Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival: Three Reviews

large_24_days.jpg

As I mentioned in this Week Ahead this week, the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival celebrates its landmark 25th anniversary this weekend, and continues at a handful of Palm Beach County cinemas through Feb. 8. Here’s a look at three films I was privileged to see in advance. For a complete schedule, visit palmbeachjewishfilm.org.

They’re no escaping the prescient dread of “24 Days,” a downbeat and enraging police procedural based on the real-life kidnapping of a young Jewish man, Ilan Halimi, from his suburban Parisian home in 2006. The title refers to his period of captivity, during which time authorities worked around the clock to secure his release from a small band of terrorists with Islamic ties. Director Alexandre Arcady’s sobering thriller transitions between Ilan’s panicked family, the frustrated police force and the increasingly frayed kidnappers, as an initially straightforward hostage situation balloons into a cause celebre.

With its early 21st century cell phone technology and quaint references to cybercafés, the movie feels, properly, like a period piece. But in other ways, it feels ripped from today’s headlines. Arriving at this festival a little more than a week after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, at a time when anti-Semitism in France has garnered international headlines, a film about a nine-year-old, isolated case of a religiously motivated horror in the heart of France resonates with chilling, prophetic unease. It also astutely address issues like police ineptitude and bystander apathy. Arcady leans too heavily on musical cues and slow-motion close-ups in the film’s pivotal emotional moments, but there’s no softening the movie’s crippling blows toward a pluralistic France. Don’t miss this one, if you can stomach it.

“24 Days” screens at 7 p.m. Jan. 19 at Cobb Downtown at the Gardens, 11701 Lake Victoria Gardens Ave., Palm Beach Gardens; 7 p.m. Jan. 27 at Frank Theatres at Delray Marketplace, 14775 Lyons Road; and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at Cinemark Palace 20, 3200 Airport Road, Boca Raton.

As Uruguay’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Oscars, Mr. Kaplan is a notable “get” for the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, though it sacrifices genuine artistry for commercial whimsy. Directed with banality by its writer, Alvaro Brecher, the film stars Hector Noguera as the title character, a 76-year-old Jew who, as a child, fled his native Poland just as the scourge of Nazism was overtaking his country. More than half a century later, he’s living in Uruguay with his wife and three grown children close by, his driver’s license revoked and his eyesight failing. Afraid he’s going to suffer his twilight years without distinction, he finds his belated calling when he learns of a mysterious émigré restaurateur who might be in a Nazi in hiding. With assistance from a slovenly, alcoholic sidekick with a heart of gold (Nestor Guzzini, who could probably win a Ron Jeremy lookalike contest), he fashions himself another Simon Weisenthal, pooling all of his energy into capturing the German octogenarian and delivering him to Israel for trial.

The movie’s, concept is a potentially powerful one, but director Brecher’s tone undercuts his content. Mr. Kaplan is overly lighthearted and shallow, with the formal elements—from the jaunty score to the editing rhythms and the camerawork—helping to turn his creations into caricatures. An ill-timed parody of the final gunfight in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is an especially cartoonish, even stupid treatment of the film’s most important scene. Worse still, Brecher spoils his own mystery by revealing a crucial detail far too early in the story, thus undercutting the intended surprise of his ending.

“Mr. Kaplan” screens at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at Cobb Downtown at the Gardens; 4 p.m. Jan. 28 at Frank Theatres; and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at Cinemark Palace.

For a better and more studious—if decaffeinated—foray into the lingering after-effects of Nazism in the present day, check out “The Art Dealer,” the latest mystery from French director Francois Margolin (who co-wrote Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s lovely “Flight of the Red Balloon”). The sensibilities of film noir, a genre that in many ways rose from the darkness of the Second World War, hang over an otherwise contemporary drama. Donning an antiquated trench coat and fedora, and possessing the uncommon ability to make cigarettes look sexy again, Anna Sigalevitch plays Esther, a driven magazine reporter whose latest investigation stirs up cobwebs in her own family tree.

After her husband, an art dealer, brings home a painting that rattles her father, Esther discovers that the work in question was painted by her grandfather Jean, an artist and collector executed by the Nazis. Like so much art raided by the Third Reich, Jean collection was dispersed and deprived from his heirs, and Esther discovers that certain shady relatives—snakes in three-piece suits—colluded in destroying her grandfather’s estate.

Margolin approaches this sturdy, plot-heavy story with no detail unturned, and “The Art Dealer” demands a novelistic patience that most movies do not require. Immerse yourself in it, though, and you’ll come to appreciate its quiet menace, its domino-like ripples when inconvenient truths are unearthed. The movie evokes a timeless question—should past traumas be confronted, or ignored?—and its end result is, finally, quite moving.

“The Art Dealer” screens at 7 p.m. Jan. 22 at Cobb Downtown at the Gardens; 7 p.m. Jan. 28 at Frank Theatres; and 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at Cinemark Palace.