July ’07 Spotlight

We’ve all learned to beware of spin, so perhaps you’re reluctant to see the new “Angelina Jolie film” A Mighty Heart about the death of Daniel Pearl? I was wary too, but having seen director Michael Winterbottom’s superb film In This World (2002), I went full of hope and was amply rewarded.

“I was in Pakistan in November 2001 [filming In This World] when everyone was there for the war in Afghanistan,” Winterbottom explained during a recent trip to Chicago, and what impressed me most about A Mighty Heart was its sense of place. This is definitely not a typical Hollywood production. “Angelina and Brad were looking to do a film outside their normal way of working,” said Winterbottom. “They wanted us to be able to get to Pakistan and shoot in a scruffy, cheap way; in our own way.” (Brad Pitt is the film’s primary producer.)

Based on Mariane Pearl’s firsthand account, the film cuts back and forth between the Karachi home of Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani (“mission control” point for those investigating Danny’s disappearance) and ordinary Pakistani homes invaded (most often with cause) by those in search of clues. “Inside the house,” said Winterbottom, “they’ve got the chart and the computers and they’re trying to logically piece together what might have happened. In the real world, outside, it’s much more chaotic.”

Showing the impact of the investigation on the lives of Pakistanis is essential because Danny’s disappearance creates moral turmoil: on the one hand Mariane knows that people are being tortured for information (a practice she abhors); on the other hand, she is desperately afraid. At one point, trying to pressure a fellow journalist into revealing the name of his confidential source, she begins to scream: does he realize he might have information that could save Danny’s life? A Mighty Heart faces some of the most difficult issues of our time head on.

Jewish audiences will want to know more about Danny, but this is Mariane’s story and Danny exists mostly in flashback. There he is, smashing a glass under the chuppah at their wedding, and asking his pregnant wife to give their son the Biblical name “Adam.” Maybe someday there will be a biopic devoted to Daniel Pearl’s life, but for now we can cherish the memory of someone who was respected, admired, and deeply, deeply loved. Dayenu!

For more information, visit: www.amightyheartmovie.com

COMING SOON

Cinema/Chicago, in collaboration with the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest, will host one screening of Metallic Blues on Wednesday, August 1 in the Claudia Cassidy Theatre at the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan and Randolph. The official start time is 7:30 PM and admission is free, but last year’s Israeli film (Something Sweet) sold out, so arrive early if you want to be sure of a seat.

Metallic Blues was a big box office hit when it was released in 2005. It was nominated for five Ophir Awards by the Israel Film Academy (including “Best Film” and “Best Screenplay”), and Moshe Ivgy received the “Best Supporting Actor” award.

“Shmuel” (Avi Kushnir) and “Siso” (Moshe Ivgy) work in a Tel Aviv auto repair shop. One day, out of nowhere, a Palestinian man arrives in a beautiful bright blue Lincoln Continental Towncar. His mother is ill, his family needs money, and, most of all, gasoline is much too expensive. Do they want to buy his car? Siso is wary but Shmuel thinks this is the opportunity of a lifetime; they buy the car.

Shmuel is a big bear of a man: he speaks English, honeymooned in Paris and Rome, and fancies himself a man of the world. Diminutive Siso has spent his whole life in Israel, speaks only Hebrew, and lives a far more religious life. They’re a mismatched duo right out of a classic comedy (think Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello), but Shmuel comes from an Ashkenazi family whereas Siso’s family is Mizrachi. In Israel this doesn’t really matter much (at least not like it used to), but once they get to Germany, with plans to resell their prize to a vintage car dealer, the weight of history bears down on them.

There’s so much to discuss that a Q&A session has already been planned, and as soon as the credits roll, I’ll be hopping upfront to moderate. I’ve already seen Metallic Blues twice, so I hope you can make it: I’m eager to hear what you all think!

For more information, visit: www.chicagofilmfestival.org

CURTAIN CALL

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lucinda Franks came to the Printers Row Book Fair in June to read from her latest book My Father’s Secret War. After years of estrangement from a difficult and taciturn man, “Cindy” discovered evidence that her father had been an espionage officer during WWII. She assembled as many facts as possible from friends and military records before questioning him directly. Only then did she learn that her father had been one of the first Americans to enter a German Concentration Camp. “He had to make a report. He had to go around, look at every single thing, write down every detail,” Cindy told me. “As a small town boy who had Jewish friends that were his best friends, the experience haunted him for the rest of his life… When we would discuss Israel he would get very quiet and he would say, ‘You will never ever understand, Cindy, what happened to the Jewish people.’ Every time there was an Israeli victory, for example, the Six-Day War, he would speak very passionately about Israel and Israel’s right to exist.”

For all we’ve learned about the Holocaust since 1945, Cindy still finds people who are shocked by the details. “I was talking to an audience in San Francisco, a very intelligent audience, and I played part of the testimony my father gave about what he had seen. They all gasped when he was talking about what he saw, and I thought: ‘What are they gasping about?’ So even now, I don’t how much is in the consciousness of the American people.”

Although she admits she wrote her book primarily for herself (“Greedy, relentless; I felt like I should’ve left him alone and yet I couldn’t.”), she also realizes she’s now made a permanent contribution to future generations. She recalled one talk she gave: “My talk was about the Holocaust and what my father had seen, and when I got back to my seat, my son Josh took my hand. He was a teenager then, he took my hand and he was crying.” And her father? ”I think he’s up there smacking his head saying ‘Oh Cindy!’ but he has a small smile on his face.”

For more information, visit: www.lucindafranks.com

*****

Tziviah bat Yisroel v’Hudah (Jan Lisa Huttner) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com.

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