Tag Archives: Toronto Jewish Film Festival

TJFF: Future ’38

How do I explain this? . Future ’38 was filmed last year but is pretending to have been filmed in 1938. It is set in 2018 but, remember, this is the 2018 as imagined by fictional filmmakers from the 1930s. Or present day filmmakers imaging what 1930s filmmakers would think 2018 would look like.

Film historians or whoever’s job it is to uncover lost screwball comedies about time travel from 1938 have recently uncovered a lost screwball comedy about time travel from 1938. After a brief introduction by a real life scientist who praises the scientific accuracy of all the time travel bits, the film begins in black and white in the height of World War II. Essex (Nick Westrate) is the most dependable GI this side of the Atlantic. His mission: Leap 80 years into the future in search of the powerful isotope Formica which, according to Dr. Elcourt from the Laboratory of Science, will be strong enough by 2018 to win the war for the Allies.

Essex wakes up (in Technicolor) in 2018. A version of 2018 you just have to see for yourself. On the one hand, it’s a startlingly accurate picture of 21st century life. On the other, it’s filtered through the limited imagination of a fictional 1930s science fiction writer. They have a 24 hour news cycle, for example. it’s just a guy on a unicycle though yelling “Extry Extry”.

In 2018, Essex almost immediately meets Banky (Betty Gilpin), a streetwise hotel manager who thinks he’s just “a little queer” because he’s from Pasadena. Once she agrees to show Essex around (“I could use a little fun and you’re Coney Island without the smell”), Future ’38 quickly finds its rhythm. The way they get the 21st century both right and wrong at the same time is funny enough. But Future ’38 is at its absolute funniest as a straight 30s style screwball comedy that mimics the fast-paced dialogue, slapstick, and romance more than it mocks it.

There’s a joke or two here that are maybe just a bit much. Most do land though even once the novelty of the outrageous style and concept has worn off and Gilpin and Westrate play off each other like true stars of the 30s. This could have easily been unwatchable had the writing, casting, and attention to detail not been so spot on. I think you’ll like it.

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Barbra Streisand, Becoming An Icon

Barbra Streisand is a woman who needs no introduction. Movie stars were not generally cut from her mold but her talent was so sweeping and undeniable that it couldn’t help but be recognized.

Barbra Streisand, Becoming An Icon doesn’t delve deep into her background or her psyche. The only words we hear from her are recycled from previous interviews. But all stacked up together, the archival footage and rich performance history will be a delight to fans and a fantastic reminder of her incredible artistry.

But talent aside, Streisand was always cut from a different cloth. She was a proud w-barbra-is-the-best-012215-1425553757feminist and “uncompromisingly Jewish”, inspiring a generation of women and showing America her own brand of stardom. Unapologetically ambitious, aggressive, and outspoken, she started a new wave of female businesswomen in Hollywood, blazing her own path and doing it with style, elegance, and dignity.

This documentary offers to critique, no shade, no bombshells. It’s just a straight-up love letter to a woman who’s been earning it for 5 decades.

 

 

 

Barbra Streisand, Becoming An Icon screens as part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. You can attend a screening May 10, 3:30pm at Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 9, or make it a mother’s day event on Sunday May 13, 2:30pm at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.

TJFF: Another Planet

Over 70 years later, we’re still trying to make sense of the horrors of Auschwitz. Architects, historians, game designers, and prosecutors have started using 21st century virtual reality technology to help see history in new ways but, to paraphrase the great prophet Jeff Goldblum, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

I’m not necessarily saying that you shouldn’t. I am saying that it’s unnerving to see VR Auschwitz. We begin with a tasteful black and white recreation designed by an architect and a historian for a VR museum exhibit. They mention that the museum wanted it to be in black and white so that it doesn’t look like a comic book.

Cut to an unsettling full-colour model designed to aid in the prosecution of a Nazi war criminal. The defendant claims, as many apparently do, that he didn’t actually know what was going on at the camp and that he worked as a cook. Using this fancy new technology, forensic experts can estimate what he was likely to be able to witness from his position in the kitchen. They say that they are sure to make sure that their model doesn’t fall into the wrong  hands. What if, for example, someone were to want to make a game using their replica? Wouldn’t that be in bad taste.

Cut to an actual escape from Auschwitz virtual reality game. And this is where things get really weird.

To be fair, everyone interviewed in the film, including the video game designer, has an explanation for how their work is respectful to victims of the Holocaust and none of them are unconvincing. It’s just a little jarring. And it’s fascinating to think of technological advances can change the way we look at the past. It’s a great subject for a documentary that is sure to start some lively conversations.

The Cakemaker

One day, a handsome man named Oren walks into Thomas’s German bakery, looking for cake and coffee, and possibly a gift suggestion for his  young son. By the end of the day, Oren and Thomas are lovers, but their affair must be put on hold as Oren returns to Jerusalem to see his son and wife. A month, he tells Thomas as he walks reluctantly out the door, trying to make it sound insubstantial. One month.

Only Oren never does return, and Thomas’s calls go unanswered. There’s been an accident in Jerusalem, and Oren was killed. He isn’t coming back, to Thomas or to anyone. Grief-stricken, Thomas travels to Israel to feel close again to his ex-lover, MV5BZWRjODFhZGYtYzI4NC00M2M0LWI4MmQtZjQ4ODk5ZWIwNjQzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTUwNDQ4NQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_wrapping himself up in the city where he last knew he was alive, and he finds himself in the cafe of Oren’s widow, Anat. Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) takes solace by inhabiting different aspects of his dead lover’s life, and it’s not long before he’s helping out in Anat’s cafe, and erm, doing other things for Anat (Sarah Adler) besides. Of course, Anat is unaware of the relationship her husband had with Thomas, so it’s only her grief pushing her into Thomas’s strong but unfamiliar arms.

The Cakemaker is slow and deliberate. It feels a bit like a recipe, with ingredients lovingly chosen and carefully measured, and everything kneaded together with slow, sensuous strokes. There are no surprise ingredients, but the way they’re blended makes for a very interesting movie, equal parts delicate and passionate. Writer-director Ofir Raul Graizer stirs his creation in a way which suggests that our identities, religious, political, sexual, whatever, they’re fluid. And grief is complicated. It’s sad of course, because love is inevitably sad, but it’s the journey more than the destination, the story of survival, the getting there, and the rest is just cake crumbs.

 

 

The Cakemaker screens as part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and if you’re lucky, you can catch it tonight, May 9, 8:30pm, at the Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 9.

Humor Me

Nate, a prize-winning playwright, has been writing his most recent play for the last four years. When his wife leaves him, taking his adorable son and his ability to pay rent with her, he’s forced to do the thing he’s always sworn he’d never do – move in with his father, who lives in a retirement community called Cranberry Bog.

Of course, Bob (Elliott Gould) thinks his son is a lazy, stagnant fool who’s wasting his Harvard education, so he puts him to work fluffing and folding towels in the Cranberry Bog laundry. And Nate’s talents are further wasted by producing a portion of a musical number with the local community players, ie, old ladies who are unequal parts cranky humor-me-stilland horny. Nate (Jemaine Clement) would like to reconnect with his father, but the two have been distant since the death of Nate’s mother – and he was always closest to her. Other people think Bob is very funny, but since his answers to all of Nate’s very serious questions are always jokes, the two men remain separate in their grief.

I have loved Clement since his days on Flight of the Conchords. His performance in Humor Me is more grounded in reality than usual, infusing this sad-sack with some quirks and personality tics that give Nate some real warmth. Of course, I have loved Elliott Gould for much, much longer, and his diverse professional background is evident in every line, not all of which are truly worthy of him, but he never lets them down. In fact, I’d say the casting and performances in this film are its greatest asset. Ingrid Michaelson, Maria Dizzia, Priscilla Lopez, Joey Slotnick, Willie Carpenter, Le Clanché du Rant, Rosemary Prinz, Annie Potts, and Bebe Neuwirth fill in the gaps between Bob and Nate, creating a living, breathing community not easily conveyed through film.

Humor Me manages a delicate balance that often errs on the side of comedy. It’s light, and if it’s not exactly fresh, it has a lot of talent backing up the retreads.

 

 

Humor Me is screening at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival tonight, 8pm, at the Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 5, and May 10, 9pm, at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. Check it out, and bring your dad.

 

One Week And A Day

When Eyal and Vicky Spivak finish the week of mourning for their son, their grief is a gulf between them. Vicky is ready to launch back into the comfort routine but Eyal seems lost, stuck, and unsure of how to proceed, or why. His stealthy rescue of a bag of medicinal pot from his son’s hospice room leads to a form of mourning unlike any other you’ve seen on the screen before.

In an odd way,  One Week And A Day is a comedy about grief. After a hilarious montage of Eyal’s inept failure to roll a proper joint, he recruits the young neighbour next door MV5BZmE0NGJjYzItOTExNy00ODI3LTljOWYtNWQ1NmMyN2NiZjU0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjA5NjAzMjI@._V1_SX1776_CR0,0,1776,960_AL_(an old friend of his son’s) and the two of them roll their way through grief and loss. Vicky is as disapproving as you might imagine, but she’s not exactly smoothly sailing through this period either. Her grief is just as bumbling, if more sober.

Turns out the neighbour, Zooler (Tomor Kapon), is an aspiring air guitarist, and his quirky, oddball demeanor is just what the doctor ordered, maybe not just for Eyal (Shai Avivi), but for all of us. The death of one’s child is a subject so sensitive, so awful to contemplate, that often we avoid it. Movies that dare to breach the topic are often morose and difficult to watch. In this case, writer-director Asaph Polonsky gives us reason, and permission, to smile through it. It’s a relief.

Which is not to say there isn’t something deeply emotional running under the surface. It bubbles up during a eulogy that comes late in the film, and it’s such a poignant moment that it stops you short. It gives balance to the film, and grounds us once again in reality.

Polonsky uses a wide lens to show the dynamic between Zooler, Eyal, and Vicky as the back and forth between them tends to be quite powerful. Everything in this movie feels casual and off-hand, allowing us to get closer to the subject, but this is due to careful orchestration behind the scenes. Afterward, recounting my favourite scene to Sean, tears sprung in my eyes. I hadn’t realized how moved I was by it because the movie doesn’t manipulate you into sadness. It very gently cradles you, but clearly even without the histrionics it’s capable of evoking feeling.

 

Operation Wedding

In 1970, Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov’s parents had tried to leave Leningrad several times, and several times they’d been refused. Out of legal options, they decided to flee. They and their friends dreamed up Operation Wedding, in which they’d fill a plane full of people ostensibly on their way to a wedding, and once in the air, they’d have the pilot change course. Lacking the 200 conspirators necessary for this plan, they set their sights on a smaller plane, and their group of 16 bought up all the tickets. They planned to leave the operation-wedding-2016-i-movie-posterpilots behind on the tarmac and would use their own pilot; the border was just 15 minutes away and the plane would be empty save for those wishing to escape. Anat’s parents never made it onto the plane, caught by the KGB mere steps from boarding. Her mother was sentenced to 10 years in the Gulag. Her father received a life sentence. This is their story.

The programmers at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival have done an excellent job of presenting some very interesting stories at this year’s festival, but this one may take the rugelach (I know-forgive me).

Even today, Russia remembers them as terrorists. But who were they terrorizing? They simply wanted to leave the USSR. that was their crime. They knew the risk they were taking and were prepared to pay the price if caught; most preferred death. In court, they openly declared their wish to leave, and refused to beg for mercy. Two of the sixteen were sentenced to be executed by shooting, the first time the death sentence has been invoked in a hijacking case, plot foiled or not.

Israel held protests: the entire state stood still for those who may be put to death for a crime they didn’t even commit in the end. Jewish organizations in other countries joined in. Hunger strikes were held. And behind the scenes, Golda Meir was secretly pulling strings so that Spain’s “Franco the Fascist” would commute the death sentences of 6 cop killers, thinking that Brezhnev the Communist would try to out-humane Franco the dictator.

The documentary uses archival footage and primary-source interviews, but it’s Anat’s family connection that really brings it alive. When she visits the gulag cell where her mother did time, the bleak reality overwhelms her, and it moved me to tears as well.

Operation Wedding screens as part of TJFF

Friday 5 May, 1:00 PM – Alliance Francaise

Sunday 7 May, 1:30 PM – Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 6

Director Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov will be in attendance.

 

Like a Lotus Flower

like a lotus flower

Like a Lotus Flower is both a memorial to a lost mother and an example of how death can decimate a family.  The story is told in a way that keeps the viewer guessing and even though that is frustrating at times, that choice definitely made me pay total attention to this film in order to figure out how each person fit into the narrative.

At base, this is Eliya Swarttz’s story.  She lost her mother, Hedy, to breast cancer at a very young age.  Eliya wrote and directed Like a Lotus Flower, and reflects on her past through a combination of home video footage, interviews with the other family members, excepts from her childhood journals, and animated sequences.

The artwork in the animated sequences is a highlight.  Tonally, the art is an extension of the title, the visual equivalent of a flower blooming from the mud.  It is beautiful, somehow bright and sad at the same time, and ties the interviews and video footage together nicely.

It’s quite a puzzle to figure this family out, particularly when Eliya’s first father figure is her dad’s brother, who not only introduced Eliya’s parents to each other but also professes a deep and complex love for Hedy.  He refers to their relationship as being one between two emotional cripples who were trying to save each other.  For reasons that are not really explained, Eliya’s biological father is noticeably absent from the film and Eliya’s life in general.

There are also other notable and unexplained absences that will leave the viewer guessing, but perhaps that is the point.  There is no rhyme or reason to life and death, and this film captures the ebb and flow of people entering and leaving our lives as we grow.  Asking why Eliya’s mother died or why her father is absent is as effective as shouting into the wind.  These events happened and Eliya dealt with them (and is clearly still dealing with them in making this movie), and she bloomed out of a difficult situation.

By the end, Eliya is able to admit to herself and her family members how difficult her adolescence truly was despite her brave face, and when she does it feels like a breakthrough.  Like a Lotus Flower allows the viewer to participate in that therapeutic process as Eliya reconciles with her past, and does so in a way that is interesting and relatable.

Like a Lotus Flower is part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, screening May 10 at 3:30 p.m.

 

Monsieur Mayonnaise

Only a few minutes into Monsieur Mayonnaise, my brain’s got an itch. Something about this feels familiar but it can’t be the movie as it’s making its Canadian premiere at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. Rather it’s the man himself, artist Philippe Mora, who I’ve lately seen in Three Days in Auschwitz, about how his mother narrowly escaped being MonsieurMayo2-750x506sent to Auschwitz. Philippe Mora is an artist of all mediums; while he did not direct this particular documentary, he did write and illustrate the graphic novel of the same name.

Monsieur Mayonnaise is about Mora’s father, a member of the French resistance. He earned the code name Monsieur Mayonnaise when he suggested the resistance smuggle important documents inside sloppy, mayonnaise-filled sandwiches, after he observed Nazis avoiding greasy foods in order to keep their pristine gloves clean. His father’s position allowed him to protect and shelter the family of the young woman with whom he was quickly falling in love. After the war, fearful of another, Mora’s parents fled to Australia, where they made their home, raised a family, and opened several restaurants which would feature hand-made mayonnaise prominently.

These are the reminiscences that inspired the colourful artwork that makes up Monsieur monsieur-mayonnaise-2Mayonnaise, both the comic and the film. Director Trevor Graham films the madcap artist as he careens around the world, meeting up with heroes, villains, and the ordinary people still alive today because of his father’s efforts – teamwork improbably involving Marcel Marceau – smuggling Jewish children across the border.

Mora is practically a subject unto himself, and if his flightiness is mirrored in the documentary, so too is his exuberance.

You can catch a screening of this film on the following dates:

Thursday 11 May, 3:30 PM – Alliance Francaise (Director Trevor Graham will Skype in for a Q&A)

Sunday 14 May, 1:00 PM – Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 9

30 Years of Garbage: The Garbage Pail Kids Story

I was probably too young for Garbage Pail Kids. I was possibly too young for Cabbage Patch Kids too, for that matter, but had one anyway, given to me when I was 2 years old and my dumb Mom replaced me with a brand new baby. My Cabbage Patch Kid was named Maud (they came pre-named, with a birth certificate) and she had red yarn hair. My babyGPK_8a_adambomb sister also got one, a brunette named Valerie, which I felt was unfair because she’d done nothing to deserve it besides poop and scream and steal my parents’ love.

Cabbage Patch Dolls were a huge phenomenon in the 1980s, and so too, eventually, were the little trading cards that parodied them. Topps bubblegum did Bazooka and other candy store staples. They’d paired baseball cards with bubblegum for years, and were expanding to “non-sport” cards as well. Failing to secure rights to do a legit Cabbage Patch line, they decided instead to do a “fuck you” line that would skewer these saccharine-sweet dolls.

30 Years of Garbage introduces us to the brilliant, twisted minds behind this idea that was obsessively collected by kids and doggedly censored by parents and principals. Jacques Cousteau, for some reason, cautioned parents that their Garbage Pail loving kids would inevitably end up on cocaine! I may have been too young to appreciate os4_132athis stuff at the time, but I have certainly been aware of them in retrospect. These bubblegum comic artists tapped into a vein of childhood rebellion and ended up making lasting work.

I was shocked to learn that a Garbage Pail co-creator was none other than Art Spiegelman, who wrote Maus, a deeply moving graphic novel about the Holocaust (he uses cats and mice effectively – if you haven’t read it, you simply must). I shouldn’t be surprised that I’d never known the connection – his publishers worked hard to keep it that way!

30 Years of Garbage provides equal doses nostalgia and insight. You don’t need to love
the product to find this documentary compelling: who got screwed, who got sued, who won the war between the First Amendment, and Product Disparagement?

But it’s also interesting because I see this fad repeating itself. My little nephew Brady is into something called Shopkins, which as far as I can tell, is a really stupid “toy”. It’s a tiny rubber thing, shaped like some grocery store item, about the size of a pencil eraser. cards21n-2-webHe’s got a bag of rice, and a bag of flour that looks almost identical to the bag of rice. How these are fun toys I have no idea. We usually pile them on Lightning McQueen and race. But Brady’s own counter culture is already budding at 5 years old: Shopkins are parodied by the Grossery Gang, the same basic shitty toy, but disgusting (ie, mouldy cheese). I don’t get it, but adults aren’t meant to. It’s kind of cool that he’s got his own little act of rebellion, but if you’re in the mood for some throwback rebellion, here’s a hint: the Garbage Pail Kids are back.

 

 

30 Years of Garbage is playing at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival this Sunday, May 7th, 5:30pm at Innis Town Hall.