UK Jewish Film Festival


by Joanna Orland with Ella Fitzsimmons

The UK Jewish Film Festival is dedicated to bringing to the UK the best world cinema that focuses on Jewish life, history and culture.  The annual festival features an array of screenings and events including UK premieres, older classics, guest lectures, history walks and panel sessions.  This year’s 17th festival featured  screenings of over 70 films and events across five cities – London, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester – over the course of 19 days.

Here is a review of some of this year’s happenings:

Le métis de Dieu (The Jewish Cardinal)
Opening Night Gala
Directed by Ilan Duran Cohen
Starring Laurent Lucas, Aurélien Recoing and Audrey Dana

The Jewish Cardinal is a historical drama which depicts the true story of the Jewish born head of the French Church, Jean-Marie Lustiger.  It tells the trials and tribulations of his personal and professional life as he struggles to balance his identity of both Jewish and Christian.  Born as Aaron to Jewish parents, Jean-Marie was drawn to Christianity and converted at age 14.  As his father noted, while most Jewish boys his age were celebrating their Bar Mitzvahs, he was getting baptized.  During World War II, his mother was shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp and murdered by the Nazis.  His father resented his Christian faith and tried to get his baptism annulled.  In spite of all of this upset, Jean-Marie persevered with his Christian faith and became the head of the French Church and a close confidant to Pope John Paul II, all the while trying to maintain his Jewish identity… read more

Afternoon Delight
Directed by Jill Soloway
Starring Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch

This independent film won director Jill Soloway the Best Directing accolades at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  A fresh take on the bored housewife theme, Afternoon Delight is about Rachel (Hahn) who is struggling to overcome boredom in her sexless marriage to Jeff (Radnor).  She is seeing therapist Lenore (Lynch) once a week to vaguely discuss her issues, but she almost seems to not even have the will to overcome them.  On a unique night out for Rachel and Jeff, their friends take them to a strip club in order to help spice up their marriage.  Jeff treats Rachel to a lap dance by the stripper McKenna (Temple) which somehow awakens something in Rachel… read more

Arnold Brown Introduces And Why Not?

by Ella Fitzsimmons

As Arnold Brown, alternative comedy legend and man trying to get funding for his movie would probably agree, stereotypes about Jews are funny because they’re true. I should have known. The Soho Theatre used to be a synagogue, and his gig was done under the auspices of the London Jewish Film Festival. Little known fact: even if you leave your own Jewish mother in another country, another one will find you and rearrange your life. With that in mind, going to a Jewish event and hoping to remain an independent adult is simply foolhardy. Five minutes. Only five. (I checked my watch.) That was how long it took from me entering the Soho Theatre to being roped in to going to a North London synagogue and promising to be amenable to being set up with the lovely couple next to mine’s friend’s son. “Ach, a clever girl like you! And pretty! I would LOVE to set you up with someone!” As anyone with a Jewish mother can attest, saying “no” to them is impossible: it just comes out as “yes, of course”… read more

Directed by Seth Fisher
Starring Seth Fisher, Brian Cox, Mark Blum, Laila Robins

Harold Blumenthal, a revered New York playright, has passed away after having a heart attack while laughing at his own joke.  His surviving brother Saul is jealous and resentful of Harold and the anger he feels has manifested itself in the form of constipation.  Saul’s non-Jewish wife Cheryl, an aging actress, is consumed by her aged appearance and low self esteem.  Saul’s neurotic son Ethan must deal with his own personal hangups, caused predominantly by his own neurosis… read more

The Congress
Directed by Ari Folman
Starring Robin Wright, Paul Giamatti, Danny Huston, Harvey Keitel and Jon Hamm

This film is a mess.  There are so many good ideas, intentions, and messages, but The Congress struggles to make sense of its own narrative. A true disappointment as it is rife with potential, and one would expect a more cohesive output from director Ari Folman… read more

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s
Directed by Matthew Miele

I feel like I have just watched a 90 minute infomercial for Bergdorf Goodman, the infamous department store of New York’s Fifth Avenue elite.  This corporate marketing video in the guise of a documentary about the store’s history, clientele, inner workings and importance in the fashion world, is a puff piece.  This advertisement for high-end consumerism erratically jumps from topic to topic, subject to subject, in a repetitive loop that lasts far too long for the little it has to say… read more

Closing Night Gala
Directed by Eytan Fox
Starring Dana Ivgy, Efrat Dor, Ofer Shechter, Yael Bar-Zohar, Anat Waxman and Keren Berger

For its closing night gala, the UK Jewish Film Festival has selected the Israeli-French film Cupcakes, directed by Eytan Fox.  After digesting this film, I feel like I have personally eaten an entire batch of cupcakes.  It is so sickeningly sweet, my cynical self wasn’t convinced it would satiate my apetite for good cinema.  By the end of the film, I was bouncing off the walls from a sugar rush of charm, endearment and pure joy.  This film is a celebration of music, friendship, love and free spirit… read moreSave

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