The Washington Jewish Film Festival gets underway on Thursday, an 11-day showcase for the global tapestry of Jewish life. What you'll see — a range of films that includes repertory classics like Francois Truffaut's "The Last Metro" and Louis Malle's "Au Revoir Les Enfants" to contemporary Israeli selections such as Nissun Dayan's "The Dove Flyer" — is by turns dark, funny, religious, secular, musical and everything else under the sun.
Take "Gett, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem." The film by Ronit Elkabetz and Shomi Elkabetz is about an Israeli woman seeking a divorce from her husband, whom she's long been estranged from. The problem? Israel has no civil marriage or divorce laws, so Jewish law prevails, meaning the husband must give his permission for the divorce to proceed, the "Gett" of the title. A rabbinical court presides over Viviane Amsalem's attempts to dissolve her marriage from a husband who has no intention of letting her go.
It's a hard-hitting courtroom drama that combines raw emotional pain from the principals with uncomfortable absurdist humor as the "trial" drags on for years. Its use of limited sets, confining them to the small family courtroom and its adjoining anteroom, forces viewers to see things from multiple perspectives: Viviane's, her husband's, their advocates', the judges'. It's a drama Franz Kafka would have dreamed up, utilizing Ingmar Bergman's close-ups and Werner Herzog's sense of gonzo humor.
Other films touch on folklore ("Golem," a silent film by Carl Boese and Paul Wegener), documentaries about cross-cultural ties ("East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem" by Erez Miller and Henrique Cymerman), food ("Deli Man" by Erik Greenberg Anjou) and civil rights ("The Rosenwald Schools" by local filmmaker Aviva Kempner) and some local color as well ("My Favorite Neoconservative // Alex's Letters" by Yael Luttwak, about the filmmaker's conservative father, Edward Luttwak).
The festival runs from Feb. 19 through March 1, at multiple venues from the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Md.; the Avalon Theater in Northwest D.C. and the Goethe-Institut downtown to the D.C. Jewish Community Center and the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville, Md.
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