Festival’s must-see Jewish movies
A highlight of the Jewish Film Festival’s lineup sounds like a sequel to Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, but the pre-World War II drama is based on a beloved 50-year-old book, finds James Croot.
Working closely with the organisers of a corresponding festival across the Tasman, Kiwi film distributors Vendetta Films has put together a Jewish International Film Festival. Featuring six recent Israeli and Jewish-themed films, it will screen in cinemas in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, New Plymouth and Wellington over the next month.
has had the opportunity to preview a trio of the terrific titles on offer.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
The title may draw obvious comparisons with Taika Waititi’s Academy Award-winning effort, this is actually based on Judith Kerr’s much-loved, barely fictionalised 1971 book, which was inspired by her own childhood.
As in the novel, the action takes place well before World War II. Nine-year-old Anna Kemper (Riva Krymalowski) is thrown into chaos by the prospect of an Adolf Hitler victory in the 1933 German elections.
An outspoken critic of the newly appointed German Chancellor through his columns and radio broadcasts, Anna’s father Arthur (Oliver Masucci) had already fled to Switzerland and now the rest of the family have been advised to quickly follow suit.
But necessarily packing lightly, means leaving behind most of Anna’s beloved toys, including her cherished pink rabbit. While she adjusts to life in a foreign land, she knows that even there, their safety and security is not guaranteed.
Nowhere in Africa director Caroline Link does a terrific job of bringing this family drama to life, refreshingly and cleverly never presenting the increasing Nazi threat to their lives in any typical jackbooted form.
Instead, we remain focused on the Kempers, and particularly Anna, evoking memories of Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
Arriving with oddly perfect timing, Yaron Zilberman’s 2019 movie is a cracking psychological and political thriller and a kind of quasi-sequel to SoHo and Neon’s drama Oslo.
Set in the aftermath of the initial signing of the Oslo Accords, agreements reached by the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation to try to end the cycle of violence between their peoples, it follows Bar-Ilan University law student Yigal Amir (a compelling Yehuda Nahari Halevi), as he grows increasingly disillusioned with his government’s ‘‘betrayal’’ of its populace.
Whipped up by religious rhetoric claiming that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s death would be justified under ‘‘Jewish Law’’, Amir hatches an assassination plan.
Reminiscent of the films of Paul Greengrass
(United 93, 22 July), Zilberman skilfully underplays and keeps the drama intimate, mixes in real life, archival footage of Rabin and other significant figures of the time, then delivers a chilling final few moments.
Fans of the star-studded 1981 British football-meetsWorld War II crowdpleaser Escape to Victory should check out this US-Croatian co-production. Essentially a remake of the 1961 Hungarian drama
Two Halves in Hell, it details a game between a group of Hungarian prisoners of war and a handpicked German team eager to gain revenge for the country’s loss against the Magyars in the buildup to the Berlin Olympics in 1936. The drama follows predictable beats, but the cast sell the story, among them Danish actor Caspar Phillipson, Italian legend Franco Nero, Hollywood’s Armand Assante and Australia’s Mark Viduka.