Always fresh at the start of the year, the Miami Jewish Film Festival (MJFF) celebrates its 25th edition of its milestone from January 13 to January 27. The festival is a hybrid of virtual and live events, featuring more than 100 feature films and dozens of shorts, with the virtual screenings available free of charge.
With so many choices, New Times have already started checking out some features to help sort through what you should keep an eye on. Three examples are encapsulated below.
It’s a little disappointing Ahed’s knee is limited to a virtual screening. The film, which won a jury award at the Cannes 2021 Film Festival, is the daring and divisive cinema that electrifies and thrives in the festival environment. Director Nadav Lapids Ahed’s knee is provocative, aggressive and blunt – and it’s designed that way. It’s a movie you have to see for yourself, for better or worse.
The film opens as filmmaker Y (Avshalom Pollack) – a clear surrogate for Lapid – is in the midst of pre-production of his latest film focusing on Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi. While Y plays the role of Ahed, Y accepts an invitation from Yahalom (Nur Fibak), a young and serious deputy director of the Ministry of Culture’s library department, to a screening of one of his earlier films. Corresponding to Stardust memories, the retrospective framework leads to the filmmaker’s introspection. In the case of Ahed’s knee, inspires the visit to a meditation on the role of art and the artist as well as their relationship to external entities such as the state and the audience. The catalyst here is a piece of paper that Yahalom must have Y to sign. The document is a dispensation that ensures that Y will not deviate from the government-approved topics in his remarks to society. Their initially friendly relationship becomes resilient and destructive throughout the film.
The tension caused by the bureaucracy, combined with the meta-nature of the narrative, allows Lapid to continue formal experiments that are a hallmark of his work. Lapid waves between an immersive subjectivity and a Brechtian distance that can cause a feeling of whiplash that is as strong as the whips marked by the film throughout. Some of these stylistic blossoms work, and some do not, but they are always interesting. Above all, Lapid has a confrontational camera. At times it moves almost erratically, at other times it is defiantly static, though it is intruded and enclosed by its motifs.
With his fourth feature film, Lapid gets his reputation as the film’s bad boy, while at the same time strengthening his personal style. This is a potentially controversial choice for the MJFF as Lapid demands strong condemnation from the Israeli government. You may or may not “like” Ahed’s knee, but it will definitely spark conversation and contemplation. Appears almost Friday, January 14th through Wednesday, January 26th. Bring DeLellis
All eyes away from me
All eyes away from me is the kind of film that catches one on guard for every turn it makes. It is neatly divided into three sections and jumps casually between a small group of characters, each of whom seems to be begging to be distracted from their own world. The first finds his character wandering through a party, contemplating and discussing having an abortion. The other finds another young woman and her new boyfriend who spend every day and night indulging in each other’s bodies, but struggle when it comes to getting him to embrace her knack. The latter takes the same woman and explores her relationship with a man whose dog she walks.
Although the pieces are very loosely connected, Hadas Ben Aroya’s film is more interested in the tonal flow of the three parts combined. It is quite honest about everything it presents, especially the extensive sex scenes in its central act, and the intimacy of its often hand-held camera work is as suffocating as it is intriguing.
Comparisons with Euphoria (presumably due to the opening aesthetics of the opening act and blunted sexuality) feels a bit out of place, as All eyes away from me is more in tune with the woman-driven (and directed) mumblecore-adjacent films of Desiree Akhavan or Lena Dunham. There is an almost amateurish touch in the way the scenes unfold, as if they were improvised, where long, messy conversations and naturalistic body language are a priority for these characters. When each segment ends, one can not help but reflect on oneself and the characters in the film and how we all try to fill the silence with our own walks. As cliché as it sounds, the film argues that there may be beauty in just being in the moment, whether or not that moment is as satisfying as we all think. Appears almost Friday, January 14th through Wednesday, January 26th. Juan Antonio Barquin
Jane of Charlotte
A unique power of documentary film is its ability to inform. You usually come in without knowing much about a topic, but you feel like a freshman. That is not necessarily the case Jane of Charlotte, a new documentary about Jane Birkin, the British-French icon, told through the eyes of her daughter, the British-French icon Charlotte Gainsbourg. It’s more about experiencing the topic than being informed. As a result, enjoyment of the film may be correlated to one’s prior knowledge of the two women and their cultural influence.
Falling somewhere between a documentary and a home movie, Jane of Charlotte is an intimate and at times intangible portrait of Birkin as an artist, muse and mother. Divided between Birkin on stage and at home, the film consists of casual conversations between the two women. The attraction of the film is almost hard to explain, which makes sense since both of its motifs are the epitome of I do not know what. Despite the specificity of this setup, what emerges is a relatable and universal understanding of mother-child relationships.
At times formless and technically imprecise, many of the film’s flaws are also its strengths. What the film lacks in structure, it compensates for in fluidity and intimacy. Likewise, its lack of pure objectivity provides the framework for the daughter’s documentation of Mother Birkin to open up in ways she would not have for any other filmmaker. Gainsbourg really shows promise as a filmmaker through his empathy and general curiosity.
While the film shows Birkin very vividly, touring the world from Japan to New York and retaining all the exuberant and unique charm that made her an unlikely star in the 1960s, mortality is a foundation of the film. Among more cheerful topics, they often discuss aging, dying, and loss. There are two characters who hang over the film through their absence: Kate Barry, Birkin’s eldest daughter, and Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte’s father. Although there are few details about Barry’s passing, the shorthand between Jane and Charlotte reveals how this loss has profoundly affected them.
Both love and loss nourish the film – and what makes it feel universal. One senses that Charlotte Gainsbourg wished she had made films like this about her sister and her father. The audience can also relate to the desire to preserve and remember. Jane of Charlotte is an extraordinary family portrait of an extraordinary family who manages to make it all feel wonderfully ordinary. Appears mostly Friday, January 14th to Wednesday, January 26th. Bring DeLellis
Miami Jewish Film Festival. Thursday, January 13, 2022 through Thursday, January 27, 2022 in various locations; miamijewishfilmfestival.org.