The 28th annual TORONTO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL runs October 22-November 1, 2020. The Festival adapts to our current climate with a digital format this year with a wide range of Films to cater to all tastes with 50+ available films to watch, produced in Canada and abroad. TIFF ’20 breakout hit SHIVA BABY will be screening at the Festival too in case you missed it at TIFF and INSIDE OUT! Other highlights include Eytan Fox-directed Drama, WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT, an Adaptation of the popular Novel, SUBLET and Music Documentary ARMY OF LOVERS IN THE HOLY LAND.
Fans still will be able to attend Q&As with the Filmmakers by typing in questions, selected by a Moderator and these also will be recorded also for later viewing in case they are missed.
A portion of proceeds from the Fall Edition of the Festival will go to Mazon Canada and The Stop Community Food Centre.
Our Justin Waldman and George Kozera had a chance to preview some of this year’s key titles! See their thoughts.
By Justin Waldman
If You See My Mother tackles loss and grief in an unconventional way in Nathanaël Guedj’s feature debut. With some levity and comedy as well as outstanding performances by Max (Felix Moati) and Monique (Noemie Lvovsky), the Movie truly can deliver for some. It follows Max as he grieves the loss of his mother, but spiritually she survives and haunts Max’ relationships and attempts to move forward in his life.
Guedj along with Sophie Glaas, Alexandre Smia and Marc Syrigas wrote the Script together, and with four Writers one would hope that the Script would feel a little tighter than the final product amounts to. However, the performances from the two Leads certainly bring much life to the Script, helping them transcend onto the big screen. The only issue lays in the subject matter and the way Max deals with his loss may be uncomfortable and unsettling to some audiences.
If You See My Mother screens virtually October 23rd – October 24th.
By Justin Waldman
Yossi Atia does it all in Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive as he is Star, Writer, and Director in this Dark Comedy about tragedy, anxiety, and terrorism. The movie follows Ronen (Yossi Atia) as he starts on an adventure of doing self guided terror attacks down Jaffa street for tourists, on one of his tours he meets Asia (Lihi Kornowski) and now he now has to navigate these tours, some personal issues with his father and this new-found relationship.
What makes Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive work really well is the levity that Yossi Atia brings to his Script, direction, and performance with taking something tragic which happens all too often and bringing some light hearted comedy to these events will engulfing the hardship of taking care of a stubborn parent. Lihi Kornowski and Yossi Atia’s performances are both charming and endearing, bringing a lot of charisma and life to the well-crafted Script. Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive is a heavy film that is levitated by its comedy.
Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive screens October 30th – October 31st
By Justin Waldman
Emma Seligman, read this name, know this name, remember this name. She is a force to be reckoned with, as Writer and Director of her Feature debut Shiva Baby you would be hard pressed not to include her on a top 10 directorial debuts and a name to be remembered. Shiva Baby is equal parts uncomfortable (for its absolute realism) and hilarity ensues as it navigates the uncomfortableness that presents itself during a family gathering, in this case, a shiva.
The Movie focuses on Danielle (Rachel Sennott), again another name to note, as she is attending a shiva that her parents asked her to attend. While at the shiva, she runs into her friend Maya (Molly Gordon), and there is a history there that her parents do not want to be rehashed out in this family gathering. Some other events and characters trigger a series of unfortunate, yet quiet hilarious, events that truly exemplify the horrors of being at large gatherings while trying to accept first and foremost who you are as an individual without being shunned by your family. Shiva Baby is arguably one of the best films you will see this year and should not be missed!
Shiva Baby screens digitally Monday October 26th – Tuesday October 27th.
By Justin Waldman
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is an incredibly-famous Book written (semi-autobiographically) by Judith Kerr. With Caroline Link in the Director’s chair and Anna Bruggemann adapting, the Book sees its first Feature adaptation and what results is a hauntingly-beautiful film that will tug on your heartstrings. The Film focuses on Anna (Riva Krymalowski) as she with her mother Dorothea (Carla Juri), father Arthur (Oliver Masucci) and brother Max (Marinus Hohmann), set-out bravely to escape Berlin in 1933. They find refuge in Switzerland, being Jewish and her father is a Journalist known for having criticized Hitler publicly. The performances by the entire Cast are exceptional, but the delivery from its Lead Riva Krymalowski in her first Feature, is a performance that will linger with its audience long after they finish the Film. Her acting encompasses a wide range of emotions and this is truly a beautiful performance. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a masterful adaptation and likewise acted brilliantly.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit screens Thursday October 29th – Friday October 30th.
By Justin Waldman
Thou Shalt Not Hate directed by Mauro Mancini tells the story of Surgeon named Simone (Alessandro Gassmann) who is peacefully canoeing in a small river along a highway in Italy when he hears and sees a horrific crash on the highway. He rushes-up the hill to the roadside to call an ambulance and check on the victim. After trying to preserve the man’s life, he discovers an SS tattoo on his wrist and a swastika on his chest, and he decides to not follow the oath he swore to. As a son of a survivor of the Holocaust, Simone refuses to help the dying man, but winds-up hiring his daughter Marcia (Sara Serraiocco) due to the remorse he feels for letting her father die.
Thou Shalt Not Hate features impactful performances from both Alessandro Gassmann and Sara Serraicocco, raising questions around moral dilemmas and professional oaths. The Movie is unsettling and thought-provoking, with the Italian landscape as a backdrop that will linger in ones head for days to follow.
Thou Shalt Not Hate screens virtually October 23rd – October 24th.
By George Kozera
The recently Tony Award nominated (and past winner) John Benjamin Hickey stars in SUBLET, in which he plays Michael, a gay, partnered travel writer in Tel Aviv for 5 days to document the less touristy parts of this city. Rather than stay in a hotel, he sublets an apartment from Tomer (Niv Nissim in his Feature film debut), a young aspiring Horror Film Director. Despite their age difference, the two men develop a trusting friendship.
Directed and co-written by Eytan Fox (Walk on Water), SUBLET succeeds on many levels. Tel Aviv, a city underrepresented on the big screen, shines with vibrancy and energy which is also reflected in the stunning musical score and songs. It is impossible to not overstate the brilliance of Hickey’s performance. Every movement is precise and he expresses a range of emotions without saying a word. It is a towering achievement that is richly complimented by the charismatic (and supremely handsome) Niv Nissim. His is a confident and hypnotic achievement and SUBLET should do for Nissim that “Crazy Rich Asians” did for Henry Golding; it will make him a star, On a self-indulgent note, as someone who hates onions, Tomer’s reaction to being told that “onions give it all the flavour” is Oscar-worthy!
SUBLET has signed a permanent lease as one of my favourite films seen in 2020.
By George Kozera
Movies described as “camp” usually have that description bestowed as it wasn’t the Filmmaker’s original intention (Mommie Dearest, Showgirls, Valley of the Dolls). Very few features are made with camp in mind, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show or the films of John Waters. ARMY OF LOVERS IN THE HOLY LAND is the first Documentary I have ever seen where camp is the raison d’etre and destination and it is a hoot!
Army of Lovers was a Disco band in Sweden who freely admit they couldn’t sing well or play musical instruments (think Milli Vanilli with an Abba beat and vocals) but could wear high heels well. They became famous in Europe due to their outrageous videos, flashy costumes and a musical back beat that is impossible not to shake your booty to. This Documentary is about the flamboyant Jean-Pierre Barda, with his mane of hair that rivals that of Diana Ross and clothes that look like they’re from the closets of Cher and Bob Mackie, as he moves to Israel to start a new life.
If you’re a camp aficionado, ARMY OF LOVERS IN THE HOLY LAND will put a happy grin from ear to ear on your face, make your hands raise the roof during the musical interludes and also show what life is like in Israel.
Like the famous meatballs Sweden is known for, this Movie is irresistible.
By George Kozera
Set in a tiny village in the Ukraine during the Bolshevik Revolution and the rise of Trotskyism, ANTON is a powerful film about hardships and violent atrocities through the eyes of two young boys. The bond of friendship between Anton (a German-Catholic) and Yasha, who is Jewish, is unshakable and they find strength together as they cope with a myriad of deaths and uncertainties.
Based on a Novel by Canadian author and politician, Dale Eisler, ANTON is an engrossing and spiritual film with stunning Cinematography and exceptional performances. I was especially impressed by Tetiana Grachik‘s portrayal of Dora, the Red Devil. Her propensity towards violent actions (shocking they may be, but never overly-gratuitous) made her one of the most fascinating on screen villainess I’ve seen in a long time. Nikita Schlanchak and Mykyta Dziad (as Anton and Yasha, respectively) are outstanding, belying their young age. I urge you strongly to have tissues on hand while watching ANTON as you will weep watching this remarkable achievement.
By George Kozera
The Documentary BREAKING BREAD opens with a quote from the late Anthony Bourdain: “Food may not be the answer to world peace…but it’s a start”. We then meet Dr.Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, an Arab Microbiologist, who won “Masterchef Israel”. Her mission in life is to see Jews and Arabs come together through food and has started the A-Sham Food Festival in Haifa, which may be Israel’s most diverse city as it celebrates Christmas, Ramadan and Hannukah equally and proudly. She pairs Jewish and Arabic chefs from different areas in Israel and asks them to transform traditional meals together. The Chefs we meet are not only supremely-talented in their craft and charismatic, their creations will have you salivating – do NOT see this on an empty stomach!
Writer/Producer/Director Beth Elise Hawk not only concentrates on the food, but touches on topics as the past and current political situations and religious and cultural differences with an assured hand and vision. More importantly, nearly every scene is framed with charisma and passion. I particularly loved the scene where Dr. Nof talks about seeing an American table setting that had cheese dips, guacamole, salsa and hummus, the traditional Middle Eastern staple and says “Hummus has no borders”. It struck home with me as I feel the same way every time I see non-Montrealers talk about or make Poutine.
I’m a self-proclaimed and obsessed Foodie, hence BREAKING BREAD had me transfixed throughout. It’s a Master Class Documentary, hosted by a Masterchef winner, created and helmed by a masterful filmmaker. Lastly, watch the End Credits and you’ll see a website listed that has the recipes of the food we just watched. Yes, it’s time to rattle them pots and pans!
By George Kozera
Set in the late ’80s in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn and based on Short Stories from Canadian Author (and Giller Prize finalist) David Bezmozgis, MINYAN tells the story of David, a high school yeshiva student with self-identity issues which includes being gay in a conservative Jewish community. In the role of David, Samuel H. Levine brings gravitas and intensity in this Feature film project following his being part of the Cast in the recently Tony-nominated milestone play “The Inheritance” (which also starred John Benjamin Hickey who can be seen in “Sublet” screening at TJFF). Whereas slightly-too-mature looking to portray a 17-year-old and some of the acting choices register a theatricality that need to project to the last row of a theatre versus a more naturalistic and subtle cinematic one, Levine is impressive.
The Supporting Cast, which include Ron Rifkin, Mark Margolis and Alex Hurt (William Hurt’s son), all give earnest performances but are tinged with an over-the-top sensibility that almost verge on cliché-ridden. Director Eric Steel, who’s had successes as a Producer and had fashioned two Documentaries, may have bit off more than he can chew with this Feature film debut.
The Cinematography is dark and murky. The pace is a tad too languid, the competing storylines are a tad too serious. The rare times David would smile or a character would say something in jest were a much needed relief to the somber events on screen. However, Samuel H. Levine’s star power is never in question. I expect great things from him in future endeavours.
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