AJFF What to Watch: Films About Reconciliation

09/14/2020

The dictionary defines reconciliation to be "the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement or the process of finding a way to make two different ideas, facts, etc., exist or be true at the same time". These films, formerly featured at AJFF's annual festival, tackle the tricky concept. Film titles are linked with information on where to watch.

The Accountant of Auschwitz
Raising thorny moral and legal questions, this documentary reconstructs the controversial war crimes trial of an elderly Nazi underling, which made headlines worldwide. A former Auschwitz guard responsible for collecting the stolen loot of Jewish prisoners, Oskar Gröning was 94 when charged by German prosecutors as an accessory to mass murder. As the frail old man faces death camp survivors, a debate rages over his complicity and fitness to stand trial. Was Gröning just following orders, a mere cog in a large killing machine, or a culpable witness to genocide, despite his rank and age? Racing against time, a new generation of investigators seeks to atone for past sins, pursuing charges against the last living perpetrators of the Holocaust while testing the limits of international law and historical reconciliation. With broad implications, this deftly researched look at the pursuit of justice is sure to provoke both outrage and fascination. Featured at the 2019 AJFF.

Disengagement
In this thoughtful and powerful drama, Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche gives a tour-de-force performance as Ana, an eccentric Israeli-born French woman searching for her daughter amid the turmoil of Middle East current events. After being reunited with her estranged step-brother Uli (Liron Levo), she decides to return to Israel to look for the daughter she gave up at birth. Crossing frontiers by car, train and boat, Ana and Uli are caught up in the whirlwind military-enforced disengagement of some 8,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza, culminating in a virtuoso final act. The film’s title takes on a dual significance, as personal questions of cultural belongings and family reconciliation are framed against the larger geopolitical crisis. Challenging at times but ultimately affecting, the drama is rated among the finest artistic creations of veteran Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai (Kippur). Featured at the 2008 AJFF.

Germans & Jews
Germany's torturous postwar reckoning and reconciliation, and eventual transformation, are examined through a series of incisive dialogues with everyday citizens, this documentary, featured at the 2017 AJFF. In the aftermath of WWII and the crimes of the Holocaust, it seems almost unimaginable that Germany would emerge as one of the world's most democratic societies, with the fastest growing Jewish community in Europe. Filmmakers Janina Quint and Tal Recanati (a non-Jewish German and a visiting American Jew) seek to understand these startling realities and contradictions by speaking directly with contemporary Berliners of different backgrounds. The often uneasy and conflicted conversations as well as heartfelt testimonials reveal both an obsession with the past, and a desire by German Jews and non-Jews alike to move beyond historical hyper-awareness to a hopeful path forward. Often posing more questions than answers, Germans & Jews provides a cross-section of generational attitudes on whether today's Germany represents a lasting or temporary Jewish utopia.

Holy Lands
James Caan leads an all-star cast as a retired American cardiologist who leaves everything behind to become a pig farmer in Israel, in this comedic family drama, featured at the 2019 AJFF. At a crossroads, Harry (Caan) abandons his New York life for Nazareth. A lapsed Jew, his decidedly non-kosher career doesn't endear him to the community rabbi (Tom Hollander) or other intolerant neighbors. While Harry tries to mollify the acrimonious locals, his estranged family lies scattered in his wake: ex-wife Monica (Rosanna Arquette), alienated son David (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a successful gay playwright, and daughter Annabelle (Efrat Dor), a thirty-something perennial student. When tragedy strikes, Harry tries to rise above past grudges to set things right, eschewing technology for written letters to express his inner feelings. Bestselling novelist Amanda Sthers adapts her own book into a wry, moving, personal tale of a dysfunctional family striving for reconciliation and acceptance.

Inheritance
This documentary, featured at the 2008 AJFF, tells the story of an ordinary German housewife and her journey to accept the extraordinary truth about her father, Amon Goeth, the monstrous Nazi commander made infamous by actor Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List. Monika Hertwig grew up thinking her father died fighting in World War II, only to discover, at the age of 11, that he was actually executed by a Polish tribunal for his murderous crimes. As part of her search for information about the father she never knew, Monika reaches out to Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig, a survivor who has been enslaved by Goeth at the Paszow concentration camp. More than 60 years after the war, in a historic and painful moment, these two women meet, bringing both reconciliation and dark new questions about their shared inheritance. Oscar-winning documentarian James Moll directs this deeply personal film, offering contemporary insights into the psychological scars which continue to haunt a post-war generation.

Simon and Théodore
Touching the heartstrings and tickling the funny bone, this French dramedy follows the eccentric friendship between an emotionally troubled man and rebellious teen, two misfits seeking self-acceptance. A loving husband but tortured soul prone to acts of self-harm, Simon (Félix Moati) escapes a psychiatric ward to return to his pregnant wife Rivka (Mélanie Bernier), a rabbi and Hebrew teacher. When her 13-year-old student Théodore (Nils Othenin-Girard) runs away from his broken family on his Bar Mitzvah day, Simon impulsively gives chase. Aimlessly roaming the cold streets of Paris and lost in inner turmoil, the father-to-be and cantankerous teen form a bond of mutual need. As Théodore seeks reconciliation with his absentee dad and fretting single mom, and Simon desperate to prove his capacity to love, their misadventures peak in poignant and unexpected ways. Featured at the 2019 AJFF.

The Tenth Man
Returning to his old Jewish neighborhood in Buenos Aires, a middle-aged everyman seeks to reconnect with his roots and his distant father, in the genial charmer featured at the 2017 AJFF. After years away working as a New York economist, the listless and sweetly bumbling bachelor Ariel (Alan Sabbagh) is summoned back to his childhood home, a bustling Jewish quarter known as El Once. His father looms as a larger-than-life figure in the close-knit community, administering to the poor and sick through an ad hoc charity. Upon his arrival, Ariel is tasked with hectic preparations for the Purim holiday, receiving via cell phone a never-ending list of errands from his respected elder, heard but never seen. With a beautiful unmarried Orthodox woman, Eva (Julieta Zylberger), serving as his guide, Ariel rediscovers the neighborhood customs and friendships he once spurned, and in doing so, a path to self-acceptance and familial reconciliation. Argentine auteur Daniel Burman continues his celebrated career as a storyteller specializing in Jewish themes that are rich in character and observation.