In last week’s roundup of the Valley’s film offerings, I touched on the classic Fiddler on the Roof, which comes to the area next weekend for a special sing-along screening. I love Fiddler—every time I see it, I annoy everyone around me for weeks afterward with my incessant (if unintentional) humming of the movie’s indelible score.
There’s something about it—a musician might point to that natural seventh against a minor chord in “Sunrise, Sunset” (it falls on both “girl” and “boy” in the lyric)—that is both haunting and odd, yet soft and familiar even in its dissonance. It is the hallmark sound, for many, of the rich vein of Broadway and Yiddish theater that runs through Jewish-American history.
At the same time, Fiddler has been criticized for its soft-focus take on Jewish history. On its release in 1971, film critic Roger Ebert noted that it was “so fantastically far from the roots of its story that it might as well be moved to Ireland, where the peasants could grow potatoes instead of corn.”
Four decades on, Jewish stories on film have expanded their scope in America, drawing not only from our own history with Yiddish theater and early television but also pulling in stories from Israel and the endless variety of the Jewish Diaspora. Here in the Valley, we’re lucky enough to have an annual film festival devoted to such fare: the aptly named Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival is happening right now.
Presenting two weeks of films from around the world, the PVJFF aims to look into the many sides of contemporary Jewish culture—not only the religious aspects, but the secular stories, politics, and history of modern Jewish life. Films will screen everywhere from the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield to the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, with many accompanied by guest speakers or other special additions. For the full schedule and more about the festival, visit pvjff.org; here are just a few of the films screening this week.
Greenfield Garden Cinemas hosts two films from the series: On Saturday, March 17, Foreign Letters screens at 8:15 p.m. Based on the life experiences of writer-director Ela Their, this coming of age tale is the story of two young immigrant girls—one from Israel, the other from Vietnam—who forge a bond born of their war-torn backgrounds. But even the strength of that bond might not be enough to keep them together through junior high. On Tuesday, March 20 at 7 p.m., the festival presents The Human Resources Manager, Israel’s official entry for the 2011 Oscars. Directed by Eran Riklis (Lemon Tree), it tells a poignant story of a modern Israeli rediscovering his compassion for others after a foreign worker at his bakery is killed in a terror attack. Escorting the woman’s body back to her home country, the self-centered manager finds himself struck by the variety of people who cared for his co-worker.
Amherst Cinema gets in on the action on Monday with a 7:30 p.m. screening of David, an award winning film about the intersection of two religious worlds, made on location in Brooklyn. Muatasem Mishal stars as Daud, the 11 year-old son of a local imam. When the lonely Muslim boy is mistaken for a Yeshiva student by a group of Jewish children, he quickly becomes “David,” and enjoys the company of his newfound friends. But when his subterfuge is exposed, Daud finds himself struggling to define his identity. With first-time Arab and Jewish actors filling the lead roles, David offers a fresh look at some of Brooklyn’s most traditional neighborhoods.
Also this week: One of the year’s most talked-about films comes to area screens. We Need To Talk About Kevin is Lynne Ramsay’s psychological thriller about a mother (Tilda Swinton) dealing with the increasing—and seemingly innate—malevolence of her own son. More on this film next week.
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.