Leonard Co­hen wires Jewish film fes­ti­val

The Georgia Straight - - Movies - > BY KEN EISNER

The soul of any cul­ture is its mu­sic. This year’s edi­tion of the Van­cou­ver Jewish Film Fes­ti­val has a whole tsimmes of Ju­daic-tinged movies, and al­most a third of the roughly 30 fea­tures on of­fer Novem­ber 2 through 12 are de­voted to mak­ers of mu­sic, art, and dance.

No one em­bod­ies the sec­u­lar, if still highly spir­i­tual, soul of Jewish cre­ativ­ity bet­ter than the late Leonard Co­hen, who ex­celled as a poet, nov­el­ist, and print­maker aside from his long ca­reer as one of the top singer­song­writ­ers of any era. Co­hen, who died last year at age 82, didn’t al­ways have con­fi­dence in his mu­si­cal abil­i­ties. And Bird on a Wire, screen­ing here Novem­ber 7, cap­tures him at his most am­biva­lent— and his charis­matic best— on a 1972 tour that fol­lows him through Europe and Is­rael. Af­ter be­ing lost for decades, the doc­u­men­tary was re­cently re­stored by orig­i­nal U. K. direc­tor Tony Palmer, who’ll be here for the fes­ti­val.

Al­though he was no Lenny-like bard, a highly in­flu­en­tial pro­ducer and song­writer (“Twist and Shout”, for one) gets his due in Bang: The Bert Berns Story, one of three mu­sic-themed films screen­ing Sun­day (Novem­ber 5). A Quiet Heart is a fic­tional fea­ture about an Is­raeli con­cert mu­si­cian shunned in her Ortho­dox neigh­bour- hood for play­ing pipe or­gan in a lo­cal church. And the eclec­tic Dream­ing of a Jewish Christ­mas is the lat­est doc­strav­a­ganza from Toronto’s Larry We­in­stein. He’ll also be on hand for his lat­est mixed-me­dia pre­sen­ta­tion, set mostly in a faux’50s Chi­nese restau­rant, with cel­e­bra­tors en­joy­ing tunes writ­ten by such non-goy­ish Yule­tiders as Irv­ing Ber­lin and Harold Arlen, per­formed by the likes of Steven Page and Kevin Breit.

Go­ing fur­ther afield is Man­dala Beats (Novem­ber 6), which fol­lows vir­tu­oso bas­sist Yossi Fine—whose back­ground is Euro-jewish and African-caribbean—on a trip to In­dia. Eva Hesse (Novem­ber 12) looks at a late and woe­fully un­der­rec­og­nized mul­ti­me­dia artist. And clos­ing the she­bang that night is Har­mo­nia, an­other Is­raeli film set in the clas­si­cal-mu­sic world.

As al­ways, there are also tales taken from the Sec­ond World War. The must-avoid in this de­part­ment is The Bloom of Yes­ter­day (Novem­ber 9), about two Holo­caust re­searchers whose grand­par­ents were on op­po­site sides of the war. More of­fen­sive than forced at­tempts to sat­i­rize Shoah busi­ness are its bizarre sex­ual pol­i­tics. Is the movie crudely sex­ist or does it sim­ply have no re­spect for its char­ac­ters or ba­sic com­mon sense?

Of no­tably higher qual­ity is A Bag of Mar­bles (Novem­ber 6), from Que­bec direc­tor Chris­tian Duguay, about two broth­ers on the run through Vichy France. Best of all, and also with guests in at­ten­dance, is the won­der­ful which fol­lows a rag­tag band of Jewish en­trepreneurs as they make a go of it in Frank­furt just af­ter the war. This beau­ti­fully crafted ef­fort gives us a ca­reer-top­ping per­for­mance from star Moritz Bleib­treu, bet­ter known for punk­ish char­ac­ters in The El­e­men­tary Par­ti­cles and Run Lola Run.

All in all, even with the painful parts, there’s a lot here to cel­e­brate. Or as Co­hen put it in “Chelsea Ho­tel”: “For the ones like us/who are op­pressed by the fig­ures of beauty/…you said, Well, never mind/we are ugly, but we have the mu­sic.”


Ev­ery­one’s favourite Mon­trealer re­turns in the re­stored tour flim from 1974.

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