I realized this past weekend that I have never before been in a Jewish synagogue. In fact, I had never really been in any houses of worship belonging to any faith besides Christianity. Thus, it was with great interest that I entered the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue this past Saturday for the opening of the 14th annual Jewish Film Festival.
Two films were slated for the evening: a short, “The Constant Fire,” and the feature-length “The Human Resources Manager.” My friend and I filed in among the largely yarmulke-clad crowd (noting that we seemed to be the youngest attendees by about twenty years – no matter, but interesting) and took our seats.
“The Constant Fire” is a ten-minute film about a married couple – he is an American-born Jew, and she is Israeli – who have a disagreement about whether to leave their home in Haifa at the start of the Lebanon War in 2006. The filmmaker, Stuart Weinstock, was in attendance and hosted a brief Q&A session following the films.
Weinstock, who is American, was in his second year of film school during the Lebanon War, and the conflict moved him to make a film about it. There were several complications: finding bi-lingual actors, for instance. In fact, one of the four actors in the film pulled out and production was put on hold for several months until a replacement could be found. Eventually, though, the film was completed and Saturday’s screening was, as he said, “the world premiere.”
“The Human Resources Manager” (original Hebrew title: “שליחותו של הממונה על משאבי אנוש”) swept the Israeli Academy Awards in 2010, winning awards for sound, screenwriting, acting, directing, and best film. (It was Israel’s official entry for Best Foreign Film for last year’s Academy Awards, but it did not receive a nomination.) In the film, a bakery’s HR manager is required to transport the remains of a woman killed in a suicide bombing to her home in Romania. It is purely for PR purposes – the reasoning behind it is a bit complicated – but as he journeys with his various companions (including an annoying reporter, the petulant adolescent son of the deceased, and the Romanian vice-consul) he begins to find meaning in his task
The film is a Kafkaesque and, at times, comedic meditation on life, death, and family. The manager hits one obstacle after another and the task becomes ever more complicated as he strives to finish the job so he can return home in time for his daughter’s school trip. It is a brilliantly moving story; the film is available for instant viewing on Netflix, and watching is recommended.
The festival continues for the next couple of weeks with films screening at Village 8, The Temple, and Adath Jeshurun Synagogue. Complete film listings and ticket information can be found at the film festival’s website.