Asheville Jewish Film Festival

reviews by Ken Hanke

From Saturday, March 21, through Thursday, March 26, the Fine Arts Theatre, the Center for Jewish Studies at UNC-Asheville and the Asheville Art Museum will present the Asheville Jewish Film Festival, with all showings at the Fine Arts Theatre.

Adio Kerida (Goodbye Dear Love)

Director: Ruth Behar
Documentary Not Rated

This is an interesting documentary from Cuban-born anthropologist Ruth Behar, whose family left post-revolution Cuba before she can really remember. The film traces her very personal efforts to place herself in that forgotten background by going to Cuba and revisiting her home and seeking out the stories of the now-small Jewish community there. While not especially compelling as filmmaking, Adio Kerida is never less than fascinating in content. Imagine returning to an apartment where you lived with your family in 1960 and finding it unaltered, with all the furniture from that time still in place and still in use. The very topic of a Jewish community in Cuba is itself unusual, since it’s not something most people know anything about—let alone its history. Jews were welcome in Cuba as “white,” to help prevent the island from being taken over by what was called the “black peril,” at a time when getting into the United States was becoming increasingly difficult. Engaging, informative and a deeply personal documentary. Showing Tuesday, March 24, at 7 p.m., with a Q&A with the filmmaker Wednesday, March 25, at 1 p.m.

Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina

Directors: Lou Simopoulos and Warren Gentry
Documentary Not Rated

Of great local interest for obvious reasons, Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina is at once an informative and nicely crafted documentary that is often visually striking. The film uses the increasingly popular approach of blending interview footage, archival footage and photographs with dramatic recreations to give the work a greater sense of immediacy for the viewer. It’s a technique that doesn’t always work, but it does here, thanks to the strong cinematic sense of the filmmakers, who have approached this new footage—more mood-setting than actually dramatic—with an eye on visual appeal. The footage serves to round out a decidedly information-packed documentary on the rich history of Jews in North Carolina—a history that goes back to the very beginnings of the state. Showing Saturday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m. (special reception with the producers and director at Blue Spiral 1 at 6 p.m. prior to the screening) and Sunday, March 22, at 1 p.m.

Jellyfish

Directors: Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret
Players: Sara Adler, Tsipor Aizen, Bruria Albeck, Ilanit Ben-Yaakov
Comedy/Drama Not Rated

A very quirky and gently absurd film from Israel made by Shira Geffen and her husband, popular Israeli writer Etgar Keret. Jellyfish is one of two narrative films in the festival, and it’s a pretty unusual one. It would be possible to summarize it as the stories of three “couples” caught in ridiculous situations, but that doesn’t quite describe this engaging little film (it runs a mere 78 minutes). These are less stories than they are situations we drop in on as we watch the characters cross paths without actually connecting.

The characters include a just-married couple who have to cancel their honeymoon plans in the Caribbean when the bride (Noa Knoller) breaks her ankle climbing out of a locked toilet stall at their reception, forcing the couple to stay in a crummy Tel Aviv hotel. Then there’s Batya (Sara Adler), a young (and quite inept) waitress, whose boyfriend has left her (she asks him to stay—which is what he wants—only after he’s gone). She lives in a rundown apartment where the rent has just been raised, is harassed by her mother, and inexplicably finds herself taking care of a small girl who just appears on the beach wearing the bottom half of a bathing suit and a toy life preserver. Finally, we have a Filipina guest worker (Ma-nenita De Latorre) who lands a job taking care of a hateful old woman—a situation made more bizarre by the fact that the worker doesn’t speak Hebrew.

The results are sadly funny—or maybe amusingly sad—and the film is strangely likable in its basic refusal to explain much of what’s going on. That might sound maddening, but it’s exactly what gives Jellyfish it’s own identity. Showing Monday, March 22, at 7 p.m. and Thursday, March 26, at 1 p.m.

The Old Stores

Director: Yoav Gurfinkel
Documentary Not Rated

A melancholy, weirdly poetic documentary film that takes a look at what remains of old businesses in modern Jaffa Tel-Aviv. As the film moves from store to store, letting the owners and workers speak, a sense of a different, slower time emerges—a time steeped in vanishing traditions of family businesses. In so doing, the film offers a glimpse into another world that will soon likely be nonexistent. Showing Monday, March 23, at 1 p.m. and Thursday, March 26, at 7 p.m.

A Secret

Director: Claude Miller
Players: Cécile De France, Patrick Bruel, Ludivine Sagnier, Julie Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric
Drama Not Rated

An unusual coming-of-age film that tackles an aspect of the Holocaust not generally addressed—that of the loss of identity through assimilation in order to remain alive during the German occupation. The film is also unusual in that it takes place in three different time frames—1942, 1955, 1985—which it moves in and out of. The crux of the drama (which actually contains more than one secret) rests on what happens when in 1955 French Jewish teenager François (Quentin Dubuis) learns from his aunt (Julie Depardieu) how his parents survived the occupation. The results are a beautifully acted, grimly compelling drama of significant complexity that ought to be much better known than it is. Showing Monday, March 23, at 7 p.m. and Wednesday, March 25, at 7 p.m.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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