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May 2-8, 2007

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'Three Mothers'

Matriarch: Gila Almagor stars in 'Three Mothers.'

Reel Families

ISreel 2007 festival opens with complex family drama 'Things Behind the Sun'

By Richard von Busack


COMPACT, extremely cosmopolitan and just as extremely worried—who could ask more from a national cinema? The San Jose Jewish Film Festival's Israeli Film Festival, called ISreel 2007, opens May 9, 7:30pm, at Camera 12 in San Jose with a well-done drama by Yuval Shafferman, Things Behind the Sun. It could be nicknamed Little Miss Sunstein. In Tel Aviv, a family shivers with troubles worthy of the characters from The Simpsons, who peek out here and there from T-shirts and bed sheets. And the only sane and loving member is the young Didush (Tess Hashiloni), a watchful 10-year-old girl. The family is caught in midcrisis: grandfather Abraham is paralytic in the hospital and ready to die. On the whole, the family's general feeling about the demise is "Good riddance."

Abraham's son Itzhak, (Assi Dayan, son of Moshe Dayan), the pear-shaped, dead-behind-the-eyes paterfamilias, runs his warehouse store and comes home in a state of silence. His wife. Smadi (Sandra Sade), prepares a one-woman show of scandalous paintings. Eldest son and Domino's courier Amit (Zohar Shtrauss), age 27, has no more serious interests than bongs and floozies. (Mother Smadi depicts him in one of her portraits as a bawling baby in a bassinette.) Daughter Namma (Tali Sharon), from Haifa, works in the computer business; Mom tells her, "I never worry about you." Fine. Namma has plenty of worries about herself. She's a great big lesbian, and her new tryst, Michal (Hilla Vidor), wants to push right her out of the closet.

Shafferman watches this bunch without judging their transgressions—even at the risk of stymieing the viewer. Is the mom trying to wound her family with passive-aggressive paintings? Other more forgiving images—the old snapshots posted on the refrigerator door—bear witness to the accommodations this tangled-up family decides to make with its messy past.

Avi, Avi (May 20, 3pm) isn't nearly as compelling, although it has an interesting adage: Israeli-born, Toronto-native filmmaker Avi Lev claims that in Israel it's not six degrees of separation, it's just one. He meets a Canadian ally, also named Avi, an artist who happened to have been married once to the first Avi's childhood crush. The director airs his guilt about being a "yored"—a runaway who emigrated from the Promised Land, though now that the Israeli Army has shot a Nobel Peace Prize laureate with rubber bullets (as reported by Democracy Now), who can blame someone for wanted to seek safer ground? But wishing won't make Avi, Avi less like a home movie.

There is more dysfunction to come in Three Mothers (May 20, 5:30pm), a full-bore melodrama about triplet sisters from Alexandria. Frozen Days (May 16, 7:30pm) is an intriguing, Hitchcockesque tale of a woman who undergoes a personality transplant (or does she?) after a bombing at a Tel Aviv club. In Israeli movies, the uneasy relationship with a father matches the uneasy relationship with both God and country. Onscreen, these figurative children (and in the case of Things Behind the Sun, literal grandchildren) of Abraham try to find their way to a future without boundaries.


Movie Times ISreel 2007, presented by the San Jose Jewish Film Festival, plays May 9, 16 and 20 at Camera 12 in San Jose. See www.sjjff.org for details. (Full Disclosure: Metro is one of the media sponsors of the festival.)


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