Tough love in Jerusalem

The seventh-annual edition of the San Antonio Jewish Film Festival, screening at the San Antonio Museum of Art February 16-21, surpasses its predecessors in range and artistry. It opens with Nina’s Home, the astonishing story of a Frenchwoman who set about providing a haven for children orphaned and traumatized by the Holocaust. It includes a finalist for this year’s foreign-language Oscar, the combat drama Beaufort, as well as two extraordinary nonfiction features — Knowledge Is the Beginning, an inspiring account of Daniel Barenboim’s experiment in conducting peace by creating an orchestra of young Israeli and Palestinian instrumentalists; and The Rape of Europa, a gripping record of how Europe’s cultural treasures were looted by the Nazis and tracked down by Allied art hunters during and after the war. However, if I had to single out one of the festival’s 11 features (and I have to, says my editor) for its ability to lodge itself in the mind and memory, it would be My Father My Lord, an Israeli film that was released in Hebrew with the deceptively bland title Hofshat Kaits — Summer Vacation. The inspiration is closer to Sophocles than National Lampoon.

My Father My Lord is set entirely within the insular ultra-Orthodox community of Jerusalem, where writer-director David Volach himself grew up, one of 20 siblings. This, his first film, is attentive to the rituals and beliefs that constitute a devout life, even as it acknowledges the high price exacted by piety. A respected rabbinical scholar, Abraham Adelman (Dayan) allows nothing to interfere with his dedication to Torah, not even his adorable young son, Menachem (Griff), or his beloved wife, Esther (Hacohen). Though considerably younger than her husband, Esther is the emotional anchor of the family, and she dotes on their only child. However, this is a film about the fierce ties between a strict father and his dutiful son that bind and blind.

Menachem is determined to please Rav Abraham by mastering the sacred texts and commentaries that define his father’s universe. A classroom lesson on the Biblical God’s command that the Patriarch Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac awakens ominous parallels, long before a joyful excursion to the Dead Sea leaves the Adelman family devastated and an outside observer overcome with shock and grief.


2008 San Antonio Jewish Film Festival schedule

All screenings at the San Antonio Museum of Art.

$5 per film; or
(210) 302-6820 for tickets.

La Maison Du Nina (Nina’s Home)
Feb 16, 8 p.m. A tribute to the orphanages set up for young survivors of World War II, the story deals with the problems the children have in adjusting to their new lives and to each other.

Ira and Abby
Feb 17, 5 p.m. Neurotic Jewish man and free-spirited blonde fall in love and get engaged only hours after setting eyes on each other.

Orthodox Stance
Feb 17, 7:30 p.m. Can Dimitriy Salita juggle his identities as a Russian immigrant, professional boxer and religious Jew?

Feb 18, 5 p.m. Beaufort tells the true story of Liraz Liberti and his tropps in the months before Israel pulled out of Lebanon. This is not a story of war, but of retreat, fear and loyalty.

Feb 18, 7:30 p.m. Father and son go on a road trip to find “war babies” his father may have incidentally had and left behind during World War II.

Knowledge is the Beginning
Feb 19, 5 p.m. A controversial film about the West-Eastern Divan orchestra, from its inception to highlights of its 2005 European tour.

Rape of Europa
Feb 19, 7:30 p.m. This film tells the story of the attempted theft and destruction of Europe’s art treasures during the Third Reich and World War II, public resistance and modern restoration efforts.

My Father My Lord
Feb 20, 5 p.m. The story of a devout Rabbi, trying to share his faith with his young son, who finds that faith is put to the test while on a vacation to the Dead Sea.

Dear Mr. Waldman
Feb 20, 7:30 p.m. The story of a family in the 1960s whose lives are overshadowed by the parents’ survival of the Holocaust.

Three Mothers
Feb 21, 5 p.m. A drama about triplet sisters, Rose, Flora and Jasmine, born in Egypt in 1943 and now living in Israel. The recounting of their life stories to Rose’s daughter forces them to face their secrets, lies and ancient family drama.

West Bank Story / Ira & Abby
Feb 21, 7:30 p.m. Screening of a short film titled West Bank Story before a second screening of Ira & Abby. Romeo and Juliet-esque musical comedy about an Israeli soldier and Palestinian fast-food cashier who fall in love amidst the animosity of their families’ dueling falafel stands in the West Bank.

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