Film

The Last ‘Elder’ Of Terezin

Claude Lanzmann’s portrait of Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein is more advocacy than his previous Shoah works.

09/24/2013
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A few years ago, it was noted in this space that the heroic age of  modernism in film, with its accompanying epic running times, had ended with the 1980s. However, it would appear that two of the world’s greatest documentary filmmakers, Claude Lanzmann and Frederick Wiseman, didn’t get the memo. Their new films, part of this year’s New York Film Festival, which kicks off on Sept. 27, are 218 and 244 minutes long, respectively. While neither Lanzmann’s “The Last of the Unjust” nor Wiseman’s “At Berkeley” are among the directors’ best work, each film has considerable merit, raises deeply troubling issues and rewards the patient and attentive viewer. (See Jewish Week website, thejewishweek.com, for review of Wiseman’s “At Berkeley.”)

Lanzmann, left, and Murmelstein in scene from “The Last of the Unjust.”

These Mean Streets Are In Beirut

Eran Riklis’ ‘Zaytoun’ is an homage to Martin Scorsese.

09/17/2013
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It would not surprise me if the daily reviews for “Zaytoun,” Eran Riklis’ new film which opens on Sept. 20, chide the Israeli filmmaker for sentimentalizing the film’s central relationship. The movie traces the slowly growing friendship between Yoni (Stephen Dorff), a downed Israeli flyer, and his erstwhile captor Fahed (Abdallah El Akal), a 12-year-old Palestinian refugee who helps him escape captivity during the first Lebanon War. As the pair move from open enmity to tough love and eventually to mutual respect, it would be easy to overlook the intelligent emotional distance with which Riklis treats them, to mistake the film for an easy celebration of the Rodney King-can’t-we-all-get-along school of ineffectual good will.

Abdallah El Akal and Stephen Dorff in “Zaytoun.”

A Filmmaker Grapples With Family And Memory

In ‘First Cousin, Once Removed,’ Alan Berliner documents his personal mentor’s slow slide into Alzheimer’s.

09/17/2013
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For someone as detail-obsessed, as meticulous as Alan Berliner, this has been a frustrating few weeks. He ushers a guest into his Tribeca loft, apologizing for what seems to him a state of chaos. One side of the immense space is devoted to a nearly floor-to-ceiling collection of boxes, crates, film canisters and what-have-you. The boiler in his building is being replaced and everything he had in storage in the basement is apparently now piled on his floor. As befits a self-confessed perfectionist, Berliner’s stacks of belongings are neater than most people’s ordinary living space. (My office should only look this “messy.”)

The poet Edward Honig in “First Cousin, Once Removed.’ Photo courtesy HBO

Bearing Up After 9/11

Documentary examines the emotional toll the attack took on Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick.

09/13/2013
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Howard Lutnick did not lose his life on Sept. 11, 2001 because he took his son to school. The Cantor Fitzgerald CEO raced to the scene of the terrorist attack and, during the collapse, he struggled to breathe, thinking he might die.

Howard Lutnick being interviewed on ABC.

‘Afternoon Delight’ For Days Of Awe

Jewish screenwriter Jill Soloway grapples successfully with transgression, forgiveness and feminism.

08/27/2013
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It wasn’t planned that way, but “Afternoon Delight,” the first feature film directed and written by author and television veteran Jill Soloway, is opening at a perfect time in the Jewish year. A mordantly funny and deeply felt film about transgression and forgiveness, it is just the thing for the end of Elul and the coming of the Days of Awe.

Jill Soloway

Inside Indonesia’s Killing Fields

‘The Act of Killing’ filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer on the persistence of genocide: ‘This is family history for me.’

07/25/2013
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“The Act of Killing,” currently playing here, is a mysterious film, a documentary that appears to be equal parts South Asian musical epic, gangster noir and political/historical essay. The movie’s oddly hybrid nature is largely the result of the strange and sinister reality that Joshua Oppenheimer, the director, found when he first went to Indonesia, the film’s location and subject.

A scene from the documentary “The Act of Killing.” Photo courtesy Drafthouse Films

Comedy U.

New documentary tells the story of the Catskills hotels and the comics who ‘went to school’ there.

07/23/2013
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The evocative term “baggy-pants comic” has its roots in burlesque, but you could apply it with some justice to the new documentary film “When Comedy Went to School,” which opens on July 31 in New York City and Aug. 2 on Long Island. The film, directed by Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank, tells the story of the Catskills hotels as a training ground for stand-up comedians and, like the burlesque funny man’s trousers, it’s rather shapeless. But, like the guy inside the trousers, it is also very funny.

Mountains men: “When Comedy Went to School” narrator Robert Klein, above. Left, Mort Sahl.

Kindertransport Film Elides Hero's Role

Matej Minac’s ‘Nicky’s Family’ is director’s third film about Shoah-era efforts of Sir Nicholas Winton, Holocaust rescuer and baptized former Jew.

07/19/2013
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Matej Minac has made the story of Sir Nicholas Winton his life’s work. “Nicky’s Family,” Minac’s new documentary, which opens on July 19, is his third feature film as a director. Each of his films has been a reworking of Winton’s story.

Children rescued by Nicholas Winton leaving Prague, in scene from “Nicky’s Family.”

'Comedians In Cars' Gets Coffee, And Laughs

07/09/2013
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“Seinfeld” is the second or third best scripted show of all-time, according to The Writers Guild of America and Entertainment Weekly. So how do you top that? Not in a sitcom.

Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman

The Rewards And Limits Of Home Movies

Eliav Lilti’s found-footage documentary about Israel is poignant but also arbitrary.

07/02/2013
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There is an ineradicable quality of melancholy in old home movies. If they’re your own, you can’t help but yearn for a younger, more energetic and healthier version of yourself, and for the ghostly images of family and friends long dead to take corporeal form once more. But even the home movies of total strangers call out to us with reminders of the evanescence of human existence. When you look at film footage of some stranger’s young son leaving a factory in Birmingham, England, in 1912, it is impossible not to wonder if he would be dead in the trenches only two or three years later.

A couple of newlyweds and an Independence Day celebration: Scenes from “Israel: A Home Movie.” Photos courtesy of Alma Films
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