Sundance, Shabbas, and Natalie Portman goes nude

We're finally getting to see most of the big year-end releases from the US and Europe.

darjeeling 88 (photo credit: )
darjeeling 88
(photo credit: )
This wasn't Israel's year at Sundance, the preeminent independent film festival that ended last week. While in 2007, Dror Shaul's Sweet Mud was awarded the World Dramatic Competition prize, this year Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor's Strangers generated good buzz and got some valuable exposure, but didn't come home with an award. Surprisingly, though, films from Jordan, a country not known for its film industry, won several prizes. Amin Matalqa's Captain Abu Raed, touted as the first feature film made in Jordan in 50 years, won the coveted World Dramatic Audience Award. Perhaps there is no film festival in the world where the audience awards count for as much as they do at Sundance, since many audience award winners there have gone on to commercial success. Captain Abu Raed tells the story of an aging airport janitor (played by Nadim Sawalha, a Jordanian-born British actor) who is mistaken by a group of neighborhood children for a pilot. He plays along and spins fantastic tales of his exploits for them. A Jordanian documentary, Recycle, won the World Cinema Documentary Cinematography Prize. It's about a Jordanian man who lives in the hometown of Al Qaeda leader Abu Musa Al Zarqawi, and his struggles to support his family in a tense political atmosphere. Let's hope that these films will be at the upcoming Jerusalem or Haifa film festivals, since they may provide an intriguing glimpse of a neighbor most of us know little about. JOSEPH CEDAR, whose film Beaufort is Israel's first nominee in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 24 years, told me in a brief conversation last week that while being nominated was a dream, he's trying to detach himself from all the hype and is focusing on his current work-in-progress. Naturally, though, he is planning to attend the ceremony. Cedar, however, faces a problem that wouldn't be an issue for any other nominee: Since he is observant, he has to figure out how he'll be able to make it to some of the events for nominees, several of which are scheduled for a Saturday. The most important of these is the Foreign Language Film Award Nominees Symposium, which will take place on Saturday, February 23 at 10 a.m. in Los Angeles. The directors of the five nominated films are invited to attend. Clips from their movies will be shown, and they will discuss them and take questions from the audience. It will be moderated by Mark Johnson, producer of such films as Rain Man. Amazingly, it's free, but you do have to order a ticket. So if you're going to be in L.A., check out the information at the Academy Awards Website at IT'S TAKEN LONGER than usual this year, but we're finally getting to see most of the big year-end releases from the US and Europe. Wes Anderson fans will be happy to hear that his latest, The Darjeeling Limited, opens throughout Israel today. This quirky, unpredictable film stars Owen Wilson, a regular Anderson collaborator, as the eldest of three brothers who haven't spoken since their father's funeral a year before. He cajoles and entices the other two to take a train trip across India with him, the goal of which is to reconnect with their cold, bizarre mother (Anjelica Huston, another actor from Anderson's stock company), who refused to attend their father's funeral and now lives in a remote Indian convent. Jason Schwartzman (who starred in Anderson's second film, Rushmore) and Adrien Brody (The Pianist), play the other brothers. It's a bit unsettling to see Wilson play a character who was in an accident and has his head swathed in bandages for almost the entire film, since it is a reminder of how he made a serious suicide attempt just before the film's release last year. The slow-paced, visually stunning film will delight Anderson admirers but probably annoy everyone else. It is being shown with a short film, Hotel Chevalier, a kind of prequel to the main movie, in which the Schwartzman character holes up in a hotel room in Paris after being dumped by a girlfriend (Natalie Portman), who suddenly shows up. You may have heard Portman does a nude scene here, and it's true. This short is cutesy in a way that showcases Anderson's more annoying quirks. To decide if you are a Wes Anderson person before seeing this, rent the DVD of his best film, The Royal Tenenbaums.