This year’s presentations at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival reflect a broad cross section of many of the most important issues of our time. Here are six choices that are not only outstanding critical productions, but they are provocative and thought provoking as well.
Bernstein – Cinema Sabaya has already achieved an admirable record of critical and commercial success in Israel, where it was made. It is a documentary that brings together a group of Israeli Jews and Israeli Arab women to talk about their everyday lives using the documentary videos they have made. “Cinema Sabaya” describes, in the women’s own words, the dilemmas they solve involving their autonomy, their roles as wives and mothers, and, for all of them, their place in Israeli society. The cast is uniformly excellent. Although it’s a relatively understated film, it’s a gem.
Bahr – Farewell, Mr Haffman is a French feature film set during the early years of the Nazi occupation of Paris during the early 1940s. It takes almost the entire film to bid farewell to Mr. Haffman, but the director, Fred Cavaye, who also wrote the screenplay, and his accomplished cast have created a taut, suspenseful, tightly focused film. Its twists and turns will keep you guessing right up to the film’s last moments. If you like a crackling good story that is less concerned with moral ambiguity than it is holding you to the edge of your seat, then this is the film for you. It’s up for the AJFF prize for best narrative feature film.
Bernstein – The Accusation is another French feature film, It’s a powerful, topical drama about a number of contemporary issues. The film concerns the alleged rape of a young Orthodox Jewish teenager by a friend of the family who might soon become her stepbrother. The Accusation provides a complex portrait of this awful situation as it makes its way through the French judicial system by slowly revealing to the audience new dimensions to the case. Because of how it explores the nature of consent in sexual encounters and the role of privilege and power, you will not regret seeing it. It’s going to provoke a lot of conversation after the screenings. It’s a very compelling film.
Bahr – Reckonings is a fascinating documentary, a lavishly produced, meticulously researched, authoritative account of the secret negotiations 70 years ago that led to an agreement between the West Germany government, Israel and representatives of World Jewry that created the payments for reparations for the Holocaust. To date, $90 billion has been paid out to Israel and Jews living in 83 countries. While this is a good start in telling this complex story, one might have wished that it went further and explored some of the motivations by the business community in Germany, many of whom have been subject to little or no account for having profited off the Nazi’s wartime atrocities. The recent book, “Nazi Billionaires, The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties,” by David De Jong and the substantial record of journalism that backs it up, might be a good place to start.
Bernstein – March ’68 is an absolutely gripping Polish film set during the student protests there in 1968. After Israel won the Six-Day War in 1967, the Polish Communist government embarked on a calculated campaign of antisemitism, including accusing Polish Jews of having divided loyalties to Israel first and being Zionists. In this film, these events unfold through the eyes of an initially apolitical theater student, who is Jewish, and the equally apolitical Christian engineering student, Janek. Every cast member is strong in this film and believable. This riveting historical drama is rich in period recreation, compelling characters, and a totally engaging immersion in more examples of communist oppression and antisemitism and, unfortunately, connects to events happening today.
Bahr – Barren is an impressive Israeli film, which was written and directed by an Orthodox, religious Zionist rabbi, who is also the community rabbi in a settlement on the West Bank. This story concerns how a young, Hasidic couple copes with their childlessness after four years of married life. It is also about how they deal with these tensions after the wife is raped by a rabbi while her husband is away on a High Holidays religious pilgrimage. What makes it particularly compelling is that the wife is found to be pregnant after the attack. This is a sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of Hasidic life in Israel, where matters related to sexual trauma in a religious community rarely receive an airing. The director, Rabbi Mordechai Vardi, will be appearing at the Festival. ì
Matthew H Bernstein is Goodtich C. White Professor of Film and Media at Emory University. Bob Bahr frequently writes about entertainment for the Atlanta Jewish Times.