Boston Jewish Film’s first Israeli Film Festival runs Feb. 7-14 and features nine award-winning films.

“The Other Story”

“The Other Story” (Courtesy image)
“The Other Story” (Courtesy image)

Boston Jewish Film’s opening movie for the Israeli Film Festival is director Avi Nesher’s “The Other Story.” The perfectly synchronized ensemble cast brings family conflict, Israeli style, to the forefront. A sharp, humorous and often intense dramedy, the film explores the underside of the baal teshuva (“master of repentance”) phenomenonsecular Jews who turn to observant Judaism. This is the case for Anat, who has renounced sex, drugs and rock and roll to live a life of piety and Torah. Her rock star boyfriend, Shachar, has had a similar change of heart and sports side curls (peyos) and ritual fringes (tzitzit) as he turns to singing soulful songs about the Torah.

Anat’s newfound devotion and her upcoming marriage to Shachar has upset her secular family. Her mother, Tali, enlists the help of her ex-husband, Yonatan, to derail their daughter’s plans. The main problem with this idea is that Yonatan, a psychologist living in America, has been estranged from Anat for years. He’s also come to Israel to run away from a lawsuit, which may cost him jail time.

Another storyline unfolds during Yonatan’s awkward visit home. His father, Shlomo, a psychiatrist, is counseling a couple fighting each other for custody of their son. The complicating factor in the case is the wife is involved in a pagan cult that the husband insists is endangering their son’s life. To confuse matters further, Shlomo asks Yonatan to help him counsel the troubled couple.

Throughout the film there is the distinct feeling that these trials and tribulations could only happen in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem syndrome appears to be in full force in this engaging film that is loosely based on real events.


“Shoelaces” (Courtesy image)
“Shoelaces” (Courtesy image)

Shoelaces,” Jacob Goldwasser’s sweet drama, explores the relationship between an irascible father, Reuven, and his 30-something son, Gadi, who has special needs. The film presents an emotionally layered narrative with thoughtful portrayals of two men longing for understanding and love.

Reuven and Gadi are thrown together after Gadi’s mother dies in a traffic accident. The audience will come to learn that Gadi’s parents divorced when he was a child, in part because Reuven could not cope with him emotionally. It’s a bumpy start for this father and son. Reuven ends up taking Gadi to work every day in the garage he owns. Gadi immediately takes pride in his work as a car washer and befriends the locals at a neighborhood diner. The film succeeds on a number of levels, most notably as the growing love story between Reuven and Gadi.

One of the film’s complicated subplots is that Reuven will soon die without a kidney transplant. Gadi turns out to be a perfect match, raising ethical questions about whether he understands the ramifications of donating his kidney, even if it is to save his father’s life.

The title of the film refers to one of the benchmarks a social worker uses to gauge Gadi’s disability—can he tie his shoelaces? Even if he can, is he still able to have a hand in making the difficult decision of giving his father a kidney?

Nevo Kimchi gives a pitch-perfect performance as Gadi, whose quest to find love is alternately heartbreaking and optimistic. Reuven makes the transformation from a man who resents having to parent his son to a father who cannot live without that son, literally and symbolically.


“An Israeli Love Story”

“An Israeli Love Story” (Courtesy image)
“An Israeli Love Story” (Courtesy image)

Taking place in the months prior to the Jewish state’s founding, “An Israeli Love Story” follows the relationship between an aspiring actress and a leader of the elite Palmach, one of the forces fighting for Israel’s independence. Margalit Dromi dreams of leaving her parents’ farm and studying drama. That dream becomes a reality when she is accepted to an elite acting studio in Tel Aviv. Eli Ben-Zvi is a kibbutznik dedicated to fighting for Israel’s independence and the son of Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.

Margalit and Eli meet by chance on a bus headed to Haifa. The audience knows from the first scene that these lovers are star-crossed, and their love story unfolds as backstory for the film. It’s love at first sight for Margalit; Eli is otherwise preoccupied with building a nation both through his nascent kibbutz and his smuggling of Holocaust survivors to the shores of Palestine.

Moviegoers witness the blood, sweat and tears it took to create the Jewish state. In the months leading up to Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, relations between Jews and Arabs are fraying. Eli, who speaks fluent Arabic, finds himself arguing with his Arab neighbors over boundaries and dealing with Margalit’s growing unhappiness over moving to a kibbutz, where she has no privacy or cultural outlets.

The movie, based on a true story, is also a play that is still performed in Tel Aviv. Actress and theater director Pnina Gary, who was Eli’s fiancé, first staged “An Israeli Love Story” as a one-woman show in 2008. 

“The Unorthodox”

“The Unorthodox” (Courtesy image)
“The Unorthodox” (Courtesy image)

The Unorthodox,” which closes the festival, is a drama laced with humor about the founding of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Shas Party. Known in English as the Sephardi Torah Guardians, it was founded to represent Israel’s beleaguered Mizrahi Jews.

Fed up with the Ashkenazi stranglehold on public and religious life, Yakov Cohen faces a panel of stern Ashkenazim women who have kicked his daughter out of the religious seminary she attends. No one, including the women, seems to know why the girl is being expelled. But Yakov knows. His daughter’s dark complexion makes her a pariah at the school.

It’s interesting to note the Israeli actor who plays Yakov, Shuli Rand, was born Orthodox and became secular as an actor. Along the way he embraced ultra-Orthodoxy and only accepts roles that reflect his religious values; “The Unorthodox” certainly fits the bill. Yakov is a widower who runs a print shop and decides to run for city council as a member of Shas, a new political party he has founded.

Along with two sidekicks, an inept rabbi and a friend named Yigal, who has turned to Orthodoxy but cannot give up his love of The Bee Gees, Yakov launches his quixotic bid for office. It’s a very rocky road to the Knesset, but this trio of underdogs overcomes threats and obstacles to stand for election as a major national party.

However, there is no happy ending for Yakov, who is deceived by fellow party members, reducing Shas to just another cynical and even corrupt political party. Director Eliran Malka brilliantly braids storytelling with historical fact. What may seem ripped from the headlines is transformed into a dynamic, gripping film that is never preachy.

Find more information about tickets and showtimes for the Boston Israeli Film Festival here.