I’ve previewed five films that will screen at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Oddly, and I swear that this is only a coincidence, three of them are French.
Here’s what I thought of them, from best to worst.
A- My Shortest Love Affair
Funny, serious, sexy, and true to life, this French gem catches the struggles and futility of a bad romance. Months after a one-night stand resulted in pregnancy, Louisa (Karin Albou, who also wrote and directed) and Charles (Patrick Mimoun) move in together to raise their soon-to-be-born child. But they’re hopelessly incompatible. They like different music. He’s allergic to her cat. She takes her Jewish identity seriously; he doesn’t. But worst of all, they’re horrible together in bed. Attempts at sex continually turn into arguments. (Both stars are naked for much of the film, and you can clearly see that Albou was very pregnant while directing and acting with her clothes off.) The only misstep is the ending, which is too quick and convenient.
- Castro, Wednesday, July 29, 6:30
- CineArts (Palo Alto), Thursday, July 30, 6:15
- California (Berkeley), Monday, August 3, 6:15
- Rafael, Saturday, August 8, 8:30
B The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films
Two cousins, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, built a successful Israeli movie studio, then moved to Los Angeles, mass-produced action flicks, made huge amounts of money, became a power in Hollywood, and then saw their business empire collapse. Hilla Madalia’s documentary, filled with interviews and film clips, entertains and informs, but isn’t really exceptional. Both men, and especially the more artistic Golan, make good on-screen interview subjects, and their own interviews carry the movie.
- Castro, Saturday, July 25, 6:50
- CineArts (Palo Alto),Monday, July 27, 6:30
- California (Berkeley), Sunday, August 2, 6:30
- Rafael, Sunday, August 9, 4:20
B A La Vie (To Life)
Three Auschwitz survivors, best friends in the camp, reunite at a French beach resort in 1962. The story really concentrates on Hélène (Julie Depardieu); married and very much in love with a man who was castrated by the Nazis (Hippolyte Girardot), her desires and her loyalties are in serious conflict. Rose (Suzanne Clément) seems at first to be the healthiest mentally, but her short temper belies issues she doesn’t want to surface. Lily (Johanna ter Steege) seems way ahead of her time as an activist for a feminist, egalitarian Judaism. The story is reasonably well-told, but predictable.
- CineArts (Palo Alto), Saturday, July 25, 8:30
- Castro, Thursday, July 30, 9:10
- Rafael, Friday, August 7, 8:30
- Lakeside Theater (Oakland), Saturday, August 8, 6:30
C The Law
A great cause doesn’t always create a great film. France’s struggle to legalize abortion in the mid-1970s comes off as a lot of compromises and backdoor deals done in smoke-filled rooms (literally smoke-filled; it’s France in the 1970s). As the film’s heroine, Minister of Health Simone Veil (Rue Mandar) comes off as steadfast and strong, but not particularly interesting. A subplot concerning a young photographer who wants to become a real journalist shows some human interest, but not enough. The real story, of pregnant women facing disaster, comes in rarely.
So why does this film belong in a Jewish film festival? Veil is a Holocaust survivor (she’s still alive). As the controversy over abortion grows in the film, some of the “pro-life” activists turn to anti-Semitism to attack her. But like all the other bits of human interest in this film, this gets buried under all of the political deals.
- Castro, Tuesday, July 28, 9:00
- CineArts (Palo Alto), Wednesday, July 29, 8:50
- Lakeside Theater (Oakland), Sunday, August 9, 6:30
C- Mr. Kaplan
In Uruguay at the end of the 20th century, an old, senile Jewish man almost randomly decides that an equally old German man is a Nazi in hiding. So he teams up with an unemployed, alcoholic loser of an ex-cop to bring the mass murderer to justice. Writer/director Alvaro Brechner tries to mix broad comedy with sentimental drama, but he only moderately succeeds with either style, and never succeeds in bringing them satisfactorily together. I figured out the “surprise” ending less than half an hour into the movie.