Brief Review: Redeeming—and Remembering—Songs of Love and Pain
Israeli dramas, cartoons on the holidays, Jewish documentaries—all content that has been around for a while. But what is new is one site that brings it all together. The Jewish Television Network in Los Angeles has launched www.jewishtvnetwork.com with the goal of creating a unique Jewish TV network using webcasting. With JTN’s video library—over 600 hours of Jewish media, a daily English-language newscast from Israel and more shows in the works—there is plenty to watch. —Leah Finkelshteyn
The Eternal Question:
Traditional poems and melodies by Mani Leib, Mordkhe Gebirtug and other 20th-century Yiddish writers are sung by the passionate Fraidy Katz with clarity. The philosophy is haymish—be a mensch because “Money…travels/ today it’s with me/ and tomorrow with you….”—and reflects harsh realities. Amid the songs of sorrow are songs of love, played with contemporary rhythms by the Lonesome Brothers on steel guitar and drums, an unusual harmony of sounds. Kame’a Media (www.kamea.com). —Zelda Shluker
The Cantor’s Son
In this 1937 Yiddish film, dubbed the “anti-Jazz Singer,” Shloime abandons his parents’ pious home, becomes a famous singer in America, but returns to Belz, marries his shtetl sweetheart and follows his father as the local cantor. Moishe Oysher’s rich voice triumphs over the requisite schmaltz and pathos. National Center for Jewish Film (www.brandeis.edu/jewishfilm). —Tom Tugend
On this “peace tour,” 135 bowls designed by Israeli and Palestinian artists represent interpretations of coexistence, pain, loss, fracture and fusion. The pieces are, variously, broken and glued (Micha Ullman); adorned with words painted in oils (Aliza Olmert); crafted from cement and olive pits (Hannan AbuHussein); and composed of soil and paste (Farid Abu- Shakra). Yehuda Porbuchrai’s “Hava Negila” is at left. Commissioned by Parents Circle-Families Forum (www.theparentscircle.com), the tour is copresented with The Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts. From September 1-28 at the United Nations, New York; October 4-18 at Pomegranate Gallery, New York; and November 2-4 at the Sculptural Objects and Functional Arts Expo, Chicago. —Shirley Moskow
Songs of the Lodz Ghetto
Brave Old World, with vocalist Michael Alpert, (in photo, second from left), has produced a remarkable album of music composed by Jews who lived under Nazi threat of death. There is poignancy listening to the freylach “A Really Fine Mazel Tov,” played at weddings even today. The prayerful intonation in other works does not beseech God’s mercy, but looks at hate and pain. In a song about life, the chorus asserts that “Khayim” Rumkovski, Jewish ghetto head, consigned them to hell (www.braveoldworld.com). —Z.S.
Jay Heyman’s documentary is his loving tribute to his grandfather, Maurice Bernstein, known as Bernie. Abandoned at 3 by his mother, who might have been a prostitute, Bernie devoted his career to social welfare, eventually becoming director of New York’s Hebrew Orphan Asylum, where he grew up. At 87, he even joined a modern dance troupe. Righteye Productions (right email@example.com). —Renata Polt
The Rape of Europa
“The Nazis were not only the greatest mass murderers in history, they were also the greatest thieves,” states the narrator of this documentary about the Nazi looting of European art treasures, including many Jewish-owned. Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göering amassed thousands of stolen works. The homes of Jews were stripped of everything, from art to toys to teapots. The Allies (above) uncovered and safeguarded found art. Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham’s film holds our attention. Menemsha Films (www.therapeofeuropa.com). —R.P.
Beautiful Ines (Natalie Portman, left) inspires painter Francisco Goya, but is imprisoned and tortured as a Judaizer by the Spanish Inquisition after she declines to eat pork at an inn. Director Milos Forman treats viewers to a gallery of Goya’s greatest paintings and engravings, and Portman acquits herself well in the double role of mother and daughter, but the film provides more melodrama than depth. Samuel Goldwyn Films (www.goyasghostthefilm.com). —T.T.
King of Beggars
An orphaned, limping bathhouse attendant named Fishke (Shahar Sorek) finds himself an unlikely hero in 16th-century Russia as leader of a brigade of Jewish outcasts. Described as a “Jewish Braveheart,” Uri Paster’s film is gory, but perhaps not gratuitously so, since it depicts an era of Jewish history when violent pogroms and duplicitous rulers were the norm. In Hebrew with English subtitles (www.dragomanfilms.com). —Rachel Fyman
My Mexican Shiva
As Jews assimilate around the world, they acquire the accent of their host culture. Here director Alejandro Springall lays bare the world of Mexican-Jewish self-parody, and the results are riotous and enormously liberating. Based on a story by Ilan Stavans. Emerging Pictures (www.emergingpictures.com). —Judy Gelman Myers
The Great Communist
In 1959, five Romanian Jews were accused of robbing the Communist State Bank to fund Zionist immigration to Israel. Two years later, Romania’s Ministry of Internal Affairs created a propaganda film, Reconstruction, which re-created the robbery using the bank robbers themselves, who were promised clemency for their help. Director Alexandru Solomon deconstructs the events surrounding the making of Reconstruction, peeling back lie after lie. An absolute must-see. A French/Romanian production. —J.G.M.