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March 01, 2010

The 2010 Sephardic Jewish Film Festival: A Sampling of Cinematic Flavors

By Cole Smithey

Three of the highlighted films at the 14th Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, which took place in Manhattan from February 4 through the 11th, provide a cross-sectional look at the diversity of films at this year's festival.

Coco_gad_elmaleh Director/actor Gad Elmaleh does his best Roberto Benigni impression in "Coco," a slapstick message comedy about Coco, an outlandish self-made millionaire intent on giving his son Samuel the best bar mitzvah ever. Coco's diagnosis with a terminal condition pushes him to create a spectacle filled event that will signify the enormous amount of love he feels for his family. The comedy is too on-the-nose to induce the laughs that Elmaleh strives for, but the film brims with good intention and heart. As with Benigni, Elmaleh isn't a taste suited to everyone's cup of bananas.

A Matter of Size 1 "A Matter of Size," from the directing team of Sharon Maymon, Erez Tadmor, represents a co-production from France, Germany, Israel, American and the UK. Ramle, Israel is home to Herzl, a 340-pound chef whose romantic future is hampered by living with his overbearing mother. Mom doesn't approve of Herzl's new girlfriend because of her weight--she's on the heavy side too. But when Herzl takes on a job washing dishes at a Japanese restaurant, he's exposed to sumo wrestling and gets inspired to put together a sumo team with his overweight pals. With the coaching help of his boss Kitano (Togo Igawa) Herzl discovers a discipline that celebrates and utilizes his massive body mass. The self-respect he earns enables romance to blossom in relation to his girth in this unconventional and refreshing romantic comedy.

Blacksea_sile_akcakese_istanbul "Salvador: The Ship of Shattered Hopes" is Nissim Mossek's touching and devastating documentary about the fate of 352 escaping Bulgarian Jews who boarded a rickety wooden coal freighter named the "Salvador" on December 3, 1949 in Varna, Bulgaria with a course set for Palestine. Nine days, and 200 miles later, the Salvador was torn apart during a fierce storm that washed up the bodies of survivors and the dead alike on a Turkish shore near Istanbul. Mossek examines conflicting views of Baruch Confino, a Bulgarian Jewish eye doctor who organized the series of escape operations for Jews, and which ended with the crash of the Salvador. The film's biggest drawback lies in its incomplete depiction of Confino, as a well-meaning opportunist.


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