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The Osher Marin Jewish Film Festival
The Bay Area has become the nation's center for independent film exhibition, and April begins the season of bloated, ennui-inducing film festivals. With a mere four features and no -- that's zero! -- short films to contend with, the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center's fifth annual fest, at Larkspur's Lark Theater this week, is especially welcome both to dilettantes and to completists who despair of seeing everything a festival has to offer. And in spite of the fact that these films span three countries, all of them touch on a common theme, a recurring one in Jewish cinema: the question of identity -- national and personal -- and what "Jewishness" really means.

In Jacob Goldwasser's tragicomic Over the Ocean (Israel, 1991; showing Sunday, April 13, at 5 p.m.), the petit-bourgeois Goldfarbs dream of escaping from what's supposed to be the treasured homeland -- Israel -- when their son dies in the army, their daughter takes up with the local gangster, and an old friend tempts them with the idea of emigrating to Canada. This witty, endearing film resonates with Yiddish theater humor, and won Israel's best picture award. Jan Schutte's restless expatriates in Bye Bye America (Germany, 1993; showing Monday, April 14, at 7 p.m.) actually make the journey that the Goldfarbs talk about. Schutte offers a twist on the road movie, which typically traces the progress of youth to adulthood and conformity, by casting a trio of aging New Yorkers as the wanderers. No film ever got so much comic mileage out of hats. Religion is not sacred in any of these films, least of all in Uri Sivan and Ari Fulman's Saint Clara (Israel, 1996; showing Tuesday, April 15, at 7 p.m.), another Israel best picture winner. Here the Jewish tradition of activism gets a clever, fairy-tale twist as a teen-ager named Clara uses psychic powers to stir up her adolescent comrades.

More seriously political, and the standout in the festival, is Guita Schyfter's Like a Bride (Mexico, 1993; showing Thursday, April 17, at 7 p.m.). This complex, sweeping picture of a Mexican-Jewish diaspora in the early 1960s is viewed through the lives of two young girls who try to assert their individual worth against the pressures of family and community. The rift between Old World ways and the invigorating iconoclasm of youth is a constant motif. Typical of the tone of this rich, rewarding work is an almost despairing statement by one of the women: "My parents are from Poland. I have nothing to do with Poland."

-- Gary Morris

The Osher Marin Jewish Community Center's Fifth Annual Jewish Film Festival runs April 13-17 at the Lark Theater, 549 Magnolia (at Dougherty), Larkspur. There's also an opening-night party with Oscar-winning lyricist Alan Bergman Saturday, April 12, at 8 p.m., and a closing luncheon with KQED's Michael Krasny Friday, April 18, at noon, both at the JCC's Hoytt Theater, 200 N. San Pedro in San Rafael. Tickets for films are $7, $6 for students, seniors, and members. Special events are more; call 479-2000 for details.

 
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