Jewish Life on Film

Sabrina Boudot is Rachel in “Nick and Rachel.”
If Los Angeles is the nation’s undisputed film capital, in recent months it also seems eligible for the title of the Jewish film capital, and that is largely because of the efforts of the Laemmle Theatres organization. Laemmle’s played host to the recent Israeli Film Festival and to its own screenings of independent films of Jewish interest throughout the year.

Beginning on Saturday, Dec. 13, Laemmle’s annual Cinema Judaica ’97 film festival begins its run, screening simultaneously at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills and at the Town Center 5 in Encino. Both locations will conclude the series on Dec. 24.

A quick scan of the film slate reads like an eclectic, cinematic buffet of Jewish life on film. There are features and documentaries, foreign films and American independents. Klezmer, Israeli history, assimilation and family life are some of the themes explored in this wide-ranging and ambitious festival.

A third of the films are older movies that form a retrospective of sorts: Among them are “Body & Soul” (screening on the 50th anniversary of the Hollywood blacklist), the Canadian coming-of-age tale, “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” Yale Strom’s “Carpati,” and “Exodus,” with a chiseled Paul Newman in the role of Ari Ben Canaan.

Also playing are some critically well-received films that have recently made the local rounds, separately from the festival slate. Their inclusion here offers another opportunity for audiences to see excellent movies they may have missed the first time around.

“My Mother’s Courage,” an offbeat chronicle of a woman’s road to survival in Nazi Europe, first debuted at the AFI film festival several years ago and has since gone on to critical acclaim. “Like a Bride” is an affectionate, wry look at Jewish life in Mexico that first screened at Laemmle’s a year ago. Other highlights are the klezmer documentary “A Tickle in the Heart”; “The Long Way Home,” which explores the hardships faced by Jewish survivors after the war; and Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman’s excellent “Chronicle of a Disappearance,” which was reviewed in these pages a month ago.

The third component of this year’s Cinema Judaica ’97 are the new films — for the most part, a lively melange of independent-spirited movies energized by contemporary issues in Western Jewish life. “Fairfax Fandango” explores the attraction between a secular woman and her Orthodox neighbor in that fabled local neighborhood. Marcia Jarmel’s provocative “The Return of Sarah’s Daughters” examines Orthodoxy with a distinct feminist sensibility. Also worth seeing is the elegant and understated documentary “Bonjour Shalom,” which takes the Montreal enclave of Outremont as its subject — a place where close-knit Orthodox Jews are bumping up against the rigidly Francophile majority.

The Music Hall Theatre is at 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Parking is available on Doheny at the WGA parking lot for $2.00. Call (310) 274-6869 for program information. The Town Center 5 is located at 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. Call (818) 981-9811. Cinema Judaica ’97 runs from Dec. 13 to 24 at both locations.