Category Archives: Jewish and Gay— Movies

“BAR 51”— Brother and Sister

bar 51 better poster

“BAR 51”

Brother and Sister

Amos Lassen

bar 1a

Thomas (Juliano Mor) and Mariana (Smadar Kilchinsky) are brother and sister and have a very deep relationship. With the death of their mother, they move to Tel Aviv from a small village in hopes of finding a way to live. Thomas meets Apollonia (Ada Tal), the owner of Bar 51. They both get jobs there and for the first time, they arrived in Tel Aviv and find work and accommodation at Bar 51. For the first time they discover the worlds of night fashion, dancers, and the gay community. Apollonia is a transsexual who has her desires set on Thomas while Thomas fantasizes about his sister, Mariana. As this triangle tightens, we sit and watch.

bar4

This downbeat Israeli drama about a brother’s incestuous love for his sister is notable for good camerawork and art direction. 

bar3

Thomas makes money as a “kept man” for two different women who are nightclub entertainers. At the same time, he attracts the attentions of an amorous transvestite. His unnatural love for his sister goes unexpressed, but his jealousy cannot be controlled. If his sister wants to lead any sort of a normal life, it will be up to her to break her dependence on her brother and move on.

“NO HOME MOVIE”— Mother and Daughter

nohomrpostrt

“No Home Movie”

Mother and Daughter

Amos Lassen

Chantal Akerman’s “No Home Movie” places her mother in the center, but the real star is death. We sense it omnisciently throughout the film making itself felt more acutely in the sad light of the filmmaker’s recent presumed suicide just days before she was scheduled to present this film at the New York Film Festival. We are reminded while we are connected by love and memories, death silently waits to swallow us all. Akerman mixed calm, sadness, and onscreen suffering making the response to death almost more than we are able to bear.

no home1a

Akerman was known for her use of the long shot filmed conversations with her quite elderly mother, Natalia. She filmed her conversations with her elderly mother in her mother’s Brussels apartment. She also recorded their chats over Skype. She said she did so to prove that there is no distance in today’s world. However, there is distance and we see this when Akerman cuts from interiors to a series of exterior shots whose emptiness and desolation contrast with the interiors’ intimacy. The pull between inside and outside is filled with extreme tension.

no7

When the two are together in the apartment, we see a poignant connection and their small talk and deeper reminiscences are absorbing. We see Natalia Akerman as a dignified, kind woman, inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt, affectionate not just with her kin but with the caretakers who attend to her needs, and always respectful of her daughter’s high spirits and intelligence. Madame Akerman has been marked by death; she and her husband survived the Holocaust, but just barely, and that brush with fate seems to have given her a sturdy, philosophical outlook on life.

no home2a

The camera films Madame Akerman’s home and possessions and this gives us a nonverbal sense of who she as we see her intensely observed personal environment. This seems to have something to say about whether we exist or not. Madame Akerman clings to life, daily taking her all-important walks. When she leaves the apartment, the camera stays focused in the temporarily and we know that it will eventually be empty for good for Natalia. As she fades, we feel broken hearted. At one point, she nods off to sleep in a chair and Akerman and her sister try to keep her awake and engaged with humor and baby talk. She struggles to respond, but we can see she is just not totally. The daughters’ attempts to reach her and even though we know that they mean well, they instead come across as cruel, well-meaning as they are, seem almost cruel. There are some of the cruelties of life in the exterior shots. The camera pans over the gray Israeli desert out of a car window, first steadily and then jerks back and forth, creating a mood of desperate flight.

no home movie

It is clear why Akerman was such a polarizing artist in her long career. These scenes feel like guilt, or punishment. Near the end of the film, water appears on the screen with Akerman’s silhouette reflected on its surface. The water moves calmly and this is in contrast to Chantal Akerman’s suicide. We hope that she felt some calm and beauty in those few moments.

The film is Akerman’s unsentimental love letter to, her recently deceased mother. The camera is focused on Natalia as she moves around her apartment. Instead of pairing words with images, Akerman often rests her camera in Natalia’s apartment, to record epitomizing moments or even conventionally meaningful revelations. Natalia is simply there and oblivious to being filmed. The film is a chronicle of Natalia’s gradual deterioration and eventual off-screen death.

no home movie1

The film begins in a desert where wind fiercely blows at the one solitary tree there. We see its strength and whatever enters the wind’s path is forced into a vortex from which there is no escape and no exit. The tree is a symbol of Natalia’s life, both in Brussels and in Auschwitz. Like the tree, Natalia bends but she does not break. Akerman’s initial instance of isolation becomes a visual leitmotif and the film shows other examples of iterations of singular personages— a man on a bench or a lawn chair in the backyard and they become functional equivalents for Natalia’s disintegrating self. Akerman presents no definition of her mother nor does she gives us biographical details. This is not an eulogy for Natalia and Akerman dignifies her mother by presenting her as a fresh idea.

When Akerman is at home with her mother, she prompts several discussions, including Natalia’s recollections of her own parents, studying Hebrew prayers, and Akerman’s being pulled out of Hebrew school by her father, who wanted to leave orthodox Judaism. Their talks persistently move toward religion and ideology. At dinner she how her father was “a bit of a socialist,” and debates with her mother the leanings of those in power during World War II, which forced the family’s immigration to Sweden. The camera holds them and we get a sense of being removed from Akerman’s directorial hand, as if these moments simply came into being by accident.

no home3

As discussions are about ethnicity and politics, we go back to the opening of the desert. There is a strong sense of desire for movement away from a place but no matter, death is on the horizon. Natalia dies and soon after so does Akerman.
Akerman has had a nomadic career that comprehensively grapples with an existential division between self and place. Her drama centers around a lack of temporal continuity—a consistently faulty and unreliable immediacy. This film is not a time capsule and neither is it an attempt to actually capture anything. For Akerman, there can be no home, there can be no movie, and there certainly cannot be a combination of the two, since it would constitute a flagrant disavowal of the catastrophic realities created by manmade transgression. Natalia who was a witness to the horrors at Auschwitz, silently carries them with her with in every lasting step and breath.

no home movie2

The film feels very much like a montage of home movies randomly coming together but brilliantly so.

“ADAM”— Adam and Jonathan

adam poster

“Adam”

Adam and Jonathan

Amos Lassen

Segev Gershon Green’s “Adam” is a heartrending plea for sexual acceptance and tolerance. Green brings the subject of bullying among teenagers to the global spotlight, as a high school student finds his declaration of love for another boy, leads to hostile reactions from his classmates.

This is the story of Adam (Moti Lugassi) is a sensitive soul who happens to have fallen madly in love with high school cutie Jonathan (Shahar Roth); a guy who is so clearly straight that no one wonder. Adam knows that his love will never be real for Jonathan so he takes consolation in acting out a fantasy relationship with his object of desire, by way of a pair of “Jonathan and Adam” Barbie styled dolls. But then his pent-up emotions get the better of him and he openly declares his hitherto unspoken love on Jonathan’s Facebook page and this is an act that is destined to end in tragedy. Here is a film with no happy ending.

adam1

The film was made to highlight the issue of teenage bullying, of which the disturbing fact remains that out of every four students in the US, one is bullied on a daily basis at school. This is the first Israeli film that deals directly with bullying among teenagers and so doing, delivers a heartrending plea for sexual acceptance and tolerance.

Even though we sense early on how this will end, we still need more films like this to show the danger of bullying and that “too many teenagers find themselves at the end of lonely street, unable to cope with a life of seemingly unending verbal and physical abuse”.

Thankfully before storm clouds gather, Segev Gershon Green, alongside American producer Edward Singletary Jr. and Indonesian producer Edward Gunawan have gone out of their way to tell their story in a glimmer of sunlight, using a beautifully lit and touchingly tender fantasy sequence. The movie is “bitterly poignant” bitterly poignant, even if Moti Lugassi is clearly older than the teenage character he portrays so beautifully.

“PARAGRAPH 175”— Documenting Hate

para

“PARAGRAPH 175”

Documenting Hate

Amos Lassen

”Paragraph 175” (New Yorker Video) is a documentary on the treatment of gays at the hands of the Nazis. By the year 1920, Berlin had become the homosexual Eden and homosexual men and women lived open lives in a world where being different seemed to be the rule. When the Nazis began their rise to power this changed and over 100,000 men were arrested between 1933 and 1945. Their crime was homosexuality and they were arrested under the extremely strange Paragraph 175, a sodomy provision of the penal code which dated back to 1871. Some men were sent to prison, the majority were sent to concentration camps and of the 100,000 only 4,000 survived. Today, less then ten of them still live and f that number, five have come forward to tell the story of the Nazi persecution. What they does s shed light on a period of history which has been hidden for too long. The moving testimonies they give are pieced together with provocative photos as questions of memory, history and identity are raised in this wonderful, but heartbreaking, documentary.

para1

We hear from a gay Jewish resistance fighter who helped refugees in Berlin, from a Jewish lesbian who managed tot escape to England, a German Christian photographer who was imprisoned because he was gay and when released joined the army to be with men and a French Alsatian who watched as his lover was tortured and murdered in the camps. As they speak your heart breaks a little and these stories are real and devastating. You hear one man tell how he stood by as his lover was devoured by German Shepherds and from the gay man who managed to help his Jewish lover go free and then watch him run to his family so that he could die with them.

para3

The movie documents the fall of the decadent golden days of Berlin and how gay men were taken prisoner because of innuendo or simply gossip. It is impossible not to admire the survivors who came forward to take part in this important film. The stories are real and the people are real and the emotions you will feel when you watch this are very real. It is impossible not to be struck almost senseless by what you see and hear here.

para4

It is even hard to think about how this film was made. There are only a few survivors left and people are not eager to talk about this period. We have had many films that deal with holocaust material but gays and the holocaust has been almost completely ignored. What is sp interesting in “Paragraph 175” is that what we have is experience and emotions, we see them and we hear them and we are lucky for this because they will be gone soon.

para5

Basically a series of interviews, the documentary has interspersed actual footage of the time with the people speaking and it is done very professionally. When we consider how many movies and documentaries have already been made about the darkest period in history but this one is special–IT IS ABOUT US. It was only 74 years old that this happened and it is almost inconceivable that it took that long to have a movie made about the treatment of gays during that time. But now that we have it, it must be seen as it explores the terrible, horrible fate of our community. This is the most powerful 80 minutes of film I have ever seen and while it is emotional and informative it does not force issues.

para8

It made me angry and sad and the compassion I felt in the beginning for the people who shared their stories turned to rage at times. Why did we not fight back? Why did we take this? And then I realized that we had no choice, No one cared whether we lived or died and many did not believe this was happening. The movie did not have to try to depend upon human emotion, it happened naturally and this was caused by the sheer simplicity and honesty of the interviews.The only problem with “Paragraph 175” is that it was limited and this is because there are not enough survivors alive to talk about the period. The archival footage of life under Nazism and in the concentration camps is sparse and the pool of interviewees is small. This has caused the film to have t rely on family photographed and pictures of gay and lesbian Germany from the period immediately following the first World War. The narrator, British film star, Rupert Everett is the spine of the movie.

para6

Let’s take a brief look at what Paragraph 175 said. It stated: “An unnatural sex act committed between persons of male sex is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights may also be imposed”. Yet this was never enforced until the rise of Hitler. As we watch and listen to the accounts of those interviewed, we hear stories of the most repressive nature. The stories pull at the heart because unlike the Jews they have not been able to tell their stories and have not been able to hide their feelings for so long.

para7

The penal code did not cover lesbians because lesbianism was considered curable and women, being the vessels to produce children, were not included in mass arrests. Most lesbians went into hiding or exile or married gay men.In closing I would like to give a few statistics. Of the 100,000 men arrested for homosexuality, 50,000 went to prison and about 15,000 were sent to concentration camps were they were used for slave labor, medical experimentation and castration. Of those that survived, we only have a few left today. Paragraph 175 was not abolished after the War; in fact it stayed in effect until the late 1960s and was enforced every once in a while.

para2

This film excels in letting people tell their stories without adding to what they say and it carefully and judiciously explains the situation of denials of the world that regarded homosexuality as a threat to the existence of mankind. Even with the horror of the stories, “Paragraph 175” gives one faith in man and also chides the viewer into making sure that something like this will never, ever happen again. The movie is beautiful because of its importance and should be viewed and reviewed whenever we think that things are bad for us here in America.

“THE LOST KEY”— Sex Advice? from the Torah and Kabbalah

the lost key poster

“The Lost Key”

Sex Advice from the Torah and the Kabbalah

Amos Lassen

“The Lost Key” a new documentary about sex advice gleaned from the Torah and Kabbalah, is not only anti-gay and anti-women but also contradictory throughout. The focus begins on Venezuelan

Ricardo Adler whose divorce was very difficult for him and he decided to try to discover how to achieve a fulfilling and lasting marriage. His search took him to Rabbi Manis Friedman, who introduced him to Kabbalah’s ancient secrets to attain the highest form of intimacy. The film than concentrates on his transformation in a new marriage and also looks at how other couples have responded to what the rabbi and the film consider to be a revolutionary way to sexual connection. I ask how revolutionary it can be when it comes from texts written hundreds of years ago. The film claims it is about forgotten wisdom and that it can “inspire society to rediscover intimacy, one bedroom at a time”. I say, “Give me a break, sex has not changed since the beginning of time and while methods vary, sex has remained the same”.

lost1a

“The Lost Key” has absolutely nothing new to say and it is reminiscent of the religion classes of the 1950s. Ricardo Adler gives Rabbi Manis Friedman, credit for saving his love life and course for happiness by teaching him the Kabbalah’s ancient secrets for achieving intimacy and that is what this film is; a tribute to the rabbi and not much more than that. What is said and seen here is completely outdated both in regards to sex, but also regarding gender equality and to the rights of people of diverse sexual orientations. It is ultra-conservative and it seems to me that it attempts to teach that intimacy is the best when it involves giving and receiving (duh!!!) but I do need a rabbi or anyone else to tell me that. But that is not all— Rabbi Friedman maintains and insists that only a man can do the giving and that the woman is the one who gets the receiving. (Does his wife dare to tell him that she is in the mood for receiving or does only he get to say when he feels like giving?). What this means according to the rabbi is that the penis is the only giver and the uterus is the only receiver. Therefore penetration of the vagina is the only acceptable way for couples to achieve intimacy. After all, the rabbi says, “The harmony of giving and receiving is something that exists only between a man and a woman”. Does this mean that there is no intimacy in this world outside of sexual intimacy and that those who practice it differently are therefore, by biblical definition, abominations?

The film has been winning prizes at festivals but that is because of the make up of the audiences where the majority consider themselves to be heteronormative. It will be even more interesting to hear the reactions when it is screened in liberal cities like Boston where there is a huge Jewish population that is made up of all the colors of the rainbow. I do not think that the rabbi’s definition of intimacy will float there.

lost1

The film puts women in a passive role by frequently saying that females are categorically incapable of any performing any role in intimate relationships other than being a receptacle. Further, Rabbi Friedman states that the missionary position is the one and only route for achieving intimacy (since the man does what he does while the woman waits to receive him.

There is a sequence in which the Rabbi shares this with a couple being counseled and the wife suggests to the Rabbi that she finds diversity in their sex life a wonderful way for partners to explore and learn about intimacy between them. The Rabbi interrupts her and says that women should not be so active in intimacy. When the husband defends his wife, he tells the rabbi that he is narrow minded in his view on intimacy and the rabbi agrees. The very fact that he does agree tells us where this is all going. I realize that all of this is just foolish out-of-date jabberwocky but I keep watching and hoping that something will change.

lost2

The husband then defends his wife and suggests that the Rabbi has a “narrow” view on intimacy to which the Rabbi smiles and agrees. The lessons of The Lost Key are so out of whack with 2014 that it’s hard to appreciate a word of the film. The Lost Key is honestly one of the most inaccessible documentaries I’ve ever seen because it leaves no room for interpretation or conversation. The film probably succeeds in preaching to the converted, but there is little opportunity for anyone else to accept its lesson.

There are other that scenes both support the rabbi’s views so I am not quite sure what kind of audience will watch this dreadful documentary just as I am sure that not many people will go home and practice what the rabbi has to say. Listening to the rabbi here supports the present day state of America in terms of organized religion—why bother? But he is not alone as we see other talking heads/sex experts who look like fools as they speak. Is there no wonder why there is such a small percentage of people who ascribe to organized religion in the LGBT community? What about the straight community? When a religion dictates what intimacy is, we need to ask ourselves several questions and then hit the door. I am an observant ands active Jewish gay male and have always been. I love my religion because it is sane. Yet every group has its kooks and this rabbi undoubtedly was standing next to Moses when he etched the Ten Commandments into stone.

lost3

Aside from the film’s content, it is a very amateur attempt at a documentary. The camera even shakes—perhaps the cameraman was trying to be intimate with it. Those who do see this film and pay to do so would be better off spending their money on corned beef on rye or falafel on pita.  Those who do opt to see will not likely be surprised to see a bearded, traditional Orthodox rabbi telling them that missionary-style with a man on top, a woman on the bottom in near total darkness within the confines of marriage is the “right” way to have sex. But then comes the surprise— the same rabbi tells then that it is this position that will lead to a heightened, perhaps even holy, intimacy and that this and other lessons from the Torah can “usher in a new era of sexual relations,” and I quote from the film’s press release.

The documentary is headed to American US theaters on August 12. We are told that it promises to reveal to audiences “how a sexual relationship can go beyond mere physical pleasure and become a spiritual experience where two become One.”

It sets out to prove that the lessons of traditional, Orthodox Judaism can lead to better sex by showing couples how to create a heightened sense of intimacy. Director Ricardo Adler says that the oneness with God is the singular and “highest form of physical intimacy.” Now I have to wonder how many people stop to think of God while having sex?

lost6

I should have suspected something the moment I saw Rabbi Friedman in his black suit and long grey beard—I know these kinds of rabbis. We now see that it is not beyond them to take the life of a teenage girl at a gay pride parade. (I know, that is not a fair statement but then neither is murder a fair way to deal with that you do not like).

The rabbi is flanked by a press representative wearing in a yarmulke and a larger man who is also dressed in traditional clothing. Was he afraid to address us alone? I wonder if he has read either “Kosher Sex” or “The Kosher Sutra” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach or if he knows that there is a kosher sex toy industry. I do not see how this film can possibly offer a “revolutionary way” for couples to improve their sense of connection without knowing this. We have already heard about intercourse with the lights off and the man on top of the woman and that this is considered the best ways to achieve the highest level of intimacy. But guess what—there is more. There are other limits for intimacy that restrict other sexual activities in order to allows this intimacy to be exclusive to heterosexual, married couples. Does the rabbi not think that unmarried people do not have sex or is that the sex they have is not intimate? Now Friedman says that this kind of sex has to be fine because it has been going on for 5000 years. Does that mean that oral sex is too new to be considered intimate because people have only been having it for say 4000 years? I would like to see where it is written down that these people who have been intimate share that with us.

Why Friedman doesn’t think about those 5,000 years that have been also filled with “not only unhappy marriages, but physical and sexually abused women, a subjugated LGBT population, and a sexual culture of restriction and shame”. I am stunned that this film ever got made and I am even more stunned that people will pay to see it. Which is the bigger shonda? I have no idea but I do know crap when I see and hear it.

lost7

Not only is this film factually not true, it implies homosexual couples cannot achieve this highest intimacy. I understand that Adler reacted to that statement with “You’re talking to a guy who has been heterosexual since day one, whose family is heterosexual”. Is that a valid excuse for leaving something out of the film? It would like making a movie about vegetables and because I do not like green peas, I ignore the fact that they exist. I also do not like people who think that are making the definitive version of something when they have no idea of what they are talking about. Is it no wonder that Adler’s marriage fell apart? He probably sexually bored the hell out of his wife.

“ORIENTED”— Gay and Arab in Tel Aviv

oriented

“Oriented”

Gay and Arab in Tel Aviv

Amos Lassen

If you follow my reviews you know that I am a gay Israeli/American and one of the founders of the gay liberation movement in Israel. You also probably know that I go out of my way to reviews films and books about LGBT life in Israel. “Oriented” is a film I have not yet had the opportunity to see but am hoping to receive a review screener soon so I can only share what I have heard or read about the film. Jake Witzenfeld’s documentary “Oriented” follows the lives of three friends from Palestine as they deal with their national and sexual identity in Tel Aviv, the largest and most pro-gay city in Israel.

oriented2

Khader is a “Tel Aviv ‘Darling’ who was born into a prominent Muslim “Mafia” family. He is now living with David, his Jewish boyfriend. David is a local LGBT nightlife “impresario”. Khader faces conflicts by his hope and desire for a change in the situation that seems to be hopeless. Fadi is a Palestinian nationalist who faces guilty Jewish love. Naim feels that he must confront his family about his homosexuality. For all three there is a war surrounding them and their people. They are determined to bring about change and they have organized a group, “Qambuta”, “a non-violent cultural resistance movement that fights for gender and national equality”. The three men are very aware that what they are doing may not change the world but it certainly will help and does help to deal with the frustration of having to live with identities that are multi-faced.

oriented3

The three have to navigate politics and the politics of sexuality and dating and many times they do this as war rages all around them. I know and understand what they are going through because there was a time when Israeli gay men suffered discrimination, persecution and even arrest. It was not that long ago when Israeli gay men decided that they had had enough and began to fight back and demand equal rights. We worked very, very hard aligning ourselves with liberal politicians, strikes and even battling with the Tel Aviv police force. I went to jail three times and at the same time was an employee of the government of the country Now that I am longer in Israel, I look back at those years and I realize had we not done what we did, nothing would changed and Tel Aviv and the rest country would have never been named of the best spots in the world for the LGBT community to visit and to live there.

oriented4

Our three Arab/Israelis here are citizens of the State of Israel but because they are regarded by many as “the enemy”, they have a very hard time. Naim is on the verge of coming out to his family and it is really for him to explain the “freedom” he has in Tel Aviv that is in contrast to the life has lived in his parents’ small village. Khader’s Jewish partner wants to leave Israel for to move to Berlin and he is wrestling with why he feels he has to stay.

oriented5

The focus of the film is the challenge to the idea that because one is Arab and gay, we see him as being repressed, or always “struggling”. It is interesting that there are still some places in Israel where gays will not go because of their fear of homophobia but it is certainly not like what it once was.

This is such an important film that actually destroys what some have called “pinkwashing”. But it also brings us a very serious subject for those who just want to be who they really are.

“CODE OF SILENCE”— The Truth About Child Sexual Abuse in Melbourne Australia

code3

“Code Of Silence”

The Truth About Child Sexual Abuse in Melbourne Australia

Amos Lassen

“Code of Silence is a documentary that tells us about an Orthodox Jewish family’s distressing struggle to tell the truth about child sexual abuse within a well-known Melbourne boys’ school. The film contributes to public understanding of the magnitude of the failure across institutions, both religious and secular, to protect children “because of a more dominant reputational defensiveness.” This documentary effectively breaks the “code of silence” which was maintained to cover up abuse in this close-knit community.

The film follows the parallel journeys of a fervently Orthodox Jewish father and his now-secular son after the son breaks the code of silence in Melbourne’s Chabad-Lubavitch community when he went public with his story about being sexually abused as a student. Manny Waks, the son, demands the perpetrators be brought to justice, as well as the rabbis, whom he claims covered it up. His father Zephaniah, has been virtually excommunicated for informing secular authorities, now demands his name be publicly cleared. There seems to be a very high price to be paid by father and son because they blew the whistle on the leaders of this powerful Jewish sect. The film is a deeply personal journey that is “filled with intimate, emotionally charged and candid behind-the-scenes moments of two people waging the fight of their lives.”

code1



Manny Waks has stated that he was abused at his Chabad-run school in the 1980s. Manny’s father Zephaniah has backed his son in breaking the taboo on the front page of “The Age” newspaper in 2011 and therefore he has been accused of being a “mosser” – an informant to secular authorities in breach of an ancient Jewish law. Zephaniah demands his name be cleared.

As a result of being a “mosser”, Zephaniah’s world has fallen apart. He has been denied religious rites; allegedly been blackballed by the rabbi inside the synagogue; his study partners have abandoned him; he and his wife have been marginalized by their friends; he claims his community “has effectively shunned him, vilified and harassed him so much that he and his wife are considering leaving Australia.” It is through Zephaniah’s religious lifestyle and his relationship with the Yeshivah that we are able here, in this film, to enter into the insular world of study and duty, charity and faith, power and piety. Many of us would not otherwise have this opportunity. The Wax story unfolds around key events in their simultaneous journeys including two court cases, their testimonies before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry, and the Jewish Day of Atonement with its mandate to seek forgiveness. 



Manny and Zephaniah often find themselves at dead ends. At the heart of their conflict is religion. Zephaniah and his wife follow the letter of Jewish law and obey all 613 commandments. Manny, however, has left the strictness of this world. We see drive his friends to watch Friday night football and have some beers while his parents rush to prepare for the Sabbath. 

Manny has kept his full name ‘Menachem’; he is named after the deceased chief rabbi of the sect, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who many followers believed may be the Messiah. For Manny now, there is only one biblical commandment with relevance— “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.” And so the battle that has swallowed him, his father now has critical questions of faith: We might also ask how, despite the virtual excommunication of Zephaniah by his own people, has he kept his faith while Manny has lost his? 
We watch this story before our eyes. We see father and son arguing around the dinner table; we are there as Zephaniah attempts to go to the synagogue to receive an honor on the anniversary of his father’s death; we witness his attempts at conciliation with the rabbis; we see the media surrounding them outside court, and what follows. In the midst of all this is wife and mother Chaya Waks, the former President of the Chabad Women’s organization in Melbourne, who was opposed to her son going public and of her husband’s support for him. You can only imagine how it is at home.

code2

This is a film that is told from the heart of Melbourne’s fervently Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and there is a great deal at stake. There are many possibilities as to how this will play out. Will Manny find justice in court and if so will the rabbis be held to account? Will Zephaniah ultimately clear his name or will he and his wife be forced to leave Australia? 
What price will father and son pay for telling the truth? Will the perpetrators pay for their crimes and what, if any, price will the rabbis pay for staying silent? This film that reveals the ongoing dominance of an ancient Code of Silence and the consequences for challenging it. It is a film “about victims and their supporters standing up for justice, the price people pay for doing so and the lengths people will go to prevent it and, in so doing, protect themselves and their institution.” 



”Code of Silence” won the prestigious Walkley Award for best documentary, 2014, and was shortlisted for the best documentary (social and political category) in the ATOM awards.

The documentary “contributes to public understanding of the magnitude of the failure across institutions, both religious and secular, to protect children because of a more dominant reputational defensiveness,” the judges said in their comments. “Through actuality and interview, the documentary effectively breaks the ‘code of silence’, which had prevailed to cover up abuse in this close-knit community.”

As the case against the abusers continues to make news, the documentary is timely and groundbreaking. Danny Ben-Moshe and Dan Goldberg followed the story for a year from July 2013, the only TV crew to gain access to courtrooms. Waks’ perpetrator was jailed, but Waks hopes a royal commission may yet bring to account the rabbis who allegedly covered up the abuse.

“THOSE PEOPLE”— Obsession, Scandal and Loyalty

those poster“THOSE PEOPLE”

Obsession, Scandal and Loyalty

Amos Lassen

Obsession, scandal, and shifting loyalties put a great deal of pressure on a friendship. “Those People” directed by Joey Kuhn looks at the nature of friendship and at the pressures put on it. Charlie (Jonathan Gordon) is an artist who is hung up on his vain and good-looking best friend Sebastian (Jason Ralph). When Charlie is asked to do a self portrait asked to paint a self-portrait, he can only deliver a painting of Sebastian. Then there is a scandal that involves Sebastian and his father is sent to prison. Charlie moves into Sebastian’s luxurious Manhattan apartment which is perfect for him getting closer to Sebastian. However, Sebastian is always just a bit out of reach. Charlie meets Tim (Haaz Sleiman), a Lebanese concert pianist who is older and more settled. He is unlike Sebastian who always seems to be in the middle of chaos. in contrast to Sebastian’s chaos. Charlie is intrigued by and attracted to Tim. Sebastian becomes jealous and gives Charlie something to think about by presenting him a proposition— Should he maintain the status quo in the hopes that his feelings will someday be reciprocated, or should he pursue something real with his hot new man?

those people

You just might recognize the names of Charlie and Sebastien—these are also the names of the two main characters in “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh. This leads us to believe that director Kuhn is looking at more than romantic drama. The social milieu is important to the plot in that a closed world opens up to let a new character enter it. With that, the nature of friendship also begins to change. The film’s strengths lie in the chemistry between the characters and the passion that is at the heart of a romantic triangle that is totally uneven.

 

“THE QUEST FOR THE MISSING PIECE”— A Look at Circumcision

quest1“The Quest for the Missing Piece”

A Look at Circumcision

Amos Lassen

Oded Lotan is a young Jewish guy living in Tel Aviv with his German partner. He wonders why it is so important, in the 21st century, to adhere to the ritual of the “brit”, the Jewish ceremony at which male babies at eight days old are ritually circumcised. His partner is not circumcised and he cannot seem to understand why this rite is so important. In this documentary we hear personal feelings about the practice, the fear of exclusion and the need to belong. It is presented to us a kind of fairy tale that brings modernity and tradition together. The film has animated sequences that are about Lotan’s own brit and also reflect on the complex role his sexuality and time spent away from home in Germany has played in shaping his Israeli identity.

The documentary runs about an hour and it looks at the origins and persistent custom of circumcision working on the assumption that the viewer knows that the practice of circumcision was ordered by God. Lotan complains about why he was circumcised and tries to find and understand the reasons behind it. He ignores the fact that it is just what is done and no one in his society questions it. An interesting fact that the film tells us is that about 20% of the global male population is circumcised: Jews, Muslims, many Americans, and interestingly, many South Koreans circumcise their males.

I believe that one of the reasons that Lotan is fascinated by circumcision is because he is a secular Jew and never goes to services at a synagogue. I understand that his parents are also secular yet they have followed the commandment to circumcise their son.

As Lotan tries to remember what his own “cutting” was like he tells us that he does not remember the initial pain and that it has returned at different periods in his life. As he goes on the quest to find out more about circumcision he shares some interesting information—“In the U.S., 6 or 7 out of every 10 males are circumcised.” There are “650 million circumcised men in the world, one fifth of the entire male population.””Circumcision is indisputably the most common surgical procedure in the world.”

quest2

We meet Galit, a young female lawyer at a meeting of “Parents of Intact Children” and she tells us that, “Cutting a perfectly healthy organ, [an operation] that is medically unnecessary and irreversible, constitutes assault.” Then we meet a mohel (a specialist who performs Jewish ritual circumcisions) who argues otherwise. We also see Muslims celebrating their own circumcision rituals with festive dancing at a huge ball. As for Christian circumcision, it appears to back to the Apostle Paul, who wanted pagans to convert to Christianity.

In Bud Berkeley’s book “Foreskin” we learn that a man can lose 20% of his sensitivity in the penis because of the operation while there are those who claim that uncircumcised men are more likely to contract AIDS. For whatever reason, Lotan does not report on these two facts.


Lotan starts by sharing his personal experience, which is very much about living abroad and being different and this is the reason that he decided to go on this journey of learning about his and others’ penises. His investigations take two directions— historical and demographic research which leads him to being aware that the custom is rather widely practiced in different parts of the globe because of religious or medical reasons, the other direction deals with the investigations he makes in Israel, questioning family, rabbis and mohels, people who oppose the tradition and chose not to follow it for their sons in a society where the ‘brit’ is norm, and people who approach it in an almost mystical manner. We really do not learn anything new here but it doesn’t matter because the film is interesting and well made. There is some good low-key humor here and an interesting twist at the end. After spending almost an hour questioning circumcision, Lotan goes along with the tradition of the Jewish people. He has approached his subject with style and produced a good spirited film.

I just want a note about a certain Russian-born porn director and porn film studio owner who is constantly patting himself on he back for being a good Jew and a true friend of Israel. He is not circumcised and the reason is obvious—there is something about uncircumcised men who make porn films and he does see why removing a bit of skin is important especially because he makes more money as an uncircumcised man. There is some kind of aura about uncircumcised men that people enjoy seeing on screen. Cutting his penis would mean cutting his income and so he remains uncut yet always mentions what a good Jew he is. If circumcision is the first Jewish rite one goes through, I can only surmise that this person is Jewish only because it is to his financial advantage to be so.

“WOULD YOU HAVE SEX WITH AN ARAB?”— A Journey Through the Bars of Israel

“Would you Have Sex with an Arab?”

A Journey through the Bars of Israel

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Yolande Zauberman takes us on a journey though the nightlife on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and we go to places where people dance, laugh and have fun. Enjoying themselves are Jews and Arabs, both citizens of Israel. There is no wall to separate them. One Israeli out of five is Arab and there is no trouble, just people having fun. Then we hear the question that takes them by surprise. For some it is, “Would You Have Sex With an Arab?” For others the questions is, “Would You Have Sex With An Israeli Jew?” These questions were totally unexpected and they are unsettling. Those who are asked laugh, hesitate, improvise, and are even surprised by their own reactions. Many hadn’t even thought about it.

We have had many films about Palestine-Israel conflict but this is one brings the issue to the new heights. We see a series of informal “testimonies” that push the boundaries of our traditional perception of the conflict. The film is a controversial “vox pop” that is carried out in several cities of Israel. The question is simple and straightforward yet it confuses, offends, and lays bare prejudices as people think about what has always been considered taboo. What we hear as responses provoke confessions about their sexual experiences and reveals a certain degree of open-mindness in modern Israeli society. The film makes the sexual identity of the interviewees confront their national identity, thus helping many of them to make a first step towards freeing themselves from the sexual repression of nationalist nature. We also see sex as a political issue, at some points almost bringing back the end of the 1960s and presenting sex as a way to reconcile and achieve peace. Zauberman interviewed people during nighttime as if to imply that anything becomes possible under cover of night, even peace between Palestine and Israel. The film is not a statement of the author’s belief in bright future. The question still remains open as the film’s title appears on the screen in large font in the end.

While Zauberman does not say so overtly, she seems to suggest that the way to achieve peace is through sex. This is an interesting study in shifting perspectives. Responses vary but, initially and generally are negative. “Most say that a coupling would be too hurtful to family members should they ever become aware of it, or that the idea is too loaded with socio-political baggage to overcome; traditional hardliners find it simply inconceivable.” Those interviewed also come from other different ethnicities. The conversations consider other ethnicities and religious beliefs, such as Christian Arabs and Maghrebi Jews, and interrogate how open-minded and tolerant Orthodox Judaism can rightfully claim to be.

Those who answered negatively are given the chance to think about what they said and then discuss it at greater length. Some are really perplexed as to how they would broach the issue, especially if it arose after the fact. For some of the young Jews, the question is irrelevant given they’ve already had sex with many lovers from different backgrounds. There is an underlying hopefulness that such liaisons may one day be unremarkable but the idea that an Arab-Israeli love affair could succeed without obstacle is indeed hope. The film captures people in unguarded moments, and the forthright honesty and immediacy of response has that compulsive, reality-TV element. The overall message seems to be that, on a personal level, co-existence and understanding is not such an abstract concept. Zauberman doesn’t really push much further or deeper than that; she visits a gay club and later puts her camera into the middle of a beach rave, but neither of these fresh locales broadens her line of questioning or analysis. She has taken the most complex regional dispute in global history and breaks it down to the human-on-human act. In doing so Zauberman clears the battlefield of all the complications that have gotten in the way of peaceful, meaningful conversation. While her film doesn’t dictate an important course of action or profess wisdom, it certainly asks one very important question.