San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Preview: Part 2

Four more films that will play at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Three of them are documentaries; the other is a comedy. Three of them are about Israel/ Palestine issues.

This is the last article I’ll write on this festival until after Opening Night.

A- What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

I left this documentary wanting to read more of Pauline Kael’s movie reviews. Fifty years ago, Kael was the most important film critic in the country. She celebrated well-made trash and panned overly self-conscious art. She attacked the auteur theory and almost singlehandedly made Bonnie and Clyde an important film. Director Rob Garver’s enjoyable doc, filled as much with movie clips as with interviews, entertains as much as it informs. I wonder how Kael, who died in 2001, would have reviewed this film.

What makes this a Jewish film? When Kael panned the massive Holocaust documentary Shoah, she was attacked as a self-hating Jew. That’s the only mention of her ethnicity in the film.

B+ Tel Aviv On Fire

The plot is farcical, but it’s played straight enough to make you believe in the characters and the absurd situation, without sacrificing the laughs. Young and inept Salam (Kais Nashif) gets a break as a writer on a Palestinian soap opera, even though he can barely write a sentence. His secret: An Israeli officer has his own reasons for changing the show’s story. As Salam’s problems pile up (imagine having an artistic collaborator who can have you arrested), Salam gains self-assurance and learns how to write.

Why is this a Jewish film? It’s an Israeli film, even if it’s more of a Palestinian film. But that makes it Jewish.

B Advocate

This gut-wrenching but overlong documentary follows Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel through a difficult and controversial trial, with flashbacks to her earlier life. She specializes in defending Palestinians accused of terrorism, and it’s not surprising that she’s one of the most hated Jews in Israel (or at least that’s what this film suggests). Her husband and adult children give us their own view of Tsemel, which seems to be entirely positive. Filmmakers Rachel Leah Jones and Phillipe Bellaiche often split the screen between true footage and animation, which I think was used to hide defendants’ faces. Powerful, but it could have been 20 minutes shorter.

I don’t think I need to explain why this is a Jewish film.

B- King Bibi

Dan Shadur’s documentary on the long-running Prime Minister of Israel made my blood boil despite the film’s emotional distance and narrator Alon Aboutboul’s flat, dispassionate voice. I often wondered how Shadur felt about Netanyahu, and what he was trying to say about him. The film covers the Prime Minister’s entire political career, shows how he learned public speaking, outsmarted his opponents, and turned Israel into the rightwing mess that it has become. I think Shadur finds Netanyahu terrifying, but maybe it’s my own feelings slipping through.