Having carefully chosen each of the 16 films in this year’s Boulder Jewish Film Festival, I am inordinately fond of all of them. Each one meets my criteria for artistic excellence and substance, and each one satisfies the need for diversity of genre, style, tone, and subject, bringing variety to the overall program.
Still, I do have a few favorites, and every year I am asked by friends which films are must-sees. It is not an easy question, since individual taste and interests differ so widely, but I will share some personal preferences.
For anyone who has been a long-time cinephile, “Only in Theaters” is required viewing, if for no other reason than the nostalgic pleasure of celebrating decades of cutting-edge cinema. There are many other reasons to see this suspenseful as well as heartfelt real-life drama about a family struggling – with admirable passion and persistence – to carry on a legacy and follow their calling. Audiences will be able to watch the fascinating video interview I recorded with Greg Laemmle at home after the screenings.
In part because my husband’s parents were both partisans, I was immensely grateful for “Four Winters: A Story of Jewish Partisan Resistance and Bravery in WW II.“ This exhaustively researched and meticulously crafted documentary not only brings attention to a story often overlooked in Holocaust literature and film. Even more importantly, it deliberately shatters the myth of Jewish passivity, replacing it with images of incredible courage and defiance – an especially relevant message at the moment. My interview with director Julia Mintz will also be made available to ticket buyers.
There is a category of films I call the European masterpiece style of cinema. These films reflect the artistry and sensibility of brilliant European directors working far from Hollywood’s cookie-cutter influence. Morally complex, deeply empathetic, and emotionally gripping, “Farewell, Mr. Haffmann” is an excellent example of this craftsmanship and distinct personal directorial style. Set in occupied Paris, this tale of treacherous times centers on a Faustian bargain between a wealthy jeweler, played by legendary French actor Daniel Auteuil, and his trusted employee.
I would also put “March ‘68” in the same European masterpiece category. Set in Warsaw in 1968, this drama about a Jewish theater student who gets caught up in the political protests that led to the expulsion of 13,000 Jews from Poland for alleged Zionist activities is directed by Krzysztof Lang, who was 18 at the time, based on his own first-hand experience.
Another terrific European film is the French comedy “Stay with Us,” written and directed by, and starring, famed comedian Gad Elmaleh about his own flirtation with Catholic conversion. Terribly French and terribly funny, and co-starring his own parents, this light-footed satire never sacrifices the reality of the story for cheap laughs the way American movies tend to do.
Finally, I must recommend “Vishniac,” a brilliant biography of photographer Roman Vishniac from director Laura Bialis. This documentary is much more than a long-overdue portrait of a famed artist and prickly human being, but also an exploration of pre-war shtetl life as well as a beautiful ode to the art of photography.
These are but a few of my “favorite” films. But read more below.