The Coen Brothers' latest film, A Serious Man, is their most Jewish, definitely, and among their funniest, undoubtedly. Whether most audiences will understand it is another matter.
The first 15 minutes are, after all, entirely in Yiddish, set in a snowbound shtetl wherein a husband and wife may or may not be entertaining a dybbuk — the fantastically craggy-faced Fyvush Finkel.
"We’re Jewish film-makers, for sure," admits Joel Coen, one half of the Oscar-winning sibling team whose brand of ironic, darkly eccentric and often violent cinema has dominated independent American film-making for 25 years.
“We’ve never tried to hide that or tip-toe around it,” chips in his brother Ethan, three years his junior. “Hollywood has always been largely Jewish, although made of Jews who wanted to assimilate. As a friend of ours once said: ‘If the movie business wasn’t difficult, God wouldn’t have given it to the Jews.’”
For an audience with a ... shall we say, overt appreciation of food and drink, the UK Jewish Film Festival's opening gala film, A Matter of Size, had a certain frisson.
This gentle Israeli comedy is the story of the doleful Herzl, fat since childhood and desperately putting himself through an endless series of dietary hoops in the grim working-class Israeli town of Ramle.
Ronit elkabetz is the face of Israeli cinema. The 43-year-old actress/director has starred in some of the country’s most acclaimed films over the past 10 years — including Late Marriage in 2001 and 2007’s The Band’s Visit. She has also co-written and directed two films with her brother, Shlomi. Born in a suburb of Haifa to parents of Moroccan descent, she now lives in Paris and Tel Aviv. Her latest performances, in Jaffa and The Girl On The Train, can be seen at the UK Jewish Film Festival, along with a screening of Late Marriage.
Dan Patterson, TV comedy producer, was barmitzvah in 1973 in Oxford: “Because Oxford Synagogue was being rebuilt I had the ceremony in St Aloysius Church. The lunch was at St Cross College and the dinner was at St Giles House, so it was probably the most saint-invoked barmitzvah of all time.
Israeli films have been showered with international praise over in the past 18 months. Jellyfish, The Band’s Visit, Waltz With Bashir, Beaufort all won prizes or huge acclaim, and most recently, Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon won the Golden Lion Prize at the Venice Film festival. So anyone surveying the jam-packed, barmitzvah-themed 13th UK Jewish Film Festival programme, will be casting bets on which of the 15 feature-length and short Israeli films are destined for the big time.
Instead of dwelling on the bad luck that a thirteenth anniversary year could bring, the UK Jewish Film Festival is, fittingly, celebrating its barmitzvah year.
It will be the biggest ever year for the festival, which started life as the Brighton Jewish Film Festival back in 1996 before relocating to London and rebranding itself as the UK Jewish Film Festival in 2004.
The Coen brothers new film A Serious Man tops the bill at the festival, along with the UK Premiere of Adam Ressurected director by Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader and starring Jeff Goldblem.
Mention contemporary British-Jewish film and most people think of Paul Weiland's 2006 barmitzvah tale, Sixty Six, or Ric Cantor's 2004 Bridget Jones-esque Suzie Gold. Although both were produced in an era of cinema when community-specific films such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Bend It Like Beckham were connecting with mainstream international audiences, neither, when released, attained the same level of success.
Avi Nesher's latest film, The Secrets, opens with Naomi (played by remarkable newcomer Ania Bukstein), the young pious daughter of a respected Orthodox rabbi, asking her father if her arranged marriage can be postponed so she can study for a year at a Midrasha in Safed. Her mother has just died. Out of love, he gives his consent.