Jewish Film Festival of St. Louis. The seventh annual Jewish Film Festival runs June 9-13 at Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema. Tickets for films (except opening night) are $7.50 in advance and $8.50 at the door; cost for the opening-night film is $10. For tickets or more information, call the Jewish Community Center at 432-5700, ext. 3299.
God is Great, I'm Not. Pacale Bailly. Audrey Tautou, who lit up the screen in Amélie, stars in this French comedy about a woman's quest for spirituality. Having investigated different belief systems, her search becomes entangled with her love life when she falls for a Jewish veterinarian. This United States premiere plays at 4 and 7:30 p.m. June 9. NR
The Power of Good and Uncle Chatzel. Two short-subject documentaries trace the lives of individuals directly affected by the Holocaust. In the first, director Matej Minac examines the life of Nicholas Winton, who single-handedly rescued hundreds of women and children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Uncle Chatzel traces the story of a man who survived the seemingly impossible: the Russian revolution, two world wars, Nazi persecution and a Communist regime. The two films are part of a single program that plays at 2 p.m. June 10. NR
Strange Fruit. Joel Katz. The song "Strange Fruit" carries as much visceral impact today as when Billie Holiday released her wrenching version in 1939. "Southern trees bear strange fruit/ Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/ Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees," she sings, and in less than three minutes she burrows into the horrors of lynchings with an eerie, otherworldly tone. Few know, however, that the writer of the song wasn't black; he was a Bronx Jew named Abel Meeropol. Strange Fruit examines the history of the song, makes connections between Holiday, Meeropol, convicted spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and W.E.B. DuBois and provides insight into the context that created the song. The documentary, constructed as a straight-ahead PBS-style production -- interviews with scholars, artists, musicians, writers; fantastic historical clips and voice-over narration -- is a fascinating glimpse of one of the great twentieth-century works of art. Plays at 5:30 p.m. June 10. -- Randall Roberts
The Discovery of Heaven. Jeroen Krabbe. Director Krabbe is perhaps best known as an actor; he appeared in King of the Hill, The Prince of Tides and An Ideal Husband, among others. Here, as a director, Krabbe adapts Harry Mulisch's novel of the same name. The film tackles the big stuff: God, disappointed with his creation, wants his stone tablets back and assigns a few humans to the task. But it's not that simple, even with God calling the shots. Plays at 8 p.m. June 10. NR
The Locket, The Garden's Stones and Keep on Walking. This program consists of three video shorts, two of which are by new St. Louis filmmakers. Margaret Bilinsky's The Locket traces one family's history of the Holocaust; Dan Powell and Tom Kim's The Garden's Stones is an animated short. In Tana Ross's Keep on Walking, a man prays in tefillin and tallis, teaches at a New Jersey Hebrew school and celebrates Succot with his family. Why is this Jew different from all others? He's Joshua Nelson, an African-American gospel singer who straddles two worlds. The heavenly voiced singer and organist teaches the black Christians at his church (where he wears a yarmulke) to sing Hebrew songs such as "Adon Olam" and "Aveinu Malkenu." At the Passover Seder, he leads his family in singing Deyenu in the Baptist style. Nelson that explains he grew up in a tiny temple for black Jews in Brooklyn, but that he was chiefly inspired by Mahalia Jackson. Good Lord! Shot partially in St. Louis. Plays at 2 p.m. June 11. -- Byron Kerman
To Live With Terror. Ton Vriens. In 1992, the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was attacked by a car bomb. Two years later, a similar bomb destroyed a Jewish community center, killing 86 people. The images of shattered buildings and shell-shocked victims and bystanders are -- perhaps almost predictably -- relevant reminders of how our perception of terrorism has changed in the last year. But this short documentary loses some of its impact when strays into a muddle of conspiracy theories: Were the bombings the work of a corrupt police force? Iran-funded terrorists? The remnants of previous military governments? Second-and-third-generation Nazi sympathizers? To Live With Terror raises some powerful issues, but ultimately offers a weak "all of the above." Plays at 5:30 p.m. June 11. (RH)
A Trumpet in the Wadi. Lina and Slava Chaplin. True love obeys no borders, as this love story illustrates. An Christian Arab woman falls in love with a Jewish immigrant from Russia, and the challenges facing the two are examined in detail as they attempt to overcome seemingly impenetrable obstacles. Plays at 8 p.m. June 11. NR
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. If you think being gay or lesbian and being an Orthodox Jew is an irresolvable contradiction, then DuBowski's documentary will be a real eye-opener. In fact, even if the subject has no particular objective resonance with you, this sensitive, passionate and beautifully made film provides an overwhelming emotional and intellectual experience. Nearly five years in the making and shot on locations encompassing half the world, DuBowski's film might be likened to an adventure in ethics both personal and political. And it's an adventure no one, Jew or gentile, can afford to miss. Plays at 8 p.m. June 13. (DE)
Reel Late Midnight Movie Series. The Tivoli Theatre presents a summer series of classic and destined to be classic films. This week features Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985). A black-comic knock-off of 1984 whose sharp-edged comedy provokes more thought than laughter, Brazil earns progressive stripes by promoting the admirably humanist view that individualism persists -- and prevails -- even in the face of monolithic societal repression. But it's as a visual, not political, statement that the ceaselessly inventive, hallucinatory Brazil qualifies as revolutionary. The movie's would-be hero, Sam (Jonathan Pryce), inhabits a '50s-as-future tomorrowland of black industrial landscapes and decaying high-rise tenements, of disturbingly organic ductwork and ever-present TV tubes, of random violence by both urban terrorists and the terrorist state. An unambitious drone in the Ministry of Information, Sam plods the straight-and-narrow in life but soars, kites and wheels in his flight-filled reveries as a winged knight who battles to free his ethereal love (Kim Greist) from earthly bondage. Although trapped in a gray world of totalitarian oppression, Sam's mind wanders the verdant, exotic land evoked by the film's enigmatic title and haunting signature tune. Like a latter-day Buuel, Gilliam reconstitutes and thereby clarifies everyday reality. Also playing this weekend as part of the series is Wes Anderson's Rushmore.. Both play at midnight June 7-8 at the Tivoli. (CF)
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