JxJ Film Festival: Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal

This is a funny, charming, and quite educational documentary created by (and starring) two pals since high school of Ashkenazi heritage, Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman. They are (obviously) foodies who grew up in the ‘burbs of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Eli and Jamie are both self-described “liberal Jews” and part of a comedy troupe (YidLife Crisis); they perform in Yiddish. Some of you (theater fans) may know re: the Yiddish-language theaters of NYC; these also existed in post-WWII Montreal. I noticed that this film drew in more of a younger audience (20s-30s) than some of the other films in the festival.

Eli and Jamie (who have great chemistry and joke around often) are joined on their journey by a young historian (Zev Moses) from the Museum of Jewish Culture. They start by going to a family-owned bagel restaurant (Fairmount) that has been around for 100 yrs. It’s in a neighborhood that was the center of Jewish life in the 1910s-1960s. The Russian Jews arrived first (pre-WWII); they got the sense that “something bad could happen” if they didn’t emigrate. The current owner explains that the first bagels were shaped like horseshoes, then they became a full circle (representing the circle of life). Bagels were all the same (made w/ sesame seed on top), until one day, a customer recommended poppy seeds.

For a “light lunch,” they head to a small lunch restaurant (Wolensky’s) that still looks like it did in the 1940s. It’s a family business that serves simple sandwiches w/ bologna and salami. Many factories (w/ many newly arrived immigrant workers) were situated in this area, so places to grab a quick lunch were in demand. Next, they head to another restaurant for huge corned beef sandwiches! They talk to historians along the way, including non-Jews and a young Hasidic woman. In Montreal, Jews historically faced many hardships, including not speaking English (or French), being discriminated against (even in college admissions and while working as doctors), and being excluded from certain neighborhoods and professions.

For dinner (and dessert), Eli and Jamie head to the ‘burbs to have dinner w/ a large family of Sephardic Jews and some of their close friends. We get to know a bit about the Sephardic heritage; these individuals have parents who came from Morocco and Iraq. In the ’60s and ’70s, Sephardic and Askenazi Jews weren’t always on friendly terms; the earlier arrivals looked down on the newer ones at times. The food at this gathering looks amazing! There is a dish w/ stewed tomatoes (along w/ several other stews), couscous w/ different roasted vegetables, and desserts (some of which are also eaten by Muslims during Ramadan). Check out this site to learn more re: this film: https://www.yidlifecrisis.com/chewdaism-watch

Chewdaism will continue to play at film festivals, and the filmmakers have partnered with the tourist board Tourisme Montréal, which will use it to lure visitors to the city. They’re hoping for a TV release, possibly on PBS, down the line. Jewish Journal (April 24, 2019)

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JxJ Film Festival (May 8-26, 2019): Working Woman

This is a timely movie (w/ high production values) from Israel; it is in Hebrew, English, and French (w/ subtitles). The protagonist, Orna, is a 30ish wife/mother of 3 in Jerusalem who wants to help her family get ahead. Her husband, a chef, opened his own restaurant a few months ago; unfortunately, customers are few and far between. There is also bureaucracy holding up a license he needs. We learn that Orna just quit her job at a childcare center (where her mother has been working for 20+ years) to pursue a job in real estate. The hours aren’t regular (9AM-5PM), but she has the potential to make more money and learn new skills from her boss, a successful/well-connected older man- Benny.

Orna quickly takes to her role as Benny’s personal assistant; she is a fast learner and very dedicated. Benny comments on Orna’s hair and clothes (which he thinks are too conservative); she thinks nothing much of it, and goes shopping to fit into her new work environment. Her husband has to take on more domestic responsibilities, such as bathing and feeding the kids. After a few months, while working late, Benny suddenly kisses Orna; she is SO shocked that she freezes (doing nothing). He apologizes right away, then gives her more high-profile work. In few more months, Orna is promoted by Benny to sales, where she continues to shine (selling several units of a luxury condo building). In pursuit of some wealthy older clients (who live in Paris), Benny plans a trip to the city… w/ Orna.

[1] The movie is very well directed and the actors have all done a great job! I just hope that in the real world women will voice whatever happens to them (even if it is a very small deal) to their loved ones.

[2] Director Aviad is right on here, presenting a realistic look at a plausable situation.

-Excerpts from IMDB review

This is a slice-of-life film where we follow the POV of the protagonist (Orna). She is warm when interacting w/ her family, but composed and all-business in her attitude at work (which is male-dominated). In truth, Orna could be you (or a gal pal or female relative); in the #MeToo era, stories like this need to be told. Benny, who comes off as highly confident and somewhat gruff, yet also helpful to Orna (and her husband), is the predatory antagonist. Orna (like many women) never saw him as a threat, though there are warning signs throughout the story. If you’re in the DC metro area, check out this site for more info: https://www.jxjdc.org/films/ (I volunteer at this event).

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 2 (“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”)

WARNING: This post is dark and full of spoilers.

Let’s face it, Jon and Dany are one of the MOST boring couples in GoT (at least on the TV show; I haven’t read the books). There is no chemistry between the actors, thought I heard they were close friends in real life. One of my fave pairs (NOT a typically romantic couple) are Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwedolyn Christie); they get some meaty scenes in this ep- YAY! Jaime has to face Dany, Jon, and Sansa after riding into Winterfell; of course, Cersei has NOT sent her army. As MANY critics (and dedicated viewers) have commented, Jaime and Cersei are “officially broken up” after being emotionally (and ethically) distanced from each other for quite some time. Jaime is NOT apologetic in front of his (would be) allies, so Brienne (in a rare move), walks over to his side and offers her support. I think Sansa, who trusts Brienne w/ her life, is quite moved by her words and Jaime’s little trial ends.

Later in the ep, in the fireside chat scene, several characters chat, share jokes, and Pod sings (VERY well). Tormund has some funny lines here; I’m slowly beginning to like his character. He also comments that it’s stupid that woman can’t be knights in this society; he has a big crush on Brienne, we know from a few previous eps. Jaime decides to forget tradition in the case of Brienne, since ANY knight can make another knight. Of all the knights (men) in this show, Brienne is the MOST honorable. The big and unguarded smile (rare for this show) after the brief ceremony on Brienne’s face is SO wonderful!

The moment was also an acknowledgment of the ludicrousness of the chivalric traditions of Westeros, which had elevated him to godlike status while largely ignoring or marginalizing her. Jaime, even in his diminished state, is a legend walking into the halls of Winterfell… In knighting Brienne, he not only acknowledged his obvious love for her, but also nodded at a potentially bright future if everyone can make it through this darkest night. -David Sims (Vulture)

MANY people were surprised (OK, some were shocked) by Arya and Gendry’s love scene! Sure, we watched Maisie Williams grow up on this show, BUT she’s now 22 y.o. (her costar Joe Dempsie is 32 y.o.) It wasn’t THAT unexpected (IMO); they have a history, are close friends, and are both getting prepped for the biggest battle of their lives. When they were on the road MANY seasons ago, Arya said: “I could be your family.” He commented: “You wouldn’t be my family. You’d be milady” (assuming that he would serve the Starks). Now, he knows he’s the bastard son of Robert Baratheon, and a valuable player in this battle. Gendry created MANY daggers out of dragonglass, a new weapon for The Hound, and (eventually) a new spear for Arya. They had some cute/awkward moments where you saw their chemistry. Let these young people be happy before they face death!

From where Arya’s standing, she’s an older teenager whose formative years have been spent balanced on the knife’s edge of survival. Her entire purpose has been to avenge her family’s deaths; she knows death intimately, and she is more than capable of caring for herself. But Arya has had no time to behave like a teenager. -Kathryn VanArendonk (Vulture)

Magic Town (1947) starring James Stewart & Jane Wyman

Very Frank Capra-like (not surprisingly since screenwriter Robert Riskin collaborated with Capra numerous times)…

If you liked James Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Philadelphia Story,” this one’s for you.

This is one of those “just sit back and enjoy” pictures that isn’t particularly deep, but that is charming and great fun to watch.

…this film has lots of treasures in the performances, dialogue, physical comedy and rich diversity home spun Americana characters. I recommend this to all fans of the Capra-Riskin genre.

This movie is classic Jimmy Stewart. He is terrific, showing his ability to seamlessly mix comedy with drama.

Interestingly, the town people… were asked whether they thought a woman could function satisfactorily as president. 79% responded “yes.” This was considered an outrageous result.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

In this William Wyler directed film, Jimmy Stewart plays Lawrence “Rip” Smith, an NYC opinion pollster in search of a small town whose opinions reflect those of the U.S. as a whole. When he finds out that Grandview is such a place, he seizes his opportunity to make money (since his office is failing), and heads off to this town. Rip interrupts a conference held by the mayor and convinces him and his committee not to change the town. He’s smooth-talker putting on a facade; he appears boyish, drawling, folksy, and idealistic- the usual Stewart character.

Rip (along w/ Donald Meek and Ned Sparks- veteran character actors) poses as an insurance agent. He even starts coaching the basketball team at the H.S. where his old war buddy teaches. Rip also takes an interest in the newspaper editor, Mary Peterman (Jane Wyman), who is standoffish at first. After her father died, she wanted to keep his legacy going by building a new high school and civic center (yet was rebuffed by the town council).

In one funny scene in a classroom, Rip loudly recites Charge of the Light Brigade while Mary (more subdued) recites Hiawatha. An elderly janitor sees them and begins quoting Romeo’s balcony scene from Shakespeare. Gary Fishgall, who wrote a biography of Stewart, pointed out that the actor decided to use exaggerated facial expressions and pieces of slapstick (I liked when he tripped going up some stairs while saying “I can be tough.”) One viewer commented that Stewart might’ve been influenced by the Three Stooges; he says “Wise guy, huh?” and “What kind of a lamebrain do you think I am?”

Some of Riskin’s films were playing at AFI in April, but I discovered this film on YouTube. I thought Stewart and Wyman had very sweet and playful chemistry; they made a cute couple. Though Stewart’s character isn’t always 100% honest, you can’t help but like him (b/c he’s a decent man at heart).

Here is the full movie: