By Roger Costa
Following up his acclaimed debut “The Cakemaker”, writer-director-editor Ofir Raul Graizer’s latest project is a superbly shot and highly emotional melodrama examining cultural and sexual identities through the encounter between an American swimming instructor returning to Israel after the death of his father, and an Ethiopian florist who is also dealing with the same sense of loss. They are connected by Yotam, his childhood friend and her partner, who tragically ends up in a coma after an accident. As they become attached through a series of mutual experiences and feelings, including the immigrant condition, an inevitable passion emerges, offering them an opportunity to re-write their stories. Michael Moshonov as the swimming coach Eli, re-connecting to his roots, and Oshrat Ingedashet as the patient florist looking to plant and preserve a future, give finely convincing performances as the possible romantic duo, creating an irresistible sparkle. Armed with sensibility and control of his material, director Graizer beautifully addresses the psychological, moral and social effects of a tragedy in contrast with a one-of-a-kind love chance.
WHERE LIFE BEGINS
Utterly sensitive and complex, this seductive drama follows the emotional heat and upheaval between a religious ultra-Orthodox young woman and a wealthy farmer. Set in the Calabrian countryside, Stephane Freiss’ drama centers on the dilemmas of Esther (a hypnotic, gorgeously fragile, moody and vulnerable Lou de Laage) as she seeks an opportunity to leave her family’s faith and experience a life of her own. During a vacation to harvest a sacred fruit at an Italian farm owned by Elio (the always charismatic Riccardo Scamarcio), she develops an unlikely connection to the gloomy bon-vivant owner, awakening her desire for freedom and romance. Provocative and emphatic, filled with poetry and subtlety, Freiss leaves an impressive mark as a first-time director with this absorbing look at finding console and breaking barriers at unexpected places.
Observing the edgy transformations of two strong female personalities, this elegant, sincere and humanistic drama directed by Sylvie Ohayon shines a light in the behind-the-scenes fashion world seen through two different perspectives: the veteran Esther, head seamstress at a prestigious Dior workshop getting ready to leave her throne, and 20-year-old delinquent Jade, who becomes her protege and possible substitute. Performed with an irresistible sense of classic quality, both Nathalie Baye and rising star Lyna Khoudri are perfect in their roles, creating a fabulous, intriguing relationship that goes beyond the unlikely mother/daughter structure to create a delicate, uplifting and fearless portrait of female devotion, determination and strong will.
FAREWELL MR. HAFFMANN
A heart pounding, suspenseful dramatic thriller set during the Nazi invasion in Paris, director Fred Cavaye’s masterly crafted multi-character study is his best film yet. Daniel Auteuil stars as a prominent jeweller who is forced to make a pact with his employee, drastically changing their lives: he must hide from the Germans underneath the property, while the other would live there as the new owner along with his wife. Richly composed, with great music, precise cutting and perfectly recreating the turmoil of the early 40’s, Cavaye scores a gripping and entertaining thriller. What ensues is a fascinating, mind bending moral puzzle about love, marital devotion and principles reflected on the three characters’ motives, risks taken and struggles.
(Presented by The Jewish Museum and Film at Lincoln Center, The 32nd annual New York Jewish Film Festival runs January 12-23, 2023. Directors will be in attendance at select screenings. Go to https://www.filmlinc.org/festivals/new-york-jewish-film-festival/ for details)