New York Jewish Film Festival
Through January 22, 2019
The 28th edition of the New York Jewish Film Festival comprises its usual enticing mix of features and documentaries for its annual two-week stay at Lincoln Center.
Bille August's A Fortunate Man
The closing night film, Bille August’s potent and engrossing A Fortunate Man, is a return to the kind of rousing, old-fashioned epic that August made his name with 30 years ago when he directed Pelle the Conqueror. Based on a novel by Danish author Henrik Pontoppidan, A Fortunate Man follows a young, intelligent, headstrong engineer who abandons his deeply religious Lutheran family to move from the countryside to Copenhagen, where he marries into a wealthy Jewish family. However, despite his brilliance and exciting new ideas, his stubbornness ultimately leads to his downfall. It sounds like a soap opera, and it is, more or less; but with August’s expert direction, superb cinematography, exacting set design and costumes, and a terrific cast led by Esbven Smed as our hero and Sara Viktoria Bjerregaard Christensen as the woman who loves him, A Fortunate Man is a richly rewarding experience.
Israeli director Amos Gitai is unafraid to tackle thorny questions that have no easy answers in his home country; his latest, the episodic A Tramway in Jerusalem, is a typically complex Gitai journey, on a rail line that connects Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods. Alongside glimpsing the locals who share the trams—and who interact at times cordially, at others antagonistically—are visitors like French actor Mathieu Amalric, who plays a tourist with his young son, oohing and aahing over an oud player on board and later being laughed at for his naïve views on Israel.
Michał Rosa’s Happiness of the World
Polish director Michał Rosa’s Happiness of the World casts an amused but weary eye on the exploits of a beautiful young Jewish woman, Rose (played with gusto and verve by Karolina Gruszka), who lives—and loves—freely in an apartment building on the Polish-German border in 1939, delighting and offending her neighbors in turn.
Silvia Quer’s The Light of Hope is the best kind of docudrama, making us care for its heroic, selfless real-life characters, especially a Swiss Jew named Elisabeth Eidenbenz (a powerful Noémie Schmidt), who helped save the lives of hundreds of young children as head of a maternity home in Vichy France, just miles from the Spanish border.
Part of an illuminating selection of documentaries, Roberta Grossman’s Who Will Write Our History gives trenchant and necessary voice to those killed in the Warsaw Ghetto thanks to a cache of documents discovered after World War II in which their writings were saved.
Elizabeth Rynecki’s Chasing Portraits
Elizabeth Rynecki’s Chasing Portraits—based on her own absorbing book of the same name—follows the filmmaker's emotional journey as she tries to track down the artwork of her great-grandfather, killed by the Nazis.
And Oren Rudavsky’s Joseph Pulitzer: A Voice of the People—a PBS American Masters documentary—succinctly explores the life of the great American newspaperman, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant whose story and legacy are even more relevant in this benighted era of “fake news” brought on by the current imposter in the White House.
New York Jewish Film Festival
Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, NY