This year’s Boston Jewish Film Festival, which runs Nov. 8-20, presents an eclectic mix of American, European and Israeli films. The selections highlighted in this roundup include a poignant love story between two autistic adults, an autobiographical comedy about family and a dramedy exploring the interwoven lives of three Palestinian women.

“Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story”

“Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story”

The Boston Jewish Film Festival’s mid-festival offering, “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” chronicles the outsized life of movie star Hedy Lamarr. Born to Jewish parents in Vienna in 1914, she made her controversial film debut appearing nude in a 1933 Czech film called “Ecstasy.” She went on to act in the 1940s in films alongside Judy Garland and Clark Gable, and became known as the most beautiful woman in the world; with that moniker came a rocky personal life that included six marriages.

But Hedy Lamarr had a secret: By day she was a movie star at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), and by night she was an inventor. At one time, Lamarr was the lover of Howard Hughes, who was impressed with her creativity and curiosity. When he tried to make his planes fly faster, it was Lamarr who realized the wings were too square. She created a new wing shape based on research she had done on birds and fish.

Lamarr’s most notable invention was “frequency hopping,” the basis of a radio system intended to throw Nazi torpedoes off course and allow missiles to go undetected. The U.S. Navy didn’t use her invention during World War II, but the government dusted off Lamarr’s expired patent for use during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today, Lamarr is credited with inventing the precursor to Bluetooth and cell phone technology.

Most of the documentary is based on tapes that journalist Fleming Meeks recorded for his 1990 feature on Lamarr in Forbes magazine. Lamarr’s lightly accented voice drives the film, which also features interviews with Mel Brooks and her friends.

Lamarr died in 2000 at the age of 85, destitute and alone. “Bombshell” is sure to resurrect her reputation as an actress and, perhaps more important, a creative genius whose inventions are still making a difference today.

32 Pills
“32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide”

“32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide”

Hope Litoff, a documentary film editor, switches places to appear in front of the camera in this powerful documentary about losing her sister, Ruth, to suicide. Ruth, the specter who has haunted Litoff since dying in 2008, was a larger-than-life figure. She was a talented photographer and artist—a beautiful woman who took nude self-portraits, as well as large-format photographs of flowers, people on the street and anything else she came across.

In “32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide,” Litoff brings forward Ruth’s sensuality, along with her own obsessive need to catalog everything her sister left behind in storage. She rents an airy loft in Brooklyn, where she unpacks everything from Ruth’s diary entries to her extensive assortment of pills. Ruth was as meticulous and detail-oriented in death as she was in life; after Ruth overdosed, the police told Litoff they had never seen such extensive preparations to die. Ruth left notes and gifts for family members and friends. In Litoff’s note, she added the mysterious postscript, “I know you know.” Although Litoff acknowledges she doesn’t understand what her sister meant, the audience might surmise that Ruth saw Litoff’s struggle with alcohol and drugs as an offshoot of Ruth’s mental illness.

One of the most devastating moments in “32 Pills” is when Litoff drinks a double vodka on camera after 16 years of sobriety. Her marriage is falling apart and she ignores her two small children as she plunges further into grief and alcohol abuse. It feels as if Ruth is directing Litoff’s unraveling from the grave.

After a month in a rehab facility, Litoff reclaims a tentative sobriety and mounts a show of Ruth’s photographs at Bellevue Hospital, where she was frequently hospitalized. Creating a public space for Ruth’s work and herself through this searing documentary is a cathartic, necessary moment for her and the audience.




Sophia Pinsky is a Russian-Jewish American who has a complicated relationship with her family. Rebecca Karpovsky, who plays the leading role in this thinly veiled autobiographical film, chronicles Sophia’s travails with humor and pathos. Its creators described the film as such: “Imagine if Darren Aronofsky made a ‘Juno’ meets ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ hybrid, minus the teen pregnancy and preoccupation with body mutilation.”

Pinsky” opens with the sudden death of Sophia’s beloved grandfather, which is immediately followed by a traumatic breakup with her live-in girlfriend. Sophia returns to her childhood home in Brookline for the first time in over three years to sit shiva with her zany family.

Sophia’s father is a depressive still living with his mother, Marina, who rules the family with an iron fistful of old-world guilt. Marina won’t accept Sophia’s sexual identity and insists on matching her up with Trevor, the son of a long-time friend. It seems that only Sophia and Trevor know they are not meant to be together. Sophia finds solace in a stand-up comedy club that sponsors a weekly open-mic night. On stage, she freely makes fun of everyone, from her family to Vladimir Putin.

The film ends with a lively Shabbat dinner in which Marina reveals she has a new boyfriend—the family’s rabbi. The disclosure and the fact that Marina gave the rabbi her late husband’s pocket watch—an heirloom that was promised to Sophia—causes Sophia to lunge across the table and attack the rabbi. It’s a hilarious moment that also reflects the more serious subjects of family, love and fidelity with which “Pinsky” so touchingly grapples.

In Between
“In Between”

“In Between”

In Between” is the rare film that focuses on the lives of its protagonists instead of Israeli-Palestinian politics. The movie, however, is not an Arab version of “Sex and the City” or “Girls.” Director Mayasaloun Hamoud has made a complicated, intense dramedy, whose apolitical approach enables the audience to get up close and personal with three very different Palestinian women.

Layla and Salma need a third roommate in their Tel Aviv apartment. Layla, a Muslim, is a chain-smoking lawyer during the day and a party girl at night. Salma drifts from one low-paying job to another; pierced and tattooed, she hides her lesbianism from her conservative Christian family. Nour, a hijab-wearing Muslim, needs an apartment near the university where she studies computer science. This unique trio ends up bonding over failed romances and, in Nour’s case, a rape by her authoritarian fiancé. One of the most tender scenes in the movie is when Layla and Salma lovingly wash Nour in the shower after the assault.

Nour never tells her family about the rape. But when her father talks about the new house her fiancé is building for her and their future children, Nour retorts, “Believe me, father, some people live in palaces, but God only knows what their lives are like inside.”

Her observation captures what these women hide from their families in exchange for their freedom. Layla’s filmmaker boyfriend is intimidated by her free spirit and refuses to introduce her to his traditional family. Salma plays with fire and almost gets burned when she brings home her girlfriend, Dunia, a medical resident. And Nour finds the courage and independence to live life on her own terms. All of this makes “In Between” an extraordinary film that highlights how these strong women have found solid footing “in between” tradition and modernity.

“Keep the Change”
“Keep the Change”

“Keep the Change”

You are not likely to see a movie that portrays adult autism with the admirable verisimilitude of “Keep the Change,” the festival’s closing night film. The movie was a hit at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring, taking top honors for best narrative feature and best new narrative director. “Keep the Change” is a tour de force—a narrative that carries off the best aspects of a documentary. The principal characters, David and Sarah, are on the spectrum, as is the Greek chorus of autistic actors that surround them.

The story is based on the life of Brandon Polansky, who plays David. David comes from a wealthy, upper-middle-class family and spends lavishly. His signature phrase “keep the change” is not said out of generosity, but from the fact that math is not in his skillset. Sarah is ebullient, funny and not shy about telling a man she finds him “smokin’ hot and sexy.”

The two meet in a program for autistic adults called Connections, which is run out of Manhattan’s Jewish Community Center. Sarah is a regular, but David has been mandated to attend the summer program for six weeks after telling an off-color joke to a police officer.

To David, the people at Connections are “weirdos.” To drive his point home, he is purposely aloof in his crisp blazer and dark sunglasses. Sarah is an enthusiastic participant, singing off-key, dancing at will and blurting out whatever she is feeling. The two are forced to be together after the group’s facilitator assigns them to work on a project about the Brooklyn Bridge. Their romance takes off from there.

This love affair is both endearing and awkward. The two fumble around in bed as Sarah instructs David. They spend a day at Coney Island, where Sarah is afraid of the sand and David has a panic attack on the merry-go-round, which manifests as a sneeze-like honking noise.

“Keep the Change” dares to go where few Hollywood films will venture. The actors are real, their emotions are genuine and the bond between David and Sarah is as “weird” as it is natural.

Find more information about the Boston Jewish Film Festival here.