Category Archives: Jewish and Gay— Movies

“SCAFFOLDING”— In Two Worlds


In Two Worlds

Amos Lassen

Seventeen-year-old Asher has always been something of a troublemaker at school. He has difficulty concentrating in class, and he is compelled by a lot of rage and violence. Surprisingly, he also possesses charm and street smarts. His father is quite strict yet he is preparing him to take over the family’s scaffolding business. However,  Asher has a different masculine role model in his gentle literature teacher Rami and forges a special connection with him. Asher is torn between the two worlds and looks for a chance for a new life and identity. When a sudden tragedy occurs, he has to take the ultimate test of maturity.

Director Matan Yair taught literature in Israel for almost a decade before he switched to film-making. I did the same but for a longer period and instead of turning to filmmaking, I turned to film reviewing. Israeli society is a true melting pot with  individuals from various backgrounds  including challenging youngsters. Both Yair and I believed that we could inspire his pupils by letting them follow their own path of self-discovery.  Yair had a special student, the aforementioned Asher who was the inspiration for this film.

We start with a question—how much does it take for a person to achieve their full potential? Asher (Asher Lax) is a 17-year old student, short-tempered, yet sensitive. He doesn’t care much for education and makes little effort to prepare for his final exams. Besides being a student, he helps his father Milo (Yaacov Cohen) with his scaffolding business. Since the old man expects that his son will take over the company one day, the boy doesn’t believe that he has any options for a different life available. But everything changes when Rami (Ami Smolartchik), a literature teacher, becomes both his mentor and a role model. He helps Asher with his studies and shows Asher that he has other options in life apart from his father’s business. Although the teacher gives it his all, he himself is also lost. One day, Rami suddenly disappears from the students’ lives and leaves them with anger and sadness. With a new professor on board, Asher might not be able to carry on with what he has already set out to do.

This is a sincere and compelling portrait of a young man’s self-discovery. Asher has dreams of becoming a student of literature and history – but his temper and circumstances often get in the way. Only Rami has a chance at changing his life for the better. “Scaffolding” is largely the story of the relationship between the teacher and his student; as well as that between a domineering father and his son. Asher is not a likeable character: even if we feel sorry for him a lot of the time, he keeps making aggressive mistakes and never learns from his actions.

The performances are excellent all around. Asher, as a real-life student of the director and a first-time actor, is brilliant in the leading role. His vulnerability, anger, and internal conflict are all visible just by looking into his eyes Ami Smolartchik is also incredible as the polar opposite: the sensitive teacher. Again, there’s a lot of internal conflict in this character, and the understated way with which Smolarchik carries himself in all his scenes, complete with the physical display of vulnerability, is remarkable. Yaacov Cohen is impressive as the domineering yet weak father – by turns supportive and kind; but then tragically oppressive the next sentence. What goes on between Rami and Milo for Asher’s heart is the heart of the film.

There’s something that is fascinating about watching Israeli films. I have remarked in the past that there was a time when you could not pay an Israeli to go to a movie made in Israel but that has changed greatly. 

“BENT”— We Shall Never Forget”


We Shall Never Forget

Amos Lassen

Film Movement is rereleasing a remastered and Blu Ray copy of “Bent” as part of their classics series. “Bent” is one of the most difficult films I have ever watched. It is also one of the most important films we have today about the treatment of gay men during the Holocaust. The darkest period in the history of mankind is what the movie “Bent” is about. It is not an easy movie to watch but it should be required viewing for all mankind so that we may see what man’s inhumanity to man can engender. It is also important that we never forget the atrocities that we see in the movie that are brought about simply because people are different. It was Adolph Hitler and the Nazi regime that sought to rid the world of those who did not fulfill the Aryan characteristics and this meant Jews, Catholics, gays and gypsies. I think that we forget or perhaps just didn’t know that gays were punished and exterminated during that time. The movie “Bent” and the play upon what it was based attempted to make sure we would never forget. I, personally, can never forget because I fall into two of the categories that called for extermination, being both gay and Jewish. I lost part of my family to the Nazis, a family I would never know and I am determined that the world will never be allowed to forget.

“Bent” is one of the most powerful films that I have ever seen and yet, for some reason, I felt it could have been even more powerful. I remember seeing the play in New York with Richard Gere and I was silent for a week afterwards. The movie made me very angry, very very angry. As I have matured I have grown aware of prejudice more and more That is exactly why this movie is so important, it reminds us of just how awful life can be and how humans, with misguidance, can become sick animals just as the Nazis were in both reality and in this film. 
From the first frame of the film, it draws the viewer in and the matter at hand, the Nazi persecution of homosexuals was presented with dignity and grace and respect. What is lacking in character development was made up for by the long silent periods in the film that continuously drive the viewer to realize what is happening. Intensely psychological, the movie drives its point right into the lap of the viewer.

It is easy to rationalize the period by saying that in times of desperation and fear, people do terrible, incomprehensible things. Everything is taken away, self-esteem is stripped, comforts of life disappear and people are places in situations that they are completely unprepared for, We. Who live in a free country, cannot comprehend something like this happening, we cannot understand what is like to face death because we are different. But we do need to be aware that if this happened once in history, there is no guarantee that it will not happen again.

I ask you to try to imagine what is like to watch a drag queen who sings every night to a lonely bunch of men and has the power to protect herself by bribing the Nazis. How can that be? The drag queen saves her life by paying for it with the lives of others. And after one has been turned in and is on a train to a place unknown and which takes him from everything has ever known after being tracked down like an animal where is the justice in that? Then he watches as they drag his lover away. This is the reality of “Bent”.

For so long it was only the travails of the Jews that we heard about regarding the Holocaust. Other groups were treated as badly and this is what “Bent” shows us. “Bent” is a perspective on the holocaust from the unknown number of homosexuals who suffered alongside  the Jews. It is a simple story — a love story between men in terrible circumstances and the bond of love presented in the movie is convincing and moving. Somehow this love maintained with no physical contact and hardly any eye contact. The love scene is not like any you have ever seen. The two men bring each other to climax by words alone, no touch and no looking at each other.

This movie is not a masterpiece, far from it but it is a movie that needed to be made if for no other reason than to remind us of the time. It is a very sad but romantic story. The story and the characters are what made this movie so powerful. The producers were a brave group to even attempt to bring this to the screen. It is an untouched piece of history that has been elegantly brought to us.

It is hard to even write about “Bent” without tearing up. The absurdity of killing people for no real reason except that they are different is something that is hard to understand perhaps because it cannot be understood. The punishment that was supposed to be for a crime against nature was forced labor and ultimately death. Bent depicts a world devoid of physical and eye contact, devoid of humanity, and devoid of understanding. Profound and incredible, “Bent” is a movie that must be seen to be believed and it must be viewed with an open heart and mind so that one can actually feel what the actors feel, not only because they were gay men in love and pain but because, above all else, they were human.

 Here is what Film Movement has to say about this release:




Bonus features included Cast and Crew Interviews, Mick Jagger music video Streets of Berlin, Behind the Scenes footage, and new essay written by Steven Alan Carr.


WINNER – Prix de la Jeunesse – Cannes Film Festival 
NOMINATED – Outstanding Film – GLAAD Media Awards 
WINNER – Best Feature – Torino Int’l. Gay & Lesbian Film Festival 
WINNER – Best Actor – Gijon Int’l. Film Festival —

Martin Sherman’s play about the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany makes its transition to the big screen with triumphant results. The acting is superb and the ingenious score by Phillip Glass adds a haunting, surreal texture to director, Sean Mathias opulent, Greenaway-esque production. – Stephen Holden, The New York Times 

Martin Sherman’s harrowing concentration camp drama about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals still has some power to unsettle…Bent has earned its place in cultural history. –Film Threat

The film is a punch in the gut and a kiss on the lips… – Mark Savlov, Austin Chronicle 

Director Sean Mathias has made a very stylized yet substantive movie about the plight of homosexuals in the Holocaust. –Spirituality & Practice

“FLAWLESS” (“HANESHEF”)— Three Teens


Three Teens

Amos Lassen

“Flawless” is the story of three teenagers from Jerusalem who sell their kidneys to pay for cosmetic surgery and prom dresses. As a secret uncovers they realize nothing is as it seems. Tal Granit and Sharon Maimon co-directed. The film has been nominated for 12 Ophir Awards (Israel’s Oscar) and among them is a nomination for best actress. Stav Strashko is a 25-year-old trans actress who landed that nomination.

Strashko, who has made her name in recent years as a top international model, has scored another first as she is the first trans nominee in Israel. “I always saw myself in women’s roles.” “I’m proud to be the first trans [nominee] — it’s a milestone,” she said. Strashko grew up as a boy who identified as girl and this prepared her for a career in acting. “My whole life I played something that I wasn’t.”

In the film, she plays Eden, a transgender teen desperate to raise money for a breast enlargement operation ahead of the prom.“Strashko, who was born Stanislav in Ukraine, was discovered by a modeling agency after leaving her home in Tel Aviv at the age of 16, at first taking on androgynous roles and later modeling as a woman, including a campaign opposite musician Joe Jonas for Diesel.” In Israel, Strashko came to public attention when she took part in the “Big Brother VIP” TV show. She has since become a prominent figure in the LGBT community.


“RED COW” (“PARA ADUMA”)— Coming-of-Age Sexually, Religiously and Politically in Israel

“Red Cow” (“Para Aduma”)

Coming-of-Age Sexually, Religiously and Politically in Israel

Amos Lassen

“Red Cow is a coming-of-age film that takes place in Israel during the days leading up to the assassination of Rabin. Benny is a 16-year-old girl who was orphaned from mother at birth. She is the only child of Yehoshua, a religious, right wing extremist and she is at that critical juncture when she is forming her sexual, religious and political awareness. The film is set on one of Israel’s orthodox Jewish settlement where Benny has sexual awakening and ideological unraveling. This is a sensitive and assured first feature from Tsivia Barkai Yacov who also wrote the screenplay. We see a community that is rarely explored on screen. The film shows the difficulties of being a young woman in a devout patriarchal system. We also are taken into the complexity of burgeoning female desire and a complicated queer romance.

I can assure you that based upon my own experiences as an orthodox gay Jew that the film is disarmingly authentic. We have a female-centric window into the Middle East filled with intimate insights into a girl defying societal expectations. Benny’s (Avigail Kovari) outsider status is sealed from the outset, her androgynous name and blazing red hair stand out in her settlement home of Silwan in East Jerusalem. An introduction explains the significance of the feature’s title and its links to the Torah, so that we are aware of the importance of Benny’s task of caring for a newborn pure-red calf. We see the potential parallels between the girl and the animal in her care. Although Benny and her extremist father Yehoshua (Gal Toren) might not realize it at first, both are beacons of change.

According to his beliefs, Yehoshua is convinced that salvation is now imminent. When Benny searches for her own faith beyond strict religious instructional classes with the community’s other women and generally assisting her father, she finds it in a burning desire for newcomer to the settlement, Yael (Moran Rosenblatt). A fast friendship soon becomes nervous clandestine flirting, and then passionate secret trysts. The forbidden tenor of their romance is omnipresent throughout. She tells Yael even before things become physical that she is surprised by the intensity of her feelings..

It’s with naturalism and nuance that director Yacov who herself is a native of an orthodox Jewish settlement herself, conveys the teen’s emotional state. She experiences deeply-felt urges that threaten to overtake her entire life while also clashing with the teachings she’s increasingly beginning to abandon thus placing her in a precarious position should the affair be discovered. Benny’s growing distance from Yehoshua and everything he represents is also handled with subtlety— as a relationship fracturing with each passing moment, but with slow and ragged cuts. The film moves between the use of walls, fences and shadows to stress the boundaries surrounding Benny and these mirror her restless fervor.

Kovari gives a performance of internalized turmoil, and uncontainable longing. Her chemistry with Toren is palpable, their glances say everything their characters can’t.

“DISOBEDIENCE”— A Complicated Relationship


A Complicated Relationship

Amos Lassen

Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s “Disobedience” is set in London’s Orthodox Jewish community and depicts the complicated relationship between two women born into this world, whose paths in life have deviated after an earlier affair. What makes this so brilliant a film is how Lelio manages to sidestep overly familiar discussions on sexuality and religious prejudice in order to examine the very nature of freewill when it comes to accepting a love frowned upon by a belief system. It’s a film that is equally romantic and philosophical and I am quite sure that “Disobedience” will be on many ten bests lists for 2018.

It has been adapted from Naomi Alderman’s controversial and gorgeous 2006 novel of the same name. It follows Ronit Kruschka (Rachel Weisz) the estranged daughter of a beloved rabbi who has long since fled to New York to pursue a career as a photographer. Upon hearing about the sudden death of her father, she returns to the London community where she grew up to pay her respects, and finds herself to be something of a ghost. While she is welcomed with open arms and shown kindness, yet her existence as her father’s only child has been eliminated from her father’s newspaper obituary, and a renewed social tension has emerged due to the nature of a previous affair with Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams).

Esti is now married to her father’s apprentice Rabbi, Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola) who lets her stay in their upper middle class home. Since they last saw each other, Esti has become a pillar of the local community and teaches English literature at a local girl’s school. The only thing setting her back from true happiness is that she is incapable of feeling physical attraction to men and knowing that confessing otherwise could jeopardize her devout faith. This becomes even more complicated when she slowly rekindles the relationship she had with Ronit year’s prior.

The film deals with the numerous factors in a person’s life that can stop them accepting their true identity and how that struggle intensifies following the death of a loved one. Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams perfectly communicate the frailty that comes with seeing a former flame following the aftermath of a sudden end to the relationship, and the separate anxieties the two share about the developing nature of their romance.

In the opening scene, a rabbi, Rav Kruschka (Anton Lesser), delivers a sermon at a North London synagogue about angels and beasts, free will, and choosing the tangled lives we live. His tone is doctrinaire, poisonous even, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the frail-looking man drops dead on the spot. Meanwhile in New York, his daughter, Ronit, is putting his words into action. She is a photographer and is in session when she receives a phone call one alerting her to her father’s death, after which she’s seen impassively skating around an ice rink, with a time-out for a random hookup with a man inside a bathroom stall.

We’ll learn why she turned her back on the Orthodox world she was born into yet her personhood will remain foreign to us. Everyone in “Disobedience” is representative and every scene is declarative. With the help of her old lover, Esti, Ronit goes to her father’s home to gather some belongings. Seeing an old radio, Ronit turns it on and we hear a song whose lyrics completely speak to the situation of the two women: “You make me feel like I am home again/Whenever I’m alone with you/You make me feel like I am whole again.”

It is here that Ronit and Esti find themselves alone for the first time in many years. They finally talk about their romantic past in a single long take, and it’s some kind of masterstroke how the tension of their reminiscences and flirtations in tune with the audience’s wondering when the shot will dare to cut away.

At first glance, Esti seems to be an obsequious adherent to orthodoxy. When she passionately kisses Dovid, we understand that this is compensatory and to show that the past with Ronit is indeed the past.. But then she plays with Dovid’s beard, and subtly communicates the sense of the genuine love that exits between this husband and wife—an impression that’s confirmed when Esti later repeats the gesture with Ronit. But theirs is a different kind of love, and we finally get a sense of what that is when the two women are alone and trysting in a hotel room and Ronit casually sends a stream of her saliva into Esti’s mouth.

Director Lelio understands that the community at the center of the film is rooted in old-school tradition, but as it’s physically rooted in a cultural capital of the world, no one here is a stranger to gays and lesbians, and so the reactions to Ronit and Esti’s rekindled love affair never rises to hysterics. Ronit is asked at one point why she isn’t married and response is understood as a matter of course. In fact, in the subtlest of glances exchanged between the women of this community, one senses a certain respect for Ronit having broken away from tradition to find her own path through life. Esti, on the other hand, may have the courage to admit to Ronit that she’s only attracted to women, but she isn’t so brave to stand by her when they’re caught kissing by some friends and her survival instinct kicks in and she bolts from the scene. The film is less about the subjugation of the self to the group than the courage to embrace uncertainty by breaking out of the world one has been born into. And the triumph of the film is the grace and gracefulness of the performances and style.

Repression is a major theme Esti and Ronit have always had a special relationship, and they rekindle a love that becomes more than just friendship. But, of course, this community, and Esti’s marital status, can never allow it.


“Happiness Adjacent”

A Romance

Amos Lassen

Since I saw and reviewed Rob Williams’ first feature film some ten years and nine movies ago, I realized that we had a new director who was going to make quality gay themed films and from the moment that I hear that he has a new project underway, I begin pestering him about a screener. I have never been disappointed by the quality and originality of his work. As I could expect, Rob Williams brings us yet another wonderful gay-themed film with “Happiness Adjacent”. This one is actually kind of special for me in that we meet a gay Jewish guy as the main character. For those of you who are not aware, I have personally made it my goal to collect all books and films that deal with the gay Jewish experience so that my younger gay Jewish brothers and sisters will know where to go to find material and it is a pleasure to add this to the canon.

“Happiness Adjacent” is about explores the romance between Hank, a nice gay Jewish boy traveling alone on a tropical cruise, and Kurt, a bisexual man vacationing with his wife, Kate. When we first meet Hank Eisenberg, he comes across as something of a whiner and a “nebbish” (ask your Jewish friends what this means). However as the movie progresses, he becomes quite endearing. While he was not looking for a relationship, he is immediately drawn to Kurt and the two men form an intense friendship connection. They are open with each other about their sexualities— by this I mean that Hank comes out as gay and Kurt as a married man. Hank has his own issues with his past failed relationships and he begins to wonder if Kurt is secretly looking for a bit of action since it seems that his marriage has become quite boring. The two men do sexually come together and it is left to us to determine if what they have is just a vacation fling a chance for both men to find true happiness.

When the film began, as I said, I found Hank to be quite irritating in that he was harping on this being his dream vacation that he looked forward to taking with his best friend Brian who cancelled at the last minute (thus giving Hank a change to use the concept of Jewish guilt to make him seem less than a likeable character). Hank and Brian had compiled a to-do list for his cruise adventure (go to a Mexican beach, be a Pirate, get laid, get over ‘him’, and make a new friend) and now Hank would have to do this alone. I really wanted to scream at him to get a grip and enjoy himself but he realized his predicament and on his own (and after an imagined session with his therapist, a Dr. Mandelbaum), he did so himself and from that moment he became the kind of a guy I want to be friendly with. (director Williams does quite well with the Yiddish terms and Jewish feelings expressed here).

Hank meets Kurt on the very first days of the cruise and the fact that he is a good looking redhead and the very opposite of Hank’s dark Jewish countenance makes for an interesting aspect of their soon to be kindled relationship. But then there’s Kate, Kurt’s wife. At first Hank and Kurt hang out on the ship while Kate deals with her seasickness. But then, after a drunken night, Kurt shows up at Hank’s cabin and they’re off. While Kate is still suffering mal de mer, Hank and Kurt hit the beach and visit a pirate ship. After Kate realizes what’s been going on between her husband and Hank… You will just have to see the film (and enjoy every minute) to find out what happens.

Williams shot the entire film on location on the iPhone 6S Plus and the cinematography is excellent. My only complaint and it is not really a complaint is that old line about being able to sere Hank’s religion through the noticeable outline in his bathing suit outline is a bit old. We can always depend on Rob Williams to provide us with quality filmmaking as he once again proves here. (Is it not ironic that the very next morning I was in a study group with several other people and one was named Eisenberg and another was named Mandlebaum).

“THE STRANGEST STRANGER”— Jewish, Gay and in Japan


Jewish, Gay and in Japan

Amos Lassen

In Haruki Murakami’s novel ‘Kafka on the Beach’, we meet a mysterious man who calls himself Johnnie Walker. Is he modeled on Joni Waka, a Jewish man living in Tokyo, or is it the other way round? The charismatic and talkative Waka is a true chameleon and a self-proclaimed outsider, a “mythomaniac”, a homosexual and the natural center of every party. He claims to come from an age-old Jewish lineage.

“The Swedish artist Magnus Bärtås met Waka 20 years ago, and has since been fascinated by how this professional oddball has cultivated his entire life story as fiction. Joni Waka ignores all social norms – and there are a few of these in Japan – and sees himself as a ‘henna gaijin’, the strangest among strangers. He has a self-image that launches him into many confrontations and adventures, and he insists on living it out every single moment of his life. Rumor has it that there is something about the African man whom Waka once seduced in Daqar.”

Waka claims that he is the only Jew left in Japan descending from the old Jewish families in the country. Confronted with a social pressure, he seems to ignore dominating norms and moral, and at the same time using his outside position, as a henna gaijin (the “strangest stranger”) as a space of freedom to stage his life and create an everyday comedy.

This is a mesmerizing documentary with more questions than answers, not just about Waka, but also the very nature of truth.

“THE RABBI”— Unspoken Desires

“The Rabbi”

Unspoken Desires

Amos Lassen

Israel has produced excellent LGBT cinema in the last 15 years but while many aspects of life in Israel have been explored, including its politics, the country’s fraught relationship with its neighbors and military conscription, it isn’t often we see Judaism in a gay drama. Uriya Hertz’s  short film “The Rabbi” introduces us to Michael (Gur Yaari), a charismatic and much-admired Rabbi at a Jerusalem Yeshiva. A revealing confession by Gadi, his favorite student, shakes the rabbi’s familiar and secure world.

Michael finds that he must confront his own sublimated desires. This subtle, understated drama is more about those things which go unsaid than full-blown arguments. A dinner scene, where Gadi joins the Rabbi’s family for supper, fizzes with pent-up energy and emotion.

“Paternal Rites”— A Contemporary Jewish American Family


“Paternal Rites”

A Contemporary Jewish American Family

Amos Lassen

Jules Rosskam’s documentary is a “first-person essay on film that examines the aftereffects of physical and sexual abuse in a contemporary Jewish American family, with the filmmaker’s queer and transgender identity at its core”. Filmmaker Rosskam and his partner, Alex, retrace a 1974 road trip taken by Rosskam’s parents and combine photographs, audio recordings, home movies, live action “to evoke the psychoanalytic journey of memory retrieval and trauma recovery”.

This is also a film about the nature of trauma and memory itself: the ways in which trauma works uncannily; the function of speech and narrative in the process of decryption; and the role of film and filmmaking in the practice of healing. In the fall of 2013 filmmaker Jules Rosskam and his partner, Alex, set out to retrace a road trip that Rosskam’s parents, Marilyn and Skip, completed in the fall of 1974 (just prior to his birth and their transition to both suburbia and parenthood. We hear audio diaries that Marilyn and Skip kept during the course of their four-month journey and sees photographs and travelogue footage recorded on Super 8 that is barely perceptible, grainy. Their route included Boston, Mobile, Savannah, Chicago, Portland, Vancouver. 

As we watch, we hear present-day audio interviews between Rosskam and his mother, father, partner, and therapist. The faces of speaking subjects are never seen. Rosskam tries to make sense of conflicting narratives of his childhood, and to find forgiveness for the man who did not protect him. As the director searched for a story about his father, he is confronted with the truth about his brother causing a surprising and shocking conclusion. 

We see images of the American landscape, which tend to haunt the viewer with their banality, and with the layering of still images over live-action footage. There is also the white screen upon which colorful animations are used to “evoke the psychoanalytic process of memory’s retrieval and trauma’s repair.”  

What is really implicit throughout is the filmmaker’s queer and transgender subjectivity, which comes to the surface of the screen when the viewer sees fragments of home movies of his childhood that are amazing in their unremarkable nature and hears audio recordings of contemporary conversations between Rosskam and Alex, who functions as Rosskam’s partner in life as well as in this project. What we really see is how film is able to take us to places we would not ordinarily go.


“DEAR FREDDY”— A Heroic Gay Jewish Sportsman Who Ended Up in Auschwitz


A Heroic Gay Jewish Sportsman Who Ended Up in Auschwitz

Amos Lassen

Rubi Gat’s powerful documentary, “Dear Freddy” tells the life of Freddy Hirsch who was born in Germany but lived in Prague before World War II as an openly gay male.

We can understand how rare that was. He was a sportsman who promoted sport and remained active even when the Nazis tried to exclude Jews from any sporting facilities. He was also a spokesperson who fearlessly negotiated with the SS at Theresienstadt ghetto, when he was moved to Auschwitz and where he set up a day-care centre for 600 children. Through rare photographs, archive footage and witness testimony, we get an extraordinary story and a celebration of a heroic figure that died fighting for the betterment of others.