Feminists In Focus 1 of 2

January 20, 2012 by

Feminists in Focus: 21st Annual NY Jewish Film Festival Opens With ‘Flood’

You can’t accuse the New York Jewish Film Festival of being a front for Zionist propaganda, especially with the festival opener “Mabul” (The Flood).

(Check the calendar for the festival, presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, at www.thejewishmuseum.org/nyjff2012. The festival runs through Jan. 26.)

The Israeli-Canadian-French co-production, in Hebrew with English subtitles, could well be a film for the Manhattan JCC’s Other Israel film festival, with tales of the unhappy side of the Jewish State. There’s Yoni, the young bar mitzvah boy, earning money doing homework for the school bullies; his non-functioning pot-smoking crop pilot father; his gorgeous mom – a Mediterranean beauty – sweetly running a nursery school but screwing one of her young charges’ parents; and, if that weren’t enough, Tomer, the older brother, autistic to the point of needing constant care, back with the non-functional family when his institution goes bankrupt.

Welcome to life in the modern Jewish State. Who knew that an Israeli institution caring for the severely disabled could go bust. What a touch that the film’s one handsome Zionist-dream male is a philanderer. And that male-female roles remain entrenched unto the next generation, with the bar mitzvah boy berating his stressed-out mom for not taking adequate care of his disabled brother.

For those who look at made-in-Israel films to see how the country’s standard of living is doing, we note that this disintegrating family possesses a microwave and dishwasher. But this doesn’t buy happiness – or encourage time for communicating with each other.

Director Guy Nattiv has his Canadian cinematographer capture the glory of endless fields beneath expansive blue sky – icons of Israeli films of yesteryear.  The mom, Ronit Elkabetz, one of Israel’s leading actresses, runs through the fields with her darling nursery school kids, long pastel ribbons streaming from her wrists with giant artificial butterflies on each wrist. But meanwhile her autistic older son (played by Michael Moshonov) has gone dangerously missing. Squawking visual horror lies in wait.

Forget religion as a source of solace. The rabbi grilling young Yoni (played by Yoav Rotman) uses humiliation and guilt in a nasty attempt to produce results.  

The script by first-time scriptwriter Noa Berman-Herzberg comes perilously close to melodrama but it’s saved by superb acting and the flood motif. The story of Noah is the younger boy’s bar mitzvah passage, and he endlessly recites how “Noah had three sons” and “the earth was corrupt.” And even with some redeeming qualities, the film’s characters seem sunk.

But there is a denouement that lifts the film to a surprisingly touching conclusion.

And on a personal cast note: Unswayed by the heavy-handed campaign of Israel’s Ministry of Absorption to discourage Israelis from jumping ship and settling in America, actor Michael Moshonov was welcomed to the opening day of the New York Jewish Film festival as a new New Yorker. He has followed his girlfriend here.)

In a nice pairing of loving, distressed moms coping with wild child offspring, “Howl” was the animated Israeli short preceding “Mabul.” The mysterious black and white hand-drawn film by Natalie Bettelhim and Sharon Michaeli, a mere seven minutes, is a lot more intriguing than the over-blown 3D “Tin Tin.”

“Mabul” will be shown in Manhattan and Staten Island Feb. 11 and 12 as part of the Reel Abilities New York Disabilities Film Festival. For times, locations and tickets, visit http://newyork.reelabilities.org/films/view/mabul.