A lovable Hollywood mogul, the Holocaust & the Occupation, and the man who made Casablanca: Saturday at the SF Jewish Film Fest

I saw three movies at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Saturday. Two of them were documentaries, the other was a fiction film based on history. One of them was the best I’ve seen at this year’s festival. Another was the worst.

Carl Laemmle

This interesting, entertaining, but conventional documentary tells us that the creator of Universal Pictures was a near flawless, wonderful human being. Director James Freedman covers the way this German Jew came to America, got into the new movie business, fought Thomas Edison, created great movies, launched many important careers, and made humane and liberal pictures. In the last section, Freedman tells us how in retirement he did everything he could to get Jews out of Germany and into America. Worth watching.

I give Carl Laemmle a B+.

How is this a Jewish film? It’s about a German Jew who brought many other Jews to this country.

There was no Q&A after the film.

You have one more chance to see Carl Laemmle, at the Rafael, on Friday August 2, at 2:10.

I skipped the second movie of the day, Golda, because I had already seen it and written about it.

Afterward

This courageous documentary is the best film I’ve seen at the Festival so far. Psychiatrist-turned-filmmaker Ofra Bloch interviewed two very different kinds of non-Jews that are deeply locked into our recent history. She interviews grown children and grandchildren of those who perpetrated the Holocaust. Then she goes to Israel to interview Palestinians fighting – sometimes violently – against the Occupation. There’s a lot of PTSD in this film, and much of it seems to be generational. At one point, I felt that she was spending too much time on the Palestinians; then I realized that the problem was with me. I felt more comfortable with Jews as victims than as perpetrators.

I give Afterward a very high A.

Do I have to tell you why this is a Jewish film?

Bloch answered questions after the screening. Some highlights, edited for clarity and brevity:

  • Athough I’ve been living here [the United States] for 39 years, I still feel like part of the Occupation.
  • I realized I needed to look at second- and third-generation perpetrators. I had to go to Germany.
  • Amongst Palestinians, I looked for people who wanted non-violent change.
  • On moving from psychiatry to filmmaking: All my life I wanted to do both. Filmmaking needs the same skills as psychiatry.
  • I was concerned about my boys. I needed to do something about the hate.
  • On her feelings about the BDS Movement: It’s non-violent, and Israel is fighting it hard. That means they’re scared. It’s being criticized and I’m sure there are anti-Semites there, as there are everywhere.
  • We really don’t know other people’s hopes. It’s important to use active listening.
  • I’m not trying to compare the Occupation to the Holocaust, but they do come one after the other.
  • I would love to show this film to Israel. I also want to show it in the West Bank and in Germany.

I saw the last SFJFF screening of Afterward.

Curtiz

This Hungarian movie about Michael Curtiz directing Casablanca is bad in so many ways. (The dialog is mostly in English.) Ferenc Lengyel’s performance in the leading role feels like fingernails on a chalkboard. I don’t care if it’s historically accurate, but I do care about plausibility, and much of it is just ridiculous. A government representative keeps saying things intended to remind us of Donald Trump. Even Mr. Spock and the U.S.S. Enterprise make an appearance. On the good side, Ferenc Lengyel’s (mostly) black and white cinematography is just beautiful, even though it doesn’t help the story; it’s just showing off.

I give Curtiz a D.

How is this a Jewish film. Curtiz was a Hungarian Jew. There’s a minor subplot about getting his family members out of harms way.

There was no Q&A after the film.

I saw the last SFJFF screening of Curtiz. I have no desire to see it again.

One thought on “A lovable Hollywood mogul, the Holocaust & the Occupation, and the man who made Casablanca: Saturday at the SF Jewish Film Fest

  1. Thanks for your reviews. I largely agree with you about the two films you reviewed that I saw: “Afterward” and “Curtiz”. “Afterward” impressed me a lot in the access the filmmaker was able to get to offspring of Nazi and SS soldiers, and to Palestinian activists, including a therapist, and the intimacy and power of the interviews is remarkable. For “Curtiz”, I actually walked out midway. It paints a very negative portrait of its subject. The film was fun to watch visually, however, as you say.

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