In “Working Woman,” one of the offerings of this year’s Edward S. Finkelstein Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival, Orna, a mother of three, returns to the workplace to help support her family when her husband’s new restaurant is struggling. She gets a job with Benny, a former army superior who is now a successful real estate developer.
Under his mentorship, the talented Orna rapidly rises through the ranks. But there’s a price of success—trying to balance work and home demands. Even more insidious is the escalating sexual harassment from her boss.
Released in 2018, the Israeli film might have been ripped from today’s headlines. But Director Michal Aviad said that a woman whom she met more than a decade ago, who was similarly harassed, inspired her.
“Most of the time, the harassment was a constant unspoken threat. This woman was dependent on the job and believed she could handle it,” said Aviad. “Orna wants the job, and needs it. Benny doesn’t appear to Orna or to us as a plain villain. He’s generous and appreciates her work. It is confusing, but reality is full of complex villains.”
“The Last Suit,” a 2017 Argentinian film written and directed by Pablo Solarz, sets a very different tone.
At 88, Abraham Bursztein seems to be at the mercy of his grown children. They’ve sold his Buenos Aires residence, prepared his move to a retirement home, and disagree about how to handle his fading health. But Abraham, a curmudgeonly Holocaust survivor who made a successful life in a foreign land, has his own ideas. He empties his bank account, buys a one-way ticket to Poland, and sets out to fulfill a promise made 70 years earlier—to find the man who restored him to life after the horrors of the war.
“But I was not interested in an unfolding a series of events,” Solarz said. “I wanted people to feel the same as the characters—to feel the importance of telling one’s story to ‘die in peace.’”
Along the way, in a comic, yet poignant, late-in-life road movie, Abraham experiences the kindness of strangers. Viewers are unlikely to emerge dry-eyed at the movie’s end.
“This year’s slate [of films] is quite eclectic, and we hope that our increasingly diverse audience is well met, with pictures that highlight World War II and the Holocaust, the #MeToo movement, LGBT issues, the Israeli/Palestinian divide, and even the 2017 World Baseball Classic,” said Julie Sherman, executive director of the film festival.
“The Tobacconist,” a German drama by Nikolaus Leytner based on the best-selling novel, is a coming-of-age story of innocent, 17-year-old Franz, who arrives in Vienna shortly before Hitler’s annexation of Austria. As apprentice to Otto, a tobacconist, Franz becomes enamored of regular customer Sigmund Freud, whom he consults about his infatuation with unattainable goddess Anezka.
“The Tobacconist” is the subject of the annual “Book Club Film and Breakfast” event.
Several films explore facets of Israeli life.
In the comedy-drama, “The Unorthodox,” (by Eliran Malka), a Sephardic printer who has grown tired of feeling like a second-class citizen in an Ashkenazi-dominated country takes on the establishment in quintessential underdog fashion.
“Inside the Mossad,” a documentary by Duki Dror, explores the inner workings, achievements and moral dilemmas of the foreign intelligence organization.
One of the two LGBT-themed Israeli feature films is “Family in Transition,” about a long-married man who comes out as transgendered.
From Mexico comes “Leona,” directed by Isaac Cherem. Ariela, a young Jewish woman in Mexico City, is in no hurry to marry, yet she falls in love with a man guaranteed to meet with her family’s disapproval—in a close-knit community with one of the world’s lowest rates of assimilation.
Cherem will conduct a Q&A about his directorial-debut movie.
Films also come from many European countries, Canada and even South Korea.
Closing the festival is “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast,” an American documentary by Danny Gold, which explores the secret to living into your 90s—and loving every minute of it. Writer-comedian Carl Reiner tracks down fellow nonagenarians—and a few others over 100—who are living happy, rewarding lives in their twilight years. Among them are comic actors Betty White and Dick Van Dyke.
Most films will be shown at the Midtown Cinema, though the festival will open at the PA State Museum and close at the Harrisburg Jewish Community Center.
“One secret to our success of the film festival is our relationship with Midtown Cinema and its members,” said Sherman. “It is expanding our audience, and a lot of these people are true cinephiles—just incredibly open to new and different film experiences.”
With its silver anniversary, the festival can claim success on many levels.
“Twenty-five years is a real milestone for the film festival,” Sherman said. “It’s been a great opportunity to consider—and be proud of—how we’ve grown, and to imagine what we can do going forward. It’s a very exciting time.”
The Edward S. Finkelstein Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival opens May 5 at the PA State Museum, 300 North St., Harrisburg. It continues May 10 to 16 at Midtown Cinema, 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. It concludes on May 16 at the Harrisburg Jewish Community Center, 3301 N. Front St., Harrisburg.
Screening times, film trailers, special events and other details can be found at www.hbgjff.com.