The 14th annual Pittsburgh Jewish-Israeli Film Festival opens its 17-day run on Thu., March 8, with the Pittsburgh premiere of Monsieur Batignole, a dramedy set in France during the German occupation. The festival also offers more than 20 films from Israel, Europe and North America representing Jewish experiences from the comic to the dramatic to the inspirational, all by way of recent narrative features and documentaries.
Films screen through Sun., March 25, at five area theaters including SouthSide Works Cinema, on the South Side (412-381-7335); the Galleria, in Mount Lebanon (1500 Washington Road, 412-531-5551); the Cranberry 8 (Route 19, Cranberry, 724-772-3111); the Manor Theater, in Squirrel Hill (1729 Murray Ave., 412-422-7729); and the Wynnsong 12, in Delmont (401 Vine St., 724-468-3553). Tickets are $8 ($7 seniors/$5 students). For tickets and more information, see www.ujfpittsburgh.org/filmfestival or call 412-992-5203.
The first week's selections are as follows:
ALL IS WELL BY ME. This 2005 documentary, co-directed by Yaron Amitai and Erez Tadmor, chronicles the life of singer Josie Katz. A Pittsburgh native, she re-located to Israel, initially to work on a kibbutz. After hooking up with the Israeli popular-music scene, she helped found a successful musical trio. Over time, Katz's personal and professional life deteriorated; after presenting her trials, All Is Well catches up with Katz today, as she pursues a comeback. Director Amitai will lead a discussion following the film. In English, and Hebrew, with subtitles. To be screened via video projection. 7:30 p.m. Thu., March 15. SouthSide Works
KING OF BEGGARS. No longer is the phrase "Jewish action flick" an oxymoron. Set in 16th-century Eastern Europe, Uri Paster's King is a sort of kosher Braveheart, but with even more messianic overtones -- and a less hopeful sacrifice. Fishke (Shahar Sorek) is a lame but religiously devout bathhouse attendant. He and his neighbors are caught between warring Russians and Poles, who share only their hatred of the Jews living between them. But after being deceived in an arranged marriage, Fishke joins with a group of forest bandits and becomes an unlikely general, leading a rebellion to carve out a place for his people. King's themes of betrayal and a Promised Land deferred are unsurprising. But at 98 minutes, this 2006 Israeli film is briskly paced, and it raises some timely questions: What is gained, and what is lost, when an oppressed people put down their prayer books and take up arms? In Hebrew and Russian, with subtitles. 7:20 p.m. Sat., March 10 (SouthSide Works), and 7:30 p.m. Wed., March 14 (Wynnsong 12). (Chris Potter)
A LOVE TO HIDE. For the longest time, Christian Faure's film plays out like a high-class soap opera: The very pretty Sarah moves in with the very pretty Jean and his very pretty boyfriend Philippe. She's still in love with Jean but he loves Philippe and Philippe isn't crazy about having Sarah around in their very pretty apartment. The problem, however, is that A Love is set in occupied Paris; Sarah is a Jew who's just watched her family get shot. The Third Reich is starting to round up and transport homosexuals, but the movie's biggest concern is whether Sarah will get Jean into her bed. Fortunately or not (depending on what you're in the mood for) the second half is a descent into standard Nazi horror; lethal homophobia makes an appearance, Jean gets sent to Dachau and the bloodied bodies begin to pile up. It's difficult to say if the first half gives the second its dramatic weight, but A Love to Hide is surely one of the perkiest movie about the Holocaust ever made. In French, with subtitles. To be screened via video projection. 3 p.m. Sun., March 11. SouthSide Works (Ted Hoover)
MONSIEUR BATIGNOLE. In Gérard Jugnot's 2002 dramedy set in 1942, a Parisian butcher, Edmond Batignole (Jugnot), muddles through the German occupation. He tolerates his collaborating future son-in-law; takes the odd financial benefit from the Germans; and doesn't intervene when the Nazis come for his Jewish neighbors. When circumstances deposit a wide-eyed, orphaned Jewish boy on his doorstep, M. Batignole's latent good nature is stirred. He shifts gears, risking his life to shuttle the smart-mouthed lad safely out of the country. Jugnot handles the material lightly, opting for warmth and sentimentality over outrage. Thus, this is a sweetish and enjoyable film, but the slim story and the slightly jokey nature of it all strip away any emotional intensity. We're charmed, but never horrified and saddened by what are truly terrible events. The Thu., March 8 screening will be followed by a reception, featuring desserts and live entertainment. In French and German, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Thu., March 8 (SouthSide Works; $30/$10 students). Also, 7 p.m. Mon., March 12. Cranberry 8. (Al Hoff)
RACHEL IS. Both video and the written world are employed in this unique presentation that finds two Pittsburgh women exploring the life of Rachel, a young mentally retarded woman. In the 1980s, Jane Bernstein wrote a book, Loving Rachel, about her daughter; more recently, Rachel's sister, Charlotte Glynn, was inspired to make a feature-length documentary. Her film focuses on where Rachel can find a place in the wider world -- in a group home, or perhaps a kibbutz-like community in Israel? Bernstein will read from her new book, Rachel in the World, while Glynn will show clips from her film-in-progress, Rachel Is. A discussion with both women will follow. To be screened via video projection. 11 a.m. Sun., March 11. SouthSide Works
1000 CALORIES. Three middle-aged women, friends since their youthful days in the Israeli army, reunite for a spa weekend. Dalia Mevorah's hour-long dramedy originally aired as part of the Israeli TV series Reflections of Women. Its jokey-serious mix of issues -- motherhood, infidelity, body image -- will be familiar to viewers of Lifetime and Oxygen: There will be shocking revelations (telegraphed, naturally, well in advance), true feelings blurted out, and tears shed. But warm humor, especially that of the zaftig, sensuous Esti Zakheim, and the trio's friendship, will triumph. See it with your best girlfriend. Screens with the short film "The Tribe." In Hebrew, with subtitles. To be screened via video projection. 1 p.m. Sun., March 11. SouthSide Works (AH)
THREE MOTHERS. This well-produced and -acted melodrama tracks six decades of family turmoil among triplet sisters, born in Egypt in 1942, but who live their adult lives in neighboring Israel. Using the conceit of elders taping video remembrances, director Dina Zvi-Riklis gradually reveals via flashback the secrets and trials that have bound the three women -- mysterious parentage, show-biz egos, near-fatal accidents, treachery. It's quite the overload of shocking revelations, but Zvi-Riklis handles the material deftly -- aided immeasurably by understated performances by the six primary actresses, portraying the sisters both young and elderly. The result is akin to a juicy, compulsively readable beach novel, with just enough reality (cultural shifts, gender politics, Mideast history) to make the experience guilt-free. In Hebrew, Arabic and French, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sun., March 11 (SouthSide Works), and 7 p.m. Tue., March 13 (Galleria). (AH)
THE TRIBE. If Jews are the archetypal outsiders-looking-in, what does it mean that Barbie -- that quintessential insider -- was not only created by a first-generation American Jew, but modeled by her maker (post-Holocaust) after a zaftig German doll named Lilli? But Barbie (a.k.a. Barbara Millicent Roberts) is only the most obvious jumping-off point for Tiffany Shlain's glib, fast-paced 18-minute essay, which conscripts archival and appropriated footage, and deploys clever animation, to ask what it signifies to be Jewish today. No less than Peter Coyote's wittily scripted narration, the compulsively bouncy visuals argue that Jews retain a potent sense of identity, even as that identity continues to shift in relation to language, religion and Israeli politics. Screens with 1000 Calories. To be screened via video projection. (Bill O'Driscoll)
WHAT A WONDERFUL PLACE. The land of immigrants called Israel is dealing with ethnically Other newcomers. In Eyal Halfon's passionate and imaginative drama, Thais, Russians and Latin Americans perform the county's least remunerative jobs, from prosaic field labor to toils in the sad, lurid underworld of white-slavery brothels. With terse dialogue and thoughtful direction of a skilled cast, Halfon ties the fates of several immigrants to those of native Israelis, in particular an ex-cop indebted to a crime boss, a kindly but depressive farmer, and a border patrolman with an elderly father. For cinema with a social agenda, it doesn't get much better: Wonderful Place is less an exposé of the patently unjust plight of poor immigrants than a portrait of the anxiety, self-indulgence and moral culpability of their nominal hosts, whom Halfon suggests must break their cycle of compulsive consumption and exploitation in order to recover their humanity. In English, and various languages with subtitles. 9:20 p.m. Sat., March 10. SouthSide Works. (BO)