(This article appeared in different form in the Australian Jewish News on 22 December 2016.)
As Australia’s biggest cinema-going day of the year, Boxing Day (26 December) marks the unofficial beginning of both the summer holidays and entertainment season. Here’s our pick of the Boxing Day films with Jewish personalities and themes to look out for.
Allied is made for fans of romantic war dramas (and seriously, who isn’t one). “Allied” stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as secret agents – Canadian intelligence officer Max and French resistance fighter Marianne – who fall in love during a North African mission. Set in Casablanca and London, “Allied” (the title operates with a double and possibly triple meaning) is directed by Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”) with energy and verve, tearing at many of the myths we have wanted to believe about wartime heroism. The film’s big plot twist – a spoiler that any viewing of the film’s trailer tells you – involves the strong suspicion that Marianne is a double agent, placing Max in the distrusting “is she or isn’t she?” role, and forcing him to find the truth in the sort of ways you don’t want to treat the love of your life.
A.O. Scott of the New York Times writes that this film operates, “like [the film] ‘Casablanca’ in reverse. It’s about how the problems in this crazy world don’t amount to a hill of beans next to the troubles of two people in love.” Aside from the Casablanca setting, “Allied” includes prominent singing of “La Marseillaise” and other explicit references to the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman romance, but without references to Nazi persecution of Jews, just the personal challenges of the heroic couple. “Allied” comes across more like an Alfred Hitchcock film than one by Michael Curtiz (the Jewish director of “Casablanca”). American Jewish actress Lizzy Caplan co-stars as Brad Pitt’s sister.
Rosalie Blum was the best-attended film in the 27-year history of Australia’s Alliance Française French Film Festival. This delightful comedy features a central Jewish character (the titled Rosalie Blum), played in turn by Jewish actress Noémie Lvovsky, who is the accomplished writer/director and star of “Camille Unwinds”. This first film by director Julien Rappeneau draws from a series of popular French graphic novels by Camille Jourdy. The film’s warm comic exterior at first shields important messages about our need for connection in a disconnected world. There is something so very “French” about this film, which sits as highly accessible “middle brow” entertainment. Lvovsky’s co-stars include Iranian-French actor Kyan Khojandi and Alice Isaaz. A crowd-pleaser for all French film addicts.
Why Him is likely to be one of the summer’s most Jewish releases, although has almost no Jewish characters or content. The creative team behind this broad comedy about an unsuitable boyfriend is a “who’s who” of contemporary Jewish comedy: Jewish director John Hamburg has written all three “Meet the Parents” and both “Zoolander” films. Jewish co-writer Jonah Hill has more Jewish comedy connections than almost anyone alive, and got his break on “I Heart Huckabees” through friendships with Dustin Hoffman’s children. Producers Ben Stiller (need we say any more) and Shawn Levy – director of all three “Night at the Museum” films – are the Jewish “power couple” of contemporary broad US film comedy. Jewish actors also abound: James Franco, 16 year old Griffin Gluck and Zack Pearlman. Bryan Cranston, last seen playing the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, also co-stars.
And watch out for two other Boxing Day releases:
Janis: Little Girl Blue is an American documentary about the singer-songwriter Janis Joplin, by Jewish director Amy J Berg. Berg specialises in “tough” subjects like sex abuse, pedophilia, and the African-American male “crisis”.
Red Dog True Blue: Five years ago, the film “Red Dog” became the eighth (now tenth) most popular Australian film ever. The follow up “Red Dog True Blue” is a “prequel” and hopes to replicate the original’s success. Daniel Taplitz returns as the screenwriter, with a cast headed by Bryan Brown. This most Australian of “Oz” films also stars British-Jewish actor Jason Isaacs, who comes from a Zionist family (his parents live in Israel) and who describes Jewishness as his “core”.
(image above: Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt in “Allied”)