Just how far the relationship between tech-toys and journalistic self-importance has progressed might be measured by the man loudly working two cell phones and a laptop right down to the wire at my first Toronto Film Festival screening. At least he had the grace to power down once the movie started, which is more than I can say for the nattily dressed young woman seated next to me who, all entreaties to the contrary, consulted her Blackberry every 10 minutes throughout. That must have been some deal, or tryst, or both she was hoping to seal—it all but ruined my experience of the most beguiling movie I’d see during my four-day stay. Israeli writer director Eran Kolirin’s first feature The Band’s Visit, a deceptively modest comedy about an Egyptian police orchestra’s trip to Israel, comes as sweet balm in a season of terrorist thrillers and vigilante splatter-pics. Played mostly by Palestinian actors, the band gets misdirected to a hole-in-the-wall development town where they’re hosted in with varying degrees of good grace by local Sephardi families, among them a sexy but lonely free spirit beautifully rendered by Ronit Elkabetz, whom you may remember from another excellent Israeli comedy, Late Marriage. With its arresting powder-blue palette and gentle wit, this goofy charmer, which Sony Pictures Classics will release in 2008, offers the sweet credo that the road to conciliation begins not with politicking but with conversation, tea and sympathy, and a little bit of cross-cultural nookie.
Toronto has always been hospitable to Israeli cinema, and this year being no exception, The Band’s Visit set me on course to see as many as I could while I was there, plus a few others with Jewish themes. Avi Nesher’s The Secrets, an absorbing but florid drama about young women seeking identity and meaning in an Orthodox seminary in the ancient town of Safed, certainly packs in the upper-case themes—feminism, mysticism, lesbian love, it’s all in there. Fanny Ardant gets sutured in rather unfortunately as a possible murderess seeking absolution, but as the melodrama drove off a cliff, I got the queasy feeling that some of Israel’s most pressing social divisions were being ripped off and mangled into soap opera.
In a lower but far more potent register, our own Etgar Keret (LA Weekly regularly runs his short stories) has made a film written by his wife Shira Geffen, about a loosely connected bunch of blitzed young Israelis who are lost to themselves and each other, who regroup and re-pair in every sense of that word. “I don’t like developments,” one of them murmurs dreamily. Just so: Much happens in Jellyfish (to be released by Zeitgeist) and it’s all going somewhere, but not in a straight line, and never to a foregone conclusion.
Finally, I doubt whether anyone outside the very small sub-culture to which I belong (children of the kibbutz) is going to jump up and down about Children of the Sun, a documentary by Ran Tal about kids raised in the kibbutz movement in its Marxist heyday. I went hoping for something that went deeper than the usual bromides about how mothers hated “giving up” their babies to the collective nursery (my mother always said she spent more intimate time with her kids there than she was to get later in her multi-tasking city life back in England). In vain, but this perfectly pleasant film—a welcome antidote for all its limitations to last year’s poisonously resentful narrative feature Sweet Mud—with its home movies and footage of collectivized work and play, took me right back to when we sang and danced in our blue shirts and stout knickers. Sovietized and homogenized, perhaps, but what happy little socialists we were! How perfectly ordinary that life seemed to us, and how utterly bizarre it must seem to anyone on the outside, looking in. Well, not quite finally.
Far and away the best film I saw at Toronto this year was Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitsky’s The Counterfeiters, a fact-based drama about a Jewish crook who’s forced by the Nazis to make fake foreign currency designed to destroy the Allies’ economies. Scott and I will have much more to say about this wonderful film when Sony Classics (I’m not on their payroll, honest, they happened to be batting a thousand at Toronto this year) opens it next year. For now I’ll just say that the movie blows a fresh wind through Holocaust cinema, which needs it badly.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city