‘Kaddish’ a strong, sensitive look at unlikely friends

‘Kaddish’ a strong, sensitive look at unlikely friends

Berlin is an ironic setting for a movie about the conflict between Jews and Arabs brought down to a personal level.

But, as we see in “Kaddish for a Friend,” one of the last movies to be screened in the 2012 JFilm Festival, Germany and its dark past are never far from the surface.

“Kaddish for a Friend” is the story of a seemingly impossible friendship between a 14-year-old Palestinian boy, Ali, who learned to hate Jews from his father, and Alexander, an elderly Russian Jew, resettled in Berlin for 30 years, whose only son — an Israeli soldier — was killed in Lebanon.

Clearly, each character is scarred by his brush with the other’s people. Yet fate throws them together when Ali’s family ends up housed below Alexander’s flat in a Berlin public housing project. Ali falls in with a gang of Palestinian teens who trash Alexander’s flat, and leave the sensitive, naïve youth, who likes to draw, the fall guy for their crime.

To avoid deportation, Ali must help Alexander fix up his dwelling to avoid being sent to a nursing home. It’s an uneasy relationship for both.

Yet the movie becomes transfixing as we watch the hatred the old man and young boy have for each other give way to respect, and finally to friendship.

Their journey is not without obstacles, though.

There are reminders throughout this movie that the story is playing out in what was once the capital of Nazi Germany: the Nazi graffiti spray painted on Alexander’s walls, a prosecutor in Ali’s case who reminds Alexander of the German’s “special” relationship to the Jews and Israel, but, most of all, in the blind hatred that the supporting cast of Arabs and Jews feel for each other.

In the end though, “Kaddish for a Friend” is an important reminder that good people reside on both sides of the Arab-Jewish conflict, if only we rise above the politics and hatred to find them.

• • •

Also showing in the final week of the festival:

“A Suitcase full of Chocolate,” — The story of Sofia Cosma (1914-2011), a concert pianist, and the ultimate survivor. Born at the outbreak of World War I, she embarked on a brilliant career as a prizewinner in the Viennese International Piano Competition of 1933. Hitler’s invasion of Austria, and Sofia’s subsequent long imprisonment in a Soviet labor camp, forced her to abandon her music for many years.

“Five Brothers” — A story about a close-knit Jewish-Algerian family in which the fifth brother, the black sheep of the family, breaks out of prison with the mob hot on his heels. He tests his brothers’ loyalty when he drags them, along with their widowed mother, into a criminal underworld and web of long-buried family secrets.

“Dusk” — A real-time story, starting at dawn, when a young woman returning home is met by her father at the airport; a duty-free shop employee finishes her shift and learns

life-altering news; and an Argentinian woman boards a bus with her young son for his circumcision at a Tel Aviv hospital. The three stories become four when a hit and run accident inadvertently weaves the plots together at dusk.

“Circus Kids” — A spirited youth circus troupe from St. Louis heads to Pittsburgh’s sister city of Karmiel/Misgav to work with the Galilee Circus, a group made up of Israeli and Arab youth from the region. In addition to the typical teenage banter, the film follows the participants as they learn to embrace each other’s similarities and differences all while working and performing together.

Want to go?

Contact JFilm at 412-992-5203 or visit jfilmpgh.org for dates, times and venues.

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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