The Boston Jewish Film Festival will take place this year from November 9-19 at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Brattle Theatre and the Harvard Film Archive. Thirty-four films will be shown this year from Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Israel, Mexico, Russia and the United States. Issues that are Highlighted in the films range from perspectives within the Jewish Diaspora to the quest for community among Jews of different age groups; and from Holocaust remembrances to the post-Holocaust lives of children.
Opening night of the film festival, co-sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel to New England, features an Israeli film directed by Shmuel Hasfari entitled "Sh'chur," (1994, 100 min.) This winner of the 1995 Berlin Film Festival Special lury Award and six Israeli academy awards is a moving story about a Moraccan-Jewish family and their struggle to maintain tradition as modernity encroaches. We are shown mostly flashbacks of the 1970s-era childhood of Rachel (Hana Azoulay Hasfari) who has grown up to become a successful television producer. It is her story we follow, her struggle to escape a family whose traditionalism borders on the inane--where Sh'chur, a North African word for white magic, is practiced at every available opportunity. With a sister who is mentally ill (Ronit Alkabetz), and a domineering mother (Gila Almagor), we see Rachel confront a variety of obstacles. We finally watch her triumph, as she receives high scores on entrance exams, enabling her to leave her family behind as she is admitted to a prestigous preparatory school in Jerusalem. But, what we witness on the road to her freedom is a tapestry where the threads of traditionalism and modernity and the dark sides of both--are woven so tightly that it is hard to discern a clear reality.
This film, in Hebrew with English subtitles, shocks us with its unmasking of this particular family. Through the eyes of Rachel, the only ostensibly "normal" individual in the film, we see are shown a group of tragic individuals--a blind, abusive father, a deadbeat son--in addition to the superstitious mother and disturbed older daughter already mentioned. Sh'chur is a harsh criticism of immigrant culture and the tragic characters we are shown help us empathize with Rachel's desire to escape.
The movie is clearly successful in creating a bond between the viewer and the protagonist. By bringing us into the family through Rachel's flashbacks we are convinced of the absurdity of traditionalism. It is no longer quaint but disturbing, as are the individuals whom it portrays. Rachel's disdain for traditionalism becomes ours and we long as for its cradication. But, the bitter taste the movie leaves us with is the realization, that like family ties, these ties to tradition are virtually indestructable. They will continue to haunt even those who try to escape.
Sh'chur is a groundbreaking film. The director is clearly blaming the immigrants themselves, the Sephardic Moraccans, for their problems integrating into Israeli society. Old world superstitions thrive among this self-segregated community in modern Israel. Dov Halfon, the editor-in-chief of Ha'aretz, Tel Aviv's daily newspaper, writes that Sh'chur "has broken one of the central tenets of traditional Sephardic thought: Always blame the Ashkenazis." Thus, the film is at the center of heated debate in today's Israel.
Actress Ronit Alkabetz will be present at the screening of Sh'chur at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue in Boston on Thursday, November 9. Sh'chur will be preceded by "Les Affinites Recouvrees," directed by Cynthia Beth Rubip. (USA, 1994, 3 min.) This mini-film probes the Moraccon Jewish culture and the influences of Islam on the development and strength of this culture. The artist is an Ashkenasi Jew, and this piece is the culmination of her research on a culture of "others" which is oftentimes neglected. Shmuel Hasfari, the director of Sh'chur and Cynthia Beth Rubin will both attend the screening.