Israeli-born director Jonathan Gurfinkel’s first film is officially called “S#x Acts.” You can substitute an “I” for the asterisk, because the movie has six acts. Or you can put in an “E,” because there are numerous erotic scenes. But mostly it is an emotionally charged film about bullying that is both fascinating and depressing.
In “S#x Acts,” a young girl who has moved to a new school uses sex to win favor with the popular boys in her class, boys who, in turn, manipulate and abuse her.
Gurfinkel, 37, born and raised in Tel Aviv, spoke to the Forward about his film, out December 6 in New York and available on demand, about his famous father, and about the fact that there are no Hollywood endings in real life.
Curt Schleier: You were raised in the movie business, weren’t you?
Jonathan Gurfinkel: My father [David] is a very well known cinematographer, almost mythological in Israel. He shot a lot of films in the states for Canon [the defunct company owned by Israelis Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus], like “Rambo 3: Over the Top” with [Sylvester] Stallone and a lot of classic Israeli films. So I was kind of brought up on the set. The only film where I wasn’t on the set with him was one with John Cassavetes. He only finished about a quarter of it before Cassavetes fired him. Or he resigned. The facts aren’t certain. And I wasn’t there to see it.
So your career was bashert.
Nearly 50 years since his first student films, David Cronenberg is getting a pair of well-deserved tributes in his hometown of Toronto. For the Jewish-Canadian filmmaker, it’s been an unlikely ascent from genre outlaw to artistic heavyweight. And twinned exhibitions make the case that his intellectual and cultural significance extends far beyond his onscreen output.
The more elaborate of the two exhibitions, “Evolution,” provides a thrilling look at the Cronenberg’s work and process. The title of this dark, dazzling show — at the Bell Lightbox, home of the Toronto International Film Festival — fits perfectly. Cronenberg has evolved as a major figure in world cinema, from the brainy grad-school filmmaker in the late 1960s who explored pitch-black themes of paranoia and control to the mainstream-movie maker he’s become.
His work has evolved from the intellectual body horror of “Shivers” (1975) and “Rabid” (1976) to heady explorations of what it means to be human in “A Dangerous Method” (2011) and “Cosmopolis” (2011). And the world has evolved to catch up with his prescient mashups of humanity and technology in fleshy sci-fi like “Videodrome” (1983) and “eXistenZ” (1999).
With in-your-face video clips, eloquent wall texts, and props from his films — including the notorious gynaecological tools from “Dead Ringers” (1988) and an actual Mugwump from “Naked Lunch” (1991) — “Evolution” lays out an eloquent case for Cronenberg’s import as an artist and thinker.
It also manages to evoke the high-low thrills of his movies, which ground serious existential musings in razor-edged pulp. Seeing some of the effects and objects from films — like the gristle “guns” from “eXistenZ” — makes you realize all over again how radical some of Cronenberg’s visions have been.
Evan Rachel Wood stars with Shia LaBeouf in Fredrik Bond’s Tarrantino-esque thriller, “Charlie Countryman,” which opened November 15 in limited release. LaBeouf plays Charlie, whose dead mother appears and sends him to Bucharest. The griefstricken and unglued Charlie goes through a series of bizarre events leading him to Gabi (Wood), a mysterious Romanian he falls instantly in love with. The trouble is, as director Fredrik Bond put it, “Gabi is like playing with plutonium.” It is a dark and twisted, yet funny love story, in the brutal underworld of Bucharest.
As for her personal life, Wood, born to theatrical parents Ira David Wood and Sarah Lynn Moore, has been acting since she was 5 years old. On July 29, Wood and her husband, actor Jamie Bell, had their first child. The Arty Semite caught up with her on Wednesday in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.
Dorri Olds: Congratulations on being a mom. What do you like most about motherhood?
Evan Rachel Wood: Everything. It was my dream to be a mom so I’m loving it.
Is it hard getting back into the swing of work after having the baby?
Yeah, these last couple of days I’ve been having separation anxiety. I’m so used to having the baby right here [motions to her chest]. It’s strange. They become a part of you. I was lucky because I’d just done three films before I got pregnant so I was like, “I’m taking a break.”
What’s it like working with Shia LaBeouf?
Eytan Fox’s latest film, “Cupcakes,” (“Bananot” in Hebrew, meaning bananas) will receive its U.K. gala premiere when it closes the 17th UK Jewish Film Festival on November 17, in London. A feel-good musical comedy about love, life and friendship, the movie is a significant shift away from the award winning writer-director’s previous works such as “Yossi & Jagger,” “Walk on Water” and “Yossi.” Fox is known for addressing major themes such as the Holocaust, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and doomed love affairs — in particular gay relationships — but “Cupcakes” is markedly different. It oozes nostalgia for an Israel that had, according to Fox, a sense of community, when neighborhoods possessed an intimate character. It harks back to “the long gone days of innocence, the days you borrowed a cup of sugar from your neighbor and stayed for coffee,” says Keren, the film’s commentator. “Cupcakes” is wonderfully entertaining kitsch and is as deliciously saccharine as a film can get.
Set in Tel Aviv, the movie shows a group of neighbours who get together to watch Universong , a Eurovision-esque television song contest. The evening is an opportunity to get away from the stresses of their daily lives — Dana (Dana Ivgi) is a high-strung aide to a cabinet minister but at the same time tries to please her traditional father; Keren (Keren Berger), is a shy, awkward blogger with a lisp; Yael (Yael Bar-Zohar) is a former model who is unfulfilled by both her job as a corporate lawyer and her relationship with her boss; Efrat (Efrat Dor) is a singer-songwriter whose career is in a rut; Ofer (Ofer Shechter) is a nursery school teacher whose long term pin-up boyfriend is still in the closet and won’t come out publicly and Anat (Anat Waxman) runs a successful bakery but her marriage is falling apart. When the friends learn that Anat is upset because her husband has left her, they compose a song to cheer her up and “A Song for Anat” unexpectedly becomes Israel’s entry for the following year’s contest.
There is palpable onscreen chemistry between these six main characters and their obvious enjoyment makes for infectious viewing. All are stars from Israeli media and they play using their own names, as does Edouard Baer, the presenter of Universong. Actor Lior Ashkenazi also makes a guest appearance. But it is the expressive singing-dancing tutu-wearing Ofer Shechter who steals the show.
“Aftermath,” written and directed by Polish filmmaker Władysław Pasikowski, is everything you can ask of a movie and more. It is intelligent, thoughtful and involving, an experience that will generate conversations long after the last frame dissolves into nothingness.
It is also brave — brave of Pasikowski, brave of his actors, brave of his crew. “Aftermath” refers to what happened after World War II, when property and land stolen from Jewish families was not returned and where there was no proper accounting for the dead. It is brutal in its depiction of a nation where not much changed.
The movie takes place in 2001. Franek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop) returns to his small village in central Poland where he was raised, after living for two decades in the U.S. His return is prompted by the unexpected visit from Poland of his brother’s wife. She won’t say why she left him, so Franek goes home to find out.
He discovers that his brother, Józek (Maciej Stuhr), is shunned and vilified by the townspeople. No one, not Józek nor his neighbors, want to speak about it.
All a police officer tells Franek is that Józek was almost arrested for tearing up a road. Franek is perplexed. He visits the site, and all he sees is rocks. But he soon learns the truth.
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
The first words in the trailer for the new Yiddish-language film “The Pin” are “Ikh ken nit khapn dem otem” — “I can’t catch my breath.” The movie, currently playing in New York, takes place primarily in a barn in an unknown location during the Second World War, and the two main characters, Jacob (Grisha Pasternak) and Leah (Milda Gecaite), are two young Jews who fall in love while hiding from the Nazis. Due to a terrible fear of being buried alive, Leah makes Jacob promise that he will poke her body with a pin should she die, in order to make sure that she is really dead. Decades later, the same Jacob, volunteering as a shomer in a funeral home in Canada, notices that the body lying before him is Leah’s, the same woman he once loved and to whom he made that gut-wrenching promise.
Naomi Jaye, 40, the Canadian director and writer of the film, told the Forward that the script’s inspiration came from two sources. The first was the television-show “Six Feet Under,” which follows a family that runs a funeral-home, and which led Jaye to become “fascinated with death.” Jaye believes that this fascination led her to become interested in the mass-murder of Jews conducted by the Einsatzgruppen during World War II, which were characterized by open-air shootings followed by burials in hastily dug mass-graves.
The second inspiration was a story about her own grandmother, Leah Jaye. Like the Leah in the film, her grandmother was terrified of being buried alive and had asked her son, the director’s father, to poke her body with a pin to be certain of her death. “I was really interested in this act,” Jaye said, “because it is both an act of love and yet at the same time it’s a violent act. I became very interested in this, in how the two elements come together.”
Although Jaye had always planned on making her film in an Eastern-European language, she had never thought about making it in Yiddish. Initially she considered making the film in Russian or Lithuanian. “When I began, however, to look for funding for the film and was researching the topic it suddenly occurred to me that the two leads would be speaking to each other in Yiddish. It was like a light bulb turned on in my head.”
If Dan Fogelman were any hotter, he’d have planets revolving around him. Fogelman is the screenwriter behind such hits as “Cars” and “Tangled” and “Crazy Stupid Love.” He’s also creator and producer of ABC’s “The Neighbors,” the subversively intelligent and subversively Jewish comedy.
He’s also in post-production of his first directing effort, “Imagine,” a film starring Al Pacino as Danny Collins, a successful but aging musician.
Fogelman does aging well. November 1 marks the release of his latest effort, “Last Vegas.” It’s about childhood friends — they call themselves the Flatbush Four — now all of Medicare age, who decide to throw a party in Vegas when the bachelor in their group announces he’s getting married — to a woman in her 30s.
It stars Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert DeNiro and Kevin Kline. And while on the surface it might appear that the film targets seniors, at a recent screening filled with mostly young people, it has the entire audience laughing throughout. It will almost certainly be the comedy hit of the year.
Fogelman recently spoke to The Arty Semite about how his parents influenced his films, being the Hebrew School class clown and how his bar mitzvah screenplay started his career.
Curt Schleier: How did “Last Vegas” come about?
“A Costa-Gavras Film” atop a marquee or movie poster is the equivalent of the old Good Housekeeping magazine seal of approval: a guarantee that the movie will be well acted, intelligent and politically charged.
In “Capital,” the Greek-French director probably best known for “Z,” “State of Siege” and “Missing” doesn’t disappoint. Here he targets the international banking system, which not only has the wherewithal but also the will to tear down the world economy in its pursuit of still another penny of profit.
Costa-Gavras’s choice for the lead, Gad Elmaleh, is as interesting as the film. Elmaleh, 42, plays Marc Tourneil, new head of the Phenix Bank, who will do anything and step over anyone in pursuit of riches. What makes his selection unusual is that Gad, a Moroccan-born Jew, is a comedian. In fact, he’s known as the Jerry Seinfeld of France.
Elmaleh has mastered Moroccan Arabic, Hebrew, French and a passable English. While he occasionally reached for a word, he spoke to The Arty Semite about how he got the part, being directed by the likes of Costa-Gavras and Steven Spielberg, and the tradition of tolerance in Morocco.
Curt Schleier: You’re a comedian. You don’t seem like a logical choice for this part.
How much of our yearning for transcendence is actually a yearning for love?
The sublimation of desire takes many forms. Mystics longing for the divine, clearly, but more subtly, even those religious who aver no such emotional fire, but who nonetheless gain senses of connection from the observance of rituals. And it appears in poetry, in art, and in human relationships of many configurations.
“Kill Your Darlings,” the new film about a lesser-known episode in the life of poet Allen Ginsberg, is as painful an evocation of this confusion of desires, particularly when they are unconsummated. The film tells the story of Ginsberg’s first transformations from awkward, suburban Jewish teenager into the history-making Beat poet he would later become (a period also captured in Ginsberg’s journals, published as “The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice,” which I reviewed for this publication a few years ago).
There are only glimmers of Ginsberg’s poetic genius here, however. What’s foremost in him, as portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe, is longing. He yearns to break free, to challenge convention, to make a mark on history.
Or does he? “Kill Your Darlings” nails the ambiguity of Ginsberg’s longings, which may be more for the rebellious, beautiful Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) than for lofty goals of poetry and revolution. Carr is everything Ginsberg is not: rebellious, fearless, hip, and sexually vibrant. And gorgeous: DeHaan looks like Leonardo DiCaprio’s sexier little brother, and his waifish Carr is irresistible. (He also looks a lot like Ginsberg’s eventual lover, Peter Orlovsky.)
Carr is used to being the object of male affection, and much of the film revolves around his codependent relationship with David Kammerer, an older man who writes Carr’s college papers for him in exchange for sex. As the film reveals in the opening reel, Carr eventually kills Kammerer, under circumstances which are only gradually revealed. But Carr here is the villain; he exploits the affection of Kammerer and Ginsberg alike, and revels in rebelliousness while insulated from the consequences by his family’s wealth.
Nothing brings people together — or rips them apart — like zombies. In the recent Hollywood blockbuster “World War Z,” Israelis and Palestinians band together against swarming hordes of the undead. But this unlikely coalition is short lived. The noise of their joint celebration attracts thousands of flesh-eaters who hurl themselves over a massive security wall and proceed to devour everyone in sight.
This year, Israel unleashes two of its own zombie films, Eitan Gafny’s “Cannon Fodder” and Eitan Reuven’s “Another World.” Reuven’s film has just been completed, while Gafney’s has already garnered four awards at festivals around the world. These films were preceded by the short zombie comedy “Muralim” (“Poisoned”), made in 2011 by Didi Lubetzky. Is there some meaning behind this outbreak of Israeli zombie films, other than the worldwide popularity of the genre?
“World War Z” was largely dismissed by Arab press outlets, such as Al Jazeera, and Arab moviegoers, as “Zionist propaganda.” In that film, Israel is praised for its foresight for constructing a massive wall to keep zombies out. “World War Z” also depicts the Israeli army as a benevolent force that rescues Palestinians. Newspapers such as the Washington Times reported that many Arab filmgoers found these scenes false and insulting. Some believed the zombie-wall represented a covert justification for Israel’s separation barrier. There were even Israeli film critics, such as Chen Hadad for “Achbar ha’Ir” magazine, who took issue with the purely heroic portrayal of the Israeli army. Both sides found the Israeli-Palestinian festivities to be grossly unrealistic. However, these scenes may also represent wish-fulfillment, a genuine desire to see peace in the Middle East. The fact that this peace seems ridiculous to Israelis and Palestinians demonstrates feelings of hopelessness about the conflict.
National Geographic Entertainment’s cinematographically beautiful new 3D IMAX movie “Jerusalem” is closer to the heavenly Jerusalem than to the earthly one. But even devoid of contemporary political context, the film provides an informative and visually stunning introduction to the Old City of Jerusalem and its fundamental importance to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
For those unfamiliar with the Holy City, “Jerusalem” is a concise, clear and captivating primer. And for those of us who regularly follow the conflict-fueled news from the Israeli capital, it temporarily zooms us out and away from the daily grind, reminding us of why Jerusalem is and always has been considered by so many to be the center of the earth.
The different quarters of the Old City are introduced and represented by three young women: Revital Zacharie, a Jew; Farah Amouri, a Muslim; and Nadia Tadros, a Christian. Each woman shares a bit about her life, her family’s history in Jerusalem, and her religion’s enduring connection to the place. The filmmakers bolster the women’s personal narratives with scenes of the rituals and festivities of Passover, Easter and Ramadan as they are practiced in the Old City.
In the hands of a lesser writer and director, Hany Abu-Assad’s “Omar,” the story of a trio of young Palestinian friends caught up in a singular act of vengeance against the Israeli occupation, could have descended to the level of mere agit-prop. That would have left the film — which was recently selected as the Palestinian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and is screening October 11 and 12 at the New York Film Festival — appealing strictly to its natural audience: Palestinians and those who make common cause with a reflexive anti-Israel position. But in “Omar,” while using the Separation Wall as the core physical fact around which the drama unfolds, Abu-Assad has other human essentials on his agenda: the nature of love, friendship, trust and betrayal.
These passions play out in a story whose elements are deceptively simple: the title character, a handsome young Palestinian, regularly jumps the wall in order to visit Nadja, a high-school girl who is the sister of his best friend, Tarek. The latter, resolutely militant though unaffiliated with any political or terrorist group, enlists Omar and a third friend, the goofy Amjad, in a nighttime ambush of an Israeli military post. In the event, Amjad — a natural comedian who does a mean imitation of Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” — pulls the trigger to kill a single Israeli soldier. The three flee, but Omar is eventually tracked down and hauled off. At first, he undergoes “enhanced interrogation,” then he’s left to languish in jail until Israeli Agent Rami, armed with a recording in which Omar implicates himself, deftly negotiates the young Palestinian’s release if he will collaborate in bringing in Tarek. Rami clearly has his pulse on Omar and his circle, and he uses his information to leverage all he can from Omar.
Yet upon Omar’s release, and his return to his darling Nadja — a girl who, by age and custom, must be circumspect in her behavior — we see that Omar is open-hearted in his affections but otherwise reticent in revealing how it is that he has been so quickly released by the Israelis. He deflects such questions by answering that the authorities hadn’t sufficient evidence to hold him. Yet he finds himself under suspicion for collaboration by Tarek and, most painfully, by Nadja; under a pall of distrust and paranoia it becomes clear that someone in their circle has been double dealing. And Palestinians do not deal gently with their own collaborators, categorically regarded as traitors to the cause.
There is likely not an American of a certain age who does not remember where he was on November 22, 1963 — the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
That event is at the center of “Parkland,” the exciting new film from writer/director Peter Landesman. “Parkland” is the hospital where Kennedy was taken after being shot. The movie offers a different view of the incident, from the perspective of people surrounding the tragedy: the doctors and nurses at the hospital, an FBI agent who knew of Lee Harvey Oswald’s threats of violence, and even Abraham Zapruder, who famously filmed it.
For a first-time director with a limited (by Hollywood standards) $10 million budget, Landesman attracted an amazing cast, including Paul Giamatti, Jacki Weaver, Billy Bob Thornton and Marcia Gay Harden, among others. He spoke to The Arty Semite about how he got the job, what he discovered in his research and the different reactions he’s seen from older and younger audiences.
Curt Schleier: You’re only 48 years old — born two years before the tragedy. What did you know about it?
Peter Landesman: I was an investigative journalist for The New York Times, so you can say I was a student of history. I’m especially a student of history of the truth beneath the headlines, beneath the gloss. I’m always interested in the real personalities, the human element. Usually you end up reading about Kennedy, who is all warts. That’s uninteresting to me, as is the Camelot mythology. I don’t have time for that in the same way I don’t have time for the conspiracy theories.
We are living through a golden age of documentary film. Surely “The Square,” a riveting account of the Arab Spring as it played out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square between 2011 and 2013, argues in favor of such optimism. In something under two hours, director Jehane Noujaim’s film — which recently screened at the New York Film Festival — offers an intellectually and emotionally rich view of the philosophies and passions that moved ordinary Egyptian citizens to throw themselves into their country’s historical moment with an extraordinary level of commitment.
Noujaim, an Egyptian-American and Harvard graduate with a solid professional portfolio in documentary filmmaking, wends her way around and through the massive street demonstrations that made Cairo’s central traffic circle and public square the locus of protest, first against the 30-year tyrannical rule of Hosni Mubarak, and then against his democratically-elected replacement, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, whose one-year tenure was judged a betrayal of the democratic spirit which fed the popular street revolution in the first place.
“The Square” follows the lives of six relatively young Egyptians who each take up the revolutionary banner in those first protests calling for Mubarak’s ouster. Noujaim is more than lucky in her choice of subjects. Pride of place goes to Ahmed Hassan, a mid-20s charmer of working-class background who throws his body into the fray, and uses his native intelligence and big heart to argue at top volume until he’s hoarse. He represents revolutionary fervor at its best: committed to social justice for his compatriots, even the Islamists of the Brotherhood of whose religious zeal he is wary. Ahmed is also committed to the crucial notion of individual conscience, which must sustain a civil society if it is to endure.
“I was never one of those happy cripples,” is the way Jerome Felder described himself.
Why would he be? He was just 6 years old when he contracted polio. And in a sad irony fit for a blues song, the young Brooklynite caught the virus at a country summer camp he’d been sent to specifically to avoid the disease.
It’s no wonder that Felder was attracted to the Joe Turner songs of pain and suffering he heard on the radio. It’s no surprise, too, that the teenager started hanging out at blues clubs.
What is a little shocking is that when they asked this white Jewish kid on crutches what he was doing there, he had the chutzpah to say he was a blues singer. And he was. Except for the name, of course. So he changed it, to Doc Pomus.
As filmmaker Peter Miller points out in his documentary, “A.K.A. Doc Pomus,” Felder ultimately went on to write the songs that became the soundtrack for many of our lives: “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “A Teenager in Love,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.”
Pop song writing in the ‘50s was centered on the famous Brill Building in Manhattan, the ground zero of the music publishing business. In the world of Brill Building writers — Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Howie Greenfield and Neil Sedaka, Barry Mann and Cyntha Weil, among others — Pomus and his partners were the sun around which other planets revolved.
Miller spoke to The Arty Semite about how he came to make this film, his background in Jewish-themed documentaries, and how marriage changed his level of observance.
Curt Schleier: You’re only 51. Were you familiar with Pomus-era music?
When Stuart Zicherman was 11 years, it seemed like every family in his suburban Long Island, N.Y., neighborhood was getting divorced. His parents sat him down and told him that wouldn’t happen in their household. A year later, his father moved out.
This piece of personal trivia is relevant because Zicherman, now 44, is the co-screenwriter and director of “A.C.O.D.,” which stands for Adult Children of Divorce. The film, which is at once humorous and poignant in its portrayal of the lasting effects of parents’ split on their children, opens in select theaters October 4.
No one would describe Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and Melissa’s (Catherine O’Hara) divorce as amicable. They interrupt their loud argument during their son’s 9th birthday party to ask him — in front of family and friends — whom he wants to live with.
Zicherman has assembled an outstanding cast, including Amy Pohler, Jessica Alba and Jane Lynch. But the key player is Adam Scott (from “Parks and Recreation”), who plays Parker, the elder son forced into adulthood and a role as family mediator.
The crisis arises when Parker’s younger brother, Trey (Clark Duke) gets engaged and wants both parents (who have remarried and not spoken to each other since the divorce) to attend his wedding. It’s Parker’s job to mediate and make it happen.
Zicherman spoke to The Arty Semite about the impact of his parents’ divorce on him, their reaction to the film, and four-hour Seders.
Curt Schleier: The obvious question is, are you Carter?
At first, Jerry Wexler (1917–2008) was bupkes. But eventually he became the king of the music biz and even coined the phrase, “rhythm and blues.” In the 1960s, he wanted in on the “Muscle Shoals Sound,” which was named for a small town in Alabama where hit records were coming out of Rick Hall’s FAME Studios.
The documentary “Muscle Shoals,” in theaters September 27, tells the story of this tiny recording studio that launched so many hit records. The film features Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, Gregg Allman, Jimmy Cliff, Clarence Carter, Etta James, Alicia Keys and Bono, but the most fascinating segments are of Jerry Wexler. These scenes are intercut with Rick Hall’s riveting tale about one night spent with Wexler himself. Hall sat down with The Arty Semite to tell the tale.
Dorri Olds: How did you first meet Jerry Wexler?
Rick Hall: Jerry Wexler was the biggest record company guru in the world. I started FAME here, in a little bitty town of a thousand people and the studio was a cinder block building sitting in the middle of a cotton patch. Jerry told me to call him if I ever had a hit to record. I called him and played him our recording of Percy Sledge singing “When a Man Loves a Woman.” And Jerry said okay. My stock went sky high with Wexler after this single went number one worldwide. Jerry called one day and said, “Can I bring Wilson Pickett down and make some records?” which we did.
How were things with Wilson Pickett?
To paraphrase a famous fundraising slogan, a mind is a terrible thing to watch wasting away.
But that’s what filmmaker Alan Berliner does in his moving and lovingly motivated documentary, “First Cousin Once Removed,” premiering on HBO September 23.
Berliner’s subject is his cousin, Edwin Honig (1919-2011), the noted poet, translator and teacher, who spent the last years of his life suffering from memory loss and Alzheimer’s.
Berliner filmed Honig five or six times a year over the last five years of his life and his decline is heartbreaking. Towards the end, he doesn’t recognize images of his younger self, his mother or his children.
But in the midst of his decay he occasionally becomes lucid, spouting poetic phrases both playful and profound. When Berliner asks if it is okay to film him Honig replies: “Mirror, mirror on the wall; you can be camera and I will be all.” At another point in the movie, he comments on the trees outside his apartment, “Leaves very still. But in the stillness there is movement. A moving painting.”
Berliner spoke to The Arty Semite about his relationship with his cousin, the difficulty of watching his deterioration and his propensity to make very personal documentaries.
Curt Schleier: How close to Edwin were you?
The drama and tension of life in the Middle East are a potential goldmine for filmmakers. Few have excavated that terrain more successfully than Israeli director Eran Riklis.
“Zaytoun” (Olive), which opened in New York September 20, is his latest movie to examine the region’s politics in micro-terms. There was an Israeli Druze cross-border wedding in “The Syrian Bride”; the destruction of a Palestinian woman’s lemon grove in “Lemon Tree,” and now “Zaytoun.”
Like the other films, Zaytoun has an elevator-pitch plot: an unlikely friendship between a young Palestinian boy and an Israeli fighter pilot downed over Lebanon. But like the others, a capsule summary does little justice to the nuance, intelligence and delicacy Riklis brings to his projects.
It’s 1982 and a civil war is ravaging Lebanon. Fahed (Abdallah el Akal) is a 12-year-old who lives with his father and grandfather in a Palestinian refugee camp. Both enthrall the youngster with tales of their old home in what is now Israel and carefully tend a young olive tree sapling they plan to plant on their return.
Fahed tries to pick up extra cash by selling gum and cigarettes outside the camp, but Lebanon is a dangerous place. The Lebanese seem to hate the Palestinians almost as much as they hate the Israelis. Fahed and his friends are forcibly recruited by a local PLO commander and undergo what passes for military training.
One of the toughest tickets on Broadway today is “Book of Mormon,” the hilarious spoof on the Church of Latter Day Saints. It is a hoot. But I distinctly remember how uncomfortable I was as I watched, even while laughing out loud.
My personal litmus test in these situations is, what if the writers were making fun of me? Would I still be laughing?
Those of you who want to find what it feels like when you’re the target of jokes need only attend a screening of “Jewtopia,” which opens in select cities around the country September 20. Based on the play of the same name it is a sad exercise in self-mockery that uses virtually every stereotype to ridicule Jewish characters.
Actually, they’re more like caricatures. There isn’t a full-blooded character to be found anywhere. If the script were written by non-Jews, the ADL would be screaming, and with good cause.
Writers Bryan Fogel (who also directed) and Sam Wolfson actually started out with a potentially engaging concept. Christian O’Connell, who is not Christian in name alone, dated a Jewish girl in college who made all decisions for him. She broke up with Chris at graduation when they were about to enter “the real world,” where, of course, she’d marry a Jew.