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The Festival of Indian Film in Israel continues, and the British Film Festival is about to begin. The Indian Festival got off to a rousing start at cinematheques around the country last week. The opening film at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, The Rising: The Ballad of Mangal Panday, directed by Ketan Mehta, is a stirring historical epic about the rebellion against the British in 1857, and was exciting for every one of its 150 minutes. If you missed it, just hope that the film finds an Israeli distributor. The festival continues through the end of the week. Several of the films this week concern recent ethnic strife in the country. Aparna Sen's Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, playing on Saturday at 9:30 p.m. at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, is about a man and woman who meet by chance on a bus trip. They strike up a friendship, and other passengers assume them to be man and wife - a misunderstanding that takes on great importance. It turns out that the man is a Muslim, and he is able to escape Hindu extremists who stop the bus only by continuing the charade. On Friday at 2 p.m., also at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, you can see Yahaan - the story of a Hindu army officer and a Muslim woman, set against the backdrop of ethnic tension in Kashmir.
THE RAM LOEVY RETROSPECTIVE continues as well. On Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, The Film That Wasn't (1994), will be shown. It's a look at interrogation methods in Israeli prisons, and generated controversy when it was released. An Indian in the Sun (1981), a drama about an army base in the Negev starring Moshe Ivgy, and Skin (2005), an adaptation of a novel by Ronit Yedaya about a stripper, are playing at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
A JOHNNY DEPP MARATHON is featured Friday at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, starting at 10 p.m. This is great news for Depp fans, since he has long been among the most interesting and least predictable of actors. He was especially good in last year's Finding Neverland, a movie about Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie's relationship with four fatherless boys that could easily have been nauseatingly heartwarming. The selection of movies in the marathon leaves out Neverland and some of his most interesting work, but any three Depp movies make for an entertaining evening.
It starts off with What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), directed by Lasse Hallstrom, in which Depp plays a young man with an obese mother and a retarded brother (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) in a dull Middle American town. Although the movie was interesting, I found it hard to accept the intelligent and patrician-looking Depp as the son of such an ignorant woman. DiCaprio, in one of his early roles, walks away with the picture.
The second film, also directed by Hallstrom, is Chocolat (2000), which is one of his weakest movies. It's the kind of middlebrow, faux-artsy film that the Miramax studio, once a powerhouse of innovative independent cinema, has been churning out more and more often over the past few years. Set in the Fifties in a small European town (I think it's in France, but it doesn't really matter because everyone speaks English), it tells the story of some kind of candy-making sorceress with a tight red dress and a winsome smile (Juliette Binoche), who opens a shop and casts a spell over the residents with her chocolate treats, magically healing their ills. Along the way, she encourages them to express themselves artistically, break traditions, etc. The evil, repressive town leaders try to shut her down, but chocolate, sex and whimsy eventually win out. Depp plays a drifter who romances her.
The last film up is the extremely entertaining Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), which you've probably seen on TV if you missed it in the theaters. Depp got an Oscar nomination for his over-the-top turn as the gold-toothed pirate Captain Jack Sparrow - a performance so hip it's easy to believe that the inspiration for it was Rolling Stone Keith Richards, as Depp has said.