Three years past its bar mitzvah age, the Enzian’s Central Florida Jewish Film Festival is all grown up and turning sweet 16. And in keeping with that maturity, the event, which runs November 15-17, is offering more movies than ever: five features and one short, all of which are worthy of a watch.
“This is the most films (six) we’ve ever featured in the festival,” says Enzian programming director Matthew Curtis. “We also have a ‘hot’ film currently in theatrical release nationally (The Green Prince) and the East Coast premiere of Uruguay’s official submission for this year’s best foreign-language film Academy Award (Mr. Kaplan). With so many of the titles from 2014, this is probably the newest group of films we’ve ever shown.”
In addition to cinematic selections that reflect Jewish life and culture across the globe, the festival will again offer Jewish food, including spinach-and-cheese knishes; latkes with applesauce and sour cream; beef-and-cabbage holishkes; tzimmes filled with beef, carrots and sweet potatoes; and Hebrew national hot dogs.
Beginning at the Orlando Science Center just after sundown on Saturday (to honor the Sabbath), the festival, which is co-presented by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando, continues on Sunday and Monday at the Enzian Theater in Maitland, with the food offerings available only inside the Enzian.
A single film costs $11 while the Mensch pass (all films plus early-entrance privileges) costs $70. For more information, visit http://enzian.org/festivals/jewish_film_festival.
“A good sting is based on distraction, like the magician who cuts his wife in half,” we’re told in Kidon (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Orlando Science Center). “The smoke, the half-naked girl, the music, the big gestures – it’s all designed to keep you from asking the real questions.”
Those words apply in spades to this suspenseful dramedy, as nothing is what it seems. Based on the real 2010 assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai by what is assumed to be an elite, secretive Israeli killing unit named the Kidon, director Emmanuel Naccache’s Hebrew-French film reimagines the murder as an act perpetrated not by professionals but by amusing amateurs who may have had an ulterior motive.
If you’re a fan of the caper genre or follow Israeli politics, you will get a kick out of Kidon. If you’re not, you may lose patience with the endless and seemingly mundane details, not to mention the contrived, pretentious score and scene transitions. But this is a slow-burner worth sticking around for, as the stunning, if almost too clever, twist ending mostly justifies the buildup.
Anyone with a trace of Jewish blood – including this reviewer – has probably imagined him- or herself as Simon Wiesenthal, that most daring of Nazi hunters, helping to dole out long-delayed punishment to the monsters of World War II. But if you’re Jacob Kaplan, a 76-year-old Polish Jew who fled Europe during the war and has lived an unremarkable life in Uruguay ever since, that imagining has become an obsession.
In Mr. Kaplan (11 a.m. Sunday, Enzian), the title character – the wonderful Hector Noguera – hatches a plan to kidnap a local German he suspects is a Nazi, and he enlists a family friend and former policeman (Nestor Guzzini, in a surprisingly touching role) to help. Yet the scheme ultimately illuminates not the crimes of the supposed Nazi but the sadly unfulfilled lives of the two friends.
Writer-director Alvaro Brechner, in this Spanish-language movie set in 1997, masterfully balances drama, comedy and suspense to offer an emotional examination of both the better side of human nature and the “exceptional destiny” of Kaplan’s generation of European Jews. It’s the festival’s best film.
Anti-Semitism is sometimes characterized as a disease that can be permanently cured, but judging by the 2006 abduction and torture of Ilan Halimi in Paris and similar hate crimes, it’s more like a poisonous weed that must be continually uprooted.
That weed is the subject of the French-language 24 Days (1:30 p.m. Sunday, Enzian), which fictionalizes in painful detail the horrors that Halimi and his family suffered at the hands of bigoted kidnappers who ignorantly assumed that Jews make good targets “because they have money.” Based on the book by Halimi’s mother, Ruth (Zabou Breitman, in a strong performance), the film also exposes the ineptitude of the French police, who failed to treat the kidnapping as an anti-Semitic act.
Director Alexandre Arcady’s pacing is meant to heighten suspense, but the choppy structure, short scenes and hokey scene transitions sometimes build more frustration than tension. However, when Arcady stops rushing the plot and switches from crime drama to personal tragedy, 24 Days becomes emotionally moving and impactful – and especially relevant in light of the recent ISIS kidnappings.
“Russ & Daughters was the place. It had no equal,” says Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a frequent customer of the smoked-fish store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “When I eat the food, it makes me think of the best in the Jewish tradition.”
At just 54 minutes, director Julie Cohen’s documentary about the 100-year-old business, just like the mouth-watering lox and herring that the store serves, leaves you wanting more, in a good way. Told through unique interviews with celebrities, ordinary customers and two of the “daughters” themselves (now in their 90s), The Sturgeon Queens (4:30 p.m. Monday, Enzian), is funny, touching and instantly lovable – if more of an appetizer than a full meal.
Accompanying the feature is 70 Hester Street, a 10-minute documentary about Casimir Nozkowski’s relationship with an iconic 140-year-old building in the same neighborhood as Russ & Daughters. Nozkowski, who grew up in the building, directs and provides the amateurish narration but nevertheless instills in us the same love he felt for his home, which, owing to its previous status as a synagogue, is spectacularly steeped in the New York Jewish experience.
Being asked to violate your religious beliefs is tough enough. What if you are also asked to betray your family? That’s the dilemma Mosab Hassan Yousef faced when Israel’s intelligence agency, Shin Bet, recruited him to inform on his own father, Sheikh Hassan, the top Hamas leader in the West Bank. “Hamas was not just a movement to us,” Yousef says. “It was the family’s business. It was our identity. It was everything.”
Yet he did cooperate with Israel for more than 10 years, and The Green Prince (6:45 p.m. Monday, Enzian) is Nadav Schirman’s documentary film adaptation of Yousef’s memoir about that cooperation and his friendship with Israeli agent Gonen Ben Yitzhak, with whom he formed a rare “bond of truth.”
As astonishing as the story is, at its core it’s essentially just interviews with Yousef and Yitzhak, with some archival footage. So to add flashy intrigue, it relies too heavily on re-enactments that, though shot well and scored suspensefully, smell contrived. Flawed though it is, the film is a remarkable reminder that, according to Yitzhak, “if you want a good source, he needs to be with you, not against you.”
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