AJFF What to Watch: Films About Travel

05/27/2020

Distance is no obstacle in these films that focus on both the journey and the destination. No need to make a reservation to view these travel-based films formerly featured at AJFF's annual festival. Film titles are linked with information on where to watch.

The Frisco Kid
In one of Hollywood's most unusual pairings, Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford co-star as a Polish rabbi and gunslinging outlaw traveling the Wild West, in this an offbeat buddy adventure and Western comedy. Young, inexperienced Rabbi Belinski (Wilder) is dispatched to mid-1800s San Francisco to start a synagogue. Alone on the frontier, the clueless immigrant is conned, robbed and threatened, until a bank robber with a heart of gold (Ford, in a role meant for John Wayne) takes pity on the poor schlemiel. Initially dismissed by critics, this bighearted folktale is now considered an essential Jewish movie for its delicate blend of ethnic humor, religious sensitivity and winning performances. Sporting a wild beard, weird accent, and twinkle in his eyes, Wilder evokes his own special brand of lovable naivet and fish-out-of-water slapstick. After making the rounds for years, the script was finally picked up by veteran director Robert Aldrich. Featured as a classic for its 40th anniversary at the 2019 AJFF.

The Interpreter
Odd-couple traveling companions, the son of a Nazi officer and his Jewish translator, roam the Slovak countryside, in this bittersweet road movie full of melancholic humor that traverses complex moral and historical territory. Gloomy, worldly-wise widower Ali leaves his home in Bratislava to find and kill the SS officer who murdered his parents during WWII. Instead, he meets the Nazi's son in Vienna, retired teacher Georg (Peter Simonischek), an incorrigible drunk and womanizer, yet to grasp the enormity of his father's crimes. Despite their tense first encounter, the two ill-matched men travel together to bear witness in a country eager to forget its dark past, developing a prickly friendship along the way. Featured at the 2019 AJFF.

The Last Suit
An aging Jewish tailor leaves his life in Argentina to embark on a journey back through time and halfway around the world, in this bittersweet road movie featured at the 2018 AJFF. Eighty-eight-year-old Holocaust survivor Abraham Bursztein (Miguel Ángel Solá) is about to be put out to pasture by his children, who have sold his house in the suburbs of Buenos Aires and booked him into a retirement home. Refusing to bow to family pressure, he sets off on an adventure from which he doesn’t expect to return. Fueled by a sense of duty, and a quest for closure and fulfillment, Abraham decides that the moment has come to fulfill a promise and seek out an old friend. With assistance
 from a cast of kindly strangers, the sharply-dressed suit maker travels by train across Europe from Spain to Poland, in search of the man who saved him from certain death at Auschwitz. Undeterred by a series of travel mishaps, family foibles and geographical obstacles along the way, the hard edges of the cantankerous Abraham gradually soften.

Longing 
A middle-aged bachelor’s world is upended when he learns he has lost a son he didn’t know existed, in this affecting Israeli tragicomedy featured at the 2018 AJFF. Over lunch with former college girlfriend Ronit (Asi Levi), well-off Ariel (Shai Avivi) is shocked to hear they had a son together, and that their teenage boy has just died. The bombshell propels Ariel on a surreal journey into the unknown, as he travels to the boy’s gravesite and then seaside home, desperate to know more about his passionate but wayward son. Through a series of eccentric encounters and winding revelations, Ariel goes out on an emotional limb, belatedly discovering fatherly love and devotion, as well as per- sonal catharsis about his own troubled childhood. 

My Polish Honeymoon
In this sorrow-tinged romantic comedy, Parisian newlyweds travel to Poland, their honeymoon awkwardly doubling as a bid to reconnect with their Jewish heritage. Anna and Adam (Judith Chemla and Arthur Igual) celebrate their nuptials with a trip to their family homeland, leaving their newborn with grandparents. While Anna is eager to trace her roots, Adam reluctantly attends a memorial for an ancestral village destroyed in the war. Unable to bridge past and present in this strange yet familiar land, the eye-opening journey doesn’t go as planned. Awash with offbeat characters and absurd vignettes, this life-affirming charmer movingly conveys the void experienced by third-generation survivors. Featured at the 2020 AJFF.