The Arty Semite

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.

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Pro-Israel Screenwriter Founds 'Mike Leigh Scholarship for Political and Moral Courage'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

While visiting the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and the Arts in Jerusalem this week to co-teach a workshop with fellow Hollywood screenwriter David N. Weiss, Dan Gordon used the opportunity to take his public critique of British filmmaker Mike Leigh one step further.

Gordon followed up on a promise he made Leigh in an open letter he wrote last November, inaugurating the “Mike Leigh Scholarship for Political and Moral Courage.” The scholarship was awarded this year to Ma’aleh student Noam Keidar. Gordon is highly critical of Leigh’s decision to renege on an agreement to teach in 2010 at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem and his boycotting of Israel, in general, in response to Israeli policies towards Palestinians, including its blockade of Gaza.

The open letter ended in the following way:

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

By Ezra Glinter

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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.

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France's Jewish Triple Threat

By Omer Laor

Crossposted from Haaretz

“I was boiling with anger when I heard that Mike Leigh and Ken Loach had called for the boycott of Israeli films,” says French-Jewish actor, director and screenwriter Pascal Elbe. “As a Frenchman, I see in culture, as in academia, a necessity for every dialogue. What bridges do they want to burn? To silence Israeli cinema? That’s ridiculous! After all, Israeli cinema is also a vehicle for criticism and that’s one of the reasons why it’s successful. It touches on relevant and painful issues, at a time when in France they prefer to make stupid comedies that have guaranteed success and don’t challenge anything.”

Elbe, who this year is serving as president of the 11th Israeli Film Festival in Paris, will arrive in Israel next month to film two movies, one of which he is directing.

Read more at Haaretz.com

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Out and About: David Mamet on 'A Life in the Theater'; the Big Band's Big Comeback

By Ezra Glinter

Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
A puppet from an exhibit at Holon’s Puppet Theater Center in July.

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