by Jay Blodgett
Jan. 14-25, 2009
www.ajff.org 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.
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!)
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.
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.