I’m always looking for films that reflect the community in unique ways. While there’s no shortage of Holocaust films or Israeli movies that address the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in some capacity, festivals like NYJFF show how vast and varied Jewish films can be. I love seeing films that show how Jews aren’t a monolith, that we all have our interesting issues and stories worth telling.
A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff– a unique rough gem of a film, A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff frames the Madoff scandal as an affinity scheme from a uniquely Jewish lens. Directed by Alicia J. Rose and adapted from star/creator Alicia Jo Rabins’ one-woman show, this meta-musical examines how Jews approach Bernie Madoff as a criminal, a member of the community, a real-life personification of anti-Semitic stereotypes, and as an example of a flawed American financial system. While I suspect certain production elements work better on stage, I found the low-budget endearing. Seeing Rabins renting out an art space, annoying her friends with her recent obsession with Madoff, and playing multiple parts in cheap costumes made the film feel relatable and accessible. Simultaneously, the weight of the questions Rabins grapples with on how Jews approach controversial community members is handled with care and earnestness. There are scenes where she talks about addressing Madoff with her family, who then mention a community that said Kaddish for Madoff, but then denying it ever happened when questioned. The frustration with that hypocrisy rings true, but Rabins sincerely approaches these issues and understands why the subject is so touchy for Jewish people. She also captures the heartbreak and disappointment seeing a high profile from your community not only hurt people but target their own community. It’s a necessary film that’s worth diving into.
The End of Love: It’s weird seeing a movie made before COVID, but feel like a COVID movie. Told through video chats, The End of Love follows Yuval (Arieh Worthalter) & Julie (Judith Chemla), a French couple with a newborn baby, who are forced to separate as Yuval goes back to Israel to get his visa renewed. With Yuval in Israel and Julie back in France taking care of the baby, they struggle to maintain their relationship through video chat. Life stressors will strain any relationship, and The End of Love is a heartbreaking watch as their relationship gets tested and slowly deteriorates. Worthalter & Chemla give brutally raw performances in their relationship’s sweetest and darkest times. All the life stressors like the Israeli government’s maddening red tape, ex-lovers, needling family members, or just taking care of an infant are heightened. There are scenes when Yuval is irritated that the baby is left alone or with a babysitter, all properly framed to capture his frustration balanced with Julie’s exhaustion. I immediately felt Yuval’s frustration and helplessness at the situation, along with Julie’s desperation to try and keep her family together. It’s clear they want to be there for each other but are just alone due to uncontrollable circumstances. The End of Love couldn’t have come out at a better time, as I imagine many couples and family members feel this stress, separated from loved ones due to COVID.
Cinema Sabaya– an incredibly human drama; Cinema Sabaya uses its performances to show how film can bring people together and help people open up in ways we didn’t expect. Directed by Orit Fouks Rotem, the film following an all-women filmmaking class, made up of Jewish and Muslim characters of different levels of observance, in Hadera, Israel. The movie is rich will engaging and relatable characters. All of the actors: Liora Levi, Aseel Farhat, Orit Samuel, Marlene Bajali, Yulia Tagil, Ruth Landau, Amal Murkus, Joana Said, and Dana Ivgy, give excellent performances. Cinema Sabaya feels real; like a documentary at times. I love that when the characters address expected Israeli political issues, like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, racism, or LGBT issues, the characters talk like real people. No one has clear answers or gives long-winded speeches like a Facebook post or a Twitter “hot take” the dialogue feels natural to their characters and framed as if their take fits their personality. I know everyone will have a favorite character among these ten women, and mine is Dana Ivgy as the teacher. I love how realistically flawed she is. As the class goes on and the assignments start to get more personal, it’s easy to see how an artist would get so wrapped up in the excitement of the class that they could forget how vulnerable their students can be. Cinema Sabaya is an absolutely rewarding watch that captures the joy, and tension, of making new friends in class.