The Washington Jewish Film Festival features more than 80 films screened over the course of 11 days, starting tonight. Here, a few reviews of festival standouts.
Adam Zucker’s documentary The Return follows four modern-day Idas, Polish women discussing when they learned they were Jewish and struggling to define what it means as an identity. Through the Holocaust and Soviet occupation, Polish Jews kept that part of their family histories in a vault, some until their deathbed. The film explores the religious and cultural aspects of leading a Jewish life, with several comments from people who are self-conscious about it in Poland but feel at home elsewhere, like Israel. (Except for the 20-something Tusia: “When in Warsaw, being Jewish is my primary identity, whereas in Brooklyn, I know nothing about being a Jew.”) The Return meanders a bit toward the end, and it can be difficult to keep up with the featured women’s storylines—which focus on their decisions to convert, study, or simply ignore their Judaism—due to messy editing. You may also be lost if you’re not familiar with Polish history. Still, the happy ending is worth the time it’ll take to brush up. —Tricia Olszewski
Saturday, Feb. 21 at 2:30 p.m. at the DCJCC and Sunday, March 1 at 2:30 p.m. at Goethe-Institut
There exists a short but delectable list of movies that you should not watch on an empty stomach: Big Night, Chef, and now, Deli Man. A meditation and exploration of the Jewish delicatessen, Erik Greenberg Anjou’s documentary features ample footage of scrumptious Jewish nosh: sandwiches piled high with corned beef and pastrami, matzah ball soup, and even obscure delicacies like a stew made out of cow innards. Needless to say, vegetarians would be wise to look elsewhere. But even if a pile of meat is not your thing, Deli Man’s portrait of the deli as a fading subculture is worth savoring. Anjou traces the deli’s history from its humble New York City origins in the ‘30s to its renaissance in the ‘40s and ‘50s up to its more recent precipitous decline. What emerges is a portrait of a people defined, for better and for worse, by their commitment to tradition and authenticity, which is a challenge in a marketplace that always values the hot, new dish. Featuring interviews with famous deli connoisseurs like Jerry Stiller and Larry King, Deli Man is consistently entertaining and surprisingly filling. —Noah Gittell
Saturday, Feb. 21 at 4:30 p.m. at the DCJCC and Monday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the JCC of Greater Washington (Rockville)