Frame from Chantal Akerman's "Je tu il elle". Jerusalem Film Festival

What to Look for and What Not to Miss at Jerusalem Film Festival

With Israel's most prestigious film festival set to open Thursday, here's your guide to the best local and foreign films showing throughout the week.

 Foreign films

The 33rd Jerusalem Film Festival, from July 7 through July 17th, will offer several ways to bid farewell to Belgian film director Chantal Akerman, who passed away in October of 2015. Firstly, there will be a screening of her last documentary, “No Home Movie,” which was released last year. Now, after Akerman’s death, her last film seems like an official summary of the subjects of all her works since 1975, when at the age of 25 she made “Jeanne Dielman,” one of the greatest and most important films in the history of the cinema.

As is the case with all of Akerman’s works, words are not the most suitable way to convey the cinematic complexity of her last film. You have to watch it. To watch it patiently, with determination. It demands our scrutiny and our scrutiny is also what propels it, whether our eyes gaze at length at a tree, at a desert landscape or at Natalia’s apartment in Brussels. Natalia, the director’s 86-year-old mother, who was born in Poland, is a Holocaust survivor and is now fading. Her daughter’s love is electrifying, illuminating the film with great light.

The festival will also provide another opportunity to become familiar with Akerman’s work at the screening of a reconstructed copy of “Je Tu Il Elle” from 1974, her first full-length feature. In it, she plays a young woman who in the first part of the film has shut herself into her small apartment after breaking up with her beloved. There, she is nourished on sugar alone and in the second part she embarks on a journey to meet her girlfriend again.

Of course I haven’t yet seen most of the films that will be screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival, but I will note the ones I have already seen and are worth watching. “The Death of Louis XIV” by Catalan director Albert Serra is set almost entirely in the bedroom of the dying 76-year-old king, and mainly at his bedside. In his characteristic unrelenting style, Serra depicts the process of the death of the king, who at first tries to maintain his regal deportment but his approaching death transforms him gradually from a god, as he believes himself to be, to a human.

Jerusalem Film Festival

“Sieranevada” by Romanian director Cristi Puiu (“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”) was one of the best films that competed at the Cannes Festival this year, even though it did not win a prize. Except for a few scenes, the film is set in an apartment where, 40 days after the father’s death (and three days after the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris), family and friends gather for a traditional meal. With impressive precision, mixed with quite a bit of humor, Puiu shapes each of the many characters and their relationships, creating a mosaic of the Romanian bourgeoisie.

French director Bruno Dumont’s “Slack Bay” is a wacky black comedy. The film, which is set in a remote seaside location in northern France, brings together two families, each of them grotesque in its own way. The one is a family of mussel and oyster gatherers and the other is a pretentious bourgeois family that for some reason spends every summer vacation in this godforsaken place, in a castle they built for themselves. Dumont has no qualms about intentional comic exaggeration, carried out mainly through the performances of the well-known actors Fabrics Luchini, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Juliette Binoche and others – who play the members of the bourgeois family.

It is also interesting to watch the documentary film “Weiner” by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg about Anthony Weiner, the self-destructive American politician who twice destroyed his own career through sex scandals. His wife, Huma Abedin, who has worked for many years for Hillary Clinton, is by his side the whole time. The result is bleak comedy, which reveals with sharp irony the murky face of American politics. And perhaps not only American politics.

Israeli films

“Forever Pure” is a documentary filmed in 2012-2013 that tracks one especially stormy season of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club. Maya Zinshtein’s film documents the fans’ delight when their team makes it to the top of the league and immediately thereafter all the cards are reshuffled. The owner of the team at the time, Russian oligarch Arcadi Gaydamak, decides to bring aboard two Muslim players from Chechnya. There isn’t much soccer in this film but it does take a sharp and disturbing look at the racism, violence, insensitivity and lack of tolerance that in recent years have been becoming more and more dominant in Israeli society.

“One Week and a Day,” Asaph Polonsky’s debut film that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, tracks a couple who have completed the week of mourning for their son, who died of cancer. She (Evgenia Dodina) tries to return immediately to functioning as usual, doing everyday chores in the hope that the structure and tasks will keep her from falling apart, whereas he (Shai Avivi) doesn’t plan anything. He lets himself stray from old habits and familiar patterns. Medical marijuana that he finds in his son’s room at the hospice and the desire for a joint connect him to his neighbors’ pothead son, and send the two of them on a journey that rescues the bereaved father from the realm of death and reminds him of the potential inherent in life. Avivi gives a marvelous performance. Polonsky maneuvers wonderfully between humor and bereavement without falling into the obvious trap of sentimentality.

AP

“Beyond the Mountains and Hills,” the new feature film by Eran Kolirin (“The Band’s Visit” and “Hahithalfut”), which was also screened at the Cannes Festival, follows a Jerusalem family that enters a vortex of despair, danger and aimlessness. The father has just been released from a long period of military service and fails in an attempt to create a new path for himself in business; his wife, a teacher, is so accustomed to her students’ indifference that a small compliment that one gives her by surprise sweeps her into a journey of self-destruction, while the adolescent daughter, a left-wing idealist, falls victim to her own sweet naiveté. In this film, personal and family life in Israel look more painful, sad and hopeless than ever (or as ever), and a few moments of poetry and unconditional family love succeed in relieving the burden a bit.

“Dimona Twist” features seven adult women, seven life stories and one common denominator: All arrived in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s, and were sent straight off the boat with their families to the middle of the desert to settle the new “development town” Dimona. Director Michal Aviad sat them down in front of her camera and let them tell the stories of their lives. The tribulations of absorption, difficulties of immigration, economic challenge and tension between immigrants from Ashkenazi and Mizrahi cultures are just part of the conflicts with which these women had to cope.

Alice Serge

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