Here are my opinions of five films that will play at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July 21 – August 7). Three of them are contemporary dramas. The other two are Holocaust documentaries.
The films are listed from best to worst.
A Babi Yar. Context
JFI’s 2022 Freedom of Expression Award! Over two days in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, German soldiers murdered more than 30,000 Jews. Sergei Loznitsa’s important documentary doesn’t show the massacre (I don’t think it was filmed), but he shows us what happened in the Ukraine just after Hitler turned his guns on Stalin. Loznitsa gives a not always positive image of the Ukrainian people, who really don’t seem to care about their Jewish neighbors at all. But then, they were caught between the two most evil dictators in history. The Nazis, at least for non-Jews, seemed to be the better choice. A powerful film.
- Castro, Sunday, July 24, 11:30am
Opening Night! The roller coaster of marriage gets a full workout in this Israeli story. Meir and Tova have been married so long their relationship has gone flat, to the point where Meir goes out for a walk while having dinner with their adult children. But then they meet the wealthy swinger in their apartment building’s penthouse. At times, the new friend seems to be exactly what their relationship needs. Or perhaps the last thing any of them should try.
What makes this a Jewish film? It’s an Israeli film, and everyone in it is Jewish.
- Castro, Thursday, July 21, 6:30pm
B+ Haute Couture
Racism, youth against age, rich vs. poor, in the Paris world of expensive fashion. Jade, teenaged and not quite white, hangs out with her friends and steals what she can. But she also lovingly takes care of her very sick mother. Esther, a top designer at Dior, notices Jade’s talent with a needle and takes her under her wing. But Jade doesn’t always want to work, and there is racism among the seamstresses. Near the end, the film begins to look like a Dior commercial.
Why is this a Jewish film? Esther’s necklace, which has a Jewish star, helps the two to come together.
C+ Speer Goes to Hollywood
In 1971, directors Stanley Kubrick and Carol Reed both considered to make a movie about Albert Speer – Hitler’s favorite architect. Speer managed to get away from the gallows at Nuremberg and wrote a best seller. Neither Kubrick nor Reed made the planned movie, but now documentarian Vanessa Lapa created this film about the movie never made (probably thankfully). There’s plenty of footage of Nazi celebrations and Nazi atrocities, while German and British actors read transcriptions of discussions between Speer and the filmmakers. There are also clips from the Nuremberg trials. You’ve seen much of this before, but it’s interesting to hear what Speer had to say, even if it’s not really in his voice.
- Albany Twin, Sunday, July 31, 11:30am
D Simchas and Sorrows
I’m not sure if this was intended to be a comedy or a drama. It falls flat either way. A pregnant ex-Catholic wants to marry her Jewish boyfriend. So, she sets out to convert. This could have been a very funny satire on modern-day New York Judaism, but it isn’t. They go to parties where nothing important happens. They argue about a Christmas tree. They have rich friends, some of whom are famous. There’s a young, female rabbi who’s nice but doesn’t seem to be well-enough learned for the job. And the movie goes on much too long.