The Arty Semite

Cannes Diary #5: Prizes and Farewells

By A.J. Goldmann

Getty Images

After 10 cinema-soaked days, the International Jury, headed by Jane Campion, dished out the prizes of the 67th Cannes Film Festival.

There were no multiple winners in a year when there were clearly not enough awards to go around. In fact, some have taken issue with the jury’s decision to award the Jury Prize to both Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” and Jean-Luc Godard’s 3D “Adieu au Langage.” Splitting the prize between the youngest and oldest directors in competition (Dolan is 25; Godard is 83), the jury was rectifying a long-standing oversight (Godard has never won a prize before at Cannes) and endorsing the work of a passionate and original new director. You would think that Dolan would be deeply honored to keep company with Godard, but apparently his tears onstage accepting the award masked his fury at not getting the Palme d’Or (the film that gets the Palme can’t score a win in an other category).

Russian filmmaker Alexei Serebriakov’s “Leviathan,” one of the final films to screen in competition, was something of a surprise winner for the screenplay award. A modern retelling of the Book of Job, it is a grim tale of government corruption and religious hypocrisy that is all the timelier in light of recent events in the expanding republic of Putinistan.

It came as little surprise when Timothy Spall was announced as Best Actor for his astonishing work in Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner.” That Spall beat out Steve Carell –the other critical favorite — made sense in light of the directing award, which went to Bennett Miller, who became the first Jewish director to win the prize since Julian Schnabel in 2007 for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” His “Foxcatcher,” which was one of the stronger competition entries this year, is already being mentioned as a contender for next year’s Oscars. Julianne Moore, the Best Actress-winner for her Norma Desmond turn in David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars,” was the only winner aside from Godard — who didn’t even bother showing up for his screening or press conference last week — not on hand to accept.

Read more


Cannes Diary #4: Strong Women On Screen

By A.J. Goldmann

Of the themes to emerge during this year’s Cannes Film Festival — incest, dogs, neglected children — uncommonly strong women have been the most pervasive. This seems appropriate in a year where the jury is presided over by Jane Campion, the only woman to win a Palme d’Or in the history of the festival. As the festival opened, Campion accused the film industry of “inherent sexism.” Thierry Fremeux, who runs the festival, has by way of a rebuttal pointed out that one-fifth of the films in the official selection are by female directors, including two in competition.

But beyond films from the likes of Asia Argento, Alice Rohrwacher and Naomi Kawase, a surprising number of films this year are literally anchored by their tough, often-complex female protagonists. This holds true for Ronit Elkabetz as an Israeli woman fighting for a divorce in a rabbinical court in “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” as well as Marion Cotillard as a working-class mother struggling to keep her job in “Two Days, One Night,” and Bérénice Bejo as an aid-worker trying to convince the UN of the humanitarian crisis in Chechnya during the Second Chechen War. By way of contrast, there haven’t been many memorable male characters or performances on offer — Timothy Spall and Steve Carell being notable exceptions.

Read more


Cannes Diary #3: Cronenberg, Carell and the Infamous Strauss-Kahn

By A.J. Goldmann

There was a lot of buzz — and not necessarily the good kind of buzz — surrounding bad-boy director Abel Ferrera’s “Welcome to New York,” his fictionalized account of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, which was screened on Saturday for press and market ahead of its VOD-only release in France (a theatrical rollout is planned for America later in the year). I was busy seeing the enigmatic and dreamy Italian competition entry “Le Meraviglie” (“The Wonders”) by Alice Rohrwacher during the screening and wild after-party, which reportedly vied with the film for obscenity and grotesquery. In the wake of the film’s release, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer said that the former International Monetary Fund chief planned to sue Ferrara for defamation. (DSK is reportedly “heartbroken and terrified” and refuses to see the film.)

After a long, party-studded weekend on the Croisette, David Cronenberg’s celebrity satire “Maps to the Stars” debuted in competition. With an all-star cast (Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson), the Canadian auteur’s first film shot in L.A. works best when savaging Hollywood culture, name-dropping (“Harvey’s producing and you know Harvey. Harvey is Harvey,” is one of the gems in Bruce Wagner’s screenplay), and mocking the lifestyles of the rich and weird. But the film is so busy making fun of child stars, personal shoppers, the vanity of aging actresses — shades of Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” — and quack New Age therapists that it doesn’t bother to stop and think what it’s all about. There is also a central incest drama to the film, which creates an accidental resonance with Keren Yedaya’s “That Lovely Girl,” which was profiled in an earlier festival post.

Read more


Cannes Diary #2: 'Self Made' and Divorce Drama From Israel

By A.J. Goldmann

There’s a very palpable “more is more” philosophy at Cannes: more glamor, more stars, more wasteful opulence. But while the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford and Robert Pattinson have graced the red carpet in the past 24 hours, my attention has been riveted by a couple of intimate Israeli films that premiered in the festival’s independently organized sidebar programs, Semaine de la Critique and Director’s Fortnight.

Shira Geffen, whose film “Jellyfish,” a collaboration with her husband, the writer Etgar Keret, won the Camera d’Or in 2007, was back at the festival with the mesmerizing, funny and often unsettling “Self Made” (“Boreg”), which is screening in Semaine de la Critique. Going solo as director, Geffen, who also wrote the screenplay, gives us a double-portrait of an avant-garde Tel Aviv performance artist and a troubled Palestinian woman hermetically sealed inside themselves. The title refers to, among other things, an Ikea-like furniture company that Michal (the tragicomic and often panic-stricken Sarah Adler) calls after her side of the bed crashes to the floor one morning, giving her a nasty bruise (as well as possible amnesia) and setting off the often-hilarious chain of events that will eventually result in her trading places with the Palestinian Nadine (Samira Saraya, very stubborn and stoic) at a checkpoint.

Over the course of a single day, Michal is beset by a stream of unwelcome visitors, including a pushy and sanctimonious German TV crew who want to interview her about her upcoming work at the Biennial (hint: she’s undergone very invasive surgery to produce it) to a seafood chef who plays the violin in order to soften up the crabs. While Michal’s world is turned on its head, Nadine gets fired from her job in the DIY furniture factory that delivers Michal’s new bed, repeatedly gets into trouble at the Israeli checkpoint and is set up on a date with a neighbor’s son who, after sleeping with her, tries to recruit her as a suicide bomber.

Read more


Cannes Diary #1: 'Mr. Turner' and Israeli Incest

By A.J. Goldmann

Amid clear sunny skies and swaying palm trees, the competition of the Cannes Film Festival opened on a strong note with British auteur Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner,” about the great painter J.M.W. Turner. Leigh is one of the six Jewish directors who have films in the official competition section of the festival (others include the Canadian surrealist David Cronenberg and “The Artist”’s Michel Hazanavicius, whom we hope to profile later in the festival).

A beautifully sensitive period piece constructed with substance and subtlety, “Mr. Turner” is Leigh’s fourth venture to make it to the Croisette (his family drama “Secrets and Lies” won the “Palme d’Or,” the festival’s top prize, in 1996). It succeeds where main other biopics of painters have failed, both as an incisive character portrait and an engaging and finely wrought piece of filmmaking.

Thanks to brilliant cinematography and lighting, “Mr. Turner” achieves truly painterly effects. Much credit for the film’s success is due to Timothy Spall — one of Leigh’s regular actors — an absolutely overwhelming presence in the title role. Far from a hagiography, the film delivers a warts-and-all-portrait of the artist as an old man and Spall plays him with both sensitivity and oafishness.

Read more


Switched Identities in Israeli Film at Cannes

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Moviegoers who were moved by the surrealism and symbolism in Shira Geffen’s 2007 film “Jellyfish” (Meduzot in Hebrew) will be pleased to know that her equally fantastical new film, “Self Made,” debuts at Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival this month.

“Self Made” tells the story of two women — one Israeli and one Palestinian — who become trapped within one another’s worlds and find themselves living on the opposite side of the security fence from the one they usually live on. Michal (Sarah Adler), a famous Israeli artist in Jerusalem, falls off her bed one morning and loses her memory. She complains to the furniture company that made her bed, leading to the dismissal of Palestinian factory worker Nadine (Samira Saraya). Later, the two women fatefully meet at a border checkpoint, where, due to a soldier’s error, Michal is sent to a Palestinian refugee camp and Nadine to Michal’s home in Jerusalem.

“The swap leads them to discover their hidden desires, inaccessible in their previous lives,” states the film’s promotional material.

Geffen recently explained to Variety why it took her five years to make “Self Made” despite the success of her previous film (“Jellyfish” won the Camera d’Or and was an official selection at several festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival).

Read more


There Will Be No Second 'Lebowski'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Jeff Bridges, with his new “The Dude and the Zen Master” book, may be having a hard time saying goodbye to his “Big Lebowski” alter-ego.

But that is not at all the case with the Coen brothers, who recently said quite definitively that there would be no sequel to the 1998 cult classic, whose popularity continues to grow.

“No, I don’t see it in our future,” said Ethan Coen at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival last Monday. “I don’t think it’s going to happen … I just don’t like sequels,” added his brother Joel.

While Bridges and co-star John Turturro are game for a reprise of their roles in the film, the Coens are more focused on current and future projects — none of which are likely to involve hippie bowlers.

The filmmakers were in Cannes promoting their new film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a melancholy comedy about a struggling folk singer in 1961 New York. John Goodman, whose “Big Lebowski” character Walter Sobchak will not be reminding us again that he doesn’t roll on Shabbos, has a role in the film.

“Big Lebowski” fans will surely not be pleased with the Coen brothers’ decision, but it looks as though they will just have to abide.

Read more


Coen Brothers' Latest Draws Raves at Cannes

By Forward Staff

I have a lot of faith in the Coen brothers. But when I heard that their next film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” was going to be about a singer-songwriter in Greenwhich Village during the folk revival, I was a little worried. If there’s a period ripe for nostalgia among beardy folk music types, this one is it, and I didn’t want to see the Coen’s talent squandered on an excursion into hippy-folky sentimentality.

Fortunately, early reports on the film from Cannes, where it premiered May 19, indicate that such is not the case. According to CBS, the movie was “met rapturously” and talk has already begun of Oscar nominations. Writing in Indiewire, Glenn Heath Jr. describes the film like this:

Set in early 1960s Greenwich Village at the dawn of the folk music revolution, the film opens with the bearded Llewyn performing in medium shot in a smoky beatnik bar. From the outset, his raspy musical voice is honest and vulnerable, two traits that seem to vanish the second he must deal with the real world in any discernible way. Even more interesting, the audience in the film doesn’t quite jive with Llewyn’s brooding and inclusive musical persona. The crowd’s lethargic faces look on in jest, proving the lack of connection between performer and patron. Much of Inside Llewyn Davis is about the often-futile attempts at translating original artistry into mass emotional consumption.

Read more


Palestinian Film Breaks New Ground at Cannes

By Belinda Goldsmith (Reuters)

A tragic love story between two Palestinians living under Israeli occupation received a standing ovation at the Cannes film festival on Monday and broke new ground as the first film fully funded by the Palestinian cinema industry.

“Omar” by director Hany Abu-Assad, known for the 2005 award-winning film “Paradise Now,” is a political thriller interwoven with a story of trust and betrayal as two lovers are torn apart by Israel’s secret police and Palestinian freedom fighters.

Omar, a baker, is in love with Nadia, the sister of his friend Tarek who is a Palestinian fighter on the West Bank.

Arrested and humiliated by the Israeli military police, Omar, played by Adam Bakri, joins Tarek and colleague, Amjad, in a mission to kill an Israeli soldier and ends up imprisoned, tortured, and under pressure to betray his friends.

Earmarked a traitor, he starts to doubt Nadia’s fidelity, especially as she is also pursued by Amjad, and his life falls apart as he is pursued across the ravaged Palestinian landscape.

Abu-Assad said he was delighted by the reception his film received at Cannes, where picky critics are known to boo films that do not meet their expectations, and he hoped the festival would help gain international attention for “Omar.”

Read more


'Gatsby' Brings Swagger Back to Cannes

By Belinda Goldsmith (Reuters)

The Cannes film festival may get some of its swagger back on Wednesday when it opens with Baz Luhrmann’s lavish 3D period drama “The Great Gatsby,” an opportunity to shed the caution of recent years overshadowed by broader economic gloom.

Leonardo DiCaprio and his British co-star Carey Mulligan will walk the red carpet on the French Riviera to promote the $105 million adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel which has already opened in North America.

Over 12 days of world premieres, champagne parties and sun-and-celebrity worship, Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Ryan Gosling, Emma Watson and Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchanare among the big names in town promoting their latest pictures.

Festival veterans are eager to see if Luhrmann can top his opening in 2001, viewed as the last truly extravagant launch on the palm-lined Croisette waterfront, when he filled the red carpet with can-can girls to promote his movie “Moulin Rouge.”

“For a few years the mood at Cannes was a bit more subdued but the economy has picked up a bit and business is good so people are expecting a big opening,” said Wendy Mitchell, editor of trade magazine Screen International.

“The Great Gatsby” was seen as a surprise choice for Cannes, given that the prestigious opening slot is traditionally reserved for a world premiere and all the media buzz and excitement that can bring.

Read more


First Peek at Ari Folman's New Film

By Forward Staff

The first trailer is out for Ari Folman’s new film, “The Congress” (see here for background), and though I hate to say it, it’s a little disappointing.

I’ve been looking forward to this movie for ages, mainly because it seems like the perfect creative pairing.

Folman, in his 2008 film “Waltz With Bashir,” used groundbreaking animation techniques to create a movie of impressive psychological depth and intensity.

“The Futurological Congress,” the book by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem on which “The Congress” is based, is a hallucinatory look at a possible future in which humanity has drugged itself with psychoactive chemicals in order to make an overpopulated, resource-exhausted world bearable to live in.

I was hoping that combining Folman’s animated storytelling technique with Lem’s multi-layered dystopia would produce something like Satoshi Kon’s “Paprika,” another animated exploration of the mind’s slipperiest states.

Read more


New Ari Folman Film Will Screen at Cannes After All

By Forward Staff

Although Ari Folman’s “The Congress” didn’t make the main competition at the upcoming Cannes International Film Festival, it will open the Director’s Fortnight sidebar, the festival announced yesterday. The film is reported to be part-animated and part-live action, and stars Robin Wright, Paul Giamatti, Jon Hamm and Harvey Keitel, among others.

Folman, an Israeli filmmaker, is best-known for his Oscar-nominated 2008 film “Waltz With Bashir.” The new movie is based on “The Futurological Congress,” a satirical science fiction novel by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem. In the novel, Lem’s hero Ijon Tichy travels to the Eighth Futurolgical Congress in Costa Ricato to discuss the overpopulation of Earth, among other ills. During the Congress a guerilla insurrection is put down with the use of new psychotropic chemical weapons, a foreshadowing of things to come.

According to early descriptions, Folman’s adaptation seems to have little to do with the original storyline. Deadline.com reports that Wright plays an actress who agrees to be digitized and turned into a virtual figure by a Hollywood movie studio, retaining no rights to her likeness. Although that plot is absent from Lem’s novel, I’m curious to see what Folman does with Lem’s surreal narrative and satirical themes. Based on his track record, I think it’ll be interesting.

Read more


Coen Brothers, Roman Polanski Will Compete at Cannes

By Forward Staff

The Cannes International Film Festival announced the lineup for its main competition today, and the film I was hoping for most isn’t there.

Still, there are movies to look forward to. Chief among them is “Inside Llewyn Davis,” by Joel and Ethan Coen, about a Bob Dylan-esque Greenwich Village singer-songwriter in the 1960s, which is supposed to be loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s memoir, “The Mayor of MacDougal Street.” And Roman Polanski’s “Venus in Fur” will be competing, based on David Ives’s Tony Award-winning play of the same name.

What won’t be screening is “The Congress,” a part-animated, part-live action film by Israeli director Ari Folman. That’s the same Ari Folman who made the spectacular “Waltz With Bashir” in 2008, which did premiere at Cannes and which went on to be nominated for an Oscar as the Best Foreign Language Film.

“The Congress” is supposed to be based on “The Futurological Congress,” by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, though plot synopses floating around the Internet make it sound totally different. If it’s anything like the spirit of the book, however, it should be phenomenal. We’ll just have to keep our eyes on Venice, Toronto and Berlin.

Watch the trailer for ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’:

Read more


‘Condom Lead’ Will Be First Palestinian Short at Cannes

By Forward Staff

The Cannes International Film Festival announced its selections today for the short films competition at the 2013 festival in May. Although no Israeli films made the cut, a Palestinian short titled “Condom Lead” by directors Mohammed and Ahmad Abou Nasser (who are identified elsewhere as Tarazan and Arab) will be one of the nine competitors, which were culled from 3,500 entries from 132 countries.

According to the official synopsis, the film takes place in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead of 2008 and 2009, when “sex, perhaps the most essential mode of human connection and communication, was universally jettisoned for more pressing concerns.” It’s tagline is “a dream of the hope for intimacy and love in a brutal, divisive world.”

The film will be the first Palestinian short in competition at Cannes, though Palestinian movies have competed in other categories, including “Wedding in Galilee” (1987) which won the International Critics Prize, and “Divine Intervention” (2002) which won the Jury Prize and was nominated for the Palm d’Or.

Watch the trailer for ‘Condom Lead’:

Read more


Steven Spielberg To Head Cannes Jury

By Reuters

Getty Images

U.S. director Steven Spielberg will preside over the 2013 Cannes film festival jury in May, organisers said on Thursday, an A-list casting that adds Hollywood firepower to the high-brow international festival.

Spielberg, whose presidential drama “Lincoln” took home two Oscars at Sunday’s Academy Awards, will succeed Italian director and actor Nanni Moretti, who helmed the jury for Cannes’ 65th anniversary last year.

The 12-day festival, which takes place on the Cote d’Azur in the south of France, is a major showplace for new movies from around the world that attracts top and emerging screen writers, deal-makers and hundreds of film critics.

Spielberg’s blockbuster film E.T. screened as a world premiere at Cannes in 1982, and festival President Gilles Jacob called the respected director a “regular” at the prestigious film festival.

Read more


Out and About: Israeli Music for Syrian Protestors; The Shame of Playing Shylock

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images
Patrick Stewart will play Shylock in a new production by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
  • The Independent takes a look at Habonim, the Socialist Zionist youth group that was once home to Mike Leigh, David Baddiel and Sacha Baron Cohen.

  • The Brooklyn Rail revisits the work of Russian Jewish filmmaker Dziga Vertov, on the occasion of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.

  • Israeli singer Amir Benayoun (profiled in the Forward here) has recorded a CD in Arabic that has been passed on to Syrian protestors.

  • The shame of Shylock: Patrick Stewart, Anthony Sher and others tell what it’s like to play Shakespeare’s most infamous role.

Read more



Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.