A Suicide In The Family

Mexican-Jewish director Mariana Chenillo
mines her grandparents’ story in ‘Nora’s Will.’

Special To The Jewish Week

Beginning writers and filmmakers are always told, “Write what you know.” While that is certainly sound advice, it should come with a warning label that reads, “May lead to hurt feelings among friends and family, screaming, yelling, possible bloody nose.” Mariana Chenillo, whose superb first feature film “Nora’s Will” opens on Friday, managed to avoid all of those pitfalls, but drawing on her family history for the film’s story was not without its nervous moments.

Fernando Luján as a cynical, weary man who has suffered with his wife’s suicide attempts in “Nora’s Will.”

The Filmmaker As Therapist

Jay Rosenblatt and the healing power of cinema.

Special To The Jewish Week

 Jay Rosenblatt’s parents would probably have wanted him to be a doctor. After all, that’s what Jewish parents of baby boomers usually wanted for their kids in Sheepshead Bay. And Rosenblatt, born there in 1955, almost accommodated them. He was a mental health therapist for several years, working in hospitals and leading group therapy sessions. He was working towards his master’s degree in counseling when the lightning bolt hit him.

French Dialogue, ‘Navajo’ Subtitles

NY Film Fest’s Jewish-themed offerings are moody works by European old masters; just don’t expect to understand everything.

Special To The Jewish Week

By a curious coincidence, the two new feature films in this year’s New York Film Festival that deal directly with Jewish themes are the work of two older masters of European cinema, neither of them Jewish: Manoel de Oliveira and Jean-Luc Godard. It would be hard to imagine two more dissimilar films than Oliveira’s “The Strange Case of Angelica” and Godard’s “Film Socialisme,” as even their titles suggest. Perhaps those differences are derived from the distance between their birth dates: 1908 in Oliveira’s case, 1930 in Godard’s.

Jean Luc Godard

The Doctors Of Evil

Robert Lifton discusses his interviews with the physicians who carried out the Nazi killing program.

Special To The Jewish Week

Early in the excellent new documentary “Robert Lifton: Nazi Doctors,” co-director Wolfgang Richter expresses his concern to Dr. Lifton about the sheer immensity of the Holocaust as a topic for study. Lifton, who is the very soul of calm and equanimity throughout the film, replies quietly: “One can only do so much ... One has to fail to comprehend the entire event. It’s elusive, but one can capture or illuminate some portion of it.”

Of the Nazi doctors he interviewed, Robert Lifton said: “They were looking for a kind of absolution.”

Answering The ‘Nuremberg’ Call

For Sandra Schulberg, a sense of obligation surrounded her restoration of her father’s film of the historic Nazi trial.

Special To The Jewish Week

The road from Auschwitz to Nuremberg is a twisting, uncertain one. Some of the Nazis who walked it did so in shackles, much deserved. For others, it was a liberation in the most profound sense. Ernest Michel was one of those lucky few.

A cameraman films during the Nuremberg Trials.

Allen Ginsberg: The Film Version

In dramatizing the beat poet, the experimental ‘Howl’ is a bold attempt to find a visual language for his ‘bop kabbalah’ rhythms.

Special To The Jewish Week

About halfway into “Howl,” the edgy, thoughtful new docudrama by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, you begin to realize that, in his uncanny recreation of Allen Ginsberg’s speech and performance rhythms, James Franco is beginning to edge into an series of incantatory rhythms not unlike that of a chasid in the throes of ecstatic prayer.

Enlightenment on the page: James Franco as Allen Ginsberg in “Howl.”

Film Of Cantors’ Poland Trip Goes Flat

‘100 Voices: A Journey Home’ offers little historical context.

Special To The Jewish Week

I feel utterly certain that the new documentary “100 Voices: A Journey Home” is the most exasperating film I will see in 2010. The film, which documents the concert tour of a hundred members of the Cantorial Assembly to Poland, dashes all over the place, offering quick histories of the American cantorate, the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival, the Yiddish theater, and the personal stories of several cantors and musicians whose families survived the Shoah.

“100 Voices: A Journey Home”

Being Ruth Gruber

The pioneering, nonagenarian Jewish journalist is a perfect documentary subject; fortunately, the film landed the perfect director as well.

Special to the Jewish Week

Ruth Gruber, the subject of a wonderfully economical and crisp documentary, "Ahead of Time," is a magnificent one-of-a-kind figure in 20th-century Jewish history. Gruber is the product of, she recounts with a grin, "a shtetl called Brooklyn. … Everybody there was Jewish." She was a prodigy who entered New York University at 15 and earned a doctorate from the University of Cologne at 20. But the attractions of the academy couldn't compete with the turmoil of worldwide economic depression, the New Deal at home and the rise of Fascism in Europe.

Ruth Gruber

Hitler, The Film

Hans-Jurgen Syberberg plumbs the German character,
and film history, across more than seven hours in
‘Hitler: A Film from Germany.’

Special To The Jewish Week

The 1970s was the age of heroic avant-gardism, a period of out-sized works — the lengthy “operas” of Robert Wilson, the monumental portraits of Chuck Close, Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” William Gaddis’ “J.R.” It was a time of omnivorous works that strove to include the entire world — self-referential, bombastic, difficult endurance tests fueled by a frequently thrilling blend of audacity, encyclopedic knowledge and testosterone — nowhere more so than in film, and nowhere in film more than in the films of Hans-J

A German child holds a Hitler puppet in Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s “Hitler: A Film From Germany.”

The Jewish Side Of Judy (Cohen) Chicago

Since her controversial 1993 ‘Holocaust Project,’ the groundbreaking feminist artist has been incorporating her heritage in many of her works.

Staff Writer

In 1984, the artist Judy Chicago was at party where a poet read a piece about the Holocaust.

Judy Chicago, born Judith Sylvia Cohen.
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