The Jewish Film Festival has always been uncommonly enthusiastic about younger filmmakers, recognizing that even their occasionally fumbling explorations of contemporary Jewish life are nonetheless essential to furthering a post-Holocaust, post-Zionist identity. As a side benefit, plenty of Gen Next filmmakers hail from beyond the predictable U.S.-Israel-Germany axis. This year's unexpected focus of attention is France, which also provides the festival discovery. In the wrenching Louba's Ghosts, actress Elsa Zylberstein etches a disturbing portrait of the neglected daughter of Holocaust survivors. Director Martine Dugowson (who teamed with Zylberstein on the much-admired Mina Tannenbaum) deftly connects Louba's wounds to France's collaboration with the Nazis, generating moments of almost unbearable intensity along the way. That nasty chapter in history is also exposed in the banned French documentary Terrorists in Retirement, which recalls the contributions that immigrant Jews made to the Resistance -- and how their sacrifices were conveniently forgotten in the postwar rush to make heroes of men with authentic French names.
Another French film, Disparus, is one of those paranoid, plot-heavy Eurothrillers that is of particular interest to people who can't get enough of the Stalinist-Trotskyist squabbling that made Paris so much fun in the 1930s. Another disappointment, the Buenos Aires-set Waiting for the Messiah, has the interlinked stories and urban cacophony of Amores Perros but without its energy and direction. The central character is a slacker with a vague interest in camcorders, but the film's biggest selling point is its glimpse into Argentina's Jewish community. Israeli veteran Amos Gitai (the subject of a current PFA retrospective) achieves a similarly meandering quality in his war memoir, Kippur. Gitai replicates the overriding taste of war -- bone-deep fatigue -- but adds almost no historical or political reflection.
Runs July 28-Aug 2 at Wheeler Auditorium in Berkeley (UC Berkeley campus, near Bancroft and Telegraph, 510-642-4290)
Runs July 29-Aug. 2 at the Fox Theater in Redwood City (2215 Broadway at Hamilton, 650-369-4119)
Runs Aug. 4-6 at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael (1118 Fourth St. at A, 454-1222)
Ticket prices vary
Documentary connoisseurs are blessed with an appearance by New Yorker Alan Berliner in conjunction with a retrospective of his brilliantly sound-designed, deeply personal films (Intimate Stranger, Nobody's Business). Trembling Before G-d, the incendiary documentary about lesbian and gay Orthodox Jews, closes the festival with a pointed commentary on the failure of Judaism to reconcile the past and the present. That, in a phrase, is the Jewish challenge -- and the Jewish Film Festival's raison d'être.
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