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Heroism and Sacrifice at New York Jewish Film Festival 2021

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By Roger Costa

THE CROSSING

Named Best Children Movie by Norway’s Amanda Awards, director Johanne Helgeland’s inspiring debut is an affecting and very efficient dramatic adventure addressing humanitarian values, bravery, compassion and integrity. Loosely based in real events, the film depicts the perils and injustices experienced by Norwegian-Jews as they were getting arrested and mysteriously disappearing during the Nazi invasion in the autumn of 1942. Some managed to escape crossing the border into Sweden, their desired free land. When the parents of our heroine, 10-years old Gerda, gets arrested for possibly helping the “enemy”, the little brave girl leads a risky journey, attempting to reach freedom and deliver the two Jewish siblings who were hiding in their basement. Her brother, Otto, also comes along but is obviously inclined to Nazi influences, becoming an inconstant figure and a threat. The children play their part perfectly, all of them are incredibly convincing, Gerda is a fantastic leader, we rapidly become attached to her, as she sees the world as a Musketeer, dressing, acting and talking as such, totally aware of the racial conflicts surging around her. The director builds tension and tenderness with the same dedication, supported by the natural landscape and scenario. Spontaneous and filled with thrilling sequences, Helgeland crafted a marvelously structured and crowd-pleasing children’s adventure about the courage and determination of brave young souls.

HERE WE ARE

Since his terrific debut “Broken Wings” prolific Israeli filmmaker Nir Bergman has been engaged in depicting the emotional, economic and social distress of the minority class, confronted by moral dilemmas. He does it so brilliantly, that only for his debut he had garnered honors winning Directing Prizes at both the Israeli Film Academy and Jerusalem Film Festival as well as Berlin, Palm Springs and Tokyo. His latest dramatic effort, which comes with the Cannes selection label from last year’s canceled event and earned him another Best Director Award by the Israeli Film Academy, follows the sacrifices and devotion of a father for his autistic young male son. A delicate homage to sincerity, honesty, innocence and offering a filter to cast away the disturbances of our contemporary world, the film is seen through the strong co-dependent relationship between father-son, presenting pieces of their perspectives with effectiveness: the son finds tranquility watching the silent films of Chaplin, while the father struggles to adapt and accept, especially when it comes to send his son away to a special need kids’ facility. They recklessly escape and go on a road trip trying to reach safe ground for their bond. Realistic, touching, subtly funny, admirably performed with charisma and profound emotional displays, Bergman masterly presents how hard it is, yet so important, the task of letting go, adapting and sacrificing for the care of others- also exemplified on a female character mourning the loss of her mother for whom she was taking care of. Absorbing and utterly enjoyable, it also raises awareness for the rights and opportunities that must be given to autistic adults.

THE SIGN PAINTER

An amusing romantic comedy unveiling the Nazi experience as never seen before: through the perspective of a naïve, prudent and alienated young sign painter. Set in Latvia in early 40’s, it accurately describes historical facts with the Soviet Occupation leading space to the Nazis and transforming the lives of a quiet town. Ansis is the hero of the title, a humble, yet enigmatic presence, confident and emphatic. He’s deeply in love with Zisele, the revolutionary and ahead-of-her-time Jewish daughter of a local businessman, but their connection is not approved by their respective fathers, despite they relate in harmonious community. Through this beautiful friendship/romance story, the film presents the horrors of war as a backdrop, demonstrating more interest in its characters, the people and the dilemmas surrounding the painter, his forbidden muse and Naiga, the doctor’s daughter, a possible love interest for the soon-to-come difficult times. Set to an effervescent score, punctuating the tragicomic situation, precisely shot and compelling, Award-winning director Viesturs Kairiss conceived an accomplished and vivid epic saga about love, ethnic issues, and revolutionary behavior in times of dictatorship.

TAHARA

Secret desires, prejudice and traumas are spilled all over the Hebrew class students gathered at a synagogue to mourn the loss of a friend in director Olivia Peace’s teen hormonal crisis delightful debut. Humbly shot, inventive, unashamed and smart, the film centers on the turbulence created around two best friends as they attend the funeral filled with remarks on its attendees, and later the class meeting where things heat up intensely. Subtly addressing how teenagers struggle to find their voice, space and identity (social, sexual, professional), and how they react to the reality of suicide and loss, the film belongs to its pair of protagonists, as they deliver fresh, riveting breakthrough performances: Rachel Sennott as the malicious, impulsive, and very horny Hannah, and Madeline Grey DeFreece as the more concentrated, thoughtful and emphatic Carrie. During a long discussion in the bathroom about kissing and making-out, they consummate a semi-lesbian experience, bringing them to reconsider themselves: are they just friends, or there’s love and attraction involved?

Cynically funny and charismatic, this L.A. Outfest and New York NewFest’s award-winning indie gem is an authentic and honest look at the troubles of Millennials, their perspectives and aspirations.

WINTER JOURNEY

Late actor Bruno Ganz’s final performance is an impressive farewell to the screen, and to the world of the living. He plays a real figure, the musician George Goldsmith, confronted by his son in order to learn the truth about their escape from Germany’s Nazi Occupation. Interviewed by Martin Goldsmith, the real son of the musician, based on the two books he wrote about his parents’ escape, the film is a hybrid of faux documentary and dramatization, beautifully composed, narrated and executed. Director Anders Østergaard conducts the material with sensitive, firm and highly emotional tones, focusing on the profoundly melancholic reactions displayed by Ganz’s character as he is haunted by memories, both uplifting and traumatic. Stunningly edited, and shot in various forms, the film does a great job putting up the pieces of a puzzle: George somehow traverses a personal crisis, where he denies his Jewish origins. At that moment, the film surges as a relevant and inspiring portrait of the importance of Jewish art and culture, and its continuous effect and influence over Germany and other nations, with their talented operas, concerts, literature and arts in general.

(Presented by The Jewish Museum and Film At Lincoln Center, the 2021 New York Jewish Film Festival runs Virtually January 13-26.)


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