From following an aging Argentinian Holocaust survivor on a whirlwind trip to Warsaw, to viewing a newly digitized restoration with updated subtitles of the classic Yiddish film “The Dybbuk,” the National Center for Jewish Film’s 21st Annual Film Festival spans the globe. The festival, which runs May 2-13, opens with the New England premiere of the Israeli film “The Museum,” a look behind the scenes of Israel’s national treasure, The Israel Museum. 

“The Museum”

“The Museum”
“The Museum” (Photo: Ziv Berkovitz)

The National Center for Jewish Film’s annual festival opens with “The Museum,” an Israeli film that conveys the nation’s culture and history. The museum of the title is Israel’s national treasure, The Israel Museum. The film’s inventiveness lies in the supposition that the voices of the museum’s employees and its visitors are an integral part of the experience.

This film comes to Boston just in time to share in the celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary. Israel’s lifeblood has always been about its people, and to that end “The Museum” introduces its audience to an art restoration expert who immigrated to Israel from Azerbaijan. In a parallel life, the restorer is also an accomplished musician who conducts a choir. The museum guard who watches over the Shrine of the Book is a cantor who thanks God every day for the opportunity to be in close proximity to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Israel’s future is on display as director Ran Tal follows a group of new army recruits whose docent is an army officer bent on giving her cadets a spirited version of modern Israeli history. Some viewers may see her lectures as blurring the line between ideology and actual Jewish history. But her voice, insistent as it is, is also integral to Israel’s narrative.

In another scene that touches upon Israel’s future, Jewish and Arab elementary-school children are in a workshop at the museum. The drawing lesson is in both Hebrew and Arabic, and at one point a girl wants to include the Israeli and Palestinian flags in her painting. Without the actual context of the film, the moment may sound sentimental, but in “The Museum” it is a fitting tribute to the role The Israel Museum plays in Israel’s ongoing history.

The Israel Museum’s longtime director, James Snyder, shares the museum’s evolution under his 20-year tenure. Snyder also reflects on his trajectory as a “nerdy” Jewish boy in central Pennsylvania, where he and his siblings were the only Jews in their school, to his parents’ first trip to Israel to see the reach of his work in Israel and beyond.


“The Cakemaker”

“The Cakemaker”
“The Cakemaker” (Courtesy photo)

Thomas is a baker extraordinaire, an impresario with dough, who quietly plies his trade in a small café in Berlin. One day Oren, an Israeli who visits Berlin regularly on business, walks into the café, and the physical and emotional connection between the two men is instant and passionate. The two become lovers, but their affair is not without complications. Oren has a wife and young son in Jerusalem, and he intends to stay married. And then just as spontaneous as their love affair began, Oren stops coming to Berlin.

Thomas learns that Oren has died in a car accident in Jerusalem and immediately buys a one-way ticket to his dead lover’s hometown. Perhaps too coincidently, Oren’s widow, Anat, owns a café, which she is struggling to keep open. Thomas frequents the café until he manages to talk his way into washing dishes for Anat. Soon enough, his baking talent becomes apparent and his pastries rescue Anat’s business. In the process, Thomas and Anat begin a complicated affair, which touches on sexual fluidity and the complexity of physical and emotional love.

The Cakemaker” is a multi-layered story, one that takes on a variety of shapes and flavors like Thomas’s baked goods. Food not only bridges cultural and psychological divides, it adds a new perspective to the adage that food is indeed the stuff of love.

“The Last Suit”

“Last Suit”
“The Last Suit” (Courtesy photo)

Abraham Burzstein, an 88-year-old tailor in Buenos Aires, is about to have his life upended. The octogenarian and Holocaust survivor has had his house sold out from under him and is about to check in to a retirement home at the insistence of his daughters. His daughters are even suggesting that he has the leg he injured escaping from a Nazi death camp finally amputated. But Abraham, who is a cantankerous and stubborn man, is having none of it. Just hours before he is scheduled to leave behind 50 years of memories he has accumulated in his home, he boards a plane for Madrid with a suitcase and suit bag to begin the long journey to his birthplace, Poland.

But Abraham’s memories from his sepia boyhood in 1930s Poland ultimately grip him. The film opens with a party in Poland in which a klezmer band plays a vigorous rendition of “Hava Nagila.” Abraham’s little sister is a gifted storyteller, and she has the partygoers engrossed in one of her stories. The scene quickly shifts to modern-day Buenos Aires, where Abraham poses with his great-grandchildren for a photo intended to be displayed in his new home.

What defines home is the powerful subtext of this film. “The Last Suit” is also an innovative version of the “buddy film.” In this case, the buddy role is a revolving cast of characters. As with any journey, there is a certain amount of serendipity that happens along the way. In Madrid, where Abraham is briefly reunited with his estranged daughter, the woman behind the hotel desk befriends him. While changing trains in Paris, he meets Ingrid, a young German anthropologist, who acts as an angel of sorts to the ailing Abraham. She changes his mind about modern-day Germans and offers a sweet alternative in helping him to avoid actually stepping on German soil during one of his train connections.

The story continues to take even more twists and turns once Abraham reaches Warsaw. And like Abraham, this highly original Holocaust-themed film reveals its ultimate destination with wit and aplomb.

Find more information and show times for the National Center for Jewish Film’s 21st Annual Film Festival here.