The Miami Jewish Film Festival returns this month with an exciting and progressive lineup, punctuated by spotlights on women filmmakers, first-time filmmakers, live music performances and more. With 80 films packed into its two-week run, it’ll be impossible to take it all in. New Times film critics Juan Antonio Barquin and Hans Morgenstern guide you through the best of the bunch.
Transit. The ghosts of our past are often present in Christian Petzold’s films, regardless of the time period they take place in. Transit, his latest work, is a sobering tale of what it’s like to live as a refugee, being as invisible as you can while still floating through a world that loathes you.
Adapted from the novel of the same name, Petzold transposes this story of a man running from a fascist regime and assuming identities to survive from World War II to a space that exists in both every time and no time at all. Every facet of its production, from costumes to sets, feels timeless. By refusing to ground it in any one era, Petzold makes Transit a universal story, one that’s all the more terrifying in its understanding that refugee struggles are not limited to any one time period.
Franz Rogowski’s Georg is a blank slate of a man, the perfect ghost upon whom the audience can project their own existential fears and interests in helping others. He is no different than Marie (Paula Beer) or Richard (Godehard Giese) in that they are stuck, but where some have purpose in what they want and need, he has no true destination. There’s a disaffected tone to the narration that punctures the air, but don’t let that betray the truly affecting tale Petzold is telling. 6 p.m. Monday, January 14 at Regal Cinemas South Beach, 1120 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $13-$14. —Juan Antonio Barquin
The Waldheim Waltz. It’s hard not to note the timely quality of Ruth Beckermann’s documentary about former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim’s political campaign to become Austria’s president in 1986. The manner in which a politician can pander to shared beliefs among his supporters will feel familiar to observers of Trump’s rise. That Waldheim’s past includes connections to atrocities by Nazis in the Balkans should not be diminished, yet there is no doubt Beckermann wishes to speak beyond that moment in history. Her German voice-over narrative has a reflective quality all too aware of familiar patterns. However, Beckermann keeps the visuals of the film, Austria’s entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, entirely in its era by using only vintage footage.
The film is presented in the 4:3 format of the box television screen of that time, which gives the sensation of peering through a window into the past. The film is a collection of campaign speeches, press conferences, talk shows, news reports and interviews from various countries, including the U.S. She also includes scenes she shot on black and white video cassette where she participated in protests against Waldheim.
Beckermann leaves in mundane moments, including the World Jewish Congress’ stern introductions of themselves before they reveal incriminating documents uncovered by a historian. Beckermann apologizes for her shaky camera at the protests. Though these might seem incidental, they speak to our shared humanity. Nationalism is a terrible thing. Sometimes you are bonded by not just pride but also victimhood. As Beckermann notes, Austria’s role as Germany’s “first victim” in Hitler’s plan to conquer Europe plays more of an empowering role than one might think. It’s a prescient film about a bygone time that show hateful divisions in politics is nothing new. Southeast U.S. premiere 7 p.m. Monday, January 14 at Miami Beach Cinematheque, 1130 Washington Ave, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $13-$14. — Hans Morgenstern
Avigail Kovari in Red Cow.
Courtesy of Menemsha Films
Red Cow. The complications of growing up queer within a religious community isn’t an unfamiliar tale. It’s often dramatized for the purpose of tragedy, but good filmmakers can explore that internal divide without leaning hard into trauma. Like Desiree Akhavan’s recent The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Red Cow is a startlingly honest depiction of what it feels like to exist as queer within a faith-based community when your own faith is lacking or non-existent.
With her debut feature film, Tsivia Barkai Yavoc provides an intimate glance into Benny (Avigail Kovari), the teenage daughter of a radical religious man who believes the red cow that was just birthed is a sign of a new messiah. Yacov’s decision to drop the viewer deep into this religious community, never stopping to explain anything, may deter some, but using Benny as a rational point of focus in an increasingly irrational world works wonders.
There’s an immediacy to the way Yacov focuses on Benny’s budding sexuality, shooting moments of sensuality with eroticism and care. She’s a teen through and through, and Kovari deftly handles her scenes with heft as well as those where she’s simply smoking or swimming with friends. Better yet, the discussions between Benny and Yael (Moran Rosenblatt) are a mixture of frank and sweet, flowing between the highs of reading poetry and kissing in bed to the lows of self-harm that spawns from your inner turmoil to having to worry that someone has noticed your relationship. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, January 17 at Miami Beach JCC, 4221 Pine Tree Dr., Miami Beach; Tickets cost $13-$14. —Juan Antonio Barquin
Courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky
Leto (Summer). In the 1970s, pop music underwent a revolution fueled by rebels like David Bowie and The Sex Pistols. It was about breaking taboos with groundbreaking music. It was anti-establishment, and it upset the status quo. You probably know how that music affected culture in the U.S. Now imagine how that music would do behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union. Would you believe there was indeed a state-sponsored rock scene in ’80s era Leningrad where young musicians idolized Lou Reed and T. Rex? In 1981, the KGB oversaw something called The Leningrad Rock Club where the audience was not allowed to stand up from their seats and the musicians lyrics had to be approved before being performed.
Director Kirill Serebrennikov focuses on the love triangle between real-life musicians Viktor Tsoi (Teo Yoo), Mike Naumenko (Roman Bilyk) and Mike’s wife Natalia Naumenko (Irina Starshenbaum). The latter’s memoirs provide inspiration for the script, which early on is noted to be mostly fictional, despite being based on true legends of Russian music who died too soon. You will get why this is a fiction during expressive musical numbers on public transportation featuring everyday Russians singing songs like Reed’s “Perfect Day” and Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” while animation scribbled onto the images as if etched on celluloid heighten the unreality further.
The artistic embellishments don’t end there. The film is an ecstatic mix of wide-screen black and white and tightly framed 16mm film. Musical numbers pass in fantasia, often capped by a character named Skeptic (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) holding up a sign reading “This never happened.” It speaks to the power of music as expression that is still oppressed in Russia today. Serebrennikov, a director of experimental theater in Moscow, was arrested while shooting the final scenes of the movie and remains under house arrest. Southeast U.S. premiere 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 23 at Miami Beach Cinematheque, 1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $13-$14. — Hans Morgenstern
Miami Jewish Film Festival. January 10 through 24, 2019, at various venues; Single screening tickets cost $14; festival passes cost $295. For tickets and more information go to miamijewishfilmfestival.org.