The Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema runs Thursday, October 21, through Sunday, October 31, with screenings at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; Northbrook Court, 1525 Lake Cook Rd., Northbrook; and 600 N. Michigan. Tickets for most programs are $11, $9 for matinees before 5 PM, and can be purchased by calling 847-946-6026 or visiting chicagofestivalofisraelicinema.org. Following are reviews of the programs screening in Chicago; for a complete schedule of suburban shows see the festival website.
Brothers Two Jewish brothers, raised in Argentina but long separated from each other, cross paths again as adults in this earnest 2008 drama. A kibbutznik (Micha Celektar) is astonished and furious when the younger sibling he thought was dead (Baruch Brener) resurfaces in Jerusalem as a Brooklyn lawyer who's come to defend an Orthodox rabbi in a case involving conscription of yeshiva students. Writer-director Igaal Niddam uses the trial to explore the divisive debate over compulsory military service as well as the differences between Judaism and Jewish ethnicity. His ambitious story is marred only by a maudlin ending. In Hebrew and Spanish with subtitles. 114 min. —Andrea Gronvall Sat 10/23, 5:30 PM, 600 N. Michigan
Eyes Wide Open Like The Secrets, another in the spate of recent Israeli films about strictly observant Jews, this melancholy 2009 drama explores the near impossibility of reconciling religious community life and same-sex love. An ultra-Orthodox butcher (Zohar Strauss), bereaved over the death of his father, reopens the old man's shop in Jerusalem and charitably hires a down-at-heels yeshiva student (Ran Danker) as his assistant. Ignoring rumors about the young man's moral iniquities, the butcher brings him home to his wife and children and into his Torah circle, and gradually the bond between the two men becomes more than spiritual. Strauss and Danker give finely calibrated performances, but this directorial debut by Haim Tabakman is unadventurous, borrowing from the gay-cinema canon but adding nothing new. In Hebrew and Yiddish with subtitles. 90 min. —Andrea Gronvall Sat 10/23, 10:30 PM, 600 N. Michigan
Five Hours From Paris This bittersweet romantic comedy (2009) centers on the anxieties of a good-natured Tel Aviv cabbie (Dror Keren): he's afraid of airplanes but needs to fly to Paris for his son's bar mitzvah, his ex-wife's new husband wants him to invest in a dubious business enterprise, and he's smitten with his son's music teacher, an attractive—and married—Russian emigre (Elena Yaralova). Against his better judgment the cabbie finds ways to see her, but then the husband (Vladimir Freedman) returns from a trip Canada, intent on moving her there. Director Leonid Prudovsky, a fan of Claude Lelouch and Woody Allen, calls to mind their glory days by embracing humanism, celebrating beauty, delighting in serendipity, and staring down the darker side of life. In Hebrew and Russian with subtitles. 88 min. —Andrea Gronvall Sat 10/23, 8:30 PM, 600 N. Michigan
A Matter of Size A melancholy schlub (Itzik Cohen) packs on so many pounds that he gets kicked out of his dieting support group and fired from his front-of-the-house restaurant job. After hiring on as a dishwasher at a sushi joint, he's exposed to sumo wrestling on TV, and pretty soon he's organizing his big-and-tall buddies into a sumo team and finding love in the capacious arms of a zaftig beauty (Irit Kaplan). Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor, who codirected this 2009 Israeli comedy, manage to walk a fine line between fat acceptance and fat-is-funny, and their melding of Jewish and Japanese culture is often charming. A Hollywood remake is in the works; I only hope the movie's poignancy and goofiness survive the translation. In subtitled Hebrew and Japanese. 90 min. —Cliff Doerksen Thu 10/21, 7 PM, Chicago Cultural Center. Screening as part of the opening-night program; tickets are $40 and include a reception after the film.