This week finds the release of two festival favourites opening in Toronto: Lore (opening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox after playing at TIFF last year), Hava Nagila: The Movie (opening at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, fresh off its closing night debut at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival). Here are our looks back at each of them in case you missed them the first time around. Even though we admit, putting them together is a bit weird in light of their somewhat contradictory subject matter.
While not following in the bombast and melodrama of the typical World War II epic, Australian director Cate Shortland (Somersault) delivers a deliberately paced coming of age tale told from the German point of view. It’s a gamble that pays off, even if the film feels subdued by comparison to its contemporaries.
The eldest of five children of former SS soldiers (which includes an infant), Lore (a very talented Saskia Rosendahl) has to help her siblings cross the entirety of Germany to get to their grandmothers house after her parents are arrested. With little to no help during the post war American occupation and not realizing that the entire country hates their ideology, Lore reluctantly begins travelling with a slightly older Jew with hopes of surviving.
Filled with some quiet, but striking imagery and great performances all around from the mostly younger cast, Shortland makes known just how much parents can corrupt their children without resorting to clichés and overwrought sentimentality and manipulation. The biggest attraction has to be Rosendahl, however, as she wonderfully conveys naivety, strength, and the fear of maturing too quickly with grace and the ability to make herself seem vulnerable even when the character isn’t entirely likeable. She and the movie hit mostly all the right notes.
Hava Nagila (The Movie)
If you had told me that the funniest and most interesting film I would have watched from this year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival would have been an examination of the most prevalent Jewish folk song ever created, I probably would have looked at you like you had two heads. Yet, this year’s closing night film is about just that and, well, here we are with probably the biggest delight of the festival.
Roberta Grossman tracks the origins and roots of the biggest Jewish hit to ever get a party started from it’s Eastern Russian origins as a reminder to be happy to better serve God, through more modern day ownership over who actually created it, and through the eyes of some of the most famous performers to ever make a hit out of it (Regina Spektor, Harry Belafonte, Glen Campbell), the film is more than just a simple origin story. It’s a really engrossing pop culture history lesson the likes of which don’t come around very often. It even goes into how the song found its way into the 60s Civil Rights movement and takes a really loving look on how some comedians appropriated the song as a joke shortly thereafter.
And did I mention that more often than not, it’s laugh out loud hilarious? That’s something that’s very hard for any doc – let alone a specifically ethnic one with an extremely narrow focal point – to pull off. It’s a charming blend of the academic and the silly.