The Komediant. Arnon Goldfinger. Although centered on the life experiences of a particular theatrical family, this marvelous documentary touches -- ever so gracefully -- on the entire history of the Yiddish theater, both in America and Israel. The family is that of Pesach'ke Burstein (1896-1986), who arrived from Poland to conquer New York around the time of the great Al Jolson's popularity. But while Jolson was a crossover performer, Burstein trod the boards of the Yiddish stage, which flourished in New York in the years prior to World War II. It was there he met his wife and co-star Lillian Lux, who bore him twins -- Michael and Susan. Beautiful and talented, they joined the act almost as soon as they could walk. But fame brought strain and Susan left the act to get married. Mike, meanwhile, nearly eclipsed his parents' fame on both stage and screen. Director Goldfinger deftly utilizes films and photographs of the family's history, integrated in such a way as to make The Komediant anything but a staid talking-heads film. While nostalgically recalling the past, this is a clear-eyed look at Jewish history that should prove compelling even to those who've never heard of the Yiddish theater. Plays at 2 p.m. June 12. (DE)
Yellow Asphalt. Danny Verete. Yellow Asphalt illuminates a very different world for our perusal. Consisting of three separate but related stories, the film employs actors from the Bedouin tribe of Jahalin and takes place in the Judean desert, which provides striking vistas. The first tale, "Black Spot," commences with a couple of hapless truckers accidentally plowing down a little boy, then chronicles their negotiation with the child's kin. Similarly, "Here Is Not There" and "Red Roots" deal with oppression and the quest for cross-cultural balance from a feminine point of view. Plays at 5:30 p.m. June 12. (GW)
Gloomy Sunday. Rolf Schubel. In pre-war Budapest, two men and a woman enter into a "Jules and Jim"- like romantic trio. Inspired by their passion for the beautiful waitress Ilona (Erika Marozsan), Laszlo (Joachim Krol) becomes a successful restaurateur, whereas Andras (Stefano Dionisi) plays piano for the diners and writes a hit song -- albeit one that drives dozens of besotted listeners to suicide (a variation on the rumored effects of a 1940s Billie Holiday recording). But there's a fourth party in the story, a German businessman who also loves Ilona. Several years later, he returns as a high-ranking Nazi and the already strained web of relationships begins to unravel. Gloomy Monday is a surprisingly entertaining melodrama lifted by excellent performances but with a strange off-center quality. The oddest thing about this slightly loopy history lesson is that director Rolf Schubel, who adapted a novel by Nick Barkow, fails to see even a trace of irony in his sex-and-pop-culture goulash. It's as if someone were to film the meta-fictional musings of a Pynchon or DeLillo novel as a straightlaced historical drama. Plays at 8 p.m. June 12. (RH)
Promises. B.Z. Goldberg. It's a hideous cliché to suggest that children hold the wisdom to solve complex crises, but they certainly make good mouthpieces for their elders' conflicting sentiments. This documentary, shot mostly in 1997 and '98 by Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldberg and Carlos Bolado, explores the hearts and minds of a few Arabic and Jewish preteens in Israel and the Palestinian territories, sorting out their hopes for peace -- and revenge -- while immersed in arrogance, resentment and rage. Precocious Torah scholars (Shlomo, Moishe) are juxtaposed with passionate Palestinian lads (Faraj, Mahmoud), and we get a strong sense that the constant battle for the Holy Land has had rather unholy consequences for their young spirits. The secular Israeli kids (Yarko and Daniel) and especially a graceful young Palestinian refugee (Sanabel) offer the most hope. The latter shines most brilliantly, a young interpretive dancer whose journalist father has been locked up for two years without trial for being "dangerous." This is particularly ironic given the machine gun we see casually toted to a volleyball game in Jerusalem. Despite its lively tone and brisk editing, the project's sad epilogue -- shot two years later -- suggests that Abraham and Mohammed will be duking it out on the world's dime for some time to come. Plays at 2 p.m. June 13. (GW)
Late Marriage. Dover Kosashvili. Sold as a romantic comedy about a 31-year-old grad student unable to find (or unwilling to choose) a bride, Dover Koshashvili's second feature is hardly madcap, or even touching. Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi) is no Bachelor being chased down the street by a mob of would-be brides. He's merely torn -- between his parents, who finance his existence and demand he choose a young virgin, and Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), a 34-year-old divorcée with a daughter named Madonna. Zaza's deeply in love with Judith, but both know theirs is a relationship doomed by tradition, one embodied by parents who will do anything (even threaten death) to keep their son from taking up with damaged goods. Koshashvili clearly abhors the custom of arranged marriage but doesn't render its practitioners villains, merely victims of the old ways. Zaza and Judith suffer in silence, and the actors play them perfectly, always with that contented little smile they know will soon enough disappear once Zaza's parents come knocking. A remarkable movie with an unsatisfying ending, which is just the point. Plays at 5:30 p.m. June 13. (RW)
Trembling Before G-d. Sandi Simcha DuBowski. Plays at 8 p.m. June 13 (see Opening.) (DE)
Reel Late Midnight Movie Series. The Tivoli Theatre presents a summer series of classic and destined to be classic films. This week features Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. One of the few unanimously acclaimed classics of Japanese animation, the 1988 feature by Otomo has been given an all-new translation, a digital sound and picture restoration and a new dub. The story revolves around teenage bikers Kaneda and Tetsuo in a Blade Runner-esque future Tokyo. When Tetsuo is captured by the government, he is subjected to experiments that accelerate his evolution to near godlike levels. Though clearly influenced by previous sci-fi films, Akira carves out its own territory, and has in turn influenced countless others: James Cameron's Dark Angel, for one, borrows heavily. The animation is obviously not state-of-the-art, but it doesn't creak either. The remixed soundtrack rocks, however, especially in its judicious use of utter silence (Akira has perhaps the best sound-absences since 2001). It's a great film, and chances are you've never seen it on a big screen, so now is the time. Also playing this weekend as part of the series is Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Both play at midnight June 14-15 at the Tivoli. (LYT)
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