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New York Jewish Film Festival (January 13th - January 28th, 2010)
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Saviors in the Night
(*Opening Night Film*)
Directed by Ludi Boeken.
In German and French with subtitles.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Menemsha Films.
Opens September 2010.

Within the Whirlwind
(*Opening Night Film*)
Directed by Marleen Gorris.
In German and French with subtitles.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
No distributor, yet.


Directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani.
In Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles. Omar (Shahir Kabaha) and his younger brother, Nasri (Fouad Habash), both Muslims, fear for their lives when a gang of Bedouin assassins mistakenly gun down their cousin when they were actually targeting Omar in retaliation for their uncle killing a member of the gang. Abu Elias (Youssef Sahwani), the Palestinian Christian owner of a restaurant/bar, works out a deal that would lead to a truce if Omar pays a large sum of money which, not surprisingly, he doesn’t have. In hope of earning money, Omar becomes a drug dealer. In a parallel subplot, 16-year-old Palestinian Malek (Ibrahim Frege), an illegal immigrant, arrives at Abu’s restaurants and accepts a job there to make enough money that would pay for his mother’s bone marrow transplant. Omar happens to be in a relationship with Hadir (Ranin Karim), Abu’s daughter, and tries to keep that secret from Abu because it’s forbidden for her to marry outside of her religion. In another subplot, a Jewish police officer, Dando (Eran Naim) desperately searches for his missing brother, a soldier in the army. He also searches the home of Binj (Scandar Copti) for drugs before leaving to deal with scene of a crime involving a Jewish man who’s stabbed to death. The screenplay by co-writers/directors Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani weaves these dramatically intense narrative threads together non-chronologically which demands a lot of attention from attentive viewers. At times, you might find yourself a bit confused and unable to feel fully immersed in the overlapping subplots, but suddenly another crucial event or twist comes around to help clear up the confusion. There’s a constant sense of dread and unease throughout the film that makes for an emotionally devastating experience that highlights the harsh truths and brutal cycle of violence found in the Middle East conflict without resorting to any euphemisms—there’s very little comic relief or sugarcoating to be found here. The combination of drama, suspense and violent action committed by both young and old troubled individuals recalls scenes from the film Gomorrah. Concurrently, Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani don’t include preachy dialogue to comment about Middle East politics; instead, they let the action, tragedy and struggles of each character speak for themselves. At a running time of 2 hours Ajami manages to be a brutally honest, harrowing and provocative glimpse into the Middle Eastern conflict.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Kino International.
Opens February 3rd, 2010 at the Film Forum and on February 5th, 2010 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Eyes Wide Open

Directed by Haim Tabakman.

In Hebrew and Yiddish with subtitles. Aaron (Zohar Strauss) lives with his wife, Rivka (Tinkerbell), and four children in an ultra-Orthodox community of Jerusalem. He runs a butcher shop that had once belonged to his father when he was alive. One day during a downpour, a younger Orthodox man, Ezri (Ran Danker), arrives at his shop to seek shelter from the rain and asks for a place to stay as well. Aaron graciously offers him a job as his apprentice at the butcher shop and lets him sleep at the back of the shop. Soon enough, Ezri ignites a long-buried homosexual passion within Aaron, and the two of them find it difficult to resist that temptation, which, in the Orthodox religion, is a major sin. Can Aaron and Ezri keep their taboo love affair with one another a secret from their community as well as Aaron’s wife and kids? If the secret ends up uncovered for all to see, how might that affect their relationship, Aaron’s family life and reputation within his community? The sensitive screenplay by Merav Doster explores those questions and issues with genuine tenderness and insight that never feels contrived, preachy or melodramatic. Doster does a terrific job of bringing each character to life so that they’re not one-dimensional caricatures. Instead they’re complex, intelligent human beings---after all, Aaron and Ezri are trying to stay true to their nature by not bottling in their homoerotic feelings. The Orthodox men in the community who look down upon them and threaten to never purchase anything at Aaron’s butcher shop anymore are merely conforming blindly to the customs of their religion without opening their mind or their heart for that matter. First-time director Haim Tabakman moves the film along at an appropriately leisurely pace and includes impressive cinematography that adds to the film’s richness. Does Rivka know or suspect about what’s going on between her husband and Ezri? There’s a lot that goes unspoken between her and Aaron which, in a less true-to-life film, would lead to a loud, lengthy confrontation between husband-and-wife, but the way that it’s handled here is poignantly realistic. It’s also worth mentioning the well-chosen title which could be taken both literally and, more interestingly, on a figurative level. At a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, Eyes Wide Open manages to be brave, provocative and gently engrossing with well-nuanced performances.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by New American Vision.
Opens at the Cinema Village.

Leap of Faith
Directed by Stephen Z. Friedman & Antony Benjamin.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Humble Films, Inc.
Mary and Max
Directed by Adam Elliot.
In Hebrew with subtitles.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by IFC Films.

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