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Funny, They Don't Look (Kurdish) Jewish ...

August 30, 2007 By:
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That's some chupah -- not! -- under which David (David Moscow) and Layla (Shiva Rose) exchange vows -- and lives -- thanks to director Jay Jonroy
Kurds and ...

Wait. A Kurdish comedy? Is that or is that not the smartest oxymoron to come out of filmland since the term "gross profit" was coined?

Is there a statue of limitations since Hussein and his icon were toppled or can "Saddam: The Musical" be far behind?

Jay Jonroy is not one to be left behind, especially when it came to living under Saddam's regime. He left with the government's backing, an education in smarts diplomacy, moving to study in England on a scholarship granted by none other than Iraq's minister of education.

Hussein was never a hoot to live under, especially for the Kurds. But Jonroy joined humor and history in putting together his independently released new film, a mixed blessing about a mixed marriage: "David & Layla" opens this Friday.

Oh, those Kurdish kids. But David is not; he's the Jew in this romantic jigsaw, in which chicken and chickpea soups share scream time.

Indeed, Jonroy, a joy to interview, has heard it both ways; screams emanating from those enjoying themselves at this combustible Iraq and roll comedy; and those that kvetch that a boychick converting to the Koran -- as David does to court his coveted Layla -- can't be good for the Jews.

But is it good for the funnybone?

Not that Jonroy, whose efforts as writer/producer/director go on display starting tomorrow, has had a laugh-riot of a life. "David & Layla" lies heavily on his own heart as his dedication of the film dictates: "For my sister whose husband was kidnapped in 1963. Later he was found murdered with 170 other civilians in a mass grave. Her two sons are refugees in Germany.

"For my brother, missing since 1993. In 2003 his remains were found in Saddam's Abu Ghraib mass grave. His widow and three children are refugees in Holland."

Uh ... ready to laugh? Jonroy is -- and that's the point, he says. Tears of joy, tears of sorrow. "David & Layla" is laden with happiness and tears of history -- but mainly with the laughter.

And you thought "David and Lisa" had problems making it in 1962? At least they were soul mates; "David & Layla" are solely on their own: Can an overgrown jaded Jewish boy from Brooklyn find "Sex and Happiness" -- the title of his cable TV show -- with an Iraqi refugee/part-time belly dancer, whose green card is about to fade to black as she seeks refuge with Muslim relatives just a pita's toss from David's facacta family?

Maybe, more than anything, this is the first Oy-raqi film? "I bet before Jewish films were made -- and one knows how much Jews have been oppressed and stereotyped over the years -- nobody thought that there would one day be a Mel Brooks or a Billy Wilder to make fun of it all," says the director of the laugh track laid down by those daring directors.

To brook the pain means first streaming the laughter. And that's what Jonroy has enjoined his cast and crew to do, albeit he concedes "David & Layla" "could have been written as drama."

"Since I am a serious person and 'highbrow' critics," he smirks, "like drama, yes, I could have written it as drama."

But the next laugh you hear is his -- and the audience's, he hopes. In fact, he's taking applause into his own hands, attending screenings this weekend for Q&A sessions at the Ritz at the Bourse, where "David & Layla" will be unspooling for all those Bobs and Carols and Teds and Alices and ...

"Audiences like what I've done; they like a good laugh."

Good for him. But the much-educated and erudite filmmaker smarts at being pigeonholed, drained at the notion of doing drama without the dream of comedy.

So the dashing director with the hyphenated career -- Jonroy has been a fashion photographer in Europe; an acting coach for the prominent Circle in the Square theater troupe in New York; a world music whiz; and an art collector who has loaned out works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- has met his match on screen here.

Matchless is the joie de vivre Jonroy exudes from the relatively newfound freedom he has found far away from the hell that once ruled his homeland, where he perches Saddam not on a pedestal but a pitchfork, likening him to Hitler.

Much to his liking these days is the international nature of his nomadic cast and crew, pulled from places everywhere. "Our sound designer is an Orthodox guy -- we ate at kosher places during the shoot -- who wanted to do the film because he's married to a Korean woman. People relate."

But, oy, the relatives. David's family -- which wins a stereotyping award by a nose -- is aghast that their agnostic son would go outside the religion -- out of his head -- to get involved with a woman who dresses so sheikly.

Sure it all has elements of "My Big Fat Gonzo Wedding," but it also has a wedding ring of truth to it. After all, the plotz of a plot is based on an actual couple whom the filmmaker had befriended, the Kurdish Alwand Jaff and her Jewish beau, David Ruby.

The real twosome "fully supports" the reel twosome, says Jonroy. "They've learned to respect each other's traditions."

With milk cart in tow, Tevye, it can be assumed, is not turning cartwheels with this revelation. Yes, says Jonroy, David Ruby did convert to being a Muslim, but he "did so only as a sacrifice for the marriage. He's still Jewish inside."

Even if on the outside he's now known as Mohammed? But what's in a name? The David in the film could just as well be called ... Howard Stern? "I made him as a cocky Howard Stern type," says Jonroy, explaining that "if I had made David charming, the film would have ended in five minutes."

Which is 173 minutes shorter than it started out. But trim Jonroy did -- and shave and cut. The first Kurdish movie mohel?

"I'm not Coppola," he jokes of the director whose free reign at film frames had been godfathered into his contracts.

And while he has his personal opinions -- and doesn't mince words about mendacities spilled forth by Al Jazeera ("They're worse than Fox TV") -- Jonroy knows he's about to bear the brunt of some himself. And what could be more personal than religion?

Jonroy has had to ward off accusations that some of the film's dialogue came from the PLO manifesto. "Actually, in that [cited] scene, I took the language word for word from the [Hagaddah]," he says.

While on the Kurdish front, David's digging his heels into the wine glass at his two-toned, bi-belief wedding ceremony "indicated to one Muslim woman that he's committed to changing over because he's giving up wine."

Give up on winning? Not Jonroy, who hopes both sides see the sights he envisions for his film. And what is that? After all is said and done in this complex Kurdish kosher comedy, the filmmaker hopes to show not so much how camera-ready is religion, but "just how plain goofy is real life."  

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