The nineteenth Israel Film Festival lets us see once again how diverse the troubled land in that turbulent sea is -- physically, politically, and philosophically. A classic across-the-divide love story in A Trumpet in the Wadi follows the impossible relationship of a Russian immigrant and an Arab woman; in Miss Entebbe the Arab protagonist is a boy who is kidnapped by thirteen-year-old girls in response to the 1976 Entebbe, Uganda hijacking of an Israeli airline; The Return from India delves into infidelity and reincarnation on a trip to the subcontinent. There are also programs featuring films from women directors (one reviewed below), documentaries (one reviewed below), and works of young Israeli filmmakers. The festival kicks off with a gala tonight at 7:00 and runs until November 6 at the Sunrise Intracoastal Cinema, 3701 NE 163rd St., North Miami. Tickets cost $8, $6.50 for matinees; call 877-966-5566.
Catching the Death Boat
Sometimes short can be very sweet. All I've Got, a new film from Keren Margalit, may be only 68 minutes long but it packs in more plot twists and emotional impact than most features. The story starts at the scene of a horrific automobile accident in 1955. Two battered young survivors lie trapped in an upended wreck. Tamara is able to speak to a rescuer, but her boyfriend Uri dies from his injuries. Suddenly it's 50 years later and Tamara, now 75 and dead, is about to board a ship bound for the afterlife. The perky attendant tells Tamara that she should be boarding the Ship of the Old for those who die of old age, but for some odd reason, Tamara is scheduled to board the Ship of the Young instead, which carries away those who died prematurely, by suicide or accident, war or disease.
Israel Film Festival
Seeking to resolve the mixup, Old Tamara boards the Ship of the Young and seeks out its captain, Victor, who explains the deal. Tamara has been brought aboard on purpose because her long-dead love Uri is aboard, working as a deck hand while awaiting Tamara for half a century. Victor has allowed Uri to stay onboard so that when Tamara finally arrives, she can make a fateful decision: She can choose to spend eternity with Uri. If she does so, she returns to her youthful self but will lose all memory of her husband David and their children. If she chooses to keep her memories, she will remain old and never see Uri, the love of her life, again.
Wooed by young Uri, Old Tamara decides to stay with him and is transformed back to her younger self. She reunites with Uri, their love as passionate as it was long ago. But Tamara's bliss is complicated by the sudden arrival of her husband David, who, it turns out, was the rescuer that saved her from the wreck in which Uri died. David, filled with loneliness after the death of his wife, has killed himself in hopes of being with her again. As a suicide, he is sent to the Ship of the Young, where he is heartbroken to find Young Tamara with Uri and without any memory of her marriage. But David begins to woo her again; slowly Tamara comes to realize she has conflicting feelings for both men, and she must make a final choice before the ship reaches the afterworld.
The exploration of life's meaning and the choices one must make have been the subject of any number of films, but many stumble when they are long on philosophy and short on entertainment. All I've Got is a welcome exception. The film offers a mythic, haunting quality; a quick, narrative pace; and considerable humor and pathos. Director Margalit slips in some subtle touches: Tamara, who seems to be guided more by chance than choice, meets Uri again in the ship's casino; when Uri persuades Tamara to join him in the ship pool, an onboard dance troupe performs the can-can from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld.
The cast is very strong, with Lea Szlangar and Sylwia Trzesniowska as the two versions of Tamara, and Amit Drori and Nathan Cogan as the men in her life (and afterlife). Cinematographer Yoram Millo's camerawork offers considerable visual appeal despite the low-budget restraints. Originally shot for television in 16mm, All I've Got is in Hebrew with English subtitles.-- Ronald Mangravite
All I've Got screens at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 5, and at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 6.
Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star
Modern culture has an enduring fascination with self-destructive rock stars, and many a documentary has centered on show-biz flameouts. The latest is Mike Brant: Laisse-Moi T'Aimer, about an Israeli who became the biggest singing sensation in France before his untimely death at the age of 28. Centering on extensive archival performance footage and interviews with the star's family and friends, this feature-length documentary offers plenty of biographical detail, but little insight into Brant's enigmatic, troubled personality.
Moishe Brand was born in Cyprus in 1947, the second son of Holocaust survivors. He grew up in poverty in Haifa, but found fame and fortune as a singer. Brand had a strong, if untrained, voice, movie-star looks, and maybe most important, a determination to make it as an American-style pop star. He failed to do so in Tel Aviv, but found a gig working a nightclub in Tehran. From there he decided to try Paris, where he found a string of clever, manipulative managers. He changed his name to the more commercial Mike Brant, gained vocal polish and stage presence, and his career took off. He rapidly rose to the top of the charts with a string of romantic ballads. Money, fame, and mobs of adoring female fans quickly came his way.
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But Brant's fame only made him anxious and isolated. He became fearful of losing his high status, simultaneously longing for his roots. When the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, Brant returned to Israel to entertain the troops, often deliberately going to dangerous front-line positions. The war left him feeling increasingly edgy and unfocused as he struggled to reconcile his French superstar persona with his humble Israeli past. The changing music scene, which was moving into the glitzy disco era, also rattled him. His Tom Jones-style balladeering no longer sold well, but his disco-style tunes lacked much individuality. The pressures of stardom finally overwhelmed him when he interrupted a sold-out concert and walked off the stage, unable to continue. Soon after, he entered a psychiatric clinic, but left after less than two weeks' treatment. Visiting his agent's hotel suite in Geneva, the star made a failed suicide plunge, leaving him injured but still alive. After returning to Paris, Brant died in 1975 in another fall from a balcony.
Erez Laufer's long documentary tries to frame this story by setting up Brant's death as a mystery, but his troubled mental history is so evident, it's hard to imagine his death as anything but suicide. Overall Laufer's approach to the story is heavy on extensive musical interludes and very light on character insight. Interviews with Brant's hangers-on make for ghoulish humor -- some of them, like his managers or his ex-girlfriend, come off as downright bizarre.
But the obvious ironies in Brant's life are not examined: He claims repeatedly to be unconcerned with his good looks, yet the archival footage catches him constantly obsessing over his hairdo and his clothes. His serial romances, his isolation, his obsessions with fame, all point to a chronic narcissism. And that neatly mirrors the narcissistic pop culture that promoted him: He's its poster boy and its victim. But Laufer's approach skims these issues, favoring instead extensive footage of Brant's concert performances. What might have been a taut psychological portrait turns into a less-than-engaging retrospective. Brant fans -- and there must be quite a few given his immense popularity -- may get real satisfaction from this documentary, but others less familiar (or less thrilled) with Brant may find the film's 100-minute running time overlong for its rather typical life story. Moishe Brand set out to become an American-style pop idol, and he succeeded: He got fame, fortune, drugs, sex, and a sorry -- if typical -- end.-- Ronald Mangravite
Mike Brant: Laisse-Moi T'aimer screens at 9:45 p.m. on Tuesday, November 4.