Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jason goes to Jewfest--Day 2

SFJFF always takes off Friday night (so you can enjoy sabbath dinner with your loved ones) and then Saturday early I was volunteering at Niles, but I was back up for the final two shows. Here we go:

We start with comedy about fitting in, starting with the animated short DON'T TELL SANTA YOU'RE JEWISH. A little girl, at the urging of her mother, goes to the mall to get a present from Santa. "But what if he knows I'm Jewish?" "Don't be meshugana, just don't tell him!" Santa understands.

That led in to the sexy French feature comedy, THE NAMES OF LOVE. Arthur Martin is the most popular name in France, but the particular Arthur Martin is a secular half-Jew, going about his work inspecting dead waterfowl for signs of disease outbreaks. His family doesn't talk about the holocaust, or anything that could possibly bring the conversation to his grandparents, who died in Auschwitz. He feels so guilty that when he finds out in school that saying his grandparents were deported Jews gets him female attention, he quickly backpedals and claims it was just a joke.

On the opposite end is Baya Benhamoud--the only woman with that name in all of France. The daughter of an Algerian immigrant and an ultra-left-wing mother. She takes pride in her Arab roots, although with her light skin and first name that's constantly mistaken for Brazilian, she never really faced racism. In good liberal French fashion, she bemoans that she was never subjected to war or racism, but luckily she was molested by her piano teacher. Now she seduces right-wing fascists (in her world, there are a lot of fascists) and converts them. And she has her sights on Arthur.

The thing is, Arthur is actually left-wing, even voting socialist. So instead of a quick fuck and conversion, they actually hit it off and start a relationship. A relationship fraught with hilarious minefields once they actually meet each others parents. While it's definitely a comedy (and a very funny one at that), it also makes some astute points about politics, pop culture, and the lives of mixed couples. And I was particularly struck by the idea--when they have dinner with his parents and Baya trips over references to trains, and camp, and the oven--that obsessing over the past is almost as bad as forgetting it. It provides as much food for thought as food for the funny bone.

And then the late show showcased a good Jewish boy gone bad in Chicago,POLISH BAR. Reuben Horowitz (Vincent Piazza from "Boardwalk Empire") has a dream, a dream of music. And he's got the skills, although so far he can only show them in a skeezy strip club (run by Meatloaf). But during the day he works in his Uncle Sol's (Judd Hirsch) jewelry shop. Uncle Sol is the family member who defends him when everyone else says he's no good. Well, Uncle Sol is wrong, as Reuben is dealing drugs and getting into all kinds of trouble taking shortcuts to raise money to get his music career off the ground (seems like he'll do anything other than just working on his music and earning his chops). The movie takes us in many places--family (including his mom's new mensch of a boyfriend, played by Richard Belzer), sex, drugs, religion (his orthodox cousin Moises moves in with him for a while), and the stereotype of the good Jewish boy (he could never be a gangster). But Reuben isn't dumb--he knows a bit of Talmud, and he knows music theory. In fact, his flaw is that he thinks he's smart enough to fool everyone. And for a while, he does (all but his cousin Moises, that is). But you know it has to come crashing down, and when it does he'll have precious few friends to help him piece it back together. Very well done, real, raw story anchored by stellar performances from the whole cast.

Total Running Time: 202 minutes
My Total Minutes: 244,282

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