentary "Cardboard Squares". Tamar Paikes never knew her father, he died in the Six Days War. She also lost a brother to war, and another brother to a rock-climbing accident. She's never visited any of their graves, nor really dealt with any of the death in her family. She points the camera at herself and her remaining family--especially her mother--to deal with the complex grief she feels. The end result is part therapy and part painfully intimate auto-biography. Her mother provides the title in pointing out that cardboard squares (the frames for slides of her departed family) are no substitute for people.

Next up was a clever low-budget youth-in-trouble thriller from Israel, "Someone to Run With", based on the novel by David Grossman. It starts with a scene of teenage Tamar shaving her head and becoming a street musician. Despite talent at the guitar and a beautiful voice, she makes just enough to survive homeless. Cut 2 months into the future when clumsy Asaf, working for the summer at the animal control shelter, is tasked with finding the owner of an unlicensed dog and delivering a summons. Letting the dog lead the way through its typical haunts, he discovers that it belongs to a girl named Tamar, and that Tamar is possibly in trouble. Their two stories unfolds in parallel, inevitably meeting at the end (okay, not Euclidean parallel lines). In Tamar's story, she's taken in by an evil Fagin-like character named Pesach, who has an army of child street musicians as a cover for his dope-dealing ring. We also learn she's trying to track down a dark, handsome, junkie kid she knows. In Asaf's story, we learn he's clumsy and accident prone, but determined. And as he learns more of Tamar and that she might be in danger, he becomes infatuated and makes it his mission to be her unlikely hero. A good story, well told, that even holds a few surprises at the end.

And finally, the documentary "Six Days: June 1967, The War That Changed the Middle East". I had always known of the Six Days War--how Israel, though badly outnumbered, simultaneously fought Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and defeated them all in six days. How they gained territory--the West Bank, Golan Heights, and all of Jerusalem and basically rewrote the map of the area. But this documentary by Ilan Ziv goes deep but even-handed into the factors that led to the war, the events in the war, and the repercussions of the war on the whole region. He focuses mainly on the men in charge of the two nations--Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt (portrayed as a populist hero and the greatest hope for a modern, secular, united Arab world in the past century) and Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister (and initially Defense Minister, before being pushed aside for Moshe Dayan) of Israel (portrayed as a competent, intelligent, but uncharismatic manager who tried at all cost to avoid war). It also squarely puts the blame for the war not on these people, but on their military leadership, Field Marshal Abdel Amer of Egypt (who gave Nasser unrealistic assessments of Egypt's strength) and Moshe Dayan for Israel (who knew from the beginning that despite the numbers, Israel had the tactical advantage in weapons and training, and in fact could not only defend itself but take land). Ultimately not lost in the details of battle is that both leaders ended the war bitterly disappointed and broken--Nasser by the crushing defeat, and Eshkol by the fact that it happened at all. Both died within three years, both from heart attacks. A fascinating, thorough, but concise document of an important week of history.

And that was SJ Jewfest for November 4. Just one more week (Sunday and Wednesday) of the festival left.

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