Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jason goes to the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival--Nov 9

Formerly called the San Jose Jewish Film Festival, it's expanded. I've missed the first half because I was at Docfest, but I'm there for the last two weekends.

Last Sunday I saw three shows (the fourth one scheduled was one I'd already seen at the SF Jewish Film Festival). First up was the family program "Sixty Six", based on "true-ish" story. Bernie Reubens is an unathletic little nerd, picked for sports after the kid with polio. His brother is a bit of a bully, and he's doomed to a life of miserable anonymity. Then he learns about the Bar Mitzvah--the day you become a man and when all your friends and relatives throw a big party where you're the center of attention. So he throws all his effort into planning the greatest Bar Mitzvah--nay, the greatest party of any kind--ever! And things are going along okay, despite some financial setbacks from his dad. That is, until he finds out that his Bar Mitzvah is scheduled the exact same day as the World Cup Finals. Oh yeah, the title comes from the year--1966, when the World Cup was held in England. Oh yeah, the movie's British. So yeah, everyone is nuts about the English team--heavy underdogs, but they're playing at home. So if England makes the finals, no one will be at his party. So he throws himself into becoming the ultimate football (soccer, for us Americans) expert, and is the only Englishman cheering against England. Well, if you're at all a soccer fan (or know how to look stuff up online), you know how it ends. But the trip there is a funny story of finally learning to grow the hell up, even if it's a bloody miserable experience.

The next show started with a short, "A Trip to Prague". Neil Needleman tells the story of how he goes to visit Prague after his parents die (they loved Prague). He meets a nice couple who tells him "You know what a good Jewish boy like you needs? A good Jewish girl!" Too bad he's not into girls....

Then the haunting historical epic "Villa Jasmine", about a young Jewish man named Serge travels to Tunisia with his pregnant wife. His father (also named Serge) lived and died in Tunisia, in a home he dubbed "Villa Jasmine". He was a newspaper writer and a communist organizer (decrying at night with a pen name what he celebrated in the social column during the day). As a young man in Tunisia in the 1920's he was a well-known part of the Jewish community, and life was good. But the 20's became the 30's, and that became a time when it was not good to be a Jew. Tunisia was a French colony, and soon became a Vichy French colony, and soon became a Nazi stronghold in North Africa. The movie glides back and forth from modern day with Serge the son looking for stories of his father and Serge the father speaking up for his Tunisia. Parallel love stories develop as young Serge all but ignores his wife in his obsessive quest, the same way his father did for his cause. It took me a little while to get into the story and understand what the movie was doing, but it was ultimately rewarding.

The theme of the day--and I suppose a theme of a great deal of Jewish film, as well as film in general--was family, specifically how your dysfunctional family messes you the hell up. And in no movie was that more clear than the hilarious, "My Mexican Shiva". Moishe Tartakovsky dies of a heart attack, and all his family and friends gather for the traditional 7 days of mourning and remembrance. And that's when we learn how messed up they all are, starting with his gentile mistress. His daughter is so stressed out she flips out over a loose tooth. His grandson returns from Israel as a devout Jewish scholar, but is picked up for an outstanding drug rap. Meanwhile his granddaughter has a crush on the grandson (her cousin) and flirts with him. His son is looking for a doctor for a rather delicate favor. And the guy giving the toast feels like the family is treating him criminally (for getting distracted and never letting him finish the toast). And then there's some craziness. Over all of it, the angels Aleph and Bet watch and count his good qualities (light angels) and bad qualities (dark angels), kind of like a Greek chorus. Hilarious and all over the place, but it somehow all ties together in a funny little package. And an interesting look at Judaism in Mexico (and the Catholic maids who don't understand what the heck is going on).

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