SF Jewish Film Fest delivers fighters, mamas and comics
By Richard von Busack
OK, this is real obscure, but do you remember the kerfuffle over Craig Bierko's portrayal of Max Baer as an evil murderous boxer in Ron Howard's Cinderella Man? What about the blink-and-you'll-miss-it way that Howard tipped us off that Baer used to fight wearing a Mogen David on his trunks? Well, once upon a time there were more than a few Jewish Brooklyn and Lower East Side boys who went in for boxing. The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival brings in one of them in for the fest's local stand at the Rafael Film Center.
Orthodox Stance (screening Aug. 4 at 12:15pm) concerns the real-life junior welterweight Dmitriy "Star of David" Salita, a Russian immigrant and Orthodox Jew. "Religion was not created for people not to take advantage of their talents," Salita told Haaretz.com. "I have the talent of boxing, and the fact that I'm an observant Jew does not diminish that." Observing the Sabbath, Salita has been known to say, "Anyone who wants a good whuppin' from me is just going to have to wait until sundown."
Orthodox Stance—along with an ancient Edgar Ulmer/Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom picture retrieved from the vaults and screened at the Castro during the main part of the festival—made the press go for the two-fisted angle when writing up this year's SFJFF. But by the time this road-show fest gets to San Rafael, it will include a more hard-hitting roster of women's pictures.
Take the three-day fest's closer, Three Mothers (screening Aug. 6 at 6:30pm), about Jewish triplets from Alexandria. Named for flowers, their ways have gone wayward ever since the key moment of their life, when they were blessed in their cradles by King Farouk himself. (That kleptomaniac. If Farouk counted the baby's toes, they should have counted them again after he left.) Much Israeli 1960s pop singing (great) and mama-drama (not so much so) leavens this crowd-pleaser, which was nominated for nine Israeli Academy Awards and has been knocking around the local film-fest circuit with the persistence of a bill collector.
By contrast, Gorgeous! (screening Aug. 4 at 6:30pm), following a group of glamorous Sephardic women in modern-day Paris, sounds trifle-icious and awfully much like a Parisian-Jewish version of Sex and the City. Aviva My Love (Aug. 4 at 8:30pm) is Shemi Zarhin's Israeli hit about the sorrows of Aviva (Asi Levi), who has an unemployed husband, a nagging mom, a demanding job, two adolescent kids and the longing to write on top of it all. When her talent is nurtured by a professional writer, Aviva begins to suspect that his interest may be in more than what she puts to the page.
Sweet Mud (Aug. 6 at 6:30pm)—vey iz mir, that title. It must be much better than it sounds, since it happened to win this year's Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, where writer and director Dror Shaul was first invited to develop the project at the institute's prestigious directors and screenwriters lab. Shaul's memory piece is like many Israeli memoirs today, a reaction to the conformity and coldness of the kibbutz—in particular, the problem of a traumatized widowed mom, trying to hold her own against the social pressure of the Utopians around her.
Director Rachel Talbot, who produced the film version of the '70s Hollywood survey Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, makes her directorial debut in Making Trouble (Aug. 5 at 4:30pm). This is a study of female Jewish comics that begins with still-remembered Yiddish film star Molly Picon as well as Streisand avatar Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker and Joan Rivers. Talbot studies entertainers who died too young, such as Wendy Wasserstein (The Heidi Chronicles) and Gilda Radner, as well as the up-and-coming female comedians Judy Gold, Jackie Hoffman, Cory Kahaney and Jessica Kirson have lived to fight another day.
The 27th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival lands at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center Saturday-Monday, Aug. 4-6. Other films Aug. 4 include 'Knowledge Is the Beginning' (2pm) and 'Hot House' (4:30pm). Aug. 5, 'So Long Are You Young' and 'Ezekiel's Wheels' (12:15pm), 'The Longing: The Forgotten Jews of South America' (2:15pm), 'My Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler' (6:30pm) and 'Bad Faith' and 'A Kiss Is a Kiss Is a Kiss' (8:30pm). 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.454.1222. www.sfjff.com.
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