Thursday, May 28, 2009

Housework

Yeah, delinquent again.
Well, there's good news for once. Filmmakers Co-op has found a new home, and quite a nice one, too. Check out the Times story here.

And I have a sweet little film to recommend, "Laila's Birthday," which is doing a week at the Museum of Modern Art. My review can be found here.

And an excellent documentary at Film Forum. For some reason this one hasn't made it onto the Jewish Week website, so I've taken the liberty and posting here.

There is a longstanding belief in many Hasidic circles in reincarnation, one that ultimately doesn’t differ all that much from the Buddhist version. And both faith traditions place a significant weight on meditation, the attempt to achieve oneness with the infinite and a regard for the sanctity of life that extends beyond the human.

It is impossible not to think of these similarities while watching Unmistaken Child, a new documentary by Nati Baratz that opens on June 3. After all, here is a quietly charming film about the search for a reincarnated Tibetan Buddhist master written and directed by an Israeli filmmaker. What, you wonder, drew Baratz to this subject? More important, what is there about this story that so clearly moved him to produce such a lovely, understated film?

The story the film tells is one that will be familiar to anyone who saw Bernardo Bertolucci’s underrated Little Buddha. Lama Konchog, a world-renowned Tibetan monk, died in 2001 at the age of 84. His disciple Tenzin Zopa, 28, who had been in service to the older man since he was a boy of seven, is sent off to search for the child who is the reincarnation of his master. Eventually, a small boy is found is deemed the “unmistaken” spiritual descendant of Lama Konchog. Given that the child might be anywhere in the world, Tenzin needs somew help in his search, which ultimately takes him to his own home valley.

Since the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism has been dragged into its own confrontation with modernity and the Dalai Lama has made a surprisingly comfortable peace with modern technology, reminiscent of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson’s embrace of the world of cellphones and televisions as the Lubavitcher rebbe. Much of the charm of Unmistaken Child comes from unlikely juxtapositions like the ancient Tibetan astrology used to narrow the search for the special child, the findings of which are conveyed to Tenzin by videotape. And while he uses a hand-drawn map of his mountaintop monastery and other locations of significance as a starting point for the astrologer, Tenzin draws that map with a large yellow pencil covered with smiley faces.

But what really makes Unmistaken Child a delight to watch is the fundamental decent humanity of its central figure. We watch as Tenzin gradually, tentatively comes to terms with his mission and, more important, the grace with which he develops a rapport with the boy who is finally pinpointed as the reincarnated Lama Konchug. The tenderness and genuine concern he displays is a reminder that at their heart, the best parts of all faith traditions have to do with the simple recognition of the humanity of others and a respect and caring for life. Whatever Nati Baratz’s own religious inclinations, his new film is an elegant and eloquent witness to that fact.

Unmistaken Child opens on Wednesday, June 3 at Film Forum (209 W. Houston St.), and is scheduled to play through June 16. For information, phone 212-727-8110 or go to www.filmforum.org.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Quick Plug for a Short Film

I want to recommend a very pleasant little documentary by Yale Strom, which will be having its premiere in tandem with what promises to be a swinging klezmer concert, in commemoration of an epochal photo taken about a year and a half ago of over 100 klezmer and Yiddish musicians and mavens. The film, "A Great Day on Eldridge Street," owes a bit to Jean Bach's "A Great Day in Harlem," as the title suggests. But it stands on its own as a warm tribute to a once-in-a-lifetime event. My review of it is here, and if you want to go to the event, you can find out more here.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Everything You (Okay, I) Missed at Tribeca

And I missed nearly everything . . . but fear not, the festival folks are running a frequently updated webpage listing the whereabouts of TFF entries that are going on to other venues. I'm mildly surprised by how many of the fest's films already have theatrical openings scheduled. There are so many theaters that need product these days that almost anything can get a release -- except maybe a new Jean-Marie Straub film, but that's not exactly news, is it?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

He's Baaaaaaack!

I thought I was incubating some low-grade infection when I took a brief hiatus from blogging.

Some brief hiatus. Three months. Yeah, well. I wasn't actually sick all that time (thank God), just sort of hibernating.

I can’t even explain the long, long silence, although if you are a regular reader of Jewish Week, you know I’ve been anything but silent. It’s not even that I’ve been so preoccupied with paying work – or the lack thereof – that I couldn’t find the time for the blog(s). I suppose it’s a case of the cobbler’s barefoot offspring. Consider this some kind of an apology. The half-assed kind.

I haven't even seen all that many movies. However, allow me to draw your attention to three recent pieces from Jewish Week: my Tribeca review (yeah, I know, the festival is over, but the movies are still around); my review of Eran Riklis's Lemon Tree, a not uninteresting film distinguished by a fantastic performance by Hiam Abbas; and a review of a new documentary about the Jews of France that is enjoying a theatrical run at the Walter Reade Theatre.

And maybe, just maybe, I can get off my butt and post something of interest here. I have to admit that the temptation to just give up after two-plus years was strong, but the comment that was left on the February 11 posting really made me feel a responsibility to continue. Thank you to everyone who actually reads this blog. I'll try to be a bit more diligent in the coming months.