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AJFF Sneak Peak!

by Jay Blodgett

9th Annual AJFF
Jan. 14-25, 2009 or call 404-806-9913



ATLANTA, GA (January 3, 2009) - The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival graciously sent me a HUGE ENVELOPE of screeners of nearly the ENTIRE festival! (One must be careful what one asks for!) I am slowly, and apologetically, making my way through this "virtual" festival and have mixed feelings about the Opening Night plans -- I WISH I was THERE!

For the first two nights of the festival, the American Jewish Committee of Atlanta (AJC) presents a pair of parties at the FOX Sports Grill, next to the Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station Stadium 16 where the the first pair of screenings will take place. And like an expert sommelier, they are perfect pairings of film, parties and target audience.

The "official" Opening Night, has a nominal admission price and is targeted at the AJC's members, sponsors, and supporters and features an exceptionally "established" film production to follow what will be a splendid catered dinner.

HELLO GOODBYE (dir. Graham Guit, France, 2008, 95 mins.) features royalty of French cinema: Fanny Ardent and Gerard Depardieu! Director Graham Guit has captured Ardent and Depardieu at their handsomest, mature bloom. Depardieu hasn't looked this good since CYRANO and Ardent might be second only to Catherine Deneaux, in the European Screen Goddess category. Here they are paired as husband and wife, who begin a journey to explore their Jewish identity, which is challenged as their son marries a Catholic woman.

What follows is a script worthy of Neil Simon, as they face challenges and situations reminiscent of THE OUT OF TOWNERS (the original with Jack Lemon and Sandy Dennis), but with a great deal more warmth. I am unaware of any other film in which Ardent and Depardieu have appeared together; however, their chemistry here is tangible. Though the drama may indicate that the marriage is in trouble, it is performed with the intimacy of a couple with an exceptional emotional history. They are simply fantastic and I could watch them for hours! In fact, this was perhaps the first time in a long while in which I laughed out loud during a sub-titled film! HELLO GOODBYE is a charming selection to launch a festival with. (Director Graham Guit will be present for a Q&A after the screening and before desert is served!)

The AJC features a "second" opening night of sorts with a "Young Professionals Night," which is a more moderately priced party and paired with a challenging, if not darker film. STRANGERS (dirs. Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv, Israel, 2007, 85 mins.) This film offers a relationship in complete contrast with the previous night's HELLO GOODBYE. They are strangers who are brought together by misplaced luggage and develop a relationship that will face ever revealing hurdles; the primary potential conflict is that he was raised in a kibbutz and she is Palestinian. Even in settings, directors Tadmor and Nattiv have created nearly subliminal tension.

They meet in Berlin and he follows her to Paris: cities which are historically unfriendly to Jews and Arabs, respectively. The film is improvised by actors Liron Levo and Lubna Azabal, which may explain the slightly chaotic structure. Lubna Azabal's character comes dangerously close to melodrama as she continues to add "personal baggage" to the plot, particularly in the film's second act. Liron Levo is... well, HE is GORGEOUS! He does seem to rely on his physical presence to a certain extent, seeing as he is in the position of reacting to the continuing revelations of Azabal. Since the structure is improvised, the plot developments almost border on "twists" and it did prove to be a bit challenging. One must pay attention to pick up on details, the prime example being the initial "luggage mix up."

(I actually backed up to replay that sequence just to check on the continuity!) The third act expands a bit uncomfortably beyond its intimate scope, as it explores the Israel-Palestine conflict and its effect on their relationship. The actual production values are lovely and sensual, which is a nice "surprise" for a digital production. In the end, it is a serious and exceptionally contemporary drama. (Actor Liron Levo will be present --in all his gorgeous glory!-- for a Q&A afterward.)

This pair of films will receive encore screenings. However, those will sell out! I heartily encourage interested parties to shell out the bucks and go to the parties!! You'll LOVE them! Tickets for Opening Night/HELLO GOODBYE are $250 for the VIP Red Carpet Tickets (which includes the FULL evening plus two general admission vouchers), or $36 which includes the film and desert afterwards. Tickets for the Young Professionals Night/STRANGERS are $18 and include reception, film, and Q&A. Ticketing is online at: the AJFF website.