Attending a film festival can be a frustrating experience; there are so many great movies that even the most determined buff can only make it to a small fraction. That's the situation at this year's Haifa International Film Festival, which runs until Saturday night. During any given time slot, there are as many as seven films playing. How do you choose among such varied films as 13 Tzameti, about a foreign worker lured into playing Russian Roulette in Paris; Ridley Scott's A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe and set in Provence; Melanoma, My Love, a drama with Alon Abutbul about a cancer patient, the latest film by David Ofek and Joseph Madmony, the duo who made the excellent Barbecue People a couple of years ago; Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's latest, Lights in the Dusk; Monkey Business, a new Israeli documentary about a family of petty criminals by Daniel Sivan; and the closing attraction at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Transylvania, the new film by Tony Gatlif, the director who made such films about gypsy life as Gadjo Dilo ?
All these movies were scheduled for the same time slot on Monday night, and every two hours the lineup presents similar dilemmas.
Earlier in the week, after much deliberation, I chose to see Daniel Burman's Family Business, and was glad I did. Although I had mixed feelings about the Argentinean director's previous film, The Lost Embrace, Family Business (Derecho de Familia) is an engaging comedy/drama about an extremely reserved Jewish father and son, Bernardo and Ariel Perelman, both lawyers in Buenos Aires who have all kinds of unresolved tensions between them. Although Lost Embrace, the story of an immature young man who works with his mother in a lingerie store in a seedy Buenos Aires shopping center, drew comparisons to Woody Allen, Family Business brings to mind more the work of Francois Truffaut, with its slightly heightened comic reality and its director's intense affection for his characters. Just as Truffaut used Jean-Pierre Leaud to play his alter ego in a series of movies, Burman works again here with Daniel Handler, who starred in Burman's previous film, Lost Embrace, as well as his 2000 movie, Waiting for the Messiah. In all three films, Hendler plays characters named Ariel.
This film is set to be released in Israel by United King soon.
Speaking of scheduling conflicts, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, part of the Sam Peckinpah retrospective, was to be shown at the same time as Lonely Hearts. Pat Garrett, starring James Coburn as Garrett and Kris Kristofferson as Billy, was one of Peckinpah's most troubled films, and he asked to have his name taken off after the studio cut it. It is of interest mainly to Peckinpah devotees, although it's fun to see Bob Dylan (who wrote the score) in a small role - one of his only dramatic parts.
Lonely Hearts is the third cinematic retelling of the killing spree by a couple known as the Lonely Hearts killers because they used personal ads to lure war widows to their deaths in the Forties. This story was the inspiration for the cult films, The Honeymoon Killers and Dark Crimson. In Lonely Hearts, John Travolta and James Gandolfini (Tony on The Sopranos) play detectives trailing the deadly pair, while Jared Leto and Salma Hayek are the murderers. Director Todd Robinson is the grandson of one of the detectives who investigated the case.
This one is also set to be released here.
One of the most popular films of the week was Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, starring Meryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan in a story based on the Garrison Keillor book and radio shows (see review on page XXX).
Movie stars are always an attraction, but Israel has its stars, too. As I was leaving the opening-night reception, I noticed a crowd of teens gathered at a white stretch limo outside the Haifa Cinematheque. Thinking that a Hollywood luminary must have decided to make a surprise appearance, I asked who they were waiting for. Several girls answered in unison, "Yehuda Levy!" Levy, the Israeli television and movie star (he played Jagger in Eytan Fox's Yossi & Jagger) was nowhere in sight, but crowds of high schoolers kept running toward the limo, mingling with the somewhat older crowd that had attended the opening and were heading home.