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Jewish Journal

From over-the-top bar mitzvahs to ‘Red Hot Lovers,’ eclectic tales abound

by Tom Tugend

November 10, 2010 | 12:52 am

Above, from left: Yael Abecassis and Gad Elmaleh in a scene from “Father’s Footsteps.”

Above, from left: Yael Abecassis and Gad Elmaleh in a scene from “Father’s Footsteps.”

With the elections now history, we can focus our attention on the Jewish cultural scene, and the upcoming week offers a rich and diverse menu.

Gad Elmaleh, who left his native Morocco for Paris and in 2007 was voted “la personalité la plus drole de France” (the funniest person in France), will star on the screen and in person during the 10th Los Angeles Sephardic Jewish Film Festival.

The festival opens Nov. 14 at Paramount Studios with a screening of Elmaleh’s hit “Coco” and a dinner buffet, and continues through Nov. 21 with seven other movies.

During the opening evening, Elmaleh will present an award to film and television actress Emmanuelle Chriqui. Other honorees are Dr. Jose and Freda Nessim, founders of the Sephardic Educational Center, and producer Michael Benaroya. Actor Alfred Molina will serve as master of ceremonies.

“Coco” can be described as the Sephardic version of the American movie “Keeping Up With the Steins,” in which two Hollywood machers compete to show who can throw the more ostentatious and expensive bar mitzvah party.

In “Coco,” the battle is transferred to Paris and the rivals are two Moroccan immigrants, Coco Bensoussan and his nemesis Zerbib.

Despite attempts by his more grounded wife, mother and sisters to restrain him, Coco rents the national soccer stadium, tries for performances by Robert De Niro and Madonna, asks Steven Spielberg to shoot the extravaganza and offers cash for Queen Elizabeth’s royal coach.

He proceeds to bribe the chief rabbi into lowering the bar mitzvah age to 12 and the district prefect to declare the day following the big blowout a general holiday, so the revelers can dance until dawn. As the final touch, the French air force is to fly over the stadium in formation, spelling out Mazal Tov.

On the climactic night, everything is in place, except Samuel, the bar mitzvah boy, who has gone on strike. How Elmaleh, as the film’s writer, director and star, resolves the conflict and restores family harmony makes for an upbeat ending.

In an interview supplied by his studio, Elmaleh describes Coco as “a sort of megalomaniac. He’s someone who started from nothing, who’s done very well, and who simply can’t quite believe it.

“But Coco is very far from a caricature. I know guys who are much more exuberant than Coco, Sephardic Jews so flamboyant that sometimes they wear you out.”

Other festival films, to be shown at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills, are “The Fire Within,” “About Sugarcane and Homecoming,” “Among the Righteous,” “The Pioneers,” “The Name My Mother Gave Me,” “I Want to Remember; He Wants to Forget” and “Father’s Footsteps” (“Comme ton Père”).

For tickets and information, visit sephardicfilmfestival.com or call (323) 272-4574.


Elmaleh in an advertisement for “Coco.” Both films are featured in the Sephardic Film Festival.

Turning to America’s national pastime, Wilshire Boulevard Temple will present “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story,” Nov. 17 at 7:45 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills.

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate this sweet little documentary. In paying tribute to the 160 Jews who have played in the major leagues, director Peter Miller weaves their feats and words into the fabric of Jewish integration into American society, occasionally marred by outbursts of anti-Semitism by bigoted spectators.

But nothing can detract from the glories of slugger Hank Greenberg, pitcher Sandy Koufax, in one of his rare interviews, and the likes of Al Rosen and Moe Berg, who doubled as an American spy in World War II.

Dustin Hoffman narrates, and fans Larry King and Ron Howard recount their boyhood fantasies of baseball glory. The film’s theme song is “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” whose co-author, we are proud to learn, was Jewish.

The event will benefit the temple’s schools, camps and Israel scholarships. For information and tickets, visit wbtla.org or call (213) 388-2401, ext. 521.

“Jews and Baseball” will also screen at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Town Center in Encino, starting Nov. 19.


Actor-director Clint Eastwood will be honored with the inaugural Tolerance Award during the first Museum of Tolerance (MOT) International Film Festival on Nov. 14, in recognition of his “films encouraging tolerance, justice and human rights.”

Some 22 films will be shown during the festival, Nov. 13-18, opening with Peter Weir’s “The Way Back.” The movie chronicles the escape and survival of a group of prisoners from a Soviet gulag in Siberia and their long trek to freedom.

Other pictures, including classics and some not yet released in theaters, represent the fest’s intent to shine a light on past and present human rights issues through the medium of film. They include “100 Voices: A Journey Home,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Winston Churchill: Walking With Destiny” and others.

Also on the bill is “When We Leave,” this year’s German entry for Academy Award honors in the foreign-language-film category. It depicts the life of a Turkish immigrant family in Berlin, particularly the struggle of the daughter to leave her abusive husband, defying the norms and traditions of her Muslim parents.

The film is the feature debut of director-writer-producer Feo Aladag, a young Austrian Jewish woman. Her great-grandmother committed suicide when facing deportation, and her gentile great-grandfather was part of the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, has named Craig Prater, formerly head of the Palm Springs film fest, executive director of the MOT festival.

All movies will be shown in one of the museum’s three theaters, including the newly remodeled, 300-seat Peltz Theatre.

For general and ticket information, visit museumoftolerance.com/motiff or call (310) 772-2408.


On stage, the West Coast Jewish Theatre continues its run of the vintage Neil Simon play “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers.”

Barney Cashman (John Combs) is the title’s middle-age, would-be lover, who, after 23 years of placid marriage, feels the need for some variety.

He arranges assignations with three different women — in his mother’s apartment. First with the sexually liberated Elaine (Maria Spassoff), then the hippie Bobbi (Ashley Platz) and, finally, with Jeannette (Tracy Winters), his wife’s good friend.

Any mature male in the audience will wince at Barney’s awkward attempts to play the seducer and be touched by his desperation to bring some excitement into his life.

Director Howard Teichman, also the theater’s artistic director, keeps the action and punch lines moving at a brisk pace.

“Red Hot Lovers” continues through Nov. 21 at the Pico Playhouse in West Los Angeles. Performances are Thursdays through Sundays. For tickets and information, visit wcjt.org
or call (323) 860-6620.

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