Arguably the most popular of the Enzian Theater's mini-festivals, the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival returns for its 19th year. Co-sponsored by the Roth Family Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando, the event honoring Jewish life, culture and history begins after sundown on Saturday, Nov. 4 (to honor the Jewish Sabbath), and continues through Monday, Nov. 6.
This year's festival screens five feature films (one documentary and four narratives), plus one short, but it's also a food event. The menu includes knishes (baked dough filled with spinach and cheese), latkes (potato pancakes), holishkes (cabbage rolls with meat or rice filling), Hebrew National hot dogs and tzimmes (sweet stew with beef, carrots and sweet potatoes).
In keeping with the merger of food and film, The Pickle Recipe kicks off the festivities at the Orlando Science Center at 8 p.m. on Saturday. (All subsequent films are shown at the Enzian.) Though it's the one film the OW didn't screen in advance, this lighthearted look at Detroit's Jewish community (starring David Paymer and Lynn Cohen) is likely to be a crowd pleaser. It's preceded by The Chop (3 stars out of 5), a well-paced and cleverly written short comedy about the culinary clash of Jewish and Muslim cultures in England. It's a tough watch for non-meat-eaters, but its originality and charm make it a nice choice to open the festival.
Next up is the Hungarian-language 1945 (4 stars), which screens at 11 a.m. on Sunday. Directed by Ferenc Torok, this powerful, atmospheric examination of Holocaust complicity is the highlight of the festival, according to not just this reviewer but also Matthew Curtis, Enzian programming director.
"While the range and scope of genres, ideas, themes and emotions in this year's lineup is truly exciting, I am particularly psyched to be able to bring 1945 to our audience," says Curtis. "This stunning black-and-white, post-war Western set in Hungary is certainly one of the more unusual films to ever make our lineup, and it's no surprise it was a knockout at last year's Berlin Film Festival."
An even more unconventional choice is One Week and a Day (3 stars), which plays at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Deceptively simple, the Hebrew-language film appears at first glance not to tackle any big issues. Instead, it seems content to amble through a day in the life of an Israeli husband and wife who have just sat a weeklong shiva for their dead son. But look more closely and you'll find a surprisingly tender and irresistibly quirky dramedy that offers a new perspective on the traditional Jewish grieving process. It won't be everyone's taste, but assured direction by Asaph Polonsky in his debut, along with strong performances, make it an interesting, though admittedly slight, festival selection.
Big Sonia (3 ½ stars), this year's lone doc, plays Monday at 4:30 p.m. It isn't exactly groundbreaking cinema, but it has more humanity than should be allowed in a rather simple profile of 91-year-old manager of a tailor shop in a rundown Kansas City mall. For Sonia Warshowski is not just a shopkeeper – she's a great-grandmother, Holocaust survivor and inspiration to everyone from high school students to prison inmates, whom she encourages to never give in to hate.
"The most important message that Sonia shares with all us is that no matter what has happened to you, it does not have to be the defining experience of your life," one acquaintance of Sonia says. "No matter what you've gone through, you can choose to be who you want to be in the future."
Shelter (2 ½ stars), a methodically paced espionage thriller, closes the festival on Monday at 7 p.m. It's the weakest of the four films OW screened, thanks to a rushed, confusing and anti-climactic second act, not to mention a jaw-dropping but tough-to-swallow third-act twist. Still, Israeli director Eran Riklis (Lemon Tree, Zaytoun) infuses his film with quiet tension that is buoyed by a stand-out performance by Naomi Rimon as a Mossad agent assigned to guard a Lebanese informant on the run from Hezbollah.