Festival of Light

Fourth annual Jewish Film Festival

The fourth annual Jewish Film Festival plays June 13-16 at the West Port Cine, Page & I-270, and June 17 at the Jewish Community Center (JCC)'s Ida Pasternak Auditorium, 2 Millstone Campus Dr. Tickets for the opening and closing films are $10; admission for all other shows is $6 in advance or $7 at the door.

The fest kicks off on June 13 with a 7 p.m. screening of Joan Micklin Silver's A Fish in the Bathtub at the West Port, followed by a 8:45 p.m. premiere party featuring a dessert reception for special guest Ray Silver, the film's producer and co-writer, in the lobby of the Westport Playhouse. Tickets for the party, including the screening and a ticket to an additional film, are $36 and must be ordered in advance; call 432-5700, ext. 3175. Concluding the festival is a presentation at the JCC of the silent classic The Golem with live accompaniment by the extraordinary guitarist Gary Lucas (see next week's RFT for an interview with Lucas).

For tickets and information, call 432-5700, ext. 3299.

Capsule reviews are by Diane Carson, Cliff Froehlich, Robert Hunt, Chris King, Melissa Levine and Eddie Silva.

June 13
7 p.m.: A Fish in the Bathtub (Joan Micklin Silver, U.S., 1998, 96 min.). In this, the most recent film by director Silver, who is receiving a mini-retrospective of three films at the festival, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara play a long-wedded couple for whom the institution of marriage is a war zone. They're the Bickersons in a contemporary setting, with the underlying distrust between an Irish Catholic wife and a Jewish husband added to extend a shtick Stiller and Meara have been practicing for decades. Hubbie is depressed and becomes more insufferable than usual; long-suffering wife reaches the point of can't-take-it-anymore. She leaves, sending ripples of anxiety through their community of friends and family. A meager subplot involving the couple's son (Mark Ruffalo) and his temptation with marital infidelity only serves to increase the predictability of the story. Everyone gets back together as the binds of love prove their resiliency. So what do you expect from romantic comedy? Surprise. Ingenuity. Imagination. Not here -- even the intriguing title is explained a few minutes after the credits. A pretty good Jewish American Princess joke is the one memorable moment. Followed by a discussion with producer/co-writer Ray Silver. (ES)

June 14
2 p.m.: Hester Street (Joan Micklin Silver, U.S., 1975, 91 min.). Hester Street received considerable notice when it was first released nearly 25 years ago. Director Silver's lovingly detailed exploration of the tension arising between an assimilated Russian Jewish husband (the late Steven Keats) and his fresh-off-the-boat Orthodox wife (Carol Kane) in New York City during the peak of European immigration was unique in regard to its depiction of divorce and its use of Yiddish with English subtitles. In retrospect, Hester Street is formulaic, with many of the characters conforming to stereotypes. Keats is such an unappealing bully that it's unclear as to why anybody would befriend or marry him. Kane remains the real find here. She's luminous. (ES)

5:30 p.m.: Crossing Delancey (Joan Micklin Silver, U.S., 1988, 97 min.). Amy Irving plays Isabelle (or Izzy) Grossman, the manager of a literary bookstore in Manhattan. This is the idyllic fantasy of a bookstore, where nobody really works and booksellers have a shot at romantic entanglements with prominent authors. Izzy has the hots for novelist Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbe in his typical cad role), who either treats her like a coffee table or a fetching muse. When Izzy isn't mooning over Anton, she has casual sexual liaisons with a next-door neighbor (that is, if his wife is out of town). Izzy is the modern independent woman of the post-feminist world, except when she takes the subway downtown to visit her grandmother "Bubbe" (Reizl Bozyk), who sees through her granddaughter's prideful self-reliance and knows that what she really needs is a man -- a good kosher man at that. A matchmaker is hired (Sylvia Miles as a woman who eats everything in sight) and lines up Sam (Peter Riegert), a pickle vendor who happens to be handsome, charming, sensitive -- a mensch-and-a-half. What's a girl to do? All the wrong things, of course, until she finds her way to true love. Riegert is especially appealing, and Irving goes from tired professional to stunning beauty as the film progresses. Crossing Delancey is a quaint fable about identity and tradition that needn't be considered too thoughtfully before it grows irksome. Followed by a discussion with St. Louis Jewish Light editor Robert A. Cohn. (ES)

8 p.m.: The Nasty Girl (Michael Verhoeven, Germany, 1990, 92 min.). The struggle with a national consciousness that has repressed or willfully forgotten its own history has been a frequent theme for German writers and filmmakers of the last two decades. The Nasty Girl -- based on the experiences of writer Anja Elisabeth Rosmus, whose books on her hometown of Passau made her both a celebrity and a target -- illustrates the painful results of this historical blindness but treats it as comedy rather than tragedy. In Verhoeven's retelling, Sonja Wegmus (played with considerable charm by Lena Stolze) turns a schoolgirl's curiosity into an adult obsession with uncovering her town's anti-Semitic past. Eventually, the quest becomes more personal than political, and the information Sonja seeks remains a vague and almost trivial detail. The film is lively and filled with genuinely comical moments, but that's exactly what's wrong with it: The story is told through sight gags, broad caricatures and puns, all of which reduce the film's dramatic efforts to the simplicity of watching an admirable heroine outwit a lot of unpleasant cartoons. The Nasty Girl may flirt with tricky issues, but it remains safely in the realm of sentimentality and sitcom. In German with English subtitles. Followed by a discussion with Dr. Sylvia Ginsparg. (RH)

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