Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Adam Kossoff about his documentary The Anarchist Rabbi at TJFF

Posted in Anarchism, Art, Cultural Mining, documentary, Germany, Movies, Protest, TJFF, UK by CulturalMining.com on May 8, 2015

Adam Rossoff, Director, The Anarchist Rabbi, TJFF 2015Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

When we talk about protests against the police, we think Baltimore, Maryland or Ferguson, Missouri.

But how about London, England a hundred years ago? Probably not. We don’t realize London, and particularly it’s impoverished East End was a seething cauldron of protest, unrest, and even revolution. Much of it
centred on Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe who fought internal battles, as religion and politics competed for dominance.

A new film documents this history with an impressionistic examination of London, then and now. Period photos and recordings share the screen with contemporary, sepia-toned shots of London’s East End. It’s having itsAnarchist_Rabbi Canadian debut today at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.

Its called The Anarchist Rabbi, and is narrated by actor/writer Stephen Berkoff, and written and directed by Adam Kossoff. Adam is a writer, artist and filmmaker who explores historically separate but site-specific videos.

I reached Adam by telephone in London. He talks about anarcho-syndicalism, Rudolph Rocker (1873-1958), London’s East End, strikes, revolution, Russian immigrants, his grandfather, Arbeter Fraynd, history, politics, the use of colour in film,  memorials, Kropotkin, Emma Goldmann… and more!

Women in Movies for Mothers’ Day. Films Reviewed: Under the Skin, Ida, The German Doctor

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers of the past present and future. While all women aren’t mothers, all mothers are women. So, this week, I’m looking at three fascinating movies with girls or women as the main characters.

Two of the movies are historical dramas set in the early sixties, under the shadow of WWII. From Poland comes a drama about a young woman in a convent who discovers her past; from Argentina, a dramatic thriller about a 12-year-old girl who discovers secrets in an unusual village; and from the UK comes a science fiction / art film about a woman with a strange way of meeting men.

Scarlett Johansson 3 in Under the Skin Courtesy of Mongrel MediaUnder the Skin
Dir: Jonathan Glazer

Laura (Scarlett Johannson) is a beautiful woman with black hair who lives in a rundown farmhouse. But she’s not from there. She likes going for drives in her white van, in the rolling hills and rocky roads of rural Scotland. She’s on the lookout for fit young men who are single and live alone. It doesn’t matter that she can’t understand a word they say. She asks for directions and then offers them a lift to some unspecified place down the road. And to no one’s surprise, they end up at her place for some impromptu casual sex.

Simple, right? No. This is where it gets weird, otherworldly, surreal. Basically, after they undress, she lures them across a Under the Skin  Courtesy of Mongrel Media 7shiny, black floor. She walks on the surface, but the men gradually sink down into a black pool, their bodies and minds suspended in a silent limbo. Not dead, but trapped somewhere.

Who is she? What is she? Laura speaks like an alien or a robot or a psychopath. It’s like she was handed an instruction booklet on how to Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin Courtesy of Mongrel Mediatalk like a human being. Her face and body were borrowed from someone else – she’s just a visitor. She doesn’t seem motivated by evil, and she’s not a cannibal or anything. She doesn’t even eat.

But her routine gradually goes astray. She gets corralled into a nightclub. She picks up an incredibly ugly man on the road. She loses her vehicle and is forced to take a bus. She meets another man who seems kind and cares for her, not just out for a quick roll in the hay. And she senses danger from a suspicious man wearing a jumpsuit. And then there’s the man on a motorcycle who follows her around: is he cleaning up after her mistakes? Or is he trying to stop her? It’s all very confusing.

Under the Skin is one weird movie. I liked it a lot, but beware: this is an experimental “art film” not a mainstream sci-fi pic. Modern, disturbing music, wonderful cinematography… and a baffling story.

Ida - 3Ida
Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski

Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a WWII orphan raised in a nunnery near Lodz. She wears a plain grey dress and covers her hair. She’s quiet and obedient. Now 16, she’s ready to take her vows as a nun, but the mother superior insists she first meet her only known relative, her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). But why?

Wanda is a woman of the world. She wears lipstick, smokes cigarettes and listens to jazz. And she sleeps with younger men she picks up in bars. She’s cold, cynical and bitter. She used to be a high-ranked communist party prosecutor, but has lost her status. And she’s Jewish. And that means Anna is, too. And, Wanda tells her, her real name is Ida.

Ida wants to see her parents’ grave. Wanda laughs: what grave? But they head out to the small town. The family living in Ida - 5her home denies Jews ever lived there and has never heard of her parents.

Wanda delves deeper as Ida discovers her own hidden history. Wanda warms toward her – she’s like her dead sister, with her red hair, and three dimples when she smiles. Ida dips her toe into the real world (jazz, alcohol, cigarettes, men). Will she live in cosmopolitan urban Poland or in a cloistered life behind the convent walls?

Ida is black & white, and only 80 minutes long. It’s subtle, compact, minimalist and exquisite. The two Polish actresses are both fantastic, with their subtle, contrasting personalities gradually melding. This is a perfect movie.

The German Doctor 4 courtesy az filmsThe German Doctor
Dir: Lucia Puenzo (Based on her novel)

12-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado) lives in a barren and dusty part of Argentine Patagonia with her two brothers. Tiny Lilith is 12 but looks younger, and still plays with a doll given to her by her dad (Diego Peretti) — a professional doll maker. He makes handcrafted figures, each one unique. They’re moving to Ushuaia, an area with a large German population, to run a family hotel owned by her pregnant mom (Natalia Oreiro). Though Argentinian, her mom went to a German school. She shows Lilith old school photos filled with swastika flags.

The hotel is a beautiful chateau in the woods, overlooking a clear, blue lake against stark snow-covered mountains. The German Doctor 7 courtesy az filmsPositively Alpine. And their first guest is a kindly, German man with a mustache (Alex Brendemuhl). He’s a doctor, but works injecting cattle with growth hormones. Heredity is everything he says, and he wants to create a perfect breed.

So when Lilith is teased and bullied at school he offers experimental hormone injections to help her grow. Lilith loves whatever is forbidden. She is entranced by the doctor, even though there’s something wrong, something sinister about him. And he offers Enzo, her dad – who objects to his experiments with Lilith – the chance to produce identical The German Doctor 20 courtesy az filmsblond, blue-eyed dolls on a massive scale. Only Nora (Elena Roger), the mysterious school archivist, suspects he’s the notorious Dr. Mengele, known for his cruel experiments in Auschwitz. Based on real-life characters, the German Doctor is a tender, but haunting, coming-of age story played out against an Argentina filled with clandestine war criminals.

Under the Skin and Ida both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The German Doctor also opens and is playing at Toronto’s Jewish Film Festival this weekend, along with many other great movies. Go to TJFF.com for more info.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Daniel Garber talks to Peter Sanders about his new documentary ALTINA

Posted in Art, Cultural Mining, documentary, Family, Feminism, Movies, TJFF, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on April 17, 2013

FILMMAKER-PETER-SANDERS-FOTO1Altina Schinasi, a tobacco heiress born in a veritable palace in Manhattan, made her name as an artist, activist, designer, filmmaker, and as an openly-sexual woman, with four husbands over the course of her lifetime. Altina is a new documentary about this unknwon but fascinating character. Winner of the festival’s 2013 DAVID A. STEIN MEMORIAL AWARD, it’s having its Canadian premier at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. And I am pleased to have the award-winning filmmaker, Peter Sanders to talk to me about the film and its fascinating subject with me by telephone from New York.

altina

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Mothers and Daughters. Movies reviewed: Hello I Must Be Going, Mama.

Posted in Cultural Mining, Feminism, Ghost Busters, Horror, Movies, Romania, Romantic Comedy, Thriller, TJFF, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 26, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Hollywood has turned into a place where women are treated as an afterthought. It’s not unusual to see movies with 10 or 20 main characters with only one woman. So this week I’m looking at two genre movies that are usually male-oriented, but in this case are both told from a female point of view (though both have male directors). One’s an indie rom-com about hidden love under their parents’ gaze, the other is a chiller-thriller about surrogate moms.

hello i must be going poster Hello I Must be Going

Dir: Todd Louiso

Amy Minsky (Melanie Lynskey) hates her life. She hasn’t been outside her parents home or changed her ratty T-shirt for about three months. Why? Because her career-driven entertainment lawyer husband dumped her and she has nothing to show for all those years of marriage. She let her own interests slide (she used to be an MFA grad student, a photographer) to support him and now she has nothing. Nothing!

So she’s back with her parents just as her dad setting up a big contract that will let him retire and to travel with mom (Blythe Danner) around the world. So Amy has to dress up pretty for a dinner party so she won’t spoil the deal.

At the dinner party she meets the deal partners’ son Jeremy, an actor. He’s also moved the wigglesback to his therapist-mom’s house after years on a children’s TV show like The Wiggles. (He’s Mr Green)

Amy and Jeremy are both mortified by their parents’ conversations and find common ground.

Christopher_Abbott_and_Melanie_LynskeyShe’s awkward. He’s an actor. Sparks fly.

They bond, and later enjoy passionate sex. Amy’s life seems to be turning around. But the last thing Amy wants is to ruin he dad’s deal, so they have to keep it hush-hush. She visits him in the middle of the night to throw pebbles at his window. They go skinny dipping and make out in the backseats of cars. It’s like she’s living as a teenager again, complete with nosy parents and furtive dates.

Oh yeah – I forgot to mention. Jeremy, though an accomplished actor and an adult… is a teenager! (He’s 19.) Oh, also his accepting mom, a therapist (c’mere, give me a hug!), thinks he’s gay. Christopher_AbbottHe’s actually a closet heterosexual who doesn’t want to upset his mother’s plans.

Can Amy and Jeremy’s relationship last? Will her parents ever respect her and treat her as an adult? What will the future bring? I liked this movie — Hello I Must Be Going (the title is a reference to a song in a Marx Brothers movie) is a very sweet, realistic romantic comedy, with a nice, indie feel (It played at Sundance last year).

The acting is good all-around. Melanie Lynskey is a Kiwi, who started as a girl in the fantastic movie Heavenly Creatures. Blythe Danner plays Amy’s mom in a not-so-sympathetic but multifaceted way; and you probably recognize Christopher Abbot, who plays Charlie, one of the boyfriends from the TV comedy Girls (He’s the one who gets dumped on for being way too nice and accommodating but in a smarmy sort of way. He looks and acts totally different in this role.) This is a fun, different kind of indie movie to see.

mamaMama

Dir: Andres Muschietti

Two girls are found by their uncle Lucas in a cabin in the woods. They’ve been missing for five years after a violent incident involving their parents. Somehow, they managed to survive there on nothing but wild cherries. But they went feral, and now run around like foxes or chimps or Linda Blair in the Exorcist, except without the crabwalk. The two girls barely talk to outsiders and know no basic social rules. So they need surrogate parents to raise them and a psychologist to study them.

So Lucas (Danish actor Nicolaj Koster-Waldau) gets his wild-ass girlfriend Annabel to move in with him and help take care of the kids. Annabel (Jessica Chastaine) is a rocker with a full sleeve tat and a foul mouth. She’s in a band, and does all the irresponsible things rock musicians are supposed to do. But when something happens to Lucas, she’s suddenly the de facto mother of these two crazy girls – Victoria and Lily (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse).

Victoria was older when she disappeared so she can communicate, but Lily is nearly a lost cause. They are used to a world of bugs and plants and dirt, of hollows they can hide in, not clean, lit rooms. But things are transforming around them. There are strange cracks that appear on walls, moths that fly out of holes, strange noises you hear through vents in the house.mama2 chastain

The shrink says there’s an imaginary mother – they call her Mama – who they turn to for help. But is she real, imaginary, or something else? It’s up to Annabel to find out who is helping them, and where this Mama came from, if she actually exists.

This is a very good, female-centred chiller-thriller, where the girls, their heroine, and her nemesis are all women. It’s a B-movie, a genre pic, but it’s a good one. Mexican Guillermo del Toro, one of my favourite directors, was a producer for this one and it carries a lot of his trademarks: sounds through vents, scary houses, the possibly imaginary, and other-wordly lives of small girls, nice creepy production values, and lots of good, scary scenes. This is director Muschietti’s first feature, and I’d go to more of his movies.

Mama opens today, and you can catch Hello I Must Be Going at a special screening on Sunday, January 27th, as part of the Chai, Tea and a Movie series, sponsored by the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. Go to tjff.com for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .

Daniel Garber speaks with Argentinian director Ariel Winograd about his new film My First Wedding (Mi Primera Boda)

Posted in Argentina, comedy, Cultural Mining, Movies, Romance, Romantic Comedy, TJFF, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on July 20, 2012

winograd


Can a wedding succeed when surrounded by squabbling family members whose own marriages are falling apart? A new Argentinian film, My First Wedding, which opens today in Toronto, asks that very question. A screwball comedy, My First Wedding is about a wedding gone astray when the groom — who loses his fiancee’s heirloom wedding ring — is forced to come up with a way to delay the ceremony without the bride discovering why.

I speak with the Argentinian director Ariel Winograd about his film, Daniel Hendler, Natalia Oreiro, Judd Apatow, Ariel’s personal connection to the story, his views on comedy, his influences, and more…

Love, Romance and Passion. Movies reviewed: Trishna, My First Wedding PLUS Burlesque Assassins

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

In the heat of the night, Toronto has been boiling over with record hot temperatures and high tempers, tragic shootings and a bizarre machete mugging.

But hot nights can also lead to steamy romance, passion and ultimately to love. So this week I’m looking at two movies that deal with romance. One’s about a wedding that might lead to disaster; another where the lack of a wedding might ruin the relationship.

Trishna

Dir: Michael Winterbottom

Jay (Riz Ahmed) is a confident Oxbridge toff touring India with his buddies. But when they see a young woman performing a dance at their hotel in Rajasthan Jay is smitten and decides to pursue her. And the dancer Trishna (Freida Pinto), notices him too — clearly the feelings are mutual. Jay’s father owns a palatial hotel in Jaipur, and since Trishna’s father’s accident (he was the jeep driver for the travelling Jay and his friends), her extended family has no income. So she takes him up on his offer and goes to work for the hotel, and study at the local college. All’s going well until she is accosted by some tuffs, rescued by her white knight Jay on a motorcycle and then taken back to the hotel, where they succomb to passion. But by the next morning she feels ashamed and what happens and flees home.

If this all feels like a Victorian novel, that’s because it is: it’s an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but set in modern-day India. Scooters instead of horses, jeeps instead of stagecoaches, but class is still the big divider. Trishna comes from a poor family, and although given a taste of the high life — a Bombay apartment as Jay dabbles as a Bollywood producer, or in Jaipur at the posh hotel — there’s a clear difference between Jay’s status and hers. He moodily shifts from boyfriend to employer, and the dynamics of their relationship also changes. He says in the Kama Sutra there are three types of women you can sleep with: a sophisticated woman, a servant or a courtesan. He doesn’t mention wife. Trishna wonders which one she is. There relationship could be a passing fancy for him, but for a disenfranchised woman it’s all she’s got.

Trishna is a very moving and realistic romantic drama, partly scripted, partly improvised — almost documentary like. Pinto and Ahmed are both great as the lovers, and the director, Michael Winterbottom is as experimental and surprising as ever. His movies range from 24 Hour Party People to A Cock and Bull Story (a comic adaptation of another British novel — in this case Sterne’s Tristram Shandy)

While he has no specific style – his style can change drastically from film to film — Winterbottom’s always an interesting director who constantly expands the boundaries of what you can call a movie. Trishna follows a traditional story, but by shifting the culture and language from 19th century England to 21st century India Winterbottom can take the age old story of poor girl meets rich boy and turn it into an entirely new type of film.

My First Wedding

Dir: Ariel Winograd

Adrian and Leonora are a happy couple, dressed up and ready for their country club wedding outside Buenos Aries. The wedding planner is organizing everything, family and friends are all arriving, and a rabbi and a priest are being driven out there to officiate. Adrian (Daniel Hendler) is Jewish, while Leo (Natalia Oreiro) is Catholic. But as they separately rehearse their wedding vows, Adrian panics when he loses Leo’s wedding band. She’ll kill him if she finds out. so, to postpone the wedding, he must send the Priest and Rabbi off on a wild goose chase, hide the truth from his bride, and find the ring (with help from cousin Fede).

The wedding planner recommends they go through the wedding in reverse order — party, dine, drink, and dance… and say the vows at the end instead of the beginning. Sort of an upside down wedding. But things get even more complicated. Leo’s snobbish mother, herself divorced, is disappointed in her choice, Adrian’s family are all quarrelling, his grandfather wants to smoke pot, and past lovers — Leo’s former professor, the dashing Miguel Angel (Imanol Arias); and Adrian’s second cousin who still likes him — all seem to be working hard to ruin the wedding. Angel announces that marriages are like cities under seige: everyone inside wants to get out, while everyone outside is trying to get in. With the divorces and collapsing relationships all around them, the title (My First Wedding) begins to make sense.

This is a funny, classic screwball comedy about what can go wrong at a wedding. The two leads are great as is the very large supporting cast. It’s a light enjoyable rom-com from Argentina, told from the groom’s perspective.

Trishna and My First Wedding both open today in Toronto, check your local listings. Also playing tonight (at the Bloor Cinema) is a neo-burlesque, cabaret style movie called Burlesque Assassins (directed by Jonathan Joffe), about some killer spies (with names like Roxi D’lite) who double as cold-war exotic dancers as they travel the globe to catch the villains. Lots of guns, 1950’s uniforms, and more cleavage than you can shake a stick at. Also on this weekend is the documentary “They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain” about Burma and its people. It’s showing free at the East Gallery, just across the street from the AGO on Dundas.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, with podcasts and complete reviews available on my web site CulturalMining. com.

 

May 11, 2012. European Jewish Cinema at the TJFF. Movies Reviewed: Simon and the Oaks, My Best Enemy, My Dad is Barishnikov, Let My People Go! PLUS Cabaret-Berlin

Posted in 1940s, 1980s, Austria, Berlin, comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Dance, Drama, Family, Fighting, Judaism, Sex, Sweden, TJFF, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 11, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

I’m back again, and this week I’m gong to talk about some of the new European movies now playing at TJFF, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. There are two historical dramas about best friends, one from Sweden, and one from Austria; and two very different light comedies, one, in Russian, about the Soviet Union in the 80’s, and another set in present-day Finland and France.

Simon and the Oaks
Dir: Lisa Ohlin
Based on the novel by Marrianne Fredriksson

It’s WWII in neutral Sweden, in Gothenburg. Two boys, Simon Larsson and Isak Lentov, become close friends at a private school: Isak fled Berlin as an infant with his terrified mother and bookseller dad; Simon lives with his parents outside the city. But when Mrs Lentov has a nervous breakdown (after Germany invades the rest of Scandinavia), Isak moves in with the Larssons.

The Larsson and Lentov families grow very close, with Simon leaning toward the Lentov father Ruben’s intellectual world and its joy of music, while Isak heads back to the land, using his hands to make things, as taught by the Larsson father, Erik. For Simon, music affects him in an unusual way: it unlocks memories of his childhood involving an old oak tree in his garden, and leads him to a secret letter his parents have never told him about.

Simon and the Oaks is a beautiful, novelistic story that follows the families over two decades as the boys come of age, the country’s mood changes, and the multifaceted relationships that develop within the extended families. This is a fascinating, character and plot-driven film that manages to convey Simon’s inner feelings visually, without resorting to explicit narration or explanation. All of the acting, including the actors playing the young and adult Simons and Isaks, and the story is compelling. I liked this movie a lot.

My Best Enemy
Dir: Wolfgang Murnberger

It’s 1938 in post Anschluss Vienna. Victor (Moritz Bleibtreu) is the son of a prominent art gallery owner and his lifelong best friend is Rudi (Georg Friedrich). Rudi was born into the family structure – he’s the son of the housekeeper – but outside Victor’s privileged status. But the tables are turned when Rudi becomes a Nazi, while Victor’s Jewish family loses its art and its home and is sent to concentration camps. But still missing is a reputed drawing by Michaelangelo, that may be part of their family art collection. High-ranking Nazis need it to appease their fascist Italian allies.

So Victor is temporarily released from the camp, so that Rudi can discover the location of the hidden work of art. But in a strange reversal, they end up swapping identities! It remains to be seen whether Victor can escape to Switzerland, and if Rudi will get his just desserts… And will that Michelangelo drawing ever be found?

Despite its setting, My Best Enemy is not a Holocaust movie at all – it’s more of a caper-style movie, set during WWII, about two former best friends, now rivals, and their long-term competition over art, love, status and power. It has lots of unexpected twists, but, because of the camera work and style of music it seems less cinematic, and more like a BBC mystery movie. That’s not criticism, per se – I love TV mysteries – just don’t expect a Haneke film.

My Dad is Barishnikov
Dir: Dimitry Povolotsky

Boris Michaelovich Fishkin is a horny, nerdy Soviet adolescent studying at a famous ballet school in the 80’s. He wants to be a great dancer, but he’s no Billy Eliot. He’s awkward, small, and clumsy, and the bigger kids bully and tease him relentlessly. So when his bleached-blonde single mom gives him a tape of the great Barishnikov – the Russian dancer who defected to the west – and drops hints that he may have been his missing father, Boris finds new confidence and inspiration. Soon all the school is whispering about their own little Barishnikov. His trademark pirouettes improve and his Bolshoi bows amuse the ballet experts. But in order to keep his status, he resorts to trading on the black market for luxuries like Levis and bananas. Will he be the next ballet superstar? Will he ever meet his dad? And will his name ever appear on a banner at the Bolshoi?

My Dad is Barishnikov is a cute, light Russian comedy – a coming-of-age memoir, just as the country itself was growing up. It’s filled with references to the era’s line-ups for meat, the cramped apartments, the underground economy, and the subservience to party hierarchy, stuff you don’t see often in movies. It also has great lines, like when the school disciplinarian pulls Boris out of the cafeteria and then announces: “Continue food consumption!”

Let My People Go!
Dir: Mikael Buch

Ruben (Nicolas Maury) is a postman who lives in a log cabin in a Finnish village with his blond boyfriend Teemu. Squeaky-voiced Ruben looks like a gay, French, Peewee Herman riding around on his bike. But one day, when he delivers a package filled with cash to an old man, it’s shoved back at him: “You take it — I don’t want it” and in the struggle, the guy drops dead, and Ruben’s left holding the 200 thousand Euros. But when he tries to explain it all to Teemu, they have a fight,  and Ruben flees home to France. There he’s forced to re-enter his French family life – a passive-oppressive mother (Almodovar’s great Carmen Maura), a milquetoast dad with a secret, a macho brother, and a self-centred sister, – a life he thought he’d escaped forever in his Finnish cabin in the woods.

This is a very funny, cute comedy contrasting a kooky, storybook Finland with the tangled and messed-up world of a French-Jewish family at Passover. It’s full of all sorts of offensively funny ethnic stereotypes played out for full effect.

And well worth seeing this weekend is Cabaret-Berlin: The Wild Scene a marvelous and fast-moving cabaret documentary about Berlin in the 20’s, composed entirely of black and white movie clips, set to recorded German music from that era. You can catch all of these movies — including Simon and the Oaks, Let my People Go, My Best Enemy, and My Dad is Barishnikov — this weekend: go to www.tjff.com for details. Also playing is How To Re-establish A Vodka Empire (www.vodkaempire.ca) at the Bloor Cinema on Sunday at 4:30pm… complete with a vodka tasting! And starting next week is Inside-Out, Toronto’s LGBT Film Festival.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

History, Geography, Language TJFF 2011 Films Reviewed Acne, Jewish Girl in Shanghai, Names of Love, Between Two Worlds,Little Rose PLUS Meek’s Cutoff, Modra

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Toronto’s Jewish Film Festival, is on now and continues through the weekend. This is the first year I’ve attended their movies, my curiosity sparked by the fact they programmed Fritz the Cat last year.

This year, the festival is featuring an extensive series of films and documentaries about the three Lennies: composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, Montreal musician and writer Leonard Cohen, and comedian Lenny Bruce. But what I find really interesting were the rest of the movies programmed. There is a diversity to them – in geography, history, language and politics – that’s refreshing.

So today I’m going to talk about a few of the fascinating and very good films at this year’s festival. Plus I’ll review a western like no other.

Little Rosa (Rózyczka)
Dir: Jan Kidawa-Blonski

Rozek (Robert Wieckiewicz) is a hardboiled intelligence agent working for the Polish government in 1967. He’s always up for a hard drink or a fistfight. But he’s spotted having a passionate sexual liaison with a beautiful young woman. Word is sent to his department that there is to be a purge of crackdown on Jews or suspected Jews throughout Poland, following Israel’s victory in the 1967 war. He’s assigned to bring down a mark, Adam, a prominent writer and intellectual in his 60’s. Although his name is Polish sounding, they suspect his father had a Jewish-sounding name.

Rozek assigns his naïve lover, Kamila (Magdalena Boczarska), now with the code name “Rozsczka” (Little Rose), to get close to Adam and report back anything that could be taken as Jewish, anti-governmental, conspiratorial, or Zionist. But even as she writes the reports, her feelings for Adam grow, as does her anger at Rozek for pimping her out.

As she grows even closer to Adam (Andrzej Seweryn), the three sides of the unwitting love triangle in this historical dramatic thriller come to an inevitable explosion during a time of European unrest, youth demonstrations, nationalist sentiment, and a government crackdown. This is an intriguing, visually sophisticated, story full of surprising secrets, chronicaling unexpected changes in Poland in the sixties.

Acné
Dir: Federico Veiroj

In this cute, low budget film from Montevideo, Rafael (Alejandro Tocar), a 13 year old, pimple-faced boy has a crush on a girl. But he has yet to approach her, tell her what he feels, never mind kiss her. And he’s totally at a loss of what to do, sexually with a girl – he’s 13, remember. This is where it gets… interesting. Apparently, in this insular Uruguayan -Jewish community, it is customary to introduce boys to manhood by hiring a tutor – a prostitute – to initiate him into the adult world. Will he ever talk to the girl of his dreams? And where will he go now? Acne gives a fascinating glimpse of everyday urban life in a world I’d never even heard of before this movie.

Next, an animated film – from another distinctly different area; this time — China!

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai
Dir: Wang Genfa

Ah Gen, a boy who works for a street vendor who fries big pancakes meets a starving and pennyless, red-haired girl with almond-shaped eyes, Rina, on the streets of Shanghai. Rina’s a refugee from Nazi Germany, but is living in Shanghai with just her little brother. She doesn’t know what happened to her parents, but remembers them by playing a song her violinist mother wrote.

The movie shows the two friends’ adventures set in wartime Shanghai, when Europeans – including a sizeable Jewish community – a very large Japanese population, and local Chinese people all lived together in that cosmopolitan city. Tough Ah Gen has to deal with Japanese street thugs and soldiers, and corrupt Chinese collaborators and his own family difficulties; while pretty Rina must survive, play her violin, reunite her family and find out what became of her parents.

This is a fully animated film, similar to Japanese anime, aimed mainly at kids and teenagers and lovers of anime. It’s very interesting to see a Chinese view of the Jews of Shanghai and references to the holocaust. So Rina’s European memories resemble Heidi in the alps, Japanese bullies wear kimono and speak broken Chinese, and an erhu player finds common ground with a violinist. Violence is portrayed very differently than in western animated cartoons, sometimes as broad slapstick.

This movie is the first Chinese depiction I’ve ever seen of European kids interacting with Chinese kids in pre-1949 Shanghai. It gives a whole new perspective to Tintin’s The Blue Lotus, and JG Ballard’s Empire of the Sun.

This movie is in Chinese with subtitles, and is suitable for children.

Names of Love (Le Nom des Gens)
Dir: Michel Leclerc

Bahia (Sara Forestier) is a beautiful young, brash and lively, left-wing feminist, who enjoys using her sexuality to bring right-wingers to her side of the fence. She says she always goes to bed on the first date. But she meets her opposite in the dry-as-toast Arthur Martin (who shares his name with a ubiquitous, mundane line of cookware), a vet who only deals with dead birds. He is as bland and reserved as she is open, but, somehow, they end up together.

They are both assimilated French people of mixed background – she has a Muslim Algerian father, and a radical leftist, while his mother, who never talks about her past — was a Jewish girl hidden in a convent during the war, and with an extremely uptight father. My description of the characters in this romantic comedy don’t do justice to the humour and subtlety of this very charming movie. It’s clever use of memory has Arthur’s teenage self, as well as his imagined grandparents whom he’d never met appearing on the screen beside him to offer coments on what he’s doing wrong. While Bahia’s overt sexuality and indifference to her own nudity (with breasts casually falling out, here or there) is sometimes taken to an extreme degree – this is a French comedy after all – the home of gratuitous nudity only for it’s female roles — her character is very sweet and interesting and transcends the usual gags and situations.

Will the two of them ever find common ground? Are their politics really opposed? And can their families approve?

This is a great movie –the  Canadian premier – and you should try to see it.

Between Two Worlds
Dir: Debora Kaufman and Alan Snitow
(World Premier)

The founders of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival are pleased that they have inspired similar festivals across the continent, and says Kaufman, many people consider ot “one of their favourite Jewish holidays”. But in recent years, due to some controversial programming, the festival itself was embroiled in extremely divisive and politically mired fights, between left and right-wing Jewish groups and individuals.

To address this, they have made a personal documentary, about these issues and  the seemingly intractable divisions within their own families. The issues discussed in the film — including the positioning of the Holocaust in present-day issues; religious identity, right and left wing viewpoints, censorship, lobbying, and boycotts from both sides; and the Israel/Palestine issue – give air time to advocates and activists from the various viewpoints, even when the differences seem unbridgeable.

They also bring in some fascinating personal details from the filmmakers’ own lives, including a religious divide within a family where somehow a secular, rightwing Jewish patriarch ended up with religious, Muslim grandchildren.

This is being shown on Sunday followed by a panel discussion moderated by the CBC’s Michael Enright. It should be very interesting.

Meek’s Cutoff
Dir: Kelly Reichardt

This is a western set in 1845, when a group of families head west in a wagon train on the Oregon Trail. But when they reach an anknown area, they hire a grizzled guide named Meek (Bruce Greenwood), to take them through a shortcut in Indian territory. With nothing to read but a bible, or listen to Meek’s stories, this diverse eastern group moving west falls into disarray as things start to go wrong. On the way, they capture a native man who speaks no English, whom they tie up and take with them. They eventually reach an agreement – without water they’ll die of thirst, and Meek doesn’t seem to be any help. The men are old, sick, or unstable, so it’s up to the women – especially Emily (excellently played by Michelle Williams) to do all the work and make all the crucial decisions.

Like the movie Days of Heaven, it’s a beautiful spare movie showing realistic daily life, rather than the dramatic hollywood-style glamorous
depiction of life in the old west. Nothing glamorous here. But it’s a very good western-slash-art film with a new perspective on the west. Great movie.

Also playing this weekend for one show only at the Royal is

Modra
Dir: Ingrid Veninger

a touching, light, hyper-realist drama, starring non-actors, about a girl who travels from Toronto to Slovakia to visit her relatives there, with a classmate pretending to her boyfriend. I enjoyed this Canadian movie at last year’s TIFF.

Most of the movies I reviewed will be playing this weekend, so be sure to come see some unusually good movies. The Toronto Jewish Flm Festival runs until May 15th, downtown, and up north in North York, and in Richmond Hill. Check on line at tjff.ca . And Meek’s Cutoff is showing once only this weekend at the Light Box – you should try to see them on the big screen while you can.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining.com.

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