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A Silver Anniversary With Golden Memories
Nice to know, too, that the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival is celebrating its silver anniversary with more than a shtetl of a following for its success. Indeed, the film fest - the second oldest of its kind after San Francisco - has more than a milk can to show for its cream-of-the-crop offerings. It has … tradition!
And for so many years part of that tradition was Archie Perlmutter, the arch film maven who, with wife Ruth, never saw a film festival they couldn't schlep to. Inveterate movie-goers, they got going all around the world, attending festivals with that delicious Cannes-do attitude.
The arc of Archie's accomplishments for the JCC annual film event was a fantastic one as he blended fandom with expertise in bringing the best of the best to the Gershman Y's screen.
He was, in a way, their screen saver. And for that - and many other reasons - the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival is honoring the cineaste with a taste of style, planning its gala opening weekend as an "Homage to Archie."
Funny, they should do that - because funny is what the highlights of the films offered this weekend are.
Nothing is funnier than the muy mishuga "Only Human" ("Seres Queridos"). Winner of the best film and screenplay categories at last year's Monte Carlo Festival, this one's a sure bet to bedazzle and bewitch as a Spanish Jewish family - whose blind, rifle-toting zayda is a sight to see, and whose suddenly Orthodox son is the cherry on the top of the kipah - attempts to come to grips with the ungrippable: Love is where you find it - even if it means losing your pants after being clonked on the head with a runaway container of frozen chicken soup.
Livin' la vida latke?
Don't ask - better see for yourself. Where else could the Spanish fly in the ointment of a family's happiness be a prospective son-in-law who's called on the carpet for his Palestinian roots?
"Seres Queridos" is a tallis bag of totems turned upside-down; it's as if Don Quixote suddenly discovered he were Jewish, and sidekick Sancho Panza just a nebbishe nephew out of work and hanging out with his uncle for handouts.
What this movie proves more than anything is: Love means never having to say you're sorry you're Sephardic.
"Only Human" ("Seres Queridos"), in Spanish with English subtitles, is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 6, at 2 p.m.
It's culture clash a-go-go with "Go for Zucker! An Unorthodox Comedy" ("Alles auf Zucker!"), pitting secular and Orthodox Jewish relatives in a Shabbat-shattering face-off in which all try to save face.
When Jaeckie, a jaded German Jew, is forced to make nice with his estranged and strange Orthodox brother Samuel as a condition of inheriting their mother's vast fortune, it takes more than a Berlin Wall coming down to put up with each other.
Who needs enemies when you have family? And what director Dan Levi seems to have is an unorthodox winner on his very capable hands.
Billed as the first post-Holocaust German-Jewish comedy, "Go for Zucker!" has a lot going for it, with the ultimate comeuppance for the Brothers Care-not-so-much for each other a true test of the mother's will.
"Go for Zucker! An Unorthodox Comedy" ("Alles auf Zucker!") is being shown as a Philadelphia premiere on Sunday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. Its German soundtrack offers English subtitles.
Bookending the two successful comedies are works that work - to a degree - on less successful levels.
The local premiere of "Protocols of Zion" uses an infamous anti-Semitic screed as its protocol of examination. The notorious "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," an abominable and egregiously hateful attack on world Jewry as the base of all evil, is a baseless but far from benign publication that has found a readership - or maybe it's just the pictures that those who buy it are capable of viewing - among those who don't shy away from seeing Shylocks everywhere they turn.
Does not a Jew bleed?
Yes, say the book's fans - and, hopefully, they wish, more so in the near future.
What filmmaker Mark Levin has done in this daring documentary is to go beyond the painful pages, and make book on the ignorance and hate that's made "Protocols" so popular with those who've their own plans for the chosen people.
Using post-Sept. 11 as a date of demarcation for modern-day exploration of the book's evils, Levin leavens the truly bizarre encounters with white supremacists and neo-Nazis with an occasional light moment.
But his status as first-time director shows an unsteady hand - here a zoom lens is needed to identify the heart of the heartless, for he too often opts for a fade away, leaving a film-goer a bit frustrated and unsatisfied, thinking that a more experienced moviemaker would have known when and how to get the "money shot."
Scenes in which he himself is interviewed at a radio station by a white supremacist - whose fans obviously have never met a Jew they didn't liken to the devil - are whitewashed by the director's seeming inexperience.
Then again, on the flip side, you'd almost hate to see what a veteran director would uncover; the findings, as is, are fearful enough.
"Protocols of Zion" will be screened on Monday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m., marking the end of the festival's first long weekend.
Now to its beginning … The "Homage to Archie" checks in with "Checking Out," a comedy cleverly casting Peter Falk as a cape-cloaked - raincoat must have been at the dry-cleaners - Shakespearean actor who takes "to be … or not to be" too personally.
Declaring at age 90 that he will take his own life - after a humorous if not poison-pen invitation to fans and family to attend his festive (if fatal) going-away party - the nonagenarian gets a resounding "No!" from his far-flung family, who fly in to fend off his funeral obsession, forming a procession of the neurotic and myopic.
One more thing … Falk falters rarely, and is in fine fettle here. But the Jeff Hare-directed fare can't pull a romanticized rabbit out of the hat with this comedy, which betrays its theatrical roots - starting life as a play - with its very stagey situations that ring as hollow as the Bard bartering at a Chanukah bazaar.
Boris Thomashefsky would have taken a tomahawk to this family; indeed, screenwriter Richard Marcus could have used his fair share of cuts and editing.
With Laura San Giacomo, David Paymer and Judge Reinhold as the silly scions of the Yiddish-spouting surrogate Shakespeare, "Checking Out" has cast fine performers as the outcast sons and daughter, but makes ill use of them all.
Want a truly funny, fumished family that puts the "oy" in joy, then visit the comic Spanish conquistadores of "Only Human" on Sunday.
Now, they provide the real piñata of knock-down, drag-out punchlines!
"Checking Out" will be on screen Saturday night, Nov. 5, at 8.
To learn more about film-festival activities, call 215-446-3033.• • •
If the JCC seems to be offering a film fan's version of pictorial paradise, it's not the only screen in town. An acclaimed controversial Arab film is vying for eyes at Ritz theaters.
"Suicide is painless" goes the sardonic refrain from the classic television show and movie "M*A*S*H."
How much more explosive a topic to detonate a debate between both sides of the Arab- Israel tug of war than suicide bombers?
"Paradise Now," opening on Nov. 4, explores that very topic, depicting two young Palestinian pals who were recruited to serve their cause - and sever any notion of peace with Israel as they join in on a self-demolition derby.
What these two auto mechanics are asked to do is far from a benign game of bumper cars. And as dedicated as they are to being the little engines that could, when separated, they are left to re-examine their decision and ponder whether the plan will blow up in their respective faces.
These five films make for a handful of hot topics on a strong weekend of choices.
So, call some friends, make your picks, get your tickets, pass the popcorn - and settle in for a cinematic sojourn of a Jewish journey!