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Painting Spell: Andy Garcia shows off his handiwork in 'Modigliani.'


This year's San Jose Jewish Film Festival gathers movies from around the world

By Richard von Busack

THE MOST inner-sanctum aspects of Judaism are now being unearthed; take (please) Bee Season, one reflection of L.A.'s affair with the kabala. By contrast, the outer extremities of Judaism are the limits of the world itself. Recent San Jose Jewish Film Festivals brought us movies about Jews in places as far away as Australia and Ireland. This year's series of midweek and weekend films, running Oct. 23-Nov. 20 at Camera 12 in San Jose, includes some standout features.

A Bridge of Books: The death of any language is a catastrophe, but the decline of Yiddish is particularly hard to endure. "What other language is as fraught with such exuberant fraughtage," said Leo Rosten, the maven who wrote The Joy of Yiddish. A Bridge of Books documents a Massachusetts-based library of Yiddish texts donated from elderly readers who had no one to pass them on to. A Bridge of Books opens for the 1935 Yiddish-language musical Yidl Mitn Fidl (Oct. 23 at 1pm). The wide-eyed Molly Picon stars as a wandering minstrel disguised as a boy (and a boy was a role Picon played frequently enough to be the model for Barbra Streisand's Yentl).

The Jewish-Italian artist Modigliani lived in squalor unique even for his line of work. Modigliani (Oct. 23 at 3pm and Oct. 26 at 7:30pm) stars look-alike Andy Garciača look-alike if some 15 years older than the great artist was when he perished from the triple effects of booze, opium and TB. Director Mick Davis' lust-for-paint-style biopic rounds up actors playing avant-garde all-stars like Diego Rivera, Claude Renoir, Jean Cocteau and Gertrude and Leo Stein. If one doubts Davis' view of Pablo Picasso as the Al Capone of this art gang, at least one can't resist the verve with which Omid Djalili impersonates the Spanish minotaur.

Eran Riklis' The Syrian Bride (Oct. 30 at 3pm and Nov. 2 at 7:30pm) just ornamented the Arab Film Festival, and it deserves its place in a Jewish film festival too. Also recommended is the short My Brother's Wedding (Nov. 20 at 1pm with Mixed Blessings), the record of how Jonah Akiba, a secular Jew from New England, became an Israeli Orthodox, all the better to baffle his family, while experiencing an "unbelievable sense of pure joy." The convert's brother Dan Akiba, who directed this little documentary, does the investigation. Jewish life is full of a great number of wordless utterances, but an anonymous Jerusalem cab driver makes the most eloquent groan in the entire festival: "Your brother [the convert], did he take drugs?" Yes, answers Dan. "Groannnn."

Like so many stories of the extermination of the European Jews, Daniel Anker's documentary Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust (Nov. 20 at 3pm) is an account of both courage and gutlessness. Gene Hackman narrates the history of how the American film industry handled the rise of Nazism, and how in each succeeding decade it felt steadier about telling the tale. The study ends, naturally, with Schindler's List, but the documentary skeptically suggests that it's not big epics but individual actors that make Hitler's fantastic crimes real: Charlie Chaplin's hideo-comic waltz with an inflatable globe in The Great Dictator, Rod Steiger's silent scream in The Pawnbroker or the face of Meryl Streep's Sophie after she makes her choice.

The San Jose Jewish Film Festival runs Sundays and Wednesdays, Oct. 23-Nov. 20, at Camera 12 in San Jose. See www.sjjff.org for schedule details and ticket info.

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From the October 19-25, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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