Just when I thought that I had seen it all before, a movie comes along which captures my imagination, repels me and thrills me—all at once!
I am not shocked or surprised easily but the movie “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” starring Richard Gere (age 67) knocked my socks off. Israeli/ American director Joseph Cedar (remember the movies “Time of Favour” “Beaufort” and “Footnote”) has succeeded in creating a very New York world in which Norman Oppenheimer, played by the non-Jewish heartthrob Richard Gere, plies his trade—what is known in Yiddish as a macher. He travels the circuits of money and influence, always just a few capillaries removed from the beating heart of power. His mental Rolodex swells with the names of the good and the great, every one of them “a very close friend.” He’d be happy to introduce you (A. O. Scott, New York Times, 4/13/2017).
Richard Gere is superb as this creepy leech, his persistence and hutzpah are incredulous. The film is subtle, unsettling, slyly amusing and takes some getting used to because it’s the kind of film we’re not used to seeing. Norman is a pusher, a hustler, an eternal searcher for the exploitable angle. Norman’s search for potential leverage leads him to the visiting Micha Eshel, Israel’s obscure but ambitious deputy minister of Industry, Trade and Labor beautifully played by Lior Ashkenazi, another heartthrob, (Kenneth Turan, 4/13/ 2017). It would seem that Joseph Cedars is exceptionally familiar with both sides of the complicated dynamic between Israel and American Jews Michael Fox, 4/19/2017).
Richard Gere delightfully soft-shoes his way through Norman, who is a manipulator and often a pain in the ass. He’s been described as “a drowning man trying to wave at an ocean liner.” But his desire to belong is as genuine as his loneliness (Peter Travers, 4/11/2017). The plot is complex, Gere manages to be at once likeable and infuriating. See it to believe it.
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, this Churchill movie shines a light on the Churchill who struggled in private with crippling depression, “the black dog” as he called it. Brian Cox takes on the role of Winston Churchill, for which he put on 10 kilos, shaved his head and practiced Churchill’s distinctive jutting lower lip. The actor touches on the haunted frailty of Britain’s wartime leader, focusing on the run-up to D-Day. The film also brings out the role played by his wife, Clementine in saving him from physical and mental collapse and inspiring him to greatness. ‘Clemmie” is played by Miranda Richardson (Dalya Alberge, 2/19/2017). If you are a Churchill fan, if you love movies about history, you will enjoy the film, notwithstanding some stretching of the truth and historical inaccuracies.
aka The Dove Flyer, מפריח היונים 2013
Between the years 1950-51 close to 130 thousand Jews were forced to leave Iraq, many of whose families had lived in Iraq for 2,500 years. Director Nissim Dayan has based his film on the 1992 novel The Dove Flyer by Eli Amir, an Israeli of Iraqi origin. The film is done entirely in the Jewish-Arabic dialect spoken in Baghdad, with Israeli actors of Iraqi Jewish origin. The forced exile of Baghdad’s Jews was incomprehensible to the Jewish population who viewed themselves as Jewish Arabs who had been integrated culturally and politically into Iraqi society.
The story is centered on the solidly middle-class family of Naima and Salman and their older son Kabi, a high school student who plays a central role in the film (M. Miedzian, Jewish Currents, Dec.7, 2014). Salman is a tailor who owns a successful clothing store. All of the family are deeply pained at the thought of having to leave their homeland – of all the Jews living in Muslim countries, the Iraqis were the most deeply imbedded in Arab society. This multi-layered family saga unfolds amidst political intrigue between Zionists and Communists, the public hanging of a governmental dissident, the imprisonment of Salman’s brother Hezkel, Kabi’s teenage crushes on his aunt Rakel and on Amira, the daughter of a pigeon-raiser.
The film provides an enlightening panorama of the political and socio-cultural situation of Iraqi Jews at the beginning of the 1950s. The historical background of the film is the 1941 pogrom known as the Farhud, in which 179 Jews were killed, hundreds of businesses looted, and thousands of homes pillaged. It is a touching coming-of-age story of a young teenager in Baghdad at the time of the controversial and complicated process of the Iraqi Jews’ immigration to Israel. In Arabic with English and Hebrew subtitles. Available at the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library, JCC.
THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE 2017
Jessica Chastain plays a woman who helped 300 Jews to find safe haven during the Second World War in the Warsaw Zoo, thus escaping the Nazis. This is the extraordinary true story of a Polish couple, Jan and Antonina Zabinski, whose zoo served as a refuge during the German occupation. There are many sequences of the film that work beautifully, filled with emotion and tension, fear and pain. The Warsaw Ghetto scenes are especially terrible, a spectacle of horror (Sheila O’Malley, 3/29/2017). Years later, when asked why they did what they did, Jan Zabinski answered, “I only did my duty—if you can save somebody’s life, it’s your duty to try.”
THE SENSE OF AN ENDING 2017
Jim Broadbent (age 68) gives a droll, well-judged performance in this adaptation of Julian Barnes’s Booker Prize winner about a blast from the past of a grumpy divorcee. It is a film with an intriguing premise and it’s never anything other than watchable and well-acted. But, considering that the story is about suicide and forbidden love, it is oddly desiccated, detached, even passionless sometimes (Peter Bradshaw, 4/6/2017).
Excellent Films available at the JCC Waldman Jewish Public Library.
By: Dolores Luber