|Brief Reviews: A Controversial Philosopher and Golden Laughs|
German director Margarethe von Trotta greatly admires Hannah Arendt; her sympathy for the German Jewish philosopher suffuses every frame of this biopic focusing on the four years Arendt spent covering Adolph Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem for The New Yorker. New Yorker Pamela Katz cowrote the screenplay, and many of the scenes abound with bright Jewish repartee. However, how you feel when you walk out of the theater will largely depend on whether you think Arendt was a brilliant philosopher or arrogant dupe. Zeitgeist Films (www.zeitgeistfilms.com). —Judith Gelman Myers
When Comedy Went to School
The resorts in the Catskills were boot camps where Jewish comedians honed their skills during the mid-1900s performing before tough New York audiences. Among those going through their routines in black-and-white footage and reminiscing in old age are the likes of Sid Caesar, Larry King, Jerry Stiller, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Mort Sahl and Jackie Mason. A treat for lovers of Jewish humor and the not-always-so-good-olden days (www.whencomedywenttoschool.com). —Tom Tugend
For the past 24 years, the great comedy writers of the golden age of radio and television, joined by some of their clients, have met every other Wednesday at Los Angeles delis for reminiscences, exchanging jokes and lamenting the decline of their craft. Among the participants, mostly Jewish, are Sid Caesar, Arthur Marx (son of Groucho), Carl Reiner, Monty Hall and prolific writer Hal Kanter, whose daughter, Donna Kanter, directed the documentary. The Kanter Company (www.lunchthedocumentary.com). —T.T.
Directed by Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri, The Attack offers a complex look into the causes and effects of suicide bombing. Based on a novel by Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra, the screenplay (which Doueiri cowrote) situates Palestinian surgeon Amin Jaafari in Tel Aviv, where he is well liked and respected.
When the victims of a suicide bombing are rushed into the emergency room, Jaafari is stunned by the incomprehensibility of the act, like any sane man would be. His world is upended, however, when he discovers that the suicide bomber was his wife—a discovery that launches him on a quest to uncover the truth behind her radicalization.
The film was banned by the Arab League, but Doueiri claims that it is psychological rather than political. He has also remarked repeatedly in interviews that his anti-Jewish bias disappeared through working closely with an Israeli cast (http://cohenmedia.net). —J.G.M.
Fill the Void
Israeli Orthodox filmmaker Rama Burshtein’s first feature film tells a story from her insular world that has been embraced by secular audiences. Set in a Tel Aviv haredi community, the drama revolves around 18-year-old Shira, whose parents want her to marry the widower of her recently deceased sister. Visually, musically and ritually captivating, the film portrays depth, especially when exploring Shira’s latent emotions, innocence and desire to do right. Sony Pictures Classics (www.sonyclassics.com). —Sara Trappler Spielman
David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure
This documentary follows Jewish acoustic guitarist and bluegrass musician David Bromberg, famous for the New Grass jam-bands and influential albums he produced in the 1970s. Andy Statman and Bob Dylan played with him, and George Harrison composed a song with him. Interviews with musicians and his wife (band leader Nancy Josephson) chronicle an expansive musical journey that includes a violin business and arts revival in Wilmington, Delaware. Good Footage Productions (www.goodfootageproductions.com). —S.T.S.
It is not surprising that we Jews are intent on expanding access to our sacred books. The goal of new text-focused site Sefaria, www.sefaria.org, however, is not just to increase the availability of works in the Jewish canon, in their original form and in English, but also to make them fully searchable by keyword. Looking for citations for “water”? Sefaria brings up 673 quotes from sources such as Jeremiah, Genesis and the kabbalistic Sefer Yetzirah. While many resources are on the site, the well-designed Sefaria is a work in progress. Through volunteer efforts, site founders Brett Lockspeiser and Joshua Foer plan on including a database of 1,000 Jewish texts. —Leah F. Finkelshteyn
Revisit Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster film with this 20th-anniversary limited-edition release; the two-disc set has been digitally restored. Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation–The Institute for Visual History and Education have created a program, IWitness Video Challenge, for students to have a personal experience by creating their own videos using stories from the film (http://iwitness.usc.edu). —Susan Adler
A People Uncounted
When talking about Holocaust survivors, the first thought is not usually about the Roma. Yet, they suffered the same fate as Jews. Even today, one Roma woman testifies, she is mocked by punks who say the numbers etched on her arm are her own doing, not that of Nazis in Auschwitz. Directed by Aaron Yeger. Urbinder Films (www.urbinderfilms.com). —S.A.
The Lion of Judah
Director Matt Mindell made this film to inspire his audiences to take personal action against genocide. The title refers to survivor Leo Zisman who, while interred at Auschwitz, shouted “Pig!” at the Nazi holding a gun to his head. Mindell follows Zisman as he leads 36 young people on tours through several death camps, recounting tales of terror and indescribable bravery (www.thelionofjudahfilm.com). —J.G.M.
Director Dror Moreh’s interviews with six former heads of Israel’s secret service are a jolting experience: These resourceful, thoughtful and commanding men testify that their fight against terrorism did not further peace with the Palestinians. Special features include a commentary and Q&A with Moreh. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (www.sonypictures.com). —S.A.
Jewish Life in the Russian Empire: Photographs from the Museum of Ethnography, St. Petersburg, Russia
Between 1867 and 1914, Jewish photographers captured their fellow Jews, rich and poor, in the Pale of Settlement with the new technology of photography. The images show the variety of life, from the misery of the shtetl to the pride of assimilated urban merchants. The result: an emotional trip to our 19th-century ancestors’ world. At the Museum of Russian Art (http://tmora.org) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, through October 20. —Doris Rubenstein