Sunday, January 8, 2023

New York Jewish FIim Festival 2023 Curtain Raiser

My favorite way to start every year, the New York Jewish Film Festival starts Thursday and we are better for it.

This annual collection of films has been delighting me the entire time I have been doing Unseen Films. It is almost always the festival that throws up the first film on my Best of The Year list (this year being the exception) and several more as well. It is a festival that transcends its title, these films are not just about being Jewish, they are films that are about being human, they just happen to have some connection to something Jewish. For example the opening night film AMERICA is a love story. Ultimately, other than it being set in Israel the film is simply about a romantic triangle. You could move it anywhere in the world and it would still be the same film at it’s heart.

This is one of the best film festivals of any year and light years ahead of many of the major festivals because while it has a definite selling point, it is always directed at toward finding the absolute best films it can. It’s so good that I literally tell the people at The Jewish Museum and Lincoln Center “send me everything”. They then ask if I’m sure, and I tell them I am.

It really is that good.

I know you probably are thinking that I should go into more details or wax poetic about the films and the festival but frankly all you need to know  is they run amazingly great films. Anything beyond that doesn’t matter because these are the films that you are  going to be talking about all year. (And I mean that because I keep pulling reviews from the fest to run later in the year when they are getting big theatrical releases)

What you need to do is go to the website and find some films that interest you and just go.

The website can be found here.

And now a couple of notes:

I have seen all of the short films in the festival and they are all worth seeing. I am not reviewing them, not because they are bad but rather because there are too many features that I do not have the time to do them justice. They are good enough that they don't need an off handed or mechanical review from me, so just make an effort to see them.

Additionally there are a number of films I have been asked not to review in full and only mention in capsules. Those films  are:

After ten years away a young man returns to Israel from Chicago in order to close up the estate of his estranged father. Reconnecting with a childhood friend and his fiancĂ© things become complicated when tragedy strikes.  A rare cinematic love story with such finely drawn characters that you can’t help but be torn about the fate of everyone concerned.  We genuinely like everyone and want them all to come out of this happy.  This is a solid drama whose only flaw is a title that has absolutely nothing to do with the film other than being the place where the film begins.

One of the best films of this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival is a tense tale of the Second World War. The film tells the story of a Jewish Jeweler who sends his family to safety  in the country, while briefly staying behind to “sell” his business to his apprentice before fleeing himself. However unable to get away himself he is forced to stay in the basement. Suspenseful and chilling, this film is a great thriller that also is a telling discussion of life under the Nazi’s in France.  An absolute must see.

A designer for Dior is close to retirement and pondering where to go next. As her relationship with her daughter remains strained, she takes a rudderless young woman under her wing.  This is a very good drama  that needs more discussion than I can give it here.

Three stories connected to the end of the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Israel. While the stories seem un connected for a portion of the film the three slowly come together  to form a solid whole.  If you allow the threads to weave together you’ll get a hell of a ride.

In March of 1968 a young woman in college is falling in love with another student, meanwhile events are circling around her, including an antisemitic purge instituted by the Polish government. Romance mixes with politics and social issues in a film set during an event I’m guessing most people are not aware of.  While this is a very  good film my feelings for the film are kind of mixed not because there is anything wrong, but more that I didn’t fully understand the context of some of the larger events.

Schächten—A Retribution
When the Nazi who killed his family is acquitted, a young man takes matters into his own hands. While the film is based upon a true story the filmmakers are up front in saying the true story is only the jumping off point. Instead of just saying what happened they have fashioned the tale into a gripping tale about revenge and antisemitism hiding under the surface. This is one of the films at the fest that I know I’m going to revisit down the road.

The final two hours in a small Ukrainian Jewish village before the Nazi’s invade during Operation Barbarossa. This is a multi-character tale of various people dealing with the life in the small village. While the film often feels slightly contrived, thanks to the choice to film this as a single two hour take, the film still ends crushingly with a heartbreaking final image. Worth a look.

Orthodox young woman from France goes to Italy to help with a harvest and potentially finds love with the farmer. Beautifully acted romance has a wonderful sense of life. Unlike your typical Hollywood romantic drama WHERE LIFE BEGINS packs a real punch. These characters are going to haunt me for a long time.

The New York Jewish Film Festival begins to share its cinematic goodies on the 12 and continues until the 23rd. For more details go here.

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