Brief Review: Grabbing the Brass Ring in America
Starting Out in the Evening
Leonard Schiller wants his characters to do more in his final book, and so should this often slow-paced film. Commanding actor Frank Langella makes the Jewish novelist at the center of the film a raging literary lion à la Saul Bellow, but his conflict with a chutzpa-rich disciple needs more fire. Roadside Attractions (www.startingoutmovie.com).
Naomi is studying at a seminary in Safed before her arranged marriage. She and her roommate visit a Frenchwoman who tells them her wish for purification. Incredibly, the girls invoke the forbidden powers of Kabbala. The film by director Avi Nesher explores the roles of contemporary ultra-Orthodox women. United Kingdom Films.
What happens when a Parisian Jewish girl falls in love with an Arab and gets pregnant? In director Roschdy Zem’s romantic comedy set in Paris, secular Clara and Ishmael (played by Zem) scarcely considered their relationship’s religious and political implications. Not so their families and friends. Suddenly, Clara puts up a mezuza, Ishmael starts fasting for Ramadan—and words fly. The film’s strength is more in its charm than in profound examinations of the issues. Seventh Art Releasing (www.7thart.com).
The End of the Neubacher Project
Director Marcus J. Carney’s Austrian grandfather and great-uncle were Nazi functionaries; his grandmother ran a perfume shop confiscated from Jews. Carney’s uncle doesn’t believe there were six million Jews in Europe before World War II, let alone that many murdered. In this documentary, Carney asks tough questions of his aged relatives. Equal parts absorbing and annoying, the film is weak in production values (www.neubacherproject.com).
The Jewish Americans
David Grubin’s six-hour series begins in the 1700s. The quest for security and freedom were accompanied by battles against poverty, quotas and deep hatred—such as the rants of anti-Semitic automaker Henry Ford. Today’s comfort level is exemplified by the popularity of Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu. Interviews with experts give witness to the journey. Beth S. Wenger’s companion book (Doubleday, $50) stands on its own. WETA public television and JTN Productions(www.pbs.com).
The Great Communist Bank Robbery
In 1959, five Romanian Jews were accused of robbing the Communist State Bank to fund aliya. Two years later, the government created a propaganda film that recreated the robbery using the bank robbers acting as themselves in return for clemency. Director Alexandru Solomon deconstructs the events surrounding the making of the film. Even as he peels back lie after lie, one wonders whether he will find the truth—or nothing at all. An absolute must-see (email@example.com).
—Judith Gelman Myers
According to tradition, our forefather Abraham’s tent opened on four sides— a sign that he welcomed guests from all locales. This is the founding metaphor for Big Tent Judaism, (www.bigtentjudaism.org), a site that targets the unaffiliated and those new to Judaism by providing information on inclusive communities and Jewish institutions in the United States. One of the latest initiatives in online Jewish outreach, Big Tent Judaism also has an advice and information section for religious professionals and lay leaders and includes discussion boards, an Ask the Rabbi section and simple guides to Jewish practices.
—Leah F. Finkelshteyn
Carol Hamoy’s arresting works explore the act of healing through the lens of psalms, Kabbala and other traditions. Fabric panels evoking both prayer shawls and shaman’s caftans festooned with text from 10 psalms recited to promote healing form a five-sided Meditation Chamber and a list of medicinal herbs hangs on a wall. A Healer’s Circle, with a minyan of chairs (above) covered with white fabric, provides a serene space to contemplate the discourse between plague and healing in Jewish tradition. Through April 6 at the Jewish Museum of Florida (www.jewishmu seum.com).
Bridging the gap between the animal world and humanity, three artists exhibit an intriguing blend of image, story and lesson with their multidimensional art and powerful message: Marc McGinnis’s fanciful animal illustrations of Buddhist Jataka tales provide values and morals to abide by, while Tamar Hirschl’s 3-D dioramas, collages and paintings depict the attack on nature. Debra Callan enchants with her brilliant beaded gourds portraying themes of spirit and evolution. Through May 31 at the Mizel Museum, Denver (www.mizelmuseum.org).
—Corinne J. Brown
R.B. Kitaj: Passion and Memory
Jewish Works From His Personal Collection
One of the great figurative painters of his generation, R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007) was also a passionate, deeply intellectual Jew. Both facets of the Cleveland-born artist are reflected in more than 30 paintings and works on paper, ranging from the “Second Diasporist Manifesto,” his Passion and Arabs and Jews series to his screenprints of “The Jewish Question” and “We Have Not Forgotten.” Through March 30 at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles (www.skirball.org). —Tom Tugend
Portrait of a Jewish Artist:
R.B. Kitaj in Word and Image
Kitaj willed his voluminous writings and sketches to the University of California at Los Angeles. For this exhibit, the school’s Center for Jewish Studies culled his often emotional correspondence with famous contemporaries, observations on the Jewish condition, responses to his critics and sketchbooks. Through March 21 at the UCLA Research Library (www.cjs.ucla.edu).
Temple: Coming Home
Accompanied by guitarist Eyal Rivlin, Danya Uriel sings Hebrew chants for relaxation and meditation in her breathy soprano. The basic phrases and repetitive melodies are meant to embody and invoke a specific energy: “Ana El Na” for healing; “L’chah Dodi” to welcome a beloved; “V’taher” to purify our hearts; “Shalom” for peace. Sounds True (www.soundstrue.com).
Balkan Beat Box: Nu*Med
If you listen closely to Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan’s extreme instrumentalism, you will detect everything but the kitchen sink, including Balkan, Arabic, turntables, elecronic, hip-hop, rock, punk, Jewish, Gypsy and reggae. The mind-bending music—a mélange of bass, percussion, sax, trombone and guitar—is meant to erase borders. These live performances with compositions entitled “$20 for Boban” “Delancey,” “Gypsy Queens,” and “Habibi Min Zaman” certainly make you forget them. JDub Records (www. jdubrecords.org).