WATCH: Winnipeg Jewish Film Festival has something for everyone
Posted by Alison Gillmor, CBC Reviewer | Friday April 27, 2012
The films come from Germany and Austria, the United States and Canada, Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, and Israel. Dramas and documentaries, they look at love and family, history and war, work and school.
Here's the lowdown on three of the featured films:
1. "Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low:" Footnote, a bitingly funny and deeply sad Israeli drama (in Hebrew with subtitles), is set in the feuding Talmudic Studies department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In a painful twist, the two biggest feuders are father and son.Eliezer Shkolnik is old school -- a reclusive manuscript researcher who has spent decades hunting down small discrepancies in Jewish religious texts.
His son, Uriel Shkolnik, is a populist hotshot who makes TV appearances and writes bestselling books about sexy topics like marriage and Judaism.
The academic setting can be arcane, but the father-son issues are universal, and deft writer-director Joseph Cedar pulls off a precise, deadpan tone that can turn from dark absurdist comedy to harrowing family tragedy in a blink. (Fans of the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man will probably like it. People who hated A Serious Man should probably give Footnote a miss.)
2. Yes, it's about a cemetery. No, it's not depressing: In Heaven Underground is a revelatory German documentary (in German, Russian, English and Hebrew, with subtitles) about the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery in Berlin. The largest active Jewish cemetery in Europe, it's a huge green forest in the middle of the city, home to 115,000 graves and a wealth of historical documentation.
We get to know this extraordinary place through administrators, groundskeepers, historians and visitors, and gradually their stories build up a picture of German Jews from the 19th century to World War One, to the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, to the Cold War and a divided Germany.
It's an incredible sweep of history, but it's grounded in small human stories. And sure, they're stories about death, but that means they're about time and memory, family and connection. In other words, they're also about life, which means that this beautifully shot film ends up feeling affirming and uplifting.
3. A "small personal film" takes a sudden turn: Israeli filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger originally intended to make a "small personal film" about a common experience: When his 98-year-old grandmother died, the family gathered in her crowded Tel Aviv apartment to go through her things.
The Flat (in Hebrew and German, with subtitles) moves into unexpected and troubling territory, however, when Goldfinger comes across Nazi propaganda papers in his grandmother's closet.
The papers chronicle the trip of a high-ranking, aristocratic Nazi official, who came with his wife to Palestine in 1933 to investigate the Zionist experiment and was escorted by a Jewish couple. That couple turns out to be Goldfinger's grandparents, and as he follows up this lead, he finds that the two families were bound together in a way that nobody in the filmmaker's family suspected.
Both families, Jewish and German, covered up the truth of their war years, and while their reasons were different, the psychological mechanisms of suppression and denial were very similar.
Alison Gillmor (CBC)
The Flat won awards in Israel and Germany, and one can see why: With equal amounts determination and delicacy, Goldfinger explores the emotional costs of hidden histories and family secrets.