Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jason goes to Jewfest North--Day 6

You may notice there is no day 5. I skipped Tuesday night because both movies play again at times that are more convenient for me.

But I was back up Wednesday night for another pair of films, starting with the short JOSHUA by Dani Levy (SFJFF fave from ALLES AUF ZUCKER, MEIN FUHRER: THE TRULY TRUEST TRUTH ABOUT ADOLF HITLER). As part of a series from many German filmmakers called Deutschland 09, he made a film about a crazy, neurotic filmmaker named Dani Levy who worries about what Germany will be like when his little son Joshua is grown up. So his therapist gives him medicine that cures pessimism--and makes Joshua fly...right into Angela Merkel's lap. And eventually baby Joshua becomes the new baby Fuhrer to a town of neo-Nazis. Have I mentioned lately how awesome Dani Levy is?

That led into the centerpiece presentation of A MATTER OF SIZE. Co-presented by CAAM (who put on Asianfest), it's an Israeli comedy (or drama, or dramedy) about sumo wrestling. Or rather, it's about overweight people learning to be proud of themselves (through sumo wrestling). Herzl is having a hard time losing any weight, and the insufferable bitch running his support group is no help at all. To top it off, although he's a great chef, he's forced to work out of sight in the kitchen because he's "not presentable". So he quits, but his mother forces him to take a job. It's her idea for him to work at a Japanese restaurant, because the food's so terrible he won't be tempted by it. Desperate, he starts out as a dishwasher there, and that's where he learns about sumo. In Japan, he has the body of a revered athlete. He makes one more try at the diet group, but leaves in a huff after more abuse, and announces he's starting a sumo club, to be coached by his boss Kitano, an ex-sumo referee. He gets a few friends to join him, including a woman who becomes his girlfriend. I've already hinted that it's not about sumo (although there's plenty of it) as much as overcoming their self-hate. And it's not just hate over their weight (although that's a large part of it--no pun intended). Gidi finally finds the strength to come out of closet, and is pleased to learn that gay men with his body type--"bears"--are popular. Arahon struggles with his anger and the suspicion that his wife is cheating on him. And although he started the group, Herzl struggles the most--with his mother and girlfriend. His girlfriend (from the diet group) is not allowed to practice sumo (sumo is simply not for women, even though she's good at judo and could kick all of their abundant asses). So he tells her that if she can't do it, he won't either--he'd rather be with her. So now he has to practice sumo behind her back, despite the fact that she's already said her first two marriages ended because her husbands were liars. Meanwhile, his mother is driving him crazy in a typically Jewish way (Eat, eat! You're too fat, why can't you stick to a diet?). Put all this together, and you get a beautiful, hilarious movie that was just nominated for a boatload of Ofirs (Israeli Oscars), has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for distribution (no date yet), and has been nabbed by the Weinsteins (both pretty chubby themselves) for the American remake rights (which worries me, but good for them).

Well, after that there couldn't be a more different movie for the late show than SKIN. Set in the Netherlands in 1979, it's the story of Frankie, a free-wheeling, fast living Jewish youth, who's best friend is a black kid with whom he listens to punk music mocking skinheads. But he's got some family problems. Specifically a father who routinely runs away because of Holocaust flashbacks (he thinks he's fleeing the concentration camp) and a mother slowly dying of cancer. As his mother wastes away, so does his fragile psyche. Eventually he shaves his long hair is sympathy as she's losing hers. This symbolically starts him down a path to becoming a skinhead, and eventually to prison for a horrible racist crime. We know his life won't end well, as it's told through a parallel narrative jumping back and forth between before and after he's in prison. The movie actually opens with him being put in prison. This skinny, shaved kid is stripped by the authorities and forced into the shower (there's even a gas-like hiss before the water comes out). Were it not for a skull-and-swastika tattoo, that opening scene would have a very different meaning. As it is, it says all you can say about becoming the victim of your own hate.

You know, I started by saying the two films tonight were as different as can be, and they are. But there is a thread of similarity, which could be the theme of festival: self-hatred, and either conquering it or being destroyed by it.

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