Taking place June 3-13, 2021, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is back again this year virtually with lots of great selection including Centerpiece Film LUNE, as well as Opening Film SHELTER and Closing Film THE SPECIALS.
Our George Kozera (Twitter: @PartyG) had the joy of previewing some selections from this year’s Festival and shares his thoughts with us on them.
Based on writer/director Leo Khasin’s life growing up Jewish in Berlin, THE UN-WORD explores, brilliantly at that, the sensitive subjects of racism and multiculturalism. What starts off sounding like a set-up of a bad joke – an Iranian, a Palestinian and a Jewish student get into a fight – segues into a movie overflowing with insight, sensitivity and comedy with a balance as profound as the metaphorical scales of justice. When the parents of Max, the Jewish student who bit the ear off the Palestinian who constantly bullied him in and outside of class, attend a hastily scheduled meeting at the school with his teacher, the principal and the superintendent, we can’t help but notice the subtle context of comments made by the adults that could be deemed racist. As THE UN-WORD unfolds and many backstories are revealed, it remains difficult to not be affected by the racial discrimination occurring and misinformation taken for truth. But, in strokes of cinematic genius, Khasin infuses the Movie with comedy so funny, I was consistently laughing out loud which, like Garbo, I rarely do!
In addition to the letter-perfect performances from everyone in the Cast, this movie addresses every elephant in the room with intelligence and perspective. Whereas it is never easy to hear someone say that “The Diary of Anne Frank” is a fictional hoax, it is also infuriating to hear an elderly German person spew “the Arabs are today’s Jews”. It all culminates with a seething dialogue from an adult Iranian woman of all the injustices she experiences daily.
THE UN-WORD will dazzle you. It’s a must-see.
Before World War II, the thriving Warsaw district of Muranow housed over 200,000 Jewish residents and when Germany occupied Poland during the war, it became the Warsaw Ghetto with many of the inhabitants sent to the Treblinka death camp. The Nazis completely destroyed the area with the exception of one building used by the SS and a church where they stored all the treasures they had stolen. After WWII, it was technically impossible to rebuild the neighbourhood without removing three stories of debris, so they built over it, using bricks made of the rubble and human bones. In essence, Muranow exists atop a cemetery.
The Documentary MURANOW is an endlessly fascinating account of the city, its history and, especially, life there now. Many current residents unabashedly believe ghosts still live in the new buildings; one apartment dweller even named his ghostly roommate Rachel. Whereas personally I am highly skeptical of these metaphorical beings, events that occur defy logical explanations. However, this is more than just a Documentary focused on the undead. Many interviews are conducted with a diverse group of people: Scholars, Historians, Artists, Writers, Residents andBusiness Owners are but a few who talk about living in an area with such a tragic history.
MURANOW had me transfixed throughout its concise 70-minute screening time. Though saddened to see and hear that much of modern-day Poland is still rife with antisemitism and demonstrations that aren’t vastly different from the Trump rallies in recent history, the movie uplifts more than it criticizes. And even though I don’t believe in ghosts and zombies, if I ever meet Rachel, I’ll be on the next Uber to the airport.
TIGER WITHIN comes with an impressive pedigree. Montreal-born Director Rafal Zielinski’s résumé includes “Fun”, which made a huge impact at Sundance and is one of the best movies you’ve never heard of and Anne Hathaway’s big break occurred when she starred in Screenwriter Gina Wendkos’s “The Princess Diaries”. Add 20-time nominated and winner of 7 Emmy Awards, Ed Asner to the mix and you have a potential “can’t miss” movie.
Wearing her uniform consisting of ripped jeans, excessive black eyeliner, nose rings and a leather jacket with a painted swastika on the back, Casey (Margot Josefsohn) just doesn’t fit in with anyone at school. Life at home with her clueless mother and the violence-prone live-in boyfriend is no better, so all decide she should leave Ohio and live with her estranged father in Los Angeles. Upon arrival, Casey secretly overhears disparaging comments made about her by her new family unit and decides to go it alone in a new city, where she is quickly robbed of everything she owns. When she is found sleeping at a Jewish cemetery by 87 year-old Holocaust survivor Samuel (Asner), he treats her to a meal and a place to stay. TIGER WITHIN is all about the special bond these two lonely characters share.
There is much to admire as TIGER WITHIN unfolds with its tale of friendship between these unlikely people. Whereas the character of Casey can at times be abrasive, Josefsohn is up to task and gives an impressive performance. Asner rarely falters in any role and here, with his decades of acting experience, he beautifully fleshes out Samuel with gentle humour and insight. The strong message of healing, faith and forgiveness is executed flawlessly, but at times TIGER WITHIN feels a tad overwrought and heavy-handed. Minor quibbles aside, this movie shines and will tug at your heart. It is a wonderful escape, and that is why we see movies.
This year’s TJFF Opening Film is the world premiere of director Ron Chapman’s documentary SHELTER. It opens with a number of WW2 survivors talking about the religious persecution and atrocities they experienced in Europe, revealing scars that never fully healed, and with expert use of archival footage, I defy anyone watching not to be emotionally shattered. Once they emigrated to Toronto, it became apparent to many that it was a multicultural city where the newcomers focused on two things: employment and a home. Unable to find work due to the city’s then rampant antisemitism, many Jewish families tapped into their entrepreneurial spirits by first buying then renovating and flipping houses, then by starting construction companies and building high rise apartments, dwellings rarely seen outside of Toronto.
Alongside interviews and archival footage, Chapman also employs recreations of events using actors to further the story. I personally have never been a fan of documentary recreations as I feel they detract and I start to focus on ridiculous details like the haircuts on the men the actors are portraying are more modern-day Ryan Gosling than they are Montgomery Clift. However, the achieve the effect and enhance SHELTER admirably.
I found it fascinating that many of these real estate moguls felt that going into business and potentially into bankruptcy was nothing when compared to what they went through during wartime Europe. Through determination and self-education, in addition to luck and chutzpah, 75% of all rental units in Toronto were conceived and built by Jewish entrepreneurs. What an amazing accomplishment that SHELTER features splendidly
Aviva Armour-Ostroff is an established, award-winning Actress and highly respected in the Toronto theatrical community. Not only is she the star of LUNE, she co-directed, co- produced and co-wrote it. She plays Miriam, a single mother to her teenage daughter Eliza (Chloe Van Landschoot). Set in Toronto in 1994, Eliza is preparing her audition to be accepted to a prestigious dance school in Montreal. Miriam, a South African-born Jew, is determined to return to her homeland to partake and vote in the election of the just-freed Nelson Mandela. Miriam is also Bipolar and when she’s on her meds, she is high-functioning, articulate, charming and fascinating to such a degree that Eliza’s boyfriend Mike (Vlad Alexis) is mesmerized by her completely. It is when Miriam is off her medications, as she is throughout most of this Movie’s length, LUNE spirals downwards.
Stage Acting is vastly different from Screen Acting. In theatre, one must effectively project their movements and voice to reach the last row and this describes Armour-Ostroff’s performance. It’s bombastic. It’s over-the-top. It’s twitchy body parts flailing akimbo and a borderline Carol Burnett parody of Norma Desmond, made even more jarring by the subtle naturalistic and genuinely-endearing performances from Van Landschoot and Alexis.
I am utterly convinced that deep in the heart and soul of LUNE, there is a great movie. I only wish it were as brilliantly-executed and emotive as Eliza’s dance composition that interpreted the world of those suffering from Bipolar Disorder with dignity and without melodrama.
In the pantheon of memorable movies that feature mother/daughter relationships in the forefront (Terms of Endearment, Postcards from the Edge, Lady Bird and even Freaky Friday), one must add ASIA, the feature debut from Writer/Director Ruthy Pribar, and a winner of three awards at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, to the list.
Asia (Alena Yiv) recently moved to Jerusalem from Russia where she works as a nurse. In her mid-30s, she has a teenaged daughter Vika (Shira Haas) who, at first glance can be perceived to be rebellious with a contentious relationship with her mother. We quickly learn that Vika has a degenerative motor skills disease that accounts for her sullen nature and tries to undermine the constant overprotection from Asia. Whereas Vika enjoys hanging out with a skateboarding crowd and swig from Vodka bottles with her bestie, what she really wants is a boyfriend before her physical condition worsens. Asia is more gregarious, flirting with bartenders after work and happy in her “Friends with Benefits” relationship with a doctor. As Vika weakens and requires more fulltime attention, Asia asks the handsome, young hospital intern Gabi (Tamir Mula) if he was available to help out.
ASIA excels on multiple levels. The script is concise, intimate and grounded in reality. The performances from Alena Yiv and Shira Haas (who recently won the Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress in “Unorthodox”) exceed expectations. Together they achieve greatness with delicacy and strength. Moreover, these exceptional actresses stand back and let the supporting cast shine during their moments. Lastly, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. I strongly suggest you have tissues readily available because ASIA will put you through the wringer. It is an outstanding cinematic achievement.
Inspired by true events, this year’s Closing Film THE SPECIALS (HORS NORMES en français) is a powerful and evocative movie made by two Filmmakers at the top of their game. Bruno (Vincent Cassel) is a Jewish man who runs a government unlicensed shelter that houses and cares for teenaged and young adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder that have been, sadly, turned away from other institution. Malik (Reda Kateb) is Muslim and his company trains young adults from deprived areas to become caregivers. Though both men have different “management styles – Bruno is always hopefully optimistic whereas Malik can be brutal with group of students – they are equally dedicated and indefatigable. In the skilled hands of the Writers/Directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, a difficult subject matter is presented with grace and humour. Idyllic scenes of the caretakers and their cares at an ice-skating rink or at a horse farm are as potent as ones featuring runaway patients.
The ordinarily intense Vincent Cassel not only shows a softer side in his acting repertoire (who knew he could smile?), it is his best role in years. As much as Bruno excels with those in his care, he is awkward around women and his success rate with “chiddoukh” (blind dates) is pathetically dismal. Reda Kateb (“A Prophet”) radiates power and compassion. As Dylan, the newest recruit to become a caregiver, Bryan Mialourdama impresses. Whereas THE SPECIALS never sugarcoats the obstacles those with autism experience and there are moments that are emotionally strong, it is also uplifting and hopeful.
Much like Toledano and Nakache’s “The Intouchables”, it is impossible not to become affected by what THE SPECIALS so astonishingly presents.
Guy Amir and Hanan Savyon are a popular Israeli Comedy duo and in their second feature film together, FORGIVENESS, (as Writers, Directors and Leads) they explore the Buddy/Caper Action genre. After serving three years in jail for getting caught in a bungled bank heist, Shaul returns home, on the Jewish side of the Gaza Strip, to try refresh his relationship with his wife and teenaged daughter. Met in front of the prison by his criminal conspirator, Nissan, who managed to escape with the money stolen but not get apprehended by the police. Now a Hassidic Jew, Nissan seeks forgiveness from Shaul for the time he spent in jail while they both try to recover the money buried somewhere along the border.
FORGIVENESS is pure, unadulterated 100% Sitcom in set-ups and execution. From gangsters that feel they morally can’t murder anyone during Yom Kippur, to horses having a bowel movement in safe rooms during red alerts, breaking into a vault while stoned on hashish and explosions galore, this Movie tells its story in breakneck speed. The chemistry between Shaul and Nissan is strong and there’s enough relationship drama to not make FORGIVENESS strictly slapstick. Whether the gags land successfully is all up to the viewer.
Streaming virtually Ontario-wide from June 3 to 13, 2021 TJFF2021offers a curated programme of 60+ films showcasing the best in Jewish-content film from Canada and around the world. Check-out their lineup!
Asia, dir. Ruthy Pribar, Israel Winner of the Best Film at the Israeli Academy Awards and the Tribeca Film Festival’s Nora Ephron Award, Asia stars Shira Haas (Unorthodox, Shtisel) as a defiant teen coping with a degenerative disorder who has a fraught relationship with her mother.
Forgiveness (Mechila), dirs. Guy Amir & Hanan Savyon, Israel A caper-buddy comedy by duo Amir & Savyon about two bumbling thieves whose failed attempt to rob a bank lands one of them in jail while the other becomes a Hasidic Jew. Plans go awry when the reformed criminals are reunited.
Here We Are, dir. Nir Bergman, Israel/Italy Premiered at Cannes and winner of the Jury Prize and Audience Award at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Here We Are captures the poignancy of parenthood through a single father who has devoted his life to raising his autistic son Uri.
Kiss Me Kosher, dir. Shirel Peleg, Germany/Israel A love story where cultures clash and families must overcome their religious difference when Shira, an Israeli, and Maria, her non-Jewish, German girlfriend get engaged. All of which is captured on video to full comic effect by Shira’s younger brother for a school project.
Labyrinth of Peace (Frieden), dir. Mike Schaerer, Israel/Germany This gripping miniseries reveals the façade of Switzerland’s neutrality after the war and that a family’s future success depends on ignoring or actively colluding with former war criminals.
*Centrepiece Film Lune, dirs. Aviva Armour-Ostroff & Arturo Perez Torres, Canada Audience Award winner for Narrative Feature at Cinequest 2021, set in 1994 Toronto, a Jewish South African freelance journalist’s strong desire to return to South Africa to vote for the recently-freed Nelson Mandela triggers her bipolar disorder with her mania exploding into a life-altering climax.
The Sign Painter, dir. Viestur Kairish, Latvia/Czech Republic/Lithuania Ansis, a young sign painter in 1940s Latvia has a simple dream: to be an artist and to marry Zisla, the beautiful daughter of a Jewish merchant but his romantic dream is shattered as the country inches towards totalitarianism.
*Closing Film The Specials (Hors normes), dirs. Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano, France Directed by the duo behind The Intouchables and inspired by a true story of two men who join forces to confront systemic neglect and fight for those marginalized by society, the film stars Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Eastern Promises) and Reda Kateb (Zero Dark Thirty, A Prophet).
A Starry Sky Above a Roman Ghetto, dir. Giulio Base, Italy A wartime photo of a Jewish child brings young people together on a quest of discovery that reveals life-changing consequences as they uncover the fate of this person in the photo.
Summer of ‘85, dir. François Ozon, France/Belgium The unparalleled intensity of first-time love is sumptuously rendered in François Ozon’s masterful coming of age tale. When charismatic David rescues Alex from a capsized boat, the two embark on a passionate relationship, fuelled by Alex’s all-consuming love.
Tiger Within, dir. Rafal Zielinski, United States Holocaust survivor, Samuel (Ed Asner), and Casey, a skinhead teen runaway, develop an unlikely friendship. Despite their traumas and initial mistrust of one another, Casey gives Sam a new purpose, and Sam gives Casey the guidance she needs to start a new life.
Two, dir. Astar Elkayam, Israel Initially optimistic about starting a family, Bar and Omer eagerly comb through a catalogue of potential donors and face the insemination process with humour. But when Omer fails to become pregnant, an underlying sense of failure threatens to undermine their relationship.
The Un-Word, dir. Leo Khasin, Germany After an altercation between an Iranian, a Palestinian and a Jewish student, parents of the three boys are called to the school by their teacher who inadvertently exposes her own misguided assumptions, complete with snacks decorated with Palestinian and Israeli flags.
The Adventures of Saul Bellow, dir. Asaf Galay, United States A portrait of Saul Bellow, one of the most acclaimed chroniclers of post-war American Jewish life. Insights from Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth and Martin Amis along with archival footage make this compulsory viewing for Bellow fans.
Alone Together, dirs., Kineret Hay-Gillor & Maya Tiberman, Israel Winner of the Audience Award at the Docaviv Film Festival, Alone Together is about an everyday hero who works in soup kitchens by day and volunteers at night as a “first hug” with abandoned babies, all the while struggling to create her own family.
Desert Tested, dir. Avi Weissblei, Israel The history of the Susita—the car with the fibreglass shell that was designed to create an Israeli automobile industry—and the man behind the car – Yitzhak Shubinsky. A story of corruption, fraud, and suspicious government ties.
High Maintenance, dir. Barak Heymann, Israel/Poland Israeli icon, Dani Karavan, who, despite creating nearly 100 installations across the world and winning numerous awards, feels dissatisfied. High Maintenance is a portrait of Karavan as an old man, yet still every bit as relevant as he ever was.
Lebanon – Borders of Blood, dir. Duki Dror, Israel/Germany Duki Dror (2020 David Stein Award winner for There Are No Lions in Tel Aviv) distills a century of Lebanese history in this comprehensive documentary with an impressive array of interviewees from multiple sides of the geo-political spectrum.
Leonard Cohen, Portrait of the Artist (Leonard Cohen, portrait intime), dir. Armelle Brusq, France A must-see for Leonard Cohen fans, this newly-restored 1996 documentary offers a rare view into his time at Mount Baldy Zen Center as a Buddhist and disciple of the Zen Master, Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi.
Love It Was Not (Ahava Zot Lo Hayta), dir. Maya Sarfaty, Israel/Austria SS officer Franz Wunsch saved Helena Citron and her sister from certain death in Auschwitz. Thirty years later Helena is faced with an impossible decision when she is called upon as a witness at his war crimes trial.
Marry Me However, dir. Mordechai Vardi, Israel The emotional devastation wrought by marrying against one’s sexual orientation for the sake of complying with Orthodox religious obligations is examined through the experience of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews.
Mighty Ira, dirs. Chris Maltby, Nico Perrino & Aaron Reese, United States Ira Glasser, leader of the ACLU for 23 years, took it from a small grassroots operation on the verge of bankruptcy, to the juggernaut it is today. Amid today’s controversies surrounding free speech, racial equality and antisemitism, Glasser’s story is as timely as ever.
Modigliani and His Secrets, dir. Jacques Loeuille, France Historians and curators explore the myths surrounding artist Amedeo Modigliani by retracing his life from his Sephardic-Jewish upbringing in Venice to life in Bohemian Paris.
Muranow, dir. Chen Shelach, Israel Once the heart of Warsaw’s Jewish life, the Polish district of Muranow became the Warsaw ghetto, and was rebuilt after the war on the site of its destruction. Current residents of this green and rehabilitated neighbourhood discuss the spectre of its former residents.
A Private Death, dir. Marianna Barr, Israel The improbable love story of a Jaffa-born Orthodox Jew and a Jerusalem-born Christian Arab, which blossomed in 1930s Palestine and continued until the end of their lives. Their relationship provides a unique testimony to life in Jerusalem during the British Mandate.
Raymone El Bidaoia, dir. Yael Abecassis, Israel Raymonde – diva, queen, enigma, inspiration, survivor, widow, woman, and mother. Armed with a camera, actress Yael Abecassis captures her mother, legendary voice of Morocco, Raymonde El Bidaoia, as they embark on a journey together.
The Red Scarf, dir. Peter Mostovoy, Israel In this autobiography, Mostovoy takes us on a journey from his impoverished childhood in the Soviet Union to award-winning Russian filmmaker. Once believing that his art could be free from demands of the regime, he nevertheless became entangled in Soviet-era politics as an “untrustworthy” Jew.
*Opening Film Shelter, dir. Ron Chapman, Canada Toronto’s standing as one of the world’s most successful multicultural cities in the world is due in no small part to the efforts of a group of entrepreneurial Jewish immigrants. Anticipating the need for affordable, quality rental housing after the post-War immigration boom, these resourceful businessmen were instrumental in shaping the city we know today.
UnReined, dirs. Naomi Guttman-Bass & Marcia Rock, United States Nancy Zeitlin challenged familial and societal norms. She became a leading figure in the Israeli equestrian world, but a chance encounter with a horse-loving Palestinian prompted her to establish the first Palestinian equestrian team.
Winter Journey, dir. Anders Østergaard, Denmark/Germany Featuring actor Bruno Ganz in his final role, Winter Journey is based on the conversations that American radio host, Martin Goldsmith had with his father, a German Jewish musician. This hybrid documentary combines archival footage and re-enactments to bring his parents’ poignant and painful love story to light.
Archival Programme: Spotlights Carl Reiner, Ted Allan & Joan Micklin Silver
The 2021 Archival Programme will celebrate the beloved work and prolific career of the late Carl Reiner, by showcasing his television work, including Your Show of Shows and The Dick Van Dyke Show as well as the forgotten gem Flannery and Quilt, a comedy pilot created by Reiner and Marty Feldman (Young Frankenstein).
TJFF is also honouring one of Canada’s most distinctive writing talents and raconteurs, Ted Allan, with screenings of the Canadian classic Lies My Father Told Me and the CBC teleplay Love on the Nose, starring Saul Rubinek, Marilyn Lightstone, Maury Chaykin, and Eugene Levy. Also, for newcomers to Allan’s life and career, TJFF is screening Ted Allan: Minstrel Boy of the 20th Century.
To commemorate the recent passing of ground-breaking director Joan Micklin Silver (Hester Street), TJFF is hosting a special screening of the romantic comedy, Crossing Delancey.
For a complete list of short films in the TJFF programme, click here.
Films will be available to view Ontario-wide for 48 hours and many of the films will have live zoom Q&As with directors, cast and documentary subjects. Information on the complete schedule of special events, including Q&As, will be announced on May 12, 2021 when the box office opens. For more information, visit www.tjff.com.
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.
Our Justin Waldman and George Kozera had a chance to preview some of this year’s key titles! See their thoughts.
IF YOU SEE MY MOTHER
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.
BORN IN JERUSALEM AND STILL ALIVE
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 Jerusalemand 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.
WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT
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.
THOU SHALT NOT HATE
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.
ARMY OF LOVERS IN THE HOLY LAND
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.
Tickets are available now for purchase. Click here for more.
For the first time ever, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival moves online this year May 30 – June 7, 2020 with 39 curated titles. Keren Bar Rafael’s The End of Love opens the Festival, while Israel, Land of the Series closes the Festival.
Other titles include:
Give Me Liberty – a young medical transport bus driver and his passengers – a group of kvetching elderly Russians, a Russian boxer, charming special-needs clients, and a feisty young woman with ALS – make the unlikeliest of companions
Those Who Remained – Hungary’s Oscar entry for Best International Feature
Van Goghs – a tortured artist who comes home to take care of his father with early stages of dementia
Man on the Bus – a Melbourne-based filmmaker discovers her mother’s long held secret, uncovers the true story of her biological father, and meets siblings she never knew existed.
Syndrome K – the sharp wits of Roman Catholic Doctors who created a fictitious infectious disease that saved hundreds of Jews during WWII
Chichinette: The Accidental Spy – a young Jewish woman with an unassuming appearance and remarkable resourcefulness contributed to the defeat of the Nazi regime
Lily – aboutone of the first female pioneers in comic books, Lily Renée Phillips, who illustrated some of the legendary female protagonists of the 1950s and who inspired generations of future comic artists.
Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn – about the infamously corrupt lawyer and the wide-sweeping effect he had on the conservative American political landscape from his counsel of Joseph McCarthy through to his years as a New York ‘fixer’
Churchill and the Movie Mogul – examines his partnership with Hungarian Jewish emigre and England’s first and only movie mogul, Alexander Korda, and their exploitation of cinema’s propagandistic potential
Dayan: The First Family – a 4-part docu-series about ‘the Israeli Kennedy’s’ offering an uncompromising glimpse into the five-generation dynasty that produced some of the country’s most famous politicians, rock stars and poets.
Tel Aviv takes the spotlight in several films including:
There Are No Lions in Tel Aviv – a documentary about the bittersweet story of ‘Rabbi Doolittle’ who fulfilled a lifelong dream of building a zoo to teach children about animals
Chained – a riveting examination of masculinity in contemporary Israel by the director of Ajami, that deftly combines documentary realism with fiction
City of Desire – a strikingly shot, black-and-white documentary that explores the origins of The White City, Tel Aviv’s architecturally renowned neighborhood.