The 2016 Toronto Jewish Film Festival runs from May 5 to 15, and you’d be forgiven for claiming you don’t have enough time to research every one of the dozens of features and shorts being screened.
But if the festival’s spot-on branding is any indication (Have a beard? “Jewish enough”), the comedy offerings should fill up nicely. For those tired of equating Jewish cinema with Holocaust documentaries and nebbish romantic leads, read on.
(A disclaimer apology to the majority of Canadians who undoubtedly – and justifiably – resent the propagation of Toronto-centric media, but look: we’ve got a pretty big Jewish film festival here, and there are funny-looking movies worth checking out.)
How to Win Enemies (May 7, 9 p.m.; May 11, 6:30 p.m.)
Tackling the distance between fiction and reality is well-trodden territory. (Can washed-up sci-fi actors survive a real-life galaxy quest? Is Pleasantville really all that pleasant?) But in Gabriel Lichtmann’s latest feature, the stakes are more personal: Lucas, a young, handsome lawyer withdraws enough cash to buy a house, only to find it missing the morning after a one-night stand.
An Argentine entry with European style, Lichtmann’s feature is undeniably Jewish (there’s a wedding, chupah and all), but doesn’t appear to bank on that theme for jokes. Instead, Lucas’ main trait is being a mystery-novel fan, and the film mines his trove of suspense fiction for clues as to how to solve his own case. Complete with funky jazz and deadpan punchlines, this Jewish Nine Queens-style heist comedy should be one of the more sophisticated films on the 2016 roster.
That Daughter’s Crazy (May 11, 8:30 p.m.)
Of all the famous comics from the 1960s and ’70s to influence Jewish culture, Richard Pryor does not come to mind. Yet, here is his daughter, Rain Pryor, half-Jewish on her mother’s side, who’s been performing a one-woman show called Fried Chicken and Latkes about her distinct upbringing – neither Jewish nor black enough to fit into either community. That Daughter’s Crazy isn’t strictly a comedy – the late Pryor’s notoriously complicated life included civil disobedience and seven marriages – but Rain seems as vibrantly extroverted as her father was.
The difficult, long-standing relationship between the black and Jewish communities is something of a theme this year at the TJFF (among the selections: Black Jews, about Cameroon’s Jewish community; Doing Jewish: A Story From Ghana, which seems quietly heartbreaking; the coming-of-age Papa Was Not A Rolling Stone; and A Demonstration in the White City, following Eritrean and Sudanese refugees in Israel). That Daughter’s Crazy complements this narrative well, detailing the history of those who grew up in the 20th century between two persecuted minorities, either expected to pick sides or forced to forge a new identity between both.
Atomic Falafel (May 12, 9 p.m.)
It’s astonishing that no filmmakers have yet made an Israeli version of Dr. Strangelove. The threat of global nuclear annihilation could hardly be positioned more acutely than in the Middle East –something that Tel Aviv-based director Dror Shaul clearly understood when making this film.
But just in case the premise was too sensitive, he named his opus Atomic Falafel, ensuring that nobody could possibly mistake this movie for anything but slapstick comedy. I’ll confess I’m not 100 per cent sure what the whole thing’s about – the trailer’s a hodgepodge of Israel Defence Forces officers ripped from Full Metal Jacket, awkward teenage sexuality, a falafel truck, the Ayatollah, adult circumcision and nuclear war rooms, all wrapped up in Hebrew, English and Farsi. At only 80 minutes, it’ll be impressive to see it all pulled off.