Referring to the plight of the Jewish writer in American society in the 1950s and 1960s, Saul Bellow wrote of Jewish culture: "We must accept the mixture as we find it -- the impurity of it, the tragedy of it, the hope of it." Perhaps no other genre but film can encompass this diversity and still reach a wide audience. The David Posnack Jewish Community Center's annual Jewish Film Festival has made its mission to use the center's 600-seat theater not to define Jewish culture but to expand definitions of Jewishness -- and non-Jewishness.
This year, the festival, which opened January 11, shows a total of 14 films, including an evening devoted solely to Yiddish films and one night of films from the Jewish Diaspora. The program is diverse and eclectic, from the documentary Strange Fruit, about the Jewish composer who wrote the haunting lyrics that helped make Billie Holiday a legend, to Shalom Y'all, a documentary about a Southern Jew's spiritual journey throughout the South.
If you haven't caught the first half of the festival, here's what's in store for the final weekend:
The Nose Job Jew: Do opposites really attract? A Jewish guy who doesn't look Jewish is mistaken for a non-Jew by the Jewish woman he's dating who doesn't like to date Jews. Reality and perception unravel in this five-minute short when she invites him to her house for dinner and finds out that he is indeed Jewish.
Focus:This film set at the end of World War II could be called a Jewish Watermelon Man (less fantastic but equally allegorical). When the WASPy Lawrence Newman (played by William H. Macy, Oscar nominee for Fargo) gets new glasses -- round accountant-style specs with thick black frames -- he is suddenly mistaken for a Jew and becomes the focus of unwanted scrutiny and anti-Semitism that change his life. Laura Dern plays his wife, and musician Marvin Lee "Meat Loaf" Aday is the anti-Semitic bully next door.
Divided We Fall: Also set in the waning years of World War II, Divided We Fall manages to belong to the Holocaust genre without ever mentioning Hitler. In a small Czech town, Josef and Marie are a childless couple who yearn for a baby. Unfortunately, Josef is sterile. One day, they meet David, a young Jewish man and former neighbor recently escaped from a concentration camp, to whom they give refuge in their home. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 2001, Divided We Fall is a black comedy about decent people, traitors, and heroes who save lives (sometimes for controversial reasons). Czech with English subtitles. -- Mia Leonin