Shalom, Y'all

Previewing the Austin Jewish Film Festival

The eighth annual Austin Jewish Film Festival runs April 10-16. Highlights include a special Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) service and screening of Assaf Bernstein's The Debt, with a discussion led by Auschwitz survivor Dr. Edith Eger, on Sunday, April 11, 6pm, at the Arbor Cinema @ Great Hills (9828 Great Hills Trail). For complete AJFF schedule and ticket information, visit – Kimberley Jones

Festival Picks

Hello Goodbye

D: Graham Guit; with Fanny Ardant, Gérard Depardieu, Jean Benguigui, Lior Ashkenazi, Sasson Gabai, Gilles Gaston-Dreyfus

But for a too-schmaltzy ending, this French comedy about a middle-aged couple's efforts to reconnect both with each other and with their cultural identities is an unpredictable and enjoyable lark. The always impressive Ardant plays Gisèle Gaash, a woman who converted to Judaism when she married her husband, Alain (Depardieu), a successful gynecologist. After the marriage of their son (in a church), Gisèle develops a deep-seated longing to move to Israel and convinces her reluctant husband to cast their Parisian lives aside and migrate. "There's more to being Jewish than gefilte fish and Yehudi Menuhin," Alain declares to his disapproving mother. Instead of a land of milk and honey, in Tel Aviv the Gaashes experience diminished job opportunities, the loss of their possessions, and a flirtatious, pot-smoking rabbi. Nevertheless, Gisèle finds inner peace there and wants Alain to have the circumcision he never was given as a Jewish child. A covenant with God is one thing, thinks Alain, but a covenant with one's beloved wife is something else entirely. – Marjorie Baumgarten

Thursday, April 15, 4:30pm, Arbor

Lemon Tree

D: Eran Riklis; with Hiam Abbass, Ali Suliman, Rona Lipaz-Michael, Doron Tavory, Tarik Kopty, Amos Lavie

Set on the border between Israel and the West Bank, Lemon Tree offers a tart but never completely bitter metaphor for the entire Palestinian situation as experienced by a single resourceful and sympathetic character. Based on actual court cases (Riklis co-scripted the film with Palestinian journalist Suha Arraf), Lemon Tree tells the simple, elegant, frustrating story of Salma Zidane (Abbass), a 45-year-old Palestinian widow whose only joy in life is tending to the bountiful lemon grove her father planted 50 years ago. Her new neighbors are the Israeli Defense Minister Israel Navon (Tavory); his wife, Mira (Lipaz-Michael); and their black-clad security team, who immediately target Salma's grove and order it razed. Salma hires a young lawyer (Suliman) and sues her neighbors. As the lawsuit grinds through the Israeli legal system, Salma and Minister Navon become a metaphor for the intractable nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Mira caught somewhere in the middle. Riklis, who helmed 2004's equally fine The Syrian Bride, has rendered in microcosm the entire history of the Middle East: land grabs and lemons, sorrow and citrus. (This free screening will be preceded by a Havdallah service and concludes with a talk by Rabbi Alan Freedman.) – Marc Savlov

Saturday, April 10, 6:30pm, Arbor

Mary and Max

D: Adam Elliot; with the voices of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette
<i>Mary and Max</i>
Mary and Max

At the beginning of this charming if melancholic Claymation fiction film, fiftysomething Max Horovitz (voiced by Hoffman) is self-barricaded in a crummy walk-up in New York, a severely overweight depressive whose social anxiety is eventually diagnosed as a symptom of Asperger's syndrome. Meanwhile, Mary (voiced by Colette) is a thoughtful but worried child in Melbourne, Australia, ostracized by classmates for her "poo"-colored birthmark and neglected at home by a mother who is "wobbly" with drink. When Mary plucks Max's address at random from a phone book, they become pen pals, forging a friendship that spans decades that are fraught with disease, accidental death, thwarted love, professional ruin, and the occasional appointment with electroshock. Yet for so much darkness, Mary and Max is light on its feet – a lovely, funny, ever-surprising examination of uncommon friendship in a world that all too commonly short-ends its outcasts and eccentrics. (It screens with the short film "Underwear" by former Austinite Tomer Gendler, who will be in attendance.) – K.J.

Tuesday, April 13, 7pm, Arbor

A Matter of Size

D: Sharon Maymon, Erez Tadmor; with Itzik Cohen, Irit Kaplan, Dvir Benedek, Togo Igawa, Alon Dahan, Shmulik Cohen

Taking its cues from The Full Monty, A Matter of Size presents four guys with a lot more flesh to bear. However, these heavyweights only strip down to their skimpy traditional sumo gear instead of bearing all. Herzl (played charmingly by Itzik Cohen) cooks up the plan to start a sumo league after growing tired of constant dieting and self-hatred ingrained in him by Weight Watchers, the public, and even his own mother. Before his friends will join him in the ring, Herzl must convince his boss, an ex-sumo coach, to train this band of underdogs. Add a love interest in the plus-sized form of Zehava (Kaplan), a training montage, and a few surprises, and you have a feel-good romantic comedy that manages to feel unique – no mean feat in the rom-com genre. Zehava poses the film's central question to Herzl: "Do you really think you can be fat and happy?" Society has a way of saying no to that question, but A Matter of Size's characters find unique paths to embracing their girth. – James Renovitch

Saturday, April 10, 9pm, Arbor; Tuesday, April 13, 7pm, Texas Hillel, 2105 San Antonio; Wednesday, April 14, 4pm, City Lights, 420 Wolf Ranch Pkwy., Georgetown

Un Secret

D: Claude Miller; with Cécile De France, Patrick Bruel, Ludivine Sagnier, Julie Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric, Valentin Vigourt

Based on Philippe Grimbert's bestselling roman à clef Un Secret, this French-language production skips back and forth between decades to unravel the film's central secret (more like multiple secrets) regarding the devastation heaped by the Holocaust on one extended family in Paris. Vigourt plays the young François Grimbert, the sickly only son of two vigorously athletic parents (De France and Bruel). At age 7, François invents an older, hale brother who shadows him; at age 14, he finds out a version of that brother exists in real life, and at age 37 (played by Arnaud Desplechin regular Amalric), he helps his grief-stricken father come to terms with the loss of that son. Miller's sensitive piece is a bit of a slow starter (and the scenes set in the 1980s are too brief to have much impact), but once the complicated past of la famille Grimbert – née Grinberg – begins to come into focus, Un Secret becomes a gripping drama about the tolls exacted by secrecy and subterfuge. – K.J.

Tuesday, April 13, 4:30pm, Arbor

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More Austin Jewish Film Festival
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Uncover the Forgotten Wartime Heroism of Marcel Marceau in Resistance
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Humor and Compassion at the Austin Jewish Film Festival
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Austin Jewish Film Festival, AJFF, Hello Goodbye, Lemon Tree, Mary and Max, A Matter of Size, Un Secret, Underwear

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