The 11th annual Pittsburgh Jewish Israeli Film Festival continues, with films screening Thursdays through Mondays until March 21 at area theaters. Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for students. Six-film passes for $40 are also available. For tickets and more information, see www.pjiff.net or call 412-992-5203.
YOSSI AND JAGGER: LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD
GLOOMY SUNDAY (Germany, 2000). "Gloomy Sunday" is an apparently real Hungarian song whose melody was so affecting that it caused suicides among listeners in the early 20th century. Rolf SchÃ¼bel's Gloomy Sunday is a somewhat less real but nonetheless absorbing story of the song's piano-playing composer, the Jewish owner of the restaurant where the pianist performs, and the woman named Ilona they both love -- for her beauty if for nothing else the film makes apparent. Their story is further complicated by the coming of World War II and the machinations of a German citizen also in love with Ilona. After the restaurateur saves the German from his despair (Ilona rejects him), the German vows to return the favor. But he returns later as a Nazi colonel. Gloomy Sunday resembles Francois Truffaut's Jules et Jim or even its American remake, Paul Mazursky's Willie and Phil (or even Big Night, with Hungarian roulade and braised pike instead of Italian food) -- to a point. That point, of course, is the advent of the Holocaust. It turns an ultimately unbelievable story (two men willing to share a woman's affections without killing each other) into an all-too-believable intrigue that gives the love story its meaning. In German with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Sat., March 13, at Loews Waterfront, and 7:30 p.m. Mon., March 15, at the Denis Theater. (Marty Levine)
GOD'S SANDBOX (Israel, 2002). Liz, a successful author, arrives at a bohemian beach in the Sinai desert to retrieve her daughter, Rachel, who has run away. One evening, mother and daughter are drawn into a story, told by a young café owner, about a free-lovin' Western hippie named Leila who a couple decades before had met Najim, a handsome young member of the nomadic Bedouin tribe. After a couple steamy sex scenes, Najim brings Leila to meet the tribe, who are scandalized and banish them both. When they encounter another Bedouin tribe one evening, Leila is horrified to witness a female circumcision and, being "impure," eventually faces pressure from Najim to have the same procedure performed on her. Though we get there circuitously, exposing the barbarism of female circumcision turns out to be the primary motive of filmmaker Doron Eran's film. It's a noble motive, but Eran has made a clunky, muddled movie, where the acting is wooden, the story-within-a-story structure is tiresome, and the issue of female circumcision gets larded up in a pre-scripted mother-daughter melodrama. In English, Hebrew and Arabic, with subtitles. 9:40 p.m. Sat., March 13. Loews Waterfront (Andy Newman)
UNDYING LOVE (Canada, 2002). An elderly woman laughs and says, "Hitler was my matchmaker," referring to the twist of history that placed herself and her future husband, two formerly disparate Europeans, in the same concentration camp. The husband looks somewhat pained at the joke, but the woman's spirited defense of a terrible time re-cast in her own terms illustrates the thesis of Helene Klodawsky's documentary film -- that the joy of life, love and laughter cannot be extinguished, even in the worst of circumstances. Several Holocaust survivors relate similar tales -- of finding love and hope despite imprisonment, deprivation and the devastation of their families, homes and communities -- as if it were fated to be. Most cite the horrors they experienced as youths as the passion that later drove them to seek joy in their renewed normality -- weddings, new families, even small vanities like hair-dos and clothing. (One bride had a white wedding gown fashioned from a German army parachute, worn in turn by 16 other girls in the displaced-persons camp after the war.) Klodawsky illustrates such stories with family photos, archival film footage and re-enactments, but it is the first-person narratives, related still with determination and awe, that make her film so heartfelt and inspirational. The film will be followed by a program hosted by the Holocaust Center. To be screened via video projection. In English and Yiddish, with subtitles. 1 p.m. Sun., March 14. Regent Square (Al Hoff)
ONE OF THE LAMED-VAV (Israel, 2003). This documentary from Itzhak Halutzi follows two rabbis, both grandsons of Jerusalem's fabled Rabbi Arye Levin, as they re-trace his steps through his old neighborhood, and explain how they have tried to pattern their own lives and vocations after the rabbi's enlightened approach. As presented here in this admittedly biased profile, Rabbi Arye eschewed the divisiveness of the region's religious-based politics and embraced all -- from his fellow poor Lithuanian immigrants to ostracized lepers and prisoners -- practicing and preaching gentleness and universal respect. Halutzi's film is less a biographical portrait than it is an essay on the lasting effects of a real community treasure: Three decades after Rabbi Arye's death, neighbors and former prisoners still recall the rabbi's simplest gestures that brought them peace. The film will be introduced by Rebitzen Judi Wasserman, of Shaare Torah Congregation, who is Rabbi Ayre's great-granddaughter. To be screened via video projection. In Hebrew with subtitles. 4 p.m. Sun., March 14. Loews Waterfront (AH)
MY TERRORIST (Israel, 2002). In 1978, Israeli Yulie Gerstel was injured in an ambush on an El-Al airline crew by Arab terrorists in London; a co-worker died. Twenty-three years later, having grown into forgiveness, Gerstel established contact with one of the attackers, who was serving a life sentence, and began efforts to get him freed. But Gerstel's informal, home-movie-ish documentary is only partly about her pen-pal relationship with Iraqi-born Fahad Mihyi (whom we see only in an old photo). This child of a politically connected Israeli family also wants to explore the roots of terrorism -- as in her eye-opening first visit to the occupied territories -- and to campaign to end the cycle of revenge, if only to show her children there's another way. While hardly groundbreaking, Gerstel's diaristic record of her experience is impassioned and thoughtful. "The only hope is to overcome fear and face each other," she says -- a dictum she applies not just to encounters with Palestinians, but also to her confrontations with people including a terrorism victim's mother, who holds that Arabs shouldn't even be spoken to. To be screened via video projection. In Hebrew with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sun., March 14. Loews Waterfront (Bill O'Driscoll)
COLUMBIA -- THE TRAGIC LOSS (Israel, 2004). PJIFF hosts the American premiere of an hour-long documentary recounting the final journey of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and his six colleagues, who perished last winter on the space shuttle Columbia. Using actual video footage shot in space, e-mails from the crew, excerpts from Ramon's journal that was discovered amidst the wreckage, and remembrances from Ramon's relatives, director Naftaly Gliksberg paints a portrait of a native-son pioneer. To be screened via video projection. In English and Hebrew with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Thu., March 18, at Loews Waterfront, and 1 p.m. Sun., March 21, at Destinta Bridgeville.