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Kinky; Virgins 

You'll see all kinds at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Wednesday, Jul 16 2003
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The 23rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival explores a bracing range of the "Jewish experience" -- with important nods to the Palestinian experience -- with varying results. Bobby Roth's opening-night feature Manhood, for example, is a cliché-ridden misfire that plucky performances can't save. On the other hand, the closing entry, Eduardo Milewicz's Samy y Yo, hilariously highlights the rise of a nebbishy TV writer (played to perfection by Ricardo Darín) to unlikely TV star.

If there's a theme running through the fest, it would be the notion of exile -- not simply forced exile but exile as intention and possibility, as seen in three documentaries. Black Israel, for instance, celebrates flourishing Jewish enclaves in the Negev Desert pioneered by black converts in the 1960s. Embrace Me profiles legendary singer Jo Amar, who brilliantly fused Arab and Jewish styles. And a former resident limns the remote community of Guba in Azerbaijan in The Last Jewish Town.

Docs are in fact the strength of this fest. Kinky Friedman: Proud to Be an Asshole From El Paso excels as a sympathetic portrait of the controversial writer, wit, and singer of ditties like "Ride 'Em Jewboy." Accompanying Kinky are several irresistible shorts, including 72 Virgins, which asks people if they'd give Arafat a blow job "for regional peace." (One straight man gets carried away and says he'd also "do" Ariel Sharon, if necessary.)

Two must-see docs are Detained and The Settlers, which meticulously record the strange, sad lives of Palestinian widows and settler wives, respectively. The films' neutral approach mirrors the emotional numbness of both groups, as the Palestinian women stoically mop up after the Israeli soldiers occupying their roof, and the settler wives, who say they've "come home," shrug as they point to bullet holes in their trailers.

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Gary Morris

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