Only Human

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This trials-of-young-love romantic comedy carries the light punch of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (the original one) in its racial investigations. But its humorous delivery is more in line with Meet the Fokkers.

This time around in the eternally adaptable plot – kid falls in love with kid who doesn't meet parental approval – it's the lovely, sweet and Jewish Leni (Marián Aguilera) who brings her solid, intelligent and Palestinian fiance, Rafi (Guillermo Toledo), home to Madrid. Her family is liberal, Leni assures him, even though she's yet to drop the bomb. Leni's easygoing nature charms us as she introduces Rafi to all the members of her family: martyr mom, settler-spirited brother, dotty grandfather (who's called "dudu"), slutty sister and bratty niece.

Rafi tries his best, but weird things start to happen. The ball begins rolling when a frozen plastic container of soup falls out of an apartment window, which is hardly a criminal act, but developing circumstances suggest otherwise. The ensuing drama exposes us to a mass of family dysfunction – albeit a very human one. The dialogue flows naturally (even when filtered through subtitles) as the different characters reveal their dynamics. Most of all, directors Dominic Harari and Teresa De Pelegri deserve a big thanks for not taking the gentle and familiar humor of their story way over the top. They picked the right name for their film.
(11 a.m. Sunday at Enzian)

— Lindy T. Shepherd



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A rare glimpse into Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community, the morality drama Ushpizin sets forth the role of ritual in an environment that couldn't be better suited to the screen. As the harvest festival of Sukkot approaches, true believers turn their courtyards into a picturesque shantytown of temporary lodgings, waiting for the arrival of "holy guests" to bless their homes via shared worship. Poor but pious Moshe (Shuli Rand, who also wrote the script) does all that's possible for he and his wife to participate –including accepting a sukkah (or guest house) obtained under mysterious circumstances. As a reward, the Lord sends them two surly guests – old friends of Moshe's – who try the couple's patience with awful behavior and endless demands. Thanks, God.

Unprecedented cooperation between director Gidi Dar and Jerusalem's Hasidim made the film not only possible but authentic in its every fascinating detail. Yet the movie's best asset remains its story, a tale of mounting complications that would be right at home in the Old Testament, on the classic American stage or anywhere else that characters fixate on simple but crucial desires while everything else in their lives threatens to collapse. Some viewers may be put off by the movie's ultimately sunny outlook – after Dachau, arguing that any Jew's faith can be rewarded in this world is a risky business. Then again, only a schlemiel looks a gift fable in the mouth.
(1:30 p.m. Sunday at Enzian)

— Steve Schneider

Go for Zucker!

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The German press is heralding Dani Levy's Go for Zucker! as the first film since World War II to dare tell a Jewish joke – and patting its citizenry on the back for laughing. It may be a healing experience for Jerry, but by U.S. standards, it's just another formulaic family comedy. The same team that produced Good Bye, Lenin and Run Lola Run now plagiarizes from itself, revisiting the cartoonish camera work of the latter film and the nostalgia for East Germany seen in the former (no longer quite so daring a stance).

The story turns on a pair of brothers who haven't seen each other since the Wall went up; their mutual antipathy meant that didn't change when it came down. After their mother dies, they are horrified to find that her will stipulates that they must reconcile. The usual complications ensue: hidden debts, threatened divorce, secret identities; the film shimmies along, navigating plot points deftly and looking great while it does. But every "surprising twist" is telegraphed far in advance and pays off predictably every time.

The redeeming miracle is the skill with which it's all enacted. As the "lovable loser" (ugh) Jackie Zucker, the Dangerfield-esque Henry Hübchen bounces from pool-hall brawl to bordello bar pugnaciously but with a certain soulful dignity; Hannelore Elsner is wonderful as his rumpled, ambivalent wife. Playing Jackie's loyal friend, Lisa, Renate Krößner pulls off a mixture of glamorous and pragmatic that seems the essence of the successful madam. The characters are such clichés that it's a shock to find they've captured your affection in the end.
(4:30 p.m. Monday at Enzian)

— Jessica Bryce Young


Protocols of Zion

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Even with Iran calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, people the world over continue to assert that anti-Semitism is either no big deal or doesn't exist. In this provocative documentary, filmmaker Marc Levin (Slam) finds it alive and well. And he ascribes much of its malign allure to The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, the 18th-century text that purports to detail a Jewish conspiracy to rule the planet.

The notorious fakery, Levin tells us, is still in wide dissemination, so he takes to the streets to find out what sway it holds with human beings from all walks of life. He conducts interviews – impromptu and otherwise – with Palestinian-Americans, neo-Nazis, rabbis, Christian fundamentalists and others – each of whom has a distinct (and sometimes chilling) assessment of Jewish influence.

Debunking the tenets of the Protocols would be work enough for a full-length doc, but Levin doesn't stop there, tracking anti-Semitism through the ages and working in biographical details about his own family. It's a clear case of a filmmaker trying to do too much, though the sound bites he uncovers are wickedly illuminating – as when a young New Yorker muses that Mayor Giuliani must have been Jewish on the basis of his surname alone. (Sound it out.) Levin can't help but chuckle at such moments; profoundly illogical bigotry repulses and amuses him at the same time. His willingness to yuk it up with the enemy suggests that a sense of humor may be one of the modern Jew's most effective weapons. Just don't expect it to work on Iran.
(7 p.m. Monday at Enzian)

— Steve Schneider

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