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Screenings honor thy Jewish film festival

“Orange People,” the directing debut of writer and star Hanna Azoulay Hasfari, will screen twice at the Boston Jewish Film Festival.
“Orange People,” the directing debut of writer and star Hanna Azoulay Hasfari, will screen twice at the Boston Jewish Film Festival.Boston Jewish Film Festival

The full breadth and scope of Jewish life, past and present, is one of the hallmarks of the Boston Jewish Film Festival (BJFF), which unveils its 26th edition Nov. 5-17 at various venues in and around the city. Nowhere is that richness more evident and enjoyable than in the festival’s Fifth Commandment Series, featuring films about generational rifts and rebellions bound to the credo to honor thy father and thy mother.

Ester Amrami’s feature debut, “Anywhere Else” (Nov. 8, Coolidge Corner Theatre), stars Neta Riskin as Noa, a 30-ish graduate student living with her musician boyfriend Joerg (Golo Euler) in rainy Berlin. Frustrated when her thesis on untranslatable words is rejected, Noa goes home to sunny Israel for a little nurturing. Her beloved grandmother Henja (Hana Rieber), who speaks several languages but is most at home with Yiddish, falls ill, and Noa extends her stay. The sudden arrival of Joerg on National Memorial Day, when the nation stops to remember the past, adds further complication. “Anywhere Else” has some familiar dysfunctional-family tropes, but likable performances make the characters feel authentic. Amrami’s clever use of Noa’s video interviews, in which native speakers try to define culturally meaningful words, underscore her emotional state and sense of dislocation. Riskin will attend the Nov. 8 screening.

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The BJFF hosts the US premiere of “Orange People,” the directing debut of popular Israeli actress and writer Hanna Azoulay Hasfari, who will be present at both screenings of her film (Nov. 12 at AMC Framingham and Nov. 13 at the Coolidge). “Orange People” is a visually sumptuous look at three generations of women in a Jewish-Moroccan family. Matriarch Zohara (Rita Shukrun), who lives with a pet peacock in Jaffa, near the sea, is a psychic known for her uncanny ability to fall asleep on command and for her ancient recipe for orange-colored couscous. Her daughter Simone (Esty Yerushalmi) has the same gift (or curse) of slumber but prefers to run a restaurant in Tel Aviv, albeit without her mother’s secret recipes. The arrival of her long-estranged sister Fanny (played by Azoulay Hasfari) stirs the pot of sisterly and mother-daughter tensions and resentments. Shifting between past and present, dreams and reality, Azoulay Hasfari’s colorful mix of food and mysticism echoes “Like Water for Chocolate.” The director took on similar themes of clashing traditional and modern values in “Sh’Chur,” the 1994 film that she wrote and that her husband, Shmuel Hasfari, directed.

“Magic Men” (Nov. 11, West Newton Cinema; Nov. 13, Coolidge) features a superb lead performance by Makram Khouri as Avraham, an elderly, Greek-born restaurant owner, amateur magician, and Holocaust survivor who is equal parts mensch and curmudgeon. He travels from Israel to Greece to accept an award, but decides while there to attempt to find the young man who hid him during World War II and also taught him magic. The road trip is a framework for a father-son story, as Avraham is forced to endure the company of his estranged adult son Yehuda (Zohar Strauss), a Hasidic musician and rapper. Directors Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor spin a sentimental tale of Avraham’s quest, aided by a young prostitute (Ariane Labed) and Yehuda, who emerges from his father’s shadow and becomes his own magic-making man.

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Among the 39 films from 14 counties are several worthy documentaries (see story by Peter Keough, facing page) and two classic American films that broke ground for their depictions of the Jewish experience. “Next Stop, Greenwich Village” (Nov. 16, ICA) is the late Paul Mazursky’s 1976 autobiographical comedy set in the 1950s. It also tackled generational differences in its story of Larry Lapinsky (the late Lenny Baker, a Brookline native) who leaves Brooklyn and his domineering mother (Shelly Winters) to become an actor in bohemian Greenwich Village. Film critic Gerald Peary will introduce the screening.

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Director Joan Micklin Silver’s touching 1975 comic drama “Hester Street” (Nov. 13, Coolidge) managed, on a low budget, to vividly depict New York’s Lower East Side and Jewish immigrant life at the turn of the century (with much of the dialogue delivered in Yiddish, with subtitles). Along with “Next Stop, Greenwich Village,” it was part of a minor trend of young filmmakers grappling with American Jewish identity and cultural assimilation. Carol Kane earned a best actress Oscar nomination as Gitl, a young Jewish woman who leaves the old country with her son to join her husband in America. But she discovers that Yankl (Steven Keats), who now calls himself Jake, has embraced American culture and taken up with a dancer. Anita Diamant, author of the best-selling book “The Red Tent,” will introduce the film.

For more information go to www.bjff.org.


Loren King can be reached at loren.king@comcast.net.