Putin’s Prisoner

Documentary spotlights the rise and fall of jailed Russian Jewish oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
11/22/2011 - 19:00
Special to the Jewish Week

Russian history in the past century has consisted of a series of leaps from the frying pan of czarist rule into a relentless series of fires of varying degrees of infernal intensity.

The “return” to power of Vladimir Putin — does anyone really think he was away? — bodes ill for any dream of positive change in the former Soviet Union. It certainly spells continued prison time for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil company, who has been imprisoned in Siberia for more than seven years on charges of tax evasion.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil company, who has been imprisoned in Siberia.

What Lies Beneath

Two Holocaust films represent radically dissimilar visions of the relationship between Judaism and death.
11/14/2011 - 19:00
Special to the Jewish Week

The objects themselves are insignificant. Seven gold coins, a dirt-encrusted wristwatch, a bracelet. Taken together, they might be worth several hundred dollars but their value really can only be calculated in human suffering and the power of memory.

Ella Prince, a Maidanek survivor, returns to the Polish camp many years after their escape. ©2011 Unfinished Business One, LLC

Behind Heifetz’s Genius

‘God’s Fiddler’ chronicles the violin virtuoso’s life and career.
11/10/2011 - 19:00
Special to the Jewish Week

Genius is pure enigma. It has been called “an infinite capacity for taking pains,” but that quality describes drudgery too. There must be some inexplicable spark, some breath of the Divine that transforms mere technical perfection, simple virtuosity into something transcendent.

Jascha Heifetz

The Melancholy Israel Film Festival

From a thwarted aliyah bid to a failed Arab-Jewish friendship, the tone at the JCC’s ‘Other’ film series is discouraging.
10/31/2011 - 20:00
Special to the Jewish Week

The overriding tone of this year’s edition of the Other Israel Film Festival is one of melancholy, tinged with a degree of exhaustion. It is as if the intractable problems of the Jewish state and its Palestinian neighbors have worn down all the participants, the ossified positions that all sides have taken for so long have become so deeply ingrained that they seemingly will not admit the possibilities of positive change.

The festival’s opening-night film, “Dolphin Boy,” right. Below, the BBC production “The Promise.”

The Love Triangle Of All Love Triangles

Inside the Freud-Jung-Sabine Speilrein relationship.
10/10/2011 - 20:00
Special to the Jewish Week

David Cronenberg has always been fascinated by the relationship between mental state and bodily consequences. So it was perhaps inevitable that he would make a film about Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalytic movement. His very first film, a seven-minute short, “Transfer,” is about the relationship between a psychiatrist and a patient.

 Fassbender and Keira Knightley as Sabine Speilrein.

The Banality Of Violence?

Film festival includes Polanski working of ‘God of Carnage’ and Israeli piece on dysfunctional cops.
10/03/2011 - 20:00
Special to the Jewish Week

There is a tiny detail in “Carnage,” the new Roman Polanski film that opened this year’s New York Film Festival, something small but telling in the excellent production design by Dean Tavoularis. The film, which is almost a verbatim rendering of Jewish playwright Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” is a sardonic reflection on how well-intentioned and soi-disant sophisticated New Yorkers deal with the intrusion of violence on a small scale into their lives.

Jodie Foster, left, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet in Roman Polanski’s “Carnage.” Guy Ferrandis/Sony Pictures

One Hungarian Town’s Lost Jews

There Was Once’ is an unusually effective and moving Holocaust documentary.
09/19/2011 - 20:00
Special to the Jewish Week

Eva Gregory recalls the moment when she realized that her family was in great peril. Then a young girl, she had accidentally dropped and shattered an entire set of expensive china. Horrified at what she had done, she braced for her mother’s explosion, but all her mother said was, “It’s all right. This doesn’t matter anymore.” Gregory, now an elderly woman, says, “That’s when I realized how bad the situation was.”

The elementary school in Kalosca, Hungary, in 1942.

The Last Jewish Olympiad Of Berlin

New film falls flat in its attempts to tell the story of Gretel Bergmann, the female high jumper pressured off the German team.
09/12/2011 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

Racism is a virulent form of insanity. It makes people do stupid, self-defeating things. Consider the case of the Nazis and their preparation for the 1936 Olympics, held in Berlin. Among the best athletes preparing to compete was Gretel Bergmann, probably the finest female high jumper in the world. Only one small problem for the German track-and-field team: she was Jewish. So after the Nazis contrived to have her rejoin the team, apparently a response to American threats to boycott the Games, they did everything in their power to drive her off the team.

Members of the German track-and-field team with Nazi Party officials.

The Muslim Boy At The Yeshiva

In ‘David,’ a story of interfaith friendship manages to avoid feel-good clichés.
09/05/2011 - 20:00
Special to the Jewish Week

Any time you have two schoolboys of different ethnicities thrown together in a drama, there is the danger of creating an after-school special, one of those facile, rather fatuous feel-good movies in which everyone comes to love one another, regardless of any social reality and regardless of the outside world. So when someone tells you that “David,” a new indie film from writer-directors Joel Fendelman and Patrick Daly is about a couple of 11-year-olds, one Muslim the other an Orthodox Jew, who become friends due to a misunderstanding, you might expect the worst.

Yoav (Binyomin Shtaynberger) and Daud (Muatasem Mishal) in Chinatown in a scene from “David.”

Refinancing Bernstein’s ‘The Debt’

Remake of Mossad movie, with Helen Mirren, is even better than the original.
08/30/2011 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

The difference between Assaf Bernstein’s 2007 film “The Debt” and the English-language remake that opens on Aug. 31 can be seen in the faces of the films’ respective female leads. In the Israeli original, Gila Almagor looks like a prosperous suburban matron, her face unlined except for an almost imperceptible scar on one cheek. By contrast, Helen Mirren sports an angry-looking L-shaped scar that draws her face taut, emphasizing the lined, almost craggy, and exhausted visage of someone with the weight of Jewish history on her shoulders.

Helen Mirren in "The Debt."
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