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The 19th annual Israel Film Festival continues Saturday through Thursday, May 10 through 15. Screenings will be at the Esquire and Highland Park, 445 Central, Highland Park. Tickets are $9, $6 for seniors and children aged ten and younger; a festival pass, good for five admissions, is $36. For more information call 877-966-5566. Films marked with an * are highly recommended.

SATURDAY, MAY 10

Wisdom of the Pretzel

This 2001 film begins like an Israeli version of Friends, but writer-director Ilan Heitner, adapting his own novel, has a knack for creating characters that prove more complex as the exigencies of the story accumulate. The protagonist, a fellow in his 30s (Guy Loel), gets fixed up with his buddy's sister (Osnat Hakim), and he knows she's something special because she makes him so angry; what first seems a masochistic pursuit on his part coalesces into something more substantial. While the principal story holds one's attention, Heitner's attempt to juggle several subplots isn't entirely successful. In Hebrew with subtitles. 100 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Esquire, 8:00)

Aviv

The enfant terrible of Israeli rock, Aviv Gefen is also "the spokesman for a generation," according to this idolatrous 2002 video documentary. A grandnephew of Moshe Dayan (not his grandson, as introductory titles assert), Gefen made waves by refusing to report for his mandatory military service (he was medically exempt, a fact omitted from the video) and writing songs about peace, love, and understanding. But his art is fundamentally personal rather than political--his concerts are like revival meetings in the church of adolescent self-pity--so it's no surprise when the rebel without a shirt reneges on a commitment to perform in support of "refusenik" soldiers on his father's orders. On top of that, the kid can't sing. Tomer Heymann directed. In Hebrew with subtitles. 75 min. (Cliff Doerksen) (Esquire, 10:00)

SUNDAY, MAY 11

Short films, program one

In Moledet (65 min.) documentarian Yaakov Gross tells the story of Israel's first film studio, opened in the late 1920s by a young cameraman named Nathan Axelrod to produce newsreels. The Moledet archives provide a wealth of fascinating footage, showing the 1929 riots at the Wailing Wall, a ceremony commemorating the completion of Tel Aviv's first large synagogue, and a bedouin sheikh's wedding attended by 200 Jewish guests. They're arresting glimpses of a time when Jews and Arabs regarded each other with curiosity rather than hostility. In his documentary On the Front Line (54 min.) Hanoch Zeevi looks at a group of Israeli high school graduates who deferred their military service in 2000 to perform community volunteer work in Gilo, a neighborhood in northern Jerusalem, but found themselves in a war zone after all when the Al Aqsa intifada erupted. While somewhat pedestrian in its approach, the video shows how quickly children and young adults adjust to the violence surrounding them; most are nonchalant if not philosophical about the nightly blasts of mortar fire. Both films are in English or subtitled Hebrew. (Joshua Katzman) (Highland Park, 11:00 am)

Short films, program two

Produced for the TV anthology series "Reflections on Women," Dina Zvi-Riklis's The Postwoman (50 min.) is the story of a single woman who delivers mail to a wealthy Tel Aviv neighborhood and kindles an epistolary romance with a banker. Also on the program: Yaakov Gross's Moledet (see listing for "Short films, program one" this date above). (Esquire, 1:00)

A Trumpet in the Wadi

The older daughter of an Arab family in Israel falls in love with the Jewish immigrant from Russia who plays mournful trumpet tunes in the apartment above theirs. Neither especially compelling as drama nor especially funny as comedy (excepting one hilarious scene with the Russian's overstrung mom), this Israeli video feature by Lina and Slava Chaplin is most interesting for its fresh approach to the country's torn social fabric (the Arab woman reads Hebrew poetry more seriously than her Jewish coworkers). Rapid dialogue and camera movements maintain the brisk pace, though the quick pans between faces become mannered and repetitive. In Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles. 97 min. (FC) (Highland Park, 1:00)

Mike Brant: Laisse-moi t'aimer

Ludicrously handsome and endowed with a robust set of pipes, Israeli singer Moshe Brand (in Europe, Mike Brant) dominated the French and Israeli pop charts in the early 70s but committed suicide at age 28. This worshipful 2002 documentary by Erez Laufer interweaves footage of the singer in his playboy prime and recent interviews with surviving relatives, lovers, bandmates, and hangers-on. Musically, Brant was a francophone Engelbert Humperdinck; personally, he comes across as a complete cipher. Loyal fans (who are apparently numerous) and lovers of Euro kitsch (who will watch for Brant's impression of Jerry Lewis) should be delighted, but everyone else would probably be better off renting George Cukor's A Star Is Born. In French and Hebrew with subtitles. 102 min. (Cliff Doerksen) (Esquire, 3:00)

Under Water

A champion high school swimmer is torn between her tarot-reading mother and her Orthodox father, who has returned to the periphery of her life; curious yet confused, she tries to overcome the parents' mutual suspicion and reconcile her mother's New Age permissiveness with her father's strict religious rules, all the while struggling to keep up in her sport. Eitan Londner directed this 2001 coming-of-age drama, which is well acted and proceeds conventionally to a nasty end. In Hebrew with subtitles. 90 min. (TS) (Highland Park, 3:00)

Round Trip

A vaguely unhappy (and slightly racist) woman leaves her husband, moves her children to Tel Aviv in search of excitement, and finds it in the arms of a Nigerian lesbian she's hired as a nanny. Director Shahar Rozen backs away from the complexities of their romance, returning the heroine to her husband just when things get interesting; that's too bad, because the delicate scenes between the woman and her preteen daughter prove that Rozen can handle a fragile, uncertain relationship. In English and subtitled Hebrew. 95 min. (Jennifer Vanasco) (Esquire, 5:15)

Wisdom of the Pretzel

See listing for Saturday, May 10. (Highland Park, 5:15)

Provence United

A bush-league soccer team wins a lottery drawing to compete with one of the best teams in Israel, and the manager has his hands full keeping the cretinous players focused on their game. This film is at its best when depicting small-town Israeli life: there are some good bits involving the manager, who's up to his ears in debt and may be forced to sell off his star player, and a tentative romance between a shy player and a teammate's ex-girlfriend. But writer Youval Fridman and director Ori Inbar are so preoccupied with running the plot through its paces that they lose sight of the characters. In Hebrew with subtitles. 83 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Esquire, 7:30)

A Trumpet in the Wadi

See listing this date above. (Highland Park, 7:30)

God's Sandbox

A haggard middle-aged author shows up at a beach resort to retrieve her wandering daughter and ends up listening to a young Arab bartender's account of a European free spirit who came decades earlier with a group of hippies and fell in love with a bedouin prince. Director Doron Eran doesn't wait long to connect the dots between the mother and the blond siren from the past, whose sweaty romance with the sheikh brought censure from his tribe. The lovers' seduction in the sand borders on laughable soft porn; later in the film, an act of genital mutilation (part of a prenuptial ritual) injects an unexpected note of terror that reverberates to the end. In Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles. 90 min. (TS) (Highland Park, 9:45)

Return From India

A young Israeli doctor, sent to India by an older colleague to help save his desperately ill daughter, falls in love with the colleague's 50-year-old wife, then returns to Israel and impregnates the daughter's best friend. Veteran producer-director Menachem Golan directed this messy 2002 melodrama, which lurches from graphic scenes of open-heart surgery in Tel Aviv to a woman throwing herself on a funeral pyre in Bombay while purportedly telling a twisted love story. Golan tries to deepen the story by throwing in some reincarnation red herrings but succeeds only in making this potboiler more ridiculous. In Hebrew with subtitles. 90 min. (Jennifer Vanasco) (Esquire, 9:45)

MONDAY, MAY 12

* Slaves of the Lord

Made for television on a modest budget, this austere 50-minute gem is a masterpiece of psychological terror. While studying for her bat mitzvah, an intelligent daughter of a devout Orthodox household becomes secretly obsessed with sin and rituals of purification, convinced that her own impurity threatens her family's spiritual and physical well-being. Writer-director Hadar Friedlich knows the value of understatement, and Maya Eshet gives one of the finest juvenile performances I've ever seen as the tormented girl. (Cliff Doerksen) (Esquire, 1:00)

Short films, program three

Two TV dramas produced for the anthology series "Reflections of Women," widely varied in quality. In Shiri Tzur's excellent Tail of a Kite a silent tomboy whose parents are divorcing is sent to stay with her maternal grandparents at their poultry farm. Also staying there is the girl's beautiful aunt, a recently discharged mental patient who walks around town in a slip, has casual sex with a bus driver in the woods, and generally forces issues of sexuality that her preadolescent niece is trying hard to avoid. In Dalia Mevorach's 1,000 Calories an obese mother hoping to shed some pounds for her son's bar mitzvah drags two old friends to a spa for the weekend, where sauna baths and meals of undressed lettuce provide the setting for endless hand-wringing about men and fertility. Each segment runs 52 minutes, and both are in Hebrew with subtitles. (JJ) (Esquire, 3:00)

* Short films, program four

In All I've Got a woman dies at age 72 and is given an impossible choice: she can either live eternally with happy memories of her life as a wife and mother or become 23 again, relinquish her memories of a long life, and spend eternity with her first love, who was killed in a car accident as a young man. Directed by Keren Marglit for the TV anthology "Reflections of Women," this complex, whimsical film explores what it means to be old--and young. In Hebrew with subtitles. 68 min. (Jennifer Vanasco) Dina Zvi-Riklis's The Postwoman (50 min.), another episode from the series, completes the program. (Esquire, 5:15)

Under Water See listing for Sunday, May 11. (Esquire, 7:30)

God's Sandbox See listing for Sunday, May 11. (Esquire, 9:45)

TUESDAY, MAY 13

* Short films, program five

Dugit Over Troubled Water (2001, 57 min.) is named for an Israeli settlement at the northern tip of the Gaza Strip where families fished and catered to the tourist trade. Documentarians Gil Karni and Meni Elias show the Cohens and the Gorens, who moved to Dugit in the early 90s, in happy coexistence with their Arab neighbors in 1999, and a year later during the tense days of the intifada. They and their Palestinian friends still banter on cell phones, and the Israelis chat with Arabs who sneak across the barricades to visit them. In Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles. Ron Goldman's Le Grand Akshan (2002, 54 min.) tells the story of his great-grandfather, a Zionist in his youth and later a prosperous cinema owner in Israel (with stops in Havana, Iraq, and Bombay in between). His father perished in 1942 when a refugee ship sank in the Black Sea; the recent discovery of the wreck prompts Goldman to retrace his family's history from Israel back to Hungary, an effort playfully chronicled in this sincere documentary. In Hebrew with subtitles. 54 min. (TS) (Esquire, 1:00)

Round Trip

See listing for Sunday, May 11. (Esquire, 3:00)

Short films, program one

See listing for Sunday, May 11. (Esquire, 5:15)

Return From India

See listing for Sunday, May 11. (Esquire, 7:30)

Provence United

See listing for Sunday, May 11. (Esquire, 9:45)

WEDNESDAY, MAY 14

* Short films, program four

See listing for Monday, May 12. (Esquire, 1:00)

* Short films, program five

See listing for Tuesday, May 13. (Esquire, 3:00)

Mike Brant: Laisse-moi t'aimer

See listing for Sunday, May 11. (Esquire, 5:15)

Aviv

See listing for Saturday, May 10. (Esquire, 7:30)

A Trumpet in the Wadi

See listing for Sunday, May 11. (Esquire, 9:45)

THURSDAY, MAY 15

* Slaves of the Lord

See listing for Monday, May 12. (Esquire, 1:00)

Short films, program one

See listing for Sunday, May 11. (Esquire, 3:00)

Under Water

See listing for Sunday, May 11. (Esquire, 5:15)

Wisdom of the Pretzel

See listing for Saturday, May 10. (Esquire, 7:30)

Return From India

See listing for Sunday, May 11. (Esquire, 9:45)

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