Check Out This Brief But Pithy Festival

Just a brief note, but with more to follow, on the New York Polish Film Festival, which is celebrating its third year of existence. A very interesting collection of recent Polish films, including Agnieszka Holland's Copying Beethoven and a new film from Krzysztof Zanussi. The festival is playing all over town. You can find information on the screening schedule and such at their website. I'll have more to say about some of the specific films shortly.

Also, you should definitely try to catch up with 9 Star Hotel when it opens at Film Forum on May 23. I reviewed it in Jewish Week during Tribeca and said this, comparing it to the new Simon Wiesenthal bio-documentary by Richard Trank (also quite good and opening on May 23):

Ido Haar, director of 9 Star Hotel, is equally deft, although he employs a different method and focus. Where Trank uses interviews and historical footage, Haar opts for cinema verite, with his small crew living with its subjects, a group of young Palestinian construction workers, illegally in Israel in order to find jobs, living rough on the outskirts of Modi’in, where they are building high-rise apartment complexes. Trank traces the life of a single man over 96 years; Haar shows us a dozen men over a period of a few months. But both tell us a distressing story of the cruelties that men inflict on one another.

Haar opens his film with a series of beautiful pastoral images — pine-covered hills, a rushing creek, sheep being herded — then shatters this picture with the sounds of construction crews at work. We watch as a dozen or so young men with backpacks and bedrolls cross this seemingly rural landscape, then dash across a busy highway. Eventually they will land at a remarkable makeshift cabin built from packing crates and other detritus, with electric light improvised from a handful of car batteries and furniture rescued from the trash. This is where the film’s protagonists live when they are not on construction sites working.

The film gives an unsparing but sympathetic portrait of these men, for the most part a bunch of likeable, hard-working guys whose primary desire is to make enough money to go home to the Occupied Territories to help their families, then to sneak back in to do it again. Their lives are punctuated by police raids at the work site and frantic runs through the woods to evade immigration authorities. When one of the main figures in the film collapses with a high fever, his mates do not dare call an ambulance, for fear of attracting police interest.

When they are not working, they sit and talk about the things that working-class men have always talked about: money, work, their family lives, their prospects for the future. Haar punctuates the film with shots of the changing sky over Modi’in, the light reflected off puddles of rain or glimmering in a trough filled with wet cement. He has a fascination with textures and the way they catch the light that gives the film a certain furtive beauty, much like its opening shots. As a result 9 Star Hotel is a film that fits comfortably on the shelf of great recent documentaries like The Gleaners and I, Agnes Varda’s reflection on the huge amounts of waste in modern society, or In the Pit, Juan Rulfo’s paean to the all-too-expendable workers building Mexico City’s new highway in the sky. It is both a work of art and a fine piece of reportage from the unseen underside of the modern world.

I interviewed Haar a few days ago and that interview will appear in Jewish Week on the 18th. He's an engaging and intelligent young man (hey, he's 33 and that's twenty years younger than me, so he's a young man by my ocunt), and has some interesting observations of the state of Israel as the separation wall is completed.