In March 2009, I received a screener from the coordinator of our annual Chicago Latino Film Festival for a new Argentinian feature called La Cámara Oscura. I was entranced by this film, and wrote very positive things about it in my column. Soon after, I began receiving calls from all around the country, the word spread, and La Cámara Oscura has now become a major hit on the Jewish film festival circuit. To date, it has played in 25 American cities from Atlanta to Boston and from San Antonio to Sacramento, and it has also played at international festivals in Jerusalem as well as Cairo and Istanbul.
Now the Chicago YIVO Society is bringing La Cámara Oscura back to Chicago for three screenings: Aug. 14 at Northbrook Public Library (12:15 PM) and Harold Washington Library Center in the Loop (6 PM), and Aug. 15 at Skokie Public Library (12:15 PM).
Based on a short story by well-known Argentinian-Jewish writer Angélica Gorodischer, La Cámara Oscura was written and directed by Maria Victoria Menis. Relying on superb visual style, Menis keeps dialogue to a minimum, enhancing her quiet tableaux with natural sounds as well as Yiddish songs and Klezmer tunes. La Cámara Oscura also has three animated sequences, the first taking us in to young girl's imagination, and the others similar in style to the surrealistic dream sequences Salvador Dali designed for Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 film Spellbound.
All programs in Chicago YIVO's Summer Festival of Yiddish Culture are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.ChicagoYivoBlog.com.
The Israeli film selected for Cinema/Chicago's 2012 summer festival is Intimate Grammar (Hadikduk HaPnimi), which also screened last fall in our 2011 Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema.
In 2002, Nir Bergman wrote and directed Broken Wings (Knafayim Shvurot), one of my favorite Israeli films, and since then he has been one of the principal writers on BeTipul, the acclaimed Israeli television series that HBO has shown here as In Treatment. So I had very high hopes for Intimate Grammar, but when I watched it last fall, I had a mixed reaction. So I watched the film again last month and then read David Grossman's source novel The Book of Intimate Grammar.
The main character, Aharon, is an abnormally small teenage boy. Even though he is highly intelligent and has a lively imagination, Aharon seems unable to grow into the body of a mature man.
Intimate Grammar opens with newsreels from 1948 and then skips quickly ahead to the mid-60s. We learn that Aharon's father is a Holocaust survivor, while his mother came of age during the austerity of Israel's earliest years as a nation. Beautiful to look at but painful to watch, I fear Bergman's efforts are ultimately stymied by Grossman's heavy-handed metaphors.
Two screenings are scheduled: Aug. 22 (6:30 PM) and Aug. 25 (2:00 PM). Both screenings are in the Claudia Cassidy Theater on the second floor of the Chicago Cultural Center. All Cinema/Chicago screenings are also free and open to the public, but space is limited, so be sure to arrive early if you want a seat.
For more information, visit www.ChicagoFilmFestival.com.
Like all of you, I am hoping for cooler weather come August, but if not, wonderful new DVD options are now available for home viewing. Footnote (from Israel) and In Darkness (from Poland), two of the five candidates for 2012's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, can be rented from Netflix and/or purchased from Amazon. Two additional films, The Debt and Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (both of which also appeared on my "Best of 2011" list) are also available.
Footnote (directed by two-time Oscar nominee Joseph Cedar) is an extremely funny portrait of Israeli academics caught in a kerfuffle that tests their true loyalty to one another. In Darkness (directed by three-time Oscar nominee Agnieszka Holland) is a Holocaust film set in the Lodz ghetto.
The Debt, starring Helene Mirren and Jessica Chastain, is director John Madden's English language update of the Israeli film Ha Hov.Gainsbourg, a BioPic about French singer Serge Gainsbourg from his childhood in Nazi-occupied Paris through his peak of popularity as a '60s cultural icon, is a luminous first feature written and directed by French cartoonist Joann Sfar (best-known for his delightful series of children's books about "The Rabbi's Cat").
Full reviews of The Debt and Footnote are available on the JUF News blog (www.jufnews.org), and mini- reviews of Gainsbourg and In Darkness can be found on my own blog (www.SecondCityTziv.com). All four of these films are highly recommended!
Chicago author Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) created the award-winning Films for Two website (www.films42.com) with her husband Rich in 2002. Visit Jan's blog, www.SecondCityTzivi.com, for a complete online archive of all JUF News columns and posts plus additional interviews and reviews. Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com.