Jews are not a monolith -- and neither are the selections in the New York Jewish Film Festival, which record the complexity and variety of Jewish life, be it religious or cultural. The 36 features and shorts from 14 countries are eye-opening. For those who view the prism of Jewish experience through Woody Allen or Jerry Seinfeld, these films are revelatory.
Running from Jan 12-27, most of the works will be screened at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, a few at The Jewish Museum and the JCC Manhattan.
The festival opens with Mahler on the Couch, a compelling, almost hypnotic tale of an encounter between Gustav Mahler and Sigmund Freud. Mahler, distraught by his wife Alma's passionate affair with the architect Walter Gropius, consults the great psychiatrist. But the real star here is Barbara Romaner, who gives an inspired performance as legendary femme fatale Alma. Courted by the stars of pre-WWI Viennese society -- Gustav Klimt, Max Burckhard, and Alexander von Zemlinsky -- she was a gifted musician in her own right. Plus, the film score is Mahler's extraordinary music.
There are several emotional dramas, I Miss You / Te extraño about Jewish life in 1970s Argentina to the first Yiddish mumblecore film Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish to The Roundup, the infamous roundups of 13,000 French Jews, including 4,000 children, during the Holocaust.
In addition, to coincide with the thoughtful and interesting Houdini: Art and Magic exhibit currently at the Jewish Museum, the festival is screening the 1953 movie Houdini starring Tony Curtis. (The curator, however, points out the film's inaccuracies at the museum show.)
Israel's 2010 Oscar-nominee for foreign language film, The Human Resources Manager, is also here. Based on A.B. Yehoshu's novel, it records the frustration of an HR rep that takes the body of an employee killed by a suicide bomber back to Romania.
On the documentary front, there are numerous premieres, from Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray, the first film to reveal the saga of American Jews who fought during the Civil War, to Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, a tribute to the great writer.
Of special note is Anat Zuria's moving Israeli documentary Black Bus, a painful and touching saga of two women who escape their repressive ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem, but endure familial estrangement as a result. Young and beautiful, they suffer the emotional consequences of their heroic actions, an inner isolation, as they acclimate to the freedoms of modern Israeli life. Black Bus is an honest and laudable effort; it bravely questions the value of fundamentalist religion that can crush the spirit, rather than a religious practice that celebrates it.
The festival's variety is impressive -- and for viewers, it's a cultural education.
For complete festival information:: www.FilmLinc.com, www.TheJewishMuseum.org, or call 212.875.5601.