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Photograph by Jat Jurgen Olczyk Beta Film GMBH, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics
Faking It: Karl Markovics is a reluctant participant in a massive Nazi forgery scheme in 'The Counterfeiters,' screening this Saturday at Temple Beth El as part of the two-weekend Jewish Film Festival.

Uncharted Territory

The Jewish Film Festival explores nuance and contradiction in old wars and current events.

By Traci Hukill

The 2000 Czech film Divided We Fall is often called a comedy. If that's in fact what it is, it may be the most disturbing comedy ever made. Set in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, it charts the terrified citizenry's descent into paranoia: the Jews have all been sent away, and now anyone who doesn't hold his mouth just right could be next. At the center of the tale is Josef Cizek, a decent if dissolute fellow who agrees to hide the Jewish son of his old boss, at great personal risk. By day, though, Cizek works for the Nazis, raising the question of what's morally justifiable in extreme circumstances.

Similar questions arise in Black Book, a 2006 Dutch thriller about a beautiful Jewish singer who infiltrates the Gestapo on behalf of the Dutch resistance, only to fall for her mark. Survival requires her to shift allegiances with the winds, so what does that make her? Hero? Harlot? Survivor?

Such sticky ethical questions are a hallmark of Temple Beth El's ninth annual Jewish Film Festival. In two weekends of provocative, mostly feature-length films, the festival gently nudges viewers away from judgment and toward considered compassion. In Someone to Run With--sort of a happier Wendy and Lucy, thanks in part to its setting in socially minded Israel rather than the save-yourself United States--street kids catch a break. In Beaufort, stressed-out Israeli soldiers sweat it out in a heavily fortified post in southern Lebanon. In The Counterfeiters, a Jewish forger in a concentration camp gets to survive in exchange for aiding the Nazi effort to up-end the American and British economies.

Among the heavier courses are lighter fare: a documentary about 530 Jewish Moroccan kids who are smuggled to Israel in a daring maneuver; an Israeli filmmaker goes in search of her male Palestinian nanny, himself a father of 11; and local filmmaker Marigold Fine peers into an American-sponsored peace camp for Palestinians and Jews. Altogether it's two weekends of edifying entertainment--the best kind.

Jewish Film Festival Schedule

Saturday, Feb. 21

6pm Reception

7pm The Counterfeiters (2007) Oscar-winning tale of a Jewish counterfeiter forced to put his talents to work for the Nazis.

9:30pm Someone to Run With (2006) Beloved adaptation of David Grossman's novel follows a runaway and her dog through the mean streets of Jerusalem.

Sunday, Feb. 22

2pm Praying with Lior (2007) Documentary about a boy with Down syndrome studying for his Bar Mitzvah.

3:45pm Operation Mural Casablanca Documentary about the risky smuggling of Jewish youths from Morocco to Israel in 1961; followed by a discussion with one of the smuggled children.

6:45pm Divided We Fall (2000) Jan Hrebejk's unsettling Oscar-winner about a Czech couple that takes in a Jewish refugee during the war.

Saturday, Feb. 28

7pm Close to Home (2005) Two young women in the Israeli army try to maintain a sense of normalcy despite the demands of their jobs.

8:45pm Black Book (2006) Dutch drama about a Jewish singer's dangerous work for the resistance.

Sunday, March 1

2pm First Lesson in Peace (2006) Filmmaker's daughter's first year in an integrated Arab-Jewish school is the foundation for this documentary.

3:15pm Peacemakers Local filmmaker Marigold Fine's look at an American-sponsored peace effort.

3:30pm Another Road Home (2004) Documentarian Danae Elon tracks down the Palestinian man who helped raise her.

6:45pm Beaufort (2007) Oscar-nominated feature about Israeli soldiers struggling under psychological pressure.

Movie Times THE JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL runs Saturday-Sunday, Feb. 21-22 and Feb. 28-March 1, at Temple Beth El Jewish Community Center, 3055 Porter Gulch Road, Aptos. Tickets are $8 door/$7 advance/$5 students or four for $25. Festival pass is $55. (831.423.2505 or 831.426.9432)

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