Junction 48 stars Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar to great effect–his offbeat, winning personality naturally makes his Kareem a sympathetic protagonist in this feature about an Arab Israeli musical duo striving to “make it” in the Israeli city of Lod. His partner, the beautiful and gifted Manar (played by Samar Qupty), complements his lazy rapping with beauty and grace. Israeli director Udi Aloni is also to be commended for featuring a variety of Palestinian narratives, which range from victim to hero to dictator.
But where Aloni fails–miserably–is in his depiction of Jewish Israelis. Whereas each Arab Israeli in the film has his or her own name, personality, and worldview, all Jewish Israelis fall into one of three camps: fascist, drug-addled degenerate, or racist thug. In the filmic universe Aloni has created, he himself, or even the possibility of himself, doesn’t exist.
Maybe not. But maybe someone should tell Aloni that in the real world, he’s not the only Jewish Israeli who supports the Palestinian cause. And that the kind of stereotyping in Junction 48 does nothing to heal the wounds Aloni legitimately decries.
Director Rob Meyer turns his gentle comedic eye on race relations as Mack and Gina, a mixed-race couple from New York, move out of the city to an all-white suburb. The family’s successful MO begins to disintegrate as they face the challenges of integrating into a foreign community that views them with a mixture of fascination and suspicion.
Like his first feature, A Birder’s Guide to Everything, which premiered at Tribeca in 2014, Little Boxes resonates with a kind of insight and humor that used to be called “decent” in the finest sense of the word: kind, warm, springing from a deep integrity. Meyer pokes as much fun at his New Yorkers as he does at his suburbanites, but he never overdoes the great divide that separates the two. He loves his characters–all of them–and presents them with understanding, if not dignity. He’s able to explore the fault lines in marriage and family without resorting to blame or malice, and his depiction of preadolescent attitudes toward the “other” are spot on…and hilarious. It’s rare to find this brand of compassionate jesting today. Once found, it’s well worth savoring.
Roy watches over his tiny island in the Bahamas, keeping peace among the fishermen and the island’s largely black inhabitants. But Roy is being challenged by the new order, incarnated in the evil-hearted Doughboy, who specializes in smuggling Haitian refugees–live cargo–on the dangerous trip to Florida in unsafe boats. He’s aided by a local white malcontent, whom he’s seduced away from Roy’s employ with the promise of money and women.
Against an audio backdrop of radio broadcasts detailing the number of people who have drowned in their attempts to make it to the U.S., and cinematography that replaces the colorful romance of the Bahamas with the mysterious alienation of black and white, the forced intimacy of life on an island is explored in telling detail, especially as it relates to a young mixed-race couple who returns to the island after their baby dies in childbirth.
The storytelling is simultaneously breezy and tight, with a contemporary arc that ends in a curiously old-fashioned tying up of loose strings. But life is like that sometimes, director Logan Sandler seems to be saying: Sometimes, things work out OK.
The Tenth Man
Argentinian director Daniel Burman always resisted the idea of making a film about a real person. But then he met Usher.
Usher runs a charitable organization in Buenos Aires that finaigles food, clothing, and medicine from the Jewish community in order to distribute it to the needy. Burman was so captivated by the man and his work that he realized that here, indeed, was a person worthy of being the subject of a film.
And what a film! With his usual wit, humor, and insight, Burman has taken Usher’s story and made of it a delightful rom-com in which Usher commands his nebbish son–through cell phone only–to return to Buenos Aires and run the charity for him. Along the way, his son gains new insight into what it is to be a man, a Jew, and a lover: Usher’s intent all along? The voice on the phone is the real Usher’s, and the poor and needy thronging the doors of the charity in the film are the real-life beneficiaries of Usher’s good works…and significant paychecks from Daniel Burman.
Burman was awarded the Robert Bresson Award at the Venice Film Festival in recognition of his extensive filmography and humanitarian vision. That vision suffuses The Tenth Man, making it Burman’s greatest film to date.
The Ticket begins with a great premise: A blind man mysteriously regains his sight, much to the joy of his close-knit and loving family. A new world lies before them, full of promise and light.
Unfortunately, the film, like the blind man himself, quickly degenerates into a cliched and uninspired drama of ambition and infidelity, as if director/screenwriter Ido Fluk couldn’t think of anything more interesting to do with his vision than the once-blind James could.
The banality of the film is saved in part by the spectacularly imaginative cinematography of DP Zack Galler, which captures “blindness” in a breathtaking series of flowy images and contrasts them with the fluorescent world of illicit business. It almost makes The Ticket worth seeing.