March 30, 2006
Pirates Plunder, Family Fumbles at Fest
The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival runs April 1-6 at a variety of venues around town. Below are the reviews for two of the films.
It may seem obligatory to show a Holocaust-themed film at a Jewish Film Festival, but "Edelweiss Pirates" is by no means standard fare. It is a feature, not a documentary, and its anti-Nazi heroes are Germans, not Jews. Yet when one sees these ragamuffin youths roaming about a bombed-out moonscape, complaining of hunger, dirt staining their gaunt faces, one can't help equating their fate with that of the Jews of wartime Europe.
The Edelweiss Pirates, a ragtag outfit, steal guns and identity papers from dead Nazis, fight with the Hitler Youth and even bomb Nazi-run prisons. They are led by Hans, a blond-haired bombmaker, who survives explosions, beatings and even a gunshot wound before he is finally hung.
But the protagonist is a younger Pirate, a teenage wastrel named Karl, who writes to his father and intones in voice-over that he wants to scream but he is unable to do so. Resembling a Dickensian character like the Artful Dodger with his tattered clothes and resourceful nature, Karl prowls amid fires raging in shells of old buildings, the fires expressing what he can not -- the loss of his mother and older brother, who are both dead; the absence of his father, who later dies as well on a distant battlefield; and the inhumanity of the Nazis.
Niko Brucher, who directed this subtitled, German-language film, frequently uses a jerky hand-held camera that reflects the jarring, quotidian existence of the Pirates, who get bombed almost every day. One particularly harrowing scene occurs when a 4-year-old boy playing catch with his sister goes to retrieve his ball only to slide down a dirt crevice and land next to a missile that hasn't been detonated. As bombs rattle the neighborhood, the ailing Hans crawls into the ditch and defuses the device.
The film, which is told in flashback, deftly questions the nature of allegiance in wartime. Are the Allies, who rain bombs on the Pirates' neighborhood, saving or killing them? And, more crucially, can one be loyal to one's brother by turning him in if one thinks it will save his life? Only at the end of the film is the shattered Karl able to scream, "No."
"Edelweiss Pirates" has its L.A. premiere on Tuesday, April 4, at 7:30 p.m. at Laemmle's Fallbrook 7, to be followed by a Q-and-A.
"Only Human (Seres Queridos)"
Screened in partnership with the Latin American Jewish Association, "Only Human (Seres Queridos)" recalls hilarious slapstick comedies like "Some Like It Hot." Indeed, the final line of "Only Human," which premieres in Los Angeles on April 5, explicitly invokes Joe E. Brown's famous line from Billy Wilder's classic film, when the comedian utters, "nobody's perfect," after he realizes that his would-be lover is a man dressed in drag.
In this case, the lovers are Leni, a beautiful Spanish Jew of Israeli descent, and Rafi, a bearded, absent-minded Palestinian professor, who are subjected to numerous hijinks when they go to Leni's house for Shabbat dinner. Along the way, they come across Leni's religious zealot younger brother, who places a rescued duck in a bidet; her nymphomaniac younger sister, who blows out the Sabbath candles and curses God; her sister's toddler, an adorable girl who stuffs a pillow under her shirt, so she looks pregnant; her mother, who hasn't had an orgasm since she had her last child, roughly two decades before; and her blind, addled grandpa who loads his circa 1948 British infantry rifle and unintentionally gropes Rafi after urinating.
Directed by Dominic Harari and Teresa De Pelegri, this subtitled Spanish-language film makes no attempt to be politically correct. Riffing hilariously on the cliché that Jews and Palestinians always end up destroying each other, the film presents the possibility that the nervous Rafi has killed his future father-in-law by clunking him on the head with a Tupperware container of frozen soup that he accidentally drops out the window.
Jews, Palestinians, Latinos and everyone else will enjoy this nonjudgmental film, which seems to say that we're all like Leni's father, drifting through our days forgetting who we are, only to show up at home without our trousers.
"Only Human (Seres Queridos)" screens Wednesday, April 5, 7:30 p.m. at Laemmle's Fallbrook 7. Reception to follow at The New JCC at Milken, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills.