Film Reviews
"My Neighbor Adolph". Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group

In these fraught global times, it feels even more important to contemplate significant historical events and individuals. Some considerations invite welcome laughter, some remind us of courageous women and men, and some document past crises. April 7 through April 18, the 2024 Jewish Film Festival offers films in all these important areas.

Fulfilling their mission to showcase “national and international cinema that explores universal issues through traditional Jewish values, opposing viewpoints and new perspectives,” the ten feature films and an opening night program of shorts educate and entertain in diverse ways. First up, Sunday, April 7, five student filmmakers enrolled at Sapir College in Sderot, Israel countered Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack and massacre through films reflecting their and Israel’s responses. In diverse and powerful ways, each captures life’s changes at times of crisis. Yasmin Hoffman, Israeli student producer of the film “Elinor,” will speak in person about the films and the situation at Sapir where all activities had to cease amidst evacuation orders.

Comedy Night April 9 begins at 3:30 p.m. with the amusing “My Neighbor Adolf.” Beginning in 1934 at an Eastern European chess tournament, the story then jumps to 1960 Colombia countryside with Marek Polsky, living isolated and alone. He’ll soon believe his new neighbor is, in fact, Adolf Hitler whom Polsky met at the 1934 Berlin World Chess Championship. Pursuing his firm conviction, Polsky commits himself to confirming details of the Fuhrer: left handed, characteristic strokes in his painting, plus a German Shepherd dog. The film involves a mysterious subplot, involvement with a Nazi certification team, and myriad, fraught encounters, often puzzling to Hermann Herzog, the man who resembles Hitler. “My Neighbor Adolf” relies heavily on close-ups, and these two actors, David Hayman and Udo Kier, use their expressive faces masterfully, keeping the comedy and tension alive.

Continuing April 9, Comedy Night at 7:00 p.m. the documentary “Remembering Gene Wilder” presents an informative homage to Wilder’s comic genius through extensive narration by Wilder himself reading from his 2005 audiobook memoir. What a joy it is to hear his voice. The film also integrates interviews with family and admiring colleagues (primarily Mel Brooks), all amply illustrated with clips from Wilder’s films. Funny, at times heartbreaking, it surprises with stories of Wilder’s fortuitous encounters. Above all, “Remembering Gene Wilder” confirms Wilder’s formidable talent.

Thursday, April 11, begins at 3:30 with “Exodus 91,” the gripping story of the May 1991 Solomon Project, that Herculean, thirty-six hour effort to airlift 15,000 Ethiopian Jews from Addis Ababa to Jerusalem as rebel troops approach the capitol intent on toppling dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Anchored in ambassador Asher Naim’s unmanageable predicament, the film expertly interweaves archival footage, contemporary interviews, and reenactments explicitly revealed as such. This layering of old and new footage foregrounds the complexity of the crisis as it brings it to vivid life with steps forward and back amidst political chaos, charges of racism, and maneuvering between Israeli ambassador Naim and Ethiopian officials. That informative film plus one not viewed by me, “The Way to Happiness” on the subject of the Kindertransport, complete the first half of the Jewish Film Festival. All films have English subtitles as needed, and all programs screen at the B&B Creve Coeur Theater.

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