One star

The past informs the present in several remarkable films.

FILM HISTORY RUNS back only about 100 years, while Jewish history, of course, has a bit more foundation. In programming the sixth SJFF, however, the unavoidable and definitive historical marker remains the Holocaust—now over five decades removed from present memory. Perhaps it's because the living memory of Holocaust survivors is currently in its dwindling years that so many films are now turning to that era and the post-World War II diaspora of European Jews.


runs March 10-18 at Cinerama

That's not to say that every one of over 30 features and short films being shown during this one-week festival is focused on the Holocaust. Still, it's the inescapable subtext to many works and the direct subject of others. In the warm, funny, but ultimately frustrating documentary Fighter, for instance, two septuagenarian Czechs revisit their old homeland, like The Odd Couple on the road. One survived the camps; the other fled to Britain where he flew for the RAF. Together they bicker about everything—particularly about alternative explanations for past behavior—until their quarrels build to a breaking point.

Another highlight is Voyages, in which the scattered lives of Holocaust survivors crisscross in contemporary France, Poland, and Israel. Most speak Yiddish, an almost forgotten language that tenuously connects them to the old world—and to one another. With documents, identities, and families destroyed by the camps and subsequent Cold War partition of Europe, they try to cope with loss while still hoping to re-establish kinship. On a broken-down tour bus en route to Auschwitz, one woman's husband rebukes her that she's "living with ghosts"—but so is everyone, Voyages implies.

Unquiet memory similarly haunts the heroine of Les Fant� de Louba, the daughter of Holocaust survivors who can't find her place in present-day France. We see her as a child, a teen, and finally a grown woman turned to petty crime—always searching for love and acceptance, to the point of stealing the identity of a prosperous Parisian woman. Here, as in Voyages, yellowed old snapshots signify family happiness that seems irretrievably lost.

History's also the subject of IstvᮠSzab�overlong three-hour epic Sunshine, which ran here last June. In it, Ralph Fiennes forcefully portrays the men in three successive generations of a Budapest family vainly trying to gain acceptance in biased Hungarian society.

WWII and its aftermath are vividly real in Evgueni Khaldei: Photographer Under Stalin, about the former USSR's most famous war photographer (he framed the soldier raising the hammer and sickle over the burning Reichstag). Among other short films, NYC lovers familiar with the Village Voice cartoon Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer will enjoy the portrait of its wry creator, Ben Katchor, in The Pleasures of Urban Decay.

AMONG OTHER TITLES previewed for the fest, Seattle Weekly Senior Editor Mark D. Fefer also makes the following recommendations: Leibe Perla is a strange and beautiful short documentary about the friendship between two "little people," one German, the other, Perla, an Israeli Holocaust survivor who's the last remaining member of a Hungarian dwarf performance troupe (and still a crusty old ham decades later). She and company were filmed by the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele; the search for this footage becomes a grim but fascinating research project that takes the unlikely pair across Europe. (Perla herself is less "dear" than hardened, like many Holocaust survivors.) This is a dark, odd, and unsentimental film that stays with you.

One Day Crossing is an Oscar-nominated black-and-white short made by Joan Stein as part of her master's thesis at Columbia. It's a startling little fable that carries the power of a two-hour feature. The less said, the better, but the film is carried by Erika Maroszan, who plays a beautiful young mother in 1944 Hungary who may or may not find a chance to rise above the evil surrounding her.

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