It opened last week with an authentic Jewish wedding ceremony at the Central Library. This week, the 2nd annual Indianapolis Jewish Film Festival is coming to a close with prestigious guests and films that illustrate the complexity of Jewish culture and the human condition. Here are some reviews of the films playing over the next few days.
The Jewish Cardinal
★★★★ Laurent Lucas commands the screen as a man who called himself “God’s mixed child” — Jewish priest, Jean-Marie Lustiger. The film follows him as he rises through the ranks of the Catholic Church in the early ’80s to become the Archbishop of Paris and eventually a cardinal, all while maintaining his Jewish heritage. “It’s as if the crucifix put on the yellow star,” he quips amid the controversy surrounding him. When Carmelite nuns build a convent at Auschwitz, where his mother was killed, Lustiger finds himself caught in conflict between the Christian and Jewish communities. Director Ilan Duran Cohen reveals the anger and uncertainty under the stately surface of the Catholic Church. And Lucas’s portrayal of Lustiger symbolizes the flawed, fiery humanity within the world of organized religion. Following the film, Father Rick Ginther and Rabbi Aaron Spiegel will lead a discussion about Vatican II, which sparked a dialogue between the Catholic Church, Jews and other religions.
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
★★★★ Exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of two teenagers, this film is a hopeful look at a harrowing issue. It’s also an engaging portrait of contemporary communication. Based on the young-adult novel, the film follows Tal (Agathe Bonitzer), a French-born immigrant to Jerusalem struggling to understand the city’s state of explosive chaos. After surviving a cafe-bombing, she sends a message in a bottle across the Gaza Sea, hoping it will land in the hands of one of the Palestinians responsible for such attacks. Tal hopes to reach the soul of her city’s enemy and see the humanity behind the destruction. Her note finds its way to Naim (Mahmoud Shalaby), an equally angst-ridden youth. The two then argue via email. Tal fumes about the constant fear in her home and Naim fires back about how the Israelis took his family’s away. Director Thierry Binisti stirs up suspense in this online correspondence, putting viewers on edge every time the two youths sit down at a computer. Bonitzer and Shalaby’s voices quiver with vulnerability as they narrate their characters’ emails. As they strive to find common ground in cyberspace, the film exposes the arduous nature of getting to know people in this digital world that makes them seem easily accessible.
★★★1/2 Like the other films in the festival, Arranged delivers its message with a delicate touch rather than a heavy hand. It moves with the same quiet dignity as its lead characters — devout Brooklyn schoolteachers, Rochel (Zoe Lister-Jones), an Orthodox Jew, and Nasira (Francis Benhamou), a Syrian-born Muslim. The women bond as their respective families instigate the rigid religious processes of marrying them off. Unfortunately, the story turns into yet another romantic journey in which women look for Mr. Right as though they are searching for the Holy Grail. The scenes with Rochel’s nebbish suitors are amusing, but the film is more engaging when it focuses on her connection with Nasira in the classroom. As the women grow closer despite the cultural gaps between them, they also stir the melting pot of their inner-city school. And the film emerges as a poignant, intimate look at the ageless search for universals in a world of difference.