FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIP: An older author (Stephen Dillane) revisits his youthful haunts in 'Fugitive Pieces.'
The Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival brings a month's worth of movies to town
By Richard von Busack
THE MONTH-LONG 17th Annual Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival opens with this weekend at Camera 12 in San Jose and the Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto with two middling features and one fascinating documentary. Fugitive Pieces (Oct. 26 at 3pm and Oct. 29 at 7:30pm) is Jeremy Podeswa's dusty story of a morose, frail author (Stephen Dillane). In the late 1960s, the writer is scooped up by a blonde Toronto woman named Alex (Rosamund Pike). But he cannot escape from the dead hand of the past, from his memories of the German storm troopers in Poland who hauled his family away. To free himself, Jakob must head back to the Greek island of Hydra, where he spent his youth.Once upon a time in the 1960s, Gila Almagor was a starlet playing in spy movies like the Audie Murphy picture Trunk to Cairo. In The Debt (Oct. 26 at 5:30pm and Oct. 30 at 7pm), she plays Rachel, a Mossad agent celebrated for the 1964 whacking of "The Surgeon of Birkenau." Now an old man in Kiev is telling the world he's the Surgeon. On the one hand, The Debt's thrills are slowed by the insistence that those seeking revenge must dig two graves. On the other hand, this war criminal is such a snarling, sneaky, boastful Nazi you wonder what's taking so long.Yiddish Theater: A Love Story (Oct 26. at 1pm) is indisputably the prize in this weekend's package. Israeli director Dan Katzir follows the short revival of the 1916 Yiddish play Green Fields by the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre, Chanukah week 2000. The star of the show is the eightysomething and tough-as-a-boot legend Zipora Spaisman, a Polish Jew who escaped both Hitler and Stalin. If this is a love story, it's not a blind one: we see the headache of mounting a theater production and the constant search for money. Despite the play's supertitles, there's also the problem of finding an audience. The movie shows the influence Yiddish theater had—on the fantods of Brando or the schmaltz of Mel Brooks—but there are also a few words on who killed Yiddish: 20th-century war and 20th-century prosperity are to blame. But as professor Dovid Katz mentions, the Israeli government also discouraged the tongue. Interviewee Nahma Sandrow, author of the indispensable Vagabond Stars, puts it plain: Hebrew is the victor's language; Yiddish is the language of the weak, the language of the dead.
Each year, this indispensable festival spotlights a colony not much heard about. This year, it's My Mexican Shiva, a.k.a. Morirs esta En Hebreo (Nov. 9 at 5pm) about a family of Ashkenazis in Mexico City; later comes a live concert by Kat Parra and the Sephardic Music Experience. Don't miss My Father, My Lord (Nov. 6 at 7pm), one of the most powerful Israeli films I've seen. It's an impressionist drama, like the work of a Hebrew Terence Davies. A stern yet essentially soft-hearted rabbi of a small congregation comes up against the harshest commandment: to love God no matter what God does. More info as the weeks go by.
THE SILICON VALLEY JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL runs Oct. 26–Nov. 19. Screenings are Sundays and Wednesdays at Camera 12 in San Jose and Thursdays at Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto. See www.svjff.org for schedule details. (Full Discloser: Metro is one of the sponsors of the festival.)
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