'Jewish Film Festival' Plays St. Louis June 3-7, 2018
By Ronnie Wisdom
The Jewish Film Festival runs in St. Louis from June 3 to 7. Sixteen documentary and feature films show at Plaza Frontenac. Three of the films offered on the first three days suggest the possibilities of a festival with universal appeal springing from faith. "Sammy Davis Jr.: I Gotta Be Me" plays opening night at 7 p.m.; "Shelter" plays Monday at 7 p.m.; and "Let Yourself Go" plays Tuesday at 4 p.m.
"Let Yourself Go" is the weakest of these three. It purports to be a comedy, but it's a comedy of the sitcom strain with the emphasis on "strain." A psychoanalyst has let himself go physically. His estranged wife, who lives next door to him, encourages the old boy to work out. At a gym, he meets the perkiest personal trainer. She's annoying, but she grows on him. Not on the audience. "Let Yourself Go" is more tedious than enlightening.
However, "Shelter" puts the moving in "movie." A Mossad agent, Naomi, is called in from her sick bed to care for a Lebanese informant. Mona is recuperating from plastic surgery to give her a new face to go with her new identity. The two women, fierce in their professional lives, have to learn to trust each other. Nothing encourages this trust-building, nothing except their own humanity. Neta Riskin and Golshifteh Farahani play the two women in a wide range of emotions as they speak the words of Eran Riklis' compassionate and realistic screenplay. Under his direction, "Shelter" tells a credible story of terror.
"I Gotta Be Me" covers the incredible life of Sammy Davis Jr. Not much more than 10 minutes of the film, directed tightly by Samuel Pollard, addresses Davis' conversion to Judaism, but the rest of the film shows, over and over, what an amazing singer, dancer, and impressionist Davis was. "I Gotta Be Me" pays homage to a consummate entertainer, who suffered greatly for being black and who chose to be Jewish to suffer more. The Jewish Film Festival offers the opportunity to see films that, otherwise, would not make it to town. The complete schedule is on-line.